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 West
Value Grade: C-
Role: CI/bench bat for deeper leagues with mixed league CI upside
Reed did not produce out of the gate in 2016, so fantasy owners pushed him aside for the new and shiny Yuli Gurriel. Given his highest reach number is 352 it appears nobody is buying his spring numbers. I don’t put much weight in them either, but given his Triple-A numbers last year and tremendous 2015 season – I smell post-hype potential.
Strikeouts, contact, and batting average will be the determining factor in Reed’s value. The team might also decide to give him some more seasoning in Triple-A despite his strong spring numbers. There is not much value here in standard 12-team leagues, and to start he may not have much deep league value. But if Reed gets a shot and can maintain even a .250 batting average, anything is possible.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Value Grade: B
Role: mixed league corner infielder with power upside
A broken left hand masked the strides that Cron made last season. He matched his 2015 home run total, but we saw improvements in his batting average for the second straight year and an increase in counting stats. The walk rate continues to creep upwards, the strikeout percentage was under 20, both the ISO and hard hit rate increased, and he is slowly decreasing his swing rate outside the zone without sacrificing any contact there. If not for the injury we could have seen 20 plus home runs in 2016.
It takes manager Mike Scioscia time to warm up to and trust younger players. Over the past few years Cron has earned that trust, and along with it regular playing time. That playing time combined with (finger crossed) good health means a minimum of 500 at bats. The batting average could stay where it is or take a step back (as some have speculated) due to the high number of fly balls. However, and even a slight uptick in power could put a few more of those fly balls over the wall. A first baseman with 20 plus home run pop and a batting average floor of .260 is a nice find after pick 230.
Runner up: Huston Street (ADP 365) – He was a solid, yet unspectacular closing option prior to the 2016 season, is favored by Mike Scioscia, and is set to earn $9-million this year. Once he is healthy I expect him to take the closer role regardless of what Cam Bedrosian is doing. There are worse gambles than a draft and stash closer at the end of your draft.
Value Grade: C+
Role: deep and only league middle infielder, possible 12-team relevance
Billy Beane said “that on his oath, Barreto would be an option for the Athletics at some point in 2017“. Provided Barreto doesn’t fall on his face in the minors, that could mean a promotion in June – maybe sooner if he is hitting and Jed *yawn* Lowrie continues to be Jed Lowrie. There is 10/30 power/speed potential here, and a move to second base would add duel-eligibility to the resume. For now Barreto is a deep-league stash, but by June he could be a 12-team option depending on how the rest of the middle infield options play out over the first few months.
Runner up: Marcus Semien (ADP 208) – Similar batting average and power potential to Troy Tulowitzki without the missed time and 40 picks later. Whether you draft him as a fallback shortstop or middle infield option, he will provide value after round-15.
Value Grade: C+
Role: deep league CI option, shallower relevance with full-time at bats.
The Mariners hedged their bets at first base, bringing in Danny Valencia (331 ADP) to provide depth and an insurance policy for Vogelbach. So far this spring Vogelbach has not impressed, and Vogelbach has done just enough – which isn’t enough for fantasy relevance. Vogelbach is receiving a high volume of at bats this spring which shows the team is interested enough and would like him to succeed.
There is 20 home run pop here along with an elite walk rate and a strikeout percentage under 20. I see no reason that, if given the opportunity, Vogelbach cannot put up a line similar to C.J. Cron. There may be a slight adjustment period given the switch in teams/leagues, but once Vogelbach gets his footing he could be a solid .270 hitter.
Runner up: Jarrod Dyson (ADP 228) – Dyson could be a poor man’s Billy Hamilton if given full-time at bats. He is drawing walks this spring (a positive sign) and is building on last year’s breakout .278 average. Like Hamilton, Dyson offers zero power, but he is a nice, cheap, source of speed from round-18 on.
Value Grade: C-
Role: OF5/bench bat for deeper leagues
The departure of Mitch Moreland created a hole at first base. Rua has the opportunity to seize the day, but it is questionable whether he will be able to do that. He has issues hitting righties (.239 last season) – never a good thing for any hitter. The Rangers are giving him every opportunity this spring to succeed, and so far he is holding his own – both in the batting average and the strikeout department (K’s are still high but better than 2015-2016 totals).
Rua doesn’t have a ton of power or speed, but enough to reach double digits in both. If he can produce an acceptable batting average, that in combination with his team and home park could provide sneaky value as an end-game pick. I would leave him on waivers in standard 12-team leagues, but he’s worth monitoring in leagues with 15 or more teams that use five outfielders.
Runner up: Shin-Soo Choo (ADP 326) – Health will always be an issue with Choo, and the speed is long gone. That said, Choo hit .276 with 22 home runs and high run and RBI totals in 2015. The 79th outfielder off the board could be a popular waiver wire add if he turns his slow spring start around.
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