(Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Do you smell that? That sweet, sweet smell of wings and beer which can mean only one thing. It’s draft season finally. Jason (JG) and I (AP) are back for our 2019 edition of our favorite draft targets and players we are avoiding in the first 5 rounds. We did this last year as you can see here. Overall, we had some pretty solid hits last year with suggestions to target Yelich in the 5th, deGrom in the 4th while avoiding the likes of Josh Donaldson, Buster Posey, and Dee Gordon. There were some whiffs to be fair (avoiding Jose Ramirez because you thought the power wasn’t sustainable). Overall we thought it would be helpful to bring this back for the new baseball season.
All ADP data is from FantasyPros which aggregates it from all the major fantasy websites (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, RT Sports, NFBC, FanTrax)
This is based on ADP, but players tend to fall in drafts. Our opinions typically change as players fall. For example, I (AP) say I’m avoiding Lindor at his 11 ADP, but if he is there at 25? I’m back in. So take these with a grain of salt and be open to adapting. Unless it is noted, we are typically talking with H2H in mind since that is our “preferred” format to play.
Target – Ronald Acuna (11) – AP
After the big two of Trout and Betts, I often find myself daydreaming about taking Acuna with the 3rd pick. This may seem like a risky investment in a 21-year-old with only 100 games in the bigs but his combination of speed and power is rivaled only by few in the league. Acuna boasts a top-20 barrel rate (8.7%), the 40th highest exit velocity (90.9) which mix with a 90-Ft running split of 3.75 seconds which is on par with Billy Hamilton and faster than Trea Turner and Mike Trout. The only weaknesses may come with his batting average, as his .293 average last season comes paired with an expected average of .269. Even then, that is not a killer in any way. The Bat currently projects Acuna for a fantasy slash of .272/97R/31HR/89RBI/23SB, but I can see a scenario he pushes past those counting stats.
Target – Bryce Harper (17.5) – JG
Much like Austin, I dream about taking an NL East outfielder at 3rd overall once Trout and Betts are off the board. Unlike Austin, the outfielder that I dream of is the newest member of the Philadelphia Phillies, the 300 million dollar man, Bryce Harper. We know who Harper is at this point. His MVP season may have been the extreme outlier of his career so far but by any metrics, he is still one of the elite hitters in MLB. The reason I give Harper (and Judge, who is essentially the exact same player but in the ALE) this bump is because outfield is more shallow right now than it’s been in fantasy for as long as I can remember and you almost have to grab one of the top tier OFs if you hope to compete. Harper is the best value of that group (Trout, Mookie, Acuna, Judge, JDM, Yelich) so he’s the obvious choice for me.
Avoid – Francisco Lindor (11) – AP
This feels like cheating due to the injury with Lindor, but overall Lindor is someone I am not touching until the late 2nd round. In March his ADP has pushed down to 15 in 71 drafts in NFBC, which seems fair. We saw what a calf injury did to Donaldson’s season last year, and while Lindor is not Donaldson it’s a risk that I am fine with letting other owners deal with.
Avoid – Trea Turner (8.5) – JG
Fair warning, what follows is exactly what I wrote about Trea Turner in this column last year, and for me nothing has changed:
Full disclosure, it’s easy to find a first round player to avoid, and his name is Trea
1. 20 home runs
2. Steals are not as hard to come by as the fantasy community thinks
3. In the top 10, you’re better off grabbing someone who will solidly contribute in all five categories rather than someone who will only be elite in two categories
Target – Trevor Story (22.2) – AP
In 2018 we saw Story put up career bests in nearly every major hitting category including lowering his K-rate to 25.6%, his SwStrk rate to 11.4% and seeing his Contact rate jump to 77.4% which is actually above league average. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a sucker for a guy who can contribute both power and steals in the first two rounds. It’s the perfect way to give your team a solid foundation to build upon. I don’t think it will happen in 2019 but there is a very real timeline that Story can go 30/30 in 2019 and with an ADP of 22.2 I’ll take him over the likes of Alex Bregman, Javy Baez, and Manny Machado.
Target – Gerrit Cole (27.3) – JG
I like Cole for much the same reason I like Harper (see above). There’s a clear top tier of starting pitchers (Scherzer, Sale, deGrom, Verlander, Kluber, Nola, Cole, Snell) and Cole is easily the best value out of the group in the late 2nd/early 3rd. It also helps that Cole is coming off a season where he posted career bests in WHIP and strikeouts, and his best ERA since he finished 4th in NL Cy Young voting in 2015. And for those who say he got lucky or that his 2018 season was a fluke, there’s the fact that his 2018 wOBA was only four hundredths of a percentage point (0.004) below his xwOBA. This new and improved Gerrit Cole is here to stay.
