Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2018 Category Sleepers - HR

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2018 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first two installments of the series were batting average and WHIP sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at possible home run sleepers. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill.  Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.

 

Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.

 

 

Mixed League Sleepers

 

 

Greg Bird, 1B, Yankees

 

Bird was a massive bust in 2017 after an epic spring training. He tied with Bryce Harper for the most home runs in spring (eight) before an unbelievable April and early May slump in which he was 6-for-60 with one home run. He then missed nearly four months with a foot injury before hitting eight homers in his final 29 games. That follows up missing all of 2016 with a labrum tear. Even with all of those issues, he’s currently the 19th first baseman drafted in NFBC ADP and going within the top 165 picks overall.

 

That’s a hefty price given the risks, but the power upside looks huge. In the current day and age in which we’ve become obsessed with launch angles, there aren’t many hitters who have shown a more extreme flyball rate than Bird. His 52 percent flyball rate last season was fourth highest in MLB, and he had a similar 51 percent flyball rate in his major league debut with the Yanks in 2015 when he hit 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances. For his major league career, Bird already has 20 home runs in only 348 plate appearances, reaping the benefits of a Yankee Stadium right field that grades as easily the most favorable in MLB for left-handed home run hitters. Given Bird’s extreme strikeout rate (95 strikeouts in his career), it’s certainly possible he will be a batting average liability, but the price could be profitable currently about 50 picks behind Joey Gallo.

 

 

Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers

 

Texas acquired Calhoun and change for Yu Darvish from the Dodgers last season, which certainly speaks well for his potential. He played 13 games with the Rangers last season, spending all of his time in the outfield, and the natural second baseman is likely to stay in the outfield if Rougned Odor stays healthy. Don’t worry, his bat should play in the outfield just fine. He finished last season hitting .300-31-91 at Triple-A after hitting .254-27-88 at Double-A Tulsa in 2016. I’m inclined to believe more in the batting average we saw last season given Calhoun’s excellent eye, with 42/61 BB/K in 534 plate appearances last season. Calhoun also sported one of the highest flyball rates in Triple-A last season at 47 percent.

 

With an especially slow early offseason, Calhoun is currently penciled in as the starting left fielder in Texas alongside Delino DeShields and Nomar Mazara. That isn’t to say the Rangers won’t add competition in the coming weeks, but Calhoun should have a chance to play himself into a starting spot with a strong spring. His current ADP is beyond the top 300, so the price is right for Calhoun’s 30-plus home run potential.

 

 

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers

 

Stuck behind Kris Bryant in the Cubs farm system, Candelario was finally traded last year, moving to Detroit for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson. He performed extremely well as Detroit’s starting hot corner late in the year, hitting .330-2-13 with an .874 OPS in 106 plate appearances. For the year, Candelario hit .265-15-71 in 458 plate appearances at Triple-A. The 18 home run total was the best of his career, which is certainly far from what we’d call a huge asset in the juiced ball era.

 

Still, there’s reason to believe Candelario will add power soon given his penchant for hitting doubles. He’s been a doubles machine during his pro career, as 26 percent of his hits as a minor leaguer were two-base hits. His totals have included 35 doubles in 2015, 39 doubles in 2016, and a whopping 45 doubles between the minors and majors last season. It could only be a matter of time before those doubles turn into home runs, as we saw with Jose Ramirez last season, and Candelario has a chance to hit in a favorable spot in the batting order for the Tigers after hitting between No. 2 and No. 6 in September. With an ADP currently at 350, he’s a cheap fallback option in mixed leagues.

 

 

 

Brett Phillips, OF, Brewers

 

Acquired from the Astros for Carlos Gomez in 2015, Phillips’ career has been up and down since the trade. He had a poor 2016 season at pitcher-friendly Double-A Biloxi, hitting just .229-16-62. That was especially disappointing considering that he had hit above .300 in the previous two seasons. Fortunately, Phillips was able to rebound in 2017, hitting .305-19-78 with nine steals in only 432 plate appearances at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and also looked strong in his first major league opportunity last season, hitting .276-4-12 with five steals in 37 games. He’s also been an extra-base hitting machine during his career with 52 extra-base hits at Triple-A last season and 54 in 2015. The semi-breakout power last season came in conjunction with a career-high 49 percent flyball rate at Triple-A.

