Potential Busts: Infielders (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Nothing sinks a fantasy season quite like a bust, and the last thing fantasy owners want to do is deal with one of those headaches all season. Last year, Brian Dozier, Marcell Ozuna, and Jonathan Schoop drove us mad, The goal of this article is to identify an infielder at every position who could spoil a fantasy season in 2019.
Every player in this article is currently going in the top-150 picks based on FantasyPros’ consensus ADP, which aggregates average draft positions from six major fantasy sports websites to give us an idea of a player’s overall cost across all platforms.
Jesus Aguilar (1B – MIL) – Consensus ADP: 76
Aguilar was one of 2018’s biggest waiver-wire finds, going from undrafted in pretty much every format to 100% owned by season’s end. The hefty slugger posted a .274/.352/.539 slash line along with 35 home runs and 108 RBIs in his first season as a full-time player for Milwaukee, and he’s going to bat third behind Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. So what’s not to love?
For starters, Aguilar fell victim to a second-half swoon, posting a 101 wRC+ after recording a 160 wRC+ before the All-Star break. A big reason for Aguilar’s late struggles was his ground-ball rate jumping from 30.6% in the first half to 41.1% in the second. That’s not what we want to see from a 250-pound first baseman. It caused his BABIP to drop 48 points and his ISO to decline 133 points. Obviously, Aguilar wasn’t going to maintain his first-half .995 OPS; that would’ve made him an MVP candidate, but this performance dip has brought his sustainability into question.
It would be an oversimplification to merely state that his numbers took a hit because pitchers “figured out” Aguilar. However, pitchers did start throwing more curveballs to Aguilar. Overall, he saw about 3% more curves in the second half of 2018, but pitchers really started hammering him ahead in the count or with two strikes. Aguilar was three times as likely to see a curveball when he fell behind in the count or when facing two strikes in the second half compared to the first. The curveball was a tough nut to crack, as he posted just a 78 wRC+ against the pitch last season and hit ground balls 53% of the time.
A power hitter who struggles with curveballs is a cliché at this point, but in Aguilar’s case, it gives pitchers something to use against him. This isn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and he can best manage it by staying ahead in the count. However, this shortcoming combined with the late-season slump and lack of track record make Aguilar a risky pick. Unlike some of the other players on this list, Aguilar isn’t totally off my radar on draft day, but I’d hesitate to pay full freight for him. He’d have to slip a round or two before I’d consider drafting him.
Jurickson Profar (1B/2B/3B/SS – OAK) – Consensus ADP: 131
Profar isn’t going nearly as high as some of the other players in this article; his current FantasyPros consensus ADP makes him more of a middle infielder than starting second baseman in standard leagues. Although only 26, he has been on our radar ever since signing with Texas back in 2009. Once considered the top prospect in all of baseball, injuries derailed Profar’s path to the bigs, and he never got a chance to play full time until last season.
Profar delivered, posting 20 home runs and 10 steals along with a .793 OPS for the Rangers. Texas returned the favor by shipping him to Oakland, where he’ll take over for Jed Lowrie at second base and potentially hit leadoff. Many are hoping for bigger and better things in 2019, and he’s an attractive fantasy option who is eligible at all four infield positions in most formats. Outside of the versatility, however, there isn’t much to get excited about with his profile.
One of Profar’s biggest gains in 2018 was his power, as his .458 SLG was the highest he’s posted at any level since 2011 in Single-A. Unfortunately, it looks like good luck and his home ballpark boosted his moderate power. His 13.2% HR/FB wasn’t outrageous, but it’s still the highest rate of Profar’s professional career and a little higher than one would expect given his 31.8% hard-hit rate. He also greatly outperformed his expected numbers, as his .391 xSLG finished far below his actual clip. Most of his damage was done at home in the batter-friendly Globe Life Park, where Profar put up an .874 OPS and .240 ISO compared to a .712 OPS and .168 ISO on the road. The Oakland Coliseum is much less forgiving than the ballpark in Arlington, so Profar would be lucky to repeat with another 20 home runs.
Along with power concerns, one must wonder what, exactly, Profar will do for fantasy teams in standard 5×5 leagues. He isn’t going to hit for a good batting average; he’s a career .240 hitter who had a .253 xBA last season. He also doesn’t run enough to make a big impact on the bases. Profar swiped 10 bags last season, which was the first time he hit double digits since 2012 in Double-A. He won’t get the green light as much either, as the Athletics stole a league-low 35 bases on 56 attempts last season. It’s against Oakland’s team philosophy to run, and with Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Khris Davis due up, why risk an out on the basepaths? His speed provides little more than chip-in steals, and with his new situation, it’s hard to tell whether Profar can even reach double digits in 2019.
That leaves us with a player who will hit .250-.260, likely hit fewer than 20 home runs, and probably max out around 10-12 steals. So why is he drafted in round 12? Positional eligibility? Sure, it’s nice that Profar can move around if injuries occur, but in a standard mixed league one could find similar production on waivers anyway. Asdrubal Cabrera is a nice alternative. The new Texas Ranger is eligible at three infield positions (second, third, and shortstop) and will play every day for Texas. He’s going over 80 picks later than Profar. Cabrera has a good chance to be a better source of home runs, RBIs, and batting average. Profar is better in points leagues due to his good plate discipline and above-average strikeout rates, but steer clear in roto and categories.