Avoid – Corey Kluber (21) – AP
Father time remains undefeated, and in 2018 it looks like father time is starting to catch up with Klubot. He saw his strikeout rate drop from an otherworldly 34.1% in 2017 to only 26.4% last year. Hitters squared up Kluber more than in the past as well with an 87.3 MPH exit velocity (85 MPH in 2017) and a 6.4% Barrel rate (5.5% in 2017). I don’t expect a full fall off yet, and a mid 3 ERA is still most likely in the cards but his price is just too rich for me this year. I would rather wait till the 3rd round and grab another Indians starter.
Avoid – Blake Snell (28.5) – JG
Unlike Gerrit Cole, there are plenty of indicators that suggest that Snell’s 2018 Cy Young campaign was a bit of a fluke. He posted the lowest wOBA, ERA, and WHIP of his career despite also posting career highs in Barrel % (7.2%), Hard Hit % (32.1%) and average exit velocity (87.0 MPH). Those are far from terrible numbers and you can confidently draft him and expect a mid 3s ERA and 200 strikeouts, but you could also get those same numbers from a few pitchers in the 3rd and 4th round so why give up the surplus value by drafting Snell here?
Target – Trevor Bauer (37.2) – AP
As I mentioned in the Kluber write up before I actually prefer to get my first starter in this range this year. I typically snag Bauer in the third (above ADP). The Indians eccentric starter was well on his way to a potential Cy Young campaign before being struck by a comebacker on his right ankle. The controversial righty has all the ingredients that I love to target in a fantasy starting pitcher. He has 4 different pitchers with a SwStrk rate of over 15% (Change, Cutter, Slider, Curveball) and a GB-rate above 60% on each of his slider, changeup and sinker. He has the rare ability to get whiffs and groundballs that I absolutely adore (dammit 2018 Zack Godley). I would be remiss to not mention that Bauer pitches in the AL central and will be facing off against three of the worst lineups in the majors who all ranked in the bottom 6 in team wOBA last season (White Sox 24th, Royals 25th, Tigers 27th).
Target – Starling Marte (36.3) – JG
Remember six paragraphs ago when I told you not to draft Trea Turner with a top 10 pick? Starling Marte is part of the reason why.
Trea Turner 2018
740 PAs, 19 HR, 103 R, 73 RBI, 43 SB, .271 AVG
Starling Marte 2018
606 PAs, 20 HR, 81 R, 72 RBI, 33 SB, .277 AVG
Not to mention that in 2018, post-PED Marte posted the best ISO of his career along with career high exit velocity and Barrel %. You may be scared by Marte reaching the big 30 but he’s yet to fail to reach 30 stolen bases in a full season in his career. Even if he does dip below 30 SB for the first time, 20+ homers and 20+ steals is fantastic value in the late 3rd round range.
Avoid – Andrew Benintendi (29.8) – AP
I personally don’t really see the value of Benintendi being this high in the slightest. It’s as if people are drafting him as if this huge power surge is coming despite middling barrel rates and exit velocity. This is no slander versus the dynamic left fielder, I just like other OF options later in the draft. For example, let’s look at some projections based on The Bat (among the most accurate projection systems in 2018)
Andrew Benintendi – ADP 29.3
645 PA/ .287 AVG/94 R/18 HR/79 RBI/18 SB
Victor Robles – ADP 95.3
542 PA/.279 AVG/85 R/17 HR/69 RBI/25 SB
Avoid – Luis Severino (39.8) – JG
This is an easy take with Severino’s Spring Training Injury, but I’ve always been wary of drafting Severino as my SP1 and the injury risk has always been the big reason why. The 3rd round is also a little high to be drafting a SP who is the model of inconsistency. Through the All Star break in 2018, Sev looked like he’d finally figured it all out, and yet finished with a higher ERA and WHIP and fewer strikeouts than in 2017. His stuff took a noticeable step back in the second half along with his velocity, and the possibility of a nagging injury in 2019 screams “STAY AWAY”
Target – Anthony Rendon (43.2) – AP
He may not be as sexy as Vladdy Jr but Rendon is quietly and consistently one of the top hitters in the MLB. His .308 AVG was fuelled by an xBA of .306 (5th highest among qualified hitters), and his .535 slugging percentage was again fuelled by an xSLG of .545 (7th highest). Despite the departure of Bryce Harper, the Nationals 3rd basemen will continue to be an anchor in the middle of the order and rack up the consistent 25 HR/80 R/90 RBI that Rendon seems to bring yearly. He may be “boring” but boring will win you provide value more often over the shiny new toys.
