Hitters to avoid in 2018 fantasy baseball drafts

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 03: Gary Sanchez

Don’t risk your entire fantasy baseball season by wasting picks in the first few rounds on players with obvious red flags flying around them.

Whether you play in 10-team, 12-team or deeper leagues, you need your choices of the first 100 players off the board to count. In this article, we take a look at a few hitters that are likely to be over-drafted based on their reputation or their 2017 production.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it was not too difficult in the 2017 preseason to see that Miguel Cabrera’s health was a concern. Age was catching up with him and it was causing his power to dip. The perennial All-Star was drafted with an ADP of 15 but finished the season as the 32nd first baseman (just between Tommy Joseph and Danny Valencia).

There were also plenty of red flags that Robinson Cano would be able unable to replicate his fantastic production of 2016. Hitters in Seattle rarely record career-high power numbers, especially in their mid-30s. You had to pay top price to draft Cano at his 28 ADP, but he finished the season outside of the top-15 at the position.

With due respect to Nike, fantasy baseball players also dig the long ball. Don’t get too obsessed with power; it is in plentiful supply. It is likely that 20-homer sluggers will emerge on waivers, regardless of your league size. There were not many formats last season where Marwin Gonzalez (23 HR) or Scooter Gennett (27 HR) were rostered, yet between them, they out-homered Mookie Betts (ADP 2) and Carlos Correa (ADP 16).


Matt Olson (1B-OAK)

Expected ADP: 95

The former top-100 prospect recorded two hits over 11 games for the Athletics during his debut in 2016. This was on the back of a mediocre season in Triple-A, when the left-hander hit .235 with 17 home runs.

However, 2017 was a different story as Matt Olson slugged 47 home runs between the majors and Triple-A, and became a player that must be owned in all formats.

When recalled to the Oakland lineup on August 8, Olson hit 20 home runs while slashing .283/.365/.725 (1.090 OPS) until a hamstring injury cut his season short on September 24.

Spread this production over a full year, and you get the unrealistic totals of 80 home runs and 143 RBI, which is partly why he tied fourth place in Rookie of the Year voting with Yuli Gurriel, behind Cody Bellinger, Andrew Benintendi, and Trey Mancini.

Olson exudes strength. According to Statcast, his average exit velocity of 93.1 mph ranks him in the top-10. He also finished the season in the top-10 with a barrel every 9.7 plate appearances. Only Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo, Khris Davis and Randal Grichuk were ahead of him.

That is exceptional company to be keeping.

He destroys right-handed pitching. Only two players posted better OPS with a right-hander on the mound: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Add to this that he is still only 23-year-old and it is easy to see why Olson is expected to have an ADP in the top-100.

ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft ranks him aggressively in his top-100, just ahead of Matt Carpenter and Joey Gallo but perhaps he is a hitter you should avoid on draft day.

The first red flag is the small sample size. Until he went on his tear on August 8, Olson was hitting just .196, so all of the attention is focused on 138 at-bats at the end of the season.

The second red flag is his extreme 43.5% HR/FB vs. right-handed pitchers. Olson has severe platoon splits. He only recorded nine hits against lefties, so it would not be surprising to see him sit frequently. That is not what you want from a player you drafted in the top-100.

Obviously, the 27.8% strikeout rate is very concerning. Slumps start easily when striking out in nearly one-third of plate appearances. The high strikeouts are likely to continue, given his 24% strikeout rate in 665 minor leagues games.

Although the Athletics thrive on their underdog status, they look like the worst team in the AL West, so it could be a long season ahead of facing the World Series Champions, the rapidly improving Rangers and Mariners, and the must-see Angels, with new signing Shohei Otani.

If you are still not convinced. Glance through the inauspicious list of pitchers that Olson took deep: James Shields, Jake Petricka, David Paulino, Mike Foltynewicz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy, Zach Britton, Jason Hammel, A.J. Griffin, Troy Scribner, Parker Bridwell, Andrew Albers, Blake Parker, Blake Wood, Brad Peacock, Tony Sipp, Doug Fister, Mark Leiter, Ben Lively, Henderson Alvarez, Buck Farmer, Chad Bell and Nick Martinez.

PITTSBURGH, PA – AUGUST 04: Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco (OF-PIT)

Expected ADP: 92

Gregory Polanco was limited to just 108 games in 2017, due to ongoing problems with his hamstring which sent him to the DL on three occasions.

When he was on the field, the 6-foot-5 Dominican endured the worst season of his career, posting an 81 OPS+. He was 19% worse than a league-average player.

Polanco scored 39 runs with 11 home runs, 35 RBI and eight stolen bases. He disappointed all fantasy baseball players who drafted him with an ADP of 58, and as the 18th outfielder off the board.

He was one of the worst players in the game last year and although trying to play with a strained hamstring injury obviously affected Polanco’s production, a slash line of .251/.305/.391 makes him difficult to draft next season.

