Depth at each position varies from year to year and making adjustments to your bid limits or rankings based on positional depth or lack thereof can be crucial in preparing for the upcoming draft season. How much more do you value getting a decent player at a shallow position? Are the elite players at the position worth the risk? How these questions are handled can go a long way toward deciding the makeup of your roster.
Despite Miguel Cabrera losing his third base eligibility this year, the American League still has a third basemen who stands above the rest of the competition. Josh Donaldson, who earned $25 in AL-only leagues last year as a member of the Athletics, should benefit quite a bit from being traded to Toronto this offseason. He hit 29 home runs last season while playing half of his games in one of the worst home run parks for right-handed hitters in the AL. Toronto’s Rogers Centre is one of the best parks in the AL for right-handed power hitters and the Jays’ lineup will offer Donaldson plenty of baserunners to drive in. The added boost from a friendly hitting environment should be enough to propel Donaldson to be the most valuable third basemen in fantasy this year.
Though Donaldson was rated as the only five-star third basemen in our tiered rankings, the American League also offers a few comparable alternatives near the top. Adrian Beltre, who actually earned more than Donaldson last year ($27), has been a mainstay for years. Kyle Seager, who seems to nosedive down the stretch every year, was very close to Donaldson in value last year, when he hit 25 home runs and drove in 98. Evan Longoria hasn’t hit above .269 while qualifying for the batting title since 2010, but he does enough in the other categories to still earn at least $20 comfortably.
After the top four is when things get interesting. Both Carlos Santana and Chris Davis are third base eligible after failed fielding experiments last year. Davis, of course, failed a test for a banned substance and hit .196 in his time on the field last year. Santana had struggled at the beginning of the season as he hit .159 through the first two months. Santana rebounded to hit .260/.385/.463 with 13 home runs in 296 plate appearances in the second half, on his way to tying his career high for home runs in a single-season with 27. Both players have power and will struggle to produce a passable AVG, but Santana seems to be the safer bet due to his plate discipline (he led the majors in walks last year).
The X-factor at the position just might be Manny Machado, who’s entering his age-22 season. Machado debuted in the majors at 19-years-old in 2012 and has already had both knees repaired. His career batting line is .278/.313/.434 and his 162 game average is 18 home runs, 84 runs, 72 RBI, and six steals. While it’s difficult to predict how healthy a player will be, it’s clear that Machado has the skills to potentially earn $25 in AL-only this year.
While there might be more top targets in the AL compared to the National League, Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley give AL-only league owners reliable veteran options outside the top seven. Headley’s offense perked up upon his arrival in New York last year and Sandoval should also benefit from moving to the AL East after spending his career up to this point in the National League. Neither are stars offensively, but both offer relative certainty before the position thins.
For a breakout candidate, try the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos. He led the AL in line drive rate (28.5 percent), but he managed to hit just .259/.306/.394 last year. Castellanos struck out too much in his rookie season, but if he’s able to cut into his 24 percent strikeout rate or improve on his .326 BABIP, then he should be able to hit .270 or better with power this year.
I’ll examine a few interesting AL-Only second base targets for deep formats. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas, which he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.
Luis Valbuena – Astros
4×4 earnings: $12 5×5 earnings: $13
While Valbuena has second-base eligibility after he played 21 games at second base with the Cubs last year, the trade to Houston and subsequent league switch allowed him to fly under this column’s radar last week, hence his inclusion here with the third basemen. He broke out with the power last year blasting 16 home runs with the Cubs and the move to Houston shouldn’t significantly impact his power output. Never an AVG asset, Valbuena hit .249 last year with a .294 BABIP, which is higher than his career BABIP (.269). PECOTA projects him to hit .236, which is a reasonable projection, but if he continues to hit home runs like he has the last two seasons, he’ll hold some value in deep leagues.
Conor Gillaspie – White Sox
4×4 earnings: $14 5×5 earnings: $13
Gillaspie improved his AVG last year as he hit .300 against right-handed pitching and .282 for the season, up from .245 in 2013. He hit .326 with a .370 BABIP in the first half before whatever mojo he had working for him ran out and he managed to hit just .228 with a .265 BABIP the rest of the way. The second-half swoon is concerning and PECOTA has him hitting .257 this year, but Gillaspie hit 13 home runs in 2013. As long as he can produce double-digit dingers again this year, his likely drop in AVG won’t be enough to keep him from earning close to the same amount in deep leagues.
Brock Holt – Red Sox
4×4 earnings: $14 5×5 earnings: $15
The Red Sox’ offseason activity leaves Holt on the bench to start the season, but he proved that he can be an asset if playing time falls his way last year. Holt got wicked hot in the first half last year and hit .327/.371/.463 with 18 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 37 runs, and 21 RBI in 279 plate appearances. His .395 BABIP from the first half was, of course, unsustainable and Holt hit just .219 with seven extra-base hits in 45 games the rest of the season. His true talent level likely lies somewhere between those extremes. While Holt doesn’t have much home run power, he has a solid walk rate, doesn’t strikeout too much, and his line drive rate was 26 percent last year. Holt also stole 12 bases and was caught just twice. Playing time could be tough to come by in Boston this year, but he’s worth a small bid just in case.
The following players are still interesting deep targets, but this group is inexperienced and perhaps better suited for the reserve squad in hopes that they’ll contribute as the seasons goes along.
Miguel Sano – Twins
Sano missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which cost him valuable experience in the minors. Sano, 21, has played just 67 games above Single-A, all of which came with Double-A in 2013. His offensive profile is headlined by his immense power and propensity to strikeout, but he’s a good enough pure hitter to produce a passable AVG down the line. When Sano will make his MLB debut largely depends on how he plays in the minors this year and because of his power potential he’ll be one to keep on the watch list in shallow leagues. In deep leagues, he’s worth a flier at the end of the auction.
Joey Gallo – Rangers
Unlike Sano, Gallo may never be more than a .240 hitter at the major league level because of his strikeout problems. He struck out 165 times in 446 plate appearances (37 percent strikeout rate) with Single-A in 2013 and 115 times in 291 plate appearances (39.5 percent) with Double-A in 2014. While the strikeouts will always be there, Gallo was more selective at the plate last year and it showed in his walk total. He walked 87 times in 136 games compared to just 48 times in 106 games the year before. Of course, you’ll be drafting Gallo for his massive power. He blasted 42 home runs and stole the show at the Futures Game with his batting-practice round last year. PECOTA projects him for 17 HR in 220 at-bats, showing just how ridiculous his power is.
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