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Middle-Round Picks to Target and Avoid (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 10, 2021


 
Opening Day is a few weeks away, which means the time for honing in on our fantasy draft strategy is now. Below our writers give some picks for players to avoid and target in the middle rounds of drafts.

Below rankings are generated from FantasyPros’ latest expert consensus rankings (ECR)

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Q1. Which player from ECR 50 to 150 are you avoiding most?

Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD) ECR: 90
Lamet got a PRP injection this offseason, and has had a somewhat slow buildup to Spring Training. Typically, PRPs lead to Tommy John surgery at some point, and the fact of the matter is that Lamet has had a significant injury every year, dating back to his 2017 debut. Lamet has filthy stuff and his upside is an SP1, but I can’t take the risk of SP3/4 with his current status and gloomy outlook. I’ll let someone else bite the bullet and take on that added injury risk.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Salvador Perez (C – KC) ECR: 102
I’m genuinely the type that waits on a catcher anyway, but seeing Salvador Perez being drafted as a top-100 player feels like a trap. Perez enjoyed a career year in 2020’s shortened season, and almost all projections have him hitting closer to his career norm of .260 rather than last year’s career high .333 in a small sample size. Perez made a conscious choice to swing at more pitches in the zone last year (career-high 78.5% Z-swing%), but his chase rate and many other batted ball metrics were mostly the same. I expect Perez to supply 20+ HR power but counting stats figure to be low in a weak KC lineup, and last year’s batting average is almost certainly a mirage. If you plan to acquire an edge at catcher, draft J.T. Realmuto. Otherwise, you’re better off waiting on the position.
– Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyEvolves)

Tommy Pham (OF – SD) ECR: 106
It feels like the easy answers would include Dinelson Lamet or Cavan Biggio, particularly in batting average leagues. However, one player within the ECR 50 to 150 I’m avoiding is Tommy Pham. From 2017-2019, Pham provided both power and speed with an average of 21 home runs and 21 steals with a .284 batting average. He struggled a bit in 2020 with three home runs, 13 runs, 12 RBI, and six steals with a .211 batting average, partly due to a hand injury that needed surgery. We know the story about Pham, where he was stabbed outside of a strip club. Pham recently noted he’s 80% healthy and one notable takeaway from this experience – he should start spending more money. He’s someone that falls onto my do not draft list. Target teammate Wil Myers, Victor Robles, or Ian Happ in this range for outfielders that could provide power and speed.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Randy Arozarena (OF – TB) ECR: 56
I’ve written this before, and I’ll continue to cite it wherever it applies: always associate “price-to-acquire” with a player. Arozarena might be outstanding in 2021, and he might continue the torrid pace he set in last year’s postseason and soar throughout a full 162 games. His price, however, is astronomical. Unless he actually improves on his insane .377 batting average or .831 slugging percentage through 20 postseason games, there’s a good chance that we would be buying at his peak. After all, it’s impossible to remove October’s hot streak from the narrative surrounding Arozarena. It’s also impossible to properly value it. That disconnect carries too much risk of overpaying.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Javier Baez (SS – CHC) ECR: 60
Baez has always been an outlier. Baez’s swinging strike rate has been 17.7% for his career, with league average being closer to 11.0%. He has a career 28.4% strikeout rate, despite league average being around 22.5%. Despite those ugly numbers, he has found a way to contribute in all five categories for several years. In 2020, it all came crashing down, as Baez hit .203 with a 31.9% strikeout rate across 235 plate appearances. If we see a similar struggle in 2021, Baez will be moved down the batting order, limiting his runs and RBI, which is a primary reason for him being drafted so high. I am not buying the risky profile at ECR 60, as the floor for Baez slopes downhill quick.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Marcus Semien (SS – TOR) ECR: 120
We’ve already seen the best of Semien. 2019 was his banner season in which he slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 92 RBI, and 10 steals. He finished third in the AL MVP race. Every statistic just mentioned, save stolen bases, were career bests for the shortstop. He predictably regressed in 2020 with a .223/.305/.374 batting line to go along with seven home runs, 23 RBI, and four steals. He also produced a career-worst 28.6% Hard Hit rate, .203 xBA, and average Exit Velocity of 86.2 mph. Truth be told, his 2020 was more in line with the first six years of his career prior to 2019. He’s not going to help you in batting average or OBP and while he does possess some stolen base and power upside, it isn’t enough to make up for the flaws mentioned earlier. He’s a player who is good at some things but not great at anything. Now he is moving on to a better ball park with the Blue Jays, who will begin their games in Dunedin, FL before moving to Buffalo, NY, and will be a part of a young, exciting lineup. He’ll shortly gain 2B eligibility as well. So there are some positives that could factor into his fantasy value but he’s not a player I’d rely on as my starting shortstop or second baseman. He’s more of a middle infielder type in fantasy and I’m still looking to draft a positional starter at his ADP, which is 134.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL) ECR: 68
Blackmon is currently 68th overall in the latest expert consensus rankings and on the downside of his career. His strikeout rate rose to 23.5% in 2020 and Blackmon’s 29.7% hard hit rate was a career-worst. Don’t pay for the name. The 34-year-old maintained an OBP over .350 for a fifth straight season, but his WOBA dropped to .340 and his islated power sunk to .145. Blackmon will produce solid numbers in four of five categories, but for where he’s being selected, I will be fading him in most drafts.
– Brad Camara (@Beerad30)

