For better or worse, the platform where you do a fantasy baseball draft has a very real impact on how that draft shakes out. Even if you don’t think that you personally are influenced by specific trends, there is a very real competitive advantage to be had over your league mates who are being influenced by these things. The truth is, once the ESPN draft room interface opens up, and everybody sees all of ESPN’s rankings, projections, and ADPs pop up, it’s impossible not to pay them some attention.
This dive into ESPN Draft Trends is just what the savvy Pitcher List reader needs to be brought up to speed on how this tumultuous draft season can still be won, and what players specifically on ESPN are the ones to be targeting, as well as who is not worth the sticker price. While other people in your draft will have nothing other than ESPN’s ADP and projections, you’ll know how high-stakes players have drafted in recent weeks, and be in an excellent position to steal surplus value.
When citing ESPN rankings, I am referencing ESPN’s most up-to-date Roto Draft ranks as well as their Live Draft Trends. The ADP trends are imperfect, as they include both trends from the spring until now, but do capture some general trends. When comparing to the NFBC’s ADPs, I am pulling only from the drafts that have been conducted on July 6th on, currently a sample of approximately 25 snake drafts.
A few additional disclaimers/notes:
- I am not going to be highlighting guys like David Price, Ian Desmond, or Buster Posey who have officially opted out of the 2020 season, obviously, they are no longer draftable.
- ESPN, in general, unilaterally has pitchers ranked lower than hitters. I highlight some specific ones who are egregious but make sure you know your league and league-mates as well as you can, and if pitching goes early in your leagues the way it gets pushed up in most sharp leagues, adjust accordingly.
- This is based on a 5×5 traditionally scored roto league, so if you have categories/scoring that is not traditional, make sure to factor that into your valuations!
Without further ado, let’s start with players on ESPN who are being undervalued:
Clevinger and Bieber both are screaming values going outside of the top 30 picks. Situationally, they both benefit greatly from the schedule, with lots of AL Central matchups where they can beat up on the underwhelming offenses of Detroit and Kansas City. I prefer Clevinger slightly over Bieber now that we know he is healthy, but both should be among the few starters in fantasy that may be able to routinely pitch deep into games, and if you can get either of them after starting with two stud hitters, it’s a great base for a fantasy team. Our own Nick Pollack nabbed them both in a 12-team mock last week when he followed up Christian Yelich first overall with the Indians co-aces at picks 24 and 25.
Josh Hader (67th overall, RP1) 41st NFBC
Hader is universally viewed as the first reliever who should go off the board, but ESPN ranks him outside of the top 60 picks and his draft trend on the site has his ADP just under 60 as well. NFBC drafters meanwhile are far more aggressive in securing him. In a shortened season, Hader’s immense strikeout upside, ERA/WHIP help, and ability to spin multiple high-leverage innings in his appearances give him a rare chance to legitimately provide elite value even if he doesn’t pick up Brewers saves in 2020. In fact, you don’t have to take my word for it, Rob Silver ran projections through THE BAT and found Hader to be a top 15 pitcher in 2020…even if he doesn’t have a single save.
Keston Hiura (70th overall, 2B9) 36th NFBC
Hiura burst onto the scene in his rookie season and produced in all five categories while playing the most scarce position in fantasy baseball outside of catcher. In NFBC leagues, he has been going as the 36th ranked player and hasn’t been selected in a single draft in all of July any later than pick 46, whereas ESPN’s ADP has him at pick 68.6. On ESPN, Hiura can easily be had two or three rounds later and should be on a lot of winning teams.
J.T. Realmuto (92nd overall, C1) 44th NFBC
Realmuto is similar to Hader in that he is universally regarded as the top player at his position, and Realmuto is a great value. His ESPN ADP is far earlier than his 92nd overall rank, as he is going right around pick 60, but even that is too late. On top of being a standout at the weakest position in fantasy baseball, Realmuto stands to benefit mightily from the National League’s addition of the designated hitter. Realmuto already played more than the average catcher, and if he now can DH on days off, he should blow away other catchers in counting stats. Even in a shallow 12-team, one-catcher format, Realmuto is somebody to consider in the first five rounds.
Adalberto Mondesi (102nd overall, SS12) 30th NFBC
Mondesi is arguably the most glaring example of a screaming value that can be found on ESPN among legitimate early-round picks. Currently tracking as the 28th player being selected in NFBC leagues, he is ranked more than 70 spots lower on ESPN. Mondesi has one of the largest ranges of potential outcomes of any player given his tantalizing stolen base upside and has had longer than originally expected to recover from his offseason shoulder surgery. In a season that will be a sprint, not a marathon, he is an excellent sprinter to target.
Luis Robert (111th overall, OF34) 76th NFBC
There is a lot of unknown with Robert, the highly touted prospect has never played in the majors. However, his power/speed combo and prospect pedigree make him a gamble worth taking in fantasy drafts. He’s a top 75 pick in NFBC formats, but still lagging behind on ESPN where he is ranked outside of the top 110 picks and has an average draft pick even later than that. Drafting Robert as an OF2/OF3 could prove to be a league-winning type of move in the shortened season.
