Draft Strategy: Two Players from Each Position to Target

It’s draft season, and the decisions you make in those anxiety-filled, 60-second windows can and will affect the rest of your season. While no one can predict how their draft will go, having a solid list of names and targets can reduce decision-making time and give you an edge on draft day.

Today I’m going to identify two players for you to target from each position: one early-round (ADP < 100) and one late-round value-pick (ADP > 100). As always, I’ll review a craft beer at the end.

 

Note on ADP calculations: ADPs listed for players below are a simple average of their ESPN and Yahoo ADPs, rounded to the closest integer.

Catchers: Reach for Kraken, Save with Gattis

 

The Early Grab: Gary Sanchez (NYY)

(ADP 26; Actual Value 16-24)

I know, I know: how informative, right? Someone advising you to pick up the consensus best fantasy catcher in baseball? Obviously you don’t need me to convince you that you want him on your team. The question is where you should draft him.

Early. The answer is early.

Catcher is a wasteland in fantasy, and not a single backstop outside of Sanchez is currently going in the Top-50. There’s a reason for that.

Posey, Contreras, Salvy: each of these players comes with asterisks, deficiencies, and glaring weaknesses. Posey has no power. Willson Contreras is projected for the least starts and ABs of the top backstops, and sports an unsustainable .327 BABIP that suggests regression is coming to his AVG.  Salvy Perez hits in a weak lineup and has the worst AVG/OBP of the bunch, having traded contact for power.

Gary Sanchez has no warts, and he is the rare catcher that doesn’t come with the “he’s good for a catcher” caveat. He’s just good for any player. He’ll hit .280 with a .345+ OBP. He is more than capable of hitting 40+ bombs after crushing 53 of them through his first 177 games, and you can take 30 HR to the bank as his floor. He will easily eclipse 175 R+RBI. He will be hitting cleanup for arguably the best lineup in baseball with tons of protection around him. He plays in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks on the planet.

When you throw in the fact that he plays the thinnest fantasy position, his draft stock rises even more.

Gary is worth “reaching” for in the second round, before his ADP of mid-late 3rd round. I think an argument could be made that he’s even worthy of a late first-round pick in 15-teamers, but you won’t need to take him that high to steal him away. Taking Posey or Contreras will give you the “whew, I don’t have to worry about a catcher” feeling. Taking Sanchez will give you the “I’m actually excited that my catcher could be my best offensive player.”

Take him before your leaguemates and be glad of it. He will be more than worth the pick.

The Late Snag: Evan Gattis (HOU)

(ADP 159; Actual Value 115-125)

Is Evan Gattis better than the catchers ranked in front of him? Not necessarily: he has his weaknesses, too. However, his production is comparable, and even better in some areas, than his more well-regarded counterparts.

Gattis is one of the best power-hitting catchers in baseball, and he’s also likely to get the most playing time of the bunch since Houston announced they would DH him on many of his off-days. Oh yeah, and he plays for the world champion Astros, with a favorable lineup spot certain to give him more RISP opportunities than almost any other backstop.

Gattis won’t help or hurt you in AVG/OBP, and he’s likely to crush more HR and has a legitimate chance of accumulating more counting stats than any catcher not wearing pinstripes. He fell off the radar a bit last year after injuries shortened his season to just 84 games, which is why his numbers from 2017 don’t stand up against his colleagues, who all played in 115+ games. Let’s take a quick look at how Gattis stacks up against the four (non-Kraken) backstops getting picked in front of him:

(Note that projected 2018 stats are based on algorithmic weighted averages from various projection sites, including Steamer and ZiPS)

image002

Wow. With the exception of Contreras, Evan Gattis is projected to exceed the R+RBI totals of every other player on this list. And he’s only trailing Willson by 2. He’s projected for the most HR, and could easily top 30 in that department. His AVG is the one category in which he falls behind his peers, but he’s only batting 5 points worse than Salvy Perez, and Perez’s pathetic BB rate is reflected in his sub-.300 OBP. Gattis’s .310 OBP makes him almost as good or better than two guys being drafted 4 rounds ahead of him, and he matches or exceeds the counting stats of guys like Posey and Contreras being taken in the top 75. Moreover, these projections were made before Houston announced Gattis’s new DH status, meaning he could tack on even more HR, R, and RBI numbers than we see above.

