With the weekend of our first regular-season game approaching, it’s time for my final and favorite column of the preseason.
We’ve been doing rankings and analysis here for the last three months and hopefully they’ve been helpful to you as you sort through all of the information that leads (or has led) to your most important draft decisions. And so as we arrive at the endgame of draft season, it seems only fitting to focus on the endgame of drafts. It’s the most interesting aspect of team construction, as individual owners’ valuation only gets more divergent as initial roster construction draws to a close. As I’ve said many times, finishing out your draft strong is a must if you want to win your league.
So the list assembled below is not all of the players worth targeting towards the end of drafts and auctions, but just the ones that I personally have my eye on. The ones who will end up in my queue once I need to start rationing out my roster spots. And since we all play in different-sized leagues, these endgame targets should reflect a variety of formats, starting with your more standard 12-team mixed leagues and ending with reserve picks I like in single-league formats. Finally, there’s one important thing this list is not—and that is my picks for elite, breakout seasons. Sure, there are some players in here who may have that upside, but on the whole, these are players who could outperform their current draft spot in a meaningful way. After all, a dollar player that returns $7 of value is just as valuable as your fourth-rounder returning second round value.
So here are 20 players, spread out over a wide range of formats, who are being taken outside the top 250 in ADP per the most recent NFBC data. And here they are, broken out by league type (though all with standard 5×5 roto in mind):
12-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES
Danny Duffy, LHP, Kansas City Royals (ADP: 258)
Look, I’m as shocked as you are that a 26-year-old pitcher, and former top prospect, who has a 2.44 ERA over the last two seasons is being taken outside the top 250 in mixed leagues this year. He may not be a great bet to pitch 200-plus innings in 2015, but he’ll still be pitching in a very friendly ballpark half the time in front of one of the best defenses in the league.
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 259)
The somewhat-expected demotion of Javier Baez opens up all the playing time that Alcantara can handle, and while he’s not going to be as great of an option in OBP leagues, standard 5x5ers won’t have to worry about his propensity for aggression at the plate. He could come close to a 20-20 season with multi-position eligibility to boot. Sure, he could hit .230, but this isn’t the seventh round.
Adam Lind, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 283)
I’ve long been a fan of Lind, and my excitement is generally only hampered by his back problems. So while they still haven’t gone away, neither has the optimism. Lind was a top-10 first baseman last year on a per-at-bat basis, and he’s moving to a similarly hitter-friendly ballpark in the friendlier league. Health is always paramount here, but in mixed leagues, there are guys on the wire to fill in.
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St Louis Cardinals (ADP: 288)
While my heart hurts for having to not only see Jaime Garcia with another set back with his shoulder, but for having to delete his name from this file just days before publish, it is brightened somewhat with the chance that Martinez is being given. His stuff has always been unquestioned, and he now has the chance to show the Cardinals that he deserves the chance to stick in the rotation.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 301)
The Diamondbacks may not have much of a pitching staff, but they still project to have an average lineup in a high-octane park—and Hill will occupy a spot in the middle of it. A quick glance suggests that it’s been two straight down seasons for the second baseman, but his strong 2013 season was just cut short by injury. He could bounce back with 20-plus homers and a .280 average this year.
A.J. Burnett, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 314)
It’s easy analysis just to say that a return to a pitchers’ park and Ray Searage will help Burnett get back to near his 2013 value, but those two things are pretty big deals. So is the difference between the defenses on the opposite coasts of Pennsylvania. His WHIP will never be a source of pride, but Burnett could be a top-50 starter in 2015.
Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 320)
The drastic drop in stolen bases from the once speed-laced Bourn is jarring, as he went from 61 steals in 2011 to 10 steals in 2014. However, he was dealing with a left hamstring issue for a good portion of the season and, by all accounts, feels good this spring. At just 32, it’s not difficult to envision a 90-run, 25-steal campaign—but the Bourn of old isn’t coming back.
16-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES
Wilmer Flores, SS, New York Mets (ADP: 356)
Flores’ defense may be the butt of many NY-area jokes, but no one jokes around about the bat. Like Alcantara, he’ll be less useful in OBP leagues, but Flores could hit .270 with 15 homers—which would likely make him a top-10 shortstop in this environment, defense be damned.
C.J. Wilson, LHP, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 375)
The last four months of the 2014 season were nothing short of terrible for the left-hander of national commercial fame, but it may have been aided by a hip injury that Wilson pitched through. Even with that factored in, Wilson still had a 3.68 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning at home in 2014. So start him out as a home-only guy and see if he earns more than that in season.
