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15 Late-Round Players Who Could Finish First At Their Position (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 24, 2021

A critical part of any successful fantasy draft is hitting on late-round selection. Below, our writers chose 15 players going late in drafts who could finish the year ranked first at their position.

Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is using FantasyPros consensus ADP

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Q1. Which SP going outside the top-20 has the best chance to finish as the SP1?

Corbin Burnes (SP – MIL) ADP: SP19 | Overall: 61
The key characteristics to be SP1 include an elite strikeout rate, the ability to generate weak contact, durability and to pitch for a team that has a safe floor for wins. Burnes stands out in three of those four categories. Last year, his K-BB rate was 26.7%, which ranked in the top-10 starters in baseball. K-BB% is the best predictor of future success, and he had a tangible change in pitch mix to back up his incredible 2020. He also was above-average in several advanced metrics, from exit velocity to xwOBA to hard-hit rate, which suggests he has the ability to induce weak contact, especially ground balls. The Brewers should also be competitive in the lackadaisical NL Central, giving him an opportunity to win a significant number of games. The one question mark is his durability, given his past injury history and the Brewers saying that pitchers won’t see more than a 100 inning increase from 2020. However, I think that if everything goes right for Burnes, he could still be the SP1 in 160 innings, especially with everyone else in the league throwing a similar reduced amount of innings.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

This one’s tricky since the starting pitchers outside the top-20 in ECR have their concerns. However, even though Burnes probably over performed in some metrics, he’s one starting pitcher that stands out with the elite potential. In 2020, Burnes finished with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, but the .285 BABIP and 80.1% LOB% is likely unsustainable. That means his ERA likely bumps up over a full season, but maybe not much more given his elite arsenal. Burnes used a six-pitch mix, five of which resulted in a double-digit swinging-strike rate. Overall, Burnes stands out with that SP1 upside.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

I’ve been high on Burnes all offseason and if anyone outside the top-20 has a shot at number 1, he is it. After a major overhaul to his pitching arsenal, Burnes saw massive improvements across the board. He basically ditched his straight heater, while adopting both a two-seamer and a new cutting fastball. He threw his slider a lot less and even increased the usage of his changeup and curveball. The results? He went from virtually a two-pitch pitcher (with an occasional changeup), who was constantly getting hammered for home runs, to a six-pitch pitcher who dominated hitters and earned positive marks on everything he threw. He ended the year with a microscopic 2.11 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 36.7 K%. The bullpen is as good as it gets, so wins shouldn’t be too hard to come by either. He’s a contender to win the Cy Young award this year and if he stays healthy, he could easily finish as the top SP in fantasy leagues.
– Austin Lowell

Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD) ADP SP: 28 | Overall: 85
Although Lamet is dealing with some sort of minor elbow injury, I love the idea of him taking it to the next level this upcoming year. The Padres are projected to be one of the highest winning teams in all of baseball. They arguably have the best starting five and should be as good as advertised. Lamet has posted a K/9 rate of 12 or higher in back to back years and I could see him taking it even a notch higher this year. He has a great chance to win plenty of games and, at age 28, should be entering the prime of his career. He is coming off a 2.09 ERA and 2.48 FIP season, so his 2020 season was no fluke. If Lamet, along with the Padres, are able to make that next step, finishing as the SP1 is not out of his realm of possibilities.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

In a season where workloads will be heavily managed due to the shortened 2020 season, I don’t expect any SP drafted outside the top-20 to be a legitimate contender for the top overall starting pitcher. But I’ll play along. My answer to this question would be Dinelson Lamet. In order to flirt with being the top overall SP, a pitcher would need to pile up strikeouts with elite ratios and a bushel of wins. Lamet will rack up wins pitching for one of the best teams in baseball and finished in the top-five in all MLB this past season in ERA (2.09), WHIP (0.86), and K/9 (12.13). That’s the stuff of elite pitchers. He was simply sensational, powered by his devastating slider, which he remarkably threw more than 50% of the time and rated by far as the best pitch in baseball last year with a -19 run value. With all that said, Lamet ended the season with an alarming right elbow issue, which was treated non-surgically with a simple PRP injection. By all accounts, he has had a normal off-season and enters spring training without restrictions. But for a pitcher who has already undergone Tommy John Surgery on that same elbow, this has caused his ADP to plummet during the offseason, and his workload will clearly be monitored closely all season. As much as any player in baseball, reports on his health during spring training will have a dramatic effect on his ADP. Lamet won’t pitch enough innings this season to finish as the top starting pitcher in fantasy. But in a world where he did pitch enough innings, he has proven he would certainly be capable of doing so. He’s the absolute definition of a risk/reward pick.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

