2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 10 hitters to target instead of the bigger names

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.

Name Brand version: Anthony Rizzo (22 ADP)
Generic: Rhys Hoskins (41 ADP)

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%
Rizzo 20.1 34.4 39.2 88.1 16.9 13.2 13 7.6 30.4 83.4
Hoskins 23.8 46 45.2 90.7 31.6 17.5 21.7 7.1 24 81.4

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:


Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Hoskins Steamer 599 37 85 98 5 0.263
ZiPS 641 34 96 121 5 0.264
PECOTA 597 36 90 101 3 0.259
SportsLine 628 39 87 103 7 0.256
Average 616 37 90 106 5 0.261
Rizzo Steamer 634 34 97 101 7 0.283
ZiPS 658 33 94 110 10 0.276
PECOTA 655 30 95 98 8 0.272
SportsLine 635 30 88 104 7 0.276
Average 646 32 94 103 8 0.277

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. 

Name brand version: Alex Bregman (39 ADP)
Generic: Tommy Pham (61 ADP)

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. 

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Pham Steamer 574 19 78 66 18 0.267
ZiPS 532 20 78 68 18 0.263
PECOTA 628 22 96 72 22 0.265
SportsLine 575 28 98 76 25 0.301
Average 577 22 88 71 21 0.274
Bregman Steamer 624 22 88 84 12 0.276
ZiPS 612 20 85 79 15 0.271
PECOTA 643 23 94 78 13 0.272
SportsLine 615 22 90 80 16 0.288
Average 624 22 89 80 14 0.277

Name brand version: Corey Seager (31 ADP)
Generic: Anthony Rendon (55 ADP)

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.

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Rendon Steamer 582 21 79 78 7 0.282
ZiPS 585 21 83 84 9 0.277
PECOTA 605 19 77 78 8 0.275
SportsLine 595 23 81 96 7 0.285
Average 592 21 80 84 8 0.280
Seager Steamer 609 24 87 78 4 0.289
ZiPS 666 25 92 99 5 0.293
PECOTA 635 25 91 81 4 0.283
SportsLine 650 27 96 84 4 0.307
Average 640 25 92 86 4 0.293

Name brand version: Andrew Benintendi (38 ADP)
Generic: Lorenzo Cain (88 ADP)

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.

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Cain Steamer 590 16 77 63 16 0.283
ZiPS 570 14 76 59 22 0.283
PECOTA 588 12 70 63 22 0.275
SportsLine 580 15 87 62 25 0.297
Average 582 14 78 62 21 0.285
Benintendi Steamer 636 20 89 82 15 0.287
ZiPS 643 18 84 91 17 0.282
PECOTA 606 18 86 67 16 0.272
SportsLine 640 22 88 95 19 0.281
Average 631 20 87 84 17 0.281

Name brand version: Edwin Encarnacion (48 ADP)
Generic: Matt Olson (131 ADP)

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. 

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Olson Steamer 576 31 76 84 2 0.234
ZiPS 565 33 76 88 2 0.238
PECOTA 590 31 80 90 0 0.230
SportsLine 550 38 78 97 2 0.239
Average 570 33 78 90 2 0.235
Encarnacion Steamer 606 35 87 99 2 0.252
ZiPS 577 31 77 99 2 0.263
PECOTA 609 33 88 97 2 0.261
SportsLine 630 39 93 107 2 0.259
Average 606 35 86 101 2 0.259

Name brand version: Byron Buxton (56 ADP)
Generic: Jean Segura (77 ADP)

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. 

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Segura Steamer 584 13 72 58 20 0.275
ZiPS 634 13 80 52 25 0.273
PECOTA 637 11 82 56 25 0.272
SportsLine 605 15 98 59 27 0.318
Average 615 13 83 56 24 0.285
Buxton Steamer 573 20 74 71 21 0.256
ZiPS 538 18 71 62 24 0.246
PECOTA 600 20 80 71 25 0.250
SportsLine 575 20 79 60 34 0.265
Average 572 20 76 66 26 0.254

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.  

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Inciarte Steamer 648 10 77 54 19 0.285
ZiPS 677 9 89 48 22 0.291
PECOTA 636 8 80 54 19 0.287
SportsLine 620 10 77 49 19 0.299
Average 645 9 81 51 20 0.291
Pollock Steamer 565 18 82 63 22 0.282
ZiPS 510 16 80 57 22 0.282
PECOTA 588 17 87 64 28 0.276
SportsLine 625 19 98 67 29 0.279
Average 572 18 87 63 25 0.280

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.

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Hernandez Steamer 630 8 76 50 15 0.274
ZiPS 579 7 72 37 16 0.270
PECOTA 599 8 75 50 16 0.275
SportsLine 595 10 91 37 16 0.296
Average 601 8 79 44 16 0.279
Bogaerts Steamer 593 15 76 73 10 0.290
ZiPS 673 16 97 77 13 0.285
PECOTA 639 13 81 61 11 0.279
SportsLine 660 15 97 70 13 0.275
Average 641 15 88 70 12 0.282

Name brand version: Joey Gallo (127 ADP)
Generic: Kyle Schwarber (175 ADP)

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. 

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Schwarber Steamer 478 27 66 70 3 0.243
ZiPS 511 31 78 81 2 0.231
PECOTA 569 33 92 85 3 0.243
SportsLine 525 31 70 67 1 0.219
Average 521 31 77 76 2 0.234
Gallo Steamer 576 38 82 93 6 0.227
ZiPS 507 34 75 77 6 0.212
PECOTA 575 36 86 96 6 0.216
SportsLine 565 40 87 88 7 0.216
Average 556 37 83 89 6 0.218

Name brand version: Adam Jones (121 ADP)
Generic: Randal Grichuk (304 ADP)

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.

 
Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
Grichuk Steamer 462 25 59 70 5 0.241
ZiPS 518 27 68 76 5 0.247
PECOTA 477 23 61 70 5 0.241
SportsLine 445 22 53 59 6 0.238
Average 476 24 60 69 5 0.242
Jones Steamer 590 27 75 84 2 0.273
ZiPS 616 27 76 80 3 0.269
PECOTA 642 26 77 89 3 0.270
SportsLine 630 26 82 73 2 0.285
Average 620 27 78 82 3 0.274
Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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