When doing fantasy baseball drafts, it is important to know ahead of time the players that you want to avoid and the players that you want to target. Having this game plan in mind will help you in the flow of the draft to make quicker and easier decisions when you are on the clock. For players you want to avoid, just simply pay no attention to them and let some other sucker draft the soon to be bust. For players you want to target, keep an eye on them and know when the latest is that you might be able to draft them. Take a look at average draft position (ADP) stats and form some sort of plan. The worst thing that can happen in a draft is to not be prepared and having to end up making a panic pick as the clock winds down. Don’t let that happen to you! Below is a list of infielders who I personally would avoid or target.
AVOID: Matt Wieters
TARGET: Russell Martin, Travis d’Arnaud, Wilson Ramos
Matt Wieters is making his comeback from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in June of 2014. Some people will think that since he is not a pitcher, he should be able to come back from the procedure and right away perform near the same level that he was at before the injury. I thought that to be an erroneous belief, and this article over at FanGraphs confirms my notion. It would appear that hitters who undergo Tommy John surgery experience a noticeable decline in the authority with which they hit the ball, which is evidenced in a drop in their BABIP, slugging percentage, and HR/flyball rate. So although Wieters appears ready to go for the beginning of the season, I think that it would be foolish to expect Wieters to eclipse the 20 HR total in 2015. With a career .285 BABIP, he has never been adept at putting up an above average BABIP. So the lingering effects on his elbow after the surgery should bring that BABIP down even farther away from the league average, which is going to make it difficult for him to hit for a .250 AVG. Wieters current average ADP is around the 174th pick of drafts. Catchers in drafts that are going after Wieters that I would rather have include Russell Martin, Travis d’Arnaud, and Wilson Ramos.
Martin moves into a great situation in Toronto where he should be slated to bat second behind Jose Reyes and ahead of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson. Batting in front of those boppers should give him great run scoring potential and the home ballpark switch should help him to improve his HR total. Also, even though it’s not much, Martin probably has the most SB potential of any catcher. Lastly, let’s not discount the fact that Martin is a native of Canada and playing for the lone Canadian team in the Majors could give him an extra push to impress the people of his country. The youngster d’Arnaud could possibly be This Year’s Yan Gomes. He has great power potential as a catcher and is coming off a solid second half of last year that was the result of an adjustment in his plate approach to be more aggressive. Ramos has had health issues of his own over the course of his career, but he is bound to stay healthy for one of these years and when he is healthy he produces as a top 10 catcher.
AVOID: Todd Frazier
TARGET: Brandon Belt
Frazier is coming off a career year where he hit .273 with 29 HR, 80 RBI, 88 R, 20 SB. Frazier is capable of coming close to matching those numbers this year in AVG, HR, RBI, and R, but I would not expect him to. But what I don’t see him capable of matching is that total of 20 SB. Frazier is capable of hitting double digits in steals due to being an intelligent baserunner, but he is not a speedy guy. “Of Frazier’s 20 steals, 13 came with two outs and 11 came on the first pitch of the at-bat. These are the times when a pitcher is likely to pay the least attention to a baserunner on first, therefore allowing that runner to take advantage.” That is a quote from a FanGraphs article helping to explain how Frazier was able to steal all those bases. That seems more like a fluke than a skill that has evolved. But because Frazier was only one of five players last season to be in the 20 HR/20 SB club, he is going to garner attention for 2015 fantasy baseball. On average, Frazier is being drafted at the 50th pick, which seems a bit aggressive for my liking. I wouldn’t even have Frazier in my top 50 hitters, let alone the top 50 players. He’s not a horrible player or anything, but should be someone to avoid given his ADP.
The first baseman that I pegged as a “target” player is the player that I have deemed to be This Year’s Todd Frazier. That player is Brandon Belt. Belt took a step forward last year in the power department in the limited time that he was on the field, as he missed a good portion of the season with injuries. Belt looks like he will be the #3 hitter for the Giants, which obviously is the prime spot to be in a lineup for fantasy purposes. He also just appears to be a player that is slowly growing to put together the full package of what his skill set will allow of him, and he enters the season with a lot of confidence. On average, Belt is the 28th first base eligible player coming off the board, but I am predicting he will be top 15 at his position by season’s end. If you miss out on the big guns at first base, I don’t think it would be a terrible idea to wait till the late rounds to put this Belt around your waist.
