Dynasty leagues have been growing in popularity in recent years. This trend has only increased with the 2020 MLB season still languishing in uncertainty. Many fantasy owners with the desire to fill the baseball void in their heart are focusing on drafting dynasty teams because they know the teams they draft will matter, even if they have to wait until 2021. This article is geared towards experienced fantasy owners looking to dip their toe in the dynasty pool.
Playing in a dynasty league is like opening up the advanced settings on a game once you reach a certain level. It incentivizes you to dive into and explore the wonderful world of minor league baseball. There are new teams to follow and hundreds of relevant players to scout. It’s awesome! And the unpredictability of it represents an incredibly fun challenge.
Just like with a major league franchise, one of the key components of a successful dynasty team is building a strong stable of prospects to supply your team with talent over the long haul. There are a ton of prospect lists out there for you to peruse, of varying flavors and numbers. But if you simply draft the highest-ranked prospect from your favorite list every time it’s your turn to pick, you might not be happy with the final outcome when you look at your team. Why? Because building a successful prospect roster is a lot like picking the right retirement investments: you want a diversified portfolio.
Here are some guidelines to help you maximize the performance of your prospect portfolio. As you will see, most of these are about balance.
1. Check out the ETA – When you look at your list of prospects, you want to see players at various stages of development, whose arrival in the majors will be staggered over different years. If you stockpile a bunch of 17-18 year-olds, it’s going to be a long time before your prospects contribute in a meaningful way to your fantasy team. On the other hand, if all your prospects are arriving in MLB within the next 12-18 months, you may have narrowed your contention window considerably.
Given the uncertainty of player development and timeline, this isn’t something to get too hung up on because no one really knows when a specific prospect will get called up. There are a myriad of team factors independent of the prospect that contribute to those decisions. But try to make sure your prospect portfolio has some short-, mid-, and long-range ETAs. And if you’ve drafted three straight 18 year-olds in your inaugural dynasty build, maybe look a few names down your list and find someone who should get a September call-up this year for your next pick.
2. Balance Risk/Reward – A good prospect portfolio has both a high ceiling and floor. Most dynasty leagues allow you to roster at least 15-20 prospects, plenty of room to diversify.
Since this is for the long haul, you definitely want some high-growth assets, like the international signees with blazing bat speed and quick-twitch reflexes. The grainy video from the Dominican backfields of a lanky kid who can’t drive a car yet, but can drive the ball to all fields is tantalizing. You want some of that ceiling on your roster for sure.
But then you see the stocky left-hander whose fastball tops out at a middling 93 mph. He doesn’t have flashy strikeout totals or a cool nickname. He’s already 24 years old, and he’s utterly forgettable. But he has three pitches that play and he eats up innings. You look at his forecast from your favorite prospect analyst, and it says “back-end starter with #3 upside.”
Who wants a below-average back-end starter when you could be grabbing a five-tool future stud? Well, you do. You want some floor, some reliability. You want some prospects who may never be superstars, but are close to the majors, and have a much higher level of predictability than the flashy teenager who can’t hit a breaking ball to save his life yet. You want a guy that’s next up on his team’s depth chart to step in at the big-league level. There is value in MLB replacement level talent in your prospect portfolio.
How much ceiling and how much floor you want on your roster is dependent on your league size and your personal preference. I tend to be drawn towards the high-ceiling players more (most dynasty owners are). Just make sure you don’t get caught with a prospect portfolio that’s too one-sided in either direction.
3. Establish a Good Hitter/Pitcher Ratio – As a general rule, I am lower on pitching prospects than just about anyone, and my Top 99 Dynasty Prospects list shows it. But in a dynasty league with any depth, you’re going to want to have some young arms with promise to build around. You can punt on pitching prospects and play the waiver wire, but in a competitive dynasty league, you’re putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage.
Hitting prospects are more likely to be successful than their pitching peers, less likely to suffer massive injuries, and they tend to have much better trade value. My preference is a 80% Hitter/20% Pitcher ratio for my prospect portfolio, but you can adjust up or down to your preference. If you’ve started off your build with a slew of bats, take a look at your rankings and target a couple of arms to take a shot on (I strongly prefer pitching prospects who are no more than a year away from potential MLB impact).
4. Positions Matter (a little bit) – If you have Ozzie Albies as your starting 2B, and Gavin Lux on your minors squad, a) well done, and b) you probably don’t need to target Nick Madrigal. You’d be better suited grabbing a top prospect at a position where you’re not quite so stacked.
Use this guideline as more of a tiebreaker. Remember, position projections evolve as prospects move up through the minors and their bodies grow, or the needs of their organization shift. This is especially true at shortstop.
5. Scout and Get Your Guy – Every year, players who were nowhere near top prospect lists make a big impact in the major leagues. This year, it seems like everyone’s favorite Statcast darling is Franmil Reyes. But he wasn’t considered a top prospect in most quarters before getting called up in 2018. He wasn’t even a top 20 prospect on his own team on many scouts’ and experts’ lists. And now he’s a dynasty stud in the making. This happens all the time in baseball.
To get the most enjoyment out of the dynasty game, I encourage you to find some intriguing players that you like who aren’t on everybody’s top 100 list. Read what different analysts and scouts have written about them. Watch video. Heck, maybe you can even see them in a live game. Form your own opinion.
Unlike regular fantasy formats – where everyone has the same information and the concept of a sleeper is passé – in the dynasty format, sleepers are very much a reality. No one can possibly accurately scout all the minor league and international players out there. If you dig into minor league statlines, articles, and videos, you’ll inevitably find that you have some “sleeper prospects” that you are higher on than the crowd. Add them to your prospect portfolio.
This is a fun game, and few things are more rewarding than picking a prospect before he gets popular, rostering him, and watching him rise to prominence. Go find your Franimal!
6. Buy Low, Sell High – This basic principle of economics applies to your prospect portfolio as well. Everyone’s trying to acquire elite talent before it becomes expensive. That’s the name of the prospect game. But determining if and when to sell can be tricky.
Nothing is more coveted in a dynasty league than the young players at the top of prospect lists. They have ascended to the precipice of stardom, and their potential is limitless. They’re young and shiny and everyone wants a piece of their future glory and fame. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these players, you are at a crucial juncture. Some will become major league stars that anchor your future dynasty championship, but many of them will either fall short of lofty expectations, or even crash out completely.
Look at your roster construction and where you are in the contention cycle to determine whether this prospect should remain in your portfolio. If you’re not a contender, and this is one of your only top prospects, it may make sense to trade him for a boatload of younger prospects with elite upside who could arrive when you’re ready to compete. If he’s a big bat, and your offense is loaded but your pitching is suspect, it may make sense to move him for a couple of major-league quality arms. Or maybe he’s the last piece of the puzzle on your dynasty roster. Hold on to him, and enjoy the title run.
But selling high doesn’t just apply to elite talent. Even the most experienced dynasty owner probably has players still on their roster that don’t belong there anymore. The shine has worn off the player, and everyone else knows it. This happens in regular fantasy formats where an owner doesn’t want to give up on a player who they had high hopes for on draft day. But in dynasty leagues it is exacerbated, not only because you have been rooting for and following this player for years, but because there’s always a chance they could make it … until there isn’t.
Successful dynasty owners see this coming, and act in advance. In fact, the best dynasty owners acquire prospects with big name value even if they don’t believe in the player’s long-term success just so they can trade them at peak value.
I hope these guidelines to building a prospect portfolio are a helpful tool to inform and enhance your enjoyment of baseball dynasty leagues. In my opinion, they’re the most complex and enjoyable format for fantasy baseball. If you have any additional questions, you know where to find me on Twitter.