After revealing players to avoid in fantasy drafts, let’s put the boom and bust players under the stat microscope to see if they are worth the investment. My bias is to err on the side of upside with picks 150-plus and the volatility of these players is baked into the price. Of course, you can’t swing for the fences with all your later picks. But try to sprinkle in some of the guys on this list near their average draft position (ADP).
Greg Bird, New York Yankees (Yahoo! ADP 158)
Not much of a sample size last year or really ever. Bird smacked nine homers in September of 2015. What’s hilarious is that this gets Bird a higher ADP in NFBC high stakes leagues than Justin Smoak, who crushed 38 bombs last year. Smoak is much more expensive than Bird in Yahoo leagues. Bird did hit another nine homers in just 170 plate appearances last season. But again, six came in September, when the league is full of borderline big-league pitchers. So the 158th pick is fine. But don’t reach for Bird over Smoak. Remember, too, that Adam Lind hit was very effective last year (.195 well-hit, according to Inside Edge, .864 OPS) so it’s doubtful the Yankees completely mothball him.
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians (159)
I took a flyer on him in Yahoo Friends and Family when he slid to 241. I’m not thrilled about owning him but in a deep format like this league (15 teams), you have to take a chance on strikeout upside. But even ADP 159 is being paid to gamble on Salazar’s health. The deadline is May 1. If he’s not back or very close to it by then from his shoulder impingement, he’s not worth stashing in one of your DL slots. Until then, it’s worth the risk as he’s one of the most dominant strikeout artists in baseball when healthy.
Eduardo Nunez, Boston Red Sox (175)
I get the combo potential. But the risk here is that our view of his ability relative to the temporarily sidelined Dustin Pedroia is too fantasy-centric. While Pedroia has no power or speed and now is rehabbing from knee surgery, he can set the table with his .369 OBP last year (.366 career). He walked in 2017 more than he struck out. While Nunez did have a .353 OBP last year, it’s too weighted in batting average (.321) to be sustainable. I’ll be very surprised if Nunez gets more than 400 at bats. He could basically end up being a way more expensive Jose Reyes (235).
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (185)
Everyone is chasing the big homer years (53 and 47). But otherwise, he’s been a disappointment. This is his age 32 season so he is the back of his baseball card. I think the upside is 30s in the homers and the downside is being DFA’ed. Davis just doesn’t hit the ball hard enough, irrespective of the Ks. He’s been average in the stat three of the last four years and merely good in 2015 (despite the 47 homers). It’s risky to count on Davis even at this price.
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves (196)
He could get 500 plate appearances but is 20 years old. Let’s let history be our guide. There have been 16 rookies in baseball history who got 500 plate appearances at age 20, according to Baseball Reference. Jason Heyward was the last outfielder to do it in 2010 and finished with 18 homers and 11 steals. Yahoo projects him Acuna for 14 homers and 26 steals. It’s hard to see him running that much in today’s league. He’s also expected to hit .286. Willie Mays, maybe the greatest player of all time, hit .274 with 20 homers and 7 steals at age 20 in 1951. The only 20-year-old rookie OF to top .290 in at least 500 plate appearances was Ted Williams and this is a depressed batting average era. Even if Acuna ends up being great, he probably is not going to be good this year.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves (198)
I’m in on Albies at this ADP because he showed elite ability in his Age 20 season. His OPS+ was 112 when 100 is exactly average, portending great things to come. Here are the middle infielders in baseball history who had an OPS+ of 110 or more with at least 200 plate appearances (Albies had 244): Albies, Carlos Correa and Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan. Lower the threshold to 150 PAs, and we add only Rennie Stennett, who never was an all-star but who had a solid career. So Stennett would be Albies floor, arguably. But it’s probably a 40% chance that Albies could be 20-30 this year in HR-SB and you don’t have to pay much to see if I’m right.
Michael Conforto, New York Mets (214)
He was ninth in OPS+ (adjusted for park and league) among outfielders last year with at least 400 at bats. One of the textbook No. 3 hitters of all-time told me that Conforto is a textbook No. 3 hitter. Conforto is rehabbing from shoulder surgery but is expected to fully recover and return by May 1. This price is sweet for someone who could be a top-10 hitting outfielder in reality. His overall effectiveness last year was graded as an A-plus by Inside Edge and his only weakness was on pitches up in the zone (he was average when swinging at them).
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays (214)
He was a last-year’s bum due to blisters but is supposedly healthy now. You can gamble you’re getting the pitcher in 2016 that limited batters to a paltry isolated power (slugging minus average) of about .100. If he does that again his ERA will be around 3.00 again, the operative word being “again.” You can wait even longer and get a similar arm with more strikeout upside but more ERA downside (especially as a lefty in Fenway Park): Eduardo Rodriguez (242), who is likely to open the season on the disabled list (knee).