AVOID: Anthony Rendon, Ian Kinsler
TARGET: Mookie Betts, Josh Harrison, Marcus Semien, Micah Johnson
Even before Rendon was diagnosed with a sprained MCL, he was going to be a player that I was going to avoid all across the board. He is a former top draft pick, but his performance last year seems very fishy to me. Rendon’s 17 SB last season seem to be an aberration considering that he stole only 8 bases in the Minors in 2012 and 2013 combined. Sure, the past doesn’t always predict the future, but it is rather odd that he all of a sudden became a base stealing threat. And out of Rendon’s 21 HR last year, 12 of those were considered “just enough,” meaning that they had just enough distance to clear the fence. With such a high percentage of his HR being “just enough,” I would expect a drop in his HR rate. He is being drafted as a 2nd round pick, but his injury will push him down even further in the drafts leading up to Opening Day. But even so, I would not want to be touching him this year.
Another second baseman to avoid is Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is being drafted as the 4th second baseman off the board around the 55th pick, but it is hard for me to see why as he is entering his age 33 season and has seen a gradual deterioration in his skills. First it was his power that declined in 2012 as his HR total dropped from 32 in 2011 to 19 in 2012. Then in 2013 his knack for stealing bases hit a low as he was only successful on 57.7% of his 26 stolen base attempts, after stealing bases at an incredible 83.5% rate up until then. Then last year he attempted a career low in SB despite playing a career high in games (15 of 19 in SB in 161 games), and his patience at the plate eroded as he had just a 4.0% walk rate when his career mark coming into the season was at 9.6%. Sure, Kinsler bats at the top of a nice Tigers lineup, but look at how quickly his top second basemen peers like Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips fell off in their early 30’s. Kinsler is on the same path and it isn’t going to be pretty. There are about ten other second basemen that I would draft before Kinsler.
My love for Mookie Betts is no secret. Just check out my This Year’s Jose Altuve to find out. He isn’t going to be eligible at second base in a lot of leagues, but in the ones that he is, Betts is going to be one of the most valuable players to have this season. Even in the leagues where he is just eligible as an outfielder, he makes for a great player to target. Heading into the pre-season, I was all over Mookie like the Cookie Monster is all over cookies. Does that make me the Mookie Monster? But then became a serious question of whether he would even have a starting role. Well, as Spring Training winds down, it would be an incredible shocker if Betts has not earned a spot in the everyday lineup. Expect Betts to do a little bit of everything and take the fantasy world by storm. His ADP is at 108, but I would select him as early as the 50th pick (which I have done this year already) and I think that he will be a top 3 second baseman where eligible.
Josh Harrison came out of nowhere to be an All-Star in 2014, and as a Harrison owner myself last year, it seemed like he never slowed down at all. I expect his batting average to come down a bit this year, but I still think that he is being undervalued. This is a player in his prime at 27 years old who will be the leadoff hitter for a dynamic young lineup. He isn’t eligible at second base in some leagues, but in the ones that he is, Harrison is being selected on average as the 11th second baseman. I would make an argument that he could be the 5th best at the position. Harrison is eligible at third base and outfield in all leagues, and his value plays at those positions as well.
Marcus Semien was traded from the White Sox to the A’s in the off-season, and on paper that seems like a bad move for his fantasy outlook. However, it pretty much guaranteed him a spot in a starting lineup and it is a lineup that he could find himself eventually hitting at the top of. Semien has an intriguing power/speed combination to go along with some nice patience at the dish. These skills led me to peg him to be This Year’s Brian Dozier. But what is the most interesting thing about him is that he is going to be the starting shortstop for the A’s. Heading into the year, he is eligible at second base and third base for fantasy leagues. Once he gains that shortstop eligibility, his value is going to get bumped up a lot and you’re going to want him as a shortstop for your fantasy squad if he begins to go off.
