Living in the Midwest this winter, you wouldn’t know Opening Day is now less than a month away by simply looking out your windows. But the mirage of warm days, ice-cold beers being slammed on the deck, and a sizzling grill emitting the beautiful smokey scent of summer is now forming into reality. And that also means you are probably prepping for your fantasy baseball drafts. If so, you are in luck here as I am going to lay out seven guys to keep an eye on as you roll past the seventh round or so of your draft.
I used the average draft position (ADP) from Rotowire for the purposes of this article with the basis being a standard 5 x 5 12-team league. If you don’t play in a 12-team league I am sure you are smart enough to calculate where you should target these guys in your own draft. If you aren’t capable of that, well, make The Chalk your homepage and start getting caught up on the rest of the great content we’re pushing out – you need it.
There are so many avenues you can take in constructing a good squad in fantasy baseball simply due to the roster sizes and the current availability of top tier talent in both the hitters and pitchers’ pools. Therefore, as long as you don’t do anything too ridiculously stupid in the first few rounds, you should have a good foundation to build upon. That makes the middle rounds of your draft that much more important, so make sure to target these guys and get a leg up on the rest of your league.
OF – Mallex Smith; SEA (ADP: 100)
Smith is an absolutely burner on the base paths. Stolen bases are one of those gold mine categories that if you can get your hands on some later round production, you can really build a monster squad. Smith came from Tampa Bay over to Seattle in the Rays trade for Catcher Mike Zunino and appears to be one of the few guys Mariners fans may get some enjoyment out of watching this season along with fellow outfielder Mitch Haniger. He doesn’t hit for power which isn’t that big of an issue as you can find 30-HR production just about anywhere else these days.
A sputtering first half of 2018 saw Smith turn up the production in a huge way as he racked up 24 of his 40 stolen bases in the latter portion of the season. He hit .311 and tallied 36 runs from a more prominent spot at the top of the order. Smith should have no issue playing 150+ games for the Mariners assuming good health and if he does that, a 50-steal season is a legit possibility. The Mariners are going to have to find ways to scratch runs across the board and it’s easy to see a path for the Mariners to run Smith whenever possible.
RP – Jordan Hicks; STL (ADP: 222)
There’s risk involved with taking Hicks, but I am not much a believer these days in investing heavily in closers anyway, so that can serve to minimize the risk. There’s so much volatility in the position. Guys lose their closing jobs in the current MLB landscape as frequently as Trump tweets. Hicks also has one of the better relief pitchers of the last five years joining him in the pen with the Cardinals acquisition of lefty Andrew Miller. A lot of fantasy experts are expecting a split in save opportunities between Hicks and Miller.
I don’t. You don’t bring in Miller to get the last three outs of the game – you get him for the three (or four, or five) most important outs of the game. That will come often in the 6th thru 8th innings being in what appears to be a stacked division in the NL Central. Hicks has the makeup of true blue closer and seems cut from the closer cloth.
Carrying a fastball routinely touching 103 mph+ Hicks obviously has an electric arm. That can’t be taught or coached. But what can be given to a pitcher is exposure to pressure moments and that is exactly what Hicks got last season in mainly setting up Bud Norris. Norris was a very pedestrian option for the Cardinals to close games and now having a guy like Miller to bridge to Hicks, manager Mike Shildt will be able to frequently shorten games. Hicks should be good for 25+ saves and will supplement with strikeouts. If he can cut down on his walks, the sky is the limit for the young explosive righty.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 1, 2019
OF – Michael Conforto; NYM (ADP: 106)
Hand up on this one – I have been on the Conforto bus for a long time. He just LOOKS like a professional hitter. He came up to the Mets barely a year after being drafted 10th overall out of Oregon State in the 2014 draft. In just 174 AB’s that season after the call-up, Conforto hit nine homers with a .270 average and 26 RBI’s. He looked poised to explode in 2016.
But after sputtering out of the gate to begin that season, Conforto was sent back to Vegas to work on rebuilding his swing. It never really came together and after a second demotion, whispers questioning his long-term prospects started to get louder. Then 2017 happened.
The following season Conforto showed the potential buried inside that sweet swing he possesses. An injury pushed his start in back to late April but a .279/27/68 season in just 109 games and an invite to the All-Star game that season put Conforto back on the fantasy map. Then, once again, he started off horrendously slow in 2018 bringing back the questions that have hung around his career to this point – how consistent can he actually be?
The outfielder finished 2018 with a solid line – .242/28/82. He’s been bounced around the lineup over his career from leadoff, to middle of the order, to the end, and everywhere in between. If the Mets give him a bit of length on the leash, the sky is the limit for him.
SP – Eduardo Rodriguez; BOS (ADP: 157)
Rodriguez had the best year of his career as the Red Sox marched to another World Series victory in 2018. A 13-5 record to go with a 3.82 ERA and 1.26 WHIP made Rodriguez an extremely useful option on the fantasy scene last season. Pitchers on historically great teams always carry a bit of extra value mainly because the win probability is so much better than their peers (see: deGrom, Jacob).
