Previous articles in this series:
- Catchers to Avoid
- First Basemen to Avoid
- Second Basemen to Avoid
- Third Basemen to Avoid
- Shortstops to Avoid
Monday’s article, paraphrased: “Hey, maybe try to draft these guys.”
Today’s article, paraphrase: “Maybe don’t draft these guys so early.”
Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
Blackmon had a pretty snazzy 2014 season. With a .288/.335/.440 line, 19 homers, 28 steals, and 154 R+RBI, he was a true five-category fantasy force. Blackmon doesn’t strike out much, wasn’t fueled by a crazy BABIP, has a strong track record of producing in the minors, and will be 28 for most of the 2015 season. So why on earth is he in the “avoid” column? Caveats abound in the second paragraph.
Blackmon’s second half was significantly worse than his first half in 2014, which is common knowledge at this point but still quite relevant. He hit .264/.314/.384 with just five homers and 10 steals, which some would argue is probably closer to his true talent level moving forward (albeit a bit low on average). Blackmon’s also not a terrific play against lefties, hitting just .267/.297/.400 against them last year, and hit just .241/.269/.348 against all pitchers away from home. Add all these factors together, and Blackmon looks more like a long-side platoon outfielder who’s a must-play at home but a questionable play against southpaws and only so-so on the road. He can still accumulate stats and what he does in Coors isn’t discounted from a fantasy sense, but the underrated skillset here is overrated.
Am I avoiding Blackmon at all costs? Not at all. But he’s being drafted as the 23rd-best fantasy outfielder and 79th-best player overall right now, per FantasyPros.com. That already tells me that most people know to expect regression from Blackmon, but I don’t think they’re anticipating a big enough drop. Guys like Jason Heyward, Christian Yelich, Jay Bruce, Jorge Soler, and Mookie Betts are all going later, and in some cases substantially later, than Blackmon. He belongs in the same tier as some of these guys, sure, but he’s being drafted as though he belongs to a different class of player. Don’t make that mistake. —Ben Carsley
Michael Brantley, Indians
I like Brantley, I really do. He has a super sweet swing that is really fun to watch, but apparently the average draft has at least one owner who likes Brantley a lot more than I do. Here are the next 10 hitters being taken after Brantley, he of the 17th-highest NFBC ADP as of yesterday: Buster Posey, Ian Desmond, Jacoby Ellsbury, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Adrian Beltre, Yasiel Puig, Justin Upton.
This list includes 10 hitters who have had more than a single great year and ten hitters I prefer to Brantley. As seen last year, Brantley can earn his current ADP. However, a lot of players can earn that draft cost (such as the ten other hitters listed above). What therefore matters is the likelihood of each player’s distribution of outcomes or, more simply put, each player’s expected outcome. With Brantley, it appears those drafting him are confusing “most likely” with “most recently” when determining which player will provide the highest return. Moreover, when a player’s means of becoming a top-10 fantasy player is doubling his previous best career home run total (including minor-league production, too), I have trouble putting high odds on a repeat. Brantley seems less risky because he coming off a great, healthy season, but his current ADP appears to be disregarding any risk of regression, making his price too rich for me. —Jeff Quinton
Kole Calhoun, Angels
Generally, when you're looking at the first 30 outfielders off the board in mixed leagues, there's a common thread between them. Some are contributors across all five categories, some have impact potential in a handful of them, some are young players who look poised to take the next step, and then there's Kole Calhoun. I still don't know why fantasy owners are so excited about Calhoun that he's pushed into the top-100 in early-season ADP–as his skill set doesn't look all that different from many names being taken far later.
Let's debunk these one by one. Calhoun is not a five-category contributor. Despite stealing bases at a decent clip in the minor leagues, he's shown little ability to transfer that to the major league level, as he's accumulated eight steals in 13 attempts over 206 career games. On top of that, hitting leadoff for a top-heavy Angels' offense is going to severely inhibit his RBI potential—and it's tough to see him putting up much more than the 58 that he totaled in 2014. That leaves him as a three-category contributor, so he's gotta be pretty excellent in those three categories, right? Well, not quite. He doesn't project to hit more than 20 homers.
