High Risk/High Reward Picks: Hitters (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
We all know there are “safe” players and appealing but risky players when drafting. These risky players could potentially ruin a fantasy season or lift a fantasy team into the money. When it comes to risky picks, one or two on a team is OK, but going overboard with risk is playing with fire and rarely ends well. This article will discuss five risk/reward hitters you can target in your upcoming drafts.
Adalberto Mondesi (3B – KC): ADP 69 overall
You know just how risky Mondesi is if you are not living under a rock. Before his injury-riddled 2021 season, Mondesi had at least 24 steals in three straight seasons, and the 24 steals came in the shortened 2020 season. From 2018 to 2020, Mondesi stole 99 bases over 236 games.
Last year, Mondesi spent three different stints on the IL. He was never right yet was still productive over his 35 games played, with six home runs and 15 stolen bases. Even while battling injuries, Mondesi was a fantasy asset. However, due to all the injuries in recent years, the Royals have said they want to limit Mondesi in 2022 and use him more at DH.
Stolen bases are becoming a scarcer commodity, thus making Mondesi one of the most intriguing boom/bust players in the draft. If healthy — and that is a big “if” — Mondesi could steal 50+ bases while hitting 15+ home runs and contributing in runs and RBI. The playing-time and injury questions still loom large, with many staying away in drafts. In recent years, Mondesi was being taken in the second round of drafts, but he is now falling into the fifth round. That could be a steal if he plays even just 120 games.
If you are in leagues with a high level of competition, then Mondesi is a risk worth taking. For you DFS players, he is an appealing GPP play. He is harder to build around in deeper leagues, making Mondesi a better pick in leagues with 12 or fewer teams. Regardless of league size or format, he’s still a risk. But if you are going to take just one risk in your draft, Mondesi should be near the top of your list.
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN): ADP 58 overall
Similar to Mondesi, the concerns with Buxton are injury-related. Buxton played 61 games last season, and he has played more than 92 games in a season only once. However, Buxton has always showcased some power with a ton of speed, as he’s had 10+ home runs and 10+ steals three times in his career. He has also showcased a serviceable batting average of .253 or better in four of his last five seasons.
Last year, in his age-27 season, Buxton began showing a ton of power. In 61 games, he hit 19 home runs and stole nine bases. In addition, he dramatically improved his quality-of-contact metrics, increasing his maxEV to 115.6 mph, his barrel rate to 17.9%, and his hard-hit rate to 53.2%. To be fair, the power started to improve in 2020, and he took off in 2021. His quality-of-contact gains correlated with being more aggressive on pitches in the zone, as his Z-Swing% was at least 80% in each of the last two seasons.
Buxton’s talent is off the charts. The improved power takes a great fantasy profile to the next level. Everyone talks about Cedric Mullins having a 30/30 season and Ronald Acuna Jr. having 40/40 upside, when in reality Buxton is the 30/30 target with 40/40 upside. The projections agree, as the Bat X has him playing in only 122 games but hitting 30 home runs and stealing 16 bases. Now just imagine a season in which he plays 140 games. Buxton’s health makes him risky, but the reward could be huge in all five offensive categories.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. (2B/SS – MIA): ADP 90 overall
Those who have been following me know my love for Chisholm. I am a gigantic fan of his and a gigantic fan of getting a 20/20 talent with upside later in your drafts. Most players projected for 20/20 seasons or with the potential for a 20/20 season are going in the first few rounds, making Chisholm an excellent option a few rounds later.
Jazz is coming off a 2021 season where he played in 124 games (507 PA) and hit 18 home runs while stealing 23 bases. He even threw in 70 runs to go with his .248 batting average. That’s an excellent line for someone who played only 124 games. (He missed some time with injury and had a stint on the COVID IL.) Assuming Chisholm stays reasonably healthy, he should play 140+ games, as the Marlins have no reason not to play Chisholm and slot him toward the top of the order as much as possible.
What makes Chisholm risky (besides potential injuries) is that he’s a free swinger, and his plate discipline is concerning. Last season, he struck out 28.6% of the time. That’s typical for Chisholm, who has struck out 27% to 31% of the time most seasons. In addition, he swings at pitches out of the zone 2% more than league average while swinging 3% less overall, which explains his 12.5% SwStr%.
Yes, Chisholm has some plate discipline issues and strikes out a ton, making him risky if the contact skills weaken any further. On the flip side, he’s only 24 years old. I love Chisholm and the power and speed combo he brings to the table, which brings a significant reward upside.
Bobby Witt Jr. (SS – KC): ADP 103 overall
Last season, Witt destroyed minor league pitching, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 29 bases between Double-A and Triple-A. He also had 99 runs and 97 RBI while hitting a combined .290. Witt destroyed the pitching he saw and is making it very difficult for the Royals not to let him start the season with the big squad.
The risk with Witt is the wait: When will he start playing with the Royals? If he starts the season with the big club, he could be a steal. But the Royals could wait a few months to call up Witt, in which case he’d just be clogging up a roster spot. There’s also the age-old scenario where a prospect takes some time to get accustomed to big league pitching, putting those elite numbers on hold. So, there’s a lot to love about Witt but a whole lot of concern as well.
Cody Bellinger (OF – LAD): ADP 92 overall
Bellinger has been a hot topic of conversation this draft season. He is coming off his second straight disappointing season with the Dodgers, and 2021 was highly frustrating. He hit .165 last year with 10 home runs and three stolen bases. He struck out 26.9% of the time, the worst rate of his career, while also having a career-low 48 wRC+.
It was an awful season for Bellinger on the heels of a 2020 season in which he was plagued by a shoulder injury. Bellinger has spent each of the last two seasons working on swing changes. Unfortunately, they did not help, and the shoulder was likely still an issue in 2021, as it usually takes at least a year to get back to normal after a severe shoulder injury.
A year removed from the injury, there is optimism that Bellinger can return to his MVP form. It was only three years ago that he put up a stat line of .305/47/121/115/15. It might be unrealistic to expect a repeat of that 2019 stat line in 2022, but we should still see an improvement from 2021. Additionally, Bellinger’s draft price has continued to drop. With an ADP of around 100, Bellinger becomes an exciting risk/reward option.
A few more to consider:
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