23 Mar 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Fantasy baseball drafts and auctions are hitting a frenzied peak in the final week leading up to the full Opening Day now that the A’s and Mariners got an early start over in Japan.
As fantasy owners study for their drafts, it’s all about finding the best values, which means identifying this year’s breakouts like last season’s Javier Baez or Trevor Bauer and avoiding busts like last season’s Byron Buxton or Yu Darvish.
I have compiled three lists, going through my picks at each position to be underrated, sleepers and overrated. Sleepers are basically underrated players who can be had for even cheaper. Listed in parentheses are where I have the players ranked at that position on my blog (rotoace.com) and what their average draft position (ADP) is on FantasyPros’ consensus rankings.
UnderratedCatcher: Tyler Flowers, Braves (No. 23 on RotoAce, No. 36 on FantasyPros) >> Atlanta’s primary catcher is being graded down by the presence of veteran backup Brian McCann while also coming off a down season, but a return to his 2016-17 form (averaged .276 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs) would land Flowers in the top 10 of the weakest position by far in fantasy.
First base: Brandon Belt, Giants (18, 33) >> Belt is perpetually overlooked, but the on-base specialist could return an even bigger profit if he gets traded away from San Francisco’s spacious Oracle Park as the Giants are beginning to rebuild.
Second base: Wilmer Flores, Diamondbacks (20, 32) >> Arizona’s homer-friendly Chase Field should launch the 27-year-old to a career season. I have him projected to hit .274 with 20 homers, but he could far exceed that.
Shortstop: Jorge Polanco, Twins (13, 25) >> Polanco is flying under the radar as he comes off a PED suspension-shortened 2018, but the 25-year-old is primed for a breakout. I have him projected to hit .281 with 88 runs, 14 homers and 15 steals.
Third base: Maikel Franco, Phillies (20, 28) >> Franco will benefit being in a lineup that added Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen in the offseason. I have him projected for 25 homers, but a career season could be in store for the 26-year-old.
Outfield: Christin Stewart, Tigers (64, 91) >> Here is a dark horse for AL Rookie of the Year, as I have Stewart projected for 25 homers and 84 RBIs.
Outfield: Cedric Mullins, Orioles (72, 104) >> Baltimore is going to be so bad that its players are being overlooked, especially considering its high-scoring ballpark, Camden Yards. I have Mullins projected for 14 homers and 14 steals, but he could easily turn in a 20-20 season at almost no cost.
Outfield: Steven Souza, Diamondbacks (74, 93) >> Souza was supposed to blow up last year in his first season in Chase Field, but injuries derailed him. Just two years removed from a 30-homer, 16-steal season, Souza could be a major power-speed source at a dirt-cheap price.
Starting pitcher: Rich Hill, Dodgers (32, 42) >> The 39-year-old lefty is unlikely to deliver a high innings total as the Dodgers made liberal use of the 10-day disabled list last year (now called the “injured list”). But expect quality when he’s in there as my projection of a 3.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP indicate.
Starting pitcher: Jose Quintana, Cubs (38, 51) >> The veteran lefty had a disappointing first full season in the NL, so Quintana is coming at a discount considering his projection for 173 strikeouts and a 1.26 WHIP.
Starting pitcher: Joey Lucchesi, Padres (45, 56) >> Lucchesi pitched better than his 4.08 ERA in his rookie season would indicate, averaging 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. I have him projected for a 3.81 ERA and 165 strikeouts, which he could far surpass.
Relief pitcher: Brandon Morrow, Cubs (23, 33) >> Morrow was having a fantastic first year as the Cubs closer, posting a 1.47 ERA and 22 saves before injuries cut his season short. He is expected back from offseason elbow surgery in May and should take back his closer job.
SleepersCatcher: Kevin Plawecki, Indians (27, 43) >> Cleveland acquired Plawecki from the Mets to be the offensive half of a platoon with defensive specialist Roberto Perez, so his upside is worth considering in deep leagues.
First base: Ji-Man Choi, Rays (36, 49) >> The former Angel may have found a home last year when he hit eight homers and posted an .876 OPS in 49 games with Tampa Bay. He won the lion’s share of the Rays’ first base job in spring training, so a 25-homer breakout could be in the cards.
Second base: Brandon Lowe, rays (29, 42) >> Tampa Bay thinks so much of Lowe that it signed the 24-year-old with 43 major-league games under his belt to a six-year, $24 million contract on Tuesday. I have him projected to hit 17 homers with six steals, but he could exceed that if the Rays let him have a full-time job.
Shortstop: Willy Adames, Rays (15, 27) >> Another overlooked Rays youngster, Adames has the highest ceiling of them all. I have him projected for 17 homers and 13 steals, but he has the talent to become a first-tier shortstop now.
Third base: Jeimer Candelario, Tigers (27, 34) >> Candelario is getting a chance to break out in Detroit after being blocked by Kris Bryant in Chicago. His package of power and patience is a welcome sight late in drafts.
Outfield: Randall Grichuk, BLUE JAYs (37, 68) >> I have Grichuk projected to hit 30 homers, yet he is coming cheap on draft day. The former Angels first-round pick is primed for his career season at age 27.
