One of the most challenging aspects of fantasy baseball is spotting the proverbial “diamond in the rough,” ideally before your opponents. Nothing quite like the pain of catching the news via the transaction log of that breakout player being signed by a fellow owner!
For these next few articles, my original thought process was to identify my Top 40 MiLB outfielders and reveal, in standard-countdown format, ten each week. However, as draft season is upon us, I am thinking differently. Here’s a look at five MiLB outfielders you need to know about and should draft. NOW. (Minus Shohei Ohtani. He’s a pitcher. And a DH. And more on him later.)
The trick becomes … at what point should you pull the trigger on these players? Your league parameters (number of teams, dynasty, keeper, re-draft, H2H, roto, etc.) will determine how deep you may be willing to go on some of these players. Also, your penchant for drafting younger players and having the patience (dynasty and keeper leagues here) for them to develop.
Truth be told- for THE BIG 5- not much patience will be required. (Well, it may be with one … but I digress; he’s still a “Buy Now” kind of guy.) My hope is to guide you through the process as you’re settling into your draft with your handy-dandy cheat sheets, a chilled beverage in your favorite tumbler, and snack close by. Let’s get to mining.
DRAFT NOW TOP FIVE ZONE
#1 Ronald Acuna, Braves
All Ronald Acuna did last year was improve in each of his three minor league stops (A+, AA, and AAA), and then added an Arizona Fall League MVP (7 HRs in 23 G) for good measure. Part of me wants to regale you with stories about this kid from 2017. The other part of me says that if you’re on this site reading about Fantasy Baseball, you already know who this kid is (and just how much talent he has).
Some sites have him the #1 prospect in all of baseball while others have him at #2. Acuna does have a few hurdles which may slightly delay, in this writer’s mind, his 2018 MLB debut:
- Service time – in the era of player control, the Braves would be wise to wait until mid-April to give Acuna the call to start that service time clock.
- A crowded outfield – Ender Enciarte, Nick Markakis, Lane Adams, and Preston Tucker are all on the roster already. Is Acuna better? You could argue for Enciarte’s AVG, but that’s about it. Heck yes, Acuna is better. (Note: the Braves depth chart on MLB.com does not have Acuna listed at all, but other sites do have him listed (unofficially, of course), some as a starter.
- Nerves – of the front office. I could see them keeping Acuna in Gwinnett, “just because.” 2018 won’t be Atlanta’s year, but with Acuna leading the way, and all those arms on the horizon, the future is very bright for the Braves.
But those hurdles aren’t enough in quality or quantity to scare me off of drafting him this year. Early returns show Acuna being drafted as the 34th Outfielder (121.7 ADP). For me, he’s a buy and hold stock, as good as KO (Coke) is to legendary investor Warren Buffet.
– In a 12-team new/ re-draft league, I’m targeting him in the 8th round (puts him around the 27th/28th OF drafted).
– In a Keeper League, maybe even sooner. At 20-years-young, you are truly looking at your CF for the next decade. (If your keeper rules allow you to hang on to a player that long.)
– Auction leagues are a little dicier because you don’t know when someone will nominate Acuna. I’d let someone else nominate him late and then nab him for $3-$5 if you can. If you have to get to $10-$15, I believe it is well worth the money, as Acuna can, and will, fill up a box score (H, AVG, OPS, R, HR, RBI, SB). Can this guy be the next Cody Bellinger who I saw stolen last year for $5 by an astute owner?
#2. Lewis Brinson, Marlins
Having already been traded two times as the centerpiece in two blockbuster trades, Lewis Brinson has done what top prospects are supposed to do to minor league pitching: laid waste to it. Especially of late at the AAA level. In 107 combined games at AAA, Brinson has 18 HR, 72 RBI and a triple slash line of 0.349/ 0.411/ 0.574. That just screams promotion. And in a massively depleted Marlins outfield, it has “starter” written all over it. The MLB.com site thinks so, with Brinson right there in bright lights for all to see as the starting CF. The job is his to lose. And between us, I’m afraid he will. I hope I’m wrong because I love watching young players come up and crush it, but if last year’s cup of coffee is a predictor of 2018 in any capacity, Brinson may be in trouble. Granted, Brinson only had 56 PAs (47 ABs) and batted a putrid 0.106 with a strikeout rate of 30.36%. That percentage rivaled his rookie mark in A-ball from 2013. That said, as he matriculated through the minors, he did improve, cutting down on his strikeouts from 37.97% (2013) to 18.08% (2017); tremendous improvement over a 4-year minor league maturation process.
