Fantasy leagues are often won on the margins -- the latter rounds of the draft, the waiver wire pickups, etc. They're also decided by what moves aren't made (e.g., opting not to go for the "next big thing" who ends up struggling). What kind of players usually fit in both groups? Prospects, of course. This two-part series (read part two) will tell you which prospects you should know, which ones you should ignore and which ones you can file away for later (hello, dynasty leagues), starting with infielders below.
Name to Know: Jose Abreu, White Sox -- This is about the only possible player to put here as the first-base crop of prospects is pretty down at present, especially at the top. Heck, Abreu isn't even listed by MLB.com's Prospect Watch as a "prospect" even though this will be his first Major League season after signing a six-year, $88 million deal, a record for a Cuban free agent. What to expect from the Cuban exile? A lot of power, for one. Although it's tough to translate Cuban stats (13 homers in 136 at-bats last year), all three FanGraphs projections (Steamer, Oliver, ZiPS) have him hitting between 26 and 34 homers for the White Sox. His projected average is also respectable at .269-.281. It's recommended you go for something more predictable at first base early, but if someone else in your league hasn't already rolled the dice on Abreu, feel free to grab him in the later rounds.
If you want an actual "prospect" name to know, it's Jon Singleton with the Astros, who is consistently at the top of first-base prospect rankings. He has his own negatives -- an admitted marijuana addiction that he is recovering from, a down year in 2013 -- but with 60 grades on his hit and power tools, he's as good as it gets at this down position.
Name to Ignore: Kyle Parker, Rockies -- There is some hope the former Clemson quarterback can replace the recently retired Todd Helton over at first base, even if Justin Morneau was brought in for that same purpose. There's some pop here (20-plus homers in each of his three Minor League seasons), and Coors Field will help, sure -- maybe even enough to let you think he's worth a late flyer. Don't let that happen. His OBP and slugging percentage took steep dives once he left the California League, and his hit tool only comes out at 50, according to MLB.com. A heavy dose of seasoning at Triple-A Colorado Springs with a few call-ups here and there is his most likely path for 2014.
File Away for Later: Dominic Smith, Mets -- The Mets made Smith, who will turn 19 in June, the first first baseman chosen in last year's Draft, so you know he's a few years away. All the same, he's filled with promise (and question marks). Some remain very high on his offensive profile, though others question his power potential. That leads to a wide gulf in the ceiling-floor debate. We'll get some answers to these questions in 2014.
Name to Know: Kolten Wong, Cardinals -- Unfortunately, Wong might be best known right now for being picked off to end Game 4 of last year's World Series. He'll have a chance to make a better name for himself this season as he takes over the Cards' starting second-base job with Matt Carpenter moving over to third. Wong showed a good bat and some decent speed last year when he slashed .303/.369/.466 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 107 games for Triple-A Memphis. The 23-year-old should hit enough and swipe enough bags in the bigs to be in the conversation for a fantasy roster spot. Despite his youth, his upside is big enough that he warrants a backup/spot start spot on teams that don't have the Canos/Kipnises/Pedroias of the fantasy world and could use the depth. The one area of concern is the presence of veteran Mark Ellis on the Cardinals roster. Should Wong struggle in April, Mike Matheny may turn to the steady hand of Ellis.
Name to Ignore: Taylor Lindsey, Angels -- This goes out to Halos fans more than anyone. It's easy to see a prospect listed at the top of an organizational ranking and immediately go into overhype mode. Don't do that with Lindsey. He might be at the top of the Angels' list, but make no mistake -- he's only listed as MLB.com's No. 7 second-base prospect. The only tool listed that rates higher than average is his arm (which doesn't impact fantasy), and although he'll only be one step away at Triple-A Salt Lake, he's unlikely to make much of a fantasy impact this year. In short, don't be fooled by the "1" often seen next to his name.