Zack Greinke (SP – HOU) ADP SP: 30 | Overall: 97
We are all facing a difficult challenge trying to gauge what is real from 2020 and what was driven by a shortened season. In doing so, almost every starting pitcher can be considered a “risk” for a lower innings ceiling in ’21. This is especially true with young arms. Therefore, when trying to target the single pitcher with the best overall upside to vault to the top of the position, I’m leaning on a veteran who has been there before. Indeed, Zack Greinke is entering his age-37 season after seeing his ERA jump by a full run, but we shouldn’t ignore that he pitched to a 2.93 ERA in a full 33 starts in 2019. His strikeout rate is likely to be lower than some of the high-octane arms targeting around his range, but he is more likely to outlast them and compile numbers in a full 2021 season.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Carlos Carrasco (SP – NYM) ADP SP: 23 | Overall: 69
Carrasco had quite the bounce back in 2020 after a bout with leukemia stunted his 2019 season and limited him to just 80 innings pitched. He posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, and 82:27 K/BB ratio over 68 innings with the Indians in 2020. He’s currently the 23rd pitcher off the board per FantasyPros ECR and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could finish as the SP1 overall. Now I’ll admit It’s a bit of a reach and a lot would need to go right for the 33-year-old to get the top spot, but his 2020 season was encouraging and was definitely something to build on. He finished top-15 in strikeouts and top-nine in quality starts last year. Additionally, the slider, changeup, and curveball all posted whiff rates above 34% and the spin rates on his fastball (87th percentile) and curveball (94th) ranked highly as well. The only thing that looked out of character for “Cookie” was his 9.6% BB rate, which was by far the worst of his career. He finished in the 89th percentile or better in walk rate over the last three seasons prior to 2019. He issued 12 walks over 14 2/3 innings in three starts in mid-August, which in a shortened season inflated his ratio. He’s struck out over 200 batters three times over the last five seasons and looks primed to do it again in 2021 if he can remain healthy.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Corey Kluber (SP – NYY) ADP SP: 50 | Overall: 167
Kluber has started eight games over the past two seasons because of various injuries so many have forgotten how good he can be. “But, Lucas, Kluber hasn’t pitched in two years, and he’s coming off major injuries. How can you expect him to be the best pitcher in baseball this season?” Jacob deGrom is my pick for SP1 this season, but if anybody outside the top-20 has a chance to unseat him, it’s Kluber. The 2017 Cy Young award winner is consistently near the top of the leaderboard in fastball spin rate, which tells me that he can succeed with diminished velocity because the spin on the ball makes it appear faster to hitters. The question is can he stay on the field long enough to do it?
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

Jesus Luzardo (SP – OAK) ADP SP: 31 | Overall: 101
Luzardo focused on his durability and made improvements to his game during the offseason. He struck out 59 batters across 59 innings and showed flashes of upside in a couple of scoreless starts last season. The 23-year-old has an elite strikeout rate and is considered a top of the rotation starter for the Athletics. According to Statcast, Luzardo had a 45% K rate with his fastball topping out 95-96 MPH. Luzardo has battled injuries in his pro career, undergoing Tommy John surgery and dealing with a lat strain. The left-hander is currently 31st among all starting pitchers in the latest expert consensus rankings, but has a chance to be a bonafide ace if everything falls into place.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

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Q2. Which hitter going outside the top-100 picks has the best chance to finish first at their position?

Byron Buxton (OF – MIN) ADP Hitter: 74 | Overall: 119
Buxton put it all together in a shortened 2020 campaign, posting double-digit steals and homers. We always knew he was fast, but he posted elite barrel and hard-hit rates while slightly changing his approach to pull the ball more. If he keeps this pace up, we can expect him to rise up to the upper-third of the batting order eventually. Of course, the main concern with Buxton is health. He will (hopefully) have at least one season where he stays healthy for for 140 games and goes 30/40 with a decent batting average and a combined 190 runs and RBI. I’m not banking on 2021 being that year, but Buxton has this kind of upside if he were to stay healthy. That line would put him in the OF1 conversation.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Austin Nola (C – SD) ADP Hitter: 108 | Overall: 176
The idea of Nola finishing as the No. 1 catcher in fantasy baseball speaks more to how shallow the position is rather than anything else. Nola is an excellent hitter, but struggled in San Diego after his trade from the Mariners. However, Nola still posted a 129 OPS+ and displayed solid power numbers, hitting seven HRs in 48 games. He will be locked in as the main catcher in San Diego and could even see playing time at 1B and 2B. As long as he produces, he should see solid playing time in one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball. There is a high possibility he could regress more towards a .700 OPS hitter, but I believe there’s a greater chance he finishes as the number one catcher in fantasy baseball.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

Mike Yastrzemski (OF – SF) ADP Hitter: 73 | Overall: 116
Another tough question here with the ADP parameters, but Yastrzemski stands out. Over the past two seasons, Yastrzemski compiled a full season of plate appearances. He totaled 31 home runs, 103 runs, 90 RBI, and four steals with a triple slash of .281/.357/.535 in 636 plate appearances. Those counting stat ranked him tied for 31st in HR, 34th in runs, and 36th in RBI. Although that doesn’t scream first at their position, if he played the entire 2019 season, those would likely rank higher. Yastrzemski is a guy I’m high on in 2021 even though it’s a slim chance he finishes first at the outfield position.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Will Smith (C – LAD) ADP Hitter: 65 | Overall: 100
Smith broke onto the scene in 2019, blasting 12 home runs over his first 28 games. He cooled down quite dramatically after that though, as opposing pitchers made the necessary adjustments. This past season, however, he made modifications of his own and backed up his fine rookie season (.908 OPS), with a standout line of .289/.401/.579. Dave Roberts has shown he’s not afraid to put the slugging catcher in the middle of the order, breaking up the power hitting lefties in the lineup. Smith displayed plenty of power in the minors as well, so the track record is there. J.T. Realmuto‘s still the universal No. 1, but if the thumb hampers him at all throughout the beginning of the season, Smith could take over as the top offensive catcher.
– Austin Lowell

