With fantasy baseball drafts nearly done and dusted, it’s time to reflect. Was your strategy as sound as it could be, or were there a few players you missed out on?
A great draft takes a great mix of everything. Smart and calculated decisions, hours of statistical research, and a pinch of bold caution to the wind while you draft a guy well into his 30’s with an elbow injury.
No, I’m not telling you to draft David Price. What I am telling you, is to not make your mind up so quickly, and to stop paying attention to the long list of guys people are telling you not to draft.
You may have already noticed, but there’s a demand for young draftable prospects more than ever. In drafts, owners are overlooking well-established players in later rounds, and instead, reaching for unknowns and rookies hoping for a breakout year.
There’s nothing wrong with that strategy. We’re always going to overestimate prospects’ potential, but before you hinge your entire season on Gary Sanchez, don’t look past these five, plain ol’ vanilla players, to really give your fantasy season some legs this year.
J.A. Happ, SP – Toronto Blue Jays
Happ is nothing special. His 91.8 MPH fastball isn’t that exciting, and neither is his career in general. The 34-year old finished with a sound 20.5% strikeout rate last season and won 20 of the 32 games he started in for the Blue Jays, labeling himself as a pretty basic pitcher well on his way out.
Before he calls it a day, Happ still has a lot to offer you, though. So far this Spring he’s been dominant, posting a 1.76 ERA and 10 strikeouts over 15.1 innings. Spring numbers don’t convince you? Allow me to continue.
Last season all five of Happ’s pitchers other than the cutter resulted in higher strikeout totals compared to 2015, illustrating just how much command he has developed overall. The changeup has always been Happ’s weak point, but even that resulted in its lowest flyball rate (29.0%) and its highest ground ball rate (38.7%) than it has since 2014. Still developing the changeup in the Spring, Happ looks likely to have hitters way off-balance this season.
Happ’s .52 K/9 ranks above the league average, good news since he’s likely to see an increased workload in the Blue Jays’ rotation. He’s spent all of the offseason establishing the strike zone, and if he can keep his changeup down and away, Happ is a solid pickup to fill some numbers in the middle of your rotation.
Jake Lamb, 3B – Arizona Diamondbacks
Outside of the Top 3 Third Baseman, there’s a bit of a dropoff. Lamb’s hand injury in the second half of the season last year caused a lot of people to forget how dominant he was before July, and just how deadly he can be at the plate.
Lamb’s stats are easy. Before the hand thing, he hit fastballs at a hard-hit rate of 58.1%, and after the hand thing, at 44.4%. Lamb’s HR/FB rate dropped dramatically from 28.4% to 12.7% as well, leaving him with a pretty misleading slash line of .249/.332/.509 to close out the season.
What you can expect from Lamb this season will rely heavily on the rest of the Diamondbacks’ mediocre offense, but one thing is for sure, he’s going to hit home runs. It’s safe to say entering his second full season, Lamb should hit anywhere between 30-35 dingers this season, and provide you with a solid 90ish RBIs.
Following what was a disappointing end to a potential All-Star first half last year, Lamb’s expectations couldn’t be higher. He hit for a .264 AVG and 77 RBIs with men on base, and if the Diamondbacks hitters can provide him with opportunities early in the order, Lamb should give you the numbers almost daily.
I’m not saying I hope you drafted him before Kyle Seager, but well actually… I am.
Aaron Nola, SP – Philadelphia Phillies
Nola was in the midst of one of the most impressive rookie campaigns to date early last year before his elbow gave way along with everyone’s expectations. He looked like the Phillies’ next ace, and his 2.31 ERA in May had everyone excited.
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Up until his injury in July, Nola was relying heavily on his sinker and curveball, both of which became as effective quickly. Nola’s curveball resulted in a 39.9% strikeout rate and gave up only 3 HR in 161 at-bats during his brief four months, but he still has his flaws.
The knock on Nola is simple: great strikeout guy, high BABIP (.334) and guaranteed a bunch of losses while the Phillies still suck. Last season Nola’s 1.31WHIP ranked slightly below league average, but he notched nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings – so really, you win and you lose here.
An elbow strain and all of a sudden everybody freaks out. The upside with Nola is huge, though, and he’s the kind of pitcher that can easily go deep into games if he’s healthy. His velocity is there, he doesn’t walk much and he just needs to limit contact in the zone. What’s not to like?
Ryon Healy, 3B – Oakland Athletics
If you like having some depth at third base behind the likes of Kris Bryant or Manny Machado, Healy is your guy. He has great extra-base potential and has shown some power already this Spring hitting 5 HR and 16 RBI.
Healy’s spring numbers don’t matter, but what does matter is where he’s hitting in the lineup. So far he’s taken at bats in the number three spot ahead of Khris Davis, which makes you think he should score a lot of runs this season if nothing else.
Healy isn’t especially a power guy, but he did hit .305/.337/.524 in 269 at-bats last season. His strikeout percentage of 21.2% may creep up even more with a full season ahead of him, but Healy’s contact rate on balls thrown inside the zone (87.7%) gives us a lot of room for optimism.
Third base will be the most heavily drafted position in the next few years, so you’ll want to rely on guys like Healy as your backup option. If he continues to smoke balls and up his hard contact rate, he won’t let you down.
Aledmys Diaz, SS – St. Louis Cardinals
I was all in on Diaz last season, and I am again this year. Injuries and time on the DL aside, Diaz had a complete season after being thrown into a lineup he had no business taking part in.
All of Diaz’s numbers are solid. He hit for a line of .300/.369/.510, 17 HR and 65 RBI all in his rookie season. The most impressive, though, was the plate discipline that Diaz showed, striking out only 13% in all at bats, continually putting the ball in play.
The Cardinals’ infield looks to be a lot more settled than it was a season ago, and Diaz is again guaranteed consistent at-bats. He’ll be batting second in the lineup, and since people are still stuck on the idea of taking Trea Turner or Dansby Swanson early, Diaz’s draft stock has fallen to the mid-late rounds.
Overall, Diaz looks to be the complete package, and it’s hard to sense any signs of regression. He hit for a .210 ISO rating last year and defensively, looks to have the skills to match Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor one day. If Diaz is your starting shortstop, you’re in safe hands.
All five of these guys are owned heavily in standard leagues, but severely underrated and forgotten about. A good fantasy team is built around stars and solid day by day contributors. If you’re fortunate enough to own Happ, Lamb, Nola, Healy or Diaz, you might be well covered.