Don’t pay for saves

It’s been an eventful 24 hours in the whacky world of relief pitchers. First, came the announcement that Kirby Yates of the Toronto Blue Jays will be shut down as he prepares for his second Tommy John surgery. I have Yates on one of my teams, so I checked the waiver wire to see if Jordan Romano was available. He wasn’t. I then checked my other league and found him. Within hours, I had a trade offer from another manager.

As the Yates story continued to develop during the day, there was more relief pitcher news. The San Diego Union-Tribune was reporting that Emilio Pagan is “the name mentioned most by those in the organization as the pitcher expected to assume the closer role.” Multiple pitchers had been in the mix for the Padres’ closer job, including Drew Pomeranz, Mark Melancon and Pierce Johnson, but it appears Pagan is the frontrunner.

While the fantasy baseball world was buzzing about the news out of Toronto and San Diego, more news broke. In Cleveland, Indian manager Tony Francona had high praise for Nick Wittgren in an interview with the Associated Press and said he was a top option for the closer job. This news will certainly drive the James Karinchak stock value down, since he was the presumptive favorite to have the ninth-inning gig in Cleveland.

There is a morale to this story, and the morale is don’t pay for saves. Drafting closers in the early rounds of your fantasy draft is foolish because the situation is fluid. The best advice I can give is never pay for saves. I wish I had taken my own advice and hadn’t used a 14th round pick on Yates. I was able to trade him yesterday at a discount, which was fortunate since he will have no value when the season-ending surgery is announced.

In my opinion, top relievers go far too early in drafts. Consider the Yahoo league I’m in where Brad Hand went in the fourth round, Josh Hader in the fifth, Aroldis Chapman and Devin Williams in the sixth, Edwin Diaz in the seventh and Karinchak in the eighth. These are the rounds where you should be loading up on starting pitchers and position players. In my humble opinion, even thirty saves isn’t worth an early draft pick.

Its true that MLB managers are leaning more on their bullpens, changing the statistical landscape for pitchers. Managers are quicker with the hook and more starters are limited to five innings a start. This means once you get past the top few elite starters, the gap in strikeouts and wins is shrinking. As relievers grab an increasing percentage of innings, their strikeout totals and ratios will mean more to their fantasy managers.

Let me suggest a reasonable approach to acquiring relief pitchers. Wait. The first relief pitcher I took in my ESPN league was Matt Barnes in the 16th round. He was my 183rd pick. I took Daniel Bard with my 298th pick. Barnes, Bard and Romano are my three rostered relief pitchers on this team, and all are expected to get a lot of saves for their respective teams. But if they don’t, I haven’t wasted an early-round pick on them.

What follows is a list of relief pitchers that I have compiled. All of these relievers are expected to perform well in 2021. Some will strike out enough batters to be relevant in that category. Some will get saves and some will vulture a few wins. All of them should help you ERA and WHIP ratios. And all of them will be available in the final rounds of your draft. Again, don’t waste those valuable early picks chasing closers and saves.

AARON BUMMER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

He is by far the second-best reliever on the White Sox right now and should be for a while. Bummer had some injury trouble in 2020 but when he was out there, he was filthy. In 9.1 innings (over nine appearances), he had an ERA of 0.96 and a WHIP of 1.071 with 14 strikeouts.

MATT BUSH, TEXAS

The 35-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, a non-roster invitee who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2018, could grab a share of the closer role as the season starts, with Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez and Joely Rodriguez sidelined. Ian Kennedy is his main competition.

TYLER DUFFEY, MINNESOTA

The Twins signing Alex Colome ruined hopes of Duffey getting a good share of saves in Minnesota. Regardless, he’s been one of the most skilled relievers in baseball over the last two seasons. With low ERA and WHIP projections, he should help in ratios as a middle reliever.

PETE FAIRBANKS, TAMPA BAY

Fairbanks was acquired from the Texas Rangers in 2019 in exchange for Nick Solak and paid it paid off. He recorded six wins and seven holds. Although his WHIP left something to be desired, that could improve with some regression to the .350 BABIP Fairbanks posted last season.

GIOVANNY GALLEGOS, ST. LOUIS

With Jordan Hicks expected to be the team’s primary closer, Gallegos can still help a fantasy team with ratios and strikeouts. His slider-heavy pitch selection results in him striking out at least a third of the hitters he’s faces. His fastball was inconsistent in the shortened 2020 season.

BRYAN GARCIA, DETROIT

A.J. Hinch has yet to name a closer, so Bryan Garcia is sort of penciled in here as he ended the 2020 season with the job. Garcia doesn’t have prototypical closer stuff, striking out only 12 batters in 21.2 innings. But he did have a stellar 1.66 ERA, along with a decent 1.29 WHIP.

YIMI GARCIA, MIAMI

Since his Tommy John surgery in 2019, Garcia has a faster fastball and greater spin on his slider. Garcia is in the mix to close, although Anthony Bass appears to have the inside track on the job so far. In 2020, Garcia pitched to a 0.60 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, with an 11.40 K/9 and 23.3 K-BB%.

CHAD GREEN, NY YANKEES

Green has become one of the most reliable relievers in baseball over the last four seasons. Green found his footing in the Yankees bullpen and is ninth among MLB relievers in WAR since 2017, in a variety of roles. With Zach Britton, out, is he the No. 2 guy behind Aroldis Chapman.

CODI HEUER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Another promising young reliever in the White Sox system, Codi Heuer, had an outstanding debut season. With a high-velocity fastball and whiff-inducing slider, Heuer is primed for a long future in a high-leverage role, although it’s unlikely that he has any road to the closing job. 

PIERCE JOHNSON, SAN DIEGO

After a disaster 2018 season, Johnson pitched in Japan for a year. Ditching his cutter for a curveball helped him. In 2020, he was 3-1, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He is recovering from a groin strain and does not appear to have a road to the closing job in San Diego.

IAN KENNEDY, TEXAS

Even older than Matt Bush, Kennedy may have the inside track on the closer job in Texas after getting 30 saves in 2019. He was ineffective, mostly due to an injury, in 2020. He’s been perfect so far during his Cactus League appearances, striking out four over three scoreless innings.

SETH LUGO, NY METS

The Mets are planning to use Lugo out of the bullpen in 2021 since he has been far more effective in that role than as a starter. Currently recovering from February elbow surgery, which was expected to shut him down for six weeks. Lugo is expected to miss a few weeks in April.  

EVAN MARSHALL, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Since the start of 2019, Marshall has a 2.45 ERA in 73.1 innings for the White Sox. Marshall has been dropping his fastball usage over the last three seasons. The results have led to more strikeouts. Marshall should continue to see high-leverage work behind Liam Hendriks.

TYLER MATZEK, ATLANTA

Matzek returned to the game after four seasons, and his 97mph fastball from the left side induced a 14.3% swinging-strike rate. Now, with Mark Melancon, Shane Green, and Darren O’Day out, Matzek should see work. But Will Smith and Chris Martin are ahead of him for saves.

TREVOR MAY, NY METS

Trevor May had been consistently good for Minnesota over the last few seasons. In 2020, he raised his game even further with an improved swinging-strike rate after dropping his fastball usage. Now with the Mets, May is currently the primary setup man behind Edwin Diaz.

