Draft day is tantamount to Christmas Day for most fantasy baseball owners, and though we might indeed covet a prospective gift, the truth is we don’t always get what we imagined. In that vein, drafts are dicey, throwing what we hope against the same wall that produces what we get.
The main thing to try to remember when drafting — in simulated games, auctions or straight drafts — is you need players who will return a profit.
That means Marco Estrada drafted in the 18th round or purchased for $5 does indeed have a better chance of being a money-maker than does a first-round Clayton Kershaw, simply because chances are Estrada whiffs 150 and gets double-digit wins are a lot greater than Kershaw being several degrees better than any other pitcher.
Not that Kershaw cannot do it, but drafters want to come away with the best roster of players who can exceed their draft-day value or price as possible, for that will certainly pave the way to a title.
With that in mind, let’s look a little more closely at players who are going too high or too low in drafts in 2017 and whether the investments look like potential payoffs.
C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees: There’s no question how attractive Sanchez and his .299 average, 20 home runs and 42 RBI over one-third of 2016 are, but there’s reason for concern.
Sanchez posted a .372 on-base percentage with the Yankees, as opposed to the minor league .339 he had over 636 games. Furthermore, in the minors Sanchez walked in about 8% of his at-bats, while in pinstripes the number was closer to 11%.
MLB teams will have more of a book on Sanchez, who might indeed hit 20-plus homers but must adjust to being a full-time big-leaguer. Sanchez could rock it, but somehow the name Kevin Maas keeps ringing in my head.
OF A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks: Sure, the skills are there, or have been, but last season marked the second time Pollock has hurt an elbow, and getting back into a groove for him might not be as simple as getting back on a bike.
Not that there isn’t a lot to like, but let someone else take on the injury risk of a third-round Pollock pick.
RP Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians: The hard-throwing left-hander has been and can be nearly unhittable, but ask yourself: Miller in the sixth round, or the Miami Marlins’ Kyle Barraclough (113 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings) in the 22nd? If Miller isn’t getting saves, the difference over 70 innings is not that much, but relative to those draft spots, the difference in value between Miller and other high-strikeout setup men could be huge.
OF Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds: Common speculation is that Hamilton is improving his on-base skills, but the truth is though his on-base and batting average numbers were up last year over the previous season, the gains were negligible.
Hamilton had virtually the same number of at-bats in 2015 and 2016, but the jump in his average (from .226 to .260) and OBP (from .274 to .321) were the result of 14 extra hits. His whiff rate was pretty much the same with a K/BB differential of 47 in 2015 and 57 last year. Yep, he will steal, but he won’t do much of anything else.
SP Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs: At 26, coming off a quantum-leap improvement of a year in which the right-hander’s ERA dropped nearly two runs while he established career highs in every category, Hendricks seems poised to be an ace.
Add in the Greg Maddux-like delivery and stuff, and there is all kinds of potential for more great seasons, but still, Hendricks has never tossed more than 200 innings and never whiffed a batter per inning, and the line between success and failure for finesse pitchers is very slim indeed (ask Sonny Gray).
Hendricks is fine as a third or fourth starter in most leagues, but don’t hang the anchor mantle on him or your squad could sink.
OF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins: There’s no question Stanton can hit, and hit with power, but only once since 2011 has he played in more than 123 games, and his on-base totals took a huge hit last season.
Maybe it was playing through injuries that facilitated the drop, but the fact is he’s always injured. Again, risk mitigation says let someone else gamble a higher pick on Stanton’s durability and look for pop elsewhere.
2B Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers: Wow, a .271-33-88 line out of a 22-year-old sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of a .296 OBP that featured a paltry 19 walks compared with 135 strikeouts. Odor might have a bright future, but the middle infield is so deep that more reliable options are available.
OF Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs: Losing an entire year to an injury, coupled with questions about where (and how much) he will play, takes a little of the shine off the diamond in the rough.
Despite his success in the postseason, Schwarber is a gamble before Round 10. However, after that point, he becomes a potential steal if he’s still available.
OF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: It is funny how cavalierly fantasy owners predict a monster breakout or simply figure a player’s numbers are falling. There’s seemingly no in between.
McCutchen did indeed suffer a down year after five consecutive All-Star seasons. At 30, his stolen base totals have peaked, but little else of his game should be dismissed so readily.
2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox: We are in a golden age of middle infielders, and that generation might well have started with a young Pedroia, but at this point we seem to take his totals for granted.
He’s 33, so he’s no longer stealing bases, but his bat, which produced a .318 average with 15 homers and 74 RBI last year (with 36 doubles and a .825 OPS), should be regarded accordingly as the guy is so steady, not an over-the-hill gamble.
1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves: Coming off a monster season in which he hit .302 with 34 home runs, 91 RBI and 43 doubles, Freeman (pictured, above) is being drafted in the top three rounds. But the reality is, on an improving team (the Braves were over .500 after Aug. 1), going into his peak years and with the outfield fences moved in at his new home park, Freeman, 27, could establish himself as the top first baseman in the majors.
He won’t be a consideration in the first round, but don’t be surprised if he returns first-round value.
SS Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants: Known for his smooth glove, Crawford has turned into a solid hitter, coming off back-to-back seasons with 84 RBI and displaying plenty of pop and speed (32% of his hits were for extra bases over the last two seasons).
Crawford’s résumé should be considered commensurate with, if not better than, that of Dansby Swanson, Marcus Semien and Elvis Andrus, to name a few, but that is not happening in drafts.
SP Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks: After a horrible first month, Greinke adjusted to his new surroundings in Arizona and pitched well until injury issues felled him in July and hampered him for the rest of the 2016 season.
Greinke has adjusted to parks before and flourished, and with a long record of success, the former Cy Young Award winner should return to form in 2017.
SP J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays: OK, raise your hand if you saw a 20-4 record and 3.18 ERA coming from Happ in his age-33 season?
Happ is no ace by any means, but he tossed 195 pretty solid innings last year, and over the last two seasons his WHIP is 1.215.
The depth of your league is a consideration, but Happ has been taken in mock drafts after Round 20 as a rule and as a fourth starter. On a team that scores a lot of runs he deserves more credit than that and probably will give you one more serviceable year. If he goes 14-12 with a 3.68 ERA over 190 innings with 160 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP, that is probably worth 15th-round consideration.
SP Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins: When Santana is good, he is very good, but when he is bad, he is horrid.
But bearing in mind his 2015 was cut short by a back injury, Santana has averaged 175 innings and 141 strikeouts with a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.91 ERA since 2012. Those numbers are great for a fourth starter and worthy of an appropriate selection.
Read more of Lawr Michaels’ work at Mastersball.com and follow him on Twitter @lawrmichaels.