As we are ready to embark on a new baseball season, we have participated in drafts and seen many trends. Specifically, there are a number of players who seem to end up on many of our rosters. Here are some players that I find myself gravitating towards during this draft season. I believe all of these players can provide excellent value in 2018.
Christian Yelich, OF – ADP 53.2
Christian Yelich is one of the most underrated players in the game. For his career, he is a .290 hitter with a 10.7 percent walk rate and has an 80 percent success rate on the basepaths. Yelich has been among the leaders in exit velocity and 95+ MPH batted ball events in each of the last three seasons since such data has been publicly tracked. He has raised his fly ball rate from 15.0 percent in 2015 to 25.2 percent in 2017 and an increase in power has followed. Prior to 2016, Yelich hit just 20 home runs in 1,298 career at-bats. Over the last two years, however, Yelich has hit 39 home runs in 1,180 at-bats. If Yelich can continue to increase his fly ball percentage (his 55.4 percent ground ball rate was still sixth-highest among qualified hitters last year), he can hit 25 home runs this season, particularly in his new digs at Miller Park. People tend to overlook how much better Yelich has been away from Miami during his career, particularly when it comes to power:[table “54” not found /]
Yelich’s prowess on the bases also figures to be nurtured in Milwaukee. The Brewers have attempted 406 stolen bases under manager Craig Counsell’s tutelage during the last two years. Only Cincinnati has attempted as many as 300 in that time span. Only four players in all of baseball recorded a 20/20 season with at least a .275 batting average last year. I consider those Yelich’s 2018 baselines. He has .300 25/25 upside, which could put him among the top-10 hitters in all of fantasy baseball this season.
Alex Wood, SP – ADP 105.7
Elite starting pitchers seem to be going at a higher cost than usual this season, and yet there are a lot of pitchers in those second and third tiers that I would be completely comfortable with. One such pitcher is Alex Wood. Last season, Wood struggled to a 4.19 ERA over his first four starts, then ripped off an incredible stretch of nine starts up to the All-Star break in which he went 8-0 with a 0.96 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 11.25 K/9. The second half of the season was not as kind to Wood, as he struggled due to injury and fatigue. Still, his season-long 2.72 ERA and 1.06 WHIP would have put Wood in the top-10 among all qualified pitchers if he had thrown a few more innings.
The most likely scenario for Wood heading into 2018 is that he finishes somewhere between his blistering first half and his pedestrian second half. But I believe Wood will end up on the higher end of that spectrum in 2018. Last season’s dominance was not just caused by blind luck; Wood incorporated his changeup at a much higher rate and it paid immediate dividends. Opponents hit just .156 on the improved pitch, which registered three miles an hour faster than it had in the previous year. This weapon, combined with his above-average curveball, give Wood the arsenal he needs to be a top-20 starting pitcher in 2018.
Trevor Story, SS – ADP 114
Watching Trevor Story is not always aesthetically pleasing. His 33.1 percent career strikeout rate is a little difficult to stomach at times, but when he puts the bat on the ball, look out. His .251 career ISO ranks him 13th among all hitters with at least 900 plate appearances since the beginning of 2016. Coors Field buoys this production, of course, as evidenced by Story’s career splits:
However, instead of Story’s extreme splits being a stigma that is viewed as a negative, I believe this is part of Story’s fantasy charm. Owning Story requires a bit of maintenance, but the rewards should outweigh the risks. If you play in a league where you set lineups each week or each day, you can employ Story in optimal situations and avoid him when Colorado plays on the road. Instead of viewing Story as a top-75 hitter, you can treat “Home Story” as a hitter in the 30-40 range overall and “Road Story” as a lesser shortstop like Marcus Semien or Addison Russell. If employed correctly, Trevor Story should be a very nice value this season.
Trevor Bauer, SP – ADP 127.8
Trevor Bauer has often shown flashes of his great potential but has yet to put it together over the course of a full season. Bauer has never had an ERA below 4.18 or a WHIP below 1.31 over the course of any season. But there is reason to believe this could be the year that Bauer puts it all together and becomes a top-25 starting pitcher. Last season, Bauer had career-bests in both strikeout rate (26.2 percent) and walk rate (8.0 percent). Even more promising is that this spike coincided with Bauer’s decision to scrap an ineffective cutter (.267 opposing batting average) for a new and improved slider (.195 opponent’s batting average). Combined with his already-elite curveball, this gives Bauer another lights-out offering with which to attack hitters.
Over his last 12 starts last year, Bauer had a 2.42 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. That ERA is overly optimistic, but I believe Bauer is ready to take his game to the next level. I project Bauer’s 2018 to look a lot like Jacob deGrom’s 2017. Last season, deGrom posted 15 wins, a 3.53 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 239 strikeouts. This was good enough for 14th on ESPN’s Player Rater and for deGrom to go at pick 38.1 in 2018 drafts. Bauer is currently being drafted as the 36th starting pitcher off the board, making him a potential bargain in fantasy drafts.