MIKE MAYERS, LA ANGELS

Mike Mayers enjoyed a breakout season for the Angels in 2020. By adding a cutter, Mayers saw a 4% jump in his swinging-strike rate. While he’s no longer in line to close with Raisel Iglesias in town, Mayers could be a middle reliever worth adding. He’s off to a slow start in spring training.   

TANNER RAINEY, WASHINGTON

Recovering from a minor injury to his collarbone, Rainey will be in a setup role behind Brad Hand. His 21.7% swinging-strike rate was second in the majors among relievers, behind only Devin Williams. When healthy, Rainey should be valuable for holds, ratios, and strikeouts.

ALEX REYES, ST. LOUIS

Once a top pitching prospect, Reyes’ career has been derailed by injuries. The Cardinals’ goal is to get Reyes 100 innings of work in middle relief in 2021. When healthy, he is electric and misses bats.  He has a career 2.48 ERA over five years and parts of four Major League seasons.

JOELY RODRIGUEZ, TEXAS

Still recovering from an ankle sprain, Rodriguez is expected to start the season on the IL but should be ready in a few weeks. He impressed last year with his return from Japan. He is a dark horse to close. Regardless, he should be in the mix for high-leverage work out of the bullpen.

TANNER SCOTT, BALTIMORE

He was Baltimore’s best reliever in 2020, and now he’s the leading candidate to replace Hunter Harvey as the closer after the latter went on the 60-day IL. Scott posted a 1.31 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 23 strikeouts in 20.21 innings and recorded one save for the Orioles last season.

GREGORY SOTO, DETROIT

Soto is in the mix with Bryan Garcia for the closing job. He has better stuff but more control issues. The lefty throws a 97mph sinker and has spent the offseason working on refining a slider he plans on using often. He had 29 strikeouts, a 4.30 ERA in 2020 and a 1.22 WHIP in 2020.

NICK WITTGREN, CLEVELAND

Wittgren has impressed manager Terry Francona and could be used as a closer in Cleveland.  Wittgren posted a 3.42 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, with 28 strikeouts in2020. He’s not as dominant as James Karinchak but his walk ratio is less than half which means he’s not as volatile an option.   

Nine back-end starters

As your fantasy baseball draft unfolds, you may find other managers loading up on starting pitchers in the early rounds. Of course, you can’t afford to reach the 20th round without some aces. But what if you still need to add two or three starters? Here are nine sleepers to consider. All of them have ADPs above 200, and two (Dylan Cease and Yusei Kikuchi) are above 300. That means they’ll likely be there in the final round.

DYLAN CEASE, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Cease, who’s had a history of struggles with his control, had some wildness in his last Cactus League start, but he hasn’t allowed a run in 6.2 innings. He throws 99 MPH, with high spin, his curveball drops 8.4 inches more than an average curve and his slider in nasty. But his ADP is 359.  

CRISTIN JAVIER, HOUSTON

Javier has a superb rookie season, throwing 54.1 innings, with an ERA of 3.48 and a 0.99 WHIP. He struck out 25.2% of hitters and walking 8.4%, and he was effective in minimizing hard contact. His hard hit rate, xwOBA, and xERA were all in the 90th percentile, while his xBA was in the 92nd percentile.

YUSEI KIKUCHI, SEATTLE

Kikuchi’s transition from Japan to the MLB has been rough. He had a 5.46 ERA as a 28-year-old rookie and a 5.17 mark last year. But he added velocity and a new cutter that have led to improvements to his ERA indicators, and he looks like a new pitcher with four effective offerings. His ADP is 310.

JOHN MEANS, BALTIMORE

Means finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2019. Then a spike in velocity in 2020 led to a dramatic increase in his swinging-strike rate, as it jumped from 8.7 percent to a Gerrit Cole-like 15.7 percent for his final four starts. Unfortunately, he still suits up for the Orioles.

JORDAN MONTGOMERY, NY YANKEES

Fantrax calls Montgomery a top sleeper. According to NFC, other pitchers drafted around him include Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Zach Davies. He’s already secured a spot in the Yankees starting rotation for 2021, which means he will have run support and will post wins.

MICHAEL PINEDA, MINNESOTA

Pineda only made five starts in 2020, but he posted a 3.38 ERA. His strikeout rate was over 22 percent for the fifth straight season and his walk rate continues to sit below seven percent. Pineda’s 86 mph exit velocity and 32.1 percent hard-hit rate were both the lowest he’s posted in the Statcast era.

EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ, BOSTON

Complications from COVID caused Rodriguez to miss 2020. He has always been able to generate strikeouts, and in 2019 he took a big step forward in preventing hard contact, with a career-high 48.5% ground-ball rate. He struggles with his command but has looked good this spring.

MARCUS STROMAN, NY METS

In 32 starts between Toronto and New York in 2019, Stroman posted 159 strikeouts in 184 1/3 innings pitched to go with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and 10 wins. He opted out in 2020 but should be a solid back-end fantasy starter who can give you an ERA and WHIP that won’t ruin ratios.

JAMESON TAILLON, NY YANKEES

Taillon’s issue has been his ability to stay on the mound. He’s proven to be a reliable starter with excellent control who has limited damage against him. From 2016-2018, Taillon posted elite walk, overall barrel, and curveball spin rates, to go with a fastball velocity well above league averages. 

Don’t sleep on these

Whether you’ve drafted your fantasy team(s), or not, you will find this list helpful. I’m calling it my Fantasy Baseball Draft Sleepers and Waiver Wire Pickups List.  If you haven’t drafted, use this as a cheat sheet to find late round values. If you have drafted, consider these for waiver wire additions to your roster. Look at your roster and see what you need. These players are listed in alphabetical order and not priority order.

JON BERTI, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, MIAMI

His speed and eligibility at positions keep drawing me back to Berti. All he needs is playing time with the Marlins to be worth rostering for stolen bases alone. Berti played in 39 games last season, posting a .258/.388/.350 slash line with 21 runs scored, 14 RBI, and nine stolen bases.

MARK CANHA, OF, OAKLAND

Canha posted a .246/.387/.408 slash line to go with five home runs and an impressive 33 RBI in 243 plate appearances last year. With an ADP of 255, he has a value. A player being taken at this ADP should produce a .229 average, 28 HR, 62 runs, and 69 RBI. Canha should be able to clear that bar.

WILLIE CASTRO, 3B, SS, DETROIT

Last year, Castro managed to put together the best offensive season of any Tiger by just about any measure. And there’s plenty of reason to believe that the best is yet to come for him. He’s been hot in the spring, going 6 for 13, with three homers. Where he bats in the order will matter.   

C.J. CRON, 1B COLORADO

A barrel monster and heading to Coors field, Cron should hit in the range of 25-plus home runs and 140-150 runs+RBI, with a solid batting average. He won’t steal any bases, but the potential for a mega return on a waiver-wire investment is there – especially in the power numbers. 

J.D. DAVIS, 3B, OF, NEW YORK METS

Based on his other 2020 hitting metrics, Davis should also see positive regression in batting average, and he can provide boring but solid production Managers can reasonably expect around 20-22 HR, 60-70 RBI, and an average close to .270. He is eligible at 3B and OF at Yahoo.

