The regular season is fast approaching. Throughout the offseason, the Fantrax Staff, including myself, have published articles to help you win your fantasy baseball leagues. In these articles, I have outlined several players at multiple positions that I like and dislike. With the season right around the corner, I decided to write an article outlining a player at each position that I consider to be “my guy”. This does not mean that I project them to score the most points at that position, but it means that I think that they possess phenomenal value with where they are going in drafts. Thus, these guys are players that I am targeting in every draft I am in. This list of players can help set your team apart from others!
Top Value Targets at Each Position
Catcher- MJ Melendez- Kansas City Royals
Melendez had a breakout 2021 campaign. He led the minor leagues in home runs, mashing 41 across two levels last season. During this offseason, I have written two articles for Prospects Worldwide about Melendez. The first was all about his playing time and the potential he had for fantasy teams. The second was a scouting report detailing the upside for Melendez. After struggling in 2019, Melendez made a swing change that helped solve his strikeout tendencies. This change helped produce more consistent contact to go along with the elite power Melendez possesses.
Melendez is one of the few catchers who has a chance to hit 35 home runs. He has excellent plate discipline and does a good job working walks even when he is not hitting well. The biggest question for Melendez is his playing time. The Royals staff has been very vocal about giving him a chance to play some third base and outfield in addition to backing up Salvador Perez. Melendez has a chance to be one of the best bats in the Royals lineup and they would be foolish to not find a way for him to consistently play. He is currently basically free in drafts. He is currently going as C29 in drafts and could provide excellent value this season. Melendez should especially be targeted in dynasty and keeper leagues where he has the potential to be an elite catcher for years to come.
First Base- Rhys Hoskins- Philadelphia Phillies
Quietly, Hoskins had one of the best second halves in all of baseball. There is a possibility his second-half production was overshadowed due to Bryce Harper winning MVP. I have tweeted several times explaining all the reasons I love Hoskins this season in fantasy. In case you do not follow me, here are some of the points I have made. From July 2nd– August 25th which was Hoskins’ last game due to injury his MLB ranks are as follows:
- wRC+: 219- 1st by 33 points!
- AVG: 0.333- 1st
- SLG%: 0.811- 1st
- wOBA: 0.507- 1st
- BB%: 16.2%- 2nd
- RBI: 27- T-10th
- R: 23- 13th
These are not just first base rankings; this is from every hitter across the MLB. Hoskins was elite and statistically even better than Bryce Harper who put up unbelievable second-half numbers. He was consistently the best hitter in baseball for a two-month span. Hoskins has made deliberate changes in his approach at the plate. His swing percentage has increased 5.2% since 2019, and his first pitch swing % has increased by 7.2%. This more aggressive version of Hoskins has unlocked a new level of production and I want as many shares of him as I can get. He is currently going as 1B13 in drafts, outside of the top 130 players selected. I have already taken him in multiple drafts and think he has a chance to stay healthy for the entire season with the DH in the National League.
Second Base- Enrique Hernández- Boston Red Sox
Hernández is a player that would be of excellent value to your fantasy team. Known for showing up when the lights are the brightest in the postseason, Hernández is often undervalued during the regular season. While he does not do anything unbelievable, his numbers are often right around league average in several categories. According to NFBC ADP data, Hernández is currently going as 2B25 in most drafts; this outside of the top 200 overall. He is a player that I believe can return value far above this in 2022.
Most fantasy rosters have a 2B, SS, and MI spot to fill so it is important to get three players that you like. I have been targeting Hernández to be my 2B or MI in several leagues this year. According to Roster Resource, Hernández is projected to leadoff for Boston next season. This would set him up in an excellent position to score a lot of runs hitting ahead of guys like Devers, Bogaerts, Story, and Martinez. Hernández also quietly produces a solid amount of power. He hit 20 home runs last season for Boston in just 134 games. This was the second-most in his career, despite posting his worst HR/FB rate since 2014. Although the HR/FB rate was low, the table below shows that it is possible he was unlucky in this category and has a shot to hit over 20 home runs in 2022.
|Sweet Spot %||36.5%||1st|
Kiké is a player that I am targeting in every draft to be a key utility or middle infielder on my team. There have been drafts where I have taken him to be my starting second baseman. If I miss out on the top guys, I do not believe there will be a large drop off from guys like Ty France (2B16 in ADP) to Hernández going over 70 picks later. Anybody looking for value at 2B should make Hernández a prime target in drafts.
