It feels a bit like every team will have an elite shortstop this year. The 12th SS off the board in NFBC leagues is Corey Seager; Carlos Correa is 15th. However, there are options going much later who can help you win your league at a much lower cost.
Willy Adames (MIL)
2021 Stats (555 PA): .262 AVG, 77 R, 73 RBI, 25 HR, 5 SB
Fantasy managers might be a little hesitant to buy in on Adames, but I’m not. We know what he did in Milwaukee, posting a 135 wRC+ in 413 PA. Pro-rating his performance with the Brewers to 600 PA, you get 30 HR, 6 SB, 89 R, and 84 RBI with a .285 average. That’s pretty great for a guy you can get after everyone else has drafted their starter. Why is he going so late?
413 PA is only 2/3rds of a season and it’s understandable that not everyone is ready to assume it’s a new baseline. However, there are reasons to believe. Adames has a history of struggling to hit at Tropicana Field and it was clearly an issue for him throughout his time with the Rays. Let’s look at another cut of his career data. Prior to the trade, Adames had 628 career PA on the road as a Ray – a convenient number since it is effectively a full season. Over those 628 PA, he hit 26 HR, stole 7 bases, scored 93 runs, drove in 66 more, and had a .291 average.
Everything is pointing to a high average, close to 30 HR, a handful of stolen bases, and plenty of runs and RBI hitting early in the lineup. Pay the discounted price and profit.
Gleyber Torres (NYY)
2021 Stats (516 PA): .259 AVG, 50 R, 51 RBI, 9 HR, 14 SB
Torres was not good in 2021, and as a result, he is going in the 13th round in 12-teamers. But I think there could be a big bounceback for Torres, and I am not alone. His Steamer projection calls for a .034 increase in his wOBA. That’s a sizeable bounceback, but the projected wOBA (.341) isn’t far off his career line (.338). The game we play doesn’t count wOBA, but Steamer is projecting that .341 wOBA to come with 23 HR, 14 SB, and a .269 average.
It isn’t just his projection that makes me optimistic. In the second half last year, Torres increased his ISO by nearly 100 points, his SLG but nearly 150 points, and his overall performance from a .287 wOBA in the first half to .338 – right back at his career level. His hard-hit and barrel rates jumped, as well.
Torres just turned 25 in December and this is still a guy who hit 24 HR in 123 games as a rookie and followed it up with 38 in his first full season. The environment today isn’t what it was in 2019, so I doubt he pushes 40 bombs again, but he doesn’t need to – if he continues to steal bases, he offers some protection on the floor, and a return to the 20-25 HR Steamer projects is more than enough to make him a great draft day value.
Oneil Cruz (PIT)
2021 Stats (9 PA): .333 AVG, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 HR, 0 SB
The line above looks almost silly, and I thought about putting in his Triple-A numbers instead, but that was also only 29 PA, as Cruz shot up from Double-A in 2021. Why am I calling a guy with 38 PA above Double-A a sleeper? First of all, he was a stud in Double-A, with a .292 average, 51 R, 40 RBI, 12 HR, and 18 SB in just 273 PA. He flashed the 5-category potential we drool about in fantasy circles.
While that MLB sample size is minuscule, he did one thing in those nine PA that you can’t fake, regardless of sample size – he hit a ball 118.2 MPH. He had the 7th highest max EV among all MLB players last year. You have to wonder, given another 600 PA, could he top that?
The great thing is, he doesn’t need to. He is capable of hitting the ball as hard as anyone in MLB, and he has already shown it. The big concern for Cruz is strikeouts – he needs to make enough contact to let his loud contact shine through. He did that in the minors, but MLB is a different story. Going outside the top 250, though, you can take that risk for the upside. You might have to live with some growing pains, but if you can grab Cruz as a depth piece late in the draft, you may have a stud SS you can lock into your lineup before long.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@palmerguyboston on twitter)