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Here’s your fantasy baseball preview

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield (15) poses for a photo with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship during media day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

In any fantasy sport, the draft is the best part. Building a champion starts then and there and the popular cliche of “You aren’t going to win the league on draft day, but you can lose it” hangs over our heads like a grade school teacher peering over your shoulder to make sure you spelled “pour” correctly. (Yes, Mrs. Gordon I freaking nailed it. Move on!) Oh the anxiety; the glorious, glorious anxiety.

If anxiety isn’t your thing, I’m here to help. I’ve collected mounds of intel from the fantasy baseball community and have created my own Top 300 list, auction strategy, round-by-round snake draft targets, and a few sleepers to help you win your league. And because I know I’ll have some of my own league-mates read this (shout-out to the Bush League!!) and because you probably just don’t care, I’m not going to give you all of it.

But before we get into all of that, we’re at Royals Review; let’s spotlight some of KC’s fantasy relevant players that will allow you to play this year with your heart AND your mind.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Whit Merrifield

This should be the first Royals player off the board. You might have heard by now that he led the majors in hits and stolen bases last year. In the year before that, he was 21st in hits and 4th in steals. That’s a good enough track record to expect more of the same in ‘19, especially with the front office’s return to focusing on speed. His positional flexibility also makes for a valuable asset in fantasy baseball. I’ve got him at #50 overall.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Adalberto Mondesi

I might be in love with this kid. For real. I think he can be in the MVP discussion as early as this year. I also think he has one of the widest, if not the most wide, range of outcomes for 2019. He very well could put up a 30-60 season while hitting .270 and scoring 100+ runs. Hell, he’s even taking walks in Spring Training. I could also see him reverting back to hitting .230 with a sub .270 OBP and less than 60 runs. His stolen bases will always make him valuable, but shortstop is very deep this year. All things considered, I’ve got him at #90 overall. If you’re in a league with a bunch of Royals fans, I’d be prepared to take him as early as the fourth round, to be honest.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Hamilton

Speaking of speed keeping someone fantasy relevant, Billy Hamilton has made a career off of his elite speed. His deal with KC seems like a match made in Heaven. He will get every day AB’s here, which will lead to stolen bases. Even with a .299 OBP in 2018 he still stole 34 bags. That’s probably his floor. I think BHam’s OBP rebounds and he steals 45+ bags. Something else to be aware of with Hamilton is that he is probably traded at the deadline to a contender and you never know how that contender will use him. He’s at #185 overall for me.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jorge Soler

For the third consecutive year, Jorge Soler is a sleeper to me and one I’m very interested in. Picture this: Soler is up with any combination of Hamilton, Whit, and Mondesi on base. The base runners are dancing back and forth between bases daring the pitcher to throw a pitch. After eight throw-overs and two pitch-outs, the pitcher finally grooves Soler a 95mph fastball that Soler puts into the fountains. I think this scenario will play out plenty over the year and could lead to big results. He’ll primarily be in the DH role, which should keep his bat in the lineup more than ever. He will see a lot of fastballs because of the above scenario and that is a good thing because in 2018, he swung and missed 49.2% of offspeed pitches and 53% of breaking balls (Thanks, Drew!). Still, I think he could outproduce his #248 ranking.

Guys to keep an eye on

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Wily Peralta/Brad Boxberger/Kyle Zimmer

Ned said the other day that the closer will be by committee to start the year. Peralta did an adequate job last season but can get blown up on any given night. Boxberger has closing experience as well, but he too could get shelled on any given night. I am not drafting either of them because, well, there probably won’t be many save opportunities to be had in KC. I’m more interested to see what happens post-trade deadline. Both guys mentioned, as well as Diekman, could be shipped to contenders at the deadline leaving vacancies at the back end of the pen. Enter the comeback kid, Kyle F-ing Zimmer. The save opps will still be few and far between, but it’s been said that Zimmer has the best stuff in the org with three different 60 grade pitches. Adding him from the waiver wire is the type of shrewd move that wins leagues.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan O’Hearn

He’s on our radars because he was a BEAST in the second half of ‘18. He put up 153 wRC+ and a .950 OPS in 170 plate appearances. That is outstanding and probably not repeatable. Working against him even more is his rough history vs. LHP. He might end up in a platoon with Chris Owings at some point and that’s not great for fantasy relevancy. Still, he could be a weekly streamer for your utility spot if there’s a solid string of RHP coming up.

Sleepers

Let’s move on to the overall fantasy outlook. I’ve got a few sleepers that I’m keeping an eye on this year. For the record, my definition of sleeper is someone who could significantly outperform their ADP.

Soler: See above

Joey Votto: #39 overall but has one of the safest floors in the league. Getting him allows to gamble on upside guys later in the draft.

Justin Turner: #80 overall but can put up top 10 hitter numbers when healthy

Domingo Santana: Had a terrible ‘18 but a great ‘17. Change of scenery might be good.

Jake Arrieta: #257 overall and coming off his worst year as a SP, but numbers are still solid with a decent floor as long as it doesn’t drop out.

Masahiro Tanaka: #104 overall coming off an injury-laiden outlier in ‘18. Going to put up numbers in ‘19.

Ryan Brasier: #221 at the moment but is the current Red Sox closer. BOS could still sign Kimbrel but if the don’t, Brasier could have a LOT of save opportunities.

Auction Strategy

I don’t subscribe to any one strategy. In my experience, auction strategies are like fad diets; a trendy way to try to game the system that usually ends in failure. Also, both of them should be done without beer and that idea can get right the hell out! I’ve heard people subscribe to a 55%-45% budget split between hitters-pitchers. If you want to have a rigid structure, that’s as good of a plan as any. In my opinion, every draft is fluid. My best advice is to go in with 5 guys that you know you want and get as many of them as you can (within reason). With every other spot in your lineup, get as much value as you can. Have a price range for every player that you’d potentially be interested in and roll with the ebbs and flows of your draft.

Snake Draft Targets

I went through my rankings and acted as if each set of 12 players was my pool to draft from to build a team for a 12 team, H2H, categories league. The team I built is pretty balanced between hitters and pitchers and should be competitive in every category. Below is the result.

  1. Max Scherzer
  2. Jose Altuve
  3. Rhys Hoskins
  4. Joey Votto
  5. Edwin Diaz
  6. Gary Sanchez
  7. Justin Turner
  8. Adalberto Mondesi
  9. Masahiro Tanaka
  10. Mallex Smith
  11. Eloy Jimenez
  12. Corey Knebel
  13. Will Smith
  14. Max Muncy
  15. Luis Castillo
  16. Billy Hamilton
  17. Archie Bradley
  18. Asdrubal Cabrera
  19. Ryan Brasier
  20. Luke Voit
  21. Jorge Soler
  22. Jake Arrieta
  23. Omar Narvaez
  24. Alex Wood
  25. Domingo Santana

There you have it. This should act as a solid start to winning your draft but, keep in mind, the draft is just the beginning. You’ve got to work the waiver wire and stay involved the whole year to bring home a championship. If you’ve got any questions throughout the year, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@joshkeiser40). Good night and good luck.