Is Gattis perfect? Not even a bit. But I would say you could easily make the argument that he’s a better fantasy catcher than Realmuto or Perez, and will give you similar, if not better in some categories, than Contreras. Yet Gattis sits at a lowly ADP of 156.

If you miss on nabbing a catcher in the first ten rounds, look for Gattis in the 12th or even sooner. Don’t overpay, but don’t let him fall to 159 where everyone can see him: take him closer to 120.

First Basemen: Reach for EE, Save with Smoak

The Early Grab: Edwin Encarnacion (CLE)

(ADP 48; Actual Value 35-40)

There are three first basemen that are ranked in a cluster together, from about 35th overall to 50th. These are their projected 2018 stats:

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So things are pretty equal among these guys. #1 has the best OBP but the worst AVG, along with the most HR and a very close second in expected R+RBI. #2 has the best AVG but the worst counting stats. #3 is the most well-rounded, but falls short of #1 in OBP and doesn’t separate himself from #1 in the counting stats. Can you guess who is who?

#1 is Edwin Encarnacion, with an ADP of 48.

#2 is Jose Abreu, with an ADP of 35.

#3 is Rhys Hoskins, with an ADP of 45.

We all love Rhys (or hate him, if you missed out on nabbing him for his historic power surge after his fall call-up last season), but he’s only played in 50 MLB games. I’m by no means suggesting he’s a bust, but his projected numbers are the most debatable and have the least amount of history to back them up. Essentially, 1B #3’s stats in the chart above are an absolute best-case-scenario.

Abreu is consistent, as you can basically pencil him in for about 30+ bombs and 100 RBI (averaged 31 HR and 102.5 RBI during all four pro seasons), with a much more inconsistent track record in R, which run the gamut from 67 scored to 95, and a career average of about 82 R/season. I love that consistency and so do fantasy owners, who take him at an average slot of 35th overall.

But what about EE?

Encarnacion has averaged 38.5 HR, 92.5 R, and 109.5 RBI per season over the last six years. That is the definition of consistency. Add in his best-of-the-bunch OBP and he’s a clear top choice, yet he’s picked 13 spots behind Abreu and several behind Rhys.

EE provides consistency in a great lineup, and gives you as good or better stats than many 1B picked in front of him. Don’t overpay for someone like Abreu when you can get a better player a full round later.

The Late Snag: Justin Smoak (TOR)

(ADP 138; Actual Value 115-125)

The Smoak-show posted a career year in 2017 when he smashed 38 HR to go with 90 RBI and 85 R and a very respectable .355 OBP. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss a 30-year-old’s banner season as a fluke rather than a legitimate breakout, especially when he’s only cracked 20 HR once (in 2013). But Smoak’s underlying numbers tell a different story.

Smoak was always projected as a good power hitter, and while he may appear to have had his opportunities when you look at the number of games he’s played in Toronto, he has only cracked 350 PA’s once in the past 4 seasons, and that was last year, where he posted his best-ever counting stats.

Smoak’s 2017 BABIP of .285, while slightly higher than his career-average of .267, is easily sustainable, especially given his posting of career-highs (but not too far outside of his average range) in Plate Disciple stats like a career-low Swinging Strike percentage and career-highs in O, Z, and general Contact. These improvements led to better distribution of hits across the field, his best-ever AVG and OBP, as well as posting his best-ever K-rate and equaling his high watermark for BB-rate.

In short? It looks like Smoak has figured it out, and his underlying numbers along with his past three seasons of severely reduced playing time support his improvement. You can expect 30+ HR and at least 170 R+RBI along with a .250/.340 AVG/OBP. Pay special attention to him in OBP leagues, where his excellent walk rate raises his value even higher. Smoak is hardly a world-beater, but he could potentially crack the top-ten at his position, and he’s certainly more valuable than his current draft position suggests. If you miss out on a big-name 1B in the early rounds, or if you need some solid 4-category infield support, take a hard look at Smoak in the 11th round.