Outfield: Domingo Santana, Mariners (39, 63) >> Santana was one of the biggest busts last year, going from 30 homers and 15 steals in 2017 to just five homers and one steal. He looks ready to return to his 2017 form after hitting a grand slam and stealing a base in the season-opening series in Japan.
Outfield: Jake Bauers, Indians (47, 64) >> Cleveland was expected to start Bauers at first base after trading for him this offseason, but the signing of Hanley Ramirez likely pushes Carlos Santana to first and Bauers to the outfield. I have him projected for 19 homers and 13 steals.
Starting pitcher: Matt Strahm, Padres (51, 87) >> Strahm is taking a career 2.90 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per 9 innings into the San Diego starting rotation after dazzling this spring with a 2.65 ERA. There is top-tier upside here at a dirt-cheap price.
Starting pitcher: Caleb Smith, Marlins (79, 116) >> The 26-year-old Miami lefty has also had a great spring, aided by his fastball velocity up from just under 93 mph last year to 94 in Grapefruit League games, posting a 1.00 ERA and 13-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings. The Marlins’ weak offense may not get Smith many wins, but he could be a full-blown breakout in every other way.
Starting pitcher: Pablo Lopez, Marlins (93, 148) >> One more spring star for the Marlins, the 23-year-old righty is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA and a 16-1 K-BB ratio in 20 innings. I have him projected for a 3.96 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 108 innings, which would make him useful in deeper leagues, but there’s a lot more upside here.
Relief pitcher: Chad Green, Yankees (39, 55) >> While his Yankees bullpen mates get a lot more attention, Green has been spectacular for the past two seasons, combining to go 13-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a 197-32 K-BB ratio over 134 2/3 innings. Expect more of the same, making him an unsung weapon to use to keep your ERA and WHIP down.
OverratedCatcher: Yan Gomes, Nationals (22, 12) >> One of two veteran backstops Washington brought in to likely split the job down the middle, Gomes and Kurt Suzuki will drain too much playing time from each other to make either worth starting in one-catcher mixed leagues.
First base: Jose Martinez, Cardinals (34, 22) >> Martinez is getting squeezed out of playing time in St. Louis with the addition of Paul Goldschmidt at first base sending the defensively-challenged slugger to the outfield to contend for at-bats with Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neil. Martinez is simply not worth owning in most leagues unless he comes into more ABs.
Second base: Dee Gordon, Mariners (15, 10) >> Is it really worth putting up with Gordon’s atrocious hitting just to get the steals? Maybe, but I’d much rather get some power with my speed. Gordon put up a paltry .288 OBP last year with a career-high four homers — a big price to pay just for 30 steals.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers (26, 18) >> Another aging speedy middle infielder coming off a terrible season as the 30-year-old managed just five steals last year along with a .308 OBP. A bounceback is possible, but the 20-homer explosion he enjoyed in 2017 looks more like an aberration after hitting just six long balls last year.
Third base: Josh Donaldson, Braves (15, 12) >> A lot is being expected from the 33-year-old despite coming off an injury-marred season in which the 2015 AL MVP hit just .246 with 8 homers in 52 games. Atlanta invested $23M in Donaldson on a one-year contract, so he’s playing for one last big payday, but he’s had too hard of a time staying in the lineup and struggled too much when healthy to make it worth the risk.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]
Outfield: Ian Desmond, Rockies (54, 40) >> Another bad hitter whose fantasy value is tied up in his speed, Desmond posted just a .307 OBP last year despite playing half his games in Coors Field. He can still help out as a power-speed source (22 homers and 20 steals last year), but I could see him losing time to Ryan McMahon at first base.
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Twins (56, 44) >> The hype never seems to die on this once-elite prospect, who was so bad last year (.156, zero homers in 28 games) that he was sent to the minors for stints in High-A and Triple-A. There is as much a chance that he gets back to his 2017 form (16 homers, 29 steals) as he completely flops, so it’s not worth paying the tax for his name value.
Outfield: Billy Hamilton, Royals (62, 43) >> Are we sensing a theme here? Hamilton is another one-faceted player with bad on-base skills, managing just 34 steals to go with his .299 OBP last year after averaging 58 steals over the previous four seasons.
Starting pitcher: Mike Foltynewicz, Braves (51, 36) >> A sore elbow is already shelving the Atlanta ace for April, yet he is still being drafted way too high. Even at 51st among starting pitchers like I have him is a big risk, as there’s a chance he winds up missing the entire season or at least struggling due to his elbow.
Starting pitcher: Kyle Freeland, Rockies (73, 48) >> Exhibit A for the strategy of don’t pay for a career season, Freeland is coming off a miraculous 17-7, 2.85 ERA season despite pitching half his games in Coors. I have him projected for a 4.08 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, making him waiver-wire fodder in shallow leagues.
Starting pitcher: Jesus Luzardo, Athletics (99, 66) >> The electric prospect was dazzling in spring training until a sore shoulder flared up, shelving the 21-year-old flamethrower for 4-6 weeks. Luzardo is still worth a flier in deep leagues, but you may be better off just keeping tabs on him for a possible midseason pickup.
Relief pitcher: Pedro Strop, Cubs (37, 26) >> Strop was expected to start the season filling in for Morrow at closer, but a hamstring injury has put that in question. Even if he’s able to return to the mound by Opening Day, his days as closer would likely be numbered.