When formulating a draft strategy, it is important to have multiple plans. Drafts rarely go exactly how you practiced in your mock drafts and being able to pivot when something unexpected happens is key. Earlier this week I looked at late-round players with high upside that you could target. These players might not be the safest options, but they do carry league-winning potential. You can check out that article here. Now, it is time to look at the flip side of that coin. What if you draft risky players early and want to take some safer options late? This article outlines one player at each position might not be the flashiest option but should be a reliable source of production.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
When to Prioritize Drafting Safe Players
Since I went into lengthy detail in the previous article, I will try to keep this part short. To start, drafting “safe” players is never foolproof. All players carry a certain amount of risk, and some injuries are unpredictable. However, there are some players that are easier to identify as risky players. This could be due to playing time concerns, injury history, or high strikeout numbers. When you are targeting safe players late in drafts, you know that you are unlikely to get top-five production out of them, but rarely will you be disappointed.
Should you draft these safe players over guys with more upside late in drafts? The answer is dependent on your league format. If you are in a ten-team league with shallow rosters, replacement level, and safe players can be found scattered throughout the waiver wire. You should be shooting for high upside late in drafts. In deeper leagues, it is more difficult to find production in free agency. Drafting players with a stable floor provides some safety if something goes wrong in your starting lineup.
For example, let’s say you are drafting an outfield of Byron Buxton, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jake McCarthy. All three have ADPs inside the top 130, but all three carry significant risk. The ceiling for all three of those players is incredibly high, but the floor on all three is also incredibly low. Supporting these players with high-upside, high-risk players like Bryan De La Cruz (identified in my previous article) only creates a higher chance of something going wrong. In this scenario, it is important for you to be prepared with other outfield options that provide a stable fantasy floor.
Players to Draft for High Floors
Catcher – Christian Vazquez- Minnesota Twins
What makes Christian Vazquez so Reliable:
When it comes to the catcher position there is always a lot of volatility. Replacement-level catchers are hard to find, but Christian Vazquez is the best of the bunch. Since 2019, the only catcher to play more games than Vazquez is J.T. Realmuto. Vazquez’s 442 games over the past four seasons are 39 ahead of third-place Willson Contreras. Only fourteen catchers reached 400 plate appearances last year; something that Vazquez has done each of the past three seasons (excluding 2020). This offseason, Vazquez signed with the Minnesota Twins for three years and $30 million and figures to receive the bulk of the catching duties. The consistent playing time for Vazquez provides him with one of the most stable floors at the catcher position.
From 2019-2021, Vazquez has an average finish of C8/9 in fantasy. He is currently going as C18 in drafts but is a way safer pick than guys going around him like Yasmani Grandal or Gabriel Moreno. If you shoot for a high ceiling in your draft with a player like Cal Raleigh, then grabbing Vazquez as your backup catcher will provide you with a stable floor if things go south.
Why Christian Vazquez has a low ceiling:
I wrote an article this off-season for Fantrax discussing how Vazquez has home run upside. Even with that upside, the ceiling is still relatively low. Having now moved away from the Green Monster in Fenway, Vazquez is unlikely to ever post an HR/FB% around 14% again. He has hit fewer than ten home runs in back-to-back seasons and we should not project more than 15. Without power or the speed to steal bases at a high rate, Vazquez lacks the ceiling needed to ever be in the catcher one discussion again. If you draft him, do not expect him to put up breakout numbers.
First Base- Luis Arraez- Miami Marlins
What makes Luis Arraez so Reliable:
Luis Arraez is the definition of consistency. Over the past four seasons, he has hit .314. He won the batting title in 2022 and there is no reason we should expect him to fall off. Early in his career, he struggled to find consistent playing time, but his strong production and ability to play all over the diamond should allow him to continue receiving everyday at-bats. Arraez is so consistent because of his incredible contact metrics. In 2022, he whiffed a league-leading 7.1% of the time while walking more than he struck out. Arraez is always going to hit which is always going to give him a stable fantasy floor. He gets on base and has 100 run-scoring potential if the players behind him hit well enough.
Luis Arraez is currently going as 1B23 in fantasy drafts. He is not the flashiest player, but he is the definition of consistency. You will always be able to rely on him for batting average. If you are hanging your hat on an Andrew Vaughn or Jose Miranda breakout, supporting them with Luis Arraez later in drafts would be a wise decision.
Why Luis Arraez has a low ceiling:
Even while winning the batting title in 2022, Arraez finished as 1B11. First base is a position where it is imperative for you to hit home runs if you want to finish toward the top of the leaderboard. Arraez has never hit more than eight home runs in a season and his 3.6%-barrel rate does not suggest this is going to change anytime soon. Without much power or speed, Arraez will probably never break the top ten at this position.
Second Base- Jean Segura- Miami Marlins
What makes Jean Segura so Reliable:
Dating all the way back to 2017(excluding 2020), Jean Segura has never hit below .277. In addition, he has at least nine stolen bases in every season. 2022 was somewhat of a lost season as Segura battled injuries, but he still managed to hit .277 with 13 stolen bases. This offseason Segura signed with the Marlins which might be better for his fantasy value. With the influx of talent in Philadelphia, Segura found himself hitting toward the bottom of the lineup which does not allow him to score enough runs to be fantasy relevant. In Miami, Segura should hit toward the top of the lineup again. Before last season, Segura had scored over 75 runs in five straight seasons (excluding 2020).
