Al Melchior’s Draft Day Targets
When I wrote my sleepers column a couple of weeks back, I had yet to begin most of my drafts, but figured I would be targeting the potential bargains I wrote about frequently. Now that many of my drafts are in progress or have been completed, it turns out I own every single player featured in the column on at least one of my teams, with several players finding homes on more than one of my teams.
Yet there are other players who are repeatedly popping up on my rosters and draft queues, even though I did not go out and intend to make them frequent targets. I have drafted or tried to draft each of the following players in multiple leagues, even though none stood out to me when I was doing my offseason research. The reasons why they are drawing my attention now vary, but all should provide good value at their current ADPs.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees, 90 ADP
Every candidate for an SP2 slot has some sort of risk that is serious enough to give owners pause before hitting the “Draft” button, and Tanaka’s is his partial UCL tear. Well, that and his 4.74 ERA from last season, but I’m willing to give him a pass on that. He was much better after the All-Star break, posting a 3.77 ERA (3.41 FIP), 1.06 WHIP and a 29.6 percent strikeout rate. We probably shouldn’t count on Tanaka to maintain that strikeout rate, but he shouldn’t be any worse for Ks than other starters with a similar ADP, like Jake Arrieta, Jose Berrios, and Jon Lester. He has a more established track record than similarly-valued Luis Castillo and Luke Weaver, and the Yankees should provide him with plenty of run support. The first half of last season aside, Tanaka has been effective and durable despite his torn UCL. There’s not much safety in the starting pitching pool outside the top 20, so I’m finding Tanaka to be an ideal target if I miss out on high-end No. 2 starters like Yu Darvish and Chris Archer.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers, 121 ADP
Puig occupies a similar position in the outfield pecking order that Tanaka does among starting pitchers. You can fill your first two outfield spots with proven, reliable options, but after the first two dozen outfielders are off the board, the choices are less than inspiring. I had not considered Puig to be a standout among the middle-round outfield options, mostly because of his inconsistent track record. Yet when you consider the other outfielders you could reasonably expect to draft outside the first 100 picks, he looks like a potential bargain. You could target Ryan Braun or Ian Desmond, but Puig is considerably younger while not coming off an injury-plagued season. Marwin Gonzalez and Eddie Rosario look like stronger regression candidates than Puig. Ender Inciarte and Adam Jones lack upside, and Ronald Acuna is all upside but may need time to adjust to the majors. Meanwhile, Puig has been a steady source of power (aside from 2016), and just maybe, last season’s gains in contact rate and plate discipline will stick.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals, 130 ADP
If we use ADP to determine where tiers begin and end, then Evan Gattis (150 ADP) looks like the last stop on the Catcher Express before you get to Meh Junction. A whopping 45 picks separate Gattis from Mike Zunino and a large cluster of risky and/or mediocre backstops. In my busts column, I made the case for avoiding Gattis at his current price, and part of the argument had to do with his value relative to Perez. There is no question that Gattis can deliver 25 or more homers while batting in a loaded Astros lineup. What Perez might lack in terms of run-producing opportunities, he ought to more than make up for with steady playing time, and he is also no slouch as a home run hitter. (Also, there are worse situations for driving in runs than hitting behind Jon Jay and Whit Merrifield.)
If I missed out on Perez, there are some decent fallback options, including Wilson Ramos and Welington Castillo. However, I’ve been drafting Perez because I’d rather not miss out on him. He is going late enough that I can take care of needs at other positions, and yet by drafting him, I can put a reliable producer at a scarce position on my roster.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays, 181 ADP
I targeted Kiermaier frequently a year ago when he looked like a breakout candidate. After a sluggish midseason return from a fractured hand, Kiermaier finished 2016 strong by putting up a .291/.358/.448 slash line to go with 11 stolen bases over his final 45 games. I didn’t expect to pursue him this season, because 2017 didn’t quite live up to the promise. A more aggressive approach sent Kiermaier’s strikeout and walk rates in the wrong direction, and in stealing 16 bases in 23 bases, he became a less efficient basestealer. It was also another season in which Kiermaier missed a significant chunk of time due to injury (this time, it was a fractured hip).
However, Kiermaier enters this season without much hype, and he is getting drafted outside the top-40 outfielders. There are still some positives that could make him a bargain. He came back from his latest injury without any noticeable lingering effects, as he batted .306 with eight home runs over his final 36 games. Kiermaier also appeared to take a step forward against righties, increasing his hard contact rate from 30.4 percent in 2016 to 35.5 percent in 2017 and posting a .289/.349/.502 slash line. It will behoove me to sit Kiermaier when the Rays face lefty starters, but given how late he can be drafted, I won’t hesitate to target him again in future drafts.
Jonathan Villar, 2B, Brewers, 192 ADP
The reasons behind Villar’s appeal are pretty straightforward. He is two years removed from a season in which he was one of the top-producing middle infielders in fantasy, and even in a disappointing 2016 campaign, he showed the same combination of speed and clout. What set Villar back was regression in his ability to make contact and avoid bad pitches. There is the risk that he won’t win the Brewers’ second base competition over Eric Sogard, or that he won’t bounce back even if he does get the job. Given that he is barely ranking within the top 200 in ADP, I don’t mind taking that risk.
Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, and Jason Kipnis are all good fallback options who are getting drafted later than Villar, but if stolen bases or overall upside are what you seek, the Brewers’ 26-year-old is a far superior choice.
Brandon Morrow, RP, Cubs, 192 ADP
Because there is so much turnover among closers, I don’t like to draft relievers early, unless I’m going all out for Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel. Waiting has been paying off in leagues where I have drafted Morrow, as he offers an elite-level skill set that has been available even once the top 20 relievers have come off the board. Morrow broke out as a reliever with the Dodgers last season, experiencing a spike of more than 3 mph on his average fastball velocity and getting swinging strikes at a 15.9 percent rate. When he wasn’t missing bats, he was limiting opponents to a total of three extra-base hits (all doubles) over the course of the entire season.
Morrow doesn’t have much closing experience, but he has spent lots of time on the DL over his career. Those factors have sunk Morrow’s ADP, but he is well worth the minimal gamble. He is not having to compete with anyone for the Cubs’ closer job this spring, yet incredibly, he is being drafted behind Jeurys Familia, Archie Bradley, and Greg Holland. Familia and Bradley do not have an exclusive claim on a closer’s role, and Holland is still unsigned.
Honorable mention: Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals, 247 ADP; Joe Mauer, 1B, Twins, 391 ADP; Brandon McCarthy, Braves, 452 ADP; Franchy Cordero, OF, Padres, 573 ADP.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs.
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