2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 10 hitters to target instead of the bigger names
Don't be blinded by names and reputations on Draft Day. Chris Towers highlights 10 prime examples.
- Draft Prep Tiers:
Navigating a draft successfully is tough. If you go into the draft chasing nothing but safe, dependable, options at their exact ADP, you might look at your roster at the end and realize you just drafted a safe, dependable, sixth-place team. On the other hand, if all you do is chase upside and breakout plays, you might end up with a championship roster – in 2020, when those players are all ready to contribute.
So, it's good to be flexible as you move through the draft. As we go through the offseason, we'll give you players to target and to avoid, as well as our favorite sleepers, breakouts, busts, and more. For this column, however, I was inspired by an email from one of our podcast listeners, Matthew, who wrote:
"I was wondering if you could give some of the best examples of Big name players drafted early on and a comp at their position that will put up similar numbers that you can draft several rounds later."
I love this idea, so I decided to look at early average draft positionsfor 10 big-name players, and try to find similar options who might be able to match them, or at least come close. In same cases, it's a big name who might be overvalued; in other cases, it's a less popular player being under undervalued.
Either way, this could be a useful list to help you navigate your draft with an eye on the best values.
*All ADP comes from FantasyPros.com's consensus data.
It was only 50 games for Rhys Hoskins, so we don't want to overreact to the (objectively excellent) .259/.396/.618 line Hoskins put up in his major-league debut last season. On a per game basis, Hoskins came pretty close to matching Rizzo's production, but we've seen small-sample size standouts flame out before. So, let's focus more on the underlying skills Hoskins showed last season:
| ||Batted-ball data||Plate discipline data|
| ||Line drive %||Hard-hit %||Flyball %||Average Exit Velo||HR/FB||BB%||K%||Swinging strike %||Out of zone swing %||Contact%|
Look, I'm not saying Hoskins is Anthony Rizzo. He strikes out more, and combined with his flyball tendencies, he's probably going to struggle to match Rizzo's batting average skills. However, he might have the ability to get you 95 percent of the way there, and with his batted-ball profile, he has a real chance at 40-plus homers, too.
The projection systems mostly agree:
It's not perfect, but... it's pretty dang close. Rizzo is safer, but if you're aiming for upside, Hoskins two rounds later might be the play.
If you don't buy what Pham did last season, I can't exactly blame you. He's always showed impressive skills, but was never quite able to sustain it. However, after overcoming a vision issue, he put together a .306/.411/.520 line in 530 plate appearances, with 23 homers and 25 steals. The power may not be sustainable with his 26.1 percent flyball rate, but you're not counting on Bregman for big power numbers either. The projections, once again, back this one up. If you're not worried about the "SS" next to Bregman's name in the draft room, waiting on Pham looks like a pretty smart call.
Speaking of paying for the "SS" next to a player's name, it's hard to come up with an argument for Seager over Rendon without citing position. Seager is an elite talent, one of the best hitters in baseball, but he's been pretty underwhelming as a Fantasy option to date in his career. He has yet to be a top-30 hitter in either of his seasons, and besides batting average, doesn't really stand out in any one place. Seager's biggest issue is, he doesn't steal, and he doesn't really have 30-plus homer potential because of his relatively low flyball rate.
Rendon is, like Seager, arguably a better hitter in the real world than the Fantasy world, but with an even better contact profile, more power potential, and arguably a better lineup. He bested Seager in everything but runs last season, and I don't see much reason to think he won't do so again in 2018.
It's worth noting, the projections systems don't quite agree, dinging Rendon for his injury history and his middling batting average before 2017. If you don't buy his improved contact abilities, you might not buy this one, but I will be taking plenty of shares of Rendon.
There are a few different versions of this for Benintendi, who is one of the industry's favorite breakout candidates for 2018. Christian Yelich is going about two rounds after Benintendi, which doesn't make much sense to me, but Cain looks like an even better value. We're hoping Benintendi grows into a .300 hitter with 25-plus steal potential. While I think that's totally reasonable, Cain is already there. And now he's joining a team that plays in a park that boosts homers, with a manager who has been willing to let his players run wild. A .300 average, 20 homers, and 30 steals at the top of a terrific lineup are possible with Cain, and nobody seems all that interested in paying for that upside. I will.
Encarnacion is going to put Fantasy players in a tough situation this year. He's old enough that a slow start in April could be the sign of his decline, but you can't really act on that after watching him struggle through a .200/.343/.353 mark with a 33.0 percent strikeout rate last April. Of course, if you gave up on Encarnacion at that point, you missed out on his clubbing 34 homers with 98 RBI in his final 133 games, fully justifying his draft price.
