Which prospects will break through and deliver 2018 fantasy value?
Eric Karabell
ESPN INSDER

It seems oh-so-silly today, but one year ago the main point of conversation and/or contention surrounding Los Angeles Dodgers slugging prospect Cody Bellinger was actually a "giant veteran roadblock" by the name of Adrian Gonzalez. I put the qualifier on Gonzalez in quotes for emphasis because that is how ridiculous it feels today, a season after the so-called safe, reliable veteran hit all of three home runs before a back injury shut him down and eventually ran him out of town. Meanwhile, all Bellinger did was bash 39 home runs over 132 games. It could have been more games but, well, Gonzalez had to play, right?


Let us learn from these mistakes! When it comes to the perceived top prospects for 2018 we should be smarter than a year ago and realize if Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna and Washington Nationals outfielder Victor Robles perform the way so many predict and force their respective ways onto the roster, then the likes of Nick Markakis and Michael Taylor cannot truly block them. Skills ultimately win out, even if it takes a month or more. Bellinger's case hardly means Acuna will produce the same monster numbers or even get the chance, but the argument against it should not be potential playing time. It is a concern, one of several.

So it is that when evaluating top prospects and their proper place among the veterans in upcoming fantasy drafts I do not advise managers to wait too long for a player they really covet, for often the proverbial "things will work out" line actually happens. Acuna has not crashed my top 100 yet, but it surely could happen before spring training concludes. For now, I have him stationed in Round 15 and from what I have seen so far to some that is far too generous, and to others it hardly matches his potential. In other words, everyone has an opinion, which is a good thing!

Here are 10 players with rookie eligibility (other than Los Angeles Angels SP/DH Shohei Otani) and how I view their potential roadblocks, because a year ago Bellinger did not make the top 200 in ADP, but Adam Wainwright and Logan Forsythe did. We can all do better.

Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves: Most organizations would not promote Acuna by Opening Day, opting to delay his potential free agency another year by keeping him in Triple-A for weeks, months, pick a day, really. Even Bellinger did not debut until April 25 and perhaps Gonzalez and left fielder Andrew Toles were not really in his path. I think Acuna is getting more than 500 plate appearances and he can do wondrous things with them. Atlanta's starting left fielder, as of today, is either Acuna, some short-term combination of Preston Tucker/Lane Adams or yet to be signed.

Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals: This is different, because the Nationals are planning on winning the NL East for the third consecutive season, so priorities are not the same. Taylor was nearly a 20-homer, 20-steal guy and plays a solid center field, so there is no hurry. Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper man the corners and there is injury risk with each, but I will say Robles falls short of 400 plate appearances because unlike Acuna he has yet to hit in Triple-A and Taylor is not exactly Adrian Gonzalez.

Brent Honeywell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: The recent trade of right-hander Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins removes one roadblock, but the team appears likely to go with a four-man rotation through April. Perhaps it happens. Fantasy managers sure are confident Honeywell will make more than 25 starts, and I agree that seems most likely, barring injury. Nathan Eovaldi is in the rotation today, but come on. Go ahead and make Honeywell a top-40 starter in your rankings if you desire. I have no issue there.

Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Those relying on Kingery in dynasty leagues anxiously awaited an offseason Cesar Hernandez trade, and perhaps it still occurs, but keep a close eye on third baseman Maikel Franco as well. That seems almost more likely to me as a potential opening. Franco has the ability to be very good, but he is running out of chances in Philly. Regardless, I do not think Kingery reaches the majors in April because of these ridiculous service time rules, but neither Hernandez nor Franco will block him after that.

Ryan McMahon, 1B, Colorado Rockies: The Rockies could still sign someone like Mark Reynolds or Logan Morrison to handle first base, but as of now, McMahon is a starter in the best venue to boast such a designation. Ian Desmond, who will return to being a very good fantasy choice by the way, could always move back to the infield, in theory, and David Dahl could have something to do with that, but I certainly see a scenario in which McMahon produces Bellinger-like numbers, so do not be afraid to take a chance even in a redraft format. After all, there will be undrafted first-base types in free agency.

Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds: The next Anthony Rendon, some say, could actually follow a similar path. Remember that Rendon came to the majors playing second base, because the 2013 Nationals still deployed Ryan Zimmerman at third. The Reds have been giving reps to 2016 first-round pick Senzel at each middle infield spot, where Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza are scheduled to start but are not truly in the way. Eugenio Suarez is handling third base for now. Senzel is going to hit like a star, much like Rendon, and I think he will get roughly half a season of big league at-bats in 2018. That is hardly bad and could be worth stashing even in your shallow leagues.

Alex Reyes, P, St. Louis Cardinals: The big right-hander missed 2017 after having his pitching elbow repaired and the concerns with him are about role and an innings limit. Each is a legitimate concern, in theory. The Cardinals do not currently boast assurances at the back of the rotation or at closer, and Reyes could capably fill either role. Or each role at some point! The mighty arm makes him worth drafting in the later rounds just to see what occurs, so do not be shy.

Forrest Whitley, P, Houston Astros: This 6-foot-7 right-hander with major strikeout potential nearly made his big league debut last September, at 19 years of age, it was recently reported. Now he is 20 and while he has barely performed at Double-A, it hardly means the organization will be patient in promoting him if it deems him ready. The Astros remain in win-now mode. Are you prepared to rely on 25-plus starts from Lance McCullers Jr. or Charlie Morton? Even with the 50-game suspension, Whitley could easily get called to the majors before August and make a major impact.

Michael Kopech, P, Chicago White Sox: This is a different situation because the White Sox did not just win the World Series and do not figure to contend for the honors in 2018, but Kopech is just about ready for the major leagues. Fantasy managers are overthinking if they view the rebuilding White Sox as unlikely to push him to the majors, even in redraft formats. After all, Lucas Giolito and his 4.48 ERA at Triple-A still got promoted for seven late-season outings.

Michael Chavis, 3B, Boston Red Sox: The recent signing of J.D. Martinez might seem to further block Chavis, who bashed 31 home runs in the minors last season, but I don't think it changes a thing. Some combination of Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez is likely handling first base, but I doubt the Red Sox will allow below-average production if Chavis thrives in Triple-A. Plus, while I like Rafael Devers at third base, he is 21 and a question mark defensively. This time last year Bellinger had played three games at Triple-A. Chavis can definitely push his way onto this year's Red Sox roster and considering him with a late-round pick even in shallow leagues is sensible.