Late Hitters to Consider

Chu's favorite hitters who are available very late in drafts.

The end of a fantasy baseball draft doesn’t always have a lot of energy. The names are less familiar than they were 10 rounds ago. Most players selected are likely to start out on the fantasy bench. Half the room (or more) is probably auto-drafting. The buzz and electricity of draft day is all but gone.

It shouldn’t be that way for you, though. This is your time to shine. This is where your research and blood and sweat and tears can really shine. Any ol’ fantasy baseball manager can make decent choices when the player pool is loaded with stars. One of the true tests of talent lies in how you build your team using the entire draft. Every league is different, and therefore every draft is different. Many draft day plans are foiled when it turns out that the entire room was targeting a certain position or skill set early, possibly leaving you high and dry while searching for a stable catcher or a safety net for stolen bases. Maybe you happened to have almost the same exact rankings as the person picking in front of you, setting you up for two hours of non-stop sniping and scrambling. That’s where the end of the draft comes in. No matter how many unexpected twists and turns happened to you in the first 250 picks, you can still find your redemption with the rest of the draft.

To assist you in this endeavor, I’m going to outline at least three players at each position who, in the 55 NFBC drafts between June 23 and July 16, have an ADP after pick 250. I’ll also show you their min pick (the earliest they were taken in any draft) to give an idea of how early to start thinking about pulling the trigger.

Catchers

 

Travis d’Arnaud (C/1B, Atlanta Braves)ADP: 257 | Min: 209

 

The third time was the charm for d’Arnaud in 2019. After being released by the Mets and the Dodgers, he was able to catch on with the Rays and make a good impression, slashing .263/.323/.459 in 91 games. Over the offseason, he was picked up by Atlanta and looks to have the starting job behind the dish over long-time backup Tyler Flowers. While d’Arnaud’s skill set isn’t necessarily exciting—he can hit for a passable average and in a full season could hit about 15-20 home runs if healthy and little else—he stands out for another reason: he’s slated to hit right in the middle of the order behind Ronald Acuna Jr.Ozzie AlbiesFreddie Freeman (once healthy), and Marcell Ozuna. The Atlanta batting order, as a whole, is extremely top-heavy in talent, giving an established veteran like d’Arnaud a unique opportunity to bat right behind some of the best hitters in baseball. Due to the extreme lack of depth at catcher, being a semi-reliable bat that isn’t projected to hit eighth or ninth makes d’Arnaud extremely valuable.

At time of writing, d’Arnaud is the 18th catcher coming off the board; however, he could very well provide top-10 value at the position. He’s a viable starting catcher in all formats despite being drafted as a backup, and is the poster child for why waiting until your last pick to snag a catcher in single-catcher leagues is a strong strategy.

 

Jacob Stallings (C, Pittsburgh Pirates)ADP: 578 | Min: 329

 

Being a starting catcher in real baseball isn’t necessarily about being good with the bat. Stallings, for instance, won his first starting job in 2019 at the ripe old age of 30 because of how much he improved as a receiver. Instead of using his bat to force his way into the lineup, he used his glove and his arm, and that was more than enough for the Pirates to want him behind the plate most days. While that defense doesn’t help a ton for fantasy baseball, the playing time does. One key feature of a second catcher in fantasy baseball is that they actually play more often than they sit, and that’s pretty tough to find in deeper formats with a second catcher slot to fill. Stallings, who is more or less off the fantasy radar, becomes a very sneaky-yet-stable bat you can pick up extremely late in drafts.

He is unlikely to hit more than two or three home runs, and he probably won’t drive in 20 baserunners, but a steady batting average between .250 and .260 combined with the handful of counting stats he can provide simply by being in the lineup and the fact he’ll face a softer pitching schedule in the Central divisions make him a worthy C2 in 12-team and deeper formats that require one and can almost certainly be picked up with your last pick or on your waiver wire (if you’ve already drafted).

 

First Basemen

 

Renato Nunez (1B, Baltimore Orioles)ADP: 285 | Min: 214

 

You’re going to notice a theme throughout these recommendations, and that theme is middle-of-the-order hitters on weaker teams. Nunez is exactly that—a 30-home run hitter in 2019 who anchors a very non-threatening lineup. He has acceptable plate discipline and makes a decent amount of contact, but his tendency to put balls up in the air is a double-edged sword in that it allows him to hit plenty of home runs in the cozy confines of Camden Yards, but it also leads to a lot of easy outs in the outfield.

