This may be the toughest area to draft this season. It feels like every player has his fair share of strengths and weaknesses. That means, at this point, don’t be afraid to reach up a round for the player you love, and never be afraid to fade a player that you just hate. Unlike rounds 1-5, people tend to shift away from drafting the best player available and look into team drafting to fill team composition If you went SP in the first 5 rounds and you see my target in round 6 is Aaron Nola then it’s always okay to pivot towards a bat like Xander Bogaerts. All of these Targets/Avoids are relative to how your draft is shaping up.
Let’s get into the good stuff now:
Target: Aaron Nola (65.3) – AP
That Aaron Nola, he’s so hot right now. Nola feels like cheating here just because he is currently the darling of so many in the fantasy baseball community. The 25-year-old currently possesses one of the top curveballs in the game. Hitters have a career 20 (!) wRC+ against it, and a swing-strike rate of 19.1%. To pair with his wicked curve, Nola possesses a fastball that has increased in velocity since joining the bigs in 2015. He sat 92.3 MPH last season and can crank it up to 95+ when needed. He mixes in a change-up and sinker which hitters pound into the dirt. The Phillies pitcher is still putting it all together, and 2018 is the season I believe we get to truly see fully-evolved Aaron Nola. Hold onto your carpets because it’s going to be magical.
Target: Xander Bogaerts (73.3) – JG
Who is Xander Bogaerts? Nobody really knows what to expect out of the Red Sox’ young SS at this point, as he seems to be a wildly different player every season. The main knock against him in 2017 is that his power disappeared despite a rise in his LD%, likely due to a bad case of hitting too many ground balls. The new coaching staff in Boston should help to alleviate this issue as they’ve reportedly been focusing on getting the entire lineup to hit more balls in the air. If Bogaerts to find the power that he showed in 2016, he could be a legitimate steal at this ADP.
Avoid: Billy Hamilton (71.3) – AP
My pal Jason over here loves to compare any player who steals bases at a reasonable rate to Delino Deshields. Deshields currently has an ADP of 191. Well, I’m going to steal one out of Jason’s playbook and ask, why go for Hamilton now, when Deshields is 100 picks cheaper. Fun fact: despite never having more than 500 at-bats in a season, Deshields has more 75+ run seasons than Billy Hamilton. In 2017 Hamilton produced just his first season of 75 or more runs. Hamilton kills you in every category but stolen bases and that is just something that I can do without.
Avoid: Daniel Murphy (71.0) – JG
I could just say that Daniel Murphy isn’t going to see a major league field until June and that would be enough to justify avoiding him at this price, but let’s dig a little deeper. The former Mets castoff has one of the highest floors at 2B when he’s healthy, but there are concerning signs of decline from the second half of 2017. Last season, Murphy struck at out a clip he hasn’t seen since before his fly-ball revolution-fueled breakout and saw a spike in his soft contact rate of almost 5%. Some of this could be attributed to the litany of nagging injuries he suffered in the second half but combined with the fact that he’ll miss the first third of the season because of his knee, I’m staying far away from Murphy unless he drops a few more rounds.
Target: Jean Segura (75.2) – AP
Segura was one of just five SS to steal 20 bases in 2017 (Turner, Andrus, Reyes, Peraza) and he only needed 125 games to accomplish it. Segura may never get back to his monster, Chase Field-aided 2016 season, but at 75th overall you aren’t going to expect that production. He is fully capable of producing a 15HR-25SB line (15HR/29SB pace per 162 in 2017) while maintaining an average at or above .300. This season he will be hitting second in an underrated offense that now features Dee Gordon at the top of the order. Ideally, he can provide value equal to what you would be paying for Alex Bregman in the 3rd round.
Target: Gerrit Cole (76.3), Whit Merrifield (78.3) – JG
I think both of these guys are being undervalued, and which one you target here depends entirely on your team composition at this point in your draft. If you waited on pitching like I do, you might be looking to grab your second starter here. In that case, look no further than Gerrit Cole, who’s primed for a strong rebound year in his new digs in Houston. Cole’s struggles over the past 18 months have largely stemmed from hitters teeing up on his two- and four-seam fastballs. Luckily for him, he’s now with a team that has one of the lowest fastball utilization rates in the entire league. The Astros have shown an affinity for taking flawed or inconsistent pitchers and getting the best out of them by leaning heavily on their best offspeed pitch (McCullers’ curveball, Verlander’s slider/curve). Look for them to do the same with Cole.
If you need a hitter here and didn’t grab one of the top options at the most shallow position in fantasy, you could do a lot worse than Whit Merrifield. He’s going to hurt for counting stats as part of a gutted Royals lineup, but there are few players at this point in the draft who offer the power/speed combo that Merrifield does. None of the underlying stats point to a regression from his breakout 2017 campaign, so feel safe plugging 15-20 homers and 30 stolen bases into your lineup if you grab Merrifield here.