Miguel Sano (1B – MIN) ADP Hitter: 109 | Overall: 177
I feel like I give this same answer every time I’m asked the question, but there is a clear path for Sano leading his respective position — either first base or third base — in fantasy points. How? Power. That’s it. Sano consistently shows that his home run potential will always remain high. Everything else? Not so much. He can’t stay on the field, and his putrid batting average from last year is a major cause for concern. Regardless, we’re metaphorically swinging for the fences with a player who actually swings for the fences — and clears them — regularly. That’s what makes him such an intriguing hitter outside of the top-100.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Nick Solak (2B/OF – TEX) ADP Hitter: 112 | Overall: 180
I thought about Nick Madrigal in this spot but the fact that he gives you nothing in the power department severely limits his chances to finish as the top overall 2B. So I went with Solak, who has some speed and pop potential, and if it can all come together, could possibly finish as the top second baseman. He was a trendy pick going into 2020 coming off an impressive, small sample in his 2019 debut when he slashed .293/.393/.491 with five home runs and 17 RBI over 116 at-bats. On the surface his 2020 numbers were less impressive when he hit .268/.326/.344 with just two home runs, 23 RBI, and seven stolen bases over 209 at-bats. There were positive takeaways in his underlying numbers, though. Solak ranked in the 91st percentile in sprint speed last season as he went 7-for-8 on stolen base attempts. 20 stolen bases this upcoming season is not an unreasonable projection. He also increased his hard hit rate from 32.2% in 2019 to 40.4% in 2020 as well as his average launch angle from 6.3 degrees to 9.4. His average exit velocity was a tick under 90 mph at 89.9 but he registered a low HR/FB rate of just 2.4%, which is well below the league average of 10.8%. I suspect we’ll get some positive regression in the power department and lock him in for 15-20 homers. He’s a contact hitter (90.3 Z-Contact %) with a 9.0% career walk rate, and is tough to strike out. He’ll need to lower his GB rate from last season (48.5%) but a 20/20 season is within his range of outcomes. If he can pair those counting stats with a high average, it’s not unrealistic to see him finishing as a top-10 second baseman with top-five upside.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Dominic Smith (1B/OF – NYM) ADP Hitter: 69 | Overall: 109
Smith will play left field for the Mets this season, but he’s still first base eligible. My thesis is that Smith is the best sleeper for No. 1 at first base. The 25-year-old lefty is a former top prospect entering his prime, who broke out in 2020, and was one of the majors’ best hitters. He will have a spot in the heart of the Mets’ order with plenty of opportunity for RBIs and runs. First basemen generally don’t steal bases, so his lack of speed does not hurt Smith. The competition is stiff – Freddie Freeman and Cody Bellinger are the favorites, but the Mets are ready to shed their harmless reputation, and Smith is a big part of that.
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

Josh Bell (1B – WAS) ADP Hitter: 92 | Overall: 144
Bell was traded to the Nationals during the offseason. He’ll have a better supporting cast around him after leaving one of the league’s toughest parks and worst offenses behind. The 28-year-old is one year removed from hitting 37 home runs and leaving from Pittsburgh will only help his fantasy value. Bell struggled mightily in 2020, slashing .226/.305/.364 across 57 games. With a fresh start, Bell is ready to put 2020 behind him and is a legitimate bounce-back candidate in 2021. If he can replicate his 2019 numbers or come close it, everything is lined up for Bell to be an elite fantasy option outside the top-100.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Kris Bryant (3B – CHC) ADP Hitter: 72 | Overall: 113
This one seems simple to me because this player has already done this before. The answer is Kris Bryant. With a current ADP of 105, there is certainly a path for Bryant to finish as fantasy’s top third-baseman. Bryant won the NL MVP award in 2016. As recently as 2019, he hit 33 home runs with 108 runs and 77 RBI and a .903 OPS despite slumping for much of the second half. Bryant’s 2020 season was completed derailed by injuries, but none of the injuries have lingered into the offseason. Erase that from your memory. The 29-year-old is still firmly in his prime and will again occupy a premier spot in a strong Cubs offense, surrounded by Ian Happ, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Wilson Contreras, and newcomer Joc Pederson. Most importantly, Bryant is in a contract-year and has every motivation in the world to have a strong bounce-back campaign before entering free agency next offseason for the first time in his career. Would anyone truly be shocked if Bryant hit 35-40 HR with 100 + runs and RBI? I wouldn’t, which is why he is my answer.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

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