Second Basemen: Reach for Whit, Save with Starlin

 

The Early Grab: Whit Merrifield (KC)

(ADP 90; Actual Value 60-70)

When Whit first started breaking out in May last year, I thought his underlying stats supported his breakout, and again in early June, until I said that he was officially having a breakout season and only shut up about him in August when he was finally getting some respect in terms of ownership percentages.

Yet here he is again, falling down draft boards with people questioning the sustainability of his stats.

Like Smoak, Merrifield is an “older” breakout guy: Whit is already 29 years old, but has only played in two professional seasons, with 2017 being his first full season at the MLB level. His sub-5% BB-rate raises some eyebrows, especially in OBP leagues, but we should see that number rise a bit this year as he continues to adjust to the league. This is only his second full season, after all. Whit also buoys his OBP with an excellent AVG, hitting .288 last season after hitting .283 over 80+ games in his 2016 MLB debut. His contact tool is legit, and it’s among the best at the keystone.

Beyond his bat, Whit has wheels, leading all second basemen (besides Dee Gordon, of course) with 34 swipes in 145 games. That’s damn impressive, and valuable given the scarcity of SB in today’s game.

And while I don’t like putting too much stock in Spring Training numbers (cough 2017 Tanaka, cough), it’s hard to ignore Whit’s unreal slashline of .436/.439/.872, which includes an astounding four triples in just 14 games and 39 PA. You may have noticed the OBP, which is a paltry 3 points higher than the AVG. Again, that BB-rate is a concern, but it should rise and will almost certainly not get worse, which still puts him in “not-going-to-hurt-you” territory thanks to the sterling AVG.

Whit is not a fluke, he’s a very good fantasy contributor on the rise. Everyone was waiting for him to fall back down to earth last year, but he kept producing and finished the season as a top-10 fantasy second baseman. Not bad for a waiver-wire pickup. Don’t be afraid to chase that success in 2018, which all signs point to him being able to replicate, and possible improve upon, his excellent 2017 campaign.

The Late Snag: Starlin Castro (MIA)

(ADP 287; Actual Value 230-240)

I’m a bit shocked at the way Castro’s stock plummeted after his trade to Miami. I understand the park and lineup differences, and the disparate home/road splits he posted after career years in 2016 & 2017, but the peripheral gains that All-Starlin has made over the past three seasons cannot be ignored.

Castro is still a young player at just 27 years old, and he has consistently shown a very good hitting tool, with a .282 career AVG and four All-Star selections. It was a long time ago, but he also led the NL with 207 hits in 2011. While he might not be the most patient hitter, Castro has improved his BB-rate for three consecutive seasons, and his 2017 BABIP of .347 is not far off his career average of .321.

Some of the power will regress with the stadium swap, no doubt, but in exchange for the new ballpark Castro will also get a new spot in the lineup: he should be hitting in the highly-favorable three-hole for Miami. While they are obviously in a rebuilding year, it’s still better to hit higher up on a poor team than at the bottom of a great lineup. Castro will get his chances, and while he may not put up 20+ HR as he did in 2016 and as he would have last season if not for injury (he was on pace to top 20 HR), I think 14-16 long balls with 130 R+RBI and a .285/.320/.415 slashline is a reasonable expectation, and he should continue to improve in his plate discipline.

If you need help at the keystone late in your draft, don’t be afraid to go after Castro to fill that hole, he’s certainly worth a late-round flier, and his solid production and consistent health history (outside of last year’s unusual DL stint) make him a safe pick for your bench or flex/MI spot.

Shortstops: Reach for Segura, Save with Reyes

The Early Grab: Jean Segura (SEA)

(ADP 83; Actual Value 65-75)

Yes, Segura took a small step backwards in 2017 after crushing career numbers and posting a 20/20 season in Arizona in 2016. However, Segura’s counting stats last year were hampered by injury, and he only started 125 games, which represented a career-low. Yet Segura is poised for another good fantasy season, and the underlying stats are all pointing towards that conclusion.

