10 Must-Have Hitters (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Finding a blend of undervalued hitters and late-round lottery tickets who pan out can be the difference between winning a fantasy league and finishing in the middle of the pack. The 10 hitters featured in descending average draft position (ADP) in this piece are available at a wide variety of rounds in the draft. They also cover a variety of positions, offering managers help across their entire roster.
Franchy Cordero (OF – KC): 419.0
Cordero is a low-cost, high-upside Statcast darling. He was limited to 42 plate appearances in 16 games last year after missing most of the 2019 season. The “toolsy” outfielder has routinely demonstrated the ability to put a charge into the ball, as evidenced by his 9.5 barrels per plate appearance percentage and a 95.8 mph fly ball/line drive exit velocity that ranked tied for 83rd-highest out of 437 players with a minimum of 25 batted-ball events, per Baseball Savant. He also possesses above-average speed.
Cordero’s bugaboo is swing-and-miss issues resulting in a 34.9 K% in his career, according to FanGraphs. However, he struck out in just 9.5% of his plate appearances last year with promising plate discipline numbers. It’s unlikely he retains all of the contact gains, but carrying over some of them could unlock a highly-useful fantasy player who moves the needle in homers and stolen bases, without completely tanking batting average. He’s worth the late-round investment while being an easy early-season cut if things don’t pan out.
Alejandro Kirk (C – TOR) : 315.0
I recently wrote about Kirk as my top catching prospect for 2021. He’s an excellent C2 option in two-catcher formats. I’ll also bypass paying the position premium for a higher ranked backstop and roll the dice on him in single-catcher leagues. If he flops or winds up receiving the short end of the stick in a timeshare, in a 12-team mixer using a single catcher spot, streaming options should be plentiful until someone sticks.
Jean Segura (2B/3B – PHI): 208.3
Segura reached double-digit homers and stolen bases for four straight seasons from 2016 through 2019. He did this while slashing .301/346/.442. The veteran infielder’s walk and strikeout rates both soared to previously unseen highs last year, but his plate discipline numbers didn’t fully support the drastic changes. Segura’s across-the-board contributions and track record of chipping in at all five categories aren’t adequately valued. His multi-position eligibility is gravy. He’s worth selecting at least a couple of rounds earlier than his ADP.
Franmil Reyes (UTIL – CLE): 142.3
Homers are plentiful in fantasy baseball due to the livelier ball used in recent seasons. You’ll have to draft it somewhere, and getting Reyes’ top-shelf pop on the cheap, in part because of his utility only eligibility, is helpful. The giant slugger hit only nine homers in 241 plate appearances last year, but he smashed 37 homers in 548 plate appearances in 2019.
Forgive him for the underwhelming homer output last year, as his Statcast data remains dreamy. His 97 mph fly ball/line drive exit velocity tied for ninth-highest out of 142 hitters. Reyes is a threat for 40-plus homers and looks like a steal at his ADP.
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN): 124.7
Fantasy managers seem to be onto the next shiny toy despite the former top prospect coming off his best offensive season to date. Buxton’s 118 wRC+ was a career-high mark after setting his previous high of 111 in 2019. Buxton has smashed 23 homers to go along with a .256/.297/.529 triple slash and 16 stolen bases in 20 tries since 2019.
His 96.8 mph fly ball/line drive exit velocity from last year was tied with Joey Gallo‘s mark for 21st-highest out of 351 hitters with a minimum of 50 batted-ball events. In addition to putting a charge into the ball, he’s one of the game’s fastest runners, ranking tied for fourth in sprint speed. He’s a 30/20 threat with a path to a more run-production-friendly lineup spot thanks to the Twins non-tendering Eddie Rosario and Nelson Cruz remaining a free agent presently. I view Buxton as a fringe top-100 option.
Kris Bryant (3B – CHC): 126.0
Bryant’s coming off of a career-worst season. His Statcast data was ugly. It was an unusual year because of the pandemic, though, and I’m willing to cut him and others slack. Bryant was a career .284/.385/.516 hitter in 3,105 plate appearances before last year’s nightmarish season. I’m not expecting a full rebound, but he doesn’t need to return to his pre-2020 form to turn a profit for managers who invest in him at his ADP. A premium lineup spot will offer him plenty runs and RBI opportunities that’ll help buoy his value even if his batting average bounces back merely to the .260s as opposed to the .280s.
Jeff McNeil (2B/OF – NYM): 106.3
Batting average isn’t the sexiest category and can be volatile, but you need guys who help the bottom line there. Enter career .319 hitter McNeil. He struck out in 11.5% of his appearances last year while producing a .311 batting average. He paired his low-strikeout rate with a 9.6 BB%, making him a perfect table-setter with a .383 OBP and average speed.
There’s some risk he won’t help in stolen bases after stealing zero last year. He has been inefficient in that capacity the last two years, but he did steal seven bases in eight attempts in 2018. I wouldn’t bank on many steals, but a handful is at least possible. He is a shoo-in to help batting average and profiles as the two-hole hitter for the Mets, putting him in an ideal position to score runs. McNeil’s power is debatable due to a three-homer season in 248 plate appearances in 2018 and four homers in 209 plate appearances last year, bookending 23 homers in 567 plate appearances from 2019. A homer total in the teens feels like a reasonable projection. McNeil’s a perfect glue guy whose batting average will allow some wiggle room for drafting lower batting average hitters who bring more speed or power to the table.
Smith can rake. He has distanced himself from a rough first two seasons in The Show in which he hit only .210/.259/.406 with 14 homers in 332 plate appearances. Since then, Smith has slashed .299/.365/.573 with 21 homers in 392 plate appearances. The left-handed slugger isn’t an all-or-nothing hitter with a reasonable 22.7 K% in 2020. His .316 batting average last year doesn’t look too flukey, either, with Baseball Savant crediting him with a .304 xBA.
A first baseman by trade, Smith hasn’t embarrassed himself in the outfield, so coupled with his excellent hitting skills, he should be in store for a full-time gig even if the National League reverts to playing without a designated hitter. A lineup spot in the middle of the order would be great for his fantasy value, but he doesn’t need to pile up RBIs in addition to homers and batting average thanks to the depth of the Mets’ lineup. He’s worth reaching a bit earlier than his ADP to cover first base, corner infield, or slot into one of your outfield spots.
I chronicled my infatuation with Arozarena’s fantasy outlook when placing him atop my top outfield prospect’s list. His ADP makes him OF18, but I have him ranked at OF8 and would reach 20 picks earlier if needed to select him.
Corey Seager (SS – LAD): 36.0
Seager’s ADP doesn’t make him a huge bargain, but it’s fair. The 26-year-old star shined last year, and then he shined brightest in the postseason. He slugged 23 homers in 312 plate appearances in the regular season and postseason combined. After hitting .307/.358/.585 in the regular season, he slashed .328/.425/.746 on the Dodgers’ World Series title run.
He’s a four-category contributor hitting in the heart of a loaded lineup with drool-inducing batted-ball data. Seager ranked second in barrels per plate appearance percentage among qualified hitters and earned a .330 expected batting average that bested his .307 batting average. Seager’s worth a pick in the middle of the third round or later.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.