As the fantasy baseball season approaches, people all over are starting to get geared up for their drafts. Nick went over late starting pitcher targets yesterday and today I’m focusing on the 10 hitters I’m targeting in my leagues.
Note: These players are listed in alphabetical order and not by rank.
1. Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox) – I would say that, if you asked most people who they think the AL Rookie of the Year will be this season, a lot of them will say Andrew Benintendi, and with good reason. Benintendi is incredibly skilled in just about every way. He tore the minor leagues up, and was promoted to the majors late last year, playing 34 games for the Red Sox. In that short amount of time, he proved he was ready for the majors, batting .295 across those 118 plate appearances. Benintendi’s not a big dude, he’s only 5’10” and 170 pounds, but the guy has good power. He’s got quick hands and a strong swing, and could easily pump out 20+ home runs eventually. Perhaps the most intriguing part about Benintendi is his pure hitting ability. He’s got great pitch recognition, he’s a smart hitter, and makes great contact. He’s also got really good speed too, and while this doesn’t really matter for fantasy, he’s an excellent fielder. I think eventually, Benintendi could be a 20/20, .280-.290 hitter, but I don’t think that’s what he’ll do this season (though I don’t think it’s out of the question). This season will really hinge on where he bats in the lineup, and I think the Red Sox will bat him towards the top, likely second. If he does end up batting at the top of the lineup, I think an average in the .280s, 10-15 home runs, 15-20 steals, 70-80 RBIs and 80-90 runs. And honestly, it would not surprise me if he does even better than that. If, by the end of the year, we’re sitting here going “Holy crap I can’t believe Benintendi hit 23 home runs, stole 25 bases and batted .300,” it honestly wouldn’t shock me. His potential is crazy high, and he’s going fairly low, so I think he’s worth the grab.
2. Keon Broxton (Milwaukee Brewers) – If Keon Broxton gets his plate discipline under control (I see you 36.1% strikeout rate), things could get really awesome, really fast. He showed some flashes of brilliance last year, hitting .294 with 16 stolen bases after the All-Star Break before he fractured his wrist and his season ended. Yes, his BABIP was .373, but Broxton is exceptionally fast, and fast players tend to have higher BABIPs. Should the BABIP regress a bit? Probably, especially as his HR/FB rate comes down (which it will, it was 25/7% last year), but he could still end the season with a .350+ BABIP and I would not be shocked. Fun fact: if you project Broxton’s excellent second half season over 150 games, you get roughly a .294 average, 26 home runs, and 52 stolen bases, give or take. Now look, I don’t think that average is going to happen, when you strike out every third at-bat, it’s hard to have a halfway decent average, but if that strikeout rate comes down, and it could, why can’t he essentially be Jonathan Villar? Broxton has the ability to hit 20 home runs and steal 40 bases, he does, but I think more realistically we’re looking at potentially a 15-20 home run, 25-30 steal season. However, based on his potential alone and the flashes we saw last season, he’s worth grabbing.
3. Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins) – Aren’t we all sick of hearing how much potential Byron Buxton has? He’s been in the majors off and on for the past two seasons and really has not done much at all, other than strike out all the time. But Buxton started to turn it on at the end of last year though. In September/October, he hit .287 with nine home runs, 24 runs, and 22 RBIs. That’s one impressive month. Here’s the thing: Buxton is all potential, I mean the guy has the speed to steal 40 bases and the power to hit 20+ home runs, he really does, but potential is one thing, reality is another. If he can continue what he was doing in September, 2017 could very well be that breakout year we’re all hoping for from him. If he can get his plate discipline under control, and he’s gradually improved in that regard, he could bat in the .240s, hit nearly 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. The big thing is, though, he’s got major upside in every single category. If he doesn’t make any steps forward this year, then I think it’s time to start reining in our expectations for the former number one overall prospect. But I have faith!
4. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals) – Could Matt Carpenter top his past two seasons this year? I’d say that’s very possible. He’ll be batting third in the order consistently, something he hasn’t done before, and I think that’s going to help his RBIs in a major way, especially with Dexter Fowler and Aledmys Diaz getting on base ahead of him. Carpenter’s power is legit, his hard hit rate was 41.9% last season and his soft hit rate was 9.9%. Dude hits the ball hard, and with where he’ll be in the lineup this season, I don’t see any reason he can’t bat in the .270s with 30-some home runs, and hit in the 90s in runs and RBIs with the potential to get to 100 in both. Honestly, I think Carpenter is just going to be getting better this year. Yea, I’m kind of expecting a career year out of Carpenter this season, but why not? He’s also going to be eligible at 1B, 2B, and 3B, which doesn’t hurt at all.