Segura has improved or maintained his peripherals and plate discipline stats for the past several years, including three consecutive seasons of raising his BB-rate, Contact %, and K-rate, despite watching his BABIP fall nearly 20 points from his breakout 2016 season. His career-best Hard Hit %, set in 2016, only dropped one point last year, supporting his power and contact improvements. Beyond that, Segura is having a dominant Spring Training in a revitalized lineup that will include the pesky Dee Gordon batting leadoff and Jean right behind him.

The Dee Gordon Effect is highly relevant here: the 2017 Marlins saw two guys take most of the reps in the two hole, Stanton and Prado, after some early-season shuffling of the batting order.

When Prado had the two-hole, he played his best ball of the year, slashing .288/.313/.413 with 2 HR. Prado’s slashline for the season was .250/.279/.357….with 2 HR. While his year was shortened by injury, it’s pretty clear that he thrived hitting behind Dee Gordon, as many players do when a steal-happy speedster gets on base in front of them.

Giancarlo Stanton, who you also may have heard of, saw unprecedented success once he made the switch to the two-spot in late May: his HR totals exploded and he went from hitting 7 HR in each of the first three months to a whopping 12 long balls in July and 18 in August. His AVG was .264 with 12 HR batting 3rd or later, and he hit .289 with 47 HR when batting second behind Dee Gordon.

Am I saying Jean Segura will become Giancarlo Stanton because he’s hitting behind Dee Gordon now? No way, Jose. But there’s an undeniable value to going to the plate after someone like Dee Gordon has gotten on base in front of you: Gordon’s presence clearly bolstered his Miami club’s ability to hit by distracting pitchers and defenders, and Segura will get that same benefit, along with the protection of venerable veterans like Robbie Cano and Nelson Cruz waiting quietly with big sticks behind him.

Look for a career year from Segura, but his safe floor of 15 HR and 30 SB and the promise of a 20/20 shortstop is real. His numbers play well at home, and with an improved lineup around him and full health, there’s no reason Segura won’t finish as a top-10 SS or better, and he will likely provide more value than many of the men being picked in front of him.

The Late Snag: Jose Reyes (NYM)

(ADP 287; Actual Value 230-240)

I know Reyes is a weird choice, given that he is currently projected to be a “super utility player” rather than a starter, but hear me out. Besides, if you’re looking for a slam-dunk SS in the 22nd round then you should probably adjust your expectations anyway.

To start with the obvious criticisms, yes, Reyes is old: he’ll be turning 35 this season, which isn’t encouraging for a speedster. Reyes also does not have a starting job, which is even less encouraging when you consider the fact that he’s a Met. He’s also coming off of a season that saw him post his worst-ever batting average: a paltry .246. And I still remember when he and David Wright (who???) were in the argument for best SS/3B combo in the league. Sigh. Makes you feel old.

Now onto the good news. Reyes was plagued with a career-worst BABIP in 2017 (.263) that strongly suggests positive regression is coming to his AVG. Reyes is still hitting the ball hard, posting a 26.7% Hard Hit rate last year. That was better than his career-average of 24.8% Hard Hit, and to show this isn’t just recency bias, that 26.7% figure was also better than two of his three best professional seasons from over a decade ago, way back when he was 24-26 years old. Will he hit like circa-2007 Reyes this year? Not unless Stephen Hawking rises from the grave to build a time machine with Elon Musk. But I fully expect his BABIP to normalize to .300-range, and his AVG should shoot up 40ish points along with it. This will allow him to steal those sweet, sweet bases while scoring runs at the same time.

Furthermore, Reyes turned a huge corner last season in the second half, hitting .288 with 7 HR, 65 R+RBI, and 14 SB against an ugly .215 AVG with 8 HR, 68 R+RBI, and 10 SB in the first half. Those splits might not sounds very different (besides the AVG), but Reyes played in 82 games in the first half against just 61 in the second. If you extrapolate his second half numbers into 500 PA (500 PA being a modest estimate for this year: last season he had 561), Reyes would have a line of .288/.356/.472 with 15 HR, 142 R+RBI, and 30 SB. Not bad for an old man!

