keyboard_arrow_uptop

Welcome to the fourth installment of our new fantasy series focused primarily on analyzing early average draft position (ADP) trends. The goal of the series is to identify trends in the data over time to determine what we can learn to improve our draft-day strategy going forward. This week’s edition focuses on the hot corner, which features a trio of the most electrifying young sluggers in the game at the top of the position, and a slew of quality veteran options as well. The late rounds are relatively barren, but not completely bereft of talent if you know where to look. Regardless, the sheer volume of insane talent headlining the position makes up for it’s relative lack of depth.

A Brief Position Eligibility Primer

The standard we use for our pre-season content at BP to determine position eligibility is 20 games played. Some league providers set their eligibility thresholds at just 10 games played, so make sure to check your specific league settings if there is any question as to where a specific player may quality in your league.

Hitters are ultimately ranked at the position deemed to be more valuable fantasy-wise. Fantasy owners should remain cognizant of hitters who qualify at multiple positions, but instead of ranking them at every position for which they are eligible at, we have chosen to rank them only at the position with more fantasy value. A prime example of this from the pool of third base-eligible hitters would be Jung-Ho Kang, who qualifies at both third base and shortstop. Currently being selected as the 14th third baseman off the board in terms of ADP, Kang is far more valuable fantasy-wise at shortstop. Prospects, or hitters who do not have 20 games played at a single position (like Joey Gallo, who may end up with third base eligibility eventually in 2016) are ranked at the position they played the most at the major-league level in 2015.

Why Care About ADP?

Fantasy owners should be advised against reading too much into the early data, which can be subject to small-sample outliers, since a majority of leagues haven’t drafted yet. However, it does give us a window to evaluate how the general public perceives specific player value heading into 2016. Even if you’re competing in an auction, this data will give you a good idea of which studs a majority of fantasy owners are willing to shell out the extra dollar to purchase and which second basemen may slip through the cracks and make for excellent value targets.

The early ADP data referenced for this entire series, housed at STATS.com, is from 2016 National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) leagues, which are comprised of 15 teams. Therefore, the average round data is reflective of that league size. It’s also worth pointing out that the data is also both relatively thin and updating in real time at the link above, so be sure to check back frequently for the latest updates. Without further delay, let’s dive into third base.

The Early Rounds

If Bryant isn’t the most exciting name at the position, it’s one heck of a position… These are foundational building blocks on a fantasy roster…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

1

Josh Donaldson

TOR

5

1st

2

Nolan Arenado

COL

7

1st

3

Manny Machado

BAL

8

1st

4

Kris Bryant

CHC

10

1st

Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

A borderline first-round selection a year ago, the reigning AL MVP has vaulted himself into the top-five overall selections heading into 2016. There really isn’t much left to say about the 30-year-old slugger coming off a career year in his first season north of the border. The catalyst for the league's most explosive offense, he increased his home run total from 29 in Oakland to 41 in Toronto. Even baking in some regression from a 22 percent HR:FB rate, he’s a virtual lock to eclipse 30 homers with 100-plus runs and RBI. Without question, he warrants selection this high.

Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Arenado finished just behind Donaldson as the no. 2 fantasy third baseman, earning $30 in standard mixed leagues last season. An increasingly rare blend of elite contact and power propelled Arenado to a 2015 campaign in which he hit .287/.325/.575 (.299 TAv) with 97 runs scored, 42 home runs, and 130 RBI. There’s no doubting the validity of his power, or writing it off as a Coors Field mirage, after he hit 22 dingers on the road. At just 25 years old, Arenado is likely to be a first-round fixture for the better part of the next decade.

Manny Machado, Orioles

He’s still only 23. Stop reading and let that sink in for a moment. He was always going to hit for a high average, but renewed health and a surging flyball rate (38 percent in 2015, up from just 31 percent the previous two seasons) resulted in a monster campaign in which he hit .286/.359/.502 (.292 TAv) with 35 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

To put those numbers in perspective, Machado is one of just four hitters in the last decade to record at least 35 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .280 average in a single season. Alex Rodriguez accomplished the feat twice (2005 and 2007), while Matt Kemp (2011) and Ryan Braun (2012) are the only other recent examples. Even if he’s unable to fully repeat last season’s eye-popping numbers, he’s starting with a higher statistical floor than most hitters dream of. From an ADP perspective, he’s experienced a meteoric rise, going from outside the top-100 picks (115th overall) to a top-10 selection in 2016.