Travis Snider, OF, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 380)
The fact that Snider is going more than 100 picks behind an injured Michael Saunders is borderline criminal. Both players have disappointed in the past and are moving from very unfriendly environments to the exact opposite. In addition to that, Snider hit .288/.356/.524 in the second half last year, while taking away playing time from Gregory Polanco.
Brett Anderson, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 384)
If Anderson was a worthy endgame pick in deep mixed leagues last year, there’s no reason people shouldn’t be all over him this year now that he’s not in Coors Field. The Dodgers will roll him out there for as long as he’s healthy, and if another ailment strikes, just hit the wire. However, this is a much more recommended play in deep mixed than an NL-only.
David Freese, 3B, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 397)
The former World Series hero had a tough season in 2014, but the transition from the National League to the American League can require an adjustment period. Of course, that adjustment period may have just been the first three months of the season, as Freese hit .282/.333/.456 with eight homers from July 1st on—which is about what most expected coming into the season.
Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 457)
There are few people left on the Gibson bandwagon, although to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m even one of them at this point. However, before slowing down at the end of his longest season, Gibson had an ERA right around 4.00 and was serviceable even in deeper mixed leagues. With his stronghold on a rotation spot, he’s worth more than his $2 price tag from AL Tout Wars.
Jake Smolinski, OF, Texas Rangers (ADP: 521)
Things can be tough for a short right-right outfielder, at least in terms of getting the opportunities they might deserve, however Smolinski hadn’t quite earned it with his career minor league line of .263/.354/.397 at the time he got his call up last year. But with the fourth outfield spot in hand now, he should find his way into 250-300 at bats, mostly against left-handers, and could hit .270 with a smattering of homers and steals.
Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 506)
If it feels like I’ve been talking about DeSclafani for months, it’s because I probably have—and while I’m glad to see him lock down the rotation spot in Cincinnati, let’s be honest about what he is and what he’s not. I am not expecting any sort of breakout that makes him worth owning in all mixed leagues, but a potential 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 18-20 percent strikeout rate are within reach, despite the ballpark. There’s certainly profit where he’s being taken.
Carlos Quentin, OF, San Diego Padres (ADP: 638)
You know it’s bad when you’re going behind the wrong Michael Taylor. Despite the fact that Quentin got buried this offseason under a pile of new corner outfielders, he was always a terrible bet to get more than 300 at bats anyway. In this situation, he could get a good portion of those at bats against left-handed starters, which is never a bad thing for Quentin. And if he’s traded, even better.
AL-ONLY FORMAT, RESERVE PICKS
Jesus Montero, 1B, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 620)
Yeah, I went there. We all saw the pictures at the beginning of the spring, and even though he didn’t hit much in his major league action, he won’t be far from Seattle if he comes out hitting in Tacoma. The players blocking him (Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley, Seth Smith) aren’t sure bets to be productive, and the talent that once made him an elite prospect are still dormant somewhere that svelte body of his.
Sean Nolin, LHP, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 680)
There was never really a competition between Nolin and Kendall Graveman for the last spot in the Athletics rotation coming out of the spring because of Nolin’s hernia surgery recovery and Graveman’s destruction of Cactus League batters. However, Nolin is the better prospect and long-term bet, and even if it doesn’t come at Graveman’s expense, I believe he’ll find his way into the rotation before midseason.
NL-ONLY FORMAT, RESERVE PICKS
Peter Bourjos, OF, St Louis Cardinals (ADP: 578)
If you’re going to gamble on someone in an NL-only reserve round, it might as well be someone who has been a $15-plus earner in the past and is saying all of the right things about his health this spring. He’s a worse hitter than Jon Jay, but still can play good defense and could see increased playing time over the course of the season if his hip is truly healthy.
Eury Perez, OF, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 606)
With the formidable duo of Melvin Upton and Eric Young Jr scheduled to patrol center field in Atlanta this season, it’s not tough to see why looking down the depth chart might be a good idea. Enter Perez, who has hit .310/.354/.411 with 63 steals in 193 Triple-A games, while providing above-average defense. If he gets a chance, he could steal 20-plus bases in even a partial season.
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I would bet against both of them ever figuring it out. The safety that surrounds Alcantara is weird though. He will likely end up in the minors soon enough and Baez will take his place. Then we will have the same conversations only swapping the two names.