In the endless pursuit of being the fantasy baseball equivalent of Albert Einstein, or maybe more appropriately, the fantasy equivalent of Theo Epstein, I have embarked on an exercise to identify the one guy on each MLB roster who is the MOST VALUABLE UNDERVALUED PLAYER for his team.
Looking for value team-by-team is like adding a third dimension to the positional and overall rankings lists. It provides depth into a player’s hidden potential due to team construct, role, and opportunity. Statistical projection systems can take these “intangibles” into account to some degree, but I have found this process to be very beneficial in building a narrative about each team and to see each player as an integrated part of that system, not just a faceless, independent compiler of numbers.
My criteria in identifying the player on each team with the BEST chance of returning meaningful draft day profit is based on the likelihood of the reward outweighing the risk relative to draft position. A safer floor and risk aversion being the primary factor early in the draft. and more boom or bust risk tolerance accepted as the draft moves into the later rounds.
Each undervalued player has been given a grade to help prioritize and establish a confidence level in his selection.
A – high floor, low risk, strong potential for significant return on value based on current ADP
B – solid floor, some risk, likely potential for moderate return on value based on current ADP
C – higher risk, elevated uncertainty, but high upside is worth the bust risk at the current ADP
National League Central
Value Grade: B+/A-
Role: starting SS in all leagues
The champs are loaded again in 2017, and like all the World Series merchandise and a seat at Wrigley, fantasy owners will have to pay a premium for anything Cubs related this year. Plenty of North Siders will give you high-end production, but Addison Russell is the one with the best chance of outperforming his draft position. Because he entered the big leagues at a young age and he plays for a high-profile team, it’s easy to forget that Russell just turned 23 years old, and this former first round pick is still developing and refining his offensive game.
In 2016, his first full season in the bigs, he cut his strikeout rate and suffered from a 50 point drop in BABIP from 2015. With just a small step forward in development and a reasonable adjustment to a league average BABIP of about .300, it’s safe to project a .250-.260 average. The counting stats are already there, thanks to his role hitting 5th in one of the most potent lineups in baseball. After last season’s 21 HR/95 RBI output, he could push 25/100, with 20/80 being a safe floor. With a plethora of opportunities, a little bit of development, and a handful of stolen bases to sprinkle on top, there is some value to be had here well after pick 100.
Value Grade: B+
Role: reliable corner infielder in deeper leagues
Before the last few weeks, Jose Peraza would have been the slam dunk choice here, but enough has been written about him already, so let’s dig a little deeper. Eugenio Suarez may not have the high ceiling potential that is typically coveted in the very late rounds, but it would also be foolish to pass over a very repeatable 21 HR, 70 RBI, 11 SB output from last year.
There is some fear that top prospect, Nick Senzel, is going to take Suarez’s job, but that most likely won’t happen until late in the season (if at all). There is even a chance that Suarez could slide over to shortstop at that point, where he played 96 games for the Reds in 2015, once Zack Cozart gets hurt or is traded. Suarez will go undrafted in shallow leagues, but should be a guaranteed bargain in deep and NL-only leagues.
Value Grade: C+
Role: upside corner infielder in deeper leagues
Keon Broxton is gaining 20-20 upside traction recently, but the “K” in his 36% K-rate may very well stand for Kryptonite. His 43% hard contact rate in 2016 was in the stratosphere of Cabrera, Trout, and Ortiz, and his 14% walk rate is not supported by his minor league stats. Yet, we are supposed to believe this is sustainable based on a sample size of about 140 second-half at bats. Meanwhile, many are starting to doubt how well Eric Thames will translate back to the majors based on a slow start in Spring Training. So as everyone is jumping on the Keon Broxton train, now is tbe time to get a draft deal on Thames.
He is no stranger to the MLB. In 684 plate appearances in 2011-12, Thames hit 21 HR and slashed .250/.296/.431. The OBP is low, but the AVG and SLG are not far from league average. He won’t produce the gaudy numbers as he did in the KBO, but let’s assume he didn’t become a worse hitter over in Korea. Then factor in his placement in the middle of the order and a hitter-friendly home ballpark, and .250, 20 HR, 75 RBI is the floor with a realistic shot at 25 HR, 85 RBI and a chance at double-digit steals. Plus, the eventual OF/1B dual eligibility is a bonus.
Runner up: Hernan Perez (ADP 183) – Playing time concerns, but 10/25 power-speed upside with a decent average and eligibility at 2B, 3B, and OF. Would prefer to get him outside the top-200.
Value Grade: A-
Role: corner infielder in deeper leagues
Let’s look at two Depth Chart projections for 2017.
- Player A: 67 R, 12 HR, 68 RBI, 14 SB, .280 BA
- Player B: 60 R, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 4 SB, .275 BA
Player A is Andrew Benintendi. Player B is Josh Bell. Both players have about the same major league experience. I’m not saying Bell is equal to Benintendi, but Bell is a highly regarded prospect with an advanced hit tool. Are the projections really that far apart to warrant Bell being selected 175 picks later than the future Red Sox savior? Josh Bell may not have the flashy power that everyone adores, but he will hit in the top half of the Pirates lineup. Even if he only hits mid-teen HR’s, his close to 1:1 K/BB rate will allow Bell to rack up the other counting stats and boost your team’s BA or OBP. Look for Bell (and Benintendi for that matter) to exceed the above projections and rise in the rankings to about a 175 ADP by this time next year.
Runner-up: Jameson Taillon (ADP: 165) – Read my analysis of him here.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Value Grade: B-
Role: flexible MI/CI in deeper leagues
There are several fantasy assets on the Cardinals, but there are seemingly few places on this roster to gain significant value on draft day. What ultimately puts Jedd Gyorko into the value category is his triple position eligibility (2B, SS, 3B – Bonus 1B on Yahoo). He should once again hit 25+ home runs, and if you loaded up on speed at middle infield early in the draft, he will supply a power balance and give you undervalued roster flexibility in deeper leagues where that matters.
Runner up: Dexter Fowler (193 ADP) – Injury risk, and he could lose some runs leaving Chicago, but the 15/15/.270 potential is still there making for a solid forth outfielder.
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