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Players to Target for Home Runs (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

MLB’s days of endless dingers could be numbered.

According to Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB plans to alter its baseballs in an attempt to mitigate a cavernous power surge. Five unspecified teams will also reportedly install a humidor, which recently has defused Chase Field into a far more pitcher-friendly venue.

MLB saw a record-shattering 6,776 home runs in 2019. While that rate dropped during 2020’s 60-game campaign, its 162-game-pace of 6,220 would have represented the second-highest rate ever.

This news could have major fantasy baseball ramifications. Will the high supply of 30-homer mashers suddenly evaporate? If so, drafters are probably underrating the elite options in pursuit of speed and pitching.

There’s also a chance some homer-reliant hitters regress enough to tank their fantasy appeal. Perhaps that’s a reason to target more balanced profiles. On the other hand, drafters may want some players likely to keep clearing fences regardless of all extenuating factors.

The current landscape has created many intriguing sluggers available late in drafts, but it also enhances the home runs necessary to out-pace the competition. These studs, sleepers, and bargains are all strong targets at reasonable going rates.

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

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Nelson Cruz (UT – MIN): 85.3 ADP
J.D. Martinez (OF/UT – BOS): 87.5 ADP
Yordan Alvarez (OF/UT – HOU): 75.5 ADP
Giancarlo Stanton (OF/UT – NYY): 110.8 ADP
Franmil Reyes (OF/UT – CLE): 145.0 ADP

Yahoo is generously letting all of these designated hitters, with exception to Cruz, maintain their outfield eligibility even though none played more than three games in the grass last season. That could derail the bargains a bit, but these DH sluggers all possess massive power upside at their current consensus ADPs.

My heart — and a top-100 pick — will belong to Cruz until he stops raking or retires. He averaged 40 homers a year from 2014 to 2019, with 37 representing his lowest tally from those six seasons (and a movie). Cruz didn’t slow down in the shortened 2020; only six players topped his 16 home runs.

The only argument against drafting Cruz is that you can get one of these other guys later, particularly in leagues using 2020 for position eligibility.

Martinez cracked 124 long balls from 2017 to 2019 while annually hitting over .300. He was a vocal opponent of MLB banning access to in-game video, a change getting reversed this season. Snagging either Cruz or Martinez near their ADPs is a massive haul.

While Stanton has only avoided the injured list in two of the last six seasons, the if-healthy gambit is certainly intriguing when getting the 2017 NL MVP in the 10th round or later of a 12-teamer. The same logic applies to the Alvarez, projected to crush 37 home runs by the often conservative Steamer. Although the 23-year-old is more likely to recover from concerning knee issues, he’s also the most expensive of the grouping.

If whiffing on them all, Reyes is the cheapest of the bunch. After watching his ADP rise for months last winter, his ISO dipped from .263 to .175 in 2020. However, he also hit 37 homers in 2019 and has a regular role as Cleveland’s DH. Unlike most of the sluggers listed above him, the career .263 hitter won’t necessarily hurt your batting average either.

Eugenio Suárez (3B – CIN): 80.5 ADP
Only Mike Trout has hit more home runs (101) than Suárez (98) since the start of 2018. THE BAT projects the Cincinnati third baseman to again place second behind the three-time MVP with 46 deep flies.

Because the career .261 hitter batted .202 last year, he’s getting drafted after shiny new toys Randy Arozarena, Trent Grisham, and Teoscar Hernandez. Suárez exceeded 100 RBIs and 600 plate appearances in each of his last two full seasons and was on pace to again top both on a 162-game pace in 2020. Picking Suárez around pick 80 is a … home run.

Kyle Schwarber (OF – WAS): 208.5 ADP
For those who still possess the brain capacity to recall pre-pandemic times, let’s rewind back to an ancient period known as 2019. Sixty games into the season, Schwarber was batting .227 with 11 home runs. He finished with a career-high .250 batting average by hitting .280 with 20 dingers after the All-Star break.

Schwarber fell short of the Mendoza Line (.188) last season, but that didn’t stop him from collecting 11 homers. Drafters have nevertheless forgotten about the prodigious power he displayed in his last full season. The 27-year-old is going outside the top 200 despite landing an opportunity to bat behind Trea Turner and Juan Soto in the heart of Washington’s lineup.

