February 10, 2014
Fantasy Players to Target
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Rare is the day that members of the BP Fantasy Staff agree on something. Ergo, this piece should encourage you to draft Brett Lawrie, Aramis Ramriez, and David Wright.
Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
I’ve admittedly been on the Lawrie train since the station. Maybe it’s because I’ve been known to drink a Red Bull or three myself. I didn’t just extrapolate those first 150 AB from 2011 and expect him to take over the fantasy world at third base in 2012, but I did have 20 HR/20 SB dreams floating in my head. Obviously, both 2012 and 2013 have been a disappointment against expectations, but he was 22 and 23 years old, too. He was just off the pace of league average with those two seasons, posting a 96 wRC+ in 978 PA. The real issue has been health, as three DL trips have limited Lawrie to just 232 games. Had he managed to stay healthy, he’d have had a pair of 15/15 seasons and everyone would still be firmly on the bandwagon. Instead, this place has cleared out. But why? Now is the time sign on. He’s made it through the rough patch of being a young player and now, 1,149 PA in, is when you can legitimately expect an upturn. Health does remain a holy grail, but I’m willing to bet on offensive improvements; plus, the cost has never been lower. —Paul Sporer
This obviously depends on your league and your format. In a non-keeper league, there is going to be a buying opportunity where at least two owners have been burned by Lawrie and will move him down their lists. Just as it was folly to push Lawrie up to a high-$20/low-$30 price in auctions based off of a tiny sample size in 2011, it would similarly be foolish to completely discount him now. Even if Lawrie simply stands still, a 15-home-run, 15-steal season isn’t entirely out of the question. Lawrie’s improved contact rates as the season went on are what make him stand out as a player to target. His strikeout rate through May 31 was 23.5 percent; after that it dropped to 13.5 percent. Don’t discount Lawrie because he isn’t what you thought he would be. 15/15 is valuable at any position, in any format. —Mike Gianella
Manny Machado, Orioles
I recently took Machado 44th overall in an expert mock draft on Fangraphs, and I agree with the criticism I received that I took Machado a bit too high and that I let the board play tricks on me. I strongly disagree with his current NFBC ADP of 106, however, and Machado is someone you should target in drafts this spring. He's such a good natural hitter that we tend to forget about his power potential, but as Machado enters his 20s and gains muscle, some of the 51 doubles he hit a year ago are going to start leaving the park. Many people are out on Machado because of his injury, but we've already gotten multiple reports stating that he's well ahead of schedule. Even if he's not ready for Opening Day—and he very well could be—it's difficult to envision him missing more than a few weeks. There is some risk in targeting Machado this year, and I fully acknowledge that. But he's being drafted after Kyle Seager, Martin Prado, and Chase Headley in some leagues, and that's a crime. If you're going to gamble, gamble on upside. —Ben Carsley
Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
Playing mostly in dynasty leagues means that guys at the tail end of their careers (Ramirez will be 36 in June) tend to get devalued. Double that for injury-prone players, which Ramirez is. But given the dearth of impact bats at the position, it’s what he does when healthy that makes me interested in Ramirez. In 92 games last year, Ramirez swatted 12 home runs to go with his .283/.370/.461 slash line. He doesn’t offer a ton of speed (though he swiped nine bases (!) in 2012), but he gets the job done everywhere else. And while he has missed plenty of time throughout his career due to injury, Ramirez was coming off back-to-back 149-game seasons before getting injured last year. I would anticipate him to be in the 115-130-game range in 2014, but what you get there plus the fill-in when he’s injured should be of great value. —Craig Goldstein
This pick isn't really identifying a "sleeper" or an underrated player, but it's about someone whose ADP decline is outpacing his fantasy value decline—leaving room for some arbitrage. There were some poor signs in Ramirez's 2013 season. First of all, his Isolated Power of .178 was his lowest since 2002. His strikeout rate (15.7 percent) was his second highest since 2002. He's also going to turn 36 years old before the end of June. Those pieces of the puzzle don't paint the most positive picture in the world. But the most important number here is 153—and that is his ADP per NFBC drafts. This is a player who, despite only playing in 92 games, still nearly finished as a top-20 third baseman. His strikeout rate was high, but it was not accompanied by an increase in either swinging strike rate or chase rate, though it was accompanied by an increased walk rate. If he can stay reasonably healthy, and his 149 games played in each of the previous two seasons should give you at least a little confidence that he can, a .280 average, 20-plus homers, and 90-plus RBI are fully in reach. That's not even speaking of his bump up in OBP and points leagues. Come to think of it, isn't that what most of us expect from Josh Donaldson 80 picks earlier? —Bret Sayre
Kyle Seager, Mariners
Kyle Seager has posted back-to-back solid, eerily similar fantasy seasons, and he showed enough growth on the margins of his offensive profile last year to suggest he's got a slightly higher ceiling than what he's done so far. His largest area of improvement came via a dramatically more patient approach at the plate. He swung at 5.5 percent fewer pitches overall, including four percent fewer balls out of the zone. The adjustment led to an almost-three-percent spike in his walk rate and 22 points of added OBP. That's a significant gain, and if he can replicate the near-10-percent walk rate in what should be an improved Seattle offense it'll help boost his R totals. Add in that he should have more RBI opportunities on account of said lineup improvement, and Seager could be in for a nice counting stat boost to the exactly 148 R+RBI he's put up in both of his full seasons. He's checked in with the 11th-most value among third basemen in standard leagues each of the past two seasons, and the consistency he's flashed makes him a nice, safe option to man your hot corner. The added upside to sneak into the top 10 makes a nice bonus on his moderate price on draft day. —Wilson Karaman
David Wright, Mets
If it’s possible for a superstar to be underrated, Wright is that guy. No longer is the Mets third baseman challenging 30 home runs and 100 RBI on an annual basis, but his ability to contribute in all five roto categories make him a very attractive option at a position that dries up quickly. Injuries in 2011 and 2013 have slowed down the 31-year-old just enough to provide fair value on draft day, which is something you won’t get with most super-star players. Wright can still give you 20-plus home runs and 15 steals with a batting average over .300. The only obstacle is staying on the field long enough to make it happen. Don’t use his 63 runs and 58 RBI from a year ago as reason to stay away. Wright was perfectly fine with runners in scoring position and a full season should yield elite production at the hot corner. —Alex Kantecki
There’s a clear-cut no. 1 at third and it’s not particularly close. Miguel Cabrera will run the position for one more year as he transitions off the hot corner to the less-demanding first base. After him there are an interesting host of names that provide solid value across most categories, but there’s only really one third baseman who can help you in five fantasy stats. David Wright has become a somewhat forgotten man at third. Being injured and playing on a dreadful Mets team will do that to you but Wright’s slash line of .307/.390/.514 mixed in with a healthy walk rate (11.2 percent) a solid batted-ball profile, and his threat to post another 20/20 season are something you’ll want to target when Miggy is gone by pick no. 2. —Mauricio Rubio
BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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