PAUL DEJONG, SS, ST. LOUIS

I dropped DeJong before the season started for someone better, but he still has upside. He hit an average of nearly 25 homers and had 70 RBI over his first three MLB seasons. His exit velocity (89.2) and hard-hit rate (38.0%) during the 2020 season were both above his career averages.

2020 was the second season now for Dickerson in which he impressed, albeit in limited opportunities. His .298/.371/576 triple slash last year was the product of hitting the ball harder. He set new career-highs in average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate, all three of which stand out compared to the rest of the league, as Dickerson is well above-average in all three metrics.

JARREN DURAN, OF, BOSTON

Outfielder speedster will get called up this spring, according to Red Sox manager Alex Cora. He was 5 for 10 with two homers and two doubles in the early going.  Fantasy Pros says he the 24-year-old could be a difference-maker in the stolen base category if he gets the playing time.   

WANDER FRANCO, SS, TAMPA BAY

The No. 1 prospect in baseball is turning heads in Florida, and it’s just a matter of times before the 20-year-old gets called up. He’s a plus-plus hitter, who is demonstrating more power this spring, and he has an amazing eye. He also has enough speed to steal 15-20 bases a year.

YULI GURRIEL, 1B, 3B, HOUSTON

Despite a poor 2020 showing, there’s reason to believe a rebound is possible for Gurriel. His .232 average is primarily the result of hard luck, as Gurriel’s .235 BABIP is by far the lowest of his career. His strikeout rate remains superb at 11.7%, and the Astros signed him to a one-year deal.

AUSTIN HAYS, OF, BALTIMORE

Hays continues to show flashes of upside, with an appealing mix of power and speed. He had stolen 11 bases as recently as 2019 when combining his three stops. There is a path to 10-12 steals in 2021 and 20-plus home runs, and that comes with a career .272 batting average.

CESAR HERNANDEZ, 2B, CLEVELAND

Hernandez is one of the most consistent players in the league. Last year, in his first year in Cleveland, he posted a career-best average exit velocity, but he’s not a power hitter with an OPS under .800. He slashed .283/.355/.408 with three home runs and 20 RBI over 233 at-bats.

DALLAS KEUCHEL, SP, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Keuchel had a great first year with the White Sox, going 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA over 63 1/3 IP. But no pitcher is due for more negative regression based on advanced metrics. With my superior pitching roster, I dropped Keuchel and wouldn’t add him back unless he starts strong in 2021.

ALEX KIRILOFF, OF, MINNESOTA

The Twins had a proven and productive left fielder Eddie Rosario but failed to offer him a contract in 2021, which was a vote of confidence for Kiriloff. It’s rare to see a prospect so talented being so underhyped in fantasy baseball. He’s off to a slow start this spring, but he’ll get better.

ANDREW MCCUTCHEN, OF, PHILADELPHIA

With a 195 ADP at NFC, he offers consistent production and would benefit if he is the leadoff hitter for the Phillies. McCutchen played in 57 games in 2020, hitting 10 homers – equating to 27 in a full season – with four steals chipped in. McCutchen’s batting average last year was .253.

RYAN MCMAHON, 1B, 2B, 3B, COLORADO

McMahon should be in the lineup almost every day, and he has the potential to hit 25-30 home runs in Colorado. He had a career-high 11.2 percent barrel rate in 2020. And that rate has been climbing every year, which is reason for optimism. His multi-positional eligibility is a plus.

JORDAN MONTGOMERY, SP, NY YANKEES. 

Fantrax calls Montgomery a top sleeper. According to NFC, other pitchers drafted around him include Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Zach Davies. Fantrax considers him a fair value given the overall ADP. He’s already secured a spot in the Yankees starting rotation for 2021.

JOC PEDERSON, 1B, OF, CHICAGO CUBS

Pederson is a cheap source of power but comes with a batting average liability that would be a drag on my Yahoo’s team already low average. However, if he were to achieve a projected 95 runs, 32 home runs and 80 RBI, he might still be worth adding. He also has dual eligibility. 

YASIEL PUIG, OF, FREE AGENT

Puig didn’t play in 2020 after contracting COVID after signing with the Braves. His 2019 stat line was 24 home runs, 19 stolen bases and a triple slash of .267/.327/.458. This was his third straight season hitting 23 or more home runs with at least 15 steals. However, he hasn’t signed. 

BRYAN REYNOLDS, OF, PITTSBURGH

The Pirates thought they had found a lineup piece for the next half-decade before he took a big step back in 2020. With a weak lineup surrounding him, he’s only worth adding if he returns to his pre-2020 form. He hit .314/.377/.503 as a rookie, but he hit only .189/.275/.357 last year.

CARLOS SANTANA, 1B, KANSAS CITY

Due to a disappointing shortened season, Santana now has an ADP of 281, which seems insanely low since he was going around 136 overall last season. The Royals lineup is more impactful than people give it credit for, so there is an opportunity for RBI production hitting in the middle of it.

JONATHAN SCHOOP, 2B, DETROIT

Four years removed from his best year, Schoop managed to slashed .278/.324/.475 with eight home runs, 23 RBI and 26 runs over 44 games in 2020. There is talk of him moving around to different positions, which would be a plus. He has the ability to hit 30 home runs in a full season.

KYLE SCHWARBER, OF, WASHINGTON

Schwarber has the power to strike fear into opposing pitchers, but he’ll need to rebound after posting a .188 BA, .701 OPS, 29.5% K rate in 2020. His 92.8 MPH average exit velocity and 40.8% hard hit rate indicate a rebound is possible hitting in the heart of the Nationals lineup.

MYLES STRAW, SS, OF, HOUSTON

Straw has been used as a leadoff hitter by manager Dusty Baker in spring training games, Manager Dusty Baker said on March 10 he and Carlos Correa are the leading candidates to bat leadoff. His speed would mean stolen bases – if he can keep hitting and bats lead off.  

LEODY TAVERAS, OF TEXAS

Taveras was a surprise call-up for the Rangers last year and finished his debut season with a 227/.308/.395 slash line in 33 games. He converted all eight stolen base attempts while also hitting four homers. A rare stolen bases asset with power available late in the draft.  

A new draft approach

I read a lot of fantasy baseball articles, and it’s not often that I come across anything really new. But that changed this week when I read an article by J.B. Branson of Rotoballer. In the article, Branson broke down his favorite baseball strategy called the Bullpen Method. It’s a unique approach to roster construction that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Here’s how the Bullpen Method works. In a standard league, you will roster 10-13 pitchers. Five or six of these are starting pitchers, and the rest are relief pitchers. The relief pitchers rostered may be closers, but Branson doesn’t pay up for either starters or relievers. Therefore, he will wind up with a number of setup guys who might become closers later.

In his article, Branson points out the need for balance in your pitching staff, and maintains this is not possible with a lot of starting pitchers on your roster. Starting pitchers will help you in wins and strikeouts, but they will blow up your ERA and WHIP. If you want the small number of starters you can trust to not blow up your ERA and WHIP, you have to pay up.

With the Bullpen Method, you can pay up for one or two aces and focus the rest of your early picks on position players you want on your team. When you get to the end of your draft, use your last few picks to complete your roster of pitchers with relief pitchers that will be available because no one else will touch them. If one is gone, move on to the next.