Kris Bryant, Cubs

The 24-year-old slugger's contact rate is the variable that will determine whether he becomes an even more potent fantasy superstar in the near future. It doesn’t get mentioned often enough that he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 major-league plate appearances last season. Over the past five years, only four hitters (Josh Hamilton, Mark Reynolds, Chris Carter, and Pedro Alvarez) have posted a lower single-season contact rate than Bryant’s 66 percent mark last year. That’s not good company. Even if he continues to strike out a ton, it might not matter, because he absolutely obliterates the baseball when he does make contact. If he takes a step forward with his plate discipline, look out. This is what the foundation for building a fantasy superstar looks like.

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

5

Todd Frazier

CWS

43

3rd

6

Matt Carpenter

STL

60

5th

7

Kyle Seager

SEA

71

5th

Todd Frazier, White Sox

Leaving Cincinnati hardly ever results in a positive impact on a hitter's fantasy stock, but it’s hard to envision a softer landing for Frazier than U.S. Cellular Field, which grades out as the third-best AL park for right-handed power in 2016. At 30 years old, it’s fair to question whether he can record double-digit stolen bases again, especially after he swiped just 13 bags last year but posted a shaky 62 percent success rate. On a positive note, he crushed southpaws to the tune of a .908 OPS and was off to an MVP-caliber start before he cratered in the second half. The New Jersey native is coming off a career year, but is going only a few selections higher than he did last year, when he was a fourth-round pick. Flip-flop his first- and second-half numbers and we’re talking about a potential second-round pick instead of a late third-rounder.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Carpenter traded in a significant chunk of his contact rate (81 percent in 2014 to just 74 percent in 2015) for a substantial increase in power, smashing 28 home runs, far surpassing his previous single-season high of 11 round-trippers back in 2013. A major uptick in line drives (29 percent) and flyballs (42 percent) was the driving force that enabled Carpenter to maintain a solid .272 average while hitting for exponentially more power than ever before. There’s a reasonable case to be made here that Carpenter could regress to a batted-ball profile more in line with his previous career rates, which would sap his power upside going forward, but it’s important to emphasize that there was nothing inherently fluky about his recent power outburst. Last year may have been his ceiling, but it was completely legitimate. So are his chances of repeating it in 2016. After going outside the top 100 overall selections last year, the 30-year-old is now a surefire fifth-round selection.

The Middle Rounds

The old guard, the next generation in Philly and the Moose… Why fantasy owners shouldn’t write off Beltre and Longoria just yet…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

8

Adrian Beltre

TEX

100

7th

9

Maikel Franco

PHI

108

8th

10

Evan Longoria

TB

119

8th

Adrian Beltre, Rangers

The 37-year-old veteran proved the reports of his demise during a dismal first half to be a bit premature with a scorching hot second half in which he hit .318/.376/.509 with 11 home runs from July 17th through the end of the 2015 campaign. Eventually, his legendary career is going to come to an end, but for now, assuming he can maintain his health, another year of a .290 average with 20 home runs is not out of the question on a vastly underrated Rangers squad in 2016.

Evan Longoria, Rays

Selected just outside the top-50 overall in ADP as one of just seven third basemen taken in the top-100 last year, Longoria’s fantasy stock has slipped in early drafts this offseason. Barely a top-10 option at the position due to the emergence of much younger studs, he’s coming off a season in which he stayed healthy for the third straight year, but hit just 21 home runs with three stolen bases. With fantasy owners gravitating toward the youth and upside, Longoria becomes a bit of a bargain heading into 2016 if he continues to slide down draft boards. He may no longer be a threat to hit 30-plus home runs, but he’s slugged 20 in seven of his eight years in the majors, which should not be overlooked.

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

11

Matt Duffy

SF

137

10th

12

Mike Moustakas

KC

148

10th

Mike Moustakas, Royals

Year

Age

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

2012

23

614

.242

.296

.412

.252

2013

24

514

.233

.287

.364

.234

2014

25

500

.212

.271

.361

.233

2015

26

614

.284

.348

.470

.291

Fantasy owners are apparently still a bit hesitant to fully invest in Moose, who has steadily increased his contact rate over the past three years, and posted the highest True Average (TAv) of his career last season. His second-half power surge (15 home runs after the All-Star break) was largely the result of a dramatically overhauled approach at the plate, as he increased his flyball rate from 35 percent in the first half, to 48 percent over his final 280 plate appearances.

There’s a lot to like with Moustakas, who is just now entering his physical prime, after seemingly taking forever to develop into a quality hitter. The most compelling indicator of his progress was his success against lefties last year. If he can sustain those gains, and avoid regressing to his previous career rates against southpaws, he has a chance to once again hit .280 with 20-plus home runs in 2016. Not too shabby for a 10th-rounder.

