Hello and good morning! We’re only a couple of weeks away from Opening Day 2018! Over the course of the next couple weeks I’m going to highlight my Undrafted All-Star team. In order to make the list a player must be currently going on the back side of 300. The “standard” roster size for fantasy baseball is going to vary by the site you’re using (CBS uses 23, ESPN 25) so that’s where 300 comes from. Yes, I also understand some of you have deeper leagues with much bigger rosters, but just roll with me on this one.
Players don’t have to play a full season to make this list. You may see a player listed that might not debut with the big-league club on opening day but should have an impact on the team this year. Take Francisco Mejia for instance. He’s not going to start the year with the Indians, but he could have a significant impact on that roster before the year is all said and done (current ADP of 321).
Today we’re going to focus on the hitting side of things. We’ll work our way around the diamond, highlighting one player at each position through the infield and three players in the outfield. And yes, for baseball’s sake I’ll go in order of position numbers.
C – Manny Pina, Brewers (ADP 356)
At a position that is extremely scarce in talent, if you don’t get one of the top three or four catchers you might as well wait a long time before drafting one. For those that play in two-catcher leagues, well… all I’ve got for you is that’s just plain silly!
Pina put up decent numbers last year for the position (9 HR/43 RBI/.279 AVG). He only tallied 330 at-bats, but that’s not really all that surprising given the position he plays. He may garner some more at-bats in the ’18 season, but don’t expect a huge increase. Last year only ten catcher-eligible players saw more than 400 AB’s. This is a reason why it might be important to roster two catchers – just hope their off days don’t line up together, that can be downright frustrating.
Last season was essentially Pina’s first full season at the big-league level, playing in 107 games. Prior to ’17 he saw action in a combined 38 games across three seasons. Looking across his minor league numbers there’s reason to believe the numbers he put up last year aren’t a one-and-done kind of thing. He’s never been a huge power guy, as last year’s 9 homers were a career high across any platform for him, but he’s going to bring you a steady average for the position ranging from .240-.280. In today’s game there’s nothing wrong with those numbers.
Pina’s BB/K rate isn’t going to be ideal, actually pretty awful, but that can be overlooked simply due to the position being discussed here. Pina’s slash line of OBP/SLG/OPS all check in right at league average (.327/.424/.751). His last two stints at AAA have seen numbers better than this so that’s another reason to think last years production can sustain if not improve.
When looking at Pina on the draft board don’t get it in your head that he’ll be your starting option. Draft Pina merely as a back-up to play on days your primary option has off, if they align correctly. If you happen to draft Stephen Vogt I’d strongly recommend stashing Pina on your bench as a tandem option or as the injury replacement. He could easily exceed his current ADP come years end.
1B – Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (ADP 313)
Hanley Ramirez could be lumped into the saying of “how the mighty have fallen,” though I’m not sure Hanley was every considered to be “mighty.” He was once a must-have fantasy option in his prime, but ever since landing in Boston those days have dwindled.
Last season seemed to mimic Hanley’s first year in Boston (2015) all to closely. He hit for a career low average of .242, though he did see the power numbers stay close to normal with 23 HR and 62 RBI. Sure, he was brought to Boston to do much more than that, but those numbers are just fine. His low average could be chalked up to some bad luck as he had a mere .272 BABIP.
Diving a little deeper into some batted ball data with Hanley, last year seem to show he was just a victim of a lot of bad luck. His GB/FB numbers were closer to 1.0 than the previous years and he saw his line drive percentage raise nearly 3% to 21.1. Going all the way back to his Marlins days when he was mashing the ball he had a GB/FB ratio hovering around 1.0, so perhaps we see an increase in counting stats once again this coming season. One thing noticeable is Hanley pulled the ball much more last season than in years past. In today’s game of the over shift, that will kill anybody’s BABIP and average.
The days of Hanley receiving over 500 AB’s are likely done and gone. It appears he’ll be splitting time at first base with Mitch Moreland this year, but if Hanley can find the field he is worthy of a late round flier. He’s only useable in UTIL spots for the time being in most formats, but give it a week or two and he’ll have 1B eligibility.
