Post Hype Dynasty Targets (Fantasy Baseball)
Like a child around the holidays, the fantasy community instantly grows enamored with new toys. The gifts excitedly unwrapped last year suddenly get disheveled for the latest editions.
If a player doesn’t shine immediately, he’s branded a bust. This impatience constantly leads to talented players in their mid-20s getting overlooked in re-draft and dynasty formats. Steven Souza, Andrelton Simmons, Tim Beckham, Avisail Garcia, Trevor Bauer, and Dylan Bundy all broke out at least a year or two later than anticipated last season. Joey Gallo and Jose Berrios could even fit the label after brief, but lethargic 2016 debuts.
Highly touted as recently as last spring, these post-hype candidates won’t require an investment befitting their potential. Some of them could even be freely available in standard mixed leagues.
Greg Bird (1B – NYY)
Greg Bird has played 94 regular-season games for the New York Yankees in three years. He’s a .227 career hitter after batting .190 in last year’s 170 plate appearance. Is that enough to land him at a discount?
It’s possible the hype persists on account of wearing pinstripes. He smacked three homers and a .938 OPS in 13 postseason games and will hit behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. Let’s hope that dominant trio instead takes attention away from another significant slugger.
Counting the recent playoff run, Bird has cleared the fences 23 times in 401 plate appearances. As a strong lefty spending half of his games targeting Yankee Stadium’s short perch, injuries are the only thing that will stop him from consistently belting 25-30 home runs. If the league’s elevated long-ball trends continue, that range may be too tame.
Sean Manaea (SP – OAK)
A popular 2017 breakout pick, Sean Manaea posted an underwhelming 4.37 ERA spared further embarrassment by 11 unearned runs. His BB/9 spiked from 2.30 to 3.12, spawning a 1.40 WHIP. Any shine surrounding the 25-year-old southpaw should fade this spring.
He’s also far from a lost cause. Manaea’s FIP only rose microscopically from 4.08 to 4.10, and he maintained a healthy 11.8 swinging-strike rate. A 64.5 strike percentage and 60.0 first-pitch strike rate don’t depict someone with significant command woes.
A drop in velocity represents his biggest concern. Near the end of the season, he attributed the downtick to rapid weight loss caused by medication he started taking in the spring when diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.
“Weight loss was definitely [a] big factor,” he told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I know that’s definitely not healthy at all, and I noticed it halfway through the season when I was having a really hard time recovering, especially night games to day games.”
Baseball players are human beings often affected by unmeasurable factors. Even if Manaea never delivers the full-fledged breakout his backers expected in 2017, his top-50 SP upside has not expired because of one disappointing season derailed by extenuating circumstances.
Wilmer Flores (1B/2B/3B – NYM)
Wilmer Flores was in the midst of a quiet breakout before breaking his nose in August. Given regular starts with most of his New York Mets teammates injured or traded, he belted 11 homers in 138 second-half plate appearances.
A deeper dive shows a 26-year-old making progress. While putting the ball in play has never presented a problem, he has often made weak contact. In 2017, however, his hard-hit rate jumped to 35.4, well above his previous career-high of 28.8. He also enhanced his fly-ball rate to 45.8 percent while dropping his infield-fly rate to 10.6 percent.
He has the skills to reach Steamer’s 24-homer projection, but obtaining the 526 estimated plate appearances will prove a steeper challenge. A lack of defense and plate discipline has limited him to a platoon/utility role, and that won’t change if the Mets acquire a second baseman and/or third baseman. As of now, Flores would start at third with Asdrubal Cabrera manning second or vice versa.
Flores was never overly hyped in the first place, so his gains will probably get buried behind valid playing-time concerns. Yet, he’s an injury, Dominic Smith slump, or more Mets offseason inactivity away from turning into a valuable mixed-league power source with multi-position eligibility.
Jorge Soler (OF – KC)
Jorge Soler’s value can’t drop any further. After hitting .238/.333/.436 in a subpar 2016, the once-ballyhooed outfielder batted .144/.245/.258 in 110 disastrous plate appearances with the Kansas City Royals. Wade Davis recorded more saves (32) than Soler reached base (27) last season.
Having seen enough, the Royals let him spend most of the season in Triple-A, where he belted 24 homers in 74 games. Redraft managers dropped him without hesitation, but dynasty gamers faced a tougher dilemma.
When he arrived in 2014, Soler looked like a vital cog to the Chicago Cubs’ resurgence. Turning 26 in February, he’s not a washed-up geezer either.
A mass talent exodus could force Kansas City to give him a second chance. Heck, Soler could even land a middle-of-the-order role if the Royals can’t retain or replace their free agents.
Nobody is dreaming of stardom anymore, but he has flaunted enough power to produce 25 homers and a substantial on-base percentage. He’s worth a dice-roll in deeper leagues.
Jose De Leon (SP – TB)
Jose De Leon is still a 25-year-old pitcher who posted a 3.32 ERA and 12.0 K/9 during his minor league career. But instead of triumphantly joining the Tampa Bay Rays rotation last season, he spent most of 2017 sidelined due to back and elbow injuries.
He has now allowed 23 hits, 10 walks, and 20 runs in 19.2 career major league frames. Even most dynasty managers at least demand early signs of encouragement before transferring their hopes onto the next blank canvas yet to disappoint.
This could create a buying opportunity for a high-strikeout, high-upside arm. While it’s also possible an erratic hurler ends up in the bullpen, that suboptimal outcome could lead him to the ninth inning if rumors of an Alex Colome trade materialize.
MLB.com’s No. 33 prospect last year is a particularly appealing gamble in leagues where he can remain stashed in a farm system until losing rookie eligibility. A frustrated investor might cash out for a fresher prospect or draft pick carrying just as much risk.
Ketel Marte (SS – ARI)
As a relatively unknown prospect, Ketel Marte gained some traction in fantasy cycles by batting .283/.351/.402 with eight steals in 57 games. Following 2015’s encouraging arrival, he faded into obscurity by hitting .259/.287/.323 in 2016 and starting 2017 in the minors.
Once all attention waned, he reemerged as a different player. The power-starved infielder notched five home runs after collecting six in Triple-A. He also boosted his walk rate to 11.4 with a career-low 14.5 strikeout percentage. An improved plate approach earned him eight September starts in the No. 2 hole, where he batted when spraying two triples in the NL Wild Card Game and going deep off Clayton Kershaw in the ensuing NLDS Game 1. That’s prime real estate in an Arizona Diamondbacks lineup also featuring A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and Jake Lamb.
For all his progress, Marte stole just three bases. With a speed score in line with Whit Merrifield and Jarrod Dyson, that should change if the 24-year-old maintains a keen batting eye atop Arizona’s lineup. Only six teams swiped more bags in 2017.
If he holds down the duly earned shortstop gig-Chris Owings can return at second base or the outfield-Marte can pair steady contact with plenty of runs and a 10-15 line. And that’s still selling his steals upside short.