“Draft hitting early and often” has long been a mantra in fantasy baseball and there is wisdom in this strategy, as elite batters contribute in all categories and are generally less risky than their pitching counterparts. In fact, in many drafts this year, only one pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) is selected on average inside the top-20 picks. As hitting has continued a steady decline in the past decade, the best hitters are coveted in leagues like bread and toilet paper ahead of a snowstorm. So it is vitally important to draft the “right” hitters early and find some value performers with your later selections if you hope to win your league.
Yesterday in Part-1 I highlighted several pitchers I think will outplay their draft position, along with a few names I will be avoiding in my drafts. Today I pinpoint several hitters I believe are being undervalued plus a few that are overrated by the fantasy community.
Hitters I Like
Freddie Freeman 1B Atlanta Braves (7th-8th Round)
Freeman struggled much like the rest of the Braves in 2015, playing in only 118 games and hitting .276 and 18 home runs. This, along with the expectation that Atlanta could be abysmal in 2016, has the consistently solid Freeman being selected in the 7th round. He may not hit for the power one expects from a first baseman, but the Braves lineup should be better than expectations with Freeman, Inciarte and Aybar atop their lineup. Now that Freeman is healthy, he should return to his usual .290 batting average, with 20+ home runs and 85+ runs batted in, making him an undervalued asset and excellent gamble in drafts.
Adam Jones OF Baltimore Orioles (5th-6th Round)
Jones struggled through a myriad of minor injuries last season to post another solid season in Baltimore, batting .269 with 27 home runs, 82 runs batted in and 3 stolen bases in 137 games. Missing 25 games throughout the year kept his numbers somewhat underwhelming, causing him to slide into the 5th or 6th round in drafts this season. Do not let these minor ailments allow you to pass on this 30-year-old, who should hit #3 in a powerful Baltimore lineup this season. With an offseason to recover, I expect Jones to produce closer to 30 home runs and 90 runs batted in, along with 7-10 steals, making him a 2nd-3rd round value this season.
Evan Longoria 3B Tampa Bay Rays (10th+ Round)
Third base is rather thin and top-heavy this season, with five players going inside the top-25 but only eight players selected inside the top-100. If you miss out on a third baseman early, Longoria will provide excellent value with the chance for some statistical upside if Tampa’s offense can improve in 2016. Longoria has stayed healthy the past several seasons and has consistently provided a .275/20/80 line with a handful of stolen bases – these numbers will not win your league, but should help anchor your infield in 2016.
Anthony Rendon 3B/2B Washington Nationals (12th-14th Round)
Call me a “fan boy” but I am stunned that someone with Rendon’s talents at the plate is being drafted on average outside the top-125 picks, especially considering the positional scarcity at second base and the hot corner. Certainly there is plenty of health risk involved with him, but there are few players who can return as much value after Round 10 as Rendon. Assuming he stays reasonably health, I project a .285 batting average with 15+ home run and 12+ steals, with upside for more. Draft Rendon confidently and watch him outplay his draft position.
Honorable Mention: Billy Hamilton OF Cincinnati Reds, Mark Trumbo OF Baltimore Orioles, Mark Teixeira 1B New York Yankees, Christian Yelich OF Miami Marlins and Ben Zobrist 2B/OF Chicago Cubs
Hitters To Avoid
Michael Brantley OF Cleveland Indians (7th-9th Round)
Brantley is easily one the best players in the American League, but he falls into the category of better “real life” player than in fantasy. Brantley is an asset in batting average and stolen bases, but his other numbers are just average compared to fellow outfielders. Add in an offseason shoulder surgery and one should question how much he will produce in the 1st half of the season. This risk, along with a lack of upside this season, makes him a poor value inside the top-100 picks.
Miguel Sano DH/OF Minnesota Twins (4th Round)
Sano is an immense talent and should develop into one of the elite sluggers in baseball, but the hype has reached epic levels with this 22-year-old. While he hit 18 home runs last season in 80 games, he also struck out 119 times in 279 at-bats, clearly an unsustainable rate. These whiffs should drag down his batting average and he is not a big threat on the bases, making him a three category player at best. Considering his age and contact rates, let some else select Sano in Round 4 and select a safer player such as Yoenis Cespedes, George Springer or Lorenzo Cain.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Nelson Cruz OF Seattle Mariners, Dee Gordon 2B Miami Marlins, Jason Heyward OF Chicago Cubs, Jonathan Lucroy Catcher Milwaukee Brewers, Ben Revere OF Washington Nationals