Branson contends that starting pitchers are heavily overrated in fantasy and subsequently relief pitchers (especially setup men) are heavily underrated. He encourages fantasy managers to take advantage of the common industry mistake and instantly witness improvement on their teams. I won’t guarantee you this works, but I’m going to try it out on a team.

While the Bullpen Approach was new to me, I had actually had some experience with it by accident. It seems like each year, I would blow through my 200 allowable starts and have to drop all of my starting pitchers in August or September and roster only relief pitchers. If you play fantasy baseball, you know that starters won’t get credit for wins after you’ve had 200 starts.

I can tell you, based on my experience, that utilizing relief pitchers didn’t cost me a league championship. If I was ahead in the standings at that point, I still won. Keep in mind that most of these relievers that I added late in the season were not closers. These were middle relievers and setup guys who had low ratios. They would pick up an occasional win, or save, too.

I would encourage you to try out the Bullpen Method in your home, or public league. You will get a lot of strange looks from other managers when they see you passing on the big-name pitchers and loading up on position players. They will wonder about the relief pitchers you roster that they’ve never heard of. Let them wonder, and maybe you’ll have the last laugh.

Disclaimer – Branson makes it clear in his article that you shouldn’t use the Bullpen Method in Points Leagues. Points leagues are made for heavy-volume starters and the elite closers. The Bullpen Method works best in Roto leagues but also works in H2H leagues where you can easily beat your opponent in 3 of 5 pitching categories (5 of 5 if you are a talented SP streamer). 

I have compiled a list of relief pitchers that you should consider in the last rounds of your draft (or adding from the waiver wire if you’ve already drafted your team). I recently completed a 12-team ESPN Roto league. In 26 rounds, there were 312 players drafted. And all of the players on my list are available today on the waive wire, so they should be easy to acquire.

AARON BUMMER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

He is by far the second-best reliever on the White Sox right now and should be for a while. Bummer had some injury trouble in 2020 but when he was out there, he was filthy. In 9.1 innings (over nine appearances), he had an ERA of 0.96 and a WHIP of 1.071 with 14 strikeouts.

JAKE DIEKMAN, OAKLAND

He was the favorite to be the A’s closer before Trevor Rosenthal signed. He’s been a key left-hander out of the bullpen for the Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s over the last two years. He took his game to a new level in Oakland and made a pretty drastic change to his slider grip.

TYLER DUFFEY, MINNESOTA

The Twins signing Alex Colome ruined my hopes of Duffey getting a good share of saves in Minnesota. Regardless, he’s been one of the most skilled relievers in baseball over the last two seasons. With low ERA and WHIP projections, he should help in ratios as a middle reliever.

PETE FAIRBANKS, TAMPA BAY

Fairbanks was acquired from the Texas Rangers in 2019 in exchange for Nick Solak and paid it paid off. He recorded six wins and seven holds. Although his WHIP left something to be desired, that could improve with some regression to the .350 BABIP Fairbanks posted last season.

YIMI GARCIA, MIAMI

Since his Tommy John surgery in 2019, Garcia has a faster fastball and greater spin on his slider. There should be a good number of save opportunities in Miami, and Garcia is in the mix to close. In 2020, he pitched to a 0.60 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, with an 11.40 K/9 and 23.3 K-BB%.

CODI HEUER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Another promising young reliever in the White Sox system, Codi Heuer, had an outstanding debut season. With a high-velocity fastball and whiff-inducing slider, Heuer is primed for a long future in a high-leverage role, although it’s unlikely that he has any road to the closing job.  

PIERCE JOHNSON, SAN DIEGO

After a disaster 2018 season, Johnson pitched in Japan for a year, where he earned All-Star honors. Ditching his cutter for a curveball worked well for Johnson. In 2020, he was 3-1, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. However, he does not appear to have a road to the closing job.

SETH LUGO, NY METS

The Mets are planning to use Lugo out of the bullpen in 2021 after he recovers from February elbow surgery. Lugo served as both a starter and reliever in 2021, making nine appearances out of the bullpen. As a starter, his ERA was 6.15.  Lugo’s ERA as a reliever in 2020 was 2.61.

EVAN MARSHALL, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Since the start of 2019, Marshall has a 2.45 ERA in 73.1 innings for the White Sox. Marshall has been dropping his fastball usage over the last three seasons. The results have led to more strikeouts. Marshall should continue to see high-leverage work behind Liam Hendriks.F

TYLER MATZEK, ATLANTA

Matzek returned to the game after four seasons, and his 97 mph fastball from the left side induced a 14.3% swinging-strike rate. Now, with Mark Melancon, Shane Green, and Darren O’Day out, Matzek should see work. But Will Smith and Chris Martin are ahead of him for saves.

TREVOR MAY, NY METS

Trevor May had been consistently good for Minnesota over the last few seasons. In 2020, he raised his game even further with an improved swinging-strike rate after dropping his fastball usage. Now with the Mets, May should be the primary setup man behind Edwin Diaz.

MIKE MAYERS, LA ANGELS

Mike Mayers enjoyed a breakout season for the Angels in 2020. By adding a cutter, Mayers saw a 4% jump in his swinging-strike rate. While he’s no longer in line to close with Raisel Iglesias in town, Mayers could be a middle reliever worth rostering, and he’s second in line to close.  

EMILIO PAGAN, SAN DIEGO

The Padres acquired Pagan acquired last winter. Pagan started the season rough, but from August 1 on, he had a 2.95 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. He should continue to see work behind Drew Pomeranz and new Padre, Mark Melancon. He is in the mix to close games.  

TANNER RAINEY, WASHINGTON

Rainey will start the season in a setup role behind newly signed Brad Hand. His 21.7% swinging-strike rate was second in the majors among relievers, behind only Devin Williams. If healthy,   Rainey should be among the more valuable middle relievers for holds, ratios, and strikeouts.

ALEX REYES, ST. LOUIS

The Cardinals’ goal is to get Reyes 100 innings of work in middle relief. When healthy, he can be electric. He has a career 2.48 ERA over five years and parts of four Major League seasons. He has a 97.5 mph fastball and two lethal breaking pitches in his arsenal and can really miss bats.  

JOELY RODRIGUEZ, TEXAS

Still recovering from an ankle sprain, Rodriguez is expected to be ready for opening day. He impressed last year with his return from Japan. He is a dark horse to close if Jose Leclerc stumbles. Regardless, he should be in the mix for high-leverage work out of the bullpen.

JORDAN ROMANO, TORONTO

Another talented young reliever blocked from the closing job by the signing of Kirby Yates.  Romano broke out in a big way before suffering an injured finger in 2020. He had a 19.4% swinging-strike rate combined with a 58.1% groundball rate. He could close if Yates is injured.  

It’s that time of the year

It’s that time of the year again. There’s a hint of warmer days ahead, and spring training is underway. If you love baseball, you know that. If you love fantasy baseball, you are already thinking about who you will draft in your public, or private league. You reading reports from spring training camps on the progress of different players. You’re keeping up with breaking news. You know that Framber Valdez fractured his left ring finger, which happens to be his throwing hand. The best case is that he has a delayed start to his season, and worst case is he’s lost for all of 2021.   