Third Base- Ryan McMahon- Colorado Rockies
Earlier in the offseason, Brian Entrekin wrote an article for Fantrax looking into the ADP of McMahon vs. Kris Bryant. Flash forward a month and they are teammates in Colorado. However, the point still stands that McMahon is being criminally undervalued in fantasy drafts and is a great pick at his current ADP. Currently going as 3B15, McMahon also has second base eligibility so he can be played at a middle infield spot on your team. McMahon could have a breakout season for Colorado in 2022.
Ever since his first real season in 2018, McMahon has known how to hit the ball hard. He has a career average exit velocity of over 90 mph, the issue had been getting the ball in the air consistently. McMahon seemed to solve this issue in 2021. His average launch angle increased by 5.1 degrees. In addition to this McMahon posted a sweet spot percentage of 40.2 which ranked 17th in all of baseball among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances.
The other issue that plagued McMahon throughout his early career was his tendency to strike out. From 2018 to 2020 McMahon struck out 31% of the time. This number dropped to 24.7% in 2021. Although still below average, McMahon improved his contact and whiff rates during the 2021 season. The improvements that McMahon made make me very optimistic for 2022. I am not going to risk missing his breakout. McMahon is going so late in drafts he is an excellent selection for anybody looking to hit it big. I am making it a priority to draft him as often as possible for 2022.
Shortstop- Francisco Lindor- New York Mets
Lindor struggled after his trade to New York in 2021. A lot of people began to question whether the power we saw from 2017 to 2019 would ever return. As a result of his recent struggles, his stock has taken a major hit. I think that this is the perfect time to acquire a discounted Francisco Lindor. He is currently going as SS8 according to NFBC ADP data. I have tried to draft Lindor in as many drafts as possible. He is still just 28 and has a chance to return to being the best shortstop in baseball in 2022.
A lot of Lindor’s struggles during 2021 occurred during the first half. However looking at his Baseball Savant data, nothing seems out of the ordinary from his career averages. He posted a barrel rate, average exit velocity, and sweet spot % all above his career average. He still walked over 11% of the time and even stole 10 bases in just 125 games. The biggest culprit for Lindor’s struggles was his BABIP. In 2021, he posted a .248 BABIP. This is well below his career average of .292. With no noticeable differences to Lindor’s profile, a lot of his struggles can be chalked up to bad luck. Look for Lindor to bounce back in 2022.
Lindor was a superstar a couple of years ago and I think that rushing to write him off could be a huge mistake. Lindor seemed to adjust to the bright lights of New York during the second half and regain the form that made him one of the best players in baseball. I have been trying to get as many shares of Lindor as possible during drafts. His struggles have resulted in him being undervalued and I think he will have a bounce-back season in 2022!
OF1- Aaron Judge- New York Yankees
Is it possible for a player to be flying more under the radar than Judge in 2022? Looking at his Baseball Savant, Judge is clearly one of the best hitters in baseball. Hitting in the middle of a loaded Yankees lineup, there is no doubt that Judge will score a lot of runs while knocking in more. Judge is one of a few players in the league that has a chance to score 100 runs while also hitting in 100 RBIs. Despite this, Judge is going as OF14 behind players like Mookie Betts, Whit Merrifield, and Cedric Mullins. All three are good players, but Judge is on another level in my opinion.
Drafting in the early rounds is difficult so there have been many drafts where I have been unable to get Judge. Despite this, he is always a top OF target for me going in. While Judge will not steal you 20 bases, he did go 6/7 on the base paths and is not a complete dark hole in that category. Judge also hits for great average and puts up incredible counting stats to provide your team with elite production in every other category. He is a 4.5 category player which is as close to all-around production as you will often get. I think it is possible that fantasy managers sometimes put too much of an emphasis on steals and that players like Judge can be overlooked. He is a target of mine and I believe he should be an early target for every manager in fantasy.