James Paxton (143rd overall, SP34) 91st NFBC
Paxton is another previously injured player who had the benefit of getting healthy while the season was delayed. Now seemingly ready for the start of the shortened season, Paxton has made his way into the top 100 picks in NFBC leagues, but his ESPN value still has not risen as quickly. Paxton is outside of the top 200 in ESPN’s roto rankings that were published earlier this month, and while he has seen his average draft spot rise in the past week’s trends, he still is being taken 40+ picks later than his NFBC ADP, and outside of the top 30 starters.
Alex Verdugo (230th overall, OF60) 193rd NFBC
The main piece the Red Sox got back in the Mookie Betts trade is another player who was unlikely to be ready for the start of the season back in the Spring, but now seems likely to be ready. Boston’s offense without Betts figures to take a slight step back in 2020, but still will likely be among the better lineups in baseball, providing Verdugo plenty of chances to drive runs in and score himself. Verdugo seems like a very reasonable get late in drafts and has shown he can be an asset in batting average as well. You won’t need to spend a mid-round pick either, as ESPN still has him ranked well outside of the top 50 outfielders and top 200 overall picks.
Howie Kendrick (272nd ESPN, 1B29) 248th NFBC
Kendrick’s stat cast numbers and Baseball Savant numbers say unanamously that in 2019, he was among the absolute most elite hitters in baseball. Of course, he also is an older player, and wasn’t a lock for everyday playing time back in April. Since then, Ryan Zimmerman has removed himself from the infield crowd in Washington though, and Kendrick now appears to have a good shot at being a regular for the Nationals. NFBC drafters have been taking Kendrick as the 248th player, and if he maintains the batting profile he had last season, he is an excellent pick late in drafts, especially for a team needing batting average of the positional flexibility of 1B/2B.
Austin Riley (283rd overall, OF79) 275th NFBC
Riley’s difference in ADP isn’t significant between ESPN and other hosts, but he should be a universal target for all teams in the late stages of drafts. The one time top prospect’s power is excellent, and while he has very real strikeout issues, his track record in the minors suggests that he should cut down on his strikeout rate this season. Situationally, Riley’s playing time outlook has improved mightily as well, with the National League adding the designated hitter, the uncertainty around Freddie Freeman, and Nick Markakis opting out of the 2020 season. The signing of Yasiel Puig admittedly doesn’t help, but there is still more than enough pedigree and upside to make Riley one of your last picks.
Rich Hill (UR ESPN) 173rd NFBC
Ever since Hill began his late-career renaissance, everybody has said some variation of “If only he could stay healthy and put together a full season…” and now he has the best shot he will ever have to do it! Hill was not ready for the start of the season, and is no longer with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but is now healthy enough for the 60-game slate and gets to play this shortened season with a ton of games against the weak AL Central teams. He’s unranked officially on ESPN’s roto ranks, and in ESPN’s draft trends he’s going outside of the top 60 starters. July’s NFBC drafts have seen Hill’s ADP rocket all the way to 173, with a minimum pick of 146. In the mid-to-late rounds of your ESPN draft, Hill is a beautiful pick to round out a fantasy rotation.
Aaron Hicks (UR ESPN) 315th NFBC
Hicks is another player currently unranked in ESPN’s most recent roto ranks and, like Hill, he is a great pick later in drafts. Like many of these values, he was not going to be ready in April due to injury, but now should be ready to roll for the shortened season. Hicks figures to play an everyday role in the New York Yankees loaded lineup. In NFBC leagues he has been going outside of the top 300, but that is skewed by the fact that he was undrafted in a handful of leagues during July. His ESPN ADP trend shows that he has been going inside the top 250 in recent weeks, and if you can get him as one of your final hitters or bench players, he could be a huge value.
Alex Bregman (8th overall, 3B1) 18th overall NFBC
Alex Bregman, while an excellent baseball player, is not somebody I’d be remotely considering with a first-round pick. Even without any of the speculation around Astros hitters being more likely to get beaned and/or be unable to cheat, Bregman seems very likely to take a step back from his power pace in 2019. While Bregman’s approach at the plate leads to tons of fly balls, projection systems agree that he is much closer to a 30-homer guy than a 40-homer guy, and his stolen base total and success rate both took steps back in 2019. In NFBC leagues, he’s going in the middle of the second round in 12-team formats, and the earliest he’s been taken is as the 12th pick. I would not be loading him into my queue before Nolan Arenado or Jose Ramirez at third, nor before any of the trio of Francisco Lindor, Trea Turner, and Trevor Story at shortstop.
Jose Altuve (19th overall, 2B1) 38th overall NFBC
Altuve has drastically changed his offensive profile over the past couple of seasons, going from a low-power speedster to a legitimate power hitter. While he figures to be an asset in batting average, Altuve’s strikeout rate in 2019 was a career-high, and he seems more likely to hit for an average around .300 like he did last season than the .330ish range he averaged from 2014-2018. The former AL MVP also has had injury misfortune in recent seasons and seen his stolen bases drop in each of the past three seasons, with last season’s six steals a career-low. Additionally, his profile on batted balls points to homer regression. If Altuve is more likely to be a 25-ish homer hitter than last year’s 35-ish pace, and can no longer provide more than a handful of steals, he is a risky pick in the top two rounds.