 

Despite that strong performance, including the majors, Phillips isn’t getting much hype this offseason. That’s understandable with a crowded outfield that also includes Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich and Keon Broxton, but Phillips will be able to force his way to playing time if last year’s level of play continues. With an ADP hovering around 480, there are few players with better five-category potential for the price.

 

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Jake Marisnick, OF, Astros

 

Marisnick stepped up with a huge season off the Houston bench in 2017, posting an .815 OPS with 16 homers and nine steals in only 259 plate appearances. He was a key cog in the elite Astros lineup against lefties, though he also saw his most limited playing time since 2014. The power, and especially the increase in flyball rate, should make us take notice. His 12 percent flyball increase from 2016 to 2017 was the fifth largest in MLB, and helps explain the home run spike.

 

The question now is whether the former Marlins top prospect will find the playing time to really help in fantasy leagues. To Marisnick’s credit, he did have an OPS above .800 against both right-handers and lefties last season, and his defense is still regarded as a major asset, helping him post a WAR around 2.0 in each of the last three seasons. There is 30 home run potential if Marisnick gets the opportunity, while his mixed league ADP is outside the top 500.

 

 

Renato Nunez, OF, Athletics

 

Oakland fans are heading for another rebuild after the team traded Sonny Gray at the trade deadline in July. That means they’ll be featuring young players, as we saw with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman late last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of their veterans get traded. Hopefully, that opens up a spot for Nunez. Splitting time between third base and left field at Triple-A Nashville last season, Nunez hit .249-32-78 in 533 plate appearances, rebounding from a sub-par 2016 season in which he hit just .228. Power has been a constant for Nunez, with a career .469 slugging percentage in the minors and three 20-plus home run seasons.

 

Entering his age 24 season, Nunez’s mediocre batting average makes him look like a fringy major league regular, but it’s exactly those type of players that Oakland has the benefit of giving playing time at the major league level. The acquisition of Stephen Piscotty didn’t help Nunez’s positioning on the roster, but he should still get a long look in spring training with the ability to provide solid, cheap power in his age 24 season.

 

 

Josh Phegley, C, Athletics

 

Through 741 career plate appearances and five seasons, Phegley’s development as a major leaguer has been slow. He’s often been injured and has just a .640 OPS and 20 home runs over that time. Just over the last two seasons, Phegley has gone to the DL for knee, concussion, and oblique issues. Still, Phegley’s minor league history makes him intriguing, and he was a key piece of the Jeff Samardzija from the White Sox after 2014. His impressive minor league history includes 15 home runs in only 61 games for Triple-A Charlotte in 2013 and 23 home runs in that same place in 2014.

 

Unfortunately, Phegley had only three home runs in 161 plate appearances for Oakland last season between his injuries, but he did prove that he could hit for power at the major league level in 2015 with nine home runs in 243 plate appearances. He could also be in a position for regular playing time in competition with Bruce Maxwell, who was charged with aggravated assault in late October. Obviously, Phegley staying healthy will be easier said than done, but he is potentially intriguing as a second catcher in AL-only leagues given his past power.

 

 

Christin Stewart, OF, Tigers

 

From Twilight to Double-A, Stewart is arguably Detroit’s best hitting prospect, though that’s not saying much. The 34th overall pick in the 2015 draft has performed extremely well as a pro, most recently hitting .256-28-86 in 555 plate appearances at Double-A Erie last season. He also hit 30 home runs between High-A and Double-A in 2016. He’s now posted a slugging percentage above .500 in all three of his pro seasons. Stewart is one of the most extreme flyball hitters in the minors, with a staggering 63 percent flyball rate in 2016 that regressed to a still-high 43 percent last season.

 

Stewart will almost certainly start the 2018 season at Triple-A, but it shouldn’t be long before he’s in the majors given Detroit’s current rebuilding effort. Beyond Nicholas Castellanos, the organization doesn’t currently have an outfielder that you’d call a major asset, with all due respect for Mikie Mahtook’s 2017 breakout. While they’ll likely do something to address their outfield shortcomings soon, it’s unlikely that they’d block their top power prospect with the current state of the organization. Three-plus months of Stewart could provide plenty of value for a flier.

 



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
Email :Seth Trachtman



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