Despite this, Polanco is still expected to be one of the first 100 players off the board on draft day.

His hard-hit ball rate plummeted from 35.7% in 2016 to below 26% last year, making him one of the top-20 lightest hitters in the majors.

Perhaps the most ominous change to his game is his new inability to hit left-handed pitching. Polanco posted .586 OPS vs. left-handers while striking out over 22% of the time, making him one of the least productive players with a lefty on the mound. Depending on the Pirates’ plans for 2018, the 26-year-old could be demoted to a platoon role.

For one month last season, Polanco looked like the player we expected. If the left-hander can replicate his July 2017 production, when he posted 1.035 OPS in a 17-game stretch, then there is hope for a 2018 resurgence.  Otherwise, he looks like a player you should avoid on draft day and let someone else over-draft based on the name recognition.


Jake Lamb (3B-ARI)

Expected ADP: 90

The love for Jake Lamb is understandable. If you miss out on one of the elite third basemen, then to secure the services of a player that went deep 30 times in 2017 with 105 RBI hard to resist.

The 2017 All-Star slashed .248/.357/.487. He scored 89 runs and even stole six bases, although he was caught four times.

Lamb has enjoyed two seasons of powerful production. With 29 home runs in 2016 and 30 last season, both totals have benefited from a home run to flyball rate above 20%. If there is a regression of the HR/FB rate towards league average, then his production is more in line with third basemen like Eugenio Suarez and Maikel Franco, who are both available much later in the draft.

The position is deep. Other third basemen that could offer similar production for a fraction of the investment, include Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Rafael Devers and Nicholas Castellanos.

For the second straight season, Lamb’s production dropped off significantly after the All-Star break. He posted .922 OPS in the first half of 2017 which dropped to .735 OPS in the second half. Fortunately, it was not as bad as the capitulation in 2016, when he posted .983 OPS in the first half and slumped to .663 in the second half.

And if you want another red flag, then you have to consider the extreme platoon split. Of players with at least 150 plate appearances vs. left-handed hitters, Lamb was the worst in the league last season. He hit .144, striking out 34.6% of the time while posting .557 OPS.

Steer clear. You can do better in the draft.


Joey Gallo (1B/3B-TEX)

Expected ADP: 78

2017 was a phenomenal year for power. In seven years in the majors, Giancarlo Stanton had never hit more than 37 home runs, then last season he blasted 59. Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge had never hit more than 23 home runs in a season, regardless of the level, yet launched 52 last year, and Joey Gallo, who had previously looked like he would fail to make it as a big leaguer, hit 41.

The debate about why so many home runs were hit, continues to rumble on, but one suggestion that won’t disappear is that of the ball being juiced.

Just imagine, if the ball (and power output) returns to 2014 levels. Last season, the league hit 6105 home runs. Back in 2014, the total was just 4186.

If Gallo’s home run total falls by 30%, then suddenly a 29 home run slugger hitting below .210 is far less appealing.

This is an argument that if the power output of the league as a whole falls, then Gallo will still be near the top. This is flawed logic when you see that the top-10 home run hitters in 2014 were elite hitters, not one-dimensional sluggers: Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Anthony Rizzo and Victor Martinez.

There is no question that Gallo has value. He hit 41 home runs with 80 RBI, which is valuable in all formats, as long as you can take the hit on the batting average. Obviously, he has less value in points leagues, where he fails to score with his lack of walks and extra-base hits and of course is penalized by the astronomically high number of strikeouts he accumulates.

In a recent CBS points league mock draft, Gallo was taken with the 64th pick which is astoundingly optimistic, considering it is his worst format. 2017 was probably the best season of his career, yet he only finished the season as the 84th best hitter in that format. He was not much better in other formats, finishing as the 70th best hitter according to the ESPN Player Rater.

Yes he is third base eligible, and yes you will get home runs, but surely the price is too high to pay. No one makes less contact than Gallo. He is the only player in the majors with a contact rate below 60% (min 300 pa), and he has the highest swinging strike rate in the league of 19.3%.

If you can absorb the batting average, considering drafting Gallo in roto or category leagues, but just don’t invest a top-100 pick in him.


Miguel Sano (3B/DH-MIN)

Expected ADP: 65

The Dominican hit 28 home runs in only 114 games. It is an impressive ratio, although, with the prevalence of power, Miguel Sano failed to finish as top-30 player ranked by Isolated Power.

He scored 75 runs with 77 RBI, and although the Twins overachieved, Sano should make significant contributions in three categories in 2018, although don’t expect 40 home runs with over 100 runs and RBI over the course of a full season.

Sano entered the season as an exciting slugger and duly delivered, hitting .316 with eight home runs and 1.127 OPS in April. No other month came close to the high standards he set at the start of the season. I hope you sold high on him.

