Josh Donaldson – Current ADP (21) I’d take him 12
Last year Donaldson hit .255 with 29 home runs in Oakland, and in 2013 he hit a robust .301 with 24 homers. It’s probably too easy to simply say "he’s going to Toronto so this year he hits 35 home runs", but I do think it’s likely that he hits 29 or 30 again and it’s definitely possible that he hits 35 bombs in the better ballpark. I also think that his .278 BABIP last year led to the .255 average so he doesn't need to hit 35 homers to provide value. If I can get him in the early second round I'm doing it every time.
Carlos Santana – Current ADP (71) I’d take him 50-60
Exactly how much I love Carlos Santana depends on what site you play on and where he qualifies, but if you play somewhere that gives him catcher eligibility then he's one of my favorite targets. He's currently going around 50 picks after Buster Posey, and while Posey will surely hit for a better batting average, last year Posey had an OBP of .364 and Santana ended up with an OBP of .365. If any of you are playing in OBP or points leagues I would argue that Santana will end up as the #1 catcher at the end of the year in those formats. I think the batting average could potentially rebound to .260 or so and he should hit 25-30 home runs. Posey is the better player in a batting average league, but not by 5 rounds.
Kolten Wong – Current ADP (117) I’d take him 110
Wong has been one of my boys since last year around trade deadline time. I acquired him in one of my dynasty leagues as a throw in, and started to look more and more into his numbers. I noticed that he was an extremely efficient base stealer in the minors in 2013, swiping 20 bags in 21 attempts. He was able to steal 20 in 24 attempts in the major leagues last year so I think he should get the green light to run. He also finished 2014 with a .249 average and a low .275 BABIP. In the minor leagues his BABIP was consistently over .300, and in 107 games in AAA in 2013 he had a .332 BABIP and a .301 average. I don't expect him to put up the same numbers in the majors as he did in the minors, but I don't think he's a .249 hitter either. I am betting that he hits over .280 and steals 25-30 bases. Last year he hit 12 home runs in 113 games, so even if the power drops of he could put up double digit homers, with a good average and great runs and steals production.
Victor Martinez – Current ADP (54) I’d take him 50
Even before Martinez had his knee injury there was a lot of talk that he was going to be a major bust this season. He is unlikely to hit 32 home runs again, as his HR/FB rate of 16% was double what he had done the previous 2 seasons. But if he is healthy and can hit even 20 home runs in that great Tigers lineup with the same BA and OBP as the last couple years then he’s absolutely worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.
Brandon Moss – Current ADP (160) I’d take him 130
Moss was one of just 26 players to hit 25 or more home runs in 2014, and he did it while playing in a famously tough park for hitters in Oakland. The move to Cleveland should help out his power slightly and if he’s healthy I would also bet on an improvement from his .234 average in 2014. The only player going off the board near him with similar power upside (in my opinion) is Lucas Duda who goes 15 picks earlier, and I personally like Moss more. If you are looking for power at this point in your draft Moss is my favorite target.
Brandon Belt – Current ADP (197) I’d take him 150
I mentioned that the only hitter who had similar power upside going near Brandon Moss was Lucas Duda, but that wasn’t entirely true. There is also Brandon Belt 30 picks later, and Belt has 30 home run upside. Yes last year he had a career high strikeout rate and his batting average was a disappointing .243, but there aren’t any sure bets at pick 197. Belt is still young and a 30 home run .260 batting average season is possible.
Manny Machado – Current ADP (121) I’d take him 100-110
Injuries have been a problem for Machado in his brief major league career. Last year he managed just 82 games, but was able to hit 12 home runs with a .278 average. At some point in his career I think Machado will be a 30 home run guy, but for this year I’d take 25 homers with a solid batting average good run and RBI production. Right now he’s being taken as the 15th 3rd baseman off the board, about 70 picks after guys like Todd Frazier and Nolan Arenado. If you are looking for an upside 3rd base pick I’ll pass on Arenado and take Machado 5 or 6 rounds later.
Mike Napoli - I don't have much statistical analysis with this pick, I'm just betting on the fact that his sleep apnea surgery will make a big difference in his health and production. And if you are a points league or OBP player keep in mind that last year even with his .248 batting average Napoli still put up a monster .370 OBP. I am hoping for better health and maybe 20-25 home runs on the cheap.
Jean Segura – Current ADP (181) I’d take him 170
I’ve written about Segura and talked about him on the podcast a lot before, but my belief in him bouncing back is based on a few things. First off he had major off the field issues last year which may have affected his production, and secondly his underlying numbers in his down 2014 don’t look that much different than his up 2013. I am concerned that his stolen base efficiency dropped so much last year stealing only 20 bases and getting caught 9 times, but I think he is a potential 40 steal player and he’s currently going as the 13th shortstop off the board so the risk is minimal. And as a public service announcement to all those who play on Yahoo, Jean Segura going at 250 overall is one of the crazier things I’ve seen in a while.
Bonus Dudes! – These are guys who are late round targets for me, I think they all have upside but you don’t need to reach for them in the middle rounds. If it’s close to the end of my draft I’m getting these guys in my queue.