File Away for Later: Mookie Betts, Red Sox -- No second baseman in the Majors owned a .300 average, hit for 15 or more homers and stole 30 or more bases last year. That's what Betts did between the two Class A levels last year; .314/15/38 were his exact numbers in those categories in what was undoubtedly a breakout campaign. Some regression is to be expected in Double-A, but the profile (60 hit/60 run) is impressive. With Pedroia holding down the fort in Boston, Betts' Major League value may come in another organization or at another position. All the more reason to keep an eye on him.
Name to Know: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox -- Bogaerts, for all intents and purposes, is the name to know among fantasy prospects this season. The 21-year-old is MLB.com's No. 2 prospect with a hit tool of 60 and power checking in at 70. He slashed .297/.388/.477 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs at the top two levels of the Minor Leagues last year and held his own in the Majors, batting .296/.412/.481 over his 34 playoff plate appearances. The Aruba native is ready now and will get the starting shortstop job for the Red Sox come Opening Day. Although some struggles are likely at the get-go, he's a worthy fantasy option at shortstop and a must-have in any keeper league.
Name to Ignore: Alen Hanson, Pirates -- You may see Hanson and think of the Bucs' recent success with young players like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte and potentially Gregory Polanco/Jameson Taillon, and that's where I'll have to stop you. Hanson, although No. 67 on MLB.com's top 100, isn't in the same class as those players, for one, and isn't likely to make much of a Major League impact until 2015 at the earliest. His 2013 numbers (.274/.329/.427/eight homers/30 steals) took an across-the-board dive from his breakout 2012 campaign (.309/.381/.528/16/35), which is disconcerting. Save your Pirates prospect excitement for Polanco or Taillon.
File Away for Later: Chris Owings, D-backs -- I'm playing a bit of a semantics game here, but hear me out. Arizona's shortstop battle isn't quite settled between Owings and Didi Gregorius yet, and it's not likely to be settled by the time you draft, so you and your fellow owners aren't likely to jump on either player until we collectively get a firm answer. Owings, the reigning PCL MVP, who has a better bat than his counterpart in this case, should be the pick, and even if Gregorius is named starter, it's likely that Owings will get his chance in a short time either with the D-backs or another organization. Once that happens, make your move. But don't waste a draft pick before then.
Name to Know: Nick Castellanos, Tigers -- You could make an argument for the powerful Kris Bryant at this spot, but Castellanos gets the nod here for his mix of average and power. The 22-year-old will move back to his natural position at the hot corner following a one-year trial in the outfield and Prince Fielder's exit, and he'll bring a quality bat that should produce right away. He owned a .276/.343/.450 slash line as a 21-year-old in Triple-A last year after two full seasons of a .300-plus average in 2012 and 2011. His 18 homers were a career high and were indicative of the power increase he's capable of as he gets older. He'll be a top-20 (perhaps even top-15) fantasy third baseman this year, and those numbers will only go up in the future as a potential keeper.
Name to Ignore: Matt Davidson, White Sox -- After being dealt by the D-backs in the offseason, Davidson will get the Major League starting job all prospects crave when he suits up for the White Sox on Opening Day. The trade, along with his Futures Game MVP/Triple-A Home Run Derby title from last year increased his name recognition, but Davidson strikes out frequently (26.8 percent at Triple-A Reno last year), and that will only be exacerbated at the big league level. Plus, he's never hit higher than .280 in the Minors, and that number is surely out of reach in the Majors. Let him get his feet wet this year, and then check back on Davidson in 2015.
File Away for Later: Colin Moran, Marlins -- We knew Moran was good at the plate when he slashed .345/.470/.544 with 13 homers and 91 RBIs for the University of North Carolina. Then, the Marlins took him sixth overall, and he didn't slow down too much (.299/.354/.442) over 42 games at Class A Greensboro. The 21-year-old will have a chance to prove himself in his first full Minor League season this year, and if the trend continues, he has all the makings of a player that could move quickly, especially with the Fish, who have a history of accelerating their best prospects through the Minors.