Adrian Beltre, 3B – ADP 158.6
Below is a list of third basemen who had at least 60 RBI and a .280 batting average last season, along with their 2018 ADP. I’m removing Justin Turner (98.2) from this list due to his broken wrist.
Nolan Arenado, 4.5
Kris Bryant, 13.9
Jose Ramirez, 22.4
Alex Bregman, 36.3
Adrian Beltre, 158.6
What gives? Well, for one, Beltre is old. He’ll be 39 in two weeks and is entering his 20th Major League season. Many fantasy players would rather get out a year too soon than stay in a year too late. Hence Beltre’s strangely low ADP. But savvy owners will take what they are given, and that is a solid bit at a discounted price. Beltre has not hit below .287 this decade and has hit at a .304 clip with 162 game averages of 31 home runs and 115 RBI over the past two seasons. Beltre is not playing 162 games, of course, and some deterioration is to be expected. But there is no reason Beltre cannot supply fantasy owners with a .290/25/90 season, which is well worth the price that is currently being paid for his services.
Delino DeShields, OF – ADP 189.7
Delino DeShields’ ADP has trended upward recently following news that manager Jeff Banister plans on using DeShields as the team’s primary leadoff hitter. But I still do not think his ADP is where it should be. For his career, DeShields has scored 194 runs and stolen 62 bases in 315 games. His 162-game pace is 100 runs and 32 stolen bases. There were exactly two players in all of baseball who scored 90 runs and stole 30 bases in 2017 – Jose Altuve (ADP: 2.4) and Dee Gordon (ADP: 37.8). I’m not suggesting that DeShields is in their class as a hitter, but he should provide excellent value for those targeting speed in the middle rounds of drafts. His 9.9 percent career walk rate mitigates some of the damage his batting average threatens to inflict and should provide him many opportunities to show off his top-10 Spring Speed. I think Delino DeShields can finish in the top-30 fantasy outfielders this season, making him an ideal Draft Day target.
Hanley Ramirez, 1B – ADP 277.7
I really do not understand Hanley Ramirez’ current ADP. I’m a fan of the New York Yankees, so I hope I’m wrong and he falls flat on his face. But I honestly don’t see why Ramirez is going so low in drafts. Yes, he’s injury prone, and Boston has a bit of a financial incentive to reduce Ramirez’s plate appearances, as 497 trips to the dish would result in the vesting a $22 million option for 2019. But that downside is minimal compared to his enormous upside.
Ramirez is hitting in one of the best lineups in all of baseball, he is by all accounts healthy, and he was a top-30 hitter overall just two seasons ago. There is a decent chance Ramirez produces at that level once again in 2018, making him well worth the risk this low in drafts. And while I don’t expect Ramirez to live up to his lofty 30/30 prediction, even a third of that stolen base total combined with the potential front four category production can vault Ramirez into a fourth or fifth round value if things go right. Hanley Ramirez is the perfect player to take in the middle to lower rounds. If he gets hurt or underperforms, you simply discard him and pick up someone off the waiver wire.
Cameron Maybin, OF – ADP 336.8
Will the real Cameron Maybin please stand up? In the last three seasons, the former top prospect has posted yearly batting averages of .267, .315, and .228. Talk about your range of outcomes … Maybin’s inconsistency and his free agent status (Maybin was not signed by Miami until late February) resulted in his ADP freefalling all the way down near the 400 range. Another cause for skepticism is the impending arrival of current prospect Lewis Brinson. Brinson has made a pretty strong case this spring as to why he should start the season with the big club, but I just do not see it happening. Miami will gain an extra year of control over Brinson if he remains in the minors until May 9. That is reason alone for the miserly Marlins to send him down once spring training breaks. If this happens, the job will be Maybin’s alone for the first six weeks of the season.
Even if everything goes according to plan and Brinson joins the Marlins in May, I would still expect Maybin to get his fair share of at-bats in the Marlins’ outfield. I am not scared off by the likes of J.B. Shuck and Scott Van Slyke. The offensively challenged Marlins will need Maybin to generate runs using his speed, so I would expect him to be given a bright green light on the bases. I can see Maybin stealing 20 bases prior to the All-Star break. A July trade is certainly feasible with Miami in rebuilding mode, but I’ll gladly take four months of Maybin at his current price and make whatever necessary adjustments I need to down the line if the need arises. I would probably try to avoid playing Maybin in conjunction with a Billy Hamilton or Delino DeShields in the outfield, but Maybin has plenty of standalone value within the framework of the right fantasy roster.
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