Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all influenced by the draft room that we are in. When you load up the draft room on ESPN, there’s all those pre-loaded rankings, projections, and the ESPN ADP, just begging to be looked at all draft long. As much as we all want to believe we aren’t influenced by it at all, the truth is that it’s there, and it plays a part in all our drafts. And even if you are truly able to ignore all the stuff that ESPN puts in there, it’s important to know that your leaguemates are being influenced by it, and that’s where you can win a significant advantage.
I’ve cross-referenced our rankings against ESPN’s ADP and pre-season rankings to find the best values at each position. If you want to win your draft on ESPN, this is the guide for you.
Targets: Carson Kelly, ARI – Kelly is our 8th ranked catcher but he’s hardly being drafted at all on ESPN. His ADP of 254.3 makes him the 14th catcher in terms of ADP, and he’s rostered in only 29% of leagues. He’s got 20-HR pop and has a great prospect pedigree.
Roberto Perez, CLE – Perez had a fantastic 2019 and we think it’s legit. He made real changes to his swing that led to a lot more barrels, and that means he should be able to keep his increased power. Clearly though, the ESPN players aren’t believers, as he’s rostered in only 4.5% of leagues at the moment. You can pick him up for free at the end of your draft, and still get a top 10 catcher by our standards.
Avoid: Wilson Ramos, NYM – Ramos has been a safe catcher, but his skills are starting to diminish as he gets older. You can’t count on the average or pop to continue as his batted ball data just doesn’t support the year that he had last year. We ranked him as our 18th catcher, but he’s going off the board in ESPN drafts as the #6 catcher, ahead of even Will Smith and Salvador Perez. Don’t pay that price.
Targets: D.J. LeMahieu, NYY – LeMahieu’s move to Yankee Stadium and uptick in his launch angle were all he needed to tap into his power potential. The hitter-friendly right field confines of Yankee Stadium were tailor-made for LeMahieu, who drives the ball to the opposite field more than he pulls it. He’s going to give you an elite batting average, counting stats for days, and most likely another 20+ home run season, and that puts him as our 4th best first baseman, but he’s being drafted as the 7th-ranked player there. If you’re going to grab a top first baseman not named Bellinger, Freeman, or Alonso, make sure to grab LeMahieu.
Danny Santana, TEX – There are no other first basemen quite like Santana, the only player at this position who has 25+ stolen base potential. He doesn’t have the best approach at the plate, which gives him a low floor, but he hits the heck out of the ball and that allowed him to accumulate a .275 xBA that speaks to him being able to repeat last season. He’s going off the board at pick 208, late enough that the floor shouldn’t bother you as much as the upside should excite you.
Luke Voit, NYY – Voit is essentially a free upside flier at the end of drafts, in fact, he’s owned in less than 50% of all ESPN leagues right now. He has immense power potential, as he showed in his limited time in the majors last year, slugging 21 home runs and hitting .260 to boot. He costs you almost nothing, but he could be a real power source in 2020.
Christian Walker, ARI – We rank Walker as the 16th first baseman, so it’s truly a shock to see him going off the board around pick 219. For contrast, the typical 15th first baseman off the board in ESPN drafts is Edwin Encarnacion, who’s going off the board at pick 146. 70 picks later, you could grab Walker instead. He crushes the ball, he’s elite in pretty much every Statcast metric, and his numbers underperformed to expectations last year. Get Walker before he’s snapped up by someone else.
Avoid: Paul Goldschmidt, STL – How the mighty have fallen. Goldschmidt is still the 6th first baseman taken off the board in ESPN drafts, going around pick 52, but we don’t like him at that price at all. Goldschmidt is our 9th ranked first baseman. His batting average decline is very real, and his approach at the plate has really taken a sharp turn for the worse, as he chased and whiffed on more pitches than ever. He’s not a bad player by any means, but don’t pay the premium for Goldie.
Rhys Hoskins, PHI – We’re still hoping for that second coming of the man we saw in the last two months of the 2017 season, who hit 18 home runs in 50 games to start his career. But he hasn’t hit the ball particularly hard over the past two years, and has hit more lazy fly ball outs than anything else really. We’re not going to deny that that power potential exists, but you need to draft him in the 8th round in ESPN drafts and that just seems far too high for what he’s actually produced in the last two full seasons.
Targets: Mike Moustakas, CIN – Moustakas is one of the best power hitting second basemen in the league, crushing 101 home runs over the past three seasons while maintaining a batting average close to .260. He’s going to be in a solid lineup and in a great park, so we should be able to expect another season of 30+ home runs and 160ish R+RBI. He’s going in the 10th round on average as the 11th second baseman off the board, and you should feel comfortable taking him as early as the 8th round.
