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Prospect Roundup

2020 Prospect Sleepers: NL/AL Central

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: April 6, 2020, 10:38 am ET

One of the most common questions fantasy writers get -- particularly those who delve into prospects -- is who are some sleepers that have a chance to help them in both redraft in dynasty leagues.

It’s difficult to define what makes a prospect a “sleeper.” If you are a person who follows prospects scrupulously, then you may be well-versed on the overwhelming majority of potential MLB players. While following minor leaguers seems to be growing in popularity exponentially, it’s fair to say that there are numerous baseball fans who don’t pay close attention. So, whether a prospect is a “sleeper” is really subjective.

So, with that caveat aside, here’s a look at some prospects that aren’t getting much hype that have a chance to contribute in the long-term. If you want a look at prospects who can help in 2020, it’s here. Next up: The AL and NL Central. 

AL Central

Bernardo Flores, LHP, Chicago White Sox -- Flores was drafted in the seventh round by the White Sox in 2016 out of USC, and he’s quietly pitched well enough to become one of the better -- and certainly underrated -- prospects in Chicago’s system. He posted a 3.33 ERA for Double-A Birmingham, and he did it by showing off a four-pitch mix that saw him register a 69/15 K/BB ratio in his 15 starts. He keeps the ball in the park -- he didn’t allow a homer in any of his 78 1/3 innings with the Barons, and while he’s not overpowering, he sits in the low-to-mid 90s with a plus change and two usable breaking-balls. Flores is 24 and doesn’t have elite upside, but he has a chance to be a solid contributor if/when the White Sox give him a chance in 2020.

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Scott Moss, LHP, Cleveland Indians -- Moss is the “other” left-handed pitching prospect that went to Cleveland in the Trevor Bauer-Franmil Reyes-Yasiel Puig three-way trade -- Logan Allen being the more high-profile prospect -- and while Allen has a chance to contribute in 2020, Moss has a good shot as well. His ERA in 130 2/3 innings was 2.96, and in his four starts with Triple-A Columbus, it was 1.93 with 23 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Like Flores, Moss isn’t overpowering, but he gets good extension from his 6-foot-6 frame, and he sits 90-93 mph with riding life. His change is an out pitch, and his slider is just a notch below the fastball and change. Moss doesn’t have elite control, but he’s generally around the strike zone, and throws enough strikes to stay a rotation option. Moss should see time with Cleveland this year, and at worst, he’s worth considering as a streaming option.

Daz Cameron, OF, Detroit Tigers -- It’s a little weird to list a player who was a Top 100 prospect (at least in this writer’s eyes) to begin last year as a “sleeper.” It’s even weirder when you’re talking about a hitter that was pretty much awful in 2020 with a .707 OPS for Triple-A Toledo in 120 games. And yet, here we are. The son of former All-Star Mike Cameron, Daz still has the tools to be a quality fantasy player, and he just turned 23 in January. There’s plus power potential in his right-handed bat, he’s patient at the plate, and he’s a threat to steal anytime he gets on base. The question is whether or not he can tone down the strikeouts enough to hit for even a decent average, and the answer to that is a big shoulder shrug. Still, he’s a potential 20/20 player, and the awful Tigers should give Cameron a chance to play in 2020 if we get a season.

Jackson Kowar, RHP, Kansas City Royals  -- If you pay any attention to prospects and watched college baseball at the end of the decade, you probably know who Kowar is. Again, this is subjective, and I certainly think that Kowar is being under-discussed as an option for the 2020 campaign. The 33rd pick of the 2018 draft has outstanding swing-and-miss stuff; usually starting with a 94-96 mph fastball and often finishing with one of the best curveballs of any pitching prospect; regardless of level. He’ll also throw an average change, and his command gets better with each year. The 23-year-old may start the year in Double-A, but he should finish the season with the Royals, and his ability to miss bat could easily make him fantasy relevant. 