Micah Johnson looks primed to be the starting second baseman for the White Sox. Johnson has some definite wheels as he stole 87 bases in the Minors in 2013. You might be doing a quick google search on him right now and notice that he only had 22 SB last year in the Minors. Don’t fret, as he dealt with some hamstring issues which led him to tone down his running game. Johnson may be the starter at the keystone, but he is going to hit at the bottom of the lineup as he is blocked by Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera at the top of the lineup. Eaton and Cabrera haven’t proven to be the most durable or PED free of players though, so an opportunity could arise where Johnson rises to the top of the order. Could he be this year’s version of Dee Gordon? He seems to be as good a candidate as any.
AVOID: Anthony Rendon, Todd Frazier
TARGET: Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Josh Harrison, Marcus Semien
See above for why to avoid Rendon and Frazier.
Nolan Arenado had his season interrupted by a broken finger and then his season was ended abruptly after a bout with pneumonia. If those things had not happened then we would not be talking about him in this section. Arenado is poised for a breakout year and I think that he has the skills to be the #2 third baseman (#1 in leagues where Miguel Cabrera isn’t 3B eligible). What I like most about Arenado is his ability to make contact. Making a lot of contact means the chance for a better batting average and making a lot of contact in his home park of Coors Field means the chance for a lot of extra base hits. A lot of extra base hits in that Rockies lineup means a lot of RBI. A lot of RBI means making me happy. Arenado could develop into the third base version of Troy Tulowitzki (but hopefully without all the injuries). Arenado is going in the 5th round in most standard drafts behind Frazier, but he has 3rd round value in my opinion.
Okay, so if you don’t know about Kris Bryant by now then please leave this blog. Just kidding, don’t go! The top prospect Bryant has destroyed Cactus League action and although he is going to begin the year in the Minors, it should not be long before he is called up to be the third baseman of the present for the Cubs. I don’t imagine Bryant not being a Major League before the end of April, which gives him plenty of time this year to slaughter jabroni pitchers. Even with the projected time he will be spending in the Minors, I think that he is a top 10 third baseman and he could be top 5 at the position from the time that he is called up. Compare that to his ADP of being the 12th third baseman off the board and there can be some definite value here.
See above for why to target Josh Harrison and Marcus Semien.
AVOID: Danny Santana, Elvis Andrus
TARGET: Alcides Escobar
Danny Santana impressed in 101 games last year as he hit .319 with 7 HR and 20 SB. It is pretty clear that the high batting average was fluky as it was driven by an insane .405 BABIP, but there are bigger issues at play here for Santana. He hit in the leadoff role last year and is set to return to that spot again to begin this year. However, with the regression that he is likely to face in AVG, he is going to make for a lot less attractive leadoff option for the Twins. I would expect at some point in this season that he gets moved down in the order after struggling to produce at the top of the order, or even worse he will get benched or demoted to the Minors if the regression is extreme. Santana is being drafted as the 10th shortstop on average, but I don’t think that I would personally touch him at all due to the uncertainty that I think he carries.
Elvis Andrus had a poor season as an offensive player last year and it would appear that he has been relegated to bottom of the lineup duties with Leonys Martin taking his former spot near the top of the order. Without hitting near the top of the order, Andrus loses a ton of appeal as his plate appearances will decrease significantly, as will his opportunity to score runs. Andrus is being drafted as the 7th shortstop off the board, but I easily see him falling out of the top 10, which is pretty concerning given the weakness of the shortstop position.
A player that is actually similar to Andrus who is someone to target is Alcides Escobar. Escobar is in the opposite situation to Andrus as Escobar should be thrusted into the leadoff spot more often this season for the Royals. Hitting leadoff for the weak hitting Royals isn’t the best of situations, but it certainly is better than hitting 8th or 9th. Escobar is being drafted on average as the 13th shortstop, but there is top 6 potential there. If you miss out on the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes, and Starlin Castro then it could be a good option to just wait around for a good time to select Escobar.