(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)
I’ve always believed that you never win a league based on who you pick in the first-round of a draft. You might lose your league because of who you pick (especially if they end up being injured or a huge bust), but you don’t win your league with your picks in the first round. You win your draft by grabbing players at a value while not paying too much for other players. Today, we’re going to take a look at 10 hitters who I believe are currently being undervalued in drafts.
Note: Overall ADP is based on NFBC ADP and may fluctuate some by the time you read this.
Starling Marte (ADP: 48) – I’ve been harping on Starling Marte all offseason because I think he’s being seriously undervalued in drafts right now. Sure, he had a limited season last year and screwed over a lot of teams (mine was one of them, I feel your pain), but his season wasn’t derailed by a debilitating injury that’s likely to crop up again, it was derailed by an 80-game PED suspension. Even in the 77 games he played, he still stole 21 bases, which paced out over a full season is around 40 steals. We’ve got Marte ranked as a top-10 outfielder and I don’t see any reason he can’t hit that ranking if he steals around 40 bases with double-digit home runs and a good average. We’ve seen him do it before, why can’t he do it again? And if you can grab that in the fourth to sixth round, which is generally where I’ve seen him go, I’m happy with that.
Nelson Cruz (ADP: 55) – In most leagues, Cruz is going to be a DH-only player since he only played five games in the outfield last year, and I can understand how much of a pain that can be to deal with as far as roster flexibility goes. But Cruz is worth it, and the fact that he’s going outside the top-50 seems a little nuts to me (especially if you happen to be in a league where he’s outfield-eligible). Cruz has been very consistent over the years, hitting more than 40 home runs in three out of the last four years (he hit 39 last year). Yea, I know he’s 37-years-old, but there’s no sign of him slowing down yet and I refuse to believe he’s just going to suddenly fall off a cliff this year. Typically, when age finally starts catching up to a player, it’s slow and gradual, and you’ll be able to tell. As of now, I see no reason Cruz can’t hit in the .280s with nearly 40 home runs, just like he’s done for the past five years. I will gladly take that in the fifth- or sixth-round of a draft.
Robinson Cano (ADP: 81) – Why is everyone afraid of Robinson Cano right now? Well, I think it’s two things: First, he hit just 23 home runs last year after hitting 39 the year before, and second, he’s 35-years-old now. The age thing I’m not worried about at all, the guy has been fairly consistent as a great second baseman over the years and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue. But the inconsistency as far as home runs go, that I understand. The 39 home runs he hit in 2016 weren’t going to continue, they seemed to be a bit of an outlier. They came with 32.9 xHRs and a 19.3% HR/FB rate compared to a career 14.5% HR/FB rate. I think Cano should easily be good for 20+ home runs next year and has shown that he can be a steady four-category contributor. Last year was Cano’s worst year for batting average since 2008 and he still hit .280 (though that came with a .298 xAVG, so I’d expect it to get better). He may not be as exciting as some of the younger second basemen, but he’s consistent and he’s going to put together a good season for you. If you can grab that in the eight or ninth round, do it.
Miguel Cabrera (ADP: 91) – Miguel Cabrera used to be the poster child for the “safe” draft pick each year in fantasy. Coming into the year last year, he’d hit at least .300 in 11 of the past 12 seasons and was typically good for 100+ runs and RBIs each. And then last year happened, and Cabrera screwed over fantasy owners hard by posting the worst season of his entire career. On top of that, he’s 35-years-old now, and if you’re looking at Cabrera and saying “Age has finally caught up to him, he’s done,” I can understand the logic. But here’s the thing – Cabrera’s skills aren’t declining, he hasn’t lost his bat speed or gotten significantly worse with his plate discipline (all typical signs of age catching up to a player), he was just hurt. He only hit the DL one time throughout the season (late-April) and played through the rest of his injuries, which included a collarbone and groin injury. If he stays healthy this year, there’s no reason he can’t be the Miguel Cabrera we know and love (or at least, a discounted version of that). I think gambling on his health in the ninth or 10th round, which is about where he’s going, is perfectly reasonable (I might even grab him in the eighth round), and if he has a bounceback season, you’ll look like a genius.
