Nailing your early-round draft picks in Fantasy baseball is key, but is isn’t enough. A Fantasy championship can be lost with the wrong pick in the first round, but it probably can’t be won there. Everyone has access to elite talent, and you simply can’t get that far ahead of the pack with your top picks.
Late-round picks, then, are where championships are won. If your 23rd-round pick misses, no big deal; it’s basically a free waiver-wire pickup. However, if you can hit on a star-level player in the later rounds of the draft, your team starts to look awfully formidable.
This is why it never makes much sense to draft for safety late. You’re never going to miss drafting Alcides Escobar, Hisashi Iwakuma or Fernando Rodney, those known quantities who just aren’t difference-makers even at their best. No, those late-round picks need to be high upside players. I’m looking for top prospects, or former stars looking to rebound, or just someone with an elite skill being overlooked.
Here are 10 players currently ranked below 250 in FantasyPros.com industry ADP rankings who you should be targeting in the last few rounds of your draft.
Max Kepler Minnesota RF
Max Kepler gave us a hint of what he is capable of last season, when he hit 15 homers in his first 64 games, sporting a .263/.347/.560 line that hinted at stardom in his future. Of course, Kepler hit just .203/.266/.273 in his final 49 games, a sign that he just might not be ready for prime time quite yet. He hasn’t shown he can sustain that kind of power in his minor-league career, but scouts have long projected plenty of power growth for him, and he probably has more speed than he showed in the majors last season. A career .280 hitter in the minors, Kepler has 20-20 potential and an elite pedigree, which makes him a good target in the last few rounds as an upside play.
Jose Reyes N.Y. Mets 3B
Steals are scarce, and players who can steal bases tend to see their value inflated in Fantasy drafts. And yet, there sits Reyes, available with one of the last picks in the draft, coming off a season in which he stole nine bases in just 60 games. Add in eight homers and a .267 batting average and you have a totally useful player, one who is likely to open the season with an everyday role for the Mets at third base. Reyes, who turns 34 in June, won’t ever be a threat to lead the league in steals again, but 20-plus seems like a safe floor if he plays every day. With the Mets reportedly prepared to play him in the outfield for stretches, it’s not unrealistic to expect him to be in the lineup nearly every day.
Tommy Joseph Philadelphia 1B
Tommy Joseph may not be the long-term first baseman in Philadelphia, but he should keep the job this season after a nice rookie year showing. In 347 plate appearances last season, he clubbed 21 homers, with a league-average strikeout rate. You might think of him as a platoon type bat, but he actually held his own against righties in 2016, hitting .248/.291/.482 against them, more than good enough to justify an every-day job. The power is real, backed up by a 36.6 percent hard-hit rate and plenty of balls pulled into the air, and it should play up in that park. And Joseph did that after recording just 512 plate appearances across his previous four seasons due to injuries. It’s not unfair to think he could improve further from where his already impressive rookie season left off.
Blake Snell Tampa Bay SP
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A young lefty struggled with his control. Yeah, Blake Snell truly is one of a kind. In all seriousness, he could be. Snell struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings, and was able to avoid disastrous results despite 5.2 BB/9, at least in some part thanks to his ability to rack up strikeouts. That won’t be enough in 2017, but with Snell, it’s pretty clear he just has one hurdle to cross to become a star: limit the walks and pitch counts. In 107 1/3 innings at Triple-A, he has managed to do that, walking 3.4 per nine, and he has posted a 2.68 ERA as a result. Snell is still very much a work in progress, but he has the potential and the skill set to be a devastating pitcher, and there just aren’t many of those with his pedigree and talent at this point in the draft.
Dylan Bundy Baltimore RP
With Dylan Bundy, you’re betting on the pedigree because he was at one point one of the best pitching prospects of the decade. Injuries derailed him, and it’s fair to wonder if he still has that untapped upside in him. However, he managed to hold his own last season under difficult circumstances, making the jump to the majors with very little experience in the minors. He is supposed to be working in a cutter/slider, the pitch that made him such a sought-after prospect coming up. If he can harness that, Bundy could still have SP2 upside, and if he’s essentially free at the end of the draft, it’s hard not to make the leap.