Miguel Andujar (3B – NYY) – Consensus ADP: 79
Andujar had an awesome rookie season in 2018, posting a .297 AVG and .855 OPS en route to a second-place finish for AL Rookie of the Year. That season has caused him to skyrocket up draft boards as a seventh-round pick in 12-team leagues. There are two hang-ups with Andujar that make me hesitant to draft him at or near this price tag. First, his 2018 performance was a large outlier based on the profile. Second is third base’s depth, and third is Andujar’s role and job security on his current team.
On a surface level, Andujar hung with some of the big boys at the plate. His 47 doubles tied Mookie Betts for third-most in the majors, and his OPS was higher than that of Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton among other highly regarded sluggers. Andujar came up to the majors and performed much better then he ever had during his time in the minors. Prior to 2018, Andujar’s highest home run total was 16 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. His .191 ISO at High-A in 2016 marked a personal best before notching a .230 ISO for the Bronx Bombers last season.
His .297 AVG was fueled by a slightly above-average .316 BABIP, which came from good fortune on both ground balls and fly balls. He also displayed pitiful plate discipline, with his 4.1% walk rate the seventh-lowest among qualified hitters and his 39.4% chase rate the 12th-highest among qualified hitters. Furthermore, Andujar has the seventh-largest positive gap between his xSLG (.438) and actual SLG (.527). This profile is contingent on maintaining a .316 BABIP, and the home run total hinges on a 15.7% HR/FB rate. He could repeat on both of those things, but if Andujar’s batting average trends down closer to his .277 xBA, we’re all of the sudden looking at a sub-.310 OBP and a player sinking farther down the loaded Yankees’ lineup.
Andujar is currently slated to enter the season as the Yankees’ fifth hitter, which is an amazing spot to hit for run production. But if he slumps early or his performance trends downward, he could easily fall down to sixth or lower. The Yankees have Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit towards the bottom of their order along with veterans Troy Tulowitzki, Brett Gardner, and D.J. LeMahieu rounding out the lineup. All of those players could threaten Andujar’s grip on that fifth spot.
If Andujar struggles badly enough, his playing time could be in jeopardy. Andujar was a butcher at third last season, posting -25 defensive runs saved (DRS), so he must perform with the bat to avoid riding the pine. That would be the worst-case scenario, but the Bronx Bombers have options with LeMahieu in a utility role and Didi Gregorius due back mid-season. This is not likely, but not impossible either.
Finally, Andujar’s price seems a little rich given the depth at third base this season. Matt Carpenter is coming off an even better power season and has much more favorable peripherals to support his 2018 performance. One could also wait on the position, because Travis Shaw, Justin Turner, and Josh Donaldson are all drafted after Andujar. Chapman, Joey Gallo, and Wil Myers are going 15-25 picks later. Going 35 picks later (and my favorite value this draft season) is Max Muncy. All of those players could realistically have better seasons than Andujar.
Javier Baez (2B/3B/SS – CHC) – Consensus ADP: 18
Those who believed in Baez were vindicated in 2018, as he exploded for 34 homers and 21 steals along with an .881 OPS. His draft cost has inflated into the top 20, and it’s easy to see why fantasy owners are clamoring for a five-category contributor with multi-positional eligibility. Baez is currently being drafted ahead of elite bats such as Paul Goldschmidt and Giancarlo Stanton. None of the downside is factored into Baez’s draft-day price, and there should be legitimate concerns as to whether he can repeat last season’s performance.
Baez put up career numbers in nearly every category last season, but he still struggled with plate discipline. Baez walked just 4.5% of the time last season, which was tied for ninth-lowest among qualified hitters. He also had the second-highest swing percentage and second-highest chase rate among qualified hitters. We know Baez is a free-swinger, but his inability to make consistent contact compounds the issue. He tied for the fourth-lowest contact rate in 2018, and Gallo was the only qualified hitter with a higher swinging-strike rate.
Baez was also the only qualified hitter with a swing rate above 50% to have a contact rate below 70%. His 12.9% barrel rate and 43% hard-hit rate indicates that he makes quality contact, but it comes far too infrequently. With a profile like this, maintaining his .290 AVG seems unrealistic at best. His batting average could regress 20-30 points with no changes, and with some bad luck, the average could get even worse.
Even a small decrease would hurt Baez’s overall numbers. Since his walk rate is so poor, his OBP could crater, meaning fewer stolen base attempts and fewer runs scored. In both 2016 and 2017, he had an OBP under .320 and would’ve paced out for fewer than 15 steals in each season if he played 160 games, the number he reached in 2018. Baez used to bat seventh and eighth back then, perhaps limiting his steal opportunities, but the fact remains that he needs to get on first before he can steal second.
It’s not as if Baez will utterly collapse and succumb to mediocrity, but there are too many question marks to consider taking him at pick 18. He would need a full repeat to provide value, and that seems like a longshot considering the good fortune it took for 2018 to happen. Even looking at early shortstops, this writer would recommend Trevor Story two picks later. Both have a nice power-speed combination and strikeout problems, but Story has better plate discipline and plays his home games at Coors Field.