Post-Hype Players to Target in Dynasty Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy baseball managers will take drastic measures to stockpile prospects and draft picks in dynasty leagues. Yet these desired gems often become expendable the minute they underwhelm at the major league level.
Opportunistic owners could have exploited this impatience last offseason by acquiring Trevor Bauer or Blake Snell before their stock skyrocketed. Amed Rosario even got dropped in one of my 12-team dynasty leagues last summer. I watched the then 22-year-old, formerly Baseball Prospectus’ No. 2 prospect in 2017’s midseason update, hit .284 with five home runs and 15 steals from August 1 onward. Sometimes it pays to stick with a developing player working out the kinks.
Perhaps there’s still a window to land Rosario at below full retail price before he takes another leap. This list, however, tries to veer away from youngsters who should still carry some luster. Matt Olson, Austin Meadows, and Tyler Glasnow also missed the cut for this reason, but it could be worth checking on their availability.
The following players will likely be easier to obtain. Their shine has waned enough for managers to seek a newer toy with unlimited upside to paint upon a blank canvas. Or perhaps a contender will simply desire an immediate upgrade for a young talent yet to fully hit his stride.
Jeimer Candelario (3B – DET)
In the midst of a breakout, Candelario was batting .272 with a .367 wOBA before landing on the disabled list with wrist tendinitis in mid-May. Despite returning in short order, he never looked the same. His season slash line slithered to .224/.317/.393 by hitting .207 with a .290 wOBA over the final four months.
There’s far more meat on the latter sample size, so drafters are overlooking a third baseman who batted .283/.359/.425 in 2017’s 142 plate appearance. That’s more in line with his .292/.372/.504 slash submitted in 188 Triple-A games before escaping the Cubs’ infield logjam. He’s now on the Tigers, who only received a wRC+ above 100 from two regular position players (Nicholas Castellanos and Niko Goodrum) in 2018. At least playing time is no concern for Candelario, who opened the season in the No. 2 spot and finished batting leadoff.
Valued for his hit tool, a healthy Candelario should improve last season’s 25.8 strikeout rate and repair a broken average. Even if he doesn’t smack more than 20-25 long balls, the 25-year-old third baseman would compile enough stats in a prominent lineup slot to matter in all dynasty formats.
Max Kepler (OF – MIN)
Fantasy managers get bored after not seeing a profound breakout. While Kepler has yet to take a major leap, he has made modest improvements in each of his three big league campaigns.
Along with those incremental gains, he posted a career-high 11.6% walk rate in 2018. While his batting average tumbled to .224, he set more personal bests in contact (83.3%) and hard-hit (37.1%) rates. The 6’4, 205-pound righty also began to tap into his raw power with an elevated launch angle while crushing barrels — an optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle — on 6.6% (up from 2017’s 4.0%) of his batted balls.
Kepler’s ledger doesn’t properly demonstrate improvements made in his age-25 campaign. That will change if he sustains these gains. He not only fine-tuned his plate approach, but hit the ball harder with more lift. Maybe his next leap doesn’t encapsulate a .280 average and 30 dingers. Yet he at least flashed the foundations of a .260, 25-homer hitter (with a higher ceiling) who would especially make a welcome addition in five-outfielder formats. See if Kepler’s investor is ready to write him off because of his surface numbers’ plodding progress.
Scott Kingery (SS – PHI)
Everyone would still love Kingery if the Phillies held him in the minors to manipulate service time. They instead bought out his arbitration window with a six-year contract signed right before Opening Day. Given a chance to learn on the job, he hit a putrid .226/.267/.338 in 448 plate appearances.
The sample is large (and awful) enough for restless investors to flee. Making matters worse, he’ll cede Philadelphia’s shortstop duties to Jean Segura. He definitely has no starting gig if the Phillies sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Contenders especially must consider this added risk. Someone taking a long-term approach, however, should use this situation to snag a discount.
Playing-time conundrums tend to work themselves out. Every team deals with injuries, and the versatile Kingery can fill any void that opens. He could also supplant Maikel Franco at third if the Phillies stand pat. Let’s remember why Philadelphia locked him in as the infielder before his Major League debut. Improving throughout his minor league tenure, the 5’10” prospect batted .304/.359/.530 with 26 homers and 29 steals in a stellar 2017 campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A. Kingery wields immense five-category upside with a stout glove that should help him avoid a permanent benching.
There’s not much to like about his poor start, but few youngsters arrive as a finished product. Dynasty managers who are rebuilding and/or benefit from a deep bench should give him a second chance.
Reynaldo Lopez (SP – CWS)
One quick look at Lopez’s FanGraphs page makes him look more like a sell-high candidate than a post-hype target. He posted a 3.91 ERA in his first full major league season in spite of a 4.63 FIP and 4.92 SIERA. Who wants to buy a pitcher with a 9.5 K-BB% and the eighth-lowest BABIP (.260) among all qualified starters?
Timidly raises hand. I was also out at first. Then Nick Pollack grabbed him in the 19th round (pick No. 219) of Pitcher List’s best ball draft. Shortly after, The Athletic’s Eno Sarris identified the 25-year-old righty as someone just one adjustment away from a breakout. If those two are interested in a pitcher, it’s time to learn more.
As noted by Sarris, Lopez’s exquisite slider did not surrender a single home run in 516 pitches last season. Although it was his only true money pitch, he also garnered double-digit whiff rates with his cutter (12.2%) and changeup (11.7%). Yet he leaned too much (60.5% usage rate) on a four-seam fastball that served up 20 homers. Lopez could inch closer to his high ceiling by throwing more of his secondary offerings in favor of his heater.
Some dynasty players may play with smart managers who see the writing on the wall. In fear of regression, they could see themselves selling high while the purchaser is conversely buying low. Or at least taking a reasonable risk at a modest cost. Let’s hope they lost interest once football started, as Lopez submitted a 1.38 ERA over his final seven starts while stockpiling 48 strikeouts in 45.2 innings.
Luke Weaver (SP – ARI)
One of last year’s trendiest breakout picks, Weaver could now collect dust under the bed with Jessie and the other forgotten toys (I’ll give readers a moment to dry their eyes if they watched the Toy Story 2 scene. It’s OK. Don’t even try to hide it.). After dazzling drafters with 72 strikeouts, 17 walks, and a 3.17 FIP in 2017’s 60.1 frames, he worked his way onto waiver wires last season by posting a 4.95 ERA with 121 punchouts and 54 walks over 136.1 innings.
Despite all of last spring’s hype, strikeout regression was inevitable. While his strikeout rate plummeted from 28.6 to 19.9%, his swinging-strike clip actually rose a tick from 9.6 to 9.7. He won’t climb back to 2017’s peak, but he can reach Steamer’s projected compromise of 22.5. The bloated walk rate raises an eyebrow, as he always demonstrated excellent command through the minors and 22 career big league outings. His 60.1% swinging-strike rate also rose slightly, so he should alleviate last season’s 3.56 BB/9 back under 3.00.
The dream of an ace is dead, but don’t cry for Weaver’s demise just yet. Even if he pitches closer to his peripherals, Weaver will likely prove to be an erratic starter with an ERA in the high threes or low fours. That will still play in deeper leagues if he improves his strikeouts and walks, especially now that he has secured a rotation spot with the Diamondbacks. Remember, Chase Field is no longer an extreme hitter’s park after installing a humidor last season.