Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
He’s not the most exciting roto player. Elvis Andrus is reliable, though, and the things he does well are becoming more valuable thanks to the changing league context around him.
He has been in the majors for eight seasons and has played in at least 145 games in each of those eight seasons. He has stolen at least 21 bases in each of those seasons, too. In light of the fact that stolen bases have become less common, the steals that Andrus predictably supplies are increasingly valuable in roto. The Venezuelan shortstop also hit .302 last season, setting a career high. Despite the fact that he has eight seasons under his belt, Andrus will only be 28 in 2017, so he’s still in his physical prime. Everything points to little if any dropoff in 2017, even if nothing points towards a breakout.
Of course, in light of the league-wide home run spike in recent years, Andrus’ career high of eight homers is unimpressive. On the bright side, that total came last year, helping Andrus set a career high slugging percentage of .439, significantly higher than his previous best of .378. Andrus set those marks despite fighting through a sports hernia injury during the second half of the season. He had surgery in November and is expected to be completely healthy by Opening Day. He won’t put up a 20-20 season or anything close to it, but he’ll probably go for less than he’s worth in your league’s auction, and he’s as safe a bet as there is in fantasy. —Scooter Hotz
Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics
Last season only nine players paired at least 25 homers with at least 10 stolen bases. The list is littered with names like Trout, Betts, Dozier, Blackmon, and of course, Marcus Semien. While at first glance, he is the clear choice in a game of “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” However a closer look details subtle tweaks to his offensive profile that have turned the shortstop into a pretty valuable hitter. A career-high 14.7 percent HR/FB rate lead to Semien’s 27 home run outburst. Typically a HR/FB rate spike can be looked at with skepticism, but Semien’s bump correlated pretty closely with an increased fly-ball rate, stemming from a higher average launch angle. In addition, his power surge wasn’t tied to an unsettling jump in strikeouts, as his 22.4 percent rate hovered right around league average. He even managed to increase his walk rate in the process, as a sort of cherry on top.
Now for the bad news. Semien hit .238, which is only good if you’re a light-hitting pitcher. His .268 BABIP is at least partially to blame, as he displayed decent contact skills and limited his infield fly balls to a 6.5 percent clip. While his .266 TAv is only slightly above average, it’s certainly better than the meager number he managed in 2016, which leads to the belief that better rates are possible. Currently Semien is the 15th shortstop off the board according to NFBC ADP. If he can find a way to build the batting average back into even the .260 range, like he did in 2015, Semien could be great value late, especially if you wait on the position. —Mark Barry
Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets
Asdrubal Cabrera’s fantasy value wasn’t great last year largely because of poor counting stats. The Mets offense was pretty bad for most of the season. He finished 17th in both RBIs and runs scored at the position, and without much speed to steal bases, he just wasn’t particularly valuable in 5×5 standard. It’s being reflected in his current ADP of 275, the 19th SS off the board. But I have some reasons to believe he can outperform that draft slot in 2017.
First, what Cabrera could actually control outside of poor performance from his teammates was very good last year. Cabrera’s .810 OPS was fifth-best at shortstop, one point behind Carlos Correa’s .811 OPS. His 23 HR were seventh-best. His .280 AVG was eighth-best. With better performance from Mets teammates next year, hopefully on the back of a healthy return for Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, and others, Cabrera can get his R and RBI into a more respectable range, especially if he hits second in the order, which manager Terry Collins placed him in for much of the second half.
Most importantly, Cabrera may have made a swing adjustment after he came off the DL in the middle of August. After he came off the DL, Cabrera hit a ridiculous .345/.406/.635 with 10 HR and a .291 ISO in 165 PA. It wasn’t all just small sample outcome noise; Cabrera cut his swinging strike rate down from 11.7% before the DL to 7.5% after the DL.
