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2016 Fantasy Baseball: Elite players to target and avoid in your drafts

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What are your sleepers and busts?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the season around the corner, most fantasy drafts are gearing up. Most of the fantasy community is well aware that you don’t win your league based on your early round selections. It’s a combination of things that will bring you home the championship hardware. Finding value in the middle rounds, striking gold on at least one late-round flier, and being diligent with in-season management are all key components.  Let’s not forget luck.

It doesn’t mean that the early rounds aren’t important.  You can dig yourself a hole if you whiff on a couple of your early round selections. If you’re in shark invested waters, your opposition will make it difficult for you to acquire the talent needed in-season for you to compete for the title.

It’s a lot of splitting hairs when comparing the elite players, but it’s an exercise you must partake in to distinguish them all from each other.  Based on early NFBC Average Draft Position (ADP), I’ve come up eight players going in the top 30 that you should be thrilled to pounce on or slip by you in your upcoming drafts.

Target:

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET, ADP 14th:  Peak "Miggy" is likely in the rear view mirror, but even a slightly diminished version is elite. His BA floor is ridiculously high.  Cabrera’s contact rate and plate discipline skills remain intact and stable.  I did take notice that he’s been tweaking his approach over the years to spray the ball more, which is healthy for his BABIP.  Less fly balls help as well. The downside to less fly balls?  It caps his power upside. While 30 is still reasonable as his upside, I’d feel much more comfortable projecting In the 24-26 range.  Health must be what’s pushing folks away, but last year was the only season besides his rookie campaign where he didn’t play at least 148+ games. Despite only 511 PA last year, he’s averaged 616 over the previous three seasons. Cabrera isn’t a spring chicken, but 32 isn’t over the hill either. I’m willing to project 600 PA, while making another run at a batting title.

Mookie Betts, OF, BOS, ADP 17th: Despite being only 23, and only amassing 876 career PA Betts could very well be in his fantasy peak. You could compare him to a young Andrew McCutchen, with less walks and strikeouts. I’m not sure he ever develops quite as much power as "Cutch", but has enough pop to be an annual 20 HR threat annually for the foreseeable future. As unpredictable as stolen bases are, I feel like he’s a safer bet for 25 bags than 20 dingers for 2016, with an upside of 30+.  His fg speed score ranks him 13th in MLB among players with 400+ PA.  I’d be more than happy snagging Betts late in the1st round of a 15 teamer, ahead of his five-category stud counterpart A.J. Pollock.

Jose Abreu, 1B, CWS, ADP 22nd:  With the "cream of the crop" third basemen being pushed into the first round this year, there is some value to be squeezed out of the stud first basemen this year. Abreu isn’t stirring up quite the buzz this draft season after a dip in production from his rookie to sophomore campaigns.  The Cuban sensation’s triple slash dipped from .317/383/581 to .290/347/502.  Despite falling short of lofty expectations many set out for him, 30 homers and 101 RBI is nothing to scoff on. Look at the bright side, there is a buying opportunity this year. His swinging strike rate improved, dropping from 14.4% to 11.4%.  His avg. Hr/FB distance remained elite.  Contact in and out of the zone has improved, but maybe he needs to revert back to hacking more until his power wanes and he's post-peak?

Season


Team


O-Swing%


Z-Swing%


Swing%


O-Contact%


Z-Contact%


Contact%


Zone%


F-Strike%


SwStr%


2014

White Sox

41.6 %

75.4 %

55.2 %

59.3 %

84.7 %

73.2 %

40.3 %

59.5 %

14.4 %

2015

White Sox

38.3 %

67.1 %

50.5 %

63.0 %

87.1 %

76.7 %

42.5 %

57.8 %

11.4 %

Total

- - -

39.9 %

71.0 %

52.8 %

61.1 %

85.9 %

74.9 %

41.5 %

58.6 %

12.8 %

At first glance his draft position didn’t stand out to me.  My valuations told me otherwise, and after a deep dive you should consider him a viable choice in the early 2nd round in 15-team leagues. Despite only  a 32% fly ball rate thus far into his career, Abreu has 35+ homer upside this year.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL, ADP 35th:  Blackmon was on many championship rosters last year, slugging 17 homers while swiping 43 bags.   The 29 year-old late bloomer will never give you a return on your investment quite like last year as a mid round-pick, but he isn’t being recognized as the fantasy darling that he is.  Perhaps, it’s a combination of his age (29) and his lack of pedigree through the minor leagues.  His fg speed score was fourth in the MLB. Speed, and stolen bases can have a steep decline as a player creeps into his upper 20’s, but I don't envision a huge drop off this year.  I'm feeling good about him reaching steamer’s projection of 32 SB.  Blackmon became a little more pull happy, perhaps selling out for a little more power.  Even with a tweak in his approach, his power is middling. His career avg. HR/FB distance is a less than inspiring 273 ft, when league average is roughly 280 ft. Other things working in his favor is that he’s hacking outside of the zone less often, 31% is a 4% improvement over his career norm. Swinging strike rate gains is also a plus working in his favor.