I have already drafted two teams – one in a Yahoo league and one in an ESPN league. Both are in Rotisserie (Roto) leagues. I like Roto is better than H2H because you are playing against every member of your league the entire year. There’s more skill involved because you’re competing in 10 categories. There are no weekly matchups. You earn points by the stats that your players accumulate. For example, if you are in a 12-team league, you get 12 points if your team has the most home runs, 11 points if you are in second and so on for every statistical category.

How you build you team is up to you. In Yahoo leagues, you have 23 roster spots to fill. In ESPN leagues, you must fill 26 spots. In Roto, you are looking for as much balance as possible. You need runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases and a relatively high batting average from your position players. You need wins, strikeouts, saves and relatively low ERA and WHIP from your pitchers. While your goal is balance, no team is truly balanced. You’re going to be better in some areas and worse in others. The key is to not be terrible in any category. If you are, it had better be only one.

I drafted from the fifth spot in the Yahoo draft and took Jacob deGrom in the first round. It’s worth noting that I passed on drafting Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole. DeGrom followed up his second consecutive National League Cy Young award season by posting another gem in 2020. Despite the truncated season, deGrom remained a consistent fantasy asset who provided elite strikeout totals and ratios. He finished the shortened season with a 4-2 record, a 2.38 ERA, a 0.956 WHIP, and a 104:18 K:BB in 68 innings pitched. DeGrom remains a lockdown, matchup proof fantasy ace.

The decision to take DeGrom instead of Cole was not an easy one. It was like trying to pick between LeBron James and Michael Jordan in their prime. Both of them have a track record to look at, which is important when you are drafting in the first round. Cole has been a starter for eight MLB seasons, while DeGrom has been around for seven. Cole has more wins because he’s been on better teams, but DeGrom has a lower ERA and WHIP. He also averages slightly more strikeouts per nine innings and less walks, hits and home run. But it was a close call because Cole has more run support.

DeGrom has another advantage that was the tiebreaker for me in deciding between him and Cole. The advantage is Citi Field. This is the best pitching park in the major league. While Citi Field is only average in home runs allowed, no park has decreased run-scoring and batting average more. Given that the Mets also play in the NL, with no DH, and now have Francisco Lindor at shortstop, advantage DeGrom. The Mets also have a better lineup than they’ve had in recent memory, which might mean more wins for DeGrom. I predict he’ll top the 15 games he won in 2017.    

NEXT: Starting pitchers to consider in the later rounds.

Bregman has value

Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was one of the biggest fantasy busts of 2020. Over 42 games last year, he slashed .242/.350/.451 with only six home runs, 22 RBI, and 19 runs. He was a consensus top-10 pick going into 2020, and now he’s fallen outside of the top 30 in many preseason rankings. He went in the fourth round of a recent Yahoo mock draft.

Bregman saw his hard-hit rate drop from 38% in 2019 to 33.6% last year, while his barrel rate took a dip from 4.8% in 2019 to 3.9% last year. But he maintained his solid plate discipline in 2020 with a 14.4% strikeout rate and a 13.3% walk rate. While that’s inferior plate discipline numbers to 2019 when he had a 12% strikeout rate and a 17.2% walk rate, it’s not bad.

Bregman has shown some streaky play throughout his career and if we had a full 162-game season in 2020, we likely would have seen the best version of Bregman emerge through an extended stretch at some point. He showed his downside risk in 2020, but don’t forget the upside potential he possesses. He’s just a year removed from an MVP-caliber 2019 campaign.

I had Bregman on one of my fantasy teams in 2019, and I didn’t regret grabbing him in the second round. He slashed .296/.423/.592 with 41 home runs, 112 RBI and 122 runs. Bregman is a great target in the third round or later. While he may be streaky and fail to reach his gaudy 2019 numbers, the upside potential is a player who can return a mid-first round value.

It’s still early to know everything we need to know about players, since they haven’t even reported to camp yet. But recent Yahoo drafts have demonstrated to me that there are clearly some players that are overvalued and many others that are undervalued. Here are some of my thoughts on position players on my radar several weeks before the 2021 regular season starts.

José Abreu – The reigning AL MVP has a career OPS of .870 and a career batting average of .294, which makes him a four-category player in my book. It’s surprising that in early fantasy drafts he’s going in the fourth or fifth round. He went 38th and 55th in the two mock drafts.

Ronald Acuña Jr. – Although his batting average in 2020 was only .250, he’s a five-category player and still deserves to be one of the top draft picks. He has a rare combination of speed and power, although he also ran less in 2020. He went first in both mock drafts I have reports on.

Pete Alonso – As expected, he regressed in 2020, with his average dropping 30 points. But his home run production still makes him attractive. With the Mets getting better players in the lineup in 2021, he’s worth grabbing if he falls far enough. He went 50th and 84th in two mock drafts.    

Jose Altuve – He posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also recorded a career-high 18.6 percent strikeout rate and a career-high swinging strike rate. I’m interested if he slips to the seventh round. He went 31st and 89th in mock drafts.

Yordan Alvarez – I had a very bad taste in my mouth last year when I took him with the 38th pick in the draft and he played two games. Having knee injuries at his age is not good, but he still might be a value if he falls far enough. He can hit.  He went 69th and 100th in two mock drafts.

Nolan Arenado – The new Cardinal third baseman slumped a little bit in 2020, with his averageand OPS dipping to the lowest points since his rookie year. A four-category player, he has a lifetime OPS of .890 and batting average of .293. He went 22nd and 37th in the mock drafts.

Josh Bell – Bell’s trade from the Pirates to the Nationals is a plus. If the Nationals get the 2019 version, he’s a big addition, as he hit a career-high 37 homers while slashing .277/.367/.569. His numbers cratered across the board in 2020’s short campaign, but he’s worth a 16th-round pick.

Cody Bellinger – The 25-year-old Dodgers first baseman took a big step back last year after a breakout year in 2019. But he can contribute in five categories if healthy. His injury last year, sustained in the NLCS celebration, was concerning. He went 18th and 20th in the mock drafts.

Mookie Betts – The Dodgers are building their team around him, and he’s the darling of most analysts. I think he may be slightly overrated, however. His walk rate did drop a bit in 2020, and he struck out at a career-worst 15.4 percent. He went No. 2 and No. 3 overall in two mock drafts. 

Bo Bichette – The 22-year-old Blue Jays shortstop has flashed potential, playing parts of the last two seasons. He’s slashing .307/.347/.549 with 16 home runs, 44 RBI, 50 runs and eight stolen bases. But the small sample size concerns me. He went 16th and 40th in recent mock drafts.  

Xander Bogaerts – The 28-year-old Red Sox shortstop  has a career batting average of .289 and .805 OPS. Unlike many players, 2020 was not a down year for this four-category contributor. I’ve benefitted from owning him the past two years. He went 32nd and 41st in recent mock drafts.

Michael Brantley – The 33-year-old slashed .300/.364/.476 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 24 runs scored and two stolen bases over 187 plate appearances for the Astros in 2020. He’s a career .297 hitter and can hit 20 homers and steal 10 bases. Brantley went 150th in a recent mock draft.  

Alex Bregman – He was one of the biggest fantasy busts of 2020, slashing .242/.350/.451 with only six home runs, 22 RBI, and 19 runs. But he has a lifetime OPS of .877 and batting average of .272.  He is also eligible at two positions. If he’s available in the third or fourth round, I’m in.   