Josh Bell Pittsburgh 1B
Can you be a star at first base without big time power? Joey Votto has managed the trick, hitting fewer than 30 homers in all but one of his major-league seasons -- including each of the past six -- while still sporting a .961 OPS in that span. It requires an elite hit tool and a preternatural command of the strike zone, and those are two things you can see in Josh Bell, if you squint. Bell hit .303 in his minor-league career with a 14.4 percent strikeout rate, and then he got to the majors last season and walked 21 times to just 19 strikeouts in 152 plate appearances. I’m obviously -- obviously -- not saying Bell is the next Votto. However, the template to being a good hitter without huge power at first base is there, and he could fit the bill.
Michael Conforto N.Y. Mets LF
It’s not clear if Michael Conforto will even have an everyday role waiting for him when the Mets break camp. Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t find a taker for Jay Bruce this offseason, which could leave Conforto as the odd-man-out, either in a bench role or playing at Triple-A. However, Conforto has been on fire in the spring, going 15 for 42 with two home runs, and at some point it’s going to become clear he is the team’s best outfielder outside of Yoenis Cespedes. Maybe it doesn’t happen by opening day. Maybe he will need a slump by Bruce, or an injury to Lucas Duda. However, at some point, Conforto is going to get his shot and, with a career .767 OPS in the majors, plus a 1.209 mark at Triple-A last season, there isn’t much more he needs to prove. It would be a colossal mistake of the Mets didn’t have him in the everyday lineup before long, which makes him a worthwhile pick, even if you need to stash him.
Lance Lynn St. Louis SP
We haven’t seen Lance Lynn in the majors since 2015, but there was a lot to like about him at the time. In 2014 and 2015, Lynn sported a 2.87 ERA across 379 innings with 8.3 K/9. He wasn’t a star by any means -- that 1.311 WHIP wasn’t much to write home about -- but Lynn was a reliable Fantasy option, a mid-rotation type who benefited from the stellar supporting cast the Cardinals put around him. That cast should still be there, and there have been no limitations for Lynn in spring so far, a good sign as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. Lynn won’t be an ace, but betting on him making 30 starts makes a ton of sense at this point in the draft.
Yuli Gurriel Houston 3B
It’s hard to know quite what to make of Yuli Gurriel at this point. He was, at one point, unquestionably one of the best hitters in Cuba, with a career .335/.417/.580 line in their professional league. He went to Japan for one season and kept right on hitting, sporting a .305/.349/.536 line in 2014, so he wasn’t just a product of inferior competition in Cuba. However, he simply hasn’t hit since making his way stateside, as he had just a .691 OPS in the minors for the Astros last season, and a .677 mark in the majors. As a 32-year-old, there isn’t a ton of time for Gurriel to prove himself, so the Astros may not have a long leash with him at first base this season. On the other hand, joining a team midseason while acclimating yourself to a new culture could be a pretty good excuse for Gurriel’s struggles. What’s clear is, he was an elite hitting talent at one point. Whether he still has that ability remains to be seen, but if he is available essentially for free in a mixed league, there’s little to no downside here.
Francisco Liriano Toronto SP
I’ve wondered if we haven’t been giving Francisco Liriano short shrift all offseason, and his current ADP proves it. He is coming off a 4.69 ERA and at 33, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever get it back. On the other hand, Liriano has actually been a pretty reliable pitcher over the last few years, posting an ERA between 3.02 and 3.37 from 2013 through 2015, before falling apart with the Pirates last season. Because he lives outside of the strike zone and relies on batters to chase, Liriano is always seemingly on a razor’s edge between relevance and disaster. However, he re-discovered his form in Toronto, posting a 2.92 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings, and has more than enough upside to be worth one of your final picks.