Avoid: Shohei Ohtani (80.3) – AP
This price is just inflated beyond what I’m comfortable with. I wouldn’t label myself an Ohtani hater, and I believe he will eventually grow into an upper-echelon fantasy pitcher, but that time is not now. He is currently going in front of his country-mate Masahiro Tanaka as well as new NL East pitcher Jake Arrieta. Unlike Ohtani (and his 27 ERA this spring), these are two players who have shown they have the ability get MLB hitters out. His bat has not manifested itself yet either and adds only a little bit of value to his profile in fantasy despite the novelty of it. In 2017, I believe we will see glimpses of the Ohtani people are buying at this price, but only sporadically.
Avoid: Eric Hosmer (80.5) – JG
I get that it’s exciting when a high profile player moves to a new team with a shiny new lineup around him. But the high profile player we’re talking about is still Eric Hosmer, and like most of you, I prefer it when my 1B has some power in his bat. Hosmer will now play the majority of his games in a division full of terrible hitters parks (RIP pre-humidor Chase) and doesn’t have the speed to make up for the lack of power with some stolen bases like teammate Wil Myers. This is just too high to pick a contact-first 1B with no power who won’t contribute significantly to your counting stats because of the weak lineup around him. Pass hard on Hosmer here and go for his teammate Myers instead.
Target: Kenneth Giles (94.8) – AP
Giles is the current closer for the reigning World Series champions, and for a team that threatens to win more than 100 games for the second straight season. That in itself should be causing your ears to perk up. Now, let me tell you this. In the second half of the season, Giles produced a 38.3% K-rate with a 1.19 ERA, while dropping his walk-rate down to 7%. He has the ability, and the save opportunities to jump up to the top tier of closers and you can get him cheaply in the 8th round. In the last article, I said to avoid Kimbrel because you can find saves later. This is the “later” to which I was referring. If Giles is not available, Diaz or Rivero are good options too.
Target: Domingo Santana (93.7) – JG
Santana is only 25 years old and has one of the most intriguing combinations of tools in the majors. His sweet swing is ideal for power without the burden of pop-ups and lazy fly balls as evidenced by his top-20 average exit velocity in 2017. He has legitimate 35-40 home run power in his bat and should be locked into the middle of a strong Brewers lineup that will give him plenty of opportunities to rack up the counting stats. Almost as a bonus, Santana has legitimate speed on the base paths as well. If he can match the 15 stolen bases he put up last season while fulfilling his full power potential, he could be a potential fantasy championship winning stud that you can get in the 8th round.
Avoid: Miguel Sano (101.8) – AP
Sano currently has a cabinet full of concerns at the moment, and you can see why his ADP has plummeted recently. According to NFBC, Sano’s ADP around Christmas time was in the 80 range. He’s fallen partly due to the sexual assault accusations against him, which threatens to potentially be a lengthy suspension. On top of his legal troubles, Sano is coming off a surgically repaired shin, which kept him out of conditioning over the winter. The lack of conditioning, in turn, lead to Sano joining his teammates in Florida overweight. This is like a holy trio of things that steer me away from a player. When fully healthy, and on the field, Sano does produce, and he did hit 28 HR in 114 games. Sano’s on the field production just can’t make up for all the question marks that I have. Let someone else take this risk.
Avoid: Jake Arrieta (92.5) – JG
It feels crazy to be avoiding a pitcher who’s had the third-best ERA in baseball over the past four seasons, but something just feels off about Arrieta now. His signature crossbody delivery is just as much responsible for his failures as it his for his successes, and the inconsistent control that comes with it seems to be taking a major toll. His slider, which was incredibly dominant as recently as two seasons ago, has been all but abandoned due to a loss of control and there could be more trouble on the horizon. Looking at results, it’s easy to see how a further decline could be coming based on his lagging velocity and rising ERA. Arrieta will still be useful in some capacity in fantasy this year, but more so as your fourth or fifth starter than your second or third.
Target: David Price (103.2) – AP
Since 2010, David Price has thrown 180+ innings in every season but 2017. He threw over 220 innings in the three seasons leading up to last year. Then 2017 happened, and Price has now become known as an “injury risk”. Yes, he did battle injuries last season, but that isn’t the career norm for him. His first season with the Red Sox in 2016 was a disappointment, fueled by the jump in his HR/FB rate. His sinker/curveball usage jumped from 6.9%/6.3% all the way to a massive 19%/28.6% respectively. When healthy, David Price is a workhorse who can bring the same amount to the table as pitchers like Lester, Ohtani, and Arrieta, all of whom are going in front of the lefty.
