(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)
I’ve typically found that in just about every league I’m in, I end up with a handful of the same players on each team because there are some players that I’m really hyped on coming into the year (often more than others). As we get closer to the official start of the fantasy baseball season, we’re going to take a look at 10 hitters you should be targeting in your draft. These aren’t necessarily guys that I think are being drafted too low (that article is coming later), but they’re guys that I think should be able to contribute to your team in a big way.
Note: The players below are listed in alphabetical order, not in any kind of ranking. Also ADP is based on NFBC ADP.
1. Adrian Beltre (3B, Texas Rangers) – Remember when David Ortiz was still in the league (I hope so, it wasn’t all that long ago)? During his last few years, he always dropped and dropped in fantasy baseball drafts for two reasons: 1. He was old and everyone was expecting his production to drop, and 2. He was a utility-only player. Beltre doesn’t have that second problem, but he does have the first one, he keeps dropping in drafts because he’s 38 (almost 39) and everyone assumes that he’s going to be terrible this year. Maybe he will be, anything is possible, but I don’t expect that at all. Yes, he had an injury problem last year that limited him to 94 games, but that was the first time he’s played in less than 100 games since his rookie year in 1998. And even when Beltre was playing, be was awesome, finishing the year slashing .312/.383/.532 with a .221 ISO. There’s no reason he can’t keep up a near-.300 batting average and hit 20-25 home runs if he stays healthy this year, and considering his ADP right now is at 159, that’s a pretty low-risk investment for potentially a high-reward player.
2. Willie Calhoun (OF, Texas Rangers) – Projecting rookie breakouts is extremely hard, and there really isn’t a way to truly know when someone’s going to be the next Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger, but Willie Calhoun has a pretty good shot of having a great year this year. If there’s one thing I like to see in a prospect coming to the majors, it’s good plate discipline, and Calhoun has just that, with a strikeout rate below 12% the past two years in the minors and a strikeout rate of 18.9% during his brief stint in the majors last year. I’m anticipating the Calhoun is going to have the starting job, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up on the good side of a platoon with Jurickson Profar. If Calhoun’s plate discipline sticks, we’re looking at a guy who could bat in the .270s with nearly 30 home runs, and that’s excellent considering his ADP is right around 250 right now.
3. Carlos Gonzalez (OF, Colorado Rockies) – He’s old! He can’t hit lefties! He can’t hit outside of Coors! I know, I’ve heard the arguments against CarGo this year and I understand them, but also understand that while CarGo may not be the fantasy stud he once was, he’s also not dead. CarGo picked the worst time to have the worst season of his career, right before he became a free agent, but there’s reason for hope coming into the season. One of the reasons CarGo was so bad was because of the way he was gripping the bat. If you’ve read some of my stuff before, you know what I’m about to say, but what CarGo was doing was wrapping his hands around the bat too much, something he did during the earlier portion of his career, which led to the barrel of the bat dropping and a more undercut of a swing, which caused him to either swing under the ball or to strike out. Towards the latter half of the season, he figured out that he had slipped back into an old habit and adjusted his grip, which led to a much more level swing. You can see how that affected him, as he slashed .314/.390/.531 in the second half of the season. I think CarGo can carry this into the upcoming season and should bounce back nicely, especially now that he’s back in Coors Field.
4. Manny Machado (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles) – After turning in yet another awesome year, Manny Machado turned in the worst year he’s had yet, making all the people who drafted him as a top-five pick angry. At least, for the first half of the year when he was slashing .230/.296/.445, but that first half was plagued by a terrible .239 BABIP. Once that started to correct itself, Manny went right back to being Manny, slashing .290/.326/.500 in the second half. Pretty much all of his batted ball stats looked right in line with his career during the year last year, it was just his BABIP that was crushing him. His hard-hit rate actually went up to 39.5%, his HR/FB rate was right in line with his career, his plate discipline stats all looked fine, and though he finished the year with a .259 average, he also had a .291 xAVG. All of this is to say that drafting Manny in the second round (which is about where his ADP is in most leagues) is great value because I’m expecting him to right back to being the Manny we know and love next year. If I have a first-round pick that’s later in the round, I might reach for him.
5. Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) – During our mock draft last week, I was able to grab Starling Marte in the fifth round, which surprised me until I saw that his ADP is right around the fifth or sixth round. Marte’s season last year was derailed by his PED suspension, but the plus side of that is he’s not recovering from an injury, and even in a year where he played in just 77 games, he still stole 21 bases, which is about a 40-steal pace for a full year. Give him a full year this year and I don’t see any reason he can’t give you double-digit home runs with a good average and 35-40 steals, which I will gladly take in the fifth or sixth round.
6. Tommy Pham (OF, St. Louis Cardinals) – Whenever a player has an awesome breakout year kind of out of nowhere (like Tommy Pham did), it’s totally fair to be skeptical, in fact, it’s a good idea. Pham came out of nowhere to have a 20/20 season with a high average, and it all looks pretty legit. Sure, his average might regress a bit, his .306 average did come with a .368 BABIP, but it also came with a .282 xAVG, so I would still expect him to maintain a fairly high average. While some regression is to be expected, I don’t imagine it’ll be too much, and I think a high-average, 20/20 season is totally possible for him, and that’s pretty valuable.
7. Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins) – Jorge Polanco’s .256/.313/.410 line for the year last year looks fine if unspectacular, but it’s because it’s brought down by a miserable first half in which he slashed .224/.273/.323. Then, in the second half of the year, Polanco figured things out, started swinging less and developed a better eye, which led to a .293/.359/.511 second half, including a ridiculous August where he slashed .373/.413/.686. I like it when I see a player make a noticeable skill change and it leads to success, and that’s exactly what Polanco did here. He improved his plate discipline and it led to a much-improved approach at the plate. If he keeps that up, he’s going to be a very useful shortstop in fantasy, and he’s going at an ADP of 204, which is dirt cheap.
8. Scott Schebler (OF, Cincinnati Reds) – Our own Jonathan Metzelaar wrote an excellent piece on why Scott Schebler is someone you should consider coming into the year, and I’d highly recommend reading it. In essence, Schebler was doing just fine last year until he hurt his shoulder diving for a ball in late June. What followed was a miserable July as he tried to play through the injury, followed by a DL stint. Once the DL stint was over though, he was right back to normal, and if you look at the month-by-month splits of Schebler’s year last year, you can see that July sticks out as an outlier of a bad month. He still finished the year with 30 home runs but had a pitiful .233 average, mostly fueled by a July in which he hit .182. The power is legit, there’s no reason he can’t hit 30 or so home runs again, and considering his .233 average came with a .248 BABIP and a .260 xAVG, there’s plenty of reason to expect it to get better. The guy’s ADP is 282 right now, he’s probably not getting drafted in most leagues, which means you could grab him way late basically for free and you can bank on him outproducing his ADP.
9. Mallex Smith (OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – I’ve loved Mallex Smith for a long time and I’ve just been dying to see him get a full-time gig. Now, it finally looks like he might have one in Tampa assuming the Rays DH Denard Span or Carlos Gomez. In the 81 games he saw with the Rays last year, Smith showed that he can produce, hitting .270 with 16 stolen bases. The guy has awesome speed, and if he’s given a full season, he could easily steal 30 bases (maybe more) with a good average. He’s going undrafted in the vast majority of leagues right now, and I like him better as a source of cheap speed given that he’ll likely have a steady gig (which Jarrod Dyson won’t have) and he’s not a huge injury risk (like Cameron Maybin is).
10. Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers) – I featured Yelich on this list last year, thinking that he would continue his trend upwards and have an awesome year. He ended up having a perfectly fine year, but not the year I had hoped he’d have. Now he’s in Milwaukee, and I think he’s primed and ready to essentially have the best year of his career. Miller Park is a significantly better park for hitters than Marlins Park is. Last year, according to ESPN’s Park Factors, Miller Park was 12th in the league for home runs last year, Marlins Park was 25th. Given that, it’s no shock that Yelich had such stark home/road splits when it came to HR/FB rate, with a 10.9% HR/FB rate at home and a 20.5% HR/FB rate on the road. I think a high-average, 20/20 season is totally doable for Yelich this year, and given that he’s going in about the 5th/6th round, I’ll gladly take that.