OF2- Ian Happ- Chicago Cubs
I have written and tweeted a lot about Ian Happ already. He is a player that I believe has a chance to be a league winner. He came alive during the second half of last season and showed the potential that fantasy managers have been dying to see. Happ might not hit for an elite average, but he possesses phenomenal power and a strong ability to get on base. Not only that, but Happ can also steal several bases for your fantasy team providing even more value. Happ has a chance to be a .265, 30-HR, and 10-steal player in 2022. Due to the Cubs rebuild, he should be playing every day hitting in the heart of the lineup. Check out my article on Happ, where I detail the reasons I believe he can be a league-winning player!
He is currently going as OF54 just inside the top 200 picks. He is basically free in drafts going behind players like Robbie Grossman, Eddie Rosario, and Adolis Garcia. Happ possesses far more upside than any of those players and should be going way higher. I have been targeting Happ in every single one of my drafts even taking him earlier than his ADP to make sure nobody takes him in front of me. Happ is the late-round outfielder that I believe will help set your team over the edge for the 2022 season!
SP1- Dylan Cease- Chicago White Sox
One of the first articles that I wrote for Fantrax outlined breakout pitchers. Cease has gotten a lot of hype from a lot of experts in the fantasy baseball industry this off-season. Cease has elite stuff and finally seemed to put it all together last season. His strikeouts per nine nearly doubled as he figured out exactly how to pitch in the bigs. Not only did his strikeouts double, but his walks and home runs against decreased. Looking ahead to 2022, Cease is entering his age 26 season and I believe he will only keep getting better. If you want to read more about why I love Dylan Cease and his arsenal of pitches, you can check out that article on here!
Cease is somebody that I have been targeting in every fantasy draft I am in. There is a strong chance he can be a top 5 pitcher in fantasy this upcoming season. He has the stuff to be elite, he just had to learn how to control it. After taking several steps forward in 2021, Cease possesses the ability to keep improving and have a phenomenal 2022. Cease should be on every fantasy manager’s radar during drafts and should be targeted as somebody who can be the best pitcher on your team.
SP2- Triston McKenzie- Cleveland Guardians
As an owner of Triston McKenzie in a dynasty league, I have spent this offseason trying to figure out who exactly he is. After struggling and being demoted to AAA last year, McKenzie came back as a different pitcher in the second half. Over the first 11 games following his recall, McKenzie posted a 2.96 ERA with a 9.13 K/9 and 1.48 BB/9. This included a 7-game stretch where he had a 1.76 ERA with a 9.39 K/9 and a 0.98 BB/9. He struggled in his final three starts which many analysts are attributing to wearing down over a long season. Just 24-years-old, McKenzie flashed for 11 games the potential that made him a top prospect. Despite this, he is going outside of the top 230 picks in most drafts and is the 87th pitcher being taken. He is a prime target of mine in every fantasy draft.
While researching, I was trying to figure out if there were any mechanical changes that McKenzie made. He struggled with his control before his demotion, and then seemed to solve that during the second half. After playing around with his splits on Fangraphs, I realized he got into trouble while he was working from the stretch.
- Bases Empty: 11.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 1.03 WHIP
- Runners On: 7.8 K/9, 6.3 BB/9, 2.1 HR/9, 1.45 WHIP
Those numbers indicate that McKenzie lost control of his pitches when he was forced to pitch from the stretch. Although the numbers were still not amazing, McKenzie was able to solve some of his issues from the stretch after his demotion. With runners on during the 11-game stretch McKenzie’s line was as follows:
- Runners On 07/09-09/14: 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 0.96 WHIP
These numbers were much better than they were giving the indication that McKenzie made some sort of adjustment while back in AAA. During my deep dive on McKenzie, I studied video provided by Baseball Savant and noticed a few minor changes that might have unlocked the star in McKenzie. The first two photos show McKenzie working from the stretch before his demotion. He is standing straight up with just a little bend in his right leg. The second two photos show McKenzie working from the stretch after his demotion. There is noticeably more bend in the back leg during in the second two photos. This keeps McKenzie’s body more compact throughout his motion and gives him better control of his pitches.
In these next set of freeze frames, you can see that McKenzie’s arm is farther back at the same point in his delivery after his demotion. His new starting point allowing his body to be more compact helps his arm motion come through during his delivery. This added control has helped McKenzie become a much better pitcher.
These changes give me hope that the stretch we saw from McKenzie during the second half is the player he truly is. His current ADP does not reflect the adjustments McKenzie made. He is an easy pick for me in every draft as I am filling out my rotation and a player I think you need to target in 2022!