Target – Khris Davis (40.5) – JG
Is there any player less sexy but more consistent than Khris Davis? Of course he’s the renowned Mr .247 but he’s also startlingly consistent in a number of other stats. Over the past three seasons, his Barrel % and average exit velocity are closely stuck to his period average. Yes, he’s going to strike out a lot and won’t be a huge help in the average department unless you play in a league that awards points for players who get closest to .247, but there’s no more consistent source of high-end power in the league right now and an improving A’s lineup should help his counting stats as well.
Avoid – Vlad Guerrero Jr (47) – AP
This avoid is not really about Vladdy Jr but instead Rendon. When given the option I am going to take the third basemen who has already shown multiple years of production. Vlad has shown an 80 hit tool in the minors which is insanely rare and I fully expect him to rake when he gets over his oblique injury and service time manipulation. If he drops a few rounds because of this recent injury and I can nab him in the 60 ADP range then I am back in.
Avoid – Adalberto Mondesi (48) – JG
I have to admit, the power/speed combo is very very compelling. But in 2018, Mondesi outperformed his xwOBA by almost 40 points and his xwOBACON by almost 100 to go along with a near-sub.300 OBP. Mondesi is the definition of a high risk high reward guy but this is way way way too early in the draft to take a guy who could bust as hard as Mondesi could bust. Shades of Jon Villar going into 2017. Avoid at all costs.
Target – Mike Clevinger (63) – AP
As someone who was a huge Mike Clevinger fan and was one of the many people who had him as a “sleeper” last season (http://sixmanrotation.com/2018-sleeper-candidate-mike-clevinger/). Maybe I just really like writing about Indians starting pitchers okay, don’t judge me. Like Bauer, Clevinger gets the added benefit of pitching in the AL Central which is just terrible. While his fastball doesn’t knock your socks off, his off-speed offerings will. His slider and curveball both have 18% SwStrk rates and a wRC+ below 40. He seems a safe bet for 200 IP at a 9 K/9 and excellent ratios. Realistically at this point of the draft, I want to try and nab my second starter, and typically that is Clevinger but “settling” for Taillon or Flaherty is still great.
Target – Jameson Taillon (65) – JG
In 2018, Taillon finally got the chance to show what he can do over a full, healthy season and he did not disappoint. He missed bats at a higher frequency than at any prior point in his major league career and posted a sub-5% barrel % showing his ability to limit hard contact. He has swing and miss stuff but his questionable ability to go deep into games may limit his strikeout upside. Still, 200 Ks with a sub 3.5 ERA is totally possible here in 2019 and that’s fantastic value at this spot. If you miss out on one of the elite arms, Taillon could anchor a championship fantasy staff easily enough.
Avoid – Ozzie Albies (52) – AP
After a blazing start to the 2018 season, the young second basemen slashed just .251/.293/.402 with 10HR/8SB from June onwards. Albies batted ball profile doesn’t hint that his 24 HR is a sustainable skill after hitting just 16 total in the minors. He possesses below MLB average barrel rates (4.7%), Hard% (per baseballsavant), and exit velocity (86.3 MPH). I fully expect his 105 runs to dip lower as well with Albies being shift down in the Braves lineup this year. His 105 runs last season were heavily influenced by spending 78% of his games hitting either first or second in a good Braves lineup. Overall, his speed is still legit and gives him a solid floor, but in the fifth round, he is just a tad too rich for my blood.
Avoid – Gary Sanchez (61) – JG
I’ve long been a proponent of waiting on catching. The position is so volatile and outside of legends like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, consistency is hard to come by. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a catcher with the offensive upside of Gary Sanchez, and his position in the heart of a ridiculous Yankees lineup gives him a solid floor. If everything goes right for Sanchez he could be a top 20 or so hitter overall but there are high ceiling pitchers later on in the draft that could give you similar production without the high price of a 5th round pick. Fade Gary here, but look towards other teams in the AL East for solid catchers in late rounds.