Fantasy baseball preview: Bargains, undervalued players in drafts
Now that we’ve reached the middle of March, we have plenty of actionable average draft position data at our disposal. As always, the data tell us that there are more than a few undervalued players, creating buying opportunities with significant potential for profit.
These recommendations differ from our breakout projections, which we included in our position primers. The players listed here may not jump up an entire tier. In fact, some of them have already broken out. They are all, however, criminally undervalued, based on their respective ADPs. These are the picks that can differentiate you from your leaguemates. You have to go against ADP data—which is frequently a good idea, anyway—and in the cases of the eight players included within, it will be worth it.
As a reminder, our breakouts were Raisel Iglesias, Lance McCullers, Travis D’Arnaud, Byung-ho Park, Addison Russell, Maikel Franco, Corey Seager, David Peralta, Gregory Polanco and Ken Giles.
ADPs courtesy of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship
J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers (ADP: 36.16)
Martinez is the one player in this column coming off the board within the first three rounds of a typical 12-team. It’s hard to be undervalued at that high a spot, but consider that Martinez was always supposed to be the player he was last year. It took him longer than anyone expected, but there was nothing fluky about Martinez’s .282/.344/.535 season with 38 homers and 102 RBI. He began his ascent in 2014, slashing .315/.358/.553 with 23 homers in 480 plate appearances, and then simply kept on climbing last year.
At 28 years old, there’s no reason to expect Martinez to revert to his pre-2014 self. The longball returned to the majors in a big way last season, but finding a bankable 30-homer, 100-RBI player is still easier said than done. Martinez should be coming off the board a full round earlier.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (ADP: 68.21)
Last year felt like a make-or-break season for Hosmer, even though he was just 25 years old. In 2013, he hit .302/.353/.448, with 17 homers. In ’14, he fell back to .270/.318/.398 with just nine roundtrippers. Last season was either going to be very good or very bad, and luckily for him and the Royals, it was the former.
Hosmer had the best season of his five-year career, hitting .297/.363/.459 with 18 homers, 93 RBI and 98 runs in 2015. The fantasy community can now trust that the ’13 and ’15 Hosmer, and not the ’14 one, is the real version of the 26-year-old first baseman. He might rank just eighth at his own position, but that’s justifiable given all the star power at first.
If you miss out on the top seven at first base (Paul Goldschmidt through Joey Votto), Hosmer is a nice consolation prize. He’s the last first baseman with whom I feel comfortable as a starter, hence why he’s undervalued at his high-60s ADP. Simply put, you do not want to risk missing out on him and having to believe in someone like Freddie Freeman (moderate power, awful supporting cast), Adrian Gonzalez (declining across the board), Prince Fielder (fluky 2015 season unsupported by peripheral stats) or Albert Pujols (yuck).
Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals (ADP: 70.27)
Carpenter changed his approach at the plate last year, trading contact for power, and it resulted in the best fantasy season of his career. He hit .272/.365/.505 with 28 homers, an NL-leading 44 doubles, 84 RBI and 101 runs. Carpenter had the luxury of being the patient, work-a-walk hitter for this team in 2013 when Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran were doing the heavy lifting. Now, he needs to be that guy, and he proved last season he can handle it.
Betting on another 28-homer season would be foolish, but it’s entirely possible he matches what he did last season. Carpenter’s average fly-ball distance increased to 283.92 feet from 270.05 feet, a jump of 5.1% and, more importantly, a sign that his power surge wasn’t a fluke. While Carpenter struck out more than ever last season, he still managed an elite 12.2% walk rate. Another .270/.360/.500 season with 25 homers, 90 runs and 80 RBI is well within his reach.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers (ADP: 98.15)
Odor generated quite a bit of buzz after his promotion in 2014 and in spring training last year, and fell short of expectations both times. So much, in fact, that the Rangers sent him back to the minors last year. Granted, it’s not that big of a deal, since these sorts of struggles happen to basically every young player who isn’t named Mike Trout. But when Odor returned to the majors in ’15, the then 21-year-old delivered on all his promise, hitting .273/.313/.520 with 12 homers, 13 doubles and 37 RBI in 277 plate appearances after the All-Star break, raising his season-long slash line to .261/.316/.465.