Season


Team


SwStr%


2011

Rockies

6.1 %

2012

Rockies

7.3 %

2013

Rockies

8.7 %

2014

Rockies

7.5 %

2015

Rockies

6.2 %

Total

- - -

7.1 %

Blackmon is swinging less in the zone, likely spitting on more breaking balls/off speed pitches. Coors hitters often adopt a more aggressive approach in early counts on fastballs.  His splits might not be pretty because of the quick adjustments he must make on the road, but .280/15/35 with 85+ plus runs is right in his wheelhouse of potential outcomes.  That would easily make him a top 20 overall player.

Avoid:

Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL, ADP 8th:

Anyone that had the luxury of drafting Arenado last year was loving life, drafted outside of the top few rounds in all my drafts. A nutty 12 homer September/October capped off his ridiculous season with 42 homers. I'm not sold on his results being repeatable.  Why? His Hr/FB rate spiked from 11.4% in 2014 to 18.5% last year, while his avg. HR/FB distance only minimally ticked up from 293 to 297 ft. There were more fly balls, but a jump from 40-42% isn’t significant enough to account for the outbreak. I’d expect his HR/FB rate to find a middle ground in the 14-15% range while keeping his fly ball gains due to fly ball aging curves.   You can safely project 30 homers, but that would be a far cry from his 2015 season.

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC, ADP 12th: Bryant took the league by storm, popping 26 homers and swiping 13 bags in route to NL Rookie Of The year honors.  It’s easy to fall in love with the light tower power, but there are warts making him the ultimate  high risk, high reward investment in the 1st round .  A 31% K-rate in combination with a 16.5 swinging strike-rate is alarming.  Bryant’s pull-happy approach and heavy fly ball rate is ideal for homers but caps his batting average potential. When Bryant does make contact, it’s loud, with a 37.5% hard contact.  It should contribute to a plus BABIP, but I by no means can project a repeat of .378.  Steamer projects .345 and I’d say that’s on the optimistic side.  He has good speed for a corner infielder, but just decent overall.  I can’t confidently pencil him in for double digit SB. I understand why people are willing to gamble on him with his 35-40 homer upside, but he isn’t for the risk adverse.  I'd feel most comfortable selecting him him in leagues with sharks where it makes sense to gamble for some extreme upside.

George Springer, OF, HOU, ADP 25th:  Springer’s tantalizing skills have made him a trendy breakout player throughout his early tenure in the league.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t stayed healthy enough for us to really gauge how good he really is, or what kind of player he is for that matter.  Springer had a night and day change in approach from 2014 to 2015. Spraying the ball more, with significantly less fly balls last year.

Season


Team


GB/FB


LD%


GB%


FB%


IFFB%


HR/FB


IFH%


BUH%


Pull%


Cent%


Oppo%


Soft%


Med%


Hard%


2014

Astros

1.15

15.3 %

45.4 %

39.3 %

8.3 %

27.8 %

16.9 %

0.0 %

43.2 %

36.1 %

20.8 %

19.1 %

41.5 %

39.3 %

2015

Astros

1.51

24.5 %

45.4 %

30.1 %

3.5 %

18.8 %

9.4 %

0.0 %

34.2 %

38.7 %

27.1 %

19.7 %

47.2 %

33.1 %

Total

- - -

1.34

20.9 %

45.4 %

33.8 %

5.7 %

22.9 %

12.3 %

0.0 %

37.7 %

37.7 %

24.6 %

19.5 %

45.0 %

35.5 %

Will he continue his new found approach to keep the BABIP God’s pleased, or will he revert back to selling out for power? He’s more than capable of popping 30 homers, or maintaining a respectable BA, just not sure he can do both congruently.  He has above avg. speed, but has only attempted 27 SB in 180 games thus far in his career. With only being 26 and a minor league track record of seasons with 30-40 SB, 20 seems attainable for this season. I just don’t know which Springer we will get. I like his potential for 20/20 with a middling BA, but there are too many unknowns for me to target him in the first two rounds of drafts.

Chris Davis, 1B/OF, BAL, ADP 23th:  In my recent NFBC draft and hold league, Davis came off the board 12th overall, which was easily one of my least favorite picks in the entire draft. I might be out on an island to dislike Davis at his current ADP, coming off a season where he popped a league leading 47 dingers.  Davis is probably the safest bet in the league to project for 35+ homers, but just the risk of him being a sink-hole in BA department steers me away. I’m also skeptical that his counting stats can repeat last year, with a combined 217 R/RBI.  If he can reach 40 homers he will return close to 1st round value, but I prefer to construct my teams with more well rounded hitters in the early rounds.  The downside is a Chris Carter-esque collapse.  Davis isn’t for the faint of heart.

This is a primer to get you thinking about potential value plays as well as landmines in the first couple rounds in your drafts. It's time to cram and put yourself in best position to bring home the fantasy titles we all covet. What are your strategies going into your fantasy draft? Any sleepers to pick or busts to avoid?