Nelson Cruz – Like a fine wine, Cruz just seems to get better with his age. He was one of MLB’s preeminent power threats for the entire the 2020 season, with the eighth-highest OPS at .992. Unfortunately, he’s going as early as the 6th round, which is too rich for my blood.   

Rafael Devers – The Red Sox third baseman is only 24. Is a year of normalcy the glide path to superstardom? He hit .263 with 32 runs, 11 home run, 43 RBI but no stolen base last year with natural regression from Devers’ breakout 2019 season. He went 35th and 48th in mock drafts.

Josh Donaldson – He’s on my radar after slipping all the way to the17th round in recent Yahoo drafts. After 28 games of hitting .222 in 2020, Donaldson has 191 ADP. This seems like an overreaction to a short season, with his track record and a 37-home run season just a year earlier.

Tommy Edman – He’ll be hitting at the top of a Cardinals lineup that just became lethal with the addition of Nolan Arenado. But his 2020 season was dismal after a promising 2019 season. His multi-position eligibility is attractive, but an 11th round pick seems like a substantial risk.

David Fletcher – Fletcher has been a steady presence at the top of the lineup for the Angels and is a fantasy contributor in runs and batting average with multi-positional eligibility. He has a career .292 batting average. In spite of that, he went undrafted in a recent Yahoo mock draft.

Freddie Freeman – The 31-year-old seems to be getting better with age. He bounced back from COVID to play all 60 games and batted .341 with a 1.102 OPS. Freeman has been one of the league’s best hitters since his first full season in 2011. He went 11th and 12th in mock drafts.

Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. – Another player who has gotten better in each of three seasons is Gurriel.

While many others floundered in 2020, Gurriel continued his ascendance in fantasy circles. In 2020. the hard-hit percentage was in the 91st percentile. He went 105th in a recent mock draft. 

Bryce Harper – He was the Phillies’ best player last year and has more than earned his contract so far. He’s had 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI his last two full seasons. His batting average has dipped the last three years, but he has a lifetime .900 OPS. He went 20th and 25th in mock drafts.

Teoscar Hernandez – He was one of the standout batters of the 2020 season, with his 16 home runs tied for seventh in the majors, he batted a career-high .289 and even chipped in six steals over 50 games. A Statcast darling, he does strike out a lot. He went 71st and 81st in mock drafts.

Eloy Jimenez – After a good start in his rookie year, he built on that in 2020, with a 14 home runs, a .296 batting average and .891 OPS in 55 games. A lot of power, but he hits the ball on the ground too much, doesn’t walk enough, and won’t steal. He went 34th and 36th in mock drafts.

Aaron Judge – When he’s healthy, he’s a beast, but many key stats are trending down. He does have a lifetime .948 OPS and .272 batting average. There are enough flags not to overpay, but he’s worth drafting if he slips to the seventh round. He went 66th and 74th in two mock drafts.

D.J. LeMahieu – A career .305 hitter, he hit .364 with a 1.011 OPS last year. His hitting metrics, including hard-hit rate, overall exit velocity, contact rate and strikeout rate, all point to a repeat in 2021, but he doesn’t steal bases or hit with power. He went 32nd and 47rd in recent drafts.

Kyle Lewis – The Mariner outfielder and reigning AL rookie of the year was a waiver wire addition for me last year. With a small sample size, I’m cautious He could be a five-category player, but advanced metrics don’t support it, so don’t pay up. He went 138th in a mock draft. 

Francisco Lindor – Like many, the Indians shortstop had a down year in 2020, but I expect him to bounce back and be a five-category player in 2021. His ADP indicates I won’t be able to get him late in the second round where he should be drafted. He went 13th and 14th in mock drafts.

Brandon Lowe – I won’t go overboard with Lowe since he still hasn’t played a full season in the MLB. He started 2020 season well but ran out of gas at the end. But he’s emerging as a real power hitter with improving overall skills. He went 64th and 64th in two recent mock drafts.

José Ramírez – The Indians third baseman almost won the AL MVP Award, finishing second in voting in 2020, and third in ’17 and ’18. He is a five-star contributor since he hits for power and steals a lot of bases. It seems like 2019 was an outlier. He went 7th and 12th in two mock drafts.

Anthony Rendon – Still in Los Angeles, and batting behind Mike Trout will provide the Angels third baseman another opportunity to lead MLB in runs batted in. As expected, Rendon regressed in 2020, but he had a .286 average and .915 OPS. And he may be available in the fourth round.

Miguel Sano – He had 34 home runs in 105 games in 2019, but 2020 saw his OPS dipped from .923 to .757 in 2020. He’s an injury risk, and his 43.8 percent strikeout rate is brutal. But he’s probably worth a 15th or 16th round pick, with his dual position eligibility (1B/3B) another plus. 

Juan Soto – After posting a .287/.403/.535 triple-slash line over his first two seasons (a total of 266 games), he took his game to a new level, slashing .351/.490/.695 in 47 games in 2020, and improving an already elite strikeout-to-walk ratio. He went No. 5 and No. 8 in mock drafts. 

Fernando Tatis Jr. – He may be overrated with a small track record. The Padres are building a powerhouse of a team, and Tatis will be in the center of it. Tatis hit .277/.386/.571 with 17 homers, 11 steals and 45 RBI over 59 games in 2020. He’s going fourth in many mock drafts.

Kyle Tucker – The 23-year-old was the Astros best hitter in 2020, slashing .268/.325/.512 with nine home runs, eight steals, 42 RBI, and 33 runs scored in 58 games. But with only one, short season of success, I’m reluctant to pay up. He’s going in the third or fourth round in mock drafts.

Mike Trout – The only bad news is that he’s stop running in recent years, which still makes him a four-category player. Although injuries are more of a concern now, he’s still worth an early first-round draft pick with his track record. He went No. 3 and No. 5 in two mock drafts.

Trea Turner – Up until last year, I regarded him as an overrated player, but 2020 showed he could be a five-category contributor, with his speed being his best asset. Since making his MLB debut in 2015, Turner has stolen 171 bases in 541 games. He went 6th and 9th in mock drafts.

Alex Verdugo – A high batting average and run-scoring potential are expected, hitting ahead of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. But he doesn’t steal very many bases, and the lack of power makes him a two-category player. Is he really worth a 10th round pick?

Castellanos has value

The hype surrounding Nick Castellanos was enormous when he signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020. He was expected to benefit from playing in Great American Ballpark. Some predicted he would have the kind of a season that would make him a contender for National League MVP. He had been on fire in his last 51 games following a trade to the Cubs, finishing 2019 with a 1.002 OPS.

The 2020 season started exactly as everyone hoped for Castellanos, as he began the season on a 12 game hitting streak. During that span, he slashed .366/.447/.878 with six home runs, ten runs scored, and 13 RBI. But after the 12 game hit streak ended on August 6, things went downhill. Over his final 48 games, Nick Castellanos slashed a disappointing .192/.262/.395 with eight home runs.

