keyboard_arrow_uptop

Earlier this week, George Bissell wrote about five NL starting pitchers to watch and Greg Wellemeyer wrote about five AL starting pitchers to watch. I’m going to perform the same trick for the NL hitter pool, picking five players who make interesting draft day value propositions.

Devin Mesoraco

NFBC ADP: 297, 16th at C

Back in January, I wrote abut Devin Mesoraco as a player to target at catcher in the National League and my feelings about the 28-year-old have not changed since then. The downside is obvious: he has only played 39 games combined over the last two seasons, 23 in 2015 and 16 in 2016. It’s hard to find a position player with bigger questions marks about his health headed into 2017. With his NFBC ADP at 297, it’s hard to see any downside to selecting Mesoraco, since players taken that late are often dropped for free agent or waiver wire pickups during the season. You won’t be picking him as your top catcher in two-catcher leagues, you’ll be picking him as your second catcher (at best). You won’t be picking him as your starter in one-catcher leagues, you’ll be picking him as your backup.

When it comes to late picks like this, I prefer picking players with some legitimate upside as well as a considerable amount of risk rather than players with limited upside that offer a safer profile with regards to health and performance. These are players you’re likely to drop during the season anyway, so an injury or abysmal performance doesn’t really change much. And when it comes to upside, few players near this ADP have the kind of potential that Cincinnati’s backstop offers. In 2014, before the two years that were wasted by injury, Mesoraco hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 home runs, 80 RBI, 54 runs, and one stolen base. That’s a hell of a line for anyone, much less a catcher. If he gets hurt again, so what? You took a low-cost gamble and it didn’t work out. But if he can stay in the lineup, you’ve got a slugging catcher on the right side of thirty pushing the guy you drafted 12 rounds earlier for playing time.

Tommy Joseph

NFBC ADP: 213, 16th at 1B

Given his lengthy injury history and mediocre performance over the last couple of seasons, expectations were low for Tommy Joseph headed into the 2016 season. One of those injuries, a concussion, moved him from catcher to first base permanently, putting more pressure on his bat since the offensive standard for a first baseman is a lot higher than the standard for a catcher. After spending the first month of 2016 raking in Triple-A, Joseph was promoted and started splitting time with Ryan Howard, who was in the last year of his massive contract. At first, the righty-hitting Joseph spelled Howard against lefties. As the season progressed, Howard struggled while Joseph thrived, leading to more playing time for the former catcher, even against righties.

By the end of 2016, Joseph had put together a .257/.308/.505 line with 21 home runs, 47 RBI, 47 runs and one stolen base over 347 plate appearances and 107 games. He proved that he could stay healthy for a full season, he proved that he could hit major-league pitching and he proved that he didn’t need a platoon partner. With Howard gone and no immediate competition for the job at first base in Philadelphia, Joseph should be a good source of power, and he’s doing it with an NFBC ADP of 213 and as the 16th first baseman off the board in NFBC leagues. That seems very low.

Brandon Crawford

NFBC ADP: 248, 16th at SS

He isn’t part of the young generation of shortstops taking over MLB right now, and he’s unlikely to ever get anywhere near an MVP conversation. Also, as of January, he’s on the wrong side of 30. There’s nothing exciting about Brandon Crawford, and that’s why nobody is reaching for him in drafts, or even taking him around where he should go.

The main reason to pick Crawford is his reliability. He has played at least 143 games in each of his five full seasons, making him as safe a bet as there is for a full slate of plate appearances and the counting stats that go along with them. And while his home run total dropped from 21 in 2015 to 12 in 2016, he did improve his average from .256 to .275, bump his walk rate from 7.0 percent to 9.1 percent, and decrease his strikeout rate from 21 percent to 19 percent. Modest gains, to be sure, and it looks like the home run spike from 2015 was as fluky as it seemed at the time, but there’s genuine value in the kind of steady, near-guaranteed production that Crawford provides. He won’t be in the top three among shortstops by the end of the year, but he’ll definitely rank higher than 16th among shortstops, which is where he’s being drafted in NFBC.

Hunter Pence

NFBC ADP: 209, 49th at OF

After playing 154 games in seven straight seasons, Hunter Pence managed only 52 games in 2015 and 106 in 2016. He’ll also be 34 next month and he doesn’t steal bases any more, so his stock isn’t exactly on the rise. It seems like roto owners are overreacting to his injury issues over the last couple of seasons, though, picking 48 outfielders before him.

All indications are that Pence is completely healthy in Spring Training. If he stays that way, he should hit the 20-homer mark while driving in plenty of runs in the middle of the Giants’ lineup while hitting for his usual high batting average. The market is over-correcting for his injury woes in 2015 and 2016. Take advantage.

And for what it’s worth, I was tempted to select the 16th-ranked outfielder here just to keep the streak going from the first three picks. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Odubel Herrera

NFBC ADP: 120, 28th at OF

Last year, Odubel Herrera provided a ton of value for owners who picked him up in the draft, coming out of obscurity to hit .286/.361/.420 with 15 home runs, 25 steals, 49 RBI, and 87 runs in 656 plate appearances. His numbers last year moved his ADP up quite a bit, but not as high as they should have, especially in the current low-steals context.

Some of the concerns around Herrera involve the curious case of his disappearing plate discipline. He had 23 walks in April and 11 in May, then didn’t have double digits in any other month in a comparable number of games for the rest of the season. Pretty odd, but even if his April patience never returns, his power/speed combination should make him more than the 28th best outfielder in the game this year.