His total of 28 home runs in 114 games is impressive but the Mets’ Michael Conforto hit 27 in 109 games, and no one is jumping on the “Conforto is the next great slugger” bandwagon.

It is unlikely that his 27.5% HR/FB rate will be repeated in 2018. It was the sixth highest rate in the majors and more than double the 13.2% that was the average for the Twins.

Although his .264 AVG was nothing to get excited about, it was fueled by .375 BABIP, the second-highest in the league, so perhaps he will struggle to replicate it in 2018.

His most noticeable trait is the ludicrously high strikeout rate. A strikeout rate of over 35% does not look like a major league player. Over the last five years, there have only been 18 occasions when a player has struck out over 35% of the time (min 250pa). Sano appears on the list three times, having never had a season with less than 35% strikeout rate. Inauspicious names with a strikeout rate over 35% include Mike Olt, Brett Wallace, Jon Singleton and Chris Carter.

And where are they now?

The Dominican missed much of the final couple of months of the season and underwent surgery to insert a metal rod to help strengthen his shin. This is not expected to affect his preseason preparations, but it should serve as another reason not to be too eager to draft Sano with an early pick.

But people love Sano. This is partly due to the top prospect profile that boosts his value. Expect him to be drafted with an early pick, perhaps even in the first five rounds, but just make sure it’s not you.


CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 06: Edwin Encarnacion

Edwin Encarnacion (1B/DH-CLE)

Expected ADP: 46

The Indians’ designated hitter took a while to get acclimated to life in Cleveland, hitting .200 in April. Edwin Encarnacion restored his reputation as one of the most reliable power hitters in the game with 34 home runs, 98 RBI and .970 OPS over the following five months of the season.

The injury that he suffered in Game 2 of the ALDS looked horrific, with the big slugger writhing on the ground in pain.

Amazingly he returned to the lineup for Game 5 but evidently had not recovered and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Encarnacion will be 35-years-old when the season starts, an age at which very few players can produce on an everyday basis, especially if recovering from injury. This is not to suggest that you should avoid the veteran completely, but just be aware that his draft day value might be too high a price to pay.

He usually starts the season notoriously poorly. In 2015, he posted .610 OPS in April, which was his lowest OPS of any month that season. In 2016, his lowest OPS was .694 (also in April) and then last season, he started the year with another sub-.700 OPS in April.

Despite these disappointing starts to the season, Encarnacion’s production puts him as a top-12 hitter over the last three years.

Let someone else invest a high draft pick in him and maybe throw out a lowball trade offer at the start of May.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 20: Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez (C-NYY)

Expected ADP: 24

It seems that every year a different catcher comes along with the expectations that he will shift Buster Posey from the top spot. Sometimes they do, but since 2013, Posey has never finished the season outside of the top-2 at the catcher position. The skill attached to staying healthy and contributing at an elite level should not be underestimated.

Devin Mesoraco was going to be the next big thing and Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos and Salvador Perez and Evan Gattis. The list goes on. The latest to join is the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. It is difficult to find a dissenting voice, but surely it is not a foregone conclusion that Sanchez is the new number one.

This is not an anti-Sanchez article. He will be a useful player to own. Sanchez was unfairly criticized for his defense last season, following some high profile errors, but even if the Yankees give him more time away from duties behind the plate, his bat will still feature in the lineup at DH. It is reasonable to expect him to finish the season with more plate appearances than any other catcher-eligible player. Those extra plate appearances will result in extra counting stats.

Before addressing Sanchez’s weaknesses, it should be pointed out that you need to play in a very specific format to take a catcher in the first three rounds. Catchers, regardless of whether it is peak Posey or 2017 Sanchez are not elite producers. He was 74th best hitter last season, which when you factor in pitchers, makes him a borderline top-100 player. You need to be very confident that your roster and league size justify taking a catcher so early in the draft.

Anyway, back to Sanchez. No one pulls the ball more. 51.6% is asking opponents to shift their defense and expecting a diet of pitches away.

He hit 130 FB of which 33 went for home runs. If his 25.4% HR/FB rate dropped to the 12% it was over the last three years he played in the minors, then a 16 home run hitting catcher doesn’t look like a player you must reach to draft in the first three rounds.

The 25-year-old gets fooled into swinging at balls outside of the strike zone too often (34% O-Swing) and then fails to make contact with the ball 40% of the time. This contributes to his 12.6% swinging strikeout rate.

There is no doubt that the 25-year-old Dominican is an excellent player to own in fantasy and barring injury, he will finish in the top-5 at the position. Unfortunately, catchers get injured more frequently than any other position player, so that is yet another reason to be cautious if considering an early round pick on Sanchez.

ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 06: Rougned Odor

Every year, there are players that are over-drafted based on their reputation or the previous season’s production. Don’t overpay on draft day for one-dimensional hitters with regression red warning flags waving around them.