Deep League Targets (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
There’s value to mine from everywhere in fantasy baseball drafts, including the late rounds. The following players have an average draft position (ADP) after 300 and should be on your radar in drafts.
Pham’s stint with the Padres was forgettable. Nevertheless, according to FanGraphs, he had a 102 wRC+, a career-high 13.9 BB%, 15 homers, and 14 stolen bases in 561 plate appearances. Additionally, his .229 batting average was markedly lower than his .258 xBA.
You only have to go back to 2019 for a stellar season from Pham. In 2019, he had a 20/20 season, slugging 21 homers with 25 stolen bases, adding a rock-solid .273 batting average for good measure. But, unfortunately, he’s a free agent. So, obviously, there’s uncertainty for his playing time outlook. Regardless, he’s a low-risk flier who isn’t far removed from an excellent fantasy campaign.
Jeff McNeil (2B/OF – NYM): 308.6 ADP
McNeil’s positional versatility and the agreed-upon universal designated hitter bode well for his chances of bouncing back from his first poor season in the majors. In his first 1,024 plate appearances in The Show, McNeil hit .319/.383/.501 with a 6.7 BB%, 12.0 K%, 30 homers, and 12 stolen bases.
Thus, I’m unwilling to overreact to a .251 batting average in 2021. McNeil’s batting average last year suffered from a career-low .280 BABIP that was considerably lower than his .342 BABIP before 2021. Sure, his .342 BABIP before 2021 was unlikely to be maintained. Still, .280 was probably an outlier in the other direction. Therefore, I expect McNeil to help fantasy squads in batting average while chipping in across the board.
Jarren Duran (OF – BOS): 360.2 ADP
Not every prospect has been able to hit the ground running at the MLB level. So, Duran wasn’t the first to scuffle in his debut. Unfortunately, his 35.7 K% in 112 plate appearances was alarming. Still, Duran’s strikeout rate was only 20.8% in 1,163 plate appearances in the minors. As a result, I’m chalking up last year’s strikeout rate explosion as an outlier.
Last season, the speedy outfielder maintained his wheels, stealing 16 bases in 60 games and 283 plate appearances in Triple-A, before swiping two more in 33 games and 112 plate appearances for the Red Sox. Next, however, he tapped into previously unseen power that elevated his prospect stock, ripping 16 taters with a .258 ISO in Triple-A. I love taking a chance on young players with tools after initial struggles, namely when the gamble is cheap like Duran.
Evan Longoria (3B – SF): 365.0 ADP
Longo turned the clock back last year. The veteran third baseman’s 123 wRC+ was his highest since tallying precisely the same mark in 2016. Thankfully, a look under the hood creates optimism for sustainable success.
First, Longoria’s 12.0 BB% was his second-highest mark in his career, and his 22.5 O-Swing% was the lowest of his career. Second, Longo hit the ball on the screws. According to Baseball Savant, out of 328 hitters with at least 150 batted ball events in 2021, Longo was tied for 83rd in max exit velocity (113.2 MPH), tied for 38th in Barrel rate (8.6 Brls/PA%), and tied for 26th in fly ball and line drive exit velocity (97.0 MPH).
In addition, Longoria hasn’t been the only veteran player to benefit from the tutelage of the coaching staff that came to San Francisco with Gabe Kapler in 2019.
Yusei Kikuchi (SP – FA): 347.5 ADP
Kikuchi is a free agent. Ideally, he’ll sign with a team that plays in a pitcher-friendly park. Regardless, the southpaw’s 48.4 GB% in 29 starts and 157.0 innings last year will help if he lands in a homer-friendly park.
The NPB transition wasn’t seamless for Kikuchi. However, his ERA has dropped in each subsequent season since debuting in 2019, settling at a still relatively underwhelming 4.41 last year. However, Kikuchi’s ERA estimators were all over the map, including a 3.85 xFIP, 5.23 xERA, and 4.16 SIERA. Thankfully, two ERA estimators were better than his ERA, painting a positive picture for future performance.
At worst, Kikuchi is an excellent source of strikeouts. He fanned 24.5% of the batters he faced last year, boasting stellar plate discipline numbers as well. For instance, out of 75 starting pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched in 2021, Kikuchi’s 28.8 CSW% was tied for Shohei Ohtani‘s, Jon Gray‘s, and Framber Valdez‘s mark for the 29th highest. Further, the MLB average swinging-strike percentage in 2021 was 11.2%, and Kikuchi threw three pitches that were roughly average or significantly better than average at avoiding lumber, including his four-seam fastball (11.0 SwStr%), slider (17.0 Swstr%), and changeup/splitter (21.6 SwStr%). I think Kikuchi makes it a fourth straight season of improving his ERA, backing it with an acceptable WHIP and a plus strikeout rate.
Pierce Johnson (RP – SD): 409.5 ADP
The Padres have a vacancy in the closer role. Last year’s closer, Mark Melancon, signed with the Diamondbacks. So yes, the Friars could add a closer in the free-agent market after the lockout is over. However, if they don’t, Johnson is a candidate to close games.
In fact, Roster Resource at FanGraphs projects Johnson as the closer. Johnson is a late-bloomer, putting together a nifty 78.2 innings over 87 appearances for the Padres since 2020. Since 2020, Johnson has had a 3.09 ERA, 3.41 SIERA, 1.25 WHIP, 11.1 BB%, 32.1 K%, 13.9 SwStr%, and 33.1 CSW%. Johnson has made up for below-average control by striking out boatloads of hitters. Finally, the right-handed hurler doesn’t have platoon concerns, strengthening his case for the closing gig. As a result, he’s a steal in drafts currently.
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