Kenley Jansen (RP – LAD) ECR: 118
This answer is a bit multi-factorial. For starters, I just think the closer pool this year is sort of depressing. There are just A LOT of unsettled bullpen/closer situations and several relievers that simply don’t inspire a ton of confidence. I find myself exploring the idea of punting saves this season as much as I have ever considered that in the past, especially with so many teams becoming more open-minded about using their closers earlier in games during pivotal situations while mix-and-matching in the ninth inning. Then, there’s Jansen. Despite being the closer for the best team in baseball, which should surely set him up for plenty of save chances, I’m just not crazy about drafting a 33-year-old reliever with declining velocity who struggled so badly that he was removed from that role during the most critical time of the season. Remember who was on the mound when the Dodgers won the World Series? Julio Urias. Not Jansen. With an ADP around the 115-120 range, there are just plenty of other quality bats and intriguing starting pitchers I would rather draft in that range than rolling the dice on whether or not this is the season that Jansen finally implodes.
– Lucas Spence (@LSpence24)

Cavan Biggio (2B/3B/OF) ECR: 83
Drafters are choosing Biggio 40th among hitters. But ZEILE projects him to be the 52nd most valuable hitter this season. Second basemen, in general, are over-drafted. I’d rather pay up early and grab Ozzie Albies or wait and grab Jose Altuve than spend on Biggio here with Keston Hiura and Brandon Lowe still on the board.
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

Q2. Which player from ECR 50 to 150 are you targeting most?

Kenta Maeda (SP – MIN) ECR: 52
It’s easy to see Maeda finishing as an SP1 this year, and we are getting him at an SP2 price. Maeda was dominant against an admittedly weak AL Central last year, but I see the Twins treating him as an ace in a full season. The division will be more competitive, and he won’t have his innings manipulated like he did with ahem, another team. Both his command and stuff rank in the top-5 percentile from multiple models, and the fact that he throws his secondary pitches more often than most pitchers keeps hitters guessing. I’m expecting a low-3’s ERA, a sub-1.15 WHIP, and over 10.5 K’s/9 over at least 170 innings.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B – TOR) ECR: 55
Guerrero hits the ball hard; he has 12 batted balls with a 115+ mph exit velocity in his career, more than anybody else since the start of 2019. Stronger and quicker after losing 42 pounds this offseason, Guerrero Jr. looks poised to join the game’s elites. It’s very easy to pinpoint what has kept the super-prospect from already doing so when you examine a 6.0 degree launch angle that needs elevating and the need to cut down on a 51.8% career ground ball rate. Improving both seems likely enough that THE BAT X projects him to produce 30+ HR and a .275+ BA, something less than 20 players in baseball are projected to do. This might be the lowest we see Vlad’s ADP for the next decade.
– Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyEvolves)

