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Value, am I right?
It's kind of the name of the game. If enough of your players outperform their cost, whether in the draft or off the waiver wire, you win.
Spend too much time in one set of rankings, though, and you can lose your sense of where players are actually going vs. where they deserve to go. Comparing those rankings to average draft position, or ADP, can help you spot the values.
I should point out it's ridiculously early for an ADP review — and rest assured, this won't be our last. The input at this stage isn't large or diverse enough to deliver reliable results, with prospects in particular being elevated from all the dynasty leagues and their supplemental drafts. But the data at least comes from multiple sites thanks to the fine work of the people at FantasyPros, giving us just a slightly better idea what to expect. It's also worth noting that this data is for Rotisserie (or standard 5x5 category) leagues and not Head-to-Head points.
Consider it just the starting point in your draft prep and not the final word.
It's fair to wonder if the sky is falling when a player hits about half as many home runs and steals about half as many bases as in the previous two seasons, and I'll be the first to say the early rounds aren't the time to take chances. But when word came out after last season that Jose Altuve was playing with a fractured kneecap, it kind of explained everything. He entered July 1 batting .342 with seven homers and 12 steals. From that point forward, he hit .264 with six homers and five steals. Something wasn't right, and now we know what it was.
The Jose Altuve from 2016 and 2017 was on the level of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. He's capable of carrying a team in batting average and stolen bases, arguably the most difficult categories to fill later in the draft, and just so happens to play the weakest position (other than catcher, which hardly counts as a position). Taking into account the upside, the statistical scarcity and the positional scarcity, getting him in the middle of Round 1 is discount enough for me.
This one isn't totally fair because we only recently got word that J.T. Realmuto will be playing his home games in Philadelphia rather than Miami this year, which couldn't be more night and day as far as venue changes go. It's sort of like how Christian Yelich went from Miami to Milwaukee last offseason and ... well, we saw how that turned out.
Yelich's home/away splits hinted at greatness if he ever got out of Miami, and the crazy thing is Realmuto's splits are even more dramatic. Check it out:
Whoa mama. For a player who was already regarded by many as the top catcher in Fantasy, that's a serious uptick. If those numbers translate to a smaller venue as smoothly as Yelich's did, Phillies fans will be partying like it's 1999 — Mike Lieberthal's 1999, that is.
It'll be fun to monitor how Realmuto's ADP changes in the weeks ahead, but for now I think Round 4 (where Heath Cummings and I have him ranked) will be a tough sell for most.
Perhaps the most controversial player heading into 2019, Adalberto Mondesi is far from proven, quite obviously flawed and lacking the sort of minor-league track record that would inspire great confidence. But he also has a top prospect pedigree and has shown signs of making good on it over the past couple years. More notably, he has a uniquely valuable skill set in today's MLB. Project his numbers from his arrival in late June, and they come out to roughly 25 homers and 60 steals.
It's that one-of-a-kind quality, the ability to dominate the scarcest of categories (stolen bases) without jeopardizing the others, that makes him worth the early-round investment despite the risk. You're just not going to find that combination of contributions anywhere else. And even in the worst-case scenario, the steals are probably the safest of them given that speed doesn't slump and that his defense and building-block status both ensure he'll stay in the lineup. Frankly, I think the threat of him bottoming out is overblown given that his .335 BABIP wasn't so unreasonable for a player with his batted-ball profile and foot speed.
Even if he ends up batting more like .250 with 15 homers and 40 steals, that's like a poor man's Trea Turner and well deserving of his going rate.
Remember what I said about the sky falling for Altuve? Well, there's an even stronger case to be made for Joey Votto, who's now 35. But if you look beyond the production, how his home runs plummeted from 36 to 12, you'll find nothing in his batted-ball profile that points to age-related decline.. He just didn't elevate the ball like he normally does.
A master of self assessment who has proven time and again to be a step ahead with his approach, Votto already knows anything I could possibly point out here (which isn't true of all players, it's worth noting). His plate discipline remains unmatched, with his line-drive and all-fields approach making him one of the safest bets for batting average. There's little reason other than an instinctual gut reaction to his age to think he won't bounce back.
And as reliably as he has put up second round-caliber numbers, his off year could be your saving grace at a position that has surprisingly become one of the thinnest in Fantasy.
You notice a trend here with the old guys? Zack Greinke himself is 35, but even more than with Votto, you'd have to squint to detect any signs of decline. More likely, the lack of appreciation has to do with skill set, and while it's true Grienke's strikeout rate doesn't quite measure up to the other pitchers we might describe as aces — he was at less than one per inning last season, which isn't so uncommon for him — he's rarely outclassed in terms of workload. He's a master at locating and manipulating his pitches, putting his run prevention on equal footing with someone like Corey Kluber. While his chances of being the tip-top pitcher in Fantasy are pretty low, he makes for it through sheer consistency. There's no shame in taking him as your ace, particularly if it's a couple rounds after all the others have gone off the board.
Another case of ascribing decline where there actually is none, Jose Abreu has been far too reliable since breaking into the league in 2014 to let slip to Round 7 in a year when bankable first basemen aren't so widely available. His 2018 cuts against that reliability argument, sure, but he didn't strike out appreciably more. He didn't elevate less or make weaker contact. He just didn't send quite as many of his fly balls over the fence.
