Yes, I have Sleepers and Breakouts. I have Deep Sleepers and Underrateds. If you want me to tell you who you should draft, you have sources aplenty.
But that's just what I say. What do I actually do? Who are the players I find myself taking most often? Which strike that perfect intersection of expectation and opportunity, aligning so perfectly with my drafting sensibilities that they're almost tailor-made for me?
Or maybe I'm just the sucker who doesn't see them for what they really are. You be the judge.
Because first-round picks are tied to draft position, which is usually random, it's difficult to claim ownership of any particular one, but when ADP doesn't give Alex Bregman the respect of a first-rounder, it means I wind up with him basically anytime I pick eighth or later. Is the disrespect all about trash can lids, or do people not know he was the top hitter in points leagues and sixth-best in Rotisserie last year? He's certainly a four-category stud, and there's a decent chance he's back to being a modest steals source with Dusty Baker as his manager.
In recent years, I've talked about volume being a sneaky differentiator among starting pitchers, giving their ratios more impact while quite naturally elevating their strikeout and win totals. So it's fitting that I'm drawn to someone like Shane Bieber, who had 10 starts of more than seven innings last year. Max Scherzer had five. Justin Verlander had four. Gerrit Cole had three. Jacob deGrom had two. Some point to his high xERA as cause for concern, but he's such an efficient strike-thrower and bat-misser that I don't worry about the hard contact when looking for an ace at the Round 2-3 turn.
Here's another amazing stat line: Yordan Alvarez had 50 homers and 42 doubles between the majors and minors last year, and when you look at his percentages at the major-league level, he was basically Mike Trout without the speed. He ranked eighth among all hitters in Head-to-Head points per game, so to get him in Round 4 or even 5, where he tends to go now because of his late arrival to camp, is just easy money. My biggest hesitation is not wanting to fill the utility spot too soon.
I don't think there's a particular aspect of Lucas Giolito that uniquely appeals to me, but I may differ from the consensus in where I rank him within the second tier of starting pitchers. Where he really stands out is the 11.6 K/9, which places him between MIke Clevinger and Yu Darvish on the 2019 leaderboard and gives him an upside advantage even if he's not as proven as Clayton Kershaw or Aaron Nola. While I prefer him as a No. 2, I've been known to take Giolito as my ace, sometimes as early as Round 3.
It wasn't just defense that put Marcus Semien in the AL MVP race last year. He was the No. 18 hitter last year in 5x5 scoring and No. 5 in points, yet he's only the 13th shortstop off the board this year. Clearly, few are willing to buy into the age-28 breakout for player with six years' experience, but I will when the discount is this great. It helps that the data — from the improved discipline to the improved launch angle, especially in the second half — backs up what he did, and if it happens again, I'm just as well off as the person who paid up for Francisco Lindor.
Here's another case of the masses looking at the 2019 stat line and saying "nah, won't happen again," even though the data doesn't raise any red flags. What's crazy in Josh Bell's case is that the final stat line could have been so much better. If the season ends at the All-Star break, he's probably a second-rounder with a .302 batting average and 1.024 OPS. He has offered what is a reasonable explanation for his second-half slide (keying in on breaking balls, making him late on fastballs), which probably isn't even as bad as you remember seeing as he hit .258 with an .892 OPS in August and September.
While Jack Flaherty and Yu Darvish are widely known for their historic second halves, Sonny Gray was right there with them, delivering a 1.94 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 over his final 15 starts. He has talked about how the Reds gave him "the cheat code" for his slider, unlocking the potential of what showed the makings of an elite swing-and-miss pitch, and his ground-ball rate has long been among the best in the league. His full-season stats (a 2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.5 K/9) were shockingly close to Flaherty's (2.75, 0.97, 10.6), but I'm getting him 70 picks later.
How much better was Mitch Garver than every other catcher last year? Well, picture how big the gap is between Javier Baez and Niko Goodrum among shortstops. That's by how much Garver outperformed the consensus No. 1 catcher, J.T. Realmuto, in Head-to-Head points per game. Granted, it was in a part-time role, so maybe he'll come back down to earth a little with an expanded one. Since he tends to go in Round 10 or 11, though, after the nucleus of my team is already formed, it seems like a total upside play.
Lance Lynn was seventh in the majors in both innings and strikeouts last year, ranking between Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer in the latter, which more than justifies the cost without knowing anything more about him. Truth is his season-long numbers actually downplay how good he was when he got good, delivering a 3.17 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 11.3 K/9 over his final 26 starts. True, it's fair to wonder how legit the breakout was for a well-worn 32-year-old, but it almost doesn't matter when you're getting him as your fourth starter, well after most every other pitcher with that sort of strikeout ceiling has gone off the board.
