I should clarify upfront that my interpretation of "bust" might be a little different from most everyone else's. As I pointed out in Sleepers 2.0, I have so many different buckets to fill with names during Draft Prep Season that I try to be extra precise in how I define these buckets so that I'm not repeating the same names over and over again.
By "bust," I don't mean simply a drafting inefficiency. "Oh, he should be going a round or two later, so, you know ... bust." Players who fit that description I would describe as "overrated," and I indeed have a separate column to highlight them.
A bust for me has true bottom-out potential. You take him here, and it may end up being your biggest draft regret because the downside risk isn't being factored in enough. You might argue that the upside is still worth pursuing at the cost, and it's also possible that scarcity, whether statistical or positional, leaves you with no other choice. But all things being equal, I'm scared to draft these guys.
Walker Buehler, SP, Dodgers
My beef with Buehler has nothing to do with his skills, which are plentiful, well-established and, as best I can tell, intact. But I'm skeptical he'll get to them enough to justify his second-round cost. The Dodgers have always prioritized preservation with him, having him build up in-season the past two years rather than wasting his bullets on spring training, and the buildup was so slow last year that he made only one six-inning start during the regular season. So how careful do they figure to be with him after a year in which he threw about 60 innings, regular and postseason combined? He'll be an asset for your Fantasy team, sure, but at the cost, you need him to be a horse, too.
Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
Robert already showed us how low his lows can go last September, forfeiting what seemed like an easy claim to AL Rookie of the Year honors by hitting .136 (11 for 81) with a .409 OPS. It's not fair to assess a player by his worst month, of course, but when that month is basically half his season (not to mention his career), it weighs heavily. Only one of the seven qualifying batters who struck out as often as Robert did in 2020 (32.2 percent) had higher than his .233 batting average (Willy Adames at .259), and while we've seen players like Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo thrive with that sort of strikeout rate in years past, it required them to be some of the hardest hitters in the game. Robert's average exit velocity (87.9 mph) was actually in the bottom half of the league.
His expected batting average, according to Statcast, was .226. His expected slugging percentage was .466. No matter how scarce stolen bases are, Robert won't live up to his ADP without taking a leap as a hitter, and while such a leap is possible, I'm not willing to project it onto him at the expense of another ace or a Corey Seager-type hitter. There will be chances for those sorts of gambles later.
Until Fantasy Baseballers finally back down from Guerrero and draft him at a level that's commensurate with his actual production, I'm inclined to keep applying the bust label to him. Seems like no matter how many times he disappoints them, they come back convinced that this year is the year, his stock holding as steady as a perennial MVP candidate.
Don't get me wrong: I think the year will eventually come. He's still only 21, consistently puts the bat on the ball, and has some of the highest peak exit velocities of any hitter this side of Giancarlo Stanton. But until he starts elevating, we've already seen that it won't do much for him. He actually took a step back in that regard last year, putting the ball on the ground nearly 55 percent of the time. Maybe the adjustment comes quickly and he starts swinging the bat like a second-rounder this year, but without any evidence (more than just some offseason weight loss) that it's in the offing, I can't go the blind-faith round again, not with the caliber of player I'd be passing up in Round 5.
Cavan Biggio, 2B/3B/OF, Blue Jays
I had penciled Biggio into this slot even before news of the deadened baseball broke, strengthening the case against him. He was already getting the maximum possible output out of his modest tools, his average exit velocity placing him in the 26th percentile and his hard-hit rate placing him in the 13th percentile. That profile made for an expected slugging percentage of only .347, nearly 100 points higher than his actual .432 mark.
He made it work by putting a bunch of balls in the air at a time when fly balls are traveling farther, but if reducing the bounciness on the balls (as has been reported) leaves him with warning track power, the bottom falls out, his batting average and home runs both cratering. Even with the old ball, he was already cutting it closer than I was willing to wager on, his average home run distance (379 feet) ranking 10th from the bottom.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Blue Jays
As skeptical as Fantasy Baseballers normally are of the mid-career breakout from a player with a track record of mediocrity, it's stunning how they've made an exception of Hernandez, whose turn for the studly came during a pint-sized season in which his plate discipline was as abysmal as ever. It takes a special hitter to succeed in spite of a 30.4 percent strikeout rate, and while Hernandez did stand out for his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2020, it was only a modest jump from his career baseline -- the kind you'd expect for a guy on a hot streak (which may have been all it was considering the small sample).
He delivered the best-case outcome for an already existing profile, in other words, rather than improving the profile itself, so I suspect that with increased exposure, he's probably closer to the guy who hit .235 with a .774 OPS between 2018 and 2019.
Dinelson Lamet, SP, Padres
The truth is I so want to love Lamet, who got a longer leash than I expected from the Padres, throwing six-plus innings in six of his 12 outings while recording double-digit strikeouts in four of them. The possibility for another ace is of course a welcome one in an environment where nothing is as impactful. But if my standard for a bust is bottom-out potential, then nobody's a bigger candidate than Lamet. Only 26 starts removed from Tommy John surgery, his elbow began barking again last September, knocking him out for the postseason and requiring a PRP injection in the offseason.
The Padres say he's in a good place now, but they were similarly optimistic about Mike Clevinger before he ultimately succumbed to Tommy John surgery, which is too often the way it goes. Remember when Chris Sale's elbow wasn't a big deal? Or Luis Severino's? Words are wishful thinking. Seeing is believing, especially when the pitcher in question lives and dies by his slider, a pitch that's particularly taxing on the elbow. Something tells me that if the Padres didn't share those sentiments, they wouldn't have pursued starting pitching quite so aggressively this offseason, bringing in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove.