And it's worth noting that he was pretty much back to normal in the second half, batting .294 with nine homers and a .922 OPS in 136 at-bats before shutting down early because of a thigh infection. So why exactly are we discounting him? If anything, the talk of him playing more DH this year makes him safer.
You've heard second base is weak this year? There are basically five players who you can bank on delivering standout production at the position — Jose Altuve, Javier Baez, Whit Merrifield, Ozzie Albies and Scooter Gennett — and two of them, Baez and Merrifield, are eligible at other positions. Gennett, then, earns high marks for scarcity, and not just in a positional sense. He offers a rare batting average boost in a landscape that's becoming increasingly power-focused. And having done it two years in a row now, reliability should also be a mark in his favor. He presents such an enticing combination of things that are hard to find that I'm always surprised when he slips past Round 6.
Continuing the thought about second base ... while it's true you can't bank on standout production from Daniel Murphy given that he's nearing his 34th birthday and has a history of being constantly banged up, the upside should still make the back of your neck tingle. The two years prior to last season's slow recovery from knee surgery had him in the MVP discussion, and now that he's playing at Coors Field, I'll just say it: He's winning the batting title if he has the at-bats to qualify.
It's a match in BABIP heaven. Between that park's expansive outfield that allows an inordinate number of batted balls to drop and Murphy's low strikeout rate, high line-drive rate and all-fields approach, a .360 batting average wouldn't be so far-fetched, as crazy as it sounds. There's risk, sure, but Round 9, his current going rate in 12-team leagues, seems like insane value considering.
Yes, we're talking mostly about Rotisserie value here, but just for the sake of comparison, Justin Turner averaged 3.28 Head-to-Head points per game last year, sandwiching him between Javier Baez and Eugenio Suarez among the third base elite. Yeah, I have to cite per-game production because he played just 103 games, but that's only because he broke his hamate bone in spring training, which isn't the sort of injury you can attribute to his 34 years of age.
What's crazy is that his recovery compromised his power for his first several weeks back on the job, which is typical for that injury. He wasn't himself again until August, batting .357 with nine homers and a 1.067 OPS over the season's final two months. You know where that version of Turner would have ranked among third basemen in Head-to-Head points per game? Try second, behind only Jose Ramirez.
Who's letting this guy slip to Round 10?
What's hurting Eloy Jimenez's draft stock more than anything else, I'm convinced, is that he's poised to debut the same year as Vladimir Guerrero, who has spent the past two years doing his best Ted Williams impression in the minors. But Jimenez is a special talent in his own right, flashing 70-grade power while making contact at a Jose Altuve-like rate. If Guerrero is Ted Williams, in other words, Jimenez may well be Albert Pujols, having hit .337 with a .961 OPS between his two stops last year.
Those are of course bombastic comparisons not meant to be taken literally, but the point is Jimenez offers that rare combination of skill and ability that would normally have Fantasy owners salivating on the eve of his debut, which is projected for mid-April just like Guerrero. He's something of a forgotten man, though, with Guerrero hogging all of the hype.
Yu Darvish is coming back from an elbow debridement procedure, which of course presents a certain amount of risk. It's not Tommy John surgery. It's not expected to limit his availability at the start of 2019 or compromise his stuff. It's just something he had to get done after spending most of last year hoping rest would do the trick. So if it's not the procedure scaring Fantasy owners away, then it must be performance, and it's true Darvish had a 4.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in his eight-start showing with the Cubs last year. But he was having mechanical issues, struggling to find his release point, and that made his fastball unusually hittable.
He looked like he turned the corner over his final two starts, allowing two runs on five hits in 10 innings, but of course, we never got to see it play out. Given his track record as an elite bat-misser who keeps his ERA on the right side of 4.00 and the fact he was throwing his fastball as hard as ever, I'd rate a bounce-back season as more likely than not, which means you might get an ace-caliber pitcher as late as Round 14.
I get that Jesse Winker is coming off shoulder surgery and may have a fight on his hands for at-bats following the acquisition of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Assurances are nice, and he's a little short on them. But what others don't seem to get is the offensive force he could be with regular playing time.
We caught a glimpse of it over his final seven weeks before succumbing to the shoulder injury, when he hit .373 with six homers and a 1.045 OPS over a span of just 126 at-bats. Nobody's suggesting he could sustain that pace — it did rely on a .406 BABIP, after all — but the BABIP was only 33 points higher than the batting average, which means if Winker profiles as a mid-.300s BABIP guy, as his line-drive, hard-hit and pull rates all suggest, we're looking at a cinch .300 hitter.
Not to mention one with an elite walk rate. And one who has already demonstrated between two partial seasons the capacity for 20 homers at this level, a skill that wasn't as evident during his time in the minors. In fact, if you review WInker's batted-ball profile line by line, it comes out looking a lot like the typical Joey Votto season, which is frightening, quite frankly, and reason to make him a top priority in the back half of your draft regardless of how his role looks at the start of the season. He does what he does, and the playing time will take care of itself.
So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett's huge breakout last season, and find out.