Now, am I saying Reyes will have a 15/30 season with a .288 AVG and 140 or more combined R+RBI? No. No, I am not saying that will happen. But we could see a shadow of that kind of season, and for someone going undrafted in many leagues that’s a damn shame. Reyes still has some pop in his bat and some gas in the tank, and I think it’s more than reasonable to expect a .265/.315/.405 slash with 12+ HR, 70+ R, 60+ RBI, and 25+ SB if he stays healthy.

Shortstop is a top-heavy position this year, and a proven veteran with the ability to steal 20+ bags and some pop in his bat is worthy of a spot on many rosters.

Third Basemen: Reach for Donaldson, Save with Beltre

The Early Grab: Josh Donaldson (TOR)

(ADP 28; Actual Value 16-20)

It’s strange to have to argue for Donaldson when just a year ago he was going off of the boards in the first round of most fantasy drafts, but that’s injury bias for you.

At Donaldson’s current ADP he’s simply a steal, and I’ll tell you why.

Prior to his injury last season, Donaldson had started 155+ games in each of the previous three years, and averaged more than 700 PA per season during that span. Last year’s injury limited him to just 113 games and 496 PA, but now that he’s healthy we can expect another full season from him. Here’s how his numbers would have played out over a full season:

chart2

Soooo yeah. We’re looking at a guy capable of hitting 45+ bombs and 210 R+RBI without breaking a sweat. That’s first round material, and a second-round bargain. I don’t have much more to add besides that. C’mon, 45 HR?? With a .275/.390/.550 slashline?? You know you want him.

The Late Snag: Adrian Beltre (TEX)

(ADP 130; Actual Value 100-110)

Another valuable veteran who saw his draft stock plummet thanks to age and injury, Beltre is a great pickup and I love the value he provides at his ADP. Yes, he’s turning 39 next month, but beyond last year’s calf and hamstring injuries, there really aren’t any red flags. Besides his rookie year in 1998 (!!!), Beltre has **never** failed to eclipse 110 games started in a season before 2017. Seriously. That’s 18 consecutive seasons of health and production, and when he did finally get hurt last year, he bounced right back and produced a great (if truncated) season. I’m inclined to go with history here rather than one outlier year, and I’m buying on Beltre.

You can pretty much pencil him in for a .300 AVG with 25+ HR, 170 R+RBI, and exactly one SB. That’s a damn good deal for a triple-digit draft pick.

Outfielders: Reach for Marte, Save with Eaton

 

The Early Grab: Starling Marte (PIT)

(ADP 50; Actual Value 35-40)

Here’s something you need to know about Starling Marte: he’s good. Like, really good. This is another player who, like Donaldson, is not far-removed from being a first-rounder in many fantasy drafts. But unlike Donaldson, Marte has no one to blame but himself and the needle of drugs he jammed in his butt for the fall in his draft stock.

Thankfully for fantasy owners and dirty needles everywhere, Marte is off the juice and back to form. Much ado has been made about his “power outage” last season and his disappointing HR total of 7 in 77 contests. However, he’s already crushed 3 bombs and amassed an astonishing 1.178 OPS in Spring Training this year to go with an AVG that tops out at .405. And while you shouldn’t put too much stock into ST, a ball that goes over the fence is a ball that goes over the fence, and I see nothing to indicate that Marte won’t bounce back fully this year.

In his abbreviated season in 2017 he still managed to swipe 21 bases in 25 tries, and is 4/4 in the Grapefruit league so far this spring. The speed is there, the hit tool is there, and I expect the power to be back (it already is). Marte is another elusive provider of the ever-valuable SB, and don’t be surprised if he racks up 40-50 of them in 2018 to go with a slashline in the vicinity of .285/.340/.440 with 15+ HR and 155 R+RBI.

Marte is a true 5-category producer, and his Spring Training is erasing any doubts about his power, so don’t let him fall to the 50’s where he’s currently getting drafted: he’s much more valuable than that.