But I suspect the Marlins, even with as bad as they’ll be this year, won’t leave Brinson out there all season with a 30%+ strikeout rate. (That’s pushing 200 strikeouts his rookie season with 150+ games played.) His former Brewers teammate Keon Broxton paved this road for him already: 0.220 AVG with a 37.8%+ strikeout rate, and now Broxton is a 4th outfielder based on recent moves by the Brewers Front Office. Further reducing the shine is that in 2017 Brinson was MLB’s #13 overall ranked prospect. 2018, even after a quality year at AAA, Brinson fell to #27. Granted, some of that may have been others outplaying and leapfrogging him, but again, I believe he’s playing his way down the list.
Brinson is currently being drafted as the 99th Outfielder (326.7 ADP). 12-team leagues with 25 man rosters draft 300 players, so at #326, Brinson wouldn’t be drafted. He likely is going to start for the Marlins in CF (one of 30 starting CF in baseball), so there is [real or perceived] value here. I’d draft him in a late round (22-23) or spend $1-$3 on him and hope he has a great Spring Training. If not, you could always use Brinson’s elite prospect status (being ranked #27 out of nearly 3,000+ prospects is still a remarkable feat!) to acquire another player you desire? He would make a great supplemental piece to use in upgrading your rotation or other position of need.
#3. Willie Calhoun, Rangers
Talk about dominating a league’s pitching. Willie Calhoun started 2017 in Oklahoma City, the AAA affiliate for the Dodgers. In 99 games, he hit 23 HR with 67 RBIs and sported a 0.298/ 0.358/ 0.574 triple-slash. (Prorated, that is 36 HRs -based on 154 games ) Anyway, the Rangers acquired him as a key piece in sending expiring free agent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. How did Calhoun respond? All he did was pick up the pace, to the tune of 8 HR, 26 RBI and a 0.310/ 0.342/ 0.566 triple-slash, in just 29 games.
Ladies and gentleman, Calhoun can hit. And not just that … the kid has patience. With a strikeout rate hovering around 11% the last two years, he has also managed to walk nearly 8% of the time. Calhoun has a bat that might have struggled to find a place in a crowded NL lineup like Los Angeles, but with the DH at his disposal, the not-so-fleet footed 2B may have just found himself a new home as a converted LF/ DH for the Rangers.
Point of fact, MLB.com has Calhoun penciled in as the starting LF as of this writing. And many agree, as Calhoun is being drafted as the 65th Outfielder (223.7 ADP). I can see being cautious because he did not *wow* in his 2017 debut, but since 99.5% of fantasy leagues do not penalize for lack of defense, I’d personally gamble a bit on the huge upside here.
The ADP slots Calhoun in the 19th round with the bat and potential for positional flexibility both playing well. Personally, I’d reach for Calhoun as early as the 15th round, knowing full well that there are still a plethora of other talented MLB-now outfielders for me to select later. For auction drafts, I’d look for Calhoun in the $3-$5 range.
#4. Alex Verdugo, Dodgers
Part of the reason that the Dodgers were willing to part with Calhoun was because of this contact machine. Alex Verdugo has proven all he needs to prove in the minors and he’s ready for the next challenge of his young career. And if the Dodgers give him the chance, you may be looking at their 3rd consecutive Rookie of the Year winner.