The lefty is one of those guys that feels like he’s been on the scene for 10 years – he’s still only 25. The ceiling has yet to be established and there is no reason the talented southpaw can’t replicate his extremely productive 2018 season. The Sox are stacked again, and he has little pressure on his shoulders being slotted in as the fifth starter in Boston’s rotation.
Rodriguez is getting some hype as Spring Training plugs along and the Sox expectations for him are starting to ramp up. When Pedro Martinez says “that was one of the most impressive BPs that you could see. No hesitation, no stopping. It was beautiful to watch” you can’t help but take notice. That dude knows a bit about pitching.
He’s never pitched more than 140 innings in a season, and assuming decent health Rodriguez should have no problem exceeding that number this season. The Sox are expected to control ace Chris Sale’s workload a bit and that only serves to benefit Rodriguez in fantasy circles.
1B – Josh Bell; PIT (ADP: 257)
Bell’s career trajectory is somewhat similar to that of Conforto’s. I’m also banking on a bit of an every-other-year type bounce back from the power hitting first baseman. In 2017, Bell finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting crushing 26 HR’s and 90 RBI’s. He hit .255, scored 75 runs and appeared to be on track to devastate the NL Central for the next 5+ years.
However, the wheels fell off for Bell and his fantasy backers seem to have gone with judging by his ADP. He followed up his monster rookie season with an uninspiring .261/12/62 season. There’s no way someone who is as big as Bell is, swings as hard as he does, and is as selective of a hitter as he is should register a 12 home-run season. He’s a 30 HR guy by all measurables. And a dude you definitely do not want to mess with.
Standing in at 6’4, 240 lb., Bell is an imposing figure in the batter’s box. A switch-hitter with much more pop from the left side, he has all the potential in the world to anchor the middle of the Pirates lineup. He’s not afraid to take a walk and is historically a much better producer in the second half of the season. Bell may be infuriating at times, but he can win you a couple weeks in head-to-head leagues on his own and will have stretches of play where he is one of the best run producers in the National League. Look for his end of season stats to mirror those much closer to 2017 than from last year.
Josh Bell showing some of that power he’s been talking about pic.twitter.com/glN3JTGsWM
— Eric Hagman (@esh714) February 18, 2019
OF – David Peralta; ARI (ADP: 133)
On the flip side from Bell, is the Diamondbacks 31-year-old left handed slugger Peralta. 2018 was a career year for Peralta as helped anchor the Dbacks lineup along with the departed Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. He hit 30 HR’s to go along with a .293 average and 87 RBI’s. Peralta often carried the Diamondbacks lineup against righties as he continually destroyed them for most of the season.
Throughout his career Peralta has struggled to stay healthy which contributes greatly to his stature in the fantasy baseball world. He’s never played 150 games in a season but has always been a solid major-leaguer when healthy. He’s going to have to carry a larger burden of the offensive load for the Arizona offensive attack with the losses of mainstays Goldschmidt and Pollock. The main question is, will Peralta be able to take the next step in his career?
I think he will struggle at times as he will consistently be in the lineup facing lefties against whom he hasn’t traditionally done much against (career .242 average; 12 of 73 career HR’s). He won’t be platooned for as he was sometimes in the earlier years of his career. But again, this is reflected in his ADP – you’ll also get some stretches of power, average, and run production that will be well worth taking a shot on him in the middle rounds of drafts.
3B – Matt Chapman; OAK (ADP: 110)
This one was the most shocking ADP’s to me of the players mentioned above. Part of that may be the ever-present fact that Chapman proved to be one of the better all-around players in the league last season showing an elite glove at third for the A’s. But it wasn’t just defense for Chapman that vaulted him into MVP talk in late August and early September.
In his first full big-league season, the 25-year-old Chapman hit 24 HR’s and knocked in 68 RBI’s in 547 AB’s. Even more impressive though, was the 100 runs he tallied for Oakland. A solid .278 average vaulted Chapman to a solid three category status (with potential for four if he can build on the RBI total). The 2014 first-rounder hit .309 in the second half of the season and helped carry the A’s to an unexpected Wild Card birth and an impressive 97-win season. Chapman is going to likely hit second in the A’s lineup again where he settled in later in the 2018 season. The A’s should be solid again and Chapman will have no shortage of opportunities to increase the RBI total he shot out last season. Racking up another 100-run season is well within reach as he will have mashers like Khris Davis and Matt Olson lurking behind him.
Chapman made the power hitting Ryon Healy expendable after a few productive seasons in Oakland. He has franchise cornerstone-like potential and will be a dynamic threat in the A’s lineup. Look for an even better 2019 campaign and much louder conversation than last year’s whispers come MVP time.
Follow Matt on Twitter @schools_01
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