Dylan Bundy, SP, Angels
I hit big on Bundy as a sleeper pick a year ago and would prefer simply to stay the course, but I do think there's an alternate world where his 2020 plays out differently and am wary of his 2021 playing out in that way. The sticking point is whether he's genuinely whipped the home run issue that plagued his time in Baltimore, and since most of the improvement can be attributed to him cutting his home run-to-fly ball rate in half, it may have simply been a byproduct of him making all 11 of his starts at pitcher's parks during a wacky season.
True, he'll encounter more of those in the AL West than he did in the AL East, but he's looking at a more diverse schedule in 2021 and would have a hard time repeating that home run-to-fly ball rate even if he wasn't. It's hardly an open-and-shut case, especially with the reported changes to the baseball, but an ERA over 4.00 is still possible.
Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners
Luis Robert's September was so bad (see above) that it allowed Kyle Lewis to eclipse him for AL Rookie of the Year honors. But it's fair to say Lewis himself backed into the award, hitting .147 (11 for 75) with a .550 OPS in the season's final month. What's most concerning, though, is that his strikeout rate jumped to 37.1 percent during that time, landing much closer to the 38.7 percent mark that scared me away during his 2019 season than to the 24.8 percent mark that he achieved through Aug. 31 last year.
I bought in like a sucker when he had a .328 batting average and .945 OPS through Aug. 31, but as hard as he crashed, with that Miguel Sano-like strikeout rate rearing its ugly head again, we should all know better now. Even that impressive 36-game sample with the reduced strikeout rate was fueled by an unsustainable .407 BABIP. At 129th overall, the risk exceeds the reward for Lewis.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Padres
It sure looks like Hosmer found his groove again after an underwhelming first two years with the Padres. His .851 OPS was the second-highest of his career, his 3.63 Fantasy points per game were the sixth-most among first basemen, and he seemed to follow through on his promise to hit the ball in the air more. Or he did at the start of the year, anyway. Over his first 26 games, when he hit eight home runs, he hit fly balls at a 39.3 percent rate, according to FanGraphs, which would have been the highest mark of his career. Over his final 12 games, when he hit one home run, he hit fly balls at a much more typical (and, frankly, disgusting) 21.2 percent rate.
Now, I'm not an idiot. I realize that in both instances, we're talking about the tiniest of samples. But that's kind of the point. All of 2020 -- and particularly Hosmer's, which spanned only 38 games -- was too small of a sample to read real transformation into it. That's especially true when you can reduce the already small sample to a mere micro-sample, and given the placement of these micro samples, it's not at all farfetched to think Hosmer settled back into his usual habits once he got into the flow of the season.
Changing a hitting profile is hard, especially for someone who has already accumulated all the at-bats Hosmer has. For most of them, he has been a marginal contributor and not someone you'd want starting for you in a 12-team league, particularly at a time when home runs come so easily. Safe money says that's still the case.
Chris Bassitt, SP, Athletics
How can I be down on Chris Bassitt, right? I mean, just look at those numbers.
Yeah. I believe that a pitcher needs one of two things to succeed in today's homer-happy environment: elite swing-and-miss ability or elite ground-ball tendencies. Frankly, it wouldn't hurt to have both. Bassitt has neither, and while you'll occasionally see a pitcher with that profile succeed by inducing weak contact, it's much more difficult to sustain from year to year. Statcast suggests he doesn't fit the mold anyway, sticking him with a 3.78 xERA that wasn't so different from the previous two years. His 4.49 xFIP was even worse, making Bassitt out to be one of the season's biggest overachievers.
Unless the new baseball has a more drastic impact than I'm imagining, home run regression is coming for him. Even if he can sustain an ERA around 4.00, his lack of strikeouts will make for a minimal Fantasy contribution. And the crazy part is that as the 51st starting pitcher off the board, he's going ahead of genuine upside plays like Triston McKenzie, Corey Kluber, Tyler Mahle and John Means. Better to shoot your shot, man. Chances are you won't miss whatever Bassitt gives you.
Aaron Civale, SP, Indians
The fascination with Civale among some Fantasy Baseball analysts really needs to stop now. He may have a high-spin curveball, but the fact is it's not translating to whiffs or ground balls, making him primed for a pummeling in today's homer-happy game. It all came to a head in his final six starts of 2020, when a 6.62 ERA brought his season mark from 3.15 to 4.74. His 4.39 xERA doesn't paint a rosier picture.
Yes, Cleveland has a tendency to get the most out of its pitchers, and Civale does have that one noteworthy pitch to go along with plus control. I'm not saying his case is a hopeless one. But the enthusiasm for him is disproportionate to the likelihood he develops into an actual game-changer.
Cristian Javier, SP, Astros
There is no comp, really, for Javier, who first made himself known to Fantasy players with an unreal 1.74 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 13.5 K/9 between three minor-league stops in 2019. He did it without much in the way of an arsenal -- really just a fastball that he disguises and manipulates well -- and so he didn't place particularly high in the prospect rankings. He deserves credit for not getting pummeled in his first year in the majors, but he wasn't exactly fooling hitters either, delivering a swinging-strike rate (8.7 percent) that looked a lot like Kyle Freeland's and a fly-ball rate (52.2 percent) that would have been the highest among qualifiers. Maybe he really is a unicorn whose oddities allow him to break all the rules, but with less than 60 innings to his name, I'm fading the guy with a 4.86 xFIP.