What has been encouraging to see over time from the 26-year-old is the start of a steady climb in his Sweet Spot %, which measures the percentage of batted-ball events with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees (or in other words, the stuff with a good launch angle). Throughout his career in the minors, Nunez popped up far too many balls in the infield, with at least 20% of his fly balls going straight up and back down into an infielder’s glove at most of his stops in the Oriole system. He’s shaved that number down in the big leagues and turned a chunk of those pop-ups into balls that have a chance to do damage.

 

 

If he can continue this growth, we could potentially see an even stronger Nunez, where it would most likely show up in the batting average department. He’s being drafted well behind hitters with somewhat similar fantasy profiles like Christian Walker, C.J. Cron, and Joc Pederson, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll be all that much better than Nunez for fantasy purposes.

 

Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, Miami Marlins)ADP: 561 | Min: 290

 

There isn’t a ton for me to say that my colleague Matt Wallach didn’t already say when he took a deep dive on Garrett Cooper a few months ago. I highly recommend you check out that article, as Cooper’s ability to hit long fly balls put him in some VERY interesting company. When a player who is on most waiver wires after drafts can be fairly compared to Nelson Cruz, Jorge Soler, and Christian Yelich, it’s worth learning more. Playing time may have also just opened up, as Matt Joyce and Lewis Brinson have hit the 10-day IL. No reason has been specified for either and they’ve both been absent from summer camp.

 

Second Basemen

 

Howie Kendrick (1B/2B, Washington Nationals)ADP: 251| Min: 168

 

My brand new teammate at Pitcher List, Josiah DeBoer, recently posted his first article which took a look at the rosy picture painted by 2019’s Statcast metrics of Howie Kendrick. You should check it out, but in short, the NL getting a DH along with some less fortunate events should lead to regular at bats for Kendrick, and if 2019 was any indication, he is very capable of providing very useful contributions to batting average, home runs, and RBI in 2020. With both first and second base being difficult positions to fill in deeper formats, Kendrick’s flexibility at both spots makes him even more appealing in the later rounds of drafts.

 

Cesar Hernandez (2B, Cleveland Indians)ADP: 261| Min: 195

 

It has been announced a few times over the last week or so that Hernandez, who is coming off of a mildly disappointing 2019 with the Phillies, is slated to lead off for the Indians as they look to capture another AL Central pennant. After three consecutive seasons of a double-digit walk rate and four consecutive seasons of at least 15 stolen bases, Hernandez accomplished neither in 2019, walking in just 6.6% of his plate appearances and stealing only nine bases. When you open up the hood and examine his plate discipline, you see that Hernandez started swinging at a lot more pitches and making a lot more contact—and unfortunately, a lot more weak contact.

Hernandez does not have much power in his bat to begin with, so for a player with his skill set, making more contact is not always a good thing for his fantasy value. One likely reason for this change in philosophy has to do with him changing his place in the batting order. Prior to 2019, Hernandez was the locked-in leadoff man, a role that gave him ample opportunities to steal bases and rewarded his patience. In 2019, he was moved to the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup most days, meaning he was far more likely to have runners on base in front of him and was likely asked to make more contact to try and advance those runners.

A move back to the leadoff role will hopefully help Hernandez get back to his basics of taking walks and swiping bags. It also helps that his manager is not at all shy about stealing a base, as the Indians stole 106 bases in 2019 — sixth most in the majors. He should be able to provide a strong OBP with modest power and, with any luck, solid speed.

 

Shortstops

 

Carter Kieboom (SS, Washington Nationals)ADP: 299 | Min: 230

 

Baseball genius Shelly Verougstraete likes Kieboom a lot, ranking him as her 10th-best fantasy prospect back in February over at Rotographs. Personally, that is all I needed to hear to get on board. If that’s not enough (it should be, by the way), the fact that he’s likely being handed the third base job in Washington is the icing on the cake. He struggled mightily in his cup of coffee with the Nationals in 2019, but the history and skills don’t lie—this is a guy who can hit for a high average with decent power and should bat near the middle of the order in a capable offense. That third base eligibility will come within a week or two depending on your settings, so you’ll have that to look forward to as well.

 

David Fletcher (2B/SS/3B/OF, Los Angeles Angels)ADP: 427 | Min: 230

 

Does he hit for power? No. Does he steal bases? A little. Does he drive runners in? Not usually. So what does he do? He makes a lot of contact, hits early in the order, and can play just about any position besides first base and catcher. Why is that good? Because he’s a versatile option for fantasy managers who can provide a few key things that can be tough to come by on the waiver wire with runs and batting average (and sometimes a little speed).