Cabrera obviously won’t hit .345 with a 1.000 OPS for all of 2017, but I wonder if there is a real change in his hitting profile that might lead to a higher level of performance than we anticipate. Maybe there isn’t any change, and it’s all just randomness, but I’m willing to pay his current price to find out. —Tim Finnegan
Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
With football fresh on the brain, I’ll stick with a Super Bowl-related metaphor. Swanson is more like Julian Edelman than Julio Jones. While Jones possesses “off the charts” raw athleticism, blazing speed to stretch the field vertically, and the big-play ability to overpower smaller defenders in space after the catch, Edelman is a precise route-runner that carves up a defense in tight spaces close to the line of scrimmage. Swanson is a little bit like that. He’s not flashy, but excels at all facets of the game simultaneously with no glaring weaknesses. There isn’t a standout carrying tool, but he doesn’t need one to make a significant fantasy impact right away.
In the age of prospect proliferation, Swanson is the exact type of profile as a modest five-category contributor that is consistently underrated by fantasy owners. The perceived lack of home run or stolen base “upside” may be the driving force. I’ll concede that Swanson’s ceiling isn’t as enticing as the plethora of young superstars at the position right now, but we were saying these exact same things about Francisco Lindor two years ago.
The realistic floor is still very high and fantasy owners shouldn’t overlook the impact Swanson can have playing everyday in the heart of the Braves solid lineup. He was extremely impressive during his brief major-league debut, hitting .302/.361/.442 with 11 extra-base hits (three home runs) and three steals in 145 plate appearances. The lofty batting average, fueled by an impossibly high .383 BABIP, was a mirage. However, he should hit for a decent average, and the runs scored should be plentiful batting second in Atlanta. He could easily post double-digit home runs and steals in 2017. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but it is. —George Bissell
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Some players just have skill sets born for fantasy, and Anderson is one of them. He's most certainly not a perfect player. He's still very raw for a player who's logged a season and a half in the upper minors and nearly 100 games in the majors. He's never going to be a great on-base guy, and he's certainly never going to put up big walk totals. He's also always likely to have a good amount of swing and miss. Yet, the good strongly outweighs the bad here.
Speed is always going to be the calling card for the White Sox shortstop, even though he only stole 10 bases after getting the call on June 10. He has the ability to steal 30-plus and the rebuilding team to let him do just that. Beyond that, it comes down to the batting average, which hinges on him having at least non-disasterous discipline. During June and July, Anderson had 57 strikeouts and, amazingly, just two walks. So, while the 60 strikeouts and 11 walks he had from August 1 to the end of the season may not seem particularly good on its own, it's an improvement—and led to a .289/.325/.445 line in 234 plate appearances. And while, he did manage to hit nine homers, extrapolating that out to 15 over a full season is going to be a little rich.
Right now, Anderson is going as the 13th shortstop off the board and outside of the top-150. That may not sound like an incredible bargain—it's not—but he represents one of the last opportunities to get a potential impact shortstop in drafts this year. The position isn't as deep as you think, and the depth it does have lends itself to baseline production, not upside. There's a decent floor for Anderson given his relative lock on playing time, the steals and the ballpark. And still, the ceiling is there for a .280 hitter with double-digit homers, 30 steals and a slew of runs. —Bret Sayre
Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
This pick won't shock those of you who've followed along with my views on prospects for a few years, but yeah, I'm not afraid to double down here. Peraza has hit well and run well at every stop in his professional career. He can capably play 2B and SS, got some time in the OF last season and should factor prominently into the plans for a Reds team that wants to trade Brandon Phillips, could trade Zack Cozart and isn't overflowing with outfield talent. Maybe he only gets 350-400 PA this year instead of the full 550-600 I'd prefer, but that should be enough for him to serve as a top-20 second baseman. Per ESPN's player rater, Chris Owings finished 22nd among shortstops for hitting .277 with 21 steals. Peraza can do that and more, and while he's not a starter in 10-team leagues, he could be in 20-team formats. He's a potential useful bench bat (bench legs?) for those of you with daily roster changes, too. —Ben Carsley
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