Tommy Edman, STL – People on ESPN don’t seem to know what quite to make of Tommy Edman, who came on to the scene in the middle of last season and promptly put up impressive numbers in his 11 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a .304 batting average in just 92 games played. Those numbers seem sustainable based on his underlying metrics, and he should be in line for regular playing time at a variety of positions. He’s being drafted in the 17th round, which seems really late for someone who could realistically swipe 25+ bases while being productive in nearly every other category.
Avoid: Whit Merrifield, KCR – The general ESPN public does not seem to be concerned about the sharp decline in Merrifield’s stolen bases, but given his decline in sprint speed, and the change in manager to Mike Matheny (the Cardinals were 29th in stolen bases under Matheny), there’s plenty of reason to be worried. If Merrifield doesn’t run, he won’t be totally useless, as he’s elite in batting average and should still score a good amount of runs, but he doesn’t do enough to justify being picked 68th overall and as the 7th second baseman off the board.
Targets: Eugenio Suarez, CIN – His discounted price in ESPN drafts likely stems from two things: his shoulder surgery in January, and the thought that he can’t repeat his 49 HR effort from last season. Suarez did make legitimate changes to his swing in 2019, increasing both his pull percentage and fly-ball rate, two things that help drive home run output. While the shoulder is a concern, I think that’s baked into his ADP well enough, and he’ll be a value for you in the 7th round.
Yoan Moncada, CWS – There was a time when Moncada was as highly revered as Ronald Acuna, and while their careers have obviously not started off at the same pace, Moncada still has a lot of untapped potential. He’s worked hard on his approach at the plate and it paid off in 2019, and he’s got the potential to be a true 5-category contributor. While he’s not a sure thing, he’s certainly better than the 15th best third baseman, which is where he’s being drafted on ESPN right now at pick 111.
Giovanny Urshela, NYY – It feels like we’re all dismissing the fantastic year that Urshela had once he got a hold of the Yankees 3B job. He’s going off the board at pick 231, making him nearly free, and the Yankees clearly have helped unlock his potential, as his line-drive rate and hard-hit rate were both elite in 2019. He should have the 3B job locked up to start the season, and he’s got the upside to be a top-12 3B in fantasy.
Avoid: Vlad Guerrero Jr., TOR – Guerrero has massive potential, and that’s mainly why he’s being drafted 78th overall as the 10th third baseman off the board. However, it was clear in 2019 that he still has quite a bit of development to do. He hasn’t elevated the ball as well as you’d like for someone with his power potential, and he had a really hard time with breaking balls, which was exploited mercilessly by opposing pitchers. There’s a chance he puts it all together in 2020, but we think he’s still another year of development away at least. Let someone else pay the high price and deal with the low floor.
Targets: Jorge Polanco, MIN – There was a genuine concern when Polanco was busted for PEDs that the improvements he had made before that were due to the steroids, but he showed us all in 2019 that that wasn’t the case. He hits high in the order in one of the best lineups in baseball, has 20+ home run pop, and is a contributor in batting average as well. If you miss out on one of the elite shortstops, Polanco is a steady starter and is available around pick 156.
Didi Gregorius, PHI – While you shouldn’t rely on Gregorius as your #1 option at SS, he showed last year that the power gains he’s made have stuck, as he hit 16 home runs in just 82 games. He’s going to be in the middle of a solid Phillies lineup, giving him plenty of opportunities to drive runs in, and at pick 209 you aren’t going to find much better in the way of power upside in the middle infield.
Adalberto Mondesi, KCR – This feels so weird to be endorsing Mondesi, considering I don’t think highly of him at all. However, I can’t ignore that he’s currently being drafted 102nd overall, as the 14th shortstop off the board. He has the potential to lead baseball in steals, while not killing your batting average and hopefully providing enough pop to not be a total zero in that area. When you look at the other players with the potential to swipe 50+ bags, they are either going much higher in the draft (Trea Turner, Jonathan Villar at pick 69), or are one-category players, like Mallex Smith. I didn’t think I’d have any shares of Mondesi this year, but if he’s available in the 9th round, I’d be thinking hard about it.
Avoid: Manny Machado, SDP – Machado is coasting on name value, as his contact rate dropped to a career-low which helps explain his career-high strikeout rate. Obviously, he’s shown in the past that he can be one of the best hitters in baseball, but he certainly didn’t look like one in 2019. He’s off the board around pick 41, which is absolutely absurd, and you can do better there.
