It is the final week of prime fantasy baseball drafting. Here are some thoughts on five players that could prove useful whether you are still drafting, or if you are ready for your players to hit the field Opening Day.
Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs in 2017. That is a near mythic number and his move to Yankee Stadium gives Stanton the opportunity to hit even more homers this season. But one number on Stanton’s stat line last year was a fluke – 159. Stanton played in 159 games in 2017.
Over the previous 7 seasons Stanton averaged 118 games. Stanton seems to get injured on the job more frequently than a coyote in hot pursuit of a road runner. So don’t be distracted by what Stanton can do when he is healthy, because most years Stanton isn’t healthy. And staying healthy is a skill just like hitting a home run. Not all players have it, and I don’t believe Stanton does.
I have Stanton playing fewer than 130 games. He may still hit 40 home runs in those games, but I won’t own a single share of him this year.
The Rangers have a closer, but does anyone want to draft him? Alex Claudio throws his fastball just 86 mph. That is a tick faster than you can legally drive on Texas highways. Claudio does throw a cartoonish slider and changeup that can fool batters, but no-one would call any of Claudio’s pitches elite.
Claudio’s success comes from keeping opponents guessing by varying his arm slot and pounding the strike zone. This approach was very effective at getting ground balls last year, but lead to only a 6.10 K/9 – not even close to top tier, and not what you hope for from your closer.
Still, Claudio doesn’t have a lot of competition in Texas so his job appears to be safe, and his unique approach could be very effective giving you 25-30 very cheap saves and a sub 3.00 ERA. I am eagerly snatching him up in the 22nd round.
Another Ranger who is going to make fantasy headlines this year is Nomar Mazara. Mazara has been on my radar since his minor league days, but so far he has failed to be a Top 100 player.
I believe this year Mazara turns the corner from average every day player to elite fantasy option. He’ll do that by decreasing his ground ball rate, increasing his fly ball rate and improving against left handed pitching.
Mazara showed his new approach last year, increasing his fly ball rate from 30 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2017. It didn’t pay dividends then, but I think this year, when combined with his pure power and better luck, Mazara puts more fly balls over the fence.
Mazara will have to overcome his inability to hit left handed pitching to really progress, but that has been his sole focus this offseason. The Rangers have a lot of faith in Mazara and batted him third the majority of the 2017 season despite his shortcoming. He’ll likely maintain that position in the heart of the order in 2018.
Mazara’s athleticism, opportunity and skill make me believe he’ll get left handed pitching figured out. I don’t think he can improve on his RBI total from last year, but I see his average and home run total increasing to .275 and 31 respectively, making him a valuable four category fantasy option going in the 13th round.
One player who’s ADP baffles me is Greg Bird. I don’t think he is going too high or too low, really. I just can’t figure out the logic of drafting him at all. The reason is we have almost no data for the guy to get a true sense of what to expect. He had a solid rookie outing in 2015. Then Bird missed all of 2016 with a labrum tear and sat out most of 2017 with a foot injury. On top of that the 2017 he played was ugly. He managed to hit only .190 in 48 games.
I guess the two things that stand out to me from his 2017 numbers are his BABIP and batted ball profile. Bird had a .194 BABIP last year. That is worse luck than I experience in Vegas. If Bird can get to league average BABIP then he’ll earn his ADP and then some.
However, the reality is Bird’s pull tendencies can be effectively defended using a shift. So far Bird hasn’t been able to overcome defensive shifts and managers know they can leave the third base side of the field empty when Bird is up to bat. I’m afraid Bird’s BABIP was the true story last year and not brought about by his favorite pet – a black cat named Jinxy. If Bird can’t overcome the shift then his luck won’t change and he doesn’t belong on your team.
On the other hand when Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Bird were all in the minors together, the thinking was Bird would turn into the best of the three long term. Bird’s rookie numbers pointed to a promising future. When you consider Bird’s ability to put the ball in the air combined with his pull power you can see a path to 35 home runs and a Top 75 finish on the ESPN Player Rater.
Bird is too much an unknown to be on any of my teams in 2018. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bird gives you a better return than Edwin Encarnacion despite being drafted in the 13th round.
Amed Rosario, NYM (Plus a dig at Kyle Schwarber)
If you’re like me you already know the player on your team who is most likely to be dropped during the first two or three weeks of the season. The only reason you took Kyle Schwarber was because you had a short leash lying around.
So, if you’re like me, and to counter the anticipated drop, you already know which undrafted players you’re most likely to pick up. The player I am keeping a close eye on is Amed Rosario. I love his speed! Statcast ranks Rosario as the sixth fastest player in baseball. Rosario also has the potential for double digit power.
Rosario wasn’t ready for major league pitching when he was called up in 2017, striking out nearly 29 percent of the time, but he hit for a high average in the minors, so I am holding out hope.
I think if the Mets take away his coffee Rosario might show a bit of patience at the plate and become a viable fantasy short stop. Rosario’s spring training numbers look good so far. He is hitting .316 and has significantly cut down on his k-rate from last year.
Although Rosario has no steals this spring, so I worry the Mets may wrap every player in bubble wrap and play with tremendous caution in an attempt to avoid injuries. If this happens Rosario may not have a green light on the base paths and will lose a lot of his potential value.
Who could blame new manager Mickey Callaway for wanting to keep his job by fielding a healthy team? No one wants to see a repeat of the comedy of errors that was the Mets 2017 season.
So I am watching and hoping that Rosario can reduce his strike out rate and has a little freedom to run. If he does those things then he’ll be the first player I grab off the waiver wire.