Adam Eaton (ADP: 149) – Adam Eaton was looking really good last year, and then the worst happened – he injured his ACL and needed reconstruction to fix it. Fortunately, his injury happened really early in the season, so he’s had a lot of time to recover, and assuming he’s fully healthy, there’s no reason he can’t go back to doing what he’s been doing the past few years. He’ll lead off for the Nationals most likely, and a .290s, 15/15 season with the potential for more is very much in the cards. Right now, Eaton is going in the 14th/15th rounds in most drafts, and I think that’s mostly because of a fear of injury. I’m more than happy to invest in him around there, if not earlier, because he’s going to contribute in just about every category.
Adrian Beltre (ADP: 160) – Adrian Beltre is the new David Ortiz, a guy that everyone’s afraid to draft simply because he’s old. Beltre is 38, almost 39, and he’s falling to the 15th/16th round in a lot of drafts. Sure, he struggled with injuries last year that limited him to 94 games, but when he was playing, he was still the awesome Adrian Beltre we all love, slashing .312/.383/.532. Not only that, but last season was the first year Beltre’s played in under 100 games since his rookie season in 1998. Like I said earlier in the Nelson Cruz entry, I’m not going to skip a player in the draft simply because he’s old unless I have a specific reason to expect him to decline. I don’t think Beltre’s just going to hit a wall and be terrible all of a sudden. Sure, you might be worried about his health, but I think the risk is totally worth the production, especially as late as he’s going. Personally, I’m probably reaching for him a bit in the 13th/14th round.
Jorge Polanco (ADP: 206) – I wrote at length about why you need to pay attention to Jorge Polanco this year, but suffice to say, Polanco put up an excellent second-half last year that was fueled by a noticeable skill change. He got much better with his plate discipline and it led to him making much better contact with the ball. Now, some of that was fairly fortunate, he had a ridiculous August, but he also slashed .293/.359/.511 in the second-half with a .313 BABIP, which is perfectly sustainable. He’s going at the end of a lot of drafts and he could easily be a contributor in many categories, as he’s got a nice power/speed combo. If you grab him in the 20th round or later, awesome, I personally might reach for him a round or two earlier just to make sure I get him.
Marcus Semien (ADP: 225) – Our own Austin Bristow II wrote a great piece on why Marcus Semien is being undervalued this year, and I completely buy it. Semien was limited to just 85 games last year due to injury, but aside from last year, Semien has pretty consistently been good for around 20 home runs and double-digit steals. But the point that Austin brings up (that I really like) is that last year, Semien increased his stolen base rate significantly. In the 85 games he played, he stole 12 bases, which paces out to about a 20-steal full season. Not only that, but it’s looking like Semien is going to bat leadoff, which is always good for fantasy production. If the increase in steals keeps up, we’re looking at a guy who could get pretty close to 20/20 with a batting average that won’t totally kill you. And if you can get that in the 21st/22nd round, talk about some serious value.
Scott Schebler (ADP: 283) – Scott Schebler had 30 home runs last year but that came with a pretty miserable .233 batting average. Those season-long stats don’t tell the whole story, as a lot of his season last year was fueled by a terrible July as he tried to play through a shoulder injury. You can see this when you look at Schebler’s month-by-month splits, and thanks to the bad year he had last year, he’s almost going undrafted in most leagues. It’s important to keep in mind that his .233 average came with a .248 BABIP and a .260 xAVG. The power has never been in question, and the average should get better, which means we’re looking at a guy who could hit 30+ home runs with a decent batting average. I will happily take that at the end of my draft.
Carlos Gonzalez (ADP: 299) – I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on Carlos Gonzalez over the years (especially this year). I’m thrilled that he’s back in Coors Field this year and I’m fully in on the bounceback potential. CarGo had a terrible year last year that was fueled by a miserable first half. His second half, however, was significantly better, and it came with a lot of changes, including changes in his swing, his plate discipline, and sleeping habits. He’s basically going undrafted in most leagues (though that may jump up now that he’s officially signed with the Rockies) and I am absolutely taking him in the last few rounds of every draft that I can. The bounceback is real, all you have to do is believe.