Hyun-Jin Ryu's second-place finish in the NL Cy Young race last year is presumed to be a fluke since he didn't measure up to the other aces in strikeouts, but his elite control and ground-ball tendencies have yielded a 2.21 ERA (not a misprint) in 44 starts over the past two years. Even if he's only as good as his 3.18 ERA in the second half last year, he's well worth this ADP. He makes for the perfect pairing with Lynn in a 5x5 league for their relative strengths/weaknesses.
In his first two-plus seasons as a major-leaguer, Corey Seager hit .305 with an .876 OPS, suggesting he'd be an early-round lock for years to come. So he probably deserves a pass for his first year back from Tommy John surgery, especially since he kept his strikeout rate low and caught fire late, batting .291 with seven homers and a .939 OPS in September. It shows how deep shortstop has become that you can still get someone so capable of a stud outcome so late, and I'm happy to take advantage, particularly if I'm looking to boost my batting average.
J.D. Davis is probably my single favorite player to draft this year, both because he hit .307 with 22 homers and an .895 OPS as a part-timer last year and because his expected stats, as calculated by Statcast, suggest he should have been even better. Whether he was playing more often (see last August) or less often, whether against lefties or righties, his production held steady, and with the departure of Todd Frazier and introduction of the DH spot, his playing time is assured this time around.
If Davis is my No. 1 favorite player to draft this year, Mark Canha is No. 2. He was basically Kris Bryant once he took over as an everyday player at about the halfway point (June 26), batting .295 with 16 homers, a .936 OPS and a .416 on-base percentage that would have ranked behind only Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Alex Bregman over a full season. I don't even let him last to his ADP, which somehow has him going after players like Didi Gregorius and Kevin Newman.
The Braves are the sort of team that should provide their closer with ample save opportunities, and Mark Melancon is their closer to begin the year. We all suspect Will Smith is better, which is why he's drafted earlier, but Melancon seemed to regain his pre-Giants (and pre-surgery) form in the second half last year, delivering a 2.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 10.0 K/9 to go along with excellent walk and ground-ball rates. Now, he only has to hold off Smith for 60 games. I like his chances.
Nick Castellanos' venue change is the one getting all the hype — and for good reason — but Avisail Garcia's move from Tampa Bay to Milwaukee might be the second-most notable for any hitter, with a simple park overlay suggesting that as many as a dozen of his batted balls might have sailed out of Miller Park if he had played exclusively there last season. His playing time is more assured than ever with the DH spot coming to the NL, and he's the rare sort of late-round power source who should also help in batting average.
I backed off a little when he was late reporting to camp, but then Josh James showed up saying he was ready to throw 75-80 pitches and made my heart go pitter-pat again. Whether you're pointing to his 14.7 K/9 as a reliever last year, his 3.23 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 13.5 K/9 as a minor-league starter two years ago, his 100 mph fastball, or just the usual advantages the Astros would offer any pitcher, he would seem to offer the sort of upside that, frankly, has no bounds. It's a swing-for-the-fences pick at a price that justifies it.
My love affair with J.D. Davis and Mark Canha includes a side of Gio Urshela, who I think statistically is my single most-drafted player last year. Look, if you buy what he did as the Yankees third baseman last year, batting .314 with 21 homers, 34 doubles and an .889 OPS in just 442 at-bats — it's stupid that he goes this late. His high-contact, line-drive approach is perfectly tailored for batting average, which is an especially difficult category to bolster late, and he's in a lineup that could legitimately put him among the RBI leaders. I understand he didn't show the potential for any power before last year, but dude, he's practically free at this point.
Alex Wood worked with Driveline Baseball this offseason to up his velocity to 92-93 mph. The last time he threw that hard as a major-leaguer was the first half of 2017 ... when he went 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 10.8 K/9. My one hesitation with him is the Dodgers' surplus of pitching depth, but manager Dave Roberts committed to having Wood in the rotation even before the shutdown and has identified him as one of three pitchers in camp who'll be ready to throw seven innings right away. It could all work out spectacularly.
Brandon Kintzler is one of those throwback closer candidates whose closer candidacy is built on the fact that some other manager let him do it once. But as unspectacular as he is, he's also steady, keeping runs off the board mainly by keeping the ball in the yard. The 3.37 ERA he has compiled over the past four seasons would probably be good enough for him to keep the job, especially on a team with no clear alternatives and especially in a season that's only 60 games. I'll take the saves however I can get them.
Forget two-catcher leagues. I've been willing to roll with Danny Jansen as my No. 1 just so I don't have to spend anything at the position. We were all targeting him as such as a rookie last year, so I don't see how anyone would claim he doesn't have that kind of upside, especially after he went 9 for 17 with four homers and just one strikeout in spring training. Yes, that was months ago, but catcher is a position where so few players are rostered that there's always somewhere else to on the waiver wire if your wildest hopes fall through.