So, if Encarnacion gets off to a slow start again in 2018, you probably have to stick with him for a while. And, if this is the year he finally declines, he's going to dig a hole you can't get out of. Olson isn't likely to be Encarnacion's equal, and his batting average concerns are real. But, the cost is also a lot lower, and I'm not sure he's that much riskier.
I love Byron Buxton. How could you watch baseball with any regularity and not? I think he's also still a potential Fantasy superstar with the speed to swipe 35-plus bases and the power to crank out 20-plus homers. However, there's an awful lot of wishful thinking going on with his current price in Fantasy. Yes, he hit .300 in the second half last season, but he did that while still striking out 27.6 percent of the time, with a .378 BABIP doing a lot of the heavy lifting on that average. He can certainly be a high-BABIP guy thanks to his blazing speed, but his career mark of .330 is probably a lot closer to what you should expect. That might put his realistic ceiling at around .270.
Segura, meanwhile, has hit .310 over his past 1,260 plate appearances, with a .294 mark in three of his past five full seasons. Buxton has more power potential, but it should be pretty close to a push in steals, and Segura should run away with batting average and runs. This is one spot where people aren't willing to pay for the "SS" next to a player's name, and I'm not sure why.
Name brand version: A.J. Pollock (57 ADP)
Generic: Ender Inciarte (116 ADP)
This one comes down to a pretty simply question: How likely do you think it is that Pollock can stay healthy? If he stays healthy for 150 games, there's no question about his upside, as evidenced by his .315-111-20-76-39 line in 2015. However, Pollock has played just 124 games in two seasons since, missing significant time due to an elbow injury in 2016, as well as groin injuries in each of the past two seasons. At 30, it's fair to wonder if he can play a full season at this point, and whether he still has 40-steal upside if he does.
Inciarte isn't an exciting Fantasy option, but he found a little extra juiced ball-inflated pop in 2017, and has always been a good source of average and steals. With an improving Braves' lineup around him, he's a safe alternative to Pollock at a dramatically cheaper price.
Name Brand version: Xander Bogaerts (66 ADP)
Generic: Cesar Hernandez (248 ADP)
Cesar Hernandez can't get any respect. He missed 34 games last season, but his 150-game pace would have represented a terrific Fantasy season for a middle infielder: .294 average, 100 R, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 18 SB. He also hit .294 in 2016, and is at .288 over the past three seasons, so he seems like a pretty safe bet to flirt with .300. He doesn't have much pop, sure, but Hernandez will hit at the top what could be a surprisingly good Phillies lineup, and has 20-steal potential to boot. Given that average and steals are the hardest things to come by in today's Fantasy landscape, the utter lack of interest industry-wide in Hernandez doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Rather than reach for Bogaerts and hope he can sustain his inflated BABIP from 2015 or 2016, I'll just wait until the last round, and take my middle infielder there.
In with the new, out with the old... At this time last season, Schwarber was the trendy pick to break out, often going inside of the top-100 in drafts. He flamed out, of course, with his issues against lefties and in the field ultimately earning him a trip back to Triple-A last season. However, he bounced back strongly after returning from the minors, hitting .255/.338/.565 with 18 homers in 52 games started, looking a lot more like the guy we were hoping to see. There's no doubting Gallo has more power potential than Schwarber, and has a more guaranteed role in the Rangers' lineup than Schwarber has in Chicago. However, Gallo also has the potential to hit .190, with a ceiling around .240. No matter what, he's hurting you in batting average. If Schwarber gets within five homers of Gallo, he's probably the more valuable hitter. At these prices, I'll roll the dice on that.
This is my favorite of the bunch. Jones is a four-category contributor, but his impact isn't huge in any of them; he ranked 28th in runs, 24th in homers, 30th in RBI and 18th in batting average among outfielders, and was a useful Fantasy option as a result. But he's more of a compiler at this point in his career, and he doesn't really stand out in any one place. He has value, but he's not someone I want to target at this point in my draft when there's still so much upside left.
So, I'll wait, and grab my fifth outfielder in one of the last rounds, targeting a hitter with a mixed track record, but undeniable talent. Grichuk is a free swinger, and he's paid for that with sub-.250 averages the past two seasons. However, he hits the ball hard consistently (39.7 percent hard-hit rate), and his flyball and pull-heavy approach should play extraordinarily well in the Rogers Centre. He likely won't match Jones' batting average ceiling, but Grichuk has a legit .275-80-30-100 upside, plus the possibility of 8-10 steals. Moreover, he's essentially free at this point, making him one of the best late-round values on the board.
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