5 High-Risk, High-Reward Outfielders (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
“Go big or go home” is a phrase that can apply to many things, including your fantasy baseball drafts. Sure, there’s something to be said about drafting those “safe” or “boring” high-floor players we can trust to get the job done. We’ve likely already seen the best from guys like Anthony Rizzo, George Springer, or Jean Segura, but you know exactly what you’re going to get from them.
However, there’s always the allure of going for broke on those boom-or-bust players with tantalizing ceilings. Maybe these guys have an injury history, are coming off a down year, or have yet to prove themselves at the major league level. Sometimes you need to take a calculated risk on potential. While you’re not going to hit the jackpot every time, a dream season can help propel your team to a title.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five outfielders who carry added risk at their draft costs but possess fantastic upside. If you’re curious about infielders along those same lines, be sure to check out last week’s piece.
David Dahl (COL)
A former top prospect plagued by injuries in recent years, David Dahl looks poised to finally get his chance at a full season of major league at-bats, and we’ll happily add a quality Rockies bat to our fantasy roster whenever we can. Still just 25 years old, Dahl hit 16 home runs and stole five bases in just 271 MLB plate appearances last year. With a full campaign, he’s a strong bet for over 20 home runs and double-digit stolen bases, perhaps even joining the 20-20 club if everything goes right. And while it’s a very small sample size, he also finished 2018 with a red-hot September. Mashing nine bombs with a .404 wOBA over his final 94 plate appearances giving hope that big things could be in store for Dahl in 2019.
But as a top-100 pick who’s even going inside the top-70 of NFBC drafts, you’re putting a lot of faith in a player with only 508 career plate appearances split across 2016 and 2018. The truth is we’re still not entirely sure how Dahl will perform over a full season, and public projection systems like Steamer and THE BAT grant him below-average wRC+ marks of 95 and 99, respectively. At his age, we shouldn’t consider Dahl injury-prone just yet, but his history is still enough to give you pause after missing significant time the past two years.
Of course, Coors Field remains the main attraction here, and it raises both Dahl’s floor and ceiling as long as he can stay on the field. He’s still a strong buy based on upside, but just know you’re essentially banking on that breakout at this ADP.
Joey Gallo (TEX)
Unlike Dahl, we pretty much know exactly what Joey Gallo brings to the table. A batter built for the Statcast era, he led the league in both barrels per plate appearance and per batted-ball event last year. Gallo has hit 40 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons, and there’s little reason to think he won’t again. Few can match his massive power potential.
As always, those bombs come with a horrendous batting average, as Gallo hasn’t hit above .209 or dipped below a 35% strikeout rate in either of the past two campaigns. Unless playing in a format where you can afford to intentionally punt or ignore batting average, he’s a huge headache to deal with in roto leagues. That’s especially the case in contests with an overall component like the NFBC.
That said, getting one of the league’s elite power bats around pick 100 can’t be overlooked. If you stock up on hitters with high batting averages to start your draft, you can handle the penalty from rostering Gallo and still enjoy all his strengths.
Furthermore, there’s always a chance that one of these years he happens to hit for a lucky BABIP and gets his average up into the .230-.250 range, which would make him an incredible steal at his draft price. Maybe that seems far-fetched, but don’t forget about the monster seasons Chris Davis achieved at his peak. In 2013, he racked up 53 home runs and 138 RBIs while even pulling off a .286 average.
Perhaps Gallo never quite reaches those heights, but it’s a reminder of just how high the ceiling might be if everything goes his way. And even if you don’t dream that big, just a modest improvement in batting average would go a long way towards boosting his value. As long as you plan your roster accordingly, he’s worth jumping on a round or two early.
A.J. Pollock (LAD)
A.J. Pollock was masterful in 2015, posting 111 runs, 20 home runs, 76 RBIs, 39 stolen bases, and a .315 average. It really doesn’t get much better than that. But if you’ve ever rostered Pollock since, you’ve grown quite accustomed to disappointment.
That magical campaign remains the only year Pollack has ever exceeded 500 plate appearances, as injuries continue to plague him regularly. Last year was no different, as he played in just 113 games for a meager 460 plate appearances. Now 31 years old, it’s fair to wonder if Pollock will ever stay healthy for close to a full season.
If he ever does, the reward could be great. Pollock demonstrated improved pop in 2018, slugging a career-best 21 homers off a 44.5% hard-hit rate and 38.4% fly-ball rate while also hitting barrels more frequently. His sprint speed has steadily dropped since 2015, so another 30-plus stolen bases could be out of reach. However, he has still managed 13 and 20 in the past two years, respectively, in spite of limited health.
Now with the Dodgers, Pollock should rack up the counting stats atop their lineup, and a 20-20 season is well within reach. Just pray that he actually aces health class this year.
Eloy Jimenez (CHW)
Eloy Jimenez isn’t drawing the same hype as fellow can’t-miss prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but he’s still going fairly early for a guy who’s never had a single major league at-bat. After batting .355/.399/.597 with 12 home runs and just a 13.2% strikeout rate across 228 plate appearances in Triple-A, he sure looks ready for prime time.
Still, the reality is he’s already been sent to the minors and could remain there for almost all of April. That’s hardly a dealbreaker if you draft a suitable stand-in, but it’s another hurdle on top of the possibility that Jimenez doesn’t burst out the gates as much as we hope. And unlike Ronald Acuna — who was wildly successful in his NL Rookie of the Year campaign — Jimenez can’t supplement his bat with speed. He’s stolen exactly one base over the past two minor league seasons.
Ultimately, there are a fair number of “what ifs” in drafting any rookie, and Jimenez is no different. Acuna and Juan Soto reminded us how elite prospects can become immediate stars, so the payoff could be outstanding, but plenty of top prospects have flopped in their first go-round as well.
Byron Buxton (MIN)
One of 2018’s biggest busts, Byron Buxton may have devastated his backers last season. He’s nevertheless once again gaining steam as we get closer to Opening Day, with his NFBC ADP rising to 149 since the start of March.
And yet, that’s still around 100 picks later than this time last year, and the tantalizing upside remains. While there’s no question Buxton was terrible last season, when he batted just .156/.183/.200 over 94 plate appearances, multiple injuries derailed his season and provide a viable scapegoat for the debacle.
At just 25 years old with renewed purpose and an improved physique, maybe this is the time for that highly anticipated breakout. In 2017, he drew everyone’s attention with 16 homers and 29 stolen bases (caught only once), with 11 and 13 of those respectively coming in the second half alone off a pristine .300/.347/.546 batting line. His strikeout rate has never dipped below 29% in a season so that batting average is probably a pipe dream over a full campaign, but it’s easy to see what got everyone so excited the last time around.
We saw how brutal the floor is last year, so don’t become overly seduced by his strong spring training numbers. However, the price of admission isn’t as high this time, so it might be worth rolling the dice and chasing that upside all over again.