Yasmani Grandal – Current ADP (225)
Logan Morrison – Current ADP (423)
Michael Saunders – Current ADP (365)
Phil Hughes – Current ADP (142)
Hughes finished last year as the 29th best starting pitcher according to Yahoo. He finished the year with 16 wins, 16 home runs allowed, and 16 walks. In 209 innings he allowed the same amount of home runs as walks, which is insane and unlikely to repeat. Hughes walk rate of .69 per nine innings was by far the lowest in baseball. Jordan Zimmermann finished with the third best walk rate in the league, and his walk rate was nearly double Hughes. So it stands to reason that the walks will go up, the ERA will rise and his value will fall. But if you are a believer in FIP and XFIP then Hughes monster 2014 actually looks unlucky. His 3.52 ERA was almost a run higher than his 2.65 FIP, so even if the walk rate goes up perhaps the ERA and FIP get closer. I'm not predicting a huge skills increase from Hughes, just that he will perform very similarly to last year and be a top 30 pitcher. And since he's currently going as the #37 pitcher off the board I'll take him every time.
Gerrit Cole – Current ADP (83) I’d take him 70
I love Gerrit Cole. I thought about ending my analysis right there, but I suppose I could throw in a few numbers. In the second half after he returned from his stint on the DL he had 60 K’s in 52 1/3 innings and was definitely the Pirates ace as they made their playoff push. If he can keep that up for a whole season he could easily be a top 5 pitcher. He’s one of the few pitchers I’m willing to reach on this year.
Kevin Gausman – Current ADP (257) I’d take him 200 or sooner
Gausman is by far my favorite pitcher if he stays at this ADP. Maybe some people are concerned that he won’t get a rotation spot, but can Buck Showalter really be that dumb? I hope not, and Gausman has the stuff to be a sleeper CY Young candidate.
Justin Verlander – Current ADP (141) and falling… I'd take him after 130
This pick is all about health, and cost. Is Verlander likely to return to AL CY Young winning form? Probably not, but if you are taking him at 134 he doesn’t need to be that good. He’s going off the board as the 36th pitcher taken, right after Doug Fister. So if Verlander just needs to perform as a number four starter I’m thinking he will return value especially if he is healthier this year than last.
Trevor Bauer – Current ADP (315) I'd take him 50 picks earlier
One thing that I like to look at in the spring is strikeout to walk ratio. One of my heroes, Nate Ravitz of the now deceased Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast used to say that if a pitcher has a monster strikeout to walk ratio in the spring (think 19-0 or 20-1) then he bought it as a good sign for the season. Well I’ve loved Bauer’s stuff for years and this spring he has 11 strikeouts and 0 walks. My eyebrows are raised.
For every dude there's a don't. Surely your mom told you that until she was blue in the face when you were younger. So while I'm trying to get all the guys above on all my teams, I won't be drafting any of these players where they are going now.
Nolan Arenado - Current ADP (56)
Arenado is going 56 right now and that number climbs a little bit higher every day. While I do get that people have visions of 30 homers and a .300 average dancing in their heads, those numbers are far from a lock. I'm definitely not saying he's a bad player, but I would much rather wait 10 picks for Kyle Seager who will put up similar or better power numbers. And as I mentioned above I'd much, much rather wait 70 picks for Manny Machado who I think will actually outperform him. Third base is actually one of the deeper positions this year so there is no reason in my book to reach for Arenado when so many guys going much later could put up comparable numbers.
Michael Brantley - Current ADP (28)
Last years biggest breakout hitter is now costing a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick, and that's just too rich for my blood. He is a legit great hitter but to be worth this pick he HAS to put up power numbers close to last year. In 2014 he hit 20 homers, after hitting a total of 23 the previous three season. If you buy into the 20 home run power then draft away, but I'm worried he hits 10 or 12 this year and doesn't provide 3rd round value.
Mark Trumbo - Current ADP (112)
If you're looking for a bad batting average 25-30 home run guy then Trumbo might be your man, except he's going at pick 112 and guys who do pretty much the same thing he does (hit homers and not much else) are available later. I'm passing on Trumbo and taking Chris Carter, Lucas Duda, or Brandon Moss who could all hit 30 homers and are available later on average.
Starlin Castro - Current ADP (106)
If you're looking for speed out of you middle infielder, and usually I am, then Castro is not your man. He's actually never been an efficient base stealer, and last year he stole just 4 bases and was caught 4 times. I've got to think Joe Maddon is going to put the brakes on him so now he's just going to provide batting average (hopefully) and power. I like the next 5 or 6 shortstops that go off the board more than Castro, so I would much rather wait and take someone like Jhonny Peralta 90 picks later.
Johnny Cueto - Current ADP (35)
There's nothing in particular I don't like about Johnny Cueto, other than his ADP. But after the top 6 or 7 pitchers go off the board I don't see a lot of difference in the next 20. I would much rather take hitting in the early rounds where Cueto, Zach Grienke and Jon Lester go off the board, then target players like Jacob DeGrom, Gerrit Cole and Jake Arrieta. Those players all go after pick 80 and have similar upside to the guys going 40 picks earlier.