Manny Machado (28th overall, 3B6) 63rd NFBC
Machado’s path to returning value as a top-30 pick is hard to see. While Machado provided plenty of power in 2019, he didn’t help fantasy owners very much in any of the other offensive categories. Positional flexibility is nice, but third base and shortstop are the two deepest positions in fantasy, and nowhere near enough of a bonus to make Machado an advisable pick over someone like Eugenio Suarez, nor other positional flexibility guys like Max Muncy or DJ Lemahieu a round or two later.
Eddie Rosario (52nd overall, OF16) 104th NFBC
Rosario figures to be a very useful fantasy outfielder in 2020, hitting in the heart of a stacked Twins lineup. Even so, drafting Rosario in the first six rounds isn’t a good plan. His ESPN ADP of 65.7 is more reasonable, but even that is still almost 40 picks higher than his NFBC ADP, where the absolute earliest he’s gone off the board is pick 78. Rosario’s worsening plate discipline aside, he figures to hit for a good-not-great average, and good-not-great power, while offering little in the speed category. Outfield-eligible players like Nick Castellanos, Ramon Laureano, and Marcell Ozuna can all be had rounds later and should produce at or above the level of Rosario.
Paul Goldschmidt (55th overall, 1B7) 77th NFBC
Goldschmidt is actually coming off the board even earlier than his ESPN ranking would suggest, with an ESPN ADP of 53.1 overall and the 45th player taken. While Goldschmidt is likely to produce an above-average amount in homers/runs/RBI, he no longer helps fantasy teams in stolen bases. He shouldn’t actively hurt teams in batting average either, but he has seen his batting average stay the same or decrease every year since 2015. Even if he improves a little on last year’s .260 he isn’t a .300 hitter anymore and while nobody knows how a shortened season will impact streaky players, it cannot be ignored that Goldschmidt is a notoriously slow starter, and if he stalls out in the first month or so of this season, he won’t have time to recover. He’s a fine pick after the top 70 or so, but not a first baseman I would draft over Max Muncy or DJ Lemahieu.
Joey Gallo (75th overall) 104th NFBC
Gallo has reported to the Rangers’ summer camp, and is on track to be ready for Opening Day, but is still somebody to pump the breaks on in drafts. While the power is undeniable, Gallo’s batting average risk in a short sample cannot be ignored. The outfielder is currently coming off the board at pick 59.6 in ESPN ADP and is ranked 75th overall on the site. The slugger has been coming off the board much later in recent NFBC leagues though, outside of the top 100 players at pick 104 on average. After pick 100 it is more advisable, but if I’m picking in the 75-100 range, I’ll be selecting a number of other outfielders over him. After all, how much less power can we really expect from Jorge Soler, who is going off the board at pick 93.3 on ESPN?
Rhys Hoskins (90th overall, 1B12) 123rd NFBC
Hoskins should provide power, but he doesn’t run much and hit a paltry .226 last season. Even if he rebounds in batting average and is closer to the .246 he managed in 2018, he won’t be helping in that category either. For my money, if I’m going to draft a power-based first baseman with no speed and a .240ish batting average, I’ll just hold off a couple of rounds and take Edwin Encarnacion.
Madison Bumgarner (110th overall, SP25) 141st NFBC
Finally, a pitcher! The largest takeaway is that pitching, in general, is taken sooner in NFBC formats than on ESPN, but Bumgarner is one of the few relatively bad deals. His ESPN rank as a borderline SP2/SP3 in a 12-team format is too high for a pitcher who is projected for an ERA over 4.00, less than a strikeout per inning, and is going to have to face the designated hitter for the first time ever. Where he’s going, fantasy owners would be better served instead to instead wait and draft any of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zac Gallen, or Kenta Maeda.
Didi Gregorious (116th overall, SS17) 225th overall NFBC
Gregorious’s ESPN ADP is right around 200, a much more reasonable area to start considering him, but still too early. Despite getting to call hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park home, Gregorious is primed for regression in homers now that he is no longer in New York, where he took advantage of the short porch in right field. If Gregorius is more pedestrian in his power output, suddenly he simply isn’t very useful given his lack of speed and likelihood to hit for a mediocre batting average. He’s a fine dart throw in the late stages of drafts, but even outside of the top 200 picks I would rather have Kevin Newman and Dansby Swanson.
Masahiro Tanaka (154th overall, SP38) 232nd overall NFBC
Tanaka appears to have avoided a serious injury when he was concussed by a comebacker during a Summer Camp appearance earlier this month, but even if he is ready for the start of the season, drafting him as a top-40 starter is a bad plan. Tanaka’s 2019 season was unspectacular, as his strikeouts plummeted to well under a 9.00K/9, and he registered an ERA of nearly 4.50. He pitches for a strong offense, but a pitcher in a hitter-heavy division who has had an ERA of 4.45 or higher in two of the past three seasons makes it tough to consider Tanaka as a top 50 starter.