While it isn’t the true mid-point of the season, the All-Star game is close enough and it represents a good time to take stock of things from a fantasy perspective. A large part of success isn’t about hitting on the first few picks of the draft, but it is very helpful and shouldn’t be understated, but it is also about finding value late in drafts on the waiver wire in April. Below we take a look an All-Star team of sort of those players who have given a bit of an unexpected boost so far this season with all draft data based on NFBC leagues.
Omar Narváez, C (MIL) – At this point it appears safe to write off Narvaez’s struggles from last year. Hope was high entering 2020 after he hit .278 with 22 home runs in the year prior, but he found himself banished to the waiver wire after struggling through 40 games in which he hit .176 while hitting just two home runs while driving in 10 runs in 40 games. After being the 23rd catcher selected on average this season (meaning he was forgotten about in all but two catcher leagues) Narvaez found himself in the All-Star game after hitting .300 with eight home runs 26 RBI in the first half of the season. One of the main drivers of this is the drop in his strikeout rate from 31% to 17.2%.
Jesús Aguilar, 1B (MIA) – With an ADP of 379, Aguilar was essentially free for this season. Instead, all he has done is fit comfortably into the middle of the order for Miami as a legitimate power threat. He is hitting .268 on the season but that is secondary to his 15 home runs and 62 RBI which are already the second highest totals of his career. Aguilar has brought his launch angle up to a career high of 18.4 degrees while he also has a career high hard-hit rate of 45.5%.
Eduardo Escobar, 2B (ARI) – After an ISO of just .123 last season it should come as no surprise that Escobar hit just four home runs last season after hitting 35 in 2019. Bouncing back hasn’t proven to be too difficult for Escobar as he is already up to 20 home runs and 60 RBI in 2021 with a .230 ISO. Escobar is batting a respectable .254 on the season as he is barreling balls up at a career high rate of 9.7% to along with his career best 20.4-degree launch angle. Not too bad for someone with an ADP of 291.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 3B (TEX) – Fifteen stolen bases out of the 37th third baseman off the board is nothing to take lightly. For anyone this season, 15 stolen bases should be celebrated regardless of the what it cost on draft day and it comes with dual eligibility (shortstop) along with a respectable .258 batting average. Using Kiner-Falefa at third base does leave you deficient in the power department, six home runs, but 45 runs scored and 30 RBI shouldn’t be taken too lightly either.
Jazz Chisholm Jr., SS (MIA) – The rookie shortstop was readily available to anyone this draft season with an ADP of 485 but he has found a home atop Miami’s lineup. While he has benefited from a .351 BABIP, Chisholm is still batting just .257 so batting average will be a concern moving forward. But you should know that this isn’t what we are after though. Instead, it is his combination of power and speed which has led to 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 67 games to go along with 34 RBI and 35 runs scored.
Robbie Grossman, OF (DET) – Through the first half of the season, Grossman has already reached career highs in home runs (12) and stolen bases (11) which is way more than just about anyone bargained for out of the 100th outfielder off the board. Grossman is hitting just .226 which is a problem but with that power and speed production it’s hard to find much fault in what we have gotten out of him. In OBP leagues the picture is even better thanks to his 15.7% walk rate leading to a .354 on base percentage.
Cedric Mullins, OF (BAL) – You had to know that this list wouldn’t be complete without including the Baltimore All-Star. Entering this season, it was difficult to get Mullins’ talent out of your mind but at the same time it was difficult to look past his struggles. Speed was always a large part of his game and with 16 stolen bases to this point that hasn’t changed. What is quite impressive though is Mullins’ 16 home runs as he never came close to showing that level of power previously. An ISO of .228 supports this improvement and Mullins is barreling balls up for the first time in his career (7.8%) while improving his hard-hit rate to 39.6%. What is unchanged from previous years though is the launch angle (15.4 degrees). Batting at the top of Baltimore’s order agrees with the outfielder (49 runs scored) but there is some concern over his .314 batting average (.356 BABIP) but that is in line with what we saw from him in a small sample size last year.
Adam Frazier, OF (PIT) – Let’s go to another All-Star starter in Frazier who has been quite the pleasant surprise batting .330 on the season with 53 runs scored. We don’t get much in the power (five home runs) and speed (four stolen bases) departments from him, but given the price (531 ADP) and multi-positional eligibility (second base) that is enough. A big improvement for Frazier has been to his strikeout percentage (15.2% to 10.8%) while bringing his line drive rate up to 30.2%.
Taijuan Walker, SP (NYM) – Maybe the Mets weren’t actually taking the easy way and being cheap with Walker this off-season, and if they did, then they got a little lucky with the All-Star right-hander. The big thing for Walker this season has been his health but he is finally living up to his expectations from a few years ago when he was a top prospect. So far this season Walker is 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA while striking out about a batter an inning. Even if he regresses down to his xFIP of 3.94 the right-hander will continue to be one of the better starting pitching bargains of the season.
Robbie Ray, SP (TOR) – Strikeouts were never the issue for the 107th pitcher off the board, but if only he was able to avoid walks then things would really look up for Ray. With 11.64 strikeouts per nine innings Ray’s improvement hasn’t come at the expense of his most redeeming skill set as he has made some serious adjustments dropping his walks down to just 2.24 per nine innings. Home runs are still an issue (1.79 per nine innings) but it hasn’t impacted him too much to this point (3.13 ERA and 3.67 xERA).
Yusei Kikuchi, SP (SEA) - The 100 to 110 range of pitchers coming off the board (between 282 and 297) proved to very profitable through the first half of the season and the Seattle All-Star is no different. Kikuchi has benefited from a .235 BABIP but the quality of contact against him has been diminished and he is pitching to a 3.48 ERA. There is still some luck involved though as evidenced by his 4.31 xERA and home runs are a concern (1.46 per nine innings) but Kikuchi is striking out about a batter an inning and benefitting from a 52.3% ground ball rate.
Freddy Peralta, SP (MIL) – After making just one start last season things have gone quite differently for Peralta this season with 17 starts to this point. Peralta has managed to make up for control woes (4.04 walks per nine innings) by striking out 12.40 batters per nine innings. Hitters struggle to make good contact against him (.178 BABIP) and it goes without saying that there are concerns about what will happen to his 2.39 ERA. As a positive though, the worst expected mark we see from him is a 3.70 xFIP and no one can take away his success from the first half of the season and opposing hitters have just a 34.8% hard hit rate against him.
Mark Melancon, RP (SD) – When we were drafting, there were a lot of questions as to how the San Diego bullpen was going to shake out. Ultimately the job went to Melancon and with 27 saves in the first half of the season its hard to argue with that value coming out of a player with an ADP of 300. He is only striking out seven batters per nine innings and all of the metrics point to his 2.04 ERA rising, but with those saves, who is arguing?
Alex Reyes, RP (STL) – As the off-season progressed Reyes’ value did rise as it became the former top prospect was going to be the closer but it’s hard to argue with what we have seen from him after an ADP of 429. The seven walks per nine innings are disgusting, but in 41.1 innings of work, their impact is minimized on your overall ratios but the 20 saves and 11.76 strikeouts per nine innings certainly take the sting out of that. At 4.42 Reyes’ xFIP represents the worst case scenario but as long as he continues to strike batters out at such a high level, the sting should be minimized.