Verdugo has a patience at the plate that belies his years (he’ll turn 22 in May). Over his last 1,000+ minor league ABs, Verdugo carries a walk rate of 9.33% and a strikeout rate of just 11.37%. While you could absolutely argue that his walk rate should (and will) improve as he continues to develop, his early selective approach and ability to make solid contact should help Verdugo keep his strikeouts down. Note: the 11.37% would have finished 8th in the league last year for qualified batters. I know there’s going to be a learning curve when Verdugo gets the permanent call, but I’ll take that established track record and trust he’ll get bat on ball more often than not.
One thing about Verdugo that does give me pause is the still-crowded Dodger outfield. Kike Hernandez in left, breakout sensation Chris Taylor in center, Yasiel Puig in right (for now), with former All-Stars Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp, and Andrew Toles also waiting in the wings. That said, I’d slot Verdugo as the 2nd (maybe 3rd, at worst) rated of this crew. He has a terrific arm and while he wheels may not rate in center, I believe he should absolutely, at a minimum, open the season as the Dodgers starting LF. They are started his service timer by bringing him up last year (31 days), but if they’re looking to conserve a year, I could see them bringing Verdugo up in mid-May.
Verdugo is still a player I want on my roster and if I can draft him, I would do so. Currently, he is going off the board as the 135th outfielder (522.5 ADP) which means you could likely steal him as your 24th or 25th round pick. Again with auctions, $1-$3.
#5. Jesse Winker, Reds
While Jesse Winker’s prospect star has faded of late (MLB #34 , MLB #67 , and MLB #82 ), all he’s done is produce wherever he’s played. Winker has suffered a supreme power outage over the last two years (7 HR in 195 GP), ideally not something you like to see from a corner outfielder, but it did look as if he was beginning to recover some of that while with the Reds (7 HR in 47 GP). Power is not Winker’s calling card, however, it is a steady hit tool (batted 0.298 over four separate call-ups and one DL stint with the Reds in 2017) with quality glovework in the field (only committed 3 errors over 200 GP in AAA and MLB in 2016-2017).
The good news for Winker is that he’s just a Billy Hamilton trade away from seeing everyday innings in center or right (unlikely that he’d unseat Duvall in left; Schebler or Winker playing center is most likely). Phil Ervin could pose an interesting twist in that he could steal some on Winker’s playing time, but based on performance to date, that would be silliness at its finest. Ervin is a blazer, but his speed is about all he has on Winker.
Yes, Winker is the play here. Results to date have him being selected as the 94th outfielder (309 ADP). Once again on the outside looking in for our 12-team, 25-round redraft leagues, thus another steal in the 24th or 25th round. With auctions, $1-$3.
Not Breaking Camp??
The list of 2018 prospects is super-talented . No doubt the economics of baseball are helping top-flight athletes make decisions to forgo collegiate commitments in pursuit of [what for many has been] their lifelong passion. The following players were not included in today’s Draft Now list because I am not quite sure they’ll break camp with the big club, meaning you can likely grab them off the wire in-season. I’ll submit to the fact some are so well-known, you may not have that option, but I wanted to cover them briefly (and detail why they were not mentioned above).
Victor Robles, Nationals – it’s not rare for a player to skip AAA, but Robles only has 37 games at AA under his belt (and 13 September-MLB games). Unless he blows up in Spring Training, I look for him to report to Syracuse to start 2018. ADP: 284.7, #87 OF
Eloy Jiminez, White Sox – another player with zero AAA experience. I expect Jimenez to at least make an April appearance Charlotte. I hope they scheduled Eloy bobble head night early. ADP: 397.0, #112 OF
Austin Hays, Orioles – Hays is another player with no AAA experience (and he didn’t show too well at the player in his September call-up), some seasoning at Norfolk would really get Hays moving in the right direction. ADP: 336.0, #101 OF
And of course, Shohei Ohtani, Angels – left off this list quite simply, because he’s a DH. And because someone in your league will draft him in the first round as a pitcher. You know it’s going to happen.
Stay tuned next week as we continue our Top 40 Countdown of MiLB outfielders.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday February 15th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #98 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kevin Bzdek. Kevin is a writer with Major League Fantasy Sports and part of the editing staff. Kevin’s articles publish every Friday morning at 7am.
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