Fletcher’s .304 xBA was in the top four percent of the league, and his whiff rate was in the top one percent of the league. This young man simply doesn’t miss a lot of baseballs, and while his exit velocity was in the bottom one percent of the league, his 39.9% Sweet Spot percentage shows that he has the ability to put the ball over the heads of the infielders (even if he can’t get it over the heads of the outfielders). He doesn’t currently have a starting spot, but as a super utility man for the Angels, he’ll have a chance to spell Tommy La Stella and Brian Goodwin against lefties and virtually anyone else whenever they need a break. When he does play (which I believe will be much more often than when he doesn’t), it’s safe to assume that he’ll likely bat right in front of Mike TroutShohei Ohtani, and Justin Upton, meaning he’ll be a good bet to see plenty of pitches, make plenty of contact, and score plenty of runs.

 

Third Basemen

 

Jon Berti (SS/3B/OF, Miami Marlins)ADP: 255| Min: 203

 

At this precise moment, Roster Resource says Berti is not a starter for the Marlins. That’s probably true—there isn’t really a specific position that I’d put his name next to, but don’t let that stop you from adding him to your fantasy roster. It’s already been stated by Marlins beat writers that Berti could be in the lineup five or six times per week due to his ability to play multiple positions, and what Berti can offer fantasy managers late in drafts is one of the fantasy game’s most coveted resources: stolen bases. Berti swiped 17 bags in just 73 games in 2019 while being caught just three times. If Berti can make his way onto the field semi-regularly in 2020 (which I think he’ll do easily), he’ll be a strong stolen base contributor. For reference, here is a comprehensive list of fantasy third baseman that ATC projects to steal five or more bases: Jose Ramirez (10), Berti (8), and Tommy Edman (7). That’s it. Berti is available at least 100 picks later than either of the others, and while he’s not nearly as well-rounded, you can get the rarest of hitting stats at a low cost in the form of the multi-positional Berti. There’s little to no reason not to take a flyer on him for your bench, particularly in deeper formats.

 

Kyle Seager (3B, Seattle Mariners)ADP: 464 | Min: 239

 

Seager’s final line in 2019 looked very much like what it had in the three years prior (and really, very much like it has his entire career) — 20-something home runs with an acceptable number of runs and RBI. The reason it stands out to me is that he did it in 50 fewer games than usual. Prior to 2018, Seager had been known as a solid-if-unspectacular source of power at third base. He wasn’t flashy, but he played 150 games a season and flirted with 30 home runs and 90-ish RBI for four consecutive seasons.

Then 2018 happened, and it was a whole different Seager. He walked less, struck out more, and generally started to look like someone who ought to be ignored in fantasy. In context, it looked like the dip in batting average from 2018 and a career-worst .309 xwOBA to go with it was just another indicator that he was on the decline. But remember, folks — Seager showed that there’s still plenty of pop in his bat after hitting 23 home runs in just 103 games with an xSLG of .489 in 2020. While the days of being a solid starting fantasy third baseman are probably over, hitting in the middle of the Mariners order and maintaining his production from 2019 (which was supported by many Statcast metrics) means there’s still plenty of opportunity for him to be a serviceable corner infielder in 15-team leagues, and maybe even as a fill-in in 12-teamers.

 

Outfielders

 

Luis Arraez (2B/OF, Minnesota Twins)ADP: 247 | Min: 188

 

While ATC, Steamer, and THE BAT have differing opinions on a lot of things, there’s one thing they all absolutely agree on—they each have Arraez leading all of baseball in batting average. In fact, they each have him hitting at least .310! Much like the previously mentioned David Fletcher, Arraez makes a ton of contact and rarely misses a pitch he feels like swinging at. While he doesn’t have all that much power or speed, he hits the ball at an ideal launch angle 43% of the time, meaning he doesn’t need a ton of raw power to put the ball in play and get on base. His primary advantage over a guy like Fletcher is that Arraez has a starting gig at second base, and while he isn’t likely to hit first for the Twins, the loaded Minnesota lineup means even batting sixth or seventh can be an advantageous place to pile up fantasy stats. He’s currently the 66th outfielder taken in fantasy drafts, and while he’s more likely to be your second baseman, he’s perfectly serviceable at either spot and his reliability in the batting average department will absolutely anchor you in the category during a season where we anticipate unparalleled volatility.