Jose Altuve (2B – HOU) ECR: 81
Within the ECR of 50 to 150, I’m targeting Altuve the most. He’s one of my 2021 bounce-back candidates. In 2020, Altuve totaled five home runs, 32 runs, 18 RBI, and two steals with a .219 batting average. However, in the postseason, Altuve crushed it with five home runs, 11 runs, and 11 RBI with a .375 batting average. Recent reports indicate that Altuve is motivated to get back on track. The second base tier drops off around Altuve and Mike Moustakas. According to the BAT X, Altuve projects for 22 home runs, 92 runs, 82 RBI, and 14 steals with a .280 batting average. I’m actively targeting Altuve with his balanced profile.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Gleyber Torres (SS – NYY) ECR: 61
While it’s obviously important to land a top stud in the first few rounds of a draft, savvy fantasy managers can make up tremendous ground by finding the gems in the 50-150 ECR range. It’s where I’d focus much of my attention and specifically target players whose stock has fallen too far. Like Gleyber Torres. His 2020 season was forgettable, to say the least, but each “down statistic” is defendable. His slugging percentage was down, but his walk rate increased while his strikeout rate decreased. His batting average was down, but his on-base percentage was a career high. His hard-hit percentage was lower, but so was his soft-hit percentage. Torres bats in a ridiculously potent offense and is eligible at second base. I’m buying heavily at his current price.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Keston Hiura (2B – MIL) ECR: 67
It’s no secret that Hiura had a bad 2020 season. The 24-year-old had an abysmal 34.6% strikeout rate and a 20.3% swinging strike rate. Those are bottom of the barrel numbers. Despite the struggles, Hiura still ended up with 13 home runs, 30 runs, and 32 RBI in 59 games. Paced out to 160 games, that’s 35 home runs, with 81 runs and 87 RBI. And that’s in a bad season for Hiura. His .273 BABIP will rise back up above .330, increasing his batting average and hit totals. He will steal more than 10 bases. And Hiura should hit in the heart of the lineup. Factor in his second base eligibility, and soon to be first base,and Hiura could give you a massive advantage with .280 / 90 / 35 / 100 / 13 upside.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN) ECR: 66
Suarez’s rate stats from 2020 were not pretty. He slashed .202/.312/.470 over 198 at-bats, yikes. But the counting stats were solid, all things considered, as he hit 15 homers and drove in 38 runs. That’s a 40-plus homer and 100-plus RBI pace despite his career-low .214 BABIP, .216 xBA, and 29% K rate. Cincinnati’s entire offense struggled last season, they were allergic to scoring runs, so I’m not holding it against Suarez. He was still in the top 10-percent in barrel rate (14.4%), 89th percentile in xISO, and 81st percentile in walk rate (13%). He just seemed to be pretty unlucky and if he was able to put up his typical power counting stats with poor luck then he should outperform his ADP (75) when his batting average and BABIP regress to the mean. Suarez is a safe pick if you missed out on one of the other big time third baseman earlier in your draft. Don’t sleep on him too long.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT) ECR: 140
Hayes burst onto the scene once he was promoted to the majors. He slashed .376/.442/.682 with five home runs, 11 RBI, 17 runs scored and one stolen base across 95 plate appearances in 2020. He showed great plate discipline and posted a 55.4 hard-hit percentage. The 24-year-old can contribute in five categories and has the potential to post a 20-20 season. Hayes’ ADP continues to rise and fantasy managers can select him as a borderline starting 3B in all league formats.
– Brad Camara (@Beerad30)

Yoan Moncada (3B – CWS) ECR: 85
Chicago’s offense is absolutely loaded from top-to-bottom and will surely be one of the top scoring lineups in all of baseball this season. And batting smack dab in the middle of that lineup is a switch-hitting, former top prospect who already had a legitimate breakout season in 2019 and then, like many others, had his 2020 season completely derailed by COVID-19. Moncada has spoken candidly about the negative impact that COVID-19 had on him physically after contracting the virus just prior to the start of the 2020 season. Thankfully, the 25-year-old reports he is back to 100% physically and feels very strong this spring. I’m simply giving Moncada a mulligan for 2020. Remember, in 2019, he hit .315 with a .915 OPS to go with 83 runs, 79 RBI, 25 home runs, and 10 stolen bases despite missing 30 games that season, primarily due to a hamstring injury in the second half. That’s a 162-game pace along the lines of a .315-100-30-100-12 season. And don’t forget new manager Tony La Russa has never had a problem with his players attempting to steal bases. Sign me up.
– Lucas Spence (@LSpence24)

Yordan Alvarez (UTIL – HOU) ECR: 58
What do Alvarez, Carlos Gonzalez, Alfonso Soriano, and Manny Machado have in common? They have all had arthroscopic knee surgeries at some point in their career. The injuries didn’t slow down Gonzalez, Soriano, or Machado, and I’m betting Alvarez won’t be either. Picking up where he left off, the 2019 unanimous AL Rookie of the Year is one of the game’s best hitters. I’m all-in.
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

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