The Late Rounds

A bevy of decent reserve options at the hot corner remain… It’s a veritable buffet even a slimmed down Sandoval couldn’t resist…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

13

David Wright

NYM

230

16th

14

Danny Valencia

OAK

245

17th

15

Nick Castellanos

DET

261

18th

16

Justin Turner

LAD

265

18th

17

Trevor Plouffe

MIN

283

19th

18

Yangervis Solarte

SD

288

20th

19

Pablo Sandoval

BOS

294

20th

20

Hector Olivera

ATL

314

21st

David Wright, Mets

Given the tremendous advances in modern medicine, from improved surgical procedures to injury management and rehabilitation, it would be extremely foolish to suggest that there’s no scenario in which Wright gets healthy and becomes a productive fantasy option again. However, overlooking the clear-cut health risks with a 33-year-old infielder becomes nearly impossible. A borderline top-100 overall selection in last year’s ADP, his fantasy stock has recently fallen more than that of virtually any other option at the hot corner.

Despite managing to tally just 174 plate appearances (38 games) due to a hamstring injury, Wright was productive (.315 TAv) with five home runs when he was on the field. Given his age and injury history, fantasy owners can no longer rely on him as a mixed-league starter, but in deeper formats, he makes for a solid plug-and-play option when he’s healthy.

Danny Valencia, Athletics

It remains to be seen whether the 31-year-old Valencia’s newfound success versus right-handed pitching was merely an albatross or a harbinger of the long-time platoon lefty-masher blossoming into an everyday option. Despite being a disastrous .237/.275/.389 career hitter against righties, he teed off against them last year, hitting .285/.325/.556 with 13 home runs in 229 plate appearances with Toronto. A fair amount of skepticism is warranted, but the Athletics are one of the best organizations in the game at managing platoon splits and won’t hang him out to dry if he’s getting slaughtered by right-handers early on in 2016. He’s not an option for shallow mixed leagues, but in deeper formats (especially those that enable daily lineup changes) he’s a valuable asset to plug in exclusively against southpaws.

Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox

As far as Boston debuts go, Panda delivered one of the most memorable (and not in a good way). It wasn’t Hanley-bad, but it wasn’t good. Selected in the eighth round (120th overall) last season, Panda hit just .245/.292/.366 with a career-low .229 TAv over 505 plate appearances. There is always the chance of a rebound (he’s reportedly lost 20 pounds this offseason) but fantasy owners are hardly paying for a return to relevance from the 29-year-old. There’s just too much risk and minimal upside across the board in his statistical profile.

The Leftovers

Can we go back to talking about Machado and Bryant, please?

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

21

Chase Headley

NYY

338

23rd

22

Luis Valbuena

HOU

346

24th

23

Jake Lamb

ARI

347

24th

24

Martin Prado

MIA

350

24th

25

Yunel Escobar

LAA

376

25th

Chase Headley, Yankees

The overall lack of depth outside of the elite options at the position becomes apparent when digging this late in the ADP data. Is there anything exciting to say about Headley? He continues to hit too many groundballs and record pedestrian fantasy numbers. A nearly 100-spot drop in ADP from a year ago tells almost the entire story. If you’re in a deeper format, the consistent playing time matters, but that’s about all he’s good for.

The Undrafted Crop

Remember when Lonnie Chisenhall racked up nine RBI in one game back in 2014? That was awesome…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

26

Lonnie Chisenhall

CLE

427

Undrafted

27

Adonis Garcia

ATL

458

Undrafted

28

David Freese

LAA

495

Undrafted

29

Tyler Saladino

CWS

503

Undrafted

30

Giovanny Urshela

CLE

548

Undrafted

31

Will Middlebrooks

MIL

574

Undrafted

32

Brandon Drury

ARI

596

Undrafted

Adonis Garcia, Braves

Fantasy owners in NL-only formats should take note of Garcia, who is easily the most attractive name in this pool of undrafted talent. He may be 31 years old, but the former Yankees farmhand didn’t flop in his major-league debut last season, hitting .277/.293/.497 (.287 TAv) with 10 home runs (thanks in large part to an unsustainable 22 percent HR:FB rate) in 198 plate appearances. With Olivera ticketed to move to the outfield full-time, there doesn’t appear to be another option for the Braves at the hot corner entering 2016. If he’s hitting enough to keep the job (the batting-average variability and lack of walks and plate discipline will put his everyday at-bats in jeopardy), and accrue 600-plus plate appearances, 15-to-20 home runs is not out of the question given his raw power.