That's certainly good, but not a carrying fantasy tool. He's a career .271 hitter–and while league-wide batting average is in sharp decline, the odds of him having a huge impact here is pretty small. This leaves runs scored, which is Calhoun's biggest strength. He scored 90 runs in just 127 games last season, which projects out to over 100 if you're into that sort of thing. Though, with a career .329 on-base percentage, even having Mike Trout and Albert Pujols behind him won't guarantee him triple-digits this year. In fact, if you're looking to grab a three-category contributor who could score 100 runs, why not wait about 75 picks and take Denard Span?
There's a misconception out there that Calhoun is a well-rounded fantasy player who can contribute everywhere. And while technically it's true (he'd be hard-pressed to end the season with zero RBI or steals), it overstates his value and gives him an implied valuation that is just not there. After all, we're still talking about a 27-year-old who has had a whopping 711 career at bats in the majors. If you're making the argument for a player with Calhoun's skill set being taken where he is, you either need to make it on great upside or great safety—and pretending that the Angels' outfielder has either is a mistake you don't want to make on draft day. —Bret Sayre
Wil Myers, Padres
Myers was labeled as a can’t-miss prospect while with the Royals organization, and when his hitting skills at the plate were so much further along than his defensive skills behind it, the Royals made the decision to permanently move Myers to the outfield in an attempt to get his bat to the majors sooner. We now find ourselves in 2015, and the former top-10 prospect is with his third organization in four years after being traded from the Rays to the Padres this past December. You rarely see such a highly regarded prospect traded twice at his age, and the Padres are hoping Myers will fulfill his promise and be a productive bat in their revamped lineup this season, and for years to come.
Myers had a fine 2013 rookie season, which earned him the AL Rookie of the Year award, but still struggled with his contact rates, which also plagued him during his time in the high minors. Myers was also the benefactor of a .368 BABP that year which suggests he might have been a tad lucky to post that stat line. In 2014 Myers struggled out of the gate and could not break out of a two month long slump, slashing an abysmal .227/.313/.354 in his first 53 games before a fractured wrist landed him on the DL for nearly three months. He wasn’t much better upon his return, posting a .213/.263/.268 line with one home run and a 38-to-9 K:BB ratio in 127 AB the rest of the way.
While there is no doubting Myers’ underlying skills, his current ADP of 155 seems quite aggressive when looking at the various proven OF fantasy options being selected much later on average. Myers is coming back from a wrist injury, and we have seen that wrist injuries can take longer to heal (see Mark Teixeira). If Myers experiences any lingering effects of the fractured wrist, the power he flashed in the minors may not surface this year, especially in his new ballpark. Not only is he changing teams and leagues, he is also changing positions, as he will be asked to roam center field this year for the Padres. He has only appeared in center field nine times in the majors, and while he did spend some time in there during parts of two seasons in the minors, his primary position is right field. If he struggles defensively adapting to his new OF role and he presses, it may carry over to his offense.
Those are all the concerns I have about Myers and his fantasy prospects this upcoming season. I am certainly not dismissing Myers as a future solid everyday regular, but I just do not foresee a big fantasy season in store for in 2015. —Keith Cromer
Gregory Polanco, Pirates
Polanco isn't a player to avoid completely. It certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to own a few shares of his this year as the 23-year-old has the tools to provide value right away. In just 89 games last season, he hit seven home runs and stole 14 bases. Polanco's .328 AVG with Triple-A ultimately failed to translate to the majors after a hot start initially and he hit just .235 in 312 plate appearances.
The problem with targeting Polanco is his reputation as a top prospect seems to have inflated his value for the upcoming season. His NFBC ADP is currently 136, which is 36th among outfielders and ahead of Marcell Ozuna, Jayson Werth, and Brett Gardner. That might not seem too outlandish on the surface, but considering how deep outfield is this year, it kind of is.
Polanco should improve on his .235 AVG in the future, but there's no guarantee that it'll happen in his first full season in the majors. Polanco also wasn't hitting for much power last year as his ISO in the majors was just .108. His PECOTA projection says he'll hit .256 with 12 home runs this year. While he has logged a steady nine percent walk rate that should keep his run total healthy and pair with his speed to help him threaten 30 steals, Polanco still faces the uphill battle of putting it all together at the plate in his first full season. If PECOTA is right, he'll yield close to the season Gardner had last year, only with fewer runs and home runs and perhaps a few more steals. If given the choice, avoiding the downside risk of Polanco going cold at the dish for an extended period seems to be the most prudent path as options in the outfield are plentiful this year. —Nick Schlain