Ah, draft season. Aside from the actual baseball season, obviously, draft season is perhaps the most exciting time of the year for fantasy enthusiasts. Records are reset to 0-0, pages of research pile up, and terms like “ADP” and “breakout potential” echo in our heads on a never-ending loop. Of course, there will always be “must draft” guys that consistently come off the board in the first couple of rounds. However, a big part of winning fantasy leagues is grabbing those guys that other people aren’t and having them pay off big time.
Many of us at Fantrax, myself included, are already four, five, or six drafts deep. That’s not even including mock drafts, either. While league rules and scoring settings may alter drafts a bit, there are a handful of guys that I’m looking at in preparation for each draft. These are my “must draft” guys that I’m hoping I can grab and reap the benefits throughout the season.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP – Toronto Blue Jays – ADP: 194
This time last year we were discussing Aaron Sanchez in the same breath as some of the game’s best young starters. He was coming off a 2016 season in which he was 15-2 with a league-leading 3.00 ERA and 0.7 HR/9, a 1.17 WHIP and a 7.5 K/9. He was durable, logging 192 innings across 30 starts, appeared in the postseason and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting at just 23 years old. Then, 2017 happened. A pesky blister turned into a reoccurring problem that ultimately derailed his season. The blisters limited Sanchez to just 36 innings in 2017 and significantly hindered his performance. Now, 11.2 innings into spring training, Sanchez hasn’t had any issues with the blisters coming back and looks ready for a bounce-back season in 2018.
Because of his limited history as a starter, just one full season, predicting Sanchez’s 2018 season is a tough task. It’s possible we’ve seen the absolute best, as well as the absolute worst, of Sanchez over just the past two seasons. When healthy, Sanchez has the ability to lead a staff. However, a huge part of his success can be tied to his curveball which, according to Fangraphs, had one of the highest spin rates in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, that same spin rate also attributed to the blister problems that plagued his 2017 campaign.
His rehab and healthy spring have been enough for me to view 2018 Aaron Sanchez the same as 2016 Aaron Sanchez. With an average ADP of 194, Sanchez could bring a huge return for owners willing to take a little risk. I’d like to think of myself as one of those owners, and I am all-in on the return of a dominant Aaron Sanchez in 2018.
Didi Gregorius, SS – New York Yankees – ADP: 109
There were just five names in front of Gregorius in terms of Fangraphs WAR among shortstops last season. Despite missing over 25 games early in the season, Didi managed to put up career highs in nearly every offensive category. His 25 homers, 73 runs scored, 87 RBI, 12.3 percent K-rate, and .287/.318/.478 slash line were all the best marks of the 28-year-old’s career. His 25 homers were largely a product of his ability to pull fly balls to right field, something he’s improved on immensely the past two seasons. As a lefty, playing half your games in Yankee Stadium with the short porch in right surely helps. Despite the increase in home runs, Didi hasn’t sold out for power. He managed to lower his K-rate to 12.3 percent, which ranked second in baseball among shortstops.
Didi won’t be hitting cleanup this year like he did at times in 2017. With the addition of Giancarlo Stanton and a healthy Greg Bird to a stacked Yankees lineup, Didi should be in line for RBI chances no matter where he’s hitting. There’s no reason to believe he can’t put up similar numbers in 2018. While the heavy hitters like Lindor, Seager, Correa, and Turner are coming off the board in the first couple of rounds, Didi’s sitting pretty at 109. Shortstops ahead of him, excluding the guys I mentioned earlier, are Bregman, Segura, Andrus, and Boegarts. Didi’s capable of providing similar value at a much cheaper price. There aren’t many players I’d rather have at short than Gregorius this season.
Ronald Acuna, OF – Atlanta Braves – ADP: 108
Acuna’s been making headlines since the start of 2017 when he was considered a prospect with some breakout potential. Well, that breakout happened in 2017 as Acuna tore up all three levels of the Braves’ minor league system. Not only did he perform well across all three levels, he seemingly got better as the competition got tougher. By the time the 2017 season came to a close, Acuna had totaled 21 homers, 82 RBI, 88 runs, 44 stolen bases and a .325/.374/.522 slash line.
His encore performance didn’t take long, either. After batting .325 and mashing seven homers in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League, Acuna was given MVP honors. At 19 years old, he became the youngest player ever to be named MVP of the AFL. His breakout seasons earned him the title of No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, behind only Shohei Ohtani. Acuna’s been living up to that honor so far in spring, as he’s continued to play absolutely out of his mind.
Great, now that you’re all caught up on the magnificence that’s been Ronald Acuna, go ahead and draft him. According to MLBPipeline.com, Acuna wasn’t expected to make his Major League debut until 2020. He’s turned that into a laughable estimate and has a great chance at making the Braves’ Opening Day roster. Realistically, though, the Braves will likely keep him down for a couple of weeks to buy another year of service time. For dynasty leaguers, don’t hesitate to take the future star. Even in redraft leagues, I’m taking Acuna with the hope that he’ll provide five months of solid contribution.
Ozzie Albies, 2B – Atlanta Braves – ADP: 114
Take advantage of Albies’ 114 ADP while it lasts, because it surely won’t last very long. Like his teammate Acuna, Albies has all the makings of a future superstar. And by future, I really mean as early as 2018. While he’s not an imposing presence at the plate at just 5-foot-9, Albies strikes fear into his opponent in other ways. He’s been an absolute menace on the basepaths throughout the minors and in his limited time at the big league level last season. In his minor league career, Albies is 102-for-130 in stolen base attempts. That’s incredible. He tacked on eight more and was caught just once after being called up to the bigs.
Speed is far from Albies only enticing tool, though. At just 20 years old, Albies already has the looks of a well-rounded superstar. He has above-average game power with an ISO of .171 and makes consistent, hard contact at the plate. Not only that, but he works his walks, 8.6 percent walk-rate in 2017, and has great discipline at the plate, striking out just 14.8 percent of the time. Albies knows how to utilize his tools to their full potential and is a superstar in the making. Before long, Altuve won’t be the only short-statured second baseman we’re talking about coming off the board in the first round.
Taijuan Walker, RHP – Arizona Diamondbacks – ADP: 198
In 2017, we saw Walker turn in the solid campaign we’ve been waiting for since his name was constantly showing up on top of prospect lists years ago. In his age-24 season, Walker posted a 3.49 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .241 BAA and 8.35 K/9 across 157.1 innings. Maybe not the ace-like numbers we’ve been waiting for, but a huge step in the right direction nonetheless. What’s most encouraging about Walker’s outlook in 2018 is the installment of the humidor at Chase Field. Walker posted a 1.4 HR/9 and a 4.18 ERA at home compared to a 0.63 HR/9 and 2.92 ERA on the road. With the humidor being installed at Chase Field, home run numbers should decline drastically, to Walker’s benefit.
Walker’s been moving in the right direction since becoming a full-time player in the Majors in 2015. I expect the 25-year-old to put together a really solid season in 2018, similar to the one his teammate Robbie Ray put forward last season. With an ADP of almost 200, Walker should be a great late-round grab that could put forth SP2 numbers over the course of the season.
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