There is nothing in Jean Segura’s profile that indicates we should be expecting a decline. His contact skills have remained consistent, and all projection systems expect more of the same from Segura. He is currently going as 2B24 in fantasy drafts and pairing him with a high-variance player like Brandon Lowe might be a good combination.
Why Jean Segura has a low ceiling:
While the first two players on this list did not have speed, Segura still does. His ability to steal bases does give him a little bit of a ceiling although projecting more than 15 steals from a player who is going to be 33 is aggressive. In addition, Segura has not hit more than 14 home runs in a season since 2016. The top-five second baseman last year averaged over 22 home runs. Especially with the move to Miami, there is no way Segura hits that many home runs. His floor is stable, but there is limited upside to Segura’s profile.
Shortstop- Bryson Stott- Philadelphia Phillies
What makes Bryson Stott so Reliable:
The Phillies’ first-round draft pick from 2019 made quick work of the Minor Leagues before making the Major League roster out of Spring Training in 2022. The start of the season did not go according to plan as Stott hit just .133 and was ultimately demoted back to AAA. He continued to struggle with inconsistent playing time until the team released Didi Gregorius on August 4th. From that point forward, Stott hit .286/.338/.418 with eight stolen bases. Stott learned from Kevin Long the Phillies’ hitting coach how to change his approach with two strikes and got comfortable. Stott’s hit tool has always been apparent in the Minor Leagues, and it looks like it should be here to stay in the Majors.
Stott has the potential to steal 15 bases while providing a solid average in a good lineup. He is relatively inexperienced, but his strong track record in the Minor Leagues should give drafters all the confidence they need. Stott is currently going as SS21 in fantasy drafts around pick 223. Pairing him with a high-upside player like Oneil Cruz could give you a perfect combination of upside and floor at the shortstop position.
Why Bryson Stott has a low ceiling:
Just because Bryson Stott was a former top prospect does not mean his ceiling is much higher than his performance during the second half of last season. Stott does not have a ton of power and likes to spray the ball to all fields. He prioritizes contact over power and that is perfect for his profile. He is a better real-life asset than fantasy baseball asset and managers should not expect him to ever be a serious power threat. His ceiling is close to 20 home runs and the top five shortstops averaged over 23 last season. Temper your expectations when drafting Stott and keep in mind his ceiling is not as high as some other players.
Third Base- Yandy Diaz- Tampa Bay Rays
What makes Yandy Diaz so Reliable:
Owning a player on the Rays can be difficult for fantasy managers. The Rays love platooning players using analytics. One of the few players that you do not have to worry about that with is Yandy Diaz. Diaz is one of only two Rays players to receive 500+ plate appearances in each of the last two seasons (Randy Arozarena). In 2022, he hit .310 against lefties and .291 against righties. He is platoon proof which in the Rays organization is a huge deal. Diaz also has excellent plate discipline which raises his fantasy floor. He does not strike out and walks almost as often. Since joining the Rays, he has struck out 14.1% of the time and walked 12.9%. The lowest wRC+ he has posted since 2018 is 111 which is still above average.
Diaz provides consistent average and solid run and RBI totals. He might not be the flashiest name, but the Rays trust him, and he should continue to get regular playing time. He is currently going as 3B26 in fantasy drafts just inside the top 300. If you target players like Eugenio Suarez or Ke’Bryan Hayes early in drafts, target Diaz later to give yourself a stable floor at the position.
Why Yandy Diaz has a low ceiling:
Home runs have never been Diaz’s strong suit. Since 2019, he has only hit 38 home runs thanks to a ground-ball rate of 52.8%. To be a top-tier third baseman in fantasy you have to produce home runs. Safe to say that Diaz is not going to hit home runs like Jose Ramirez, Austin Riley, or Nolan Arenado. For fantasy purposes, the only way to make up for a lack of home runs is with elite speed and Diaz has never stolen more than three bases in a season. Diaz is a solid player but will never be considered a “league winner” at third base.
Outfield- Andrew McCutchen- Pittsburgh Pirates
What makes Andrew McCutchen so Reliable:
Something about Andrew McCutchen signing back with the Pirates just warms my heart. In what will likely be his farewell season, cutch still has plenty in the tank to be a useful fantasy asset. You might not know it because of his age, but Andrew McCutchen has played in the 16th most games of all outfielders since 2020. More than Judge, more than Yelich, and more than Schwarber. There has only been one season where cutch has not been healthy and that was in 2019 due to a torn ACL.
McCutchen is not still performing at MVP levels, but last year finished as OF40, and the year before that OF39. He walks a decent amount, still is hitting home runs, and will even toss in a few steals. Signing back with the Pirates should allow him to play every day and even play a decent amount of DH to get him off his feet. Right now in drafts, McCutchen is going as OF102 even since January 1st he is going as OF94. This is way too low for such a reliable player. Grab McCutchen in all drafts to give yourself a stable floor in the outfield.
Why Andrew McCutchen has a low ceiling:
Even though he is still playing more than most outfielders going around him in drafts, McCutchen is 36 years old. He is not getting any younger and it is unrealistic to expect him to play in more than 140 games. Also, we know who he is at this point. He has posted a wRC+ of 102, 108, and 98 in the last three seasons. Another cap to his ceiling is the lack of slugging against right-handed pitching. McCutchen has slugged under .390 in three straight seasons against righties. For fantasy purposes, he provides a stable floor, but he does not have much upside at this point.
Are you buying in on Tyler’s favorite bounce-back players? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!