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.
I will use the same criteria as my colleague Marc for 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. 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
American League Central
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Value Grade: A-
Role: starting shortstop in all formats
It’s tough finding value on the Sox. Most of the worthy players are either being taken too him or just about right, and those going later are really not worth the investment.. Anderson, at 160 overall (round 14) and the 11th shortstop off the board, provides the best bang for the buck. Last year he hit .283 while going 9/10 in the power/speed department. He had an additional four home runs and 11 steals during his time at Triple-A.
There is 15/20 upside here, and the batting average is already strong. His ceiling is higher than both Andrus and Diaz, the batting average puts him above Russell, and his age and pedigree puts him above Nunez – all being taken before Anderson. If he was on a better team I might even consider putting him up there with the never end Story. Anderson is more than a fallback option at shortstop.
Runner up: Carlos Rodon (ADP 195) – Improved walks and strikeouts, increased innings, decreasing hard hit rate. A little less contact, a few less fly balls, and a little BABIP love this year is all it would take to see that ERA in the 3.50 range. Just don’t reach inside the top-50 like some have.
Value Grade: C+
Role: OF3 with OF1 potential – health permitted
In 2014 Brantley went 20/20/.300; in 2015 he went 15/15/.300. One injured season and wonky shoulder later and fantasy owners have tossed aside the former top-24 pick. I understand the trepidation here. Brantley is coming back from a should issue and is still being babied this spring. Shoulder issues can sap power, cause adjustments to the swing, and in turn play hell on the batting average.
That said, are we really giving up on Brantley to the point that he is being taken outside the top-50 outfielders? Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence, Ender Inciarte, Eric Thames, Lorenzo Cain, Stephen Piscotty – these are just some of the names going in the 31 to 52 range ahead of Brantley. They all have their warts and potential risk factors. The difference is they are healthy so we give them the benefit of the doubt. Provided there are no setback Brantley will pay for his ADP (and then some), and given his ADP there is little risk.
Runner up: Bradley Zimmer (ADP 528) – Strikeouts will keep the batting average at .250 or below, but the power and speed are intriguing. Brantley has one OF spot locked up; the Guyer/Naquin combination have another. There is little competition for the third – expect a June call-up.
Value Grade: C+
Role: Back-end starting pitcher for standard leagues with SP5 upside
Norris showed a lot of promise in 2015, both with Toronto and his new team. Last year over the final two months he showed us why we were excited about him just one year ago by posting a 3.04 ERA over the final two months with a K/9 of 9.22. Bad luck with BABIP and strand rate mask how good him numbers could have been in Triple-A last year.
He was still a little too hittable in the majors, giving up too much hard contact and not enough of the soft variety. However, both the contact rate and fly ball percentage are trending in the right direction. Another small step and a little better BABIP luck and Norris could turn in a solid year. I don’t see a breakout coming, but Norris could be a decent complement in the middle of your rotation – and a cheap one too since he is being taken outside the top-75 starters.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Value Grade: B+
Role: corner infield for deeper leagues with top-12 upside
Many were cautiously optimistic that Moustakas could carry over his 2015 season. Unfortunately an injury derailed the train before it could even leave the station. Now, one year later, Moose has gone from being a potential top-12 third baseman to barely sniffing the top-20. Time is a fickle thing. Before going down last year he did hit seven home runs over 113 plate appearances.
The influx of talent at the third base position means Moustakas will need to impress owners early on. So far this spring he is doing everything but; that should be expected, though, given the layoff. I don’t know if he can hit .280 again, but .250 with 20 plus homers as a floor has some value. A full bounce back would make him a bargain after round-15.
Runner up: Alex Gordon (ADP 324) – The batting average fell off last year, but the power was present. A batting average return give Gordon OF4 value equal to Melky Cabrera.
Value Grade: C
Role: bench/CI player for deep leagues with mixed league upside
After paying close to $13-million to negotiate with Park and another $12-million in salary, it’s safe to say that the Twins have not got what they paid for -yet. Park struggled to adapt to life in the major leagues, and by June he found himself hacking away in Triple-A. Some of the struggles can be attributed to bad luck (.230 BABIP), but he did most of the damage to himself. Park posted a 67% contact rate along with a 32.8% strikeout rate. He finished with a .191 batting average and managed to hit just .224 in Triple-A.
The bright side is Park did hit 22 home runs over 372 plate appearances with an ISO over .200 (over .300 in Triple-A). So far this spring Park is on fire. Strikeouts are still an issue, but the batting average is over .300 and the power is still present. He has been batting cleanup, and if he does so in the majors the counting stats will be there. The Twins have an opening at DH, and nobody else seems to be stepping up to take it. If Park can manage to hit at least .250 I can see a 25 home runs season with the chance at 30.
Runner up: Jose Berrios (ADP 371): A .344 BABIP and 59.7% strand rate make Berrios look much worse than he could be. Expect improvements for the former first round draft pick and for him to be a popular waiver wire add this summer.
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