 

Corey Dickerson (OF, Miami Marlins)ADP: 306 | Min: 220

 

Yup, another guy batting third for a bad team. Dickerson gets to hit right behind the speedy Jonathan Villar and the consistent Brian Anderson, which is a lot more enticing than it sounds (I promise). He’s hit at least .300 in four of the last six season and hit 12 home runs in just over a third of a season in 2019 in his time with the Pirates and Phillies. While he isn’t an exciting name, he’s astoundingly steady, as indicated by his .293/.330/.499 line since the start of 2017. Home runs and RBI and batting average available in one player with an ADP after pick 300? What’s not to like as your fourth or fifth outfielder? I could take Dickerson over Randal GrichukNomar MazaraHunter RenfroeNiko Goodrum, Gregory Polanco, Yoesnis Cespedes, and David Peralta, all of whom are being taken ahead of him in most drafts.

 

Victor Reyes (OF, Detroit Tigers)ADP: 596 | Min: 265

 

From July 30 (the day he started playing full time) to the end of the season, Reyes had the 10th-best batting average in baseball and tied for the 14th-most stolen bases in all of baseball. The former Rule 5 draft pick toiled for quite a long time as a seldom-used bench bat for the Tigers, but the chance to shine for Reyes finally came and that’s exactly what he did. While it appears for now that free-swinging JaCoby Jones will start the season as a leadoff hitter, I think it’s likely that the switch-hitting Reyes has more than one opportunity to steal that job from the streaky Jones, or at the very least become the strong side of a platoon. Reyes was the best Tiger against righties in 2019 and there’s an overwhelming number of them to face in the AL and NL Central. Combine that with the fact that Jones has a career wRC+ of just 77 against righties (and 49 against lefties), and I think you get a scenario where Reyes gets the opportunity to build on his exciting finish to 2019. Reyes’s  speed and batting average is worthy of being on your bench in 12-teamers if you have to start five outfielders, and at the very least he should be on your watch list should he take over at the top of the batting order.

 

Hunter Pence (OF, San Francisco Giants)ADP: 656 | Min: 557

 

He’s dealing with a foot injury right now and doesn’t need to be drafted, but for you deep leaguers out there, this is a guy who hit .297/.358/.552 last season with 18 home runs and six stolen bases in just half a season that was backed up by an xBA of .284 and an xSLG of .508. Heck, the 37-year-old was even in the 85th percentile in sprint speed! He’s penciled in as the clean-up man in San Francisco and assuming he’s ready for opening day, he should absolutely be worth drafting and/or watching in 15-team leagues.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Here’s a list of guys who generally meet the criteria as a late round pick who could provide value, and who I could have talked about but chose to talk about a different guy instead. For the most part, these players can be drafted much later than the names I highlighted above. If you’d like to know more about why I’ve listed them here, feel free to reach out via Twitter (@ifthechufits) or in the comments:

Tucker Barnhart (C, Cincinnati Reds)—Like Stallings, he’ll play most days and face the exploitable Central divisions. That’s all it takes to get my attention in a two-catcher league.

Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants)—Since the start of 2015, he’s slashed .258/.359/.448. Health is always a concern for Belt, who may not be quite ready for Opening Day, but in deep formats, his consistency when in the lineup is incredibly useful.

Jonathan Schoop (2B, Detroit Tigers)—He’ll play every day and has had at least 21 home runs in four consecutive seasons. His OBP isn’t good, but his batting average is usually pretty decent (other than some bad luck in 2018) and he should pile up some counting stats via playing time and batting in the middle of an order (even if it happens to be for Detroit).

Jose Peraza (2B/SS/OF, Boston Red Sox)—Speed is hard to find, and Peraza has it. While he doesn’t have a starting job at the moment, he’ll be among the first to receive an opportunity to fill in as a middle infielder or corner outfield should any playing time become available.

Asdrubal Cabrera (2B/3B, Washington Nationals)—Excelled with the Nationals after a slow start with the Rangers. Can play several positions and will hit near the middle of the order when in the lineup. 

Leury Garcia (OF, Chicago White Sox)—Hit for a high average in 2019, should gain 2B eligiblity quickly, and it’s not Nick Madrigal‘s job until Garcia loses it.

Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves)—The best defensive center fielder on the roster should find plenty of opportunities to start and hit just behind the middle of the order. That’s a pretty nice spot, even if it would suit his style of hitting for average and stealing bases to hit more towards the top of the order. Speed and batting average late is a theme I can’t get enough of late in drafts, and Inciarte has the potential to provide both. At a minimum, he’ll be on the good side of a platoon. More realistically, he plays at least five games a week.

Images courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

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