Target: Raisel Iglesias (106.7) – JG
Iglesias finally got his shot as the Reds’ full time closer in 2017, and he impressed mightily. He struck out nearly 11 hitters per nine innings and posted a sub-2.50 ERA across a career-low 76 innings of work. While he probably won’t be in line for more than 30 saves or so because of the overall weakness of the Reds’ pitching staff, he should be able to maintain the high strikeout totals and low home run rates that were key to his 2017 success. If you didn’t reach for one of the top closers, Iglesias is a great way to start building your fantasy bullpen.
Avoid: Alex Wood (104.7) – AP
Do you like roller coasters? If your answer is a resounding yes, then I think Alex Wood may be your new favorite starting pitcher. Wood wowed people within the community last season with his outstanding 1st half. He produced a 1.67 ERA (2.04 FIP/ 2.58 xFIP) in 80.2 innings with a 30.9 K-rate, while holding batters to a measly .177 BAA. The second half was a bit more difficult for the lefty. He managed a 3.89 ERA (4.76 FIP/ 4.19 xFIP) in 71.2 innings and saw his K-rate drop to a worrying 18%. Meanwhile, hitters fared much better against Wood with a 0.259 BAA. So which was the real Alex Wood? While I can’t say with a 100% certainty (no one truly can), I lean towards a slightly better version of second-half Wood. The second half splits are not the only concerns with the Dodgers starter, he comes with those scary health issues. While he bounced back from only throwing 60.1 IP in 2016 to posting 152.1 frames this past season, he showed signs that he barely made it through (fastball velocity dropped 3 MPH from April to September). Don’t be fooled by Wood’s shiny 2.72 ERA; he may be closer to the 3.84 pitcher we saw in 2015.
Avoid: Ryan Braun (105.2) – JG
Braun is no longer the 30/30 fantasy superstar that he was earlier in his career, and mounting injuries combined with some new acquisitions by the Brewers have begun to cut into his formerly guaranteed playing time. 2017 was only the second season of his career that he failed to surpass 500 plate appearances and it resulted in the lowest full season home run total of his career thus far. If Braun is healthy and doesn’t see as many maintenance days off this season, he could surpass 20/20 again, giving him some decent value, but the acquisition of Christian Yelich in the offseason plus the breakout of Domingo Santana last season makes any guarantee about Braun’s performance or playing time difficult to rely on. Let someone else take the risk at this price.
Target: Zack Godley (111.8) – AP
Godley is my man crush this draft season. He posses a curveball that will make you weak in the knees; a sinker that is so devastating that it causes even you, a reader, to hit it into the ground; and then mixes in a change-up that hitters fail to square up (0 HR allowed, .063 ISO against). Godley is truly a unique starting pitcher because of his ability to sustain a high ground-ball rate at 55.3% (9th highest among SP with at least 100 innings) and an elite K/9 (27th). Among pitchers with a 55% or more ground ball rate, Godley was one of two pitchers who maintained an 8+ K/9. Godley will be pitching in the new Chase Field that features a humidor, and while he relies on ground-balls it will still be an added benefit to his season.
Target: Chris Taylor (111.5) – JG
Chris Taylor is the latest beneficiary of the fly ball revolution in LA. His tutelage under the Dodgers’ star 3B Justin Turner paid huge dividends in 2017 as the super utility man nearly compiled a 20/20 campaign while more than quadrupling his previous career highs in every counting stat. None of the underlying figures point to a regression, and the Dodgers’ relative lack of depth at 2B and in the outfield should guarantee Taylor plenty of playing time. His likely position as leadoff man for one of the elite teams in the league is a boon for his counting stats as well.
Avoid: DJ Lemahieu (112.7) – AP
There is something about Lemahieu that just doesn’t do it for me. The .300 average in three straight seasons is pretty on the surface, but in H2H leagues (which I typically play) it can still be volatile on a week-to-week basis. His ground-ball rate is always over 50%, so the power should stay around 8-12. 2016 seems to be the peak we see from Lemahieu, and in the 10th round, you can take this bet. Go for it. But If you want to wait a few rounds and target someone with more upside like say, Ian Happ, Ozzie Albies, or Yoan Moncada. Lemahieu is a safe option who will most likely produce another .300/85R/8HR/60RBI/10SB season, or you can live life on the edge like me, and take the hot new thing later in the draft.
Avoid: Wade Davis (109.2) – JG
I’m always wary of drafting any Rockies pitcher this high, even after the surprisingly competent season that Greg Holland posted as the closer in Coors last season. With Holland gone, Wade Davis was brought in to take over the 9th inning duties and cap off a rejuvenated bullpen. Davis was excellent for the Cubs in 2017, but Wrigley and Coors are entirely different animals and Davis was noticeably worse in the second half of 2017. His FIP more than doubled along with a sharp increase in his HR/FB rate. The worst possible thing that a pitcher can do as part of the Rockies’ staff is post an inflated HR/FB rate, so consider letting someone else take the hit on Davis while you search for less risky saves elsewhere.