5. David Dahl (Colorado Rockies) – David Dahl came out of the blue and hit the ball exceptionally well last year, earning him a starting spot in what is potentially one of the best lineups in all of baseball, in the best hitters park in all of baseball. What’s not to love about that? I don’t necessarily see Dahl as a .310 hitter like he was last season, that average was very BABIP-driven, though with Dahl’s speed, he’ll likely maintain a relatively high BABIP. I see Dahl as a hitter who could hit in the .270s and maybe even .280s with the potential to go 20/20 with good runs and RBI numbers. Now, there’s one caveat to this: Just the other day, Dahl was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his ribs. Bud Black is optimistic that he’ll be able to start playing at the end of spring training, but as this injury gets evaluated, Dahl’s status could change pretty quickly. If Dahl is completely healthy, he’s got a ton of potential, but if he’s going to miss significant time, he might not be as valuable, depending on how long he’ll be out.
6. Aledmys Diaz (St. Louis Cardinals) – Aledmys Diaz wasn’t supposed to be much more than a bench guy for the Cardinals last season, but thanks to Jhonny Peralta being injured, Diaz was able to come out and have a little breakout party of his own. Everything about the way Diaz hits says that last season is totally repeatable. He batted .300, but only had a .312 BABIP. He also had one of the lowest strikeout rates in all of baseball. He’s got good plate discipline, knows how to get on base, and has some good power. I don’t necessarily think he’s going to improve on last season much, but why couldn’t he do it again? Why can’t he bat around .300 with nearly 20 home runs and 70-80 runs (especially batting at the top of the Cardinals lineup)? For the price you have to pay to get him, that’s totally worth it.
7. Mitch Haniger (Seattle Mariners) – Mitch Haniger is probably going to be an everyday outfielder for the Mariners, mostly because of his defense, and that’s going to be really good for his bat. Haniger straight up raked in the minors last season, hitting .321 with 25 home runs and a .999 OPS. Now, in his limited appearances last season, Haniger wasn’t lighting the world on fire, but that was only 35 games, and he’ll get a starting gig this season. Haniger struggled during his early years in the minors, but he changed his swing, and when he did that, things turned around in a big way. I truly believe this guy has a lot of potential, he could bat in the .260s this year with 20 home runs and 60-70 runs and RBIs each, with upside for better. He’s going really late in drafts, so I think he’s worth a late-round grab based on his upside.
8. Manuel Margot (San Diego Padres) – Manuel Margot has two big assets: speed and average. He was a career .288 hitter in the minors and has fantastic speed. Plus, he’ll most likely be playing every day in the outfield for the Padres, and will more than likely be hitting towards the top of the lineup. The guy is only 22 and honestly could be a productive fantasy asset this season. He could easily steal 30-40 bases while not hurting you in other counting stats. I could see him batting in the .260-.270s with runs and RBIs in the 50s with potential for more depending on how well the Padres start to hit. There’s a lot of guys out there who can snag you 30+ stolen bases, but a lot of them will hurt you in other areas, Margot doesn’t as much, and that makes him a worthwhile late grab.
9. Addison Russell (Chicago Cubs) – I think since we’ve seen two full seasons of meh production from Addison Russell, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 23 years old and still kind of getting used to the majors. Russell showed a good uptick in power last season, but his average dropped, and that was concerning. But the average drop was weird, because his batted ball stats looked really good. His line drive rate went up, his fly ball rate went down, and his infield hit rate went up. Now, perhaps the average drop was partially due to an increased infield fly ball rate, or the fact that his groundball rate stayed static, but still, I think Russell has more potential in the average department. But what’s really encouraging is the fact that he started making more contact and started striking out less. I think Rusell could keep the power up around 20 home runs this season, and maybe even bring the average up to the .250s. Russell is still a solid breakout candidate, the guy used to be a prospect on the level of Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, don’t forget, so while that is what I expect from him, I think there’s a good chance he could do even better. On upside alone, he’s worth getting.
10. Christian Yelich (Miami Marlins) – I’ve saved the best for last. I’m in love with Christian Yelich. There. I’ve said it. It’s out there now. I think Christian Yelich could kill it next season, I really do. Originally, in my outfield rankings, I said I wasn’t sure Yelich was a 20 home run guy, but the more I’ve looked into him, the more I think that power uptick was legit. Yes, he had a somewhat elevated HR/FB rate, but he’s becoming a better hitter in just about every way. His groundball rate is steadily dropping, his fly ball rate and hard hit rate are steadily climbing, he walks well, he gets on base at a really good clip, he’s got good speed and good power. What’s not to love? The man does it all and he’s just getting better. I could see Yelich continuing that progression and maybe even going 20/20 batting .296 with 100 runs and 80-90 RBIs. Sure, that’s on the high end, but why not? I think it’s totally possible and that’s why I’m grabbing him in every single league that I can.