One of my favorite lists at the end of each season is which players were on the greatest number of winning fantasy teams. Normally these players went undrafted, or were selected very late but put up near 1st or 2nd round production. From Yahoo! Fantasy, last year’s fantasy MVPs were:
- Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
- Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
- Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers
- Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
- Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals
Trea Turner was the highest drafted player last year, coming in at an average of pick 300. Jonathan Villar came in shortly after that, but Sanchez, Diaz, and Oh were all selected on average after pick 450. This is how leagues are won, and these players were on 25%-45% of all championship teams. What if I could tell you who next year’s top five fantasy MVPs are? Now, obviously I can only make educated guesses, but the criteria is pretty clear. The player needs to be someone drafted very late who has an incredibly high ceiling, even if they are unlikely to meet it. After all, that’s why they are being chosen late or left undrafted.
Here are my top 5 Projected Fantasy MVPs for 2017 (or the 5 players you will meet in heaven):
Daniel Norris: Norris isn’t ranked by experts as a top 300 player heading into the draft, coming in later than Zach Davies, Jeremy Hellickson, Mike Leake, and the like. As for ceilings, what can those players offer you? I understand, playing in a 30-team league myself, that there is some value in those arms, but they will not win you the ring! Daniel Norris was a top 20 prospect heading into 2015, after he went from High-A to AA to AAA, all the way to the majors. He went 12-2 across those four levels with 167 strikeouts in 131 innings. While 2015 was not as kind to Norris, he still managed a 3.75 big league ERA in 60 innings of work. Things came together last year for the young left-hander as he started 13 games, never allowing more than 3 earned runs. He struck out 71 in 69 innings and reduced his walk rate to a solid 7.3%. His velocity ticked up, reaching 94 MPH last year, and with his history of big strikeout numbers, it looks like the best is yet ahead of the 23-year-old.
With his innings over 150 the past two seasons, the reins will be taken off of him to a large degree. There is upside here for 180 strikeouts with a mid-3 ERA. You won’t find that kind of upside from any arm taken outside of the top 300. He may not even be drafted in standard 12-team leagues. Tsk Tsk.
Aaron Judge: Judge sure has his detractors after striking out 42 times in 95 big league plate appearances last year. So much so, that he’s ranked as the 105th outfielder heading into 2016. That’s behind Ben Revere, Avisail Garcia, and Eddie Rosario. I understand the concerns with his contact, but the hate has gotten out of hand. Judge has plus-plus power and should be a lock for 20-25 home runs in Yankees Stadium. Even in his struggles, he posted the second highest Exit Velocity in the majors last year. Take a look at his first big league home run. This is some of the easiest power I have ever seen.
Of course, if he doesn’t play he can’t hit home runs, and this is the fear of many who leave him undrafted. There is very little reason for the Yankees to start Judge in AAA unless he struggles mightily in spring. He spent all last season there, and half of 2015, and at 25 years old, there is little for him to prove. I would wager that it’s just as likely that he hits 25 home runs next year as it is that he spends a single day in the minor leagues. There’s upside obviously too – we could see a 30-home run, rookie of the year season from the big man. Please don’t draft Avisail Garcia when you can draft Aaron Judge. Your championship title may depend on it.
Manuel Margot: I always liked Margot, but this season he became one of my favorite young players to watch. The fantasy community somewhat agrees, at least drafting Margot on average at pick 268. There’s some solid value there, and potential for major gains if he sits atop the Padres lineup for the year. Margot has plus speed and makes excellent contact, striking out just 11% in AAA this year. There is gap power for now, but I think he can run into a few even in Petco. He reminds me of Francisco Lindor a year and a half ago, where he is largely discounted by the fantasy world because his defense is his calling card. Margot can hit, and he can run and cause a lot of havoc for opposing pitchers. The fact that he will generally put the ball in play will only increase his likelihood for success. He’s being drafted along side Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, and Scott Schebler. Are you even trying to win?
Tim Anderson: Anderson is the most under-appreciated player that I can find heading into 2017. He’s being ranked as the 24th best shortstop for next year, coming in behind Jedd Gyorko, Jose Peraza, Alcides Escobar, and barely edging out Matt Duffy! This is a guy ranked #19 among all prospects by Baseball Prospectus heading into 2016. He’s got some power and speed as shown last year with 9 home runs and 10 stolen bases in just 99 games. Steamer projects Anderson to hit 12 home runs and steal 21 bases while hitting .269 next year. Compare that to A .Escobar’s projection of 5/16/.263. The other thing with Anderson, is that he hasn’t come close to his offensive ceiling yet. Sure, the strikeouts and his OBP are a concern, but there’s upside of 15 HR and 25 stolen bases – at an average draft cost of pick 324. This is a young star in the making, and the breakout could come any time.
Here’s a fun video of Tim Anderson highlights from 2016 from MiniClips:
Yoan Moncada: Finally we look at Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson’s double play partner on what could be the most exciting young middle infield in the majors. Moncada is being taken in the mid-300 pick range with most expecting him to start in the minor leagues. That’s very well possible, but Trea Turner still was able to be a 2016 Fantasy MVP with less at bats than Moncada is likely to put up. Moncada is currently blocked by Brett Lawrie, so when he’s ready he will be brought up. There is also a decent chance that Todd Frazier is traded which could potentially mean Lawrie is shifted to third base. The opportunity will be there for Moncada, and with his plus-plus speed and plus raw power to put up monster numbers before long. Is 15 home runs and 35 stolen bases in the cards for 2017? Not likely, but if you’re going to roster a Fantasy MVP next year, this is as sure a bet as any to be him.
There are many ways to win at fantasy baseball, but having an undrafted, or drafted-very-late player go off and put up top-three round numbers never hurts. There are times to play it safe in the draft, and times to take chances. It is always smart to gamble on young high-level talent, especially when the price is right.
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