Minting fantasy gold

Some fantasy baseball managers spend all their time and energy preparing their draft board for the first 15 rounds of the draft and then just throw darts in the last several rounds. “I’ve heard of this guy, I’ll draft him. This guy plays outfield. I still need an outfielder…” If this describes you, my admonition is to stop being lazy. Late-round picks can help you win a league championship.

Consider the case of Oneil Cruz, the 23-year-old shortstop who crept onto the major league baseball stage late last season. You might have missed it. He played only two games in the bigs, homered once, drove in three runs, and scored two more. He was playing for those Pittsburgh Pirates, who had been eliminated from playoff contention about six months earlier in 2021.

As I write this column, Cruz had an NFBC ADP of 219, which means you could get him in the 18th round in a 12-team league. And he could change your season. Cruz started out with a strong run at Double-A last season, hitting .292/.346/.536 with 12 home runs, 18 steals, a 23.4 K% and 7.3 BB% in 62 games. If that carried over into the majors, this could be a 20/20 player.

After raising eyebrows in Double-A, Cruz was rewarded with a six-game run at Triple-A followed by two games in the majors. He hit .466 with six home runs, nine strikeouts and eight walks in those eight games and suddenly appeared on the radar screen of fantasy analyst. Cruz has been climbing up draft boards since the end of last year, but he’s still outside the top 200.

Cruz, tall and lanky, can run. But his most bankable fantasy-relevant tool is his power, and he utilizes it to all fields. Cruz’s 6-foot-7 frame enables him to leverage the ball in a manner matched by few sluggers. His long levers lead to strikeouts, but he has the flexibility to golf out balls below his knees for home runs. He did just that in his only MLB homer late last season.

Pittsburgh figures to give him the keys at shortstop early this season and while his plus-plus raw power and plus speed give him a very high power/speed ceiling, his batting average as a rookie could be anywhere from the .181 Jarred Kelenic logged to something above .250. But my question is why wouldn’t you swing for the fences with Cruz in a late round of your draft?

Keep in mind that Cruz is just one of several players that will be available to draft after the 200th pick has been made in your fantasy draft. Here are 10 other players to consider with an ADP between 200 and 300. Note that their ADP comes from the most recent ADP at NFBC. They may go earlier or later in your draft.

JOSH DONALDSON, 3B, MINNESOTA, ADP 209

Donaldson still displayed elite power with a 94.1 mph exit velocity and 48.4 hard-hit percentage in 2021, which both ranked in the top 5% of hitters. He was also a steady glove at third base though his metrics were not elite. He drew walks at a good clip and even reduced his strikeouts. He still profiles as a top power option at third base, but at age 36 his injury risk is considerable.

MARCELL OZUNA, OF, ATLANTA, ADP 210

MLB suspended Ozuna in November related to a domestic violence charge, retroactive to Sept. 10, meaning he’s already served the ban while he was on administrative leave. The Braves have hinted that Ozuna will be back playing baseball in Atlanta in 2022. If Ozuna meets projections of .264, with 26 home runs, 67 runs and 85 RBI, he would be a steal at his current ADP of 210.

AUSTIN HAYS, OF, BALTIMORE, ADP 213

On June 22, Hays was slashing .219/.286/.394. His season had been interrupted by two IL stints costing him a month. From that point, Hays slashed .274/.319/.494. His plate skills and batted ball profile were similar the whole time, but his BABIP went from .250 to .303. Collecting at bats in the middle of an improving lineup, with half his games at Camden Yards, is alluring.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ, 2B/OF, ADP 214

Batting leadoff in 118 of 134 starts in Boston enabled Hernandez to post a career high with 84 runs. His defensive skills should keep him in the lineup daily. Hernandez’s 14 defensive runs saved was the third highest total for a centerfielder while his eight assists tied for second most.
Eligible in multiple positions, he should again compile bountiful counting stats, especially runs.

SEIYA SUZUKI, OF, FREE AGENT, ADP 217

Is it worth taking a chance with a late-round pick on a Japanese outfielder who CBS Sports ranked as the 15th best free agent of 2022? Suzuki, 27, is a career .309/.402/.541 hitter who has launched 189 home runs and has swiped 102 bases in his career. Japanese players have not made it in the MLB lately, Many analysts think Suzuki’s swing and overall game are likely to translate.

JESUS SANCHEZ, OF, MIAMI, ADP 232

Sanchez saw his strikeout rate shoot up from 18.7% at Triple-A to 31.1% in the majors, but he was able to make his connections count with a 12.7 Barrel% and .465 xwOBA on contact. Sanchez has good speed for 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, though he has not used it much on the bases. The swing-and-miss, lack of stolen-base speed and uncertainty of playing time are red flags.

JO ADELL, OF, LOS ANGELES ANGELS, ADP 236

A highly-regarded prospect and still highly regarded, Adell was rushed up to the majors and flopped badly in 2020. He was better in 2021. He hit .289/.342/.592 in Triple-A, then came up and hit .246/.295/.408 in the major leagues. This was in 441 total ABs (130 in the majors). His final 17 games in the majors: 3/1 and .302/.343/.524 when he hit in 14 of the final 17 games.

CHARLIE BLACKMON, OF, COLORADO, ADP 237

A steep decline in the last few years has caused him to fall far in the rankings at 35. He’s had only stolen seven combined bases over the past three season and just hit 13 homers last season, mainly because his groundball rate jumped to a career-high 47.2%. He did improve in the second half with his OPS jumping from .722 to .809, with most of the change being power driven.

LANE THOMAS, OF, WASHINGTON, ADP 256

There were signs of life for Thomas at the end of last season. Over 41 contests since being acquired from the Cardinals in late July, Thomas slashed .281/.376/.512 with seven home runs, four stolen bases, 31 runs and 25 RBI. If he can keep that momentum going into the 2022 season, the 26-year-old will be a name to keep in mind if he’s available in the 22nd round in the draft.

JOEY BART, C, SAN FRANCISCO, ADP 271

With Buster Posey retiring, Bart’s path to big-league at-bats has never been clearer. However, he has a 31.6 K% and 6.1 BB% in 396 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors. Bart projects as a batting average drain in the short term. He has plus raw power and hit 10 home runs in 67 games at Triple-A last year. Take a flyer on Bart with your final pick in your draft.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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