Fantasy baseball draft season is a great time to look for love, especially around Valentine's day. We went looking for love on Monday's episode of the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast in honor of Valentine's Day, as Frank Stampfl, Scott White, and I gave a few players we make googley-heart eyes for in 2021.
Of course, we do lots of sleepers and breakout discussions throughout the draft prep period, and we'll look at those players who are being undervalued by ADP, and those are all ways to find players we like, at least more than the consensus. But this isn't just, "I like this guy more than you do." This is about planting a flag and maybe being a little bit irrational.
"This is my guy, I love him, and there is nothing you can do to change my mind."
Because that's what love is. You might be able to recognize the warts in the people you love, but you don't care. Last year, Corey Seager was the player I loved most. He was being faded for a history of injuries and a pretty middling 2019 season, but I saw the skill set and fell in love. That one worked out quite well: He hit 23 homers in 70 games, including the playoffs.
Love doesn't always work out, of course, but you know what they say: It's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Even if the player you loved let you down. You've gotta get back out there. Here's who we love for 2021 in our words, taken from Monday's podcast, which you can listen to (and subscribe to here) below:
The player Chris Towers loves
"Ian Anderson. I know he's only thrown 32.1 in the major plus 18.2 in the postseason, so right around 50 total. That's a pretty substantial sample size for 2020 -- that is a Zach Plesac-ian sample size.
I kind of fell in love with Anderson while doing my starting pitching preview, which was published Tuesday on CBSSports.com. The biggest thing for me is, this was a guy who has had hype for a long time as a prospect, and it was mostly: "He's got this really good fastball, he's got this really good curveball, he's kind of got a little bit of a funky delivery." And then he comes up to the majors and all of a sudden he's got this change up that looks like one of the best pitches in baseball last season
He threw it 176 times, including 70 times to righties. I actually like that he threw it so much to right-handed batters, because that same-on-same changeup combination is an underrated one if you can do it well. He gave up a .104 batting average and .146 slugging percentage with the changeup, with expected stats per Statcast that completely backed it up. He had a 39.8% whiff rate with it, too.
So, when I see a guy with that kind of talent and the kind of pedigree that Anderson has, where the scouting report coming up as a prospect was one thing, and then he came up to the majors and lived up to that plus this other incredible thing, that suggests a guy who is going to be a very, very good starting pitcher. I have Anderson as a top-24 starting pitcher coming into the season, which is really high. But, for a young pitcher, I don't think he has too many workload concerns, certainly not more than most pitchers who haven't really established themselves, and there are a lot of those guys being drafted right now.
Anderson threw 135 innings in a minor-league season before, and while the Braves may go with a six-man rotation or back off guys here and there, if he got to 140-150 innings it wouldn't surprise me. And having a very good pitcher doing it for 150 or so innings is going to be more valuable in 2021 than it ever has been in Fantasy, so I'm not really going to downgrade too many guys if I think they're good."
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The player Scott White loves
"I am so in love with Ke'Bryan Hayes. He can do no wrong in my eyes. He can only do very right.
I've kind of created this narrative in my head -- a fantasy, if you will -- where he's that guy coming up through the minors who doesn't produce great numbers, but he's always high on the prospects lists. And you think, "It's just because of defense, those evaluators don't know what they're talking about." But then as soon as he gets to the majors, those pitchers all throw so hard and they're in the strike zone so often that I don't know if something clicks, but those kinds of inert talents and athleticism really kick in and he starts crushing the ball.
That's what happened last year with Hayes, and the guy I've always referred to for this phenomenon is Francisco Lindor. It was exactly the same situation coming up through the minors, like, "Well, this guy is not going to be a big deal in fantasy, right? He's not putting up any numbers." The offensive trait they shared coming up through the minors was that they always made contact at a good rate, and if you have that foundational skill -- particularly if you hit it in the air right now, it's so easy to cultivate power -- I think you can make strides really quickly. And I think we may have seen that from Hayes after he got called up.
More over-the-fence power than he ever showed in the minors, and he crushed the ball to all fields. And he can steal bases, too. It wouldn't shock me if he stole 15 bases. So, I think he's a really safe bet for batting average, a non-zero for stolen bases, and might hit 30-plus homers. We might be making out our rankings for 2022 and view Ke'Bryan Hayes as a third- or fourth-round type player. I think it's totally possible. And for whatever reason, he's being drafted like he never got called up last year. It's amazing to see the gap between where Alec Bohm (108) is being drafted and Hayes (149), because Hayes clearly had the better numbers in the little bit we saw of them."
The player Frank Stampfl loves
"I have lots of options, you know. I definitely could have just done a 60-minute monologue on Joe Musgrove and I don't think anyone would have objected to that. But I'm going to go with Carlos Carrasco.
The first six starts last season were a little shaky, and I think that was somewhat expected coming off a season in 2019 where he was diagnosed with leukemia. 4.50 ERA, 15 walks in 30 innings in those first six starts. That's 4.5 walks per nine, which is really not what we're used to, seeing from Carrasco. His final six starts were amazing, though: 1.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP. He went at least six innings in each of those start; he went seven innings twice. And he got the walks to 2.4 per nine during that stretch, and the strikeouts were basically on par with where he's been: 15% swinging strike rate for the season. That was basically where he was at in 2018, when he was a top-12 pitcher for fantasy baseball purposes. The ADP for Carrasco is 73.5, so he's going at that 6-7 turn as SP25 off the board.
And on top of everything he's going to the Mets now the National League, whereas of today, there is no DH in the National League. So, I think that means we have to somewhat bump up National League pitchers again. Carrasco is now pitching in the National League, so I love getting him as my SP3 in that Round 6-7 range."
And one player we have always loved and just can't quit:
- Chris: Byron Buxton (ADP: 121) - "I think there is a lot to buy into what he's done over the last couple of seasons. He seems to have really taken a step forward as a power hitter, and he's been able to do it without sacrificing in strikeouts. Small sample sizes, because yes, Buxton gets hurt a lot, but I just think you look at the last two seasons: 16 stolen bases, 23 home runs in 126 games. You're talking about 25-25 upside, and I don't think there's any question he's always had the potential to do that. He's just never been able to really stay healthy enough to. But he's a super-efficient base runner. He's still 99th percentile in Sprint speed this deep into his career, and he was in the 89th percentile in hard-hit rate, 85th percentile in average exit velocity, and 88th percentile in barrel rate. The plate discipline is bad, but he can be a .260 hitter who steals 25 bases and hits 25 homers, and that kind of player usually gets drafted a lot higher than Buxton is."
- Scott: Josh Bell (ADP: 160) - "I've always loved Josh Bell, from the time I saw him hit his first home run, which almost went into the Allegheny River. He's so strong, he looks like the Super Shredder. I may be mixing up love with lust, I'll admit. After that 2019 season, I thought he could do no wrong. Clearly, I was wrong, but I'm willing to forgive and forget because I like guys with his raw power who strike out as infrequently as he does and did prior to 2020, which was a messed-up season with no video room available. Obviously, the strikeout rate shows something was off for him. I think he's going to be back in a big way, and I'm still in love with Josh Bell."
- Frank: Andrew McCutchen (ADP: 206) - "I think he's useful regardless of format. He's 34 years old now, but still managed a .324 OBP with 10 home runs and four steals in 57 games last season. The batting average is not great at this point, and he's probably .250 to .260, but his ADP is outside the top 200. Even if I got him as my third outfielder in a points league or as my utility bat, I really would not mind it."
So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.