ATC, THE BAT X, Steamer, and THE BAT project him to hit 31, 32, 33, and 34 homers, respectively. None of them are forecasting over 130 games played, but that would be particularly doable in a 162-game season if the NL can somehow salvage the designated hitter. (As of now, Schwarber should still start regularly in left field.) His lowest projected batting average from those four systems is .239, so .240 appears a better baseline than .200. That’s all drafters need if snagging a potential home-run champion this late.

Kole Calhoun (OF – ARI): 259.8 ADP
Nobody will ever be excited to draft Calhoun, a career .248/.323/.429 hitter who only one reached 20 homers prior to 2019. It was logical to dismiss that 33-homer outlier as a byproduct of the juiced ball, and MLB’s potential course-correction could derail his recent power uptick.

However, the power kept coming last year. He belted 16 homers in just 54 games, obliterating personal bests in ISO (.300) and average launch angle (17 degrees). The veteran outfielder has made a clear change in approach. After pulling the ball on a career-high 47.4% of his batted balls in 2019, he upped the rate to 56.3% last season.

Nobody is expecting him to sustain 2020’s seismic pace and push for 40-plus long balls, but another 30 is well in play for the durable outfielder. Just understand that he’s sacrificed batting average in the process. Having drawn an 11.4% walk rate in the last two seasons, Calhoun is a particularly strong power play in OBP and points leagues.

Joc Pederson (1B/OF – CHC): 338.3 ADP
Not willing to pay for Schwarber? Follow the Cubs’ lead and snag Pederson at a cheaper rate.

From 2015-19, Pederson averaged just 468.2 plate appearances per season. That still led to 24.6 homers, buoyed by 36 in 2019. The Dodgers have the depth to protect him from southpaws, but the Cubs may let him rip in something closer to a full-time role. (Phillip Ervin and Jake Marisnick could yank away some opportunities.) While that would damage his rate stats without a significant improvement to his career 59 wRC+ against lefties, the extra playing time would also put him on a relatively paved path to another 30-homer campaign.

Don’t worry about 2020’s struggles. Pederson is prone to maddening lows every year; he just ran out of time before nullifying it with a typical hot streak. He posted an identical barrel rate (10.3%) from 2019 while upping his hard-hit rate and exit velocity. If his ADP doesn’t skyrocket after finding a home, Pederson is an excellent power bargain for drafters who can stomach a .230-.240 batting average.

Jonathan Schoop (2B – DET): 350.0 ADP
Boring veteran alert. Schoop has averaged 26 home runs per 150 games since the start of 2015. He’s slugged over .450 in all but one of those six seasons, including last year’s .278/.324/.475 slash line with Detroit. The 29-year-old signed another one-year deal with the Tigers, ensuring him a steady role that places him on the path for a .260, 25-homer line. That will play in deeper leagues for drafters who have ascertained speed before filling their middle-infield spot.

Colin Moran (1B/3B – PIT): 388.7 ADP
Having hit 34 home runs over the last three years combined with a single-season high of 13, Moran typically isn’t associated with power. As a result, it’s easy to overlook his 2020 gains.

The corner infielder touched them all 10 times in 200 plate appearances, upping his slugging percentage from .429 to a new career-best .472. Sharp gains in quality of contact, particularly his barrel rate, point to a possible epiphany rather than pure short-sample variance.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

All this progress, however, came with an alarming rise in ground balls (57.5%). That red flag could have been a reason to flea if his price soared, but Moran remains a bench pick in 15-team leagues despite having a steady starting role in Pittsburgh. The No. 6 pick in 2013 could reach 25 long balls with a passable batting average as a poor man’s Eric Hosmer.

Franchy Cordero (OF – BOS): 398.0 ADP
The year is 2027, and Cordero is still everyone’s favorite sleeper on his ninth new team. Why are so many onlookers still excited about a 26-year-old with a .236/.304/.433 slash line in just 315 plate appearances since debuting in 2017? The power (and speed) upside remains immense.

In 2017, Cordero batted .326 with 17 homers and 15 steals in 93 Triple-A games. The following year, he teased those tools in the majors by tallying seven long balls and five steals in 40 games. Over his intermittent big-league spurts, the 6’3″, 226-pound slugger has posted a 12.4% barrel rate and 45.7% hard-hit rate. He crushes the ball when making contact, but strikeouts and health remain major hurdles to clear.

Cordero will leave one of the toughest parks in terms of stymieing home runs for Fenway Park after the Royals traded him to the Red Sox to get back Andrew Benintendi. While Cordero could quickly find himself in a platoon with Hunter Renfroe if he doesn’t perform, he should receive one more chance to validate the annual hype.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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