The Late Snag: Adam Eaton (WSH)

(ADP 153; Actual Value 110-120)

I’ll open with the easiest part of Eaton to sell: he bats leadoff for the Washington Nationals, a top-5 scoring offense. This man should have no issue eclipsing 100 R scored, and did I mentioned he’s been hitting .290 over the last four seasons? That compliments a sterling OBP and a BB-rate that has improved for four consecutive seasons. Eaton gets on base, and when you’re a National, that means you score a lot of runs.

Expect a slashline of around .290/.380/.460 to go with 10-12 HR, 100+ R, 55-65 RBI, and 14-18 SB.

Eaton’s draft stock has slipped due to injury (noticing a theme here today?), but don’t let that fool you. He’s fully healthy and raring to go, having gone 3/4 with a HR in an admittedly tiny sample size in ST. All indications from Eaton and the team are that he is at 100%, so don’t let this valuable OF slip away into the 15th round.

Pitchers: Reach for Severino, Save with Chatwood

The Early Grab: Luis Severino (NYY)

(ADP 46; Actual Value 30-35)

I would sell my kidney to see Severino on my draft board at 46, so I have no idea why people are taking him this low (and lower, in many leagues). I know that it’s just one good season and blah, blah, blah. But the same could be said of Hoskins, Bellinger, Judge…you get the picture.

All Luis Severino did last year was dominate: 2.98 ERA complimented by a 3.07 FIP and 3.04 xFIP, a sterling 10.71 K/9, a 2.37 BB/9, and a career-high 191 IP. The training wheels are off and he should get a full season of more than 200 IP this year after being anointed as the staff ace over the struggling Masahiro Tanaka. The starts and playing time are there, the run support is there, the underlying stats and peripherals all check out to support his numbers: he didn’t benefit from some absurdly lucky LOB rate (75.5% stranded) and his GB, HR/FB, and BABIPs all check out as normal.

Simply put? Last season’s nearly-Cy-Young-worthy season wasn’t a fluke, it was a warmup. Don’t be surprised if Sevvy is a top-5 starter this year, and don’t pass him up if he’s sitting there in the 3rd or 4th round.

The Late Snag: Tyler Chatwood (CHC)

(ADP 250; Actual Value 180-190)

I love Chatwood in Chicago, and I definitely love him at the bargain-basement price he’s currently sitting at. Obviously leaving Coors will give him a big boost: in 315.1 career IP in Away games, Chatwood boasts a 3.31 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP. He does have some weaknesses: he’s not a K-machine, with a middling 6.09 K/9 and alarming 4.17 BB/9 over his career.

Still, I’m buying his upside and ERA/WHIP. Plenty of players can help you chase strikeouts, but it’s rare to find quality starters who limit damage and don’t destroy your ratios, especially in the latter half of the draft. Did I mention that in 5 Spring Training games he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP to go with 18 K’s over 16 IP? Again, ST is ST and not the regular season, but it’s pretty damn encouraging to see that kind of consistent performance from him this early. Grab him in late rounds and consider it a bargain.

 

The Beer: Alpha Hive (Coop Ale Works)

 

Today’s beer comes from the Oklahoma City-based brewery, Coop Ale Works, who made a special drop for us in DC last month. Today I’ll be reviewing their Alpha Hive Double IPA, which luckily for me, was every bit as amazing as the can art.

Alpha Hive is a big, bitter, dank double IPA. Brewed with orange-blossom honey, it has a wonderful stinging sweetness with a hint of citrus under the bitter hoppy goodness. I would call it a Hopslam knockoff, but to be frank this beer is superior to Hopslam in every way.

Alpha Hive provides that rare combination of big, in-your-face bittersweet dankness while still maintaining balance in the body and flavor profiles of the beer. Floral hop sweetness meshes beautifully with the heavily bittered brew, and the orange-blossom honey is as unique as it is delicious. I rarely enjoy honeyed beers as I find them too sweet and unbalanced, but this was an all-but-perfect use of the ingredient.

Absolutely outstanding, and well-worth picking up if you’re lucky enough to spot some.

 

Cheers!

 

-Josh

 

 

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