Brent Rooker, OF, Minnesota Twins -- Like Kowar, Rooker was a college start at Mississippi State, and he reached Triple-A while posting a .933 OPS in his 65 games with the Rochester Red Wings. The right-handed hitter has plus-plus raw power, and he can take the ball out to any part of the park. The 25-year-old’s hit tool isn’t anywhere close to that level, but he’s a selective hitter who makes enough hard contact to project close to a 50-grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. He won’t provide steals, but if he hits for the power and gets on base at the level he’s capable of, it won’t matter. Rooker is a quality dynasty prospect who should get an opportunity to hit dingers for the Twins before the 2020 season ends. Again, assuming there is one. 

NL Central

Cory Abbott, RHP, Chicago Cubs -- Abbott was the Cubs’ second-round selection in 2017 out of Loyola Marymount, and somewhat quietly, he’s pitched exceptionally well in the lower levels. The 24-year-old struck out 165 hitters in 146 2/3 innings, and he did it while “only” throwing 90-93 mph with his fastball. The reason he can miss so many bats is that he gets ahead of hitters with that pitch, and then his curveball, change and slider all profile as above-average pitches. He doesn’t have perfect command, but there’s no reason to think he can’t start. Chicago’s rotation is not exactly a beacon of health, and if Abbott pitches well in Triple-A, he’s going to get the chance to pitch in Wrigley in 2020. 

Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds -- Stephenson was drafted with the 11th pick of the 2015 draft, and while the backstop struggled in his first couple years of professional baseball, he’s starting to play like the player that many thought he’d be; hitting .285 with a .372 on-base percentage for Double-A Chattanooga. He makes hard contact to all parts of the field, and on top of having an improved approach at the plate, his short, quick stroke limits the strikeouts considerably. The power that was anticipated when he was a prep hasn’t come, but double-digit homers are possible, and remember how helpful Great American Ball Park can be. If Stephenson hits well in Triple-A, he absolutely has a chance to be the starting catcher before the season comes to a close.

Drew Rasmussen, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers  -- The Brewers’ farm system is one of the worst in baseball right now, but they may have one of the most underrated arms in Rasmussen. He went in the sixth-round in 2018 after not signing with the Rays as the 31st pick in 2017, and while he’s undergone two Tommy John surgeries, he’s looked awfully good when healthy; including a 3.15 ERA while reaching Double-A in 2019. There’s life to his fastball, and since the pitch gets into the high 90s, it’s a plus-plus pitch. His slider is a plus pitch, and his change has a chance to keep left-handed hitters honest. Rasmussen has obvious health concerns and could be babied into a rotation spot, but he could pitch as a “bulk” pitcher for the Brewers in 2020 and miss plenty of bats while qualifying for wins. 

Jared Oliva, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates -- Oliva was drafted as a seventh-round selection out of Arizona in 2017, with most believing that the 24-year-old profiled best as a fourth outfielder. That still absolutely could be his role, but after reaching Double-A and hitting .277/.352/.403, there’s a chance he’s more than that. The calling-card for Oliva is plus-plus speed, and he’s been able to steal 84 bases -- 36 in 2019 -- in 106 attempts as a professional. He won’t lead the league in walks, but his approach is improving, and the strikeouts shouldn’t be overwhelming. There’s not much power here, but if he’s a 30-steal player, you can deal with 8-to-12 homer seasons. The Pirates are likely to be pretty bad in 2020, and if they give Oliva a look, you might want to do the same. 

Junior Fernandez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals -- Relievers are fantasy prospects, too, folks. Fernandez wasn’t very good in his 13 games with the Cardinals last year with a 5.40 ERA in 11 2/3 frames, but he struck out 16 hitters in that time frame, and he was dominant in the minors with a 1.55 ERA, 80/30 K/BB ratio and 1.12 WHIP. His change might be his best pitch, as it comes from the same arm speed and late fade, and his fastball can get into triple-digits with a sinking fastball. Fernandez’s breaking-ball isn’t near that level, but it’s an average slider that can keep hitters honest. Fernandez won’t open the year as a closer -- he may not even open the year with St. Louis -- but the stiff is filthy, and as long as he’s in a high-leverage role, he has the stuff to be usable in deeper fantasy formats. 

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports EDGE and also appears on the Circling the Bases Podcast.