2019 MLB Draft Guide: Hitting Category Targets
Brett Talley runs through the primary hitting categories and tells you what you need to do to excel in each one and who your MLB player targets should be for the 2019 fantasy baseball season.
Earlier in this series of strategy articles for the living Draft Guide, I was tasked with writing an article entitled “Targeting Multi-Category Contributors” in which the benefits of drafting players with across-the-board production were extolled. That makes it somewhat ironic that I have also been tasked with writing this article that is designed to highlight hitters who can contribute in specific categories. It’s what they call a paradox.
In the multi-category contributors article, I wrote the following:
Focusing on multi-cat contributors allows you to build a deep, flexible roster. You’re less susceptible to devastating injuries, and you have more options as far as the types of players you can add via waivers or trade.
That broad-base approach is a team-building style I truly believe in. It’s a risk-averse strategy that fits my personality and has served me well over the years. Initially it seemed that writing this piece would be at odds with the multi-category strategy. However, upon further review, it’s entirely possible to draft players who can address a categorical need as your draft progresses without abandoning your commitment to multi-cat contributors. Below are examples of players who can help in specific areas without ceding too much elsewhere.
Home runs and RBI are categories with an obvious level of correlation, so players addressed in this section can help you in both categories.
Yasiel Puig and Ryan Braun are guys that also found their way into the multi-cat article. Since that time, Puig has started to creep up the average draft position list as at the time he was going in the 10th or 11th round in 12-team leagues. Now he’s going in the ninth round on average. Puig has more than 1000 plate appearances in the last two seasons and has homered in approximately five percent of his plate appearances. If he can stay on the field and get to 600 PA, he would hit 30 home runs with a similar HR/PA mark. He projects to hit down the Cincinnati order which will help with his RBI total, and while there’s an argument to be made that LA is a great hitter’s park, he’s not losing much, if anything, by moving to a favorable hitting park in Cincy. Braun is still going outside the top 200 and remains a low-cost flyer who could provide varied production with his strongest production projected to be in the power categories.
Between Puig and Braun on the ADP list is another outfielder who shouldn’t hurt much in any category but who projects to be most helpful in home runs, Andrew McCutchen . With a consensus ADP of 140, Cutch is a solid mid-round option if you’re looking for power. He had been trending downwards in exit velocity in 2016 and 2017 but corrected course last year getting his average exit velocity back to 90 mph. Cutch is also getting a positive bump in home ballpark this season. Last year he spent most of the year in San Francisco, which ranked dead last in homers per High Drive, a park factor stat covered by The Athletic’s Eno Sarris. This year he’ll play as many as 81 games in Philly which ranked ninth in homers per High Drive. He’ll hit in the heart of the Philly order, which will give him plenty of opportunity to rack up counting stats.
Speaking of counting stats, Eric Hosmer is another name that appeared in my multi-cat article. Hosmer is a safe bet to reach at least 150 R+RBI with upside for more as he’s another guy who is slotted to hit in the heart of his team’s lineup. That lineup also has the potential to improve if the Padres land one of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado with rumors that they’re in the mix for one of the big-name free agents.
If you’re looking for help in the runs category late in your draft, Shin-Soo Choo is going around pick 250 on average. Choo is most certainly on the wrong side of the aging curve, but the guy still knows how to draw a walk with walk rates over 12 percent in each of the last two seasons. He has scored 96 and 83 runs in those seasons, respectively. If he could tally 85 runs this season, he’d likely be near the top 40 in that category, which would make him a bargain at his price. Choo still projects to have a spot in the top third of the Texas lineup.
Speed is the main category where some of the top contributors are antithetical to the multi-category approach. Guys like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon project to finish the season in the top five in stolen bases, but they’re not going to give you anything in the power categories. Hamilton is a true one-category player as he doesn’t hit for average and hurts in runs hitting down the lineup. It’s imperative that you don’t chase speed at the expense of other categories. You can easily find your way to the top of the stolen bases rankings in your roto league by chipping away at the category throughout the draft.
Early in your draft, around the middle of the fourth round, you can draft guys like Adalberto Mondesí or Starling Marte who project to steal at least 30 bases (Mondesi has 40-plus potential). Marte’s home run totals may be a hair below average and Mondesi has some downside risk in batting average, but both players have across-the-board appeal. Some of you may like the upside of drafting young players, or you might be like me and prefer the more projectable veteran. No matter your preference, Mondesi and Marte provide a speed option at this spot for either type of fantasy player.
At the end of your drafts, you could take a flyer on a guy with a power/speed combo in Cedric Mullins. Projection systems are bullish on Mullins’ chances to be a power/speed threat, and he specifically has a chance to add some steals to your totals as he stole 23 bases across three levels last season. The Orioles are undeniably going to be bad this year, but that creates an opening for Mullins who is projected to be the team’s lead off hitter to start the season.
Batting average is perhaps the most unsexy of the categories, which makes it the category most likely to be overlooked. Michael Brantley is an excellent way to shore up your batting average if you took a chance on some hitters with upside in the counting cats but downside risk in this ratio cat early in your draft. Brantley led qualified hitters in contact rate last year, which is a stat that obviously has a high correlation to batting average. He’s going on average in the 10th round, which makes him a solid value.
It’s rare that you can find batting average help late in drafts, but Corey Dickerson is a guy going outside the top 200 who can help in this category. Dickerson made significant improvements to his plate discipline last year posting the best full season contact rate of his career. His 80.4 percent contact rate, which is four points higher than his career contact rate, was good enough to land him in the top 50 among qualified hitters in contact rate last year. Dickerson is another guy we’ve named here that is slotted to hit in the heart of his team’s lineup, so he should also help in the counting categories.
You may have noticed that this article is littered with outfielders. More specifically, this article is littered with outfielders going in the mid to late rounds. With the exceptions of Marte and Mondesi, every outfielder listed is going in the ninth round or later. As a result, it might be advisable to largely avoid outfielders early in your drafts. You can certainly draft a cornerstone outfielder early in your drafts who provides elite production in all or almost all categories. But if there are infielders you like in the early rounds, take them. As you move into the later rounds, most infielders provide more category specific production while the outfield options consistently provide some level of diverse production as you move through the draft.