I’ve enjoyed writing and reading all of the positional previews so far, but let’s face it: certain limitations present themselves when writing about the infield positions. Many of us have beaten the “wait on a catcher” drum in recent years while some pay for Posey. Regardless, catching strategy is basically an either/or story. You might take a first baseman early or you might wait, but you are definitely looking for power from you first baseman. There are only so many ways to go and the answers tend to reveal themselves as we bounce around the horn.
But when it comes to the outfield, we can go in all sorts of directions. If you want big power you can find it here. If you want a high-priced five-category stud, outside of a handful of players, you have to look in the outfield. Sometimes you might prioritize other positions early: There are still outfielders to be found after the first couple of rounds that can serve as your number 1 outfielder. If you choose to wait even longer, well, you’ll have to tune in next week for some late round gems.
No matter what strategy you employ, there is one strategy that trumps all the rest year in and year out: Draft the right players! I know, easier said than done, but there are some players who provide great numbers at great value.
Five Category Stud: Starling Marte
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m a big Starling Marte fan. I valued his speed and average, and he continued to be a plus contributor in both categories. Marte spent a little more time in the middle of the order in 2015 and added some RBIs as a result. I was looking for 20 home runs, but the bum only got to 19 (slacker). Point is, he lived up to lofty expectations.
I’ve seen arguments against Marte going forward, but I feel like there are satisfactory counterarguments to all of them. His solid average is BABIP driven, but he has always had high BABIPs, even in the minors. In fact his BABIP declined last year. He had a fortunate HR/FB ratio and a ground ball tilt, but he is high in the rankings of batted ball distance and his ISO has been steady for some time.
Marte is the seventh outfielder off the board according to NFBC draft data. While his price tag has never been higher, he may still be a decent value. I don’t see A.J. Pollack as a clear pick over Marte, but he’s going 7 slots higher. Their Steamer projections are very similar.
However, Marte’s projection is close to a repeat of what he’s done for a few years running, while Pollack is coming off an all-world season. I hesitate to pay for a career year; Pollack will be proving me wrong on someone else’s team.
This may be sacrilege, but I like Marte as a second round pick over his teammate Andrew McCutchen, who you’ll likely have to take at the end of the first. McCutchen has a clear edge in power, but Marte has an even bigger edge in speed (I feel confident that McCutchen’s days of 20 steals have passed). And as you know, it has become more of a chore to find 30 steals than it is to find someone with McCutchen’s solid, but not elite, power. I would argue Marte is just as safe a bet as McCutchen, plus Marte is two years younger. I’d advise filling one of the corners with your first pick and pouncing on Marte a little bit later.
The Power Bat: J.D. Martinez
When a player fails at the major league level, it can be hard for people to buy in. If you’ve been playing a while, you’ll remember there was a time when Jose Bautista was not “Joey Bats.” He was a failed prospect for the Pirates that the Blue Jays took a flyer on. Then in 2010 he hit 50 home runs out of nowhere. Drafters were not convinced and I seem to recall that Bautista could be had in the fourth or fifth round of drafts. The next year he hit over 40 home runs and has not slipped that far down the board since.
Sometimes I feel like the fantasy community misses really obvious things. In retrospect, we could have realized Bautista made some changes and recognized that this was a new player; instead we overemphasize the “track record” and he was allowed to slip. Similarly, J.D. Martinez has made adjustments and become a different player. He always loved making adjustments, even in the old days. (You can read about some of them here and here). I love that he kept trying new things until he found what worked for him. I feel better taking players I hear that about; it seems like failure won’t last as long while it provides a rationale for out-of-nowhere successes. So don’t hold his Astro days against him; they are not especially relevant.
Here’s another obvious thing that we are missing: Though it seems like his breakout took place last year, Martinez actually broke out in 2014, just over fewer plate appearances. So his 38 home runs might look more fluky than they should against his previous total of 23, but his ISO only bumped up 15 points and he kept his gains in hard contact%. Plus the HR/FB was in the same neighborhood. He pulled the ball more and increased his FB%. Maybe that was on purpose as well.
J.D. Martinez is going 38th overall in current drafts, which based on his production is a bargain. I’d avoid using my first round pick on Giancarlo Stanton and look to grab J.D. Martinez a little later on. Martinez is close in the power metrics, doesn’t have durability issues, and is in a better lineup. All things being equal I’d take Stanton, but it’s closer than you think. There isn’t a 30 or so difference in the rankings and J.D. is a safe stud who is looking like a steal at his current ADP.
The Back-Up Plan: Justin Upton
Say you couldn’t resist jumping on elite infielders and getting yourself an ace in the first couple of picks. As we approach the fifth round, you could wait a little longer to take your first outfielder, but I wouldn’t recommend it. For an OF2 who can perform like an OF1, I’m looking at Justin Upton, who is going 16th overall among outfielders and just outside of the top 50 overall.
I’m not sure what Upton has done to fall as far as he has. Maybe it’s because we thought he might be a perennial first rounder since he was so impressive when he came up in Arizona. He is not consistent from month to month, but at the end of the year he provides owners with positive production – even during his down years.Upton can be counted on for 25 home runs (his ISO has been consistent for years), and last year he brought back some lost speed. I’d expect a slight average rebound from last year’s .251 (dragged down by a horrid .225 road average). While it seems like Upton has been around for a long time he’s only 28 years old.
Last year he was in San Diego, but the move to Detroit should serve him well. Obviously the lineup support is better with players like Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, and J.D. Martinez. Upton presents less risk than outfielders being taken around the same time, including Carlos Gomez and Lorenzo Cain. He is consistent, durable, and has still shown flashes of brilliance that make me think he could have a career year. At his worst, he’s not going to kill you at a fifth round price.
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