Odor comes into this season with a mountain of expectations, even compared to what he has already dealt with in his short major league career, and there’s little question he can handle them. The 22-year-old is likely growing into more natural power; he’s in an above-average lineup and plays half of his games in one of the better hitting environments in the majors. Odor isn’t a huge stolen-base threat, but he could get to 10 depending on how often he runs. A second baseman with legitimate .270/.330/.480, 25-homer, 10-steal, 80-RBI potential just inside pick 100? Yes, please.
David Ortiz, UTIL, Red Sox (ADP: 111.48)
I know that no one wants to clog up their utility spot with a player who doesn’t qualify at any other fantasy position. You want to have the flexibility to shuttle different players into you’re a utility position, and Ortiz negates that possibility. That’s why his ADP is outside the top 100. At some point, however, his positional inflexibility is worth it, and that point comes way before pick No. 111 in a standard league.
All Ortiz has done the last three seasons is hit 281/.370/.545 with an average of 34 homers, 34 doubles and 105 RBI per season. If he didn’t slow down from ages 37 through 39, I don’t know why we should expect him to at 40. Ortiz’s average fly-ball distance last season was 301.83 feet, right in line with his career average. In fact, go back to 2007 when he mashed 35 homers and hit .335 in his age-31 season, and you’ll find an average fly-ball distance of 289.45. I can’t explain why Ortiz is coming off the board so late, but I can exploit it. So can you. Ortiz has turned into an absolute draft-day steal and is setting up to be one of the cheapest, reliable 30-homer hitters we’ve seen in some time.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds (ADP: 155.73)
Two years ago, Mesoraco looked like he was turning into the next great offensive catcher in the majors. He hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 homers, 25 doubles and 80 RBI in 440 plate appearances, making his first trip to the All-Star Game and finishing a respectable 21st in NL MVP voting. A hip injury cost him nearly all of the 2015 season, even after the Reds made a quixotic attempt to turn him into an outfielder. Mesoraco is still dealing with the aftermath of hip surgery, but all signs point to him being ready, if not for Opening Day, early in the season.
Yes, there is risk associated with grabbing Mesoraco. At the same time, he’s coming off the board in the 13th round of a typical 12-team draft. That’s the time you take a risk, especially on someone who raked the way Mesocraco did in his last healthy season. In the best-case scenario, he picks up where he left off and is easily the No. 2 catcher, trailing only Buster Posey. In the worst-case scenario, he’s unable to return from the injury, costing you a 13th-round pick, and forcing you to the waiver wire, where your replacement options aren’t likely to be great. That’s a worthwhile gamble considering the hitter we know Mesoraco can be when healthy.
Collin McHugh, SP, Astros (ADP: 178.81)
McHugh has put together a couple of strong seasons in a row as a member of Houston’s rotation. He made 25 starts in 2014, racking up a 2.73 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.02 WHIP and 157 strikeouts in 154 2/3 innings. His numbers were down across the board last year, but he still contributed a solid 3.89 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 1.28 WHIP and 171 strikeouts in 203 2/3 frames. McHugh has a great offense and, likely at the very least, a league-average bullpen at his back.
So why are there 50 pitchers off the board before him in a typical draft. Even if McHugh is more like the 2015 version than what we saw in ’14, that’s an easy No. 4 in a solid fantasy rotation. He, of course, has the upside to get back to his ’14 numbers, and his win totals could climb to 15 or above with the Astros looking like one of the best teams in the majors. There are plenty of pitchers to choose from between picks 50 and 150, but no one will be disappointed having McHugh on their team, especially at the expected price tag.