The weak finish has clearly depressed his appeal heading into 2021, with his ADP sitting around 100. Considering 2020 was a bad year for many good players, this could provide a buying opportunity. Castellanos hit for plenty of power last season with the Reds, but his strikeout rate jumped to 28.5%, while his batting average cratered to a career-low .225. Why do I think he’ll rebound?

If you look at his Statcast numbers, Castellanos was a victim of bad luck. He had an expected batting average of .273 and a strong 46.7% hard-hit rate. With a full year in Great American Ballpark, Castellanos should be the player the analysts expected to see last year. Hitting in the heart of a strong Reds lineup, you can draft him with confidence in the eighth or ninth round.

Rafael Devers – The Red Sox third baseman is only 24. Is a year of normalcy the glide path to superstardom? He hit .263 with 32 runs, 11 home run, 43 RBI but no stolen base last year with natural regression from Devers’ breakout 2019 season. He’s worth a fourth-round pick.

Tommy Edman – I’ll take a chance on Edman, who will be hitting at the top of a Cardinals lineup that just became lethal with the addition of Nolan Arenado. Edman, is a buy-low prospect after his 2020 season fell short of 2019. If you can get him in the 15th or 16th round, he’ll return value.

David Fletcher – Fletcher has been a steady presence at the top of the lineup for the Angels and is a fantasy contributor in runs and batting average with multi-positional eligibility. He has a career .292 batting average. In spite of that, he is being ignored. Pick him up in the late rounds.

Freddie Freeman – The 31-year-old  seems to be getting better with age. He bounced from COVID to play all 60 games and batted .341 with a 1.102 OPS in 2020. Freeman has been one of the league’s best hitters since his first full season in 2011. Take him late in the first or in the second round.

Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. – Another player who has gotten better in each of three seasons, Gurriel is a player I was pleased to have on my team in 2020 as he continued his ascendance in fantasy circles. In 2020. the hard-hit percentage was in the 91st percentile. Take him in the eighth round.  

Bryce Harper – He was the Phillies’ best player last year and has earned his contract so far. He’s had 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI his last two full seasons. His batting average has dipped the last three years, but he has a lifetime .900 OPS. Take him late in the second or early in the third round.

Teoscar Hernandez – He was one of the standout batters of the 2020 season, with his 16 home runs tied for seventh in the majors. He batted a career-high .289 and even chipped in six steals over 50 games. A Statcast darling, he does strike out a lot. Take him if he slips to the seventh round.

Eloy Jimenez – After a good start in his rookie year, he built on that in 2020, with a 14 home runs, a .296 batting average and .891 OPS in 55 games. A lot of power, but he hits the ball on the ground too much, doesn’t walk enough, and won’t steal. Take him if he slips to the fourth round.

Aaron Judge – When he’s healthy, he’s a beast, but he hasn’t been healthy much of his career, and many key stats are trending down. He does have a lifetime .948 OPS and .272 batting average. There are enough flags not to overpay, but he’s worth drafting if he slips to the seventh round.

D.J. LeMahieu – A career .305 hitter, he hit .364 with a 1.011 OPS last year. His hitting metrics, including hard-hit rate, overall exit velocity, contact rate and strikeout rate, all point to a repeat in 2021, but he doesn’t steal bases or hit with power. Draft him late in the fourth round if he’s available.

Kyle Lewis – The Mariner outfielder and reigning AL rookie of the year was a waiver wire addition for me last year. With a small sample size, I’m cautious. He could be a five-category player, but advanced metrics don’t support it, so don’t take him any earlier than the 11th or 12th round.

Francisco Lindor – Like many, Lindor had a down year in 2020, but I expect him to bounce back in his first season with the Mets and be a five-category player. His ADP indicates I won’t be able to get him late in the second round where he should be drafted. You can take him in the second round.

Brandon Lowe – I won’t go overboard with Lowe since he still hasn’t played a full season in the MLB. He started 2020 season well but ran out of gas at the end of the season. He’s been emerging as a power hitter, with improving overall skills, and he’s a value if he slips to the seventh round.

Baseball A-C

The Super Bowl hasn’t even been played yet, so it’s way too early to firm up your fantasy baseball draft prospects – especially with news out today that the season may be delayed a month. But with that said, let’s start looking at some position players I like. Today’s it’s A-C.

José Abreu – The reigning AL MVP has a career OPS of .870 and a career batting average of .294, which makes him a four-category player in my book. It’s surprising that in early fantasy drafts he’s going in the fourth or fifth round. I wouldn’t hesitate to take him there but not much higher.

Ronald Acuña Jr. – Although his batting average in 2020 was only .250, he’s a five-category player and still deserves to be one of the top draft picks. He has a rare combination of speed and power, although he also ran less in 2020. If he runs less in 2021, he may not be No. 1 in Roto.

Pete Alonso – As expected, he regressed in 2020, with his average dropping 30 points. But his home run production still makes him attractive. With the Mets getting better players in the lineup in 2021, he’s worth grabbing if he slips into the sixth or seventh round, which is a real possibility.    

Jose Altuve – He posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also recorded a career-high 18.6 percent strikeout rate in 2020. If he sounds like a player to avoid, he probably is unless he slips to eighth round. Then, I’m a buyer based on his superior pedigree.

Yordan Alvarez – I had a very bad taste in my mouth last year when I took him with the 38th pick in the draft and he played two games. Having knee injuries at his age is not good, but he still might be a value if he falls far enough. When I say far enough, I mean the eighth or ninth round.

Nolan Arenado – The new Cardinal third baseman slumped a little bit in 2020, with his average and OPS dipping to the lowest points since his rookie year. A four-category player, he has a lifetime OPS of .890 and batting average of .293. If he slips to the third or fourth round, I’m interested in him.

Cody Bellinger – He took a big step back last year after a breakout in 2019. But he can contribute in five categories if healthy. His injury last year, sustained in the NLCS celebration, was concerning. If others discount him enough, however, he’s worth a late second or early third round selection.

Mookie Betts – The Dodgers are building their team around him, and he’s the darling of most analysts. I think he may be slightly overrated, however. His walk rate did drop a bit in 2020, and he struck out at a career-worst 15.4 percent. If he slips to late in the first round, you can take him.  

Bo Bichette – The 22-year-old Blue Jays shortstop has flashed potential, playing parts of the last two seasons. He’s slashing .307/.347/.549 with 16 home runs, 44 RBI, 50 runs and eight stolen bases. But the small sample size concerns me. Take him if he slips to the fourth round in your draft.  

Xander Bogaerts – The 28-year-old Red Sox shortstop  has a career batting average of .289 and .805 OPS. Unlike many players, 2020 was not a down year for this four-category contributor. I’ve benefitted from owning him the past two years. He’s well worth a fourth round selection.

Michael Brantley – The 33-year-old slashed .300/.364/.476 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 24 runs scored and two stolen bases over 187 plate appearances for the Astros in 2020. He’s a career .297 hitter and can hit 20 homers and steal 10 bases. If he’s still on the board in the 12th round, pounce.  

Alex Bregman – I’m willing to overlook his only down year in 2020 because it was 2020. He has a lifetime OPS of .877 and batting average of .272.  He is also eligible at two positions. If he’s available late in the second round, or early in the third round, I’m interested in owning him again on my team.

