Amidst all spring training noise and vernacular surrounding players entering the height of draft season, it’s time to try and filter it along with identifying some ways to target players intelligently. No draft or auction will be the same, but, reading up on the trends along with paying attention to spring games can enhance one’s knowledge prior to their league. Identifying players with a clear path to playing time or the skills to usurp an overpriced veteran can be the difference makers in the latter rounds when most leave a mock draft after declaring they will win the draft as constructed.

Fantasy baseball’s a grind. It’s a 26 week marathon in rotisserie leagues which demands attention to detail, adjusting on the fly and knowing who to spend precious FAAB money on to provide the necessary numbers to make a difference. Yes, some luck helps, but over an extended period like baseball, skill prevails, or at least it should. This week’s trends and ADP article will focus on some spring battle evolutions, whether or not to invest in the helium surrounding Byron Buxton ’s hot start along with some intriguing players to zig when other zag. So strap a band-aid on those nipples, it’s time to train for the marathon.

Paying full retail for a name

Once the top prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton owns name recognition. He’s one year removed from hitting .253/.314/.413 with 69 runs, 16 home runs, 51 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 140 games. Last year, he cratered. Riddled by injuries and left in the minors to save time on his arbitration clock, perhaps Buxton took it to heart. He reported to camp adding muscle to his frame, started hitting in October and his hot start continues to push him up the draft boards.

Buxton’s accrued 16 plate appearances in his first six games with three home runs and 11 RBI. He did record his first three strikeout game this week. According to NFBC draft data, through 25 12-team drafts so far in March, Buxton’s the 37th outfielder taken with an average draft position of 135.96 and a range of 94th overall to 167th. This chasm reflects how many feel regarding Buxton, but the window of him being a bargain closed quickly. Even if Buxton reaches a Melvin Upton Jr. type season from his prime, Buxton will need to replicate his 2017 season to provide a return on investment.

As a comparison, Lewis Brinson ’s also swinging a hot bat this spring with five home runs over his first 23 plate appearances spanning nine games. He’s hitting a robust .429 with a 1.669 on-base plus slugging percentage. Yet, he’s the 92nd outfielder drafted on average with an ADP north of 400 an a much wider range of 182nd to 393rd overall. Yes, Brinson’s never done in a season what Buxton has, but for this year only, will he be so far off if he takes a step forward?

Taking this a step further, does the Buxton helium create value in veterans with similar skill sets? Although the ceiling does not exist with these players, it’s worth knowing there’s pivots in the later rounds if not willing to pay the spring tax on Buxton:

  • Jackie Bradley Jr. surged in the second half with a .269/.340/.487 slash line as a result of an altered swing path. He also recorded a .218 isolated power with a 13.2 home run per fly ball percentage and 44.4 hard hit rate in this time frame. He could be a very quiet 20 home run and 20 stolen base candidate.

  • Known for his defense, Kevin Pillar ’s hit 31 home runs with 29 stolen bases the last two years with a .254 average and stolen at least 14 bases in each of the last four. He’s the 86th outfielder selected on average in NFBC drafts.

  • Other names of note include Leonys Martín , Ramon Laureano , Cedric Mullins and Manuel Margot . A nice mix of post-hype talent along with two potential lead-off hitters as pivots to avoid the noise.

Bullpen timeshares, everywhere…

Saves will come at a premium this year, which can result in poor investments. Again, those who do not wish to chase the category or owners not willing to do the research, taking a top line closer like Edwin Díaz could be a strategy. Just understand, in a 12-team draft, Diaz will be taken in the fourth or fifth round and then a run or two will happen. When this does, it lasts through the seventh round. Each of these closers will be off the board according to the NFBC ADP, in order:

Some food for thought on the group above. No position in fantasy reflects recency bias more than closers. Diaz and Treinen did not appear in the top five heading into 2018, but sit atop the list this year. As a Yankee, Chapman’s never recorded a 100 strikeout season and he’s yet to reach 40 saves during his career. Jansen struggled at times last year with a heart issue and velocity. Osuna’s in Houston off of his suspension and A.J. Hinch owns a short leash with closers. Remember how Greg Holland struggled last year entering camp late, each day which passes with Kimbrel as a free agent should be noted.

In the eighth, another run on closers will ensue, but not with the fury of the group above. Sean Doolittle will be the next one selected. He’s pitched less than 52 innings in each of the last three seasons. After him, a pocket of value will emerge in Kirby Yates , Jose Leclerc , Corey Knebel and Jose Alvarado . Due to team situations, Yates and LeClerc get pushed down since their teams could trade them. Although, LeClerc’s new contract helps his cause, but this could be said for Brad Hand in San Diego as well.

After his recall last August, Corey Knebel surged to a 35 strikeouts minus walks percentage, a 1.76 FIP and 1.81 SIERA with Milwaukee. He entered last year’s drafts a consensus top five closer, but with Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress around, his picture seems muddled. See through the fog, focus on his skills and profit. Tampa Bay will not name a closer, but Jose Alvarado also shined after the All-Star break last year with a 2.10 ERA, 2.21 xFIP, 38:10 K:BB and 0.94 WHIP over 25.2 innings. So the team will not name him a primary closer, but if he gets 20-plus with strong ratios at his present price point, he’s worth the risk.

