2015 Fantasy Baseball: (My) Guys to Make Sure You Draft
I’m a proponent of ingesting as much information as possible when it comes to establishing my fantasy baseball rankings and valuations. Projections, ADP, consensus rankings, and opinions of people I trust all have their place in building my thoughts and opinions of players. When the dust settles, I end up with My Guys. A handful of players that I seem to like more than most, and therefore, am willing to spend an extra few dollars on or draft a round or so earlier than the consensus has been. At this point, the majority of you have completed your fantasy drafts, with opening day less than a week away. It’s likely that you have your list of guys as well, but today I’m going to share mine.
I’m using my positional rankings as a guide here, and comparing them to my peers at FantasyPros to validate that I’m higher on them than most other industry folks. I’m going to try and give you a wide array of the player pool, both position wise and in terms of depth. If you’ve read any of my work or listen to our Baseball Fix podcast, then some of these names will not surprise you. Here we go.
Joey Votto, 1B Cincinnati Reds
I’m willing to bet on 85% of a bounce back here. I’m tossing last season out of the window in my Votto evaluation because he just wasn’t healthy. The leg injury prevented him from driving the ball or having a solid foundation to do so. His 2013 season is repeatable, and while that’s not a first or second round Joey Votto as we’ve seen in the past, I believe his current ADP of 68 offers quite a bit of value here. The 2013 season represented the first in which Votto failed to have an ISO north of .200, but the 2013 ISO of .186 would still provide fantasy owners with enough power and counting stats to exceed his current draft slot. He’s still an elite on base asset, and if he can keep his line drive rate above 25% he’ll continue to hit for average. He’s the 12th ranked first baseman on FantasyPros, but I have Votto eighth at the position.
Matt Harvey, SP New York Mets
I’m buying Harvey, even with the caveat that he’s likely to be handled with kid gloves at times this season. The Mets did the right thing last season by not rushing Harvey back for meaningless September starts, meaning Harvey is 17 months removed from the Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. He’s looked every bit the part of an ace in his spring starts, knocking off the dust and displaying the arsenal that made him the best starting pitching in 2013 prior to his injury. For context, Harvey’s 2013 cFIP was 63, where 100 is league average and Clayton Kershaw came in with a 72. He’s ranked as a top 15 arm, but he’ll finish inside the top 10 even if he just throws 180 innings.
Nolan Arenado, 3B Colorado Rockies
Being higher than the consensus on the young Rockies third baseman is no small feat here, as he’s been one of the buzziest players all spring. I have Arenado as a top-3 option at third base, so that’ll do it. There are a number of factors in play here. First is the skill set of the player. Arenado can square it up, and started to drive the ball like never before when he returned from his early season thumb injury. He played in just 111 games, but still managed to hit 18 home runs and 34 doubles. I’m particularly encouraged by his second half plate discipline improvements, as Arenado has never been a very patient hitter on his path to the majors.
I’m also a bit down on a few of the options currently being drafted ahead of him at the position. Anthony Rendon had many questioning his ability to repeat both his strong power numbers and stolen base totals that he posted last season, and now he’s hurt, something that’s been a part of his story coming out of college and in the minors. I’m a huge Adrian Beltre fan, but I worry that his plummeting power numbers are here to stay, and that 18-22 home runs is his ceiling now. All these factors lead to a bump in Arenado’s relative value, and I’m all in.
Michael Wacha, SP St. Louis Cardinals
After a strong playoff run to end 2013, Michael Wacha was being overdrafted heading into the 2014 season. He hadn’t fully developed a multi-pitch arsenal to get major league hitters out in the second or third time through the lineup, but his development of the secondary offerings make him a different pitcher. I like him to increase his strikeout rate, and he’s shown the ability to keep the ball in the yard. Some may consider that luck, but inducing weak contact is often a skill, and Wacha’s 13.5% hard contact against rate was inside the top 30 for starting pitchers last season.
Mookie Betts, 2B/CF Boston Red Sox
The leadoff hitter for one of the teams that many forecast to be among the league’s highest scoring teams? Check.
Above average walk and strikeout rates? Check.
Plus power and elite speed? Check.
Multi-position eligibility, including second base? Check.
What’s not to like here? The one thing that I really like about Betts’ chances to succeed this season is that he’s already had his first big adjustment period. After dominating both AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket last season, Betts was called up to the majors with much helium. Then he struggled. He was sent back down after hitting just .235, and when he returned to Boston he flashed the skills that earned him the promotion, including a .375 wOBA and a wRC+ of 139 in the second half. He’s continued to rake this spring, (.478 average with 11 extra-base hits) taking away the early spring doubts about his role and playing time issues. He’s the 88th ranked hitter on FantasyPros expert consensus rankings, but he’s easily inside my top 88 overall.
Garrett Richards, SP Los Angeles Angels
An injured pitcher is rarely one that’s a draft day target, but Richards is a rare exception. The injury being one that’s not to an elbow or shoulder is a different beast and one that’s kept Richards price on draft day suppressed. The Angels right-hander is unlikely to start the season on time, but he shouldn’t be too far behind schedule, once he takes the ball in mid-April. Richards’ 2014 numbers at first glance appear to be masked by an unsustainable HR/FB rate of 3.9%, and while I won’t tell you that’s going to happen again, I do believe it’s less of a fluke than you’d think. Richards 10.3% hard-hit rate was the 2nd best in the league (only behind Chris Sale) and he led the league in SLG% against. Jeff Sullivan from Fangraphs took a deeper look at it here, and notes how hitters struggled to drive his offerings to the pull side. Richards offers SP1 upside and his current ADP sits at 124, making him a great mid round addition.
Starlin Castro, SS Chicago Cubs
A previously hyped 25-year old shortstop coming off of a .292/.339/.438 season, set to hit near the top of a much improved offense isn’t getting much attention. I don’t quite understand it. His poor 2013 season has apparently left a bitter taste in many mouths, but that appears to be the negative outlier in Castro’s past. He’s not an asset in stolen bases any longer, but there’s enough speed in mixed leagues to not feel married to the idea that I must get speed from my shortstop. It’s not a stretch to imagine Castro taking yet another statistical step forward this season.
A.J. Pollock, OF Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ve previously mentioned my Pollock love here, but I’ll reiterate it now. The table setter in the desert, Pollock showed us glimpses of his potential in limited action last season for the Diamondbacks. He’s unlikely to hurt you anywhere in the 5×5 game and offers quite a bit of upside in a few categories. His power/speed mix is appealing, especially when it comes from the leadoff spot with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo behind you. Pollock is a perfect third outfielder if you’re willing to wait a little bit in the middle rounds.
Steven Souza, OF Tampa Bay Rays
Any time that I can land a potential 20/20 player outside of the top 200, I’m intrigued. You can add Dodgers youngster Joc Pederson to that list, but I’ll toot Souza’s horn here. His playing time seems safer than Pederson’s does, and the Rays will need Souza’s bat this season. He’s a bit old for a rookie, but the move south to Tampa will get him in the lineup after being stuck in AAA in the Nationals system. He mashed AAA pitching last season, and he’ll cost you next to nothing at the draft table to see if he can translate it to the majors. He’s shown the ability to take a walk too, so bump him up a bit in OBP leagues.