Targets: Ramon Laureano, OAK – Laureano raked in the second half last season, posting a 1.090 OPS across 31 games. He’s got power, speed, and the ability to hit for a high average, making the ceiling a .290 hitter with 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He’s off the board around pick 100, and he should easily return that value and then some.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, TBR – It’s always hard to project how Japanese players will do when coming to the states, but Tsutsugo has shown fantastic power in Japan with a great approach at the plate (.528 SLG, 13% walk rate over the last four seasons). The Rays have proven they know how to develop hitting, and while there’s a chance Tsutsugo doesn’t get regular playing time (who does in Tampa Bay?), he’s got 30+ HR upside and he’s going undrafted in most ESPN drafts.
Shogo Akiyama, CIN – Speaking of Japanese players, the Reds also got a Japanese outfielder who should contribute from day one. Akiyama showed a well-rounded game in Japan, and could be a 15-15 type of hitter with a solid batting average. This sounds a lot like what we are hoping for from Andrew Benintendi, just about 100+ picks later. Akiyama is typically available at pick 250, making him a nice late flier for speed.
J.D. Davis, NYM – Davis is a Statcast darling, ranking in the top percentile in exit velocity, xBA, and xSLG. His skills are legit, and last year he hit 22 home runs with a .307 batting average, both of which are totally sustainable. There were some concerns about his shoulder, but he should be returning to Spring Training games soon, and as long as the Mets don’t do usual Mets things and mess it all up, Davis will be a huge value at pick 219.
Oscar Mercado, CLE – Mercado is a safer version of Akiyama above, and that will cost you a bit, as he’s going around pick 156. However, he has that 20/25 upside with a 10/15 floor, and he should hit for a good average as well. He’s going behind Lorenzo Cain and Adam Eaton in drafts, and 50 picks later than Andrew Benintendi, all players who I think will be less productive than Mercado.
Avoid: Andrew Benintendi, BOS – A lot of people are still chasing that elite hitter that we were all told Benintendi could be, but he just hasn’t shown that lately. His power numbers keep declining, while his plate discipline has gotten worse every year. He hits a lot of fly balls, which would be good for power, but he has such a poor average exit velocity that he can’t take advantage. I’d expect another year of mediocre, but not awful, numbers in every category.
Lorenzo Cain, MIL – Cain is just another victim of Father Time, who remains undefeated (an argument can be made that he and Tim Duncan agreed to a draw). Cain’s sprint speed has been steadily declining, and he can’t be counted on for 30 stolen bases anymore. His batting average also is unlikely to climb up over .300 again as he won’t be able to sustain the inflated BABIP that speedsters usually do. He’ll still contribute in steals, but Cain is getting drafted at pick 141 as the 36th outfielder, and we just don’t see anywhere close to that kind of value here.
Adam Eaton, WAS – Eaton has generally had struggles staying healthy, but even if he does stay healthy for a second straight year (not likely as he’s already battling back issues), there’s just really no upside here. I don’t mind grabbing Eaton as a depth OF who can hit a few homers, swipe a couple bags, and not hurt your batting average, but drafting him as the 35th OF off the board at pick 133 is just paying for his best case scenario. I’m not even sure if he repeats what he did last season he could return that draft value, and I don’t think he can repeat last year. If he slips to the point of being your OF5, he’s a good get, but you don’t need to be the one drafting him in the 12th round.
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ESPN ADP is always a little quirky, I think because they use the same ADP for their points leagues and for roto. That means it’s not really great for either of the league settings.
For their standard settings (points) some players you are targeting — like Mondesi — are probably going to be terrible. For roto, however, those same players show an ADP discount because the points league drafts are averaged in.
It really makes a difference which type of ESPN league you are playing in before you know who to target and avoid.
Absolutely! I should have clarified at the start of this that this analysis, like all of our standard rankings, are done with a head-to-head 5×5 categories league in mind. Since the ADP is all the same when you are in your draft room, people who utilize that tool to look for players (and I know many that do) will be behind the curve vs. people who know how to use that to their advantage.
Yeah, I’m not criticizing your takes. I just want to point out that there is going to be a consistent bias in ESPN rankings. Speed guys (Mondesi, also D. Santana, Merrifield, V. Robles, T. Anderson) are avoided by the points league drafters, so their rankings are dragged down 20-40 spots lower than everywhere else. And points league drafters should be factoring in walks, which inflates higher OBP hitters (Hoskins, C. Santana, Biggio, Kepler) that don’t help you extra in 5×5.
If you are drafting for 5×5, you end up with a couple rules of thumb: Expect some speed to fall to you a little. OBP hitters with power will go too high, so get your power from non-walking sluggers (Soler, F. Reyes). Several of your picks are the natural application of those two rules.
Now, the real surprise is that you hate Merrifield and Guerrero, even though ESPN is already much lower on them than the other sites. :-)
Pitchers to target and avoid?
Just came out!