2B – Neil Walker, Yankees (ADP 429)
Neil Walker signing with the Yankees means a few different things. One, the Yankees don’t feel comfortable with the young guns quite yet. Two, Walker is going to get a brunt of the playing time at 2B. Three, Neil Walker’s fantasy value took a big jump by being able to call Yankee Stadium home.
Yes, the signing of Walker to the Yankees adds another name to the top 20 second basemen, but don’t get too quick here. After all, they do have one of the top prospects in baseball waiting in the wings to steal a spot for him. He could also get bumped by Brandon Drury if the Yankees feel Miguel Andujar is ready to take the 3B starting gig, or Ronald Torreyes could somehow slip in and steal more than his fair share of AB’s from him. Okay, enough with the negative “what ifs” on Walker, after all I’m here to tell you why he’s a flier.
Walker has always been a nice source of power at his position over the years. In the past you could always pencil him in as a 15-20 HR guy with roughly 70 RBI and a decent average somewhere around the .280 mark. He’s never been one to strikeout a lot, averaging 17.4% during his career, and he’s never been a guy to walk a ton either, 8.7% for his career. This goes to show he’s simply a contact hitter. One mantra you hear in baseball often is “put the ball in play, make the defense get you out,” or something along those lines. Anyway Walker is that kind of guy.
Walker’s GB/FB ratio of 0.87 last year shows he might get some “friendly confines” treatment when playing at home. His 41.7% FB% last year is 3-percent higher than his career average. I expect to see his HR/FB percent to raise from the 10.9 it was last year, but not necessarily to the level it was in 2016 (16.2).
Walker’s current ADP won’t last long, especially now that the Yankees have made it known Torres won’t begin the season with the big-league club. If Walker is available to you at the end of the draft, scoop him up as a depth piece. There’s a real chance you only get a couple of months out of him, but by then who cares!
3B – Jeimer Candelario, Tigers (ADP 354)
Jeimer Candelario is a very interesting player this year for me. He’s going to be an everyday guy for the Tigers. That’s something you’re not going to find going so deep in drafts too often. Maybe his ADP is low because he doesn’t appear to have a standout skill, or maybe it’s just because he isn’t a standout himself, yet.
Candelario debuted briefly for the Cubs in ’16, returned in ’17 for the Cubs, but made a more permanent debut late in the season last year for the Tigers. Through 38 games he put up 3 HR/16 RBI/.283 AVG. Those aren’t flashy numbers, but in today’s game anything close to .285 or above average wise is great.
Throughout his rise through the minors he hasn’t displayed too much power, only eclipsing 10 homers twice in six seasons, but he has hit for average. What makes Candelario rather interesting as an everyday player is the superb BB% and K% as he made his way through the minors. During his minor league career, he had a BB% of over 12% and a K% closer to 18%. Those numbers haven’t quite transferred to the big-leagues quite yet, but it does show promise.
Through the 27 games he played for the Tigers last season his track record through the minors seemed to display itself as his BB and K ratios were great and he put up a whopping .406 OBP. He doesn’t have the best speed, so his GB/FB ratio probably needs to come down slightly (1.26 last year) to help boost his average.
Candelario comes with a lot of deep-league intrigue. He’s not going to be a guy to roster in too many standard formats as the position of 3B is pretty deep. Dynasty and AL-only formats are where Candelario is going to carry his most value at this point.
SS – Matt Duffy, Rays (ADP 464)
Matt Duffy is coming off a pretty severe injury as it kept him out all last season. Upon proving he’s healthy he’s been given the keys to the Rays SS gig. I mentioned with Candelario it’s not common to find a guy with everyday AB’s so deep in the draft, and Duffy blows that out of the water with his current ADP value.
Duffy has always been profiled as a high-contact kind of player. This can be backed up by his zone contact rates of 92.7% on average and overall average contact rate of 84%. Couple that with a little speed and you’ll find yourself a guy that will put up nice batting average numbers.
When comparing Duffy’s last two seasons played they can be essentially labeled as one and a half seasons. The numbers from 2015 are nearly double the numbers from 2016, but they pretty much portray out to be the same. The 2015 season Duffy put up shows the potential he has if he stays healthy and can be in the Rays lineup daily (12 HR/77 RBI/.295 AVG).