Playing time in Colorado

It’s no secret in fantasy, getting cheap pieces of the Rockies offense yields fantasy production. Although many feel Garrett Hampson could win the second base job, he’s also logging time in center field this spring. Both Hampson and Ryan McMahon remain hot in the battle to replace D.J. LeMahieu:

  • Garrett Hampson - 10 games, 22 plate appearances, three runs, two home runs, five RBI, three stolen bases and a .263/.364/.579 line.

  • Ryan McMahon - 10 games, 25 plate appearances, six runs, four doubles, a triple, one home run, three walks, four strikeouts and a .476/.560/.905 slash.

So, trusting spring numbers comes with a grain of salt, but Hampson’s speed and ability to make contact make him an intriguing target. McMahon’s post-hype status after last year’s disappointment could also translate to a sneaky season. If Ian Desmond struggles at the onset of the year or cannot play passable defense in the spacious confines of center field at Coors, both Hampson and McMahon could breakout. And those in keeper leagues, there’s a chance Brendan Rodgers joins the Rockies by July as well.

Power over Fowler?

There’s 82.5 million reasons for the Cardinals to play Dexter Fowler in right field. However, Tyler O’Neill’s doing his best to put the heat on the front office. Through eight games, O’Neill’s launched four home runs with five walks and seven strikeouts. Sort of a Joey Gallo meets the senior circuit. O’Neill’s only hitting .238 but with a 1.242 on-base plus slugging percentage. Unlike Jose Martinez , O’Neill can play defense in right field which will apply pressure to Fowler. Teams looking for a late round dart with power upside, O’Neill’s a name to remember as draft season draws closer, especially given his present 392.32 NFBC ADP.

Rookie bridges

Most fantasy owners know about the potential upside of Forrest Whitley and Jesus Luzardo . However, if they start the season in the minors, one could handcuff them in the late round with upside arms from New York. Over the course of the last two days, both CC Sabathia  and Luis Severino should start the year on the injured reserve list. This opens the door for Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo Germán to round out the Yankees rotation. On the surface, the numbers do not jump off the page, but underneath them:

  • Jonathan Loaisiga owned a 5.11 ERA in 24.2 innings with New York last year but a 2.95 xFIP, 33:12 K:BB, a 13 swinging strike percentage and 34.3 O-Swing percentage (swings and misses outside the strike zone). Loaisiga’s change generated a 30.3 whiff percentage and his curve a 20.65 whiff rate.

  • Domingo Germán accrued 85.2 innings in New York with a 5.57 ERA, 3.94 xFIP, 102 strikeouts against 33 walks, a 14.9 swinging strike percentage and only 68.7 percent contact allowed. He produced a 20.8 whiff percentage with his change and a 18.71 rate with his curve.

There’s no guarantee either will remain in the rotation past a month, but as late round darts and average draft positions past 500, both make for intriguing upside plays to bridge the arrivals of the top pitching prospects.

Bargain shopping in Texas

While Houston gets top billing in Texas and in fantasy, ignoring the Rangers could be a mistake. Three interesting players at a reduced price come to mind. Elvis Andrus could hit third this year, stole at least 20 bases for nine straight years until 2018 and he’s falling to the 20th shortstop taken in 12-team NFBC drafts. Getting a potential 12-to-15 home runs with 16 or more stolen bases at pick number 192 seems like a gift. Do not ignore it when searching for five category players in the later rounds.

Rougned Odor ’s increased his walk rates in each of the last three halves dating back to the second half of 2017. He entered sicko mode in the second half of last year with a 21.9 line drive percentage, 18.2 home run per fly ball percentage and a 50.3 hard hit rate. Plus, he reduced his swinging strike percentage to 9.9 percent while boosting his contact to 80 percent. Odor drove in 30 runs last August and became the first Ranger with at least seven home runs, 28 RBI and 20 runs in a month since Josh Hamilton in 2012. Odor’s a streaky player, but could set more career highs in 2019 at a reduced cost in drafts.

For the late saves crowd, do not forget about Delino DeShields . He could bat lead-off and if he can replicate his 29 stolen bases in 120 games from 2017, profit could ensue. Yes, injuries do seem to follow DeShields, but as the 83rd outfielder taken in drafts at pick number 369, there’s worst way to take a flier.

Bingo with Domingo

Recency bias can be a hell of a drug. One year removed from hitting 30 home runs with 15 stolen bases, Domingo Santana will get a fresh start and clear path to playing time in Seattle. Using the once a player shows a skill he owns it credo from Ron Shandler, Santana’s almost a must get at his present price point. As the 54th outfielder selected, Santana’s ADP above 200 seems too good to be true, but his range of 153-to-243 displays the chasm of his valuation. So far in seven spring games, Santana’s launched four home runs with a .444/.500/.1.167 slash line. Save some for the season Santana and be sure to be on board with Domingo.

In line with this, a late round pitcher to target will be Brad Peacock . He’s emerging as the leader for the last starting spot in the Houston rotation. He made 21 starts in 2017 and won 13 games during his 132 innings with an ERA of three and an xFIP of 3.73 for the Astros. Last year, he increased his swinging strike percentage to 13.5 percent and reduced contact below 70 percent. Key on his 20.26 whiff percentage with his slider and if he morphs into a Patrick Corbin -lite with increased usage, profit could be abound.

Next week will delve back into the evolving average draft positional values by position to identify when players will need to be targeted. Be sure to check back. Change comes slowly to many fantasy players, so be sure to assess, digest and invest with confidence in your targets. There’s nothing worse than being cute with ADP numbers and losing a target thinking he would drop. Own the draft.

Statistical Credits: (game notes)