As the calendar has turned to March, we are suddenly seeing some trends in drafts this year. ADPs are starting to course-correct, and there is sufficient enough data to pick out a few players to target and a few players to avoid. Of course, these do change at the whims of the MLB faithful, as a few bad at-bats in spring or finally signing with a team can either increase or decrease a player’s value somewhat drastically. But as it stands right now, there are a handful of players that are draft targets for me in most of the mocks and insider drafts that have flooded my time lately.
Some of these players I like because I think they bounce-back from a bad 2017 season. Others I like because they appear to be healthy, and yet others still I like because I think they have the tools to break out and provide their owners with some surplus value to lead them to a championship. Don’t forget to consider your specific league format when evaluating these players; if they are a known hacker with a low OBP, then you might knock them down a few pegs in those leagues. But for the most part, these are guys that I’m looking at in pretty much any league I play in.
Khris Davis – OF – Oakland Athletics
KWAK (Khris With A K) Davis has been nothing short of a model of consistency the last two years. I, like a lot of the industry, was pretty wary of Davis going into the 2017 season. Sure, he had just put up a 42 homer, 100+ RBI campaign, but his walk rate had shrunk to 6.9%, and after a third straight year of batting in the .240 range, there wasn’t much hope for a batting average increase. The 42 homers were obviously a career-high, and for him to produce value based on his rising ADP cost, he would have to continue that pace.
Well, Davis did just that. He managed to repeat virtually every category with slight increases in some cases (43 HR, 91 R, 110, RBI, 4 SB, and an exact replica .247 batting average). The biggest thing about last year’s season was the return of his on-base abilities. His BB% jumped to an MLB career-high 11.2%, and while I’ve given up virtually all hope for a batting average boost, his three-year .247 mark is certainly manageable especially compared to certain other power-first hitters (cough, Joey Gallo, cough).
KWAK is currently going at pick 61 per the Fantrax ADP. Three picks ahead of him is A.J. Pollock, a player whose injury history is as large a question as virtually anyone in the game. And two picks ahead at No. 59 is Jonathan Schoop, a player who, despite the positional advantage (well, maybe, outfield feels really shallow to me this year), has regression written all over him. Instead of these guys, I’ll be more than happy to take a near-lock 40 homers and 100 RBI with an average that won’t kill you.
Yoenis Cespedes – OF – New York Mets
Editor’s note: Cespedes is battling a sore right wrist, an injury he suffered while swinging the bat last week. X-rays came back negative.
This time last year, we were looking at an ADP of Yoenis Cespedes in the 45-50 range. He was a power-hitting outfielder who also hit for average, walked, and didn’t strike out too much. What happened to him last year is what unfortunately seems to happen to him almost every year. He gets hurt, and then is asked to play through some injuries, causing slumps and requiring big weeks every now and then to improve his overall line. Well, at the end of 2017, we can look back and see that he did exactly what everyone expected him to do … with the numbers cut in half.
After compiling only 321 plate appearances, he hit .292/.352/.540 with 17 home runs, 46 runs, and 42 RBI. The walk rate dipped slightly, but considering his lofty average, it was offset a bit in that regard. If you basically double those numbers, you end up with a 30-homer, 90-90 guy with great average and OBP. Supposedly, the new training staff in New York has made their positive changes already felt, so Cespedes staying healthy is definitely in the realm of possibilities. And prior to last year’s 321 PA season, his previous lowest total was 540 way back in 2012. I’m banking on a return to health and some continued success at an ADP of 83 this season.
Garrett Richards – SP – Los Angeles Angels
Garrett Richards is admittedly one of my favorite players. As an Angels fan, I’ve been drooling over him developing that beautiful fastball into a deadly weapon since I first saw him in a minor league game in 2011. Prior to his breakout in 2014, the biggest question everyone had on Richards was — why the hype? Sure, he has this big fastball, but he never strikes anyone out and the ERA is never favorable. Well, Richards is one of those players that scouts get and fans don’t. They see that fastball, they see the breaking pitches and they dream on what would happen if command ever comes.
Well, in 2014 that command finally showed up, and in 168.2 innings Richards put up a 2.61 ERA while flashing one of the game’s hardest fastballs for a starter. A torn patellar tendon in his knee ended his season prematurely, but there was still room for optimism the following year. 2015 was still considered a success, particularly considering his return from the knee injury, as he put up 207.1 innings, though he saw a bit of a dip in K/9, a rise in BB/9, and a rise in ERA. But we did see those innings totals climb, and the added workload the following season would bring hope that improved durability and preparedness would lead to a hybrid of the previous two years, which would mean we’d have a top 15-20 pitcher on our hands. Instead, the injury bug reared its head in 2016, and we saw only 34.2 innings thanks to a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. Rather than undergo Tommy John Surgery, he chose to rehab the injury. Despite the limited innings, it appears to have been the right decision.
In 2017, Richards had more injury issues, as biceps irritation sidelined him for a majority of the season. At the end of the year, he joined the rotation to get some work when the Angels fell out of postseason contention, and he used his 27.2 innings to try to get a feel for pitching with his new repertoire (he ditched his changeup, which he blamed for his injury woes). The truth is, there is a ton of injury risk here, but there is also a TON of upside. We saw how good Richards can be even when he’s not at 100%, and arguably with the new pitching repertoire and the UCL issue behind him, this might be the first time he’s been healthy in a long while. If so, look out. Pick 162 is plenty low enough for me to take a shot on his talent, and even if he gets only 140 or so innings, they should be pretty good ones.
Aaron Hicks – OF – New York Yankees
Drafted 10 years ago in 2008 as an 18-year-old by the Minnesota Twins at pick 14, Hicks spent many years atop top prospect lists not only for the Twins but all of baseball. He was athletic, he was toolsy, he was everything scouts dreamed of. And then … he just kind of sucked. He’s always had a bit of an issue with hitting line drives, and that tends to lower batting average potential. And while that’s still a bit of an issue today, it isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. After a few partial seasons with the Twins where he hit .192 in 313 plate appearances once, he was finally traded to the New York Yankees in the 2015 offseason.
The Yankees gave him 361 plate appearances where he produced some limited success but still managed to hit only .217/.281/.336 with eight homers and three steals. On the bright side, he did walk over 8% of the time and showed that he was an elite defender in center field. The following season, Hicks managed to get another 361 plate appearances with the big league squad, and he finally flashed what prospect hounds had been raving about for years. He hit .266/.372/.475 with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases. His walk rate jumped to his minor league norm of 14.1%, and he continued to provide elite defense in the majors. Of course, an injury derailed his season, so the breakthrough was a bit short-lived.
I’m reminded of Carlos Gomez in Hicks’ development. Both were talented highly athletic outfielders who peaked later in their careers. While Gomez found success in his age-26 season, it wasn’t until the following year that he became a bonafide 20-40 stud. Projecting Hicks to do that now is a bit of a reach, but I’m reminded so much of Gomez that I firmly believe that a full breakout season is on deck for the former Minnesotan if he’s healthy. Of course, with Jacoby Ellsbury being questionable for the start of the season, I think it’s entirely possible Hicks starts with the center field job and keeps it throughout the year. A full season of Hicks likely means a 20-20 season with even more upside. At an ADP of 237, count me in 100%.
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