Nelson Cruz –  Like a fine wine, Cruz just seems to get better with age. He’s 40, but he was still one of MLB’s preeminent power threats for the 2020 season. He’s back as DH with the Twins and could still blast 40 home runs. If he’s still on the board in the 9th round, I would gleefully take him on my team.  

Draft mockery

Early mock drafts are fun to look at, and I am very interested to see how the “experts” are evaluating players – especially after the crazy 2020 season. As you might expect, I was surprised at how high some players were ranked and how low other ones were ranked in a couple of recent mock drafts.

Take New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso as an example. As a rookie, he led the majors with 52 home runs. I drafted him 28th in a Yahoo league last year. Although I traded him, it’s worth noting that he finished tied for 7th last year with 16 home runs in 57 games. Not bad, in my opinion.

In a recent 2021 mock draft, Alonso went 84th. That’s the end of the 7th round in a 12-team draft. I would think that would be a good value for an elite power hitter who should only get better on an improving team and more experience. Alonso is not the only position player I found undervalued.

J.D. Martinez had a terrible year last year, batting .213 with seven home runs and a dismal .680 OPS in 54 games. But the 33-year-old Martinez has a ten-year career .290 average and a .883 career OPS. Before 2020, he hit 30 plus home runs four straight years. But he was drafted 86th in that mock draft.

Keep your eye on Martinez this year because he seems to be one of a number of good players that are being overly penalized for a bad season last year. Keep in mind that this was 2020, and a high percentage of players had bad years. With Martinez, you have a large sample size to fall back on.

Charlie Blackmon is just a year older than Martinez, and he has a ten-year career .304 average and .865 OPS. Since his rookie year, he’s never hit below .283. During the four seasons between 2016 and 2019, he never scored less than 111 runs. He also had at least 29 home runs in those four seasons.

In spite of those impressive numbers, and that he had a good 2020, he was taken with the 109th pick in the mock draft. In 2020, he was taken 68th in the Yahoo league draft I mentioned earlier. I feel confident Blackmon was way undervalued, and I hope he’s available that late when I draft for real.

Now, here’s another six-pack of position players I like at their anticipated average draft position (ADP) heading into 2021. You should monitor there health – especially those with an injury history. But all of these players could be a draft day value if they are overlooked as I think they will be.

Michael Brantley – The 33-year-old slashed .300/.364/.476 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 24 runs scored and two stolen bases over 187 plate appearances for the Astros in 2020. Brantley is one of the top hitters in the free agent market and will produce for fantasy managers in 2021.

David Fletcher – Fletcher has been a steady presence at the top of the lineup for the Angels the past two seasons and is a fantasy contributor in runs and batting average with multi-positional eligibility. He has a career .292 batting average and has gotten better in each of his three seasons.

Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. – Another player who has gotten better in each of three seasons is Gurriel. While Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr carry more weight due to being 2nd generation stars with higher prospect pedigrees, Gurriel has had the best offensive career to date.

Nick Madrigal – The 23-year-old rookie hit .340 last season, with two stolen bases in 29 games. He doesn’t have power, but he’s the best contact hitter in baseball. I predict the infielder will lead the league in fewest strikeouts and possibly batting average, while stealing at least 15 bases.

J.D. Martinez – He struggled in 2020, slashing .213/.291/.389 with seven home runs, 27 RBI and 22 runs scored and one stolen base over 237 plate appearances. But as noted above, Martinez has a solid track record and is expected to be the Red Sox everyday DH in 2021.

Anthony Rendon – Still in Los Angeles, and batting behind Mike Trout will provide the Angels third baseman another opportunity to lead MLB in runs batted in. As expected, Rendon regressed in 2020, but he had a .286 average and .915 OPS. And he may be available in the fourth round.

Lindor to the Mets

The New York Mets proved they’re in it to win it in 2021, acquiring All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco from the Indians in a bold trade. The six-player deal sent infielders Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez, pitching prospect Josh Wolf and outfield prospect Isaiah Greene to Cleveland.

Lindor, 27, is a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and arguably one of the best all-around players in baseball. He is coming off a down year that saw him hit .258 with only eight home runs in a short season, but he averaged 34 homers with a .278 batting average from 2017-19. Lindor will be a free agent after the season.

Carrasco, 33, was honored as the 2020 American League Comeback Player of the Year, returning from a life-threatening chronic myeloid leukemia diagnosis to start 12 games for the Indians with a 2.91 ERA. Overall, Carrasco is 88-73 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 seasons, finishing fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2017.

Fantasy managers should know that these two players will transform the dynamics of the Mets’ roster. In Lindor, the Mets are receiving one of the most dynamic starting shortstops in the game. In Carrasco, they have found another proven starter to join a rotation that includes Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman atop the rotation.

Lindor is projected to bat second behind Jeff McNeil, with Michael Conforto, Dom Smith and Pete Alonso hitting behind him. This not only raises Lindor’s ceiling for producing runs and RBI, but it also raises the stock value of the above-mentioned players, along with Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis and James McCann.

Of course, there are other stars shining brightly across the MLB. Here are another dozen players that I like that should be on your radar when it’s time to draft. Keep in mind that it’s very early, and a lot can change before opening day. It’s also important to see where these players will be drafted. Keep an eye on their ADP.

Ozzie Albies – The Braves second baseman, 23, scored more than 100 runs in 2018 and 2019 and stole 14 and 15 bases respectively in 2018 and 2019. He’s worth a fourth or fifth round pick.   

Tim Anderson – The 27-year-old White Sox shortstop is undervalued year. He’s had two seasons in a row with a batting average above .320, and he can hit for power and steal bases.  

Cody Bellinger – The 25-year-old Dodgers first baseman took a big step back last year after a breakout year in 2019. But he can contribute in five categories and is worth a second-round pick.

Bo Bichette – The 22-year-old Blue Jays shortstop has flashed potential, playing parts of the last two seasons. He hits over .300 and can steal a few bases but lacks the power of an elite player.

Xander Bogaerts – The 28-year-old Red Sox shortstop  has a career batting average of .289 and .805 OPS. Unlike many players, 2020 was not a down year for this four-category contributor.

Freddie Freeman – The 31-year-old Braves first baseman seems to be getting better with age. He bounced back from COVID to play all 60 games and bat .341 with a 1.102 OPS.

Eloy Jimenez – After a good start in his rookie year, the 24-year-old White Sox outfielder built on that in 2020, with a 14 home runs, a .296 batting average and .891 OPS in 55 games.

D.J. LeMahieu – A career .305 hitter, the 32-year-old Yankees infielder has thrived in New York. He hit .364 with a 1.011 OPS last year, but he’s a free agent this year and may go to LA.  

Manny Machado – His second year in San Diego was good, with 44 runs scored, 16 homers and 47 RBI in 60 games. It’s noteworthy that Machado has been largely free of injuries in his career.

Whit Merrifield – He has a lifetime .295 batting average and has been healthy during his career. Lacking in power, he had 12 steals in 60 games last year, scoring 38 runs and adding 30 RBI.  

Yoan Moncada – Managers who drafted him based on 2019 production were disappointed, and it looks like that season was an outlier in his short career. But he could be a buy-low prospect.

Adalberto Mondesi – After a slow start, he closed out the 2020 on a tear in the final weeks, finishing with 33 runs, 22 RBI and 24 stolen bases, which led the league in the shortened season.