Deep AL-Only Targets (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Competing in a single-league format requires a deep knowledge of the player pool. While a mixed-league competitor can still end a draft with some flashy fliers, gamers putting the finishing touches on an AL-only squad will settle for a regular starter who won’t actively hurt them.
Finding late value in an AL-only league is difficult, but certainly possible. The methods of bargain-hunting remain the same. Post-hype prospects make excellent jackpot plays once the luster has faded. Even established producers can plummet after one bad season. Recent free-agent and injury developments also open avenues to some intriguing late selections.
To avoid into the mixed-league waters, the following players all have an ADP beyond 395 — one crept into the top 400 before publishing — in NFBC drafts conducted since the start of February. This narrowly eliminates Jeimer Candelario, Willie Calhoun, and Eduardo Nunez. Luckily a surprising amount of dirt-cheap options were still eligible.
Domingo German (SP/RP – NYY)
Jonathan Loaisiga (SP – NYY)
I’m probably cheating here, as someone may jump for these guys in light of shoulder inflammation delaying Luis Severino’s 2019 debut to May, at the earliest. CC Sabathia, dealing with a sore knee and an offseason angioplasty, will also begin the season on the injured list. That opens up two rotation spots for a pair of promising young pitchers.
Armed with an elite curveball that coaxed an 18.3% swinging-strike rate and .261 wOBA, German garnered 102 strikeouts in 85.2 big league frames. He also posted a 5.57 ERA that worsened to 6.19 when eliminating bullpen work, so don’t catapult him into top-50 SP territory just yet. There’s enough upside, however, to bite in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. His NFBC ADP has climbed to 355 in March.
Possessing a formidable three-pitch arsenal, Loaisiga might possess a brighter future. While the 24-year-old registered a 5.11 ERA in 24.2 frames after jumping from Double-A, he also collected 13 punchouts with a 3.44 SIERA and 13.0% swinging-strike rate. Unfortunately, a rough spring (9 IP, 10 ER, 6 BB, 11 K) could sink his chances of breaking with the club. He’s still far more intriguing than the typical pitcher available to round out an AL-only staff. Both pitchers remain appealing lottery tickets even though the Yankees may utilize an “opener” to fill Severino’s absence.
Josh Harrison (2B – DET)
There’s still time for this to change, but nobody looks particularly eager to jump on Harrison despite finding a featured role with the Tigers. His NFBC ADP is still a tepid 407 in March.
That at worst makes him a decent compiler to round out an AL-only squad. Roster Resource slots the starting second baseman into Detroit’s leadoff role, where he’d set the table for Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera. The owner of a career .317 OBP is from the lock to maintain that cozy positioning. If he does, this is a great bargain, as Harrison is also a lifetime .277 hitter who recorded double-digit steals in four straight seasons before settling for three in 97 games last season.
Nobody should expect Harrison to swing any leagues, but he can justify his mitigated cost by meeting THE BAT’s tame projections of .264/.316/.415 with 13 homers and nine steals. Although the Tigers won’t win many games, their lineup presents more AL-only value in Candelario, Christin Stewart, and Niko Goodrum.
Kendrys Morales (DH – TOR)
Mark Trumbo (DH – BAL)
When will drafters drop their needless prejudice against utility-only hitters? While Nelson Cruz always falls rounds later than he should, Morales and Trumbo are getting lost between the cushions. Neither designated hitter carries a top-400 ADP anywhere besides ESPN, where they are fairly priced at 256 and 335, respectively.
At his current going rate, AL-only investors couldn’t complain much if Morales replicated last year’s 21 homers and .329 wOBA. Yet there’s room for much more, as Statcast credited him with a .520 xSLG and .379 xwOBA. Only two hitters with at least 250 plate appearances (Logan Morrison and Kole Calhoun) endured a wider gap between their actual and expected wOBA.
Trumbo, who played just 90 games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in August, made his spring training debut on Wednesday. Per MLB.com’s Joe Trezza, the Orioles slugger said doctors recommended a full year to recover. Not even nine months removed from the procedure, there’s plenty of reason to not bank on 30 homers. Good thing you don’t have to. When healthy, Trumbo could slide right into the heart of Baltimore’s batting order. At last year’s pace, he’d only need 550 plate appearances to deliver 25 long balls.
Danny Duffy (SP – KC)
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Duffy was bad last season. After posting an ERA of 3.51 and 3.81 in 2016 and 2017, respectively, the mark expanded to 4.80 with a 1.49 WHIP and 4.70 FIP. He declined across the board, but an uptick in walks (10.1%) and decline in swinging strikes (9.6%) is a troubling combination.
At a certain point, it’s worth a free dart throw to see if he reclaims a semblance of past form. He was on the verge of turning a corner in June and July, posting a 3.34 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. During those two months, he tossed five scoreless outings while also allowing six or seven runs three times. He then yielded six runs in consecutive August turns before getting shut down with a shoulder injury in early September. So yeah, don’t draft him for safety.
While Duffy might not be ready to start the season, it could merely be a matter of the Royals giving him an extra week to prepare while implementing a four-man rotation. He at least has a viable path to bouncing back with a sub-4.00 ERA and above-average strikeout rate. That’s more than can be said about most guys available with a mixed-league ADP outside the top 500.
Those who can’t afford to wait can instead target Royals teammate Brad Keller, who has reached 98 mph in spring and is getting their Opening Day nod.
Austin Hays (OF – BAL)
All the buzz surrounding Hays last season dissipated when he floundered (.235/.266/.410) in the minors. He’s doing his best to repair his stock with nine extra-base hits (five homers) in 12 spring bouts.
Hitting .329/.365/.593 with 32 homers in 2017 made the Orioles outfielder a popular 2018 sleeper and AL Rookie of the Year pick. Recovered from an ankle injury that derailed his anticipated ascent, the 23-year-old also lost 15-20 pounds by revamping his diet. Baltimore optioned him to Triple-A despite his thunderous performance, but Hays could make his minor league stay short by staying hot. The news could keep him buried down cheat sheets, but mixed-league players must quickly take notice when he arrives.
Clint Frazier (OF – NYY)
The oft-injured Aaron Hicks is dealing with a back issue that has kept him out of camp. After receiving a second cortisone shot, the outfielder said he’ll at least miss the season’s opening series.
If he misses more time, the Yankees can get creative with their lineup. Perhaps Giancarlo Stanton moves back to the outfield, which allows them to hide Miguel Andujar at designated hitter and play D.J. LeMahieu at third. It also could open the door for Frazier. Considered an upper-echelon prospect when shipped from Cleveland as the headliner of a package for Andrew Miller, concussions (and a lack of opportunity) have blocked his path to steady playing time.
Don’t give up on the 24-year-old so soon. He pasted Triple-A pitching to a .311/.384/.574 slash line in 48 games last season while reaching base 16 times in 15 games with the Bronx Bombers. Although no longer running enough to dream about 20/20 upside, he could still swipe a few bags while manifesting his tantalizing power in a loaded lineup and favorable home park. Frazier warrants a late AL-only dart throw in case Hicks’ back opens up another big league chance.
Martin Perez (SP/RP – MIN)
Yes, this is the same Perez who posted a 6.22 ERA and 4.0 K-BB% last season. But he sure doesn’t look like that guy this spring. He’s operating in the mid-90s — his fastball averaged 92.8 mph last season — and even reached 97 mph. Perez has adjusted his throwing motion under the mentorship of former Twins ace Johan Santana. Perhaps he’s merely this year’s Juan Nicasio, but it’s worth the gamble at the back end of an AL-only draft.