Duffy also has a great K% at the big-league level averaging 15.6% through his brief career. This number isn’t just a fluke with little sample size. He carried this kind of plate discipline through his minor league career as well.
If Duffy can match his output from 2015 this year there’s no reason why he can’t become a top 20 SS. He could definitely be a better option at the position than Freddy Galvis and Orlando Arcia. Don’t overthink it and pass on Duffy for a prospect who’s never proven himself. Duffy could have a low floor, but so far in the spring he’s shown the ankle injury is just fine.
OF – Cameron Maybin, Marlins (ADP 339)
Cameron Maybin has been a tough player to own in past years. He came out of the gate white hot with the Angels last season only to appear to run headlong into a wall and not show up for the second half of the season.
A couple reasons why I like Maybin at the start of this year involves his increase plate discipline and his speed. Maybin has seen an increase in his BB% each of the past three seasons, raising from 7% to 11.3%. This hasn’t necessarily helped in the average department yet, but it has shown an improvement except for last season. Maybin has also gone back to the running game, stealing a total of 71 bags over the past three years.
Maybin’s poor average last year could be a result of a measly 14.4% line drive rate and a contact percentage of only 77%. Maybin has never been a huge power guy; he’s one that needs to utilize his speed. As long as he can maintain the GB/FB ratio near 2.0, though it could come down some, Maybin should be able to right the ship in the average department as a mainstay in the putrid Marlins lineup.
I don’t like Maybin in leagues that only play three OF, but in deeper leagues that hold five OFs and a bigger bench he’s definitely worthy of a spot for now.
OF – Albert Almora, Cubs (ADP 413)
I’ve been saying for years the Cubs need to have Albert Almora in the lineup every single day. The thing is, the Cubs are blessed with this great problem of having too many bats for the positions available… or they don’t want to openly admit their signing of Jason Heyward was the worst ever for the team by benching him.
Almora saw time in 132 games last year and hit .298 with 8 homers and 46 RBI in less than 300 AB’s. Couple that with his first year and he’s got a little more than a full seasons worth of games on his record. In 179 games played Almora has compiled a .292 average with 11 HR and 60 RBI. If he’s on any other team he’s an everyday guy in the outfield, but in Chicago he’s only a platoon guy.
He’ll be splitting time with Schwarber and Happ this year, though he should still see his fair share of AB’s. I would imagine with prior success the Cubs will try to get him more time at the plate than in the past, but I don’t look for it to be more than 400.
Almora is strictly a fantasy platoon player at this point but should be rostered in NL-only and deep leagues for daily play. As long as Almora can stay true to his K% of 16.5% he’s a low risk play when in the Cubs lineup.
OF – Jorge Soler, Royals (ADP 424)
Jorge Soler has always been more of head scratcher to me. He possesses so much talent, yet we haven’t really seen that displayed at the highest level. Perhaps that can be blamed on the lack of consistent playing time in the past. Soler will be in the Royals lineup daily, which is why I have him pegged as a breakout candidate this year and why he makes the list.
Soler has logged time across four seasons in his career, barely eclipsing a season and a half worth of playing time. Entering 2018 he has played in a total of 246 games. If Soler stays healthy (he lost 20 lbs this offseason) there’s real reason to think that number could jump by 150 in just one year!
The potential Soler brings to the table is very high. He has shown he can produce an OPS of nearly 1.000. He’s displayed a great eye at the plate with walk percentages of 14% in the minors. He’s also shown a high HR/FB percentage through the minors at nearly 18% on average.
Now that Soler will get to play every day as part of a rebuild and not having to worry about being uprooted and moved elsewhere, we could finally see all the untapped potential come bursting out. I’m not entirely sold on him quite yet, but he’s viable in deep leagues or AL-only leagues until he shows us he is that he’s more of a quadruple-A player rather than major-league talent.
I don’t recommend landing ALL these players, but if you’re at the back-end of your draft and lost at who to take, don’t hesitate on any of these guys if they’re on the board. If you’re curious about other players at the positions just shoot me your fantasy questions in the comment section below or on Twitter @KennyGarvey. We’ll catch you next week as I bring you my undrafted pitchers that I look for big seasons from.
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