Navigating fantasy baseball drafts are a multi-layered affair and owners need to: have a strategy and be able to adapt it; assess the needs of other teams to gauge who will be taken off the board; figure the needs of the team being assembled. It can be a lot of information to process in a very short period of time.
The latter rounds are where fantasy championships are won. Not many people won their fantasy leagues by drafting Clayton Kershaw in the second round last year, more likely it was Jose Fernandez off the waiver wire that put them over the top. Figuring out exactly which players will break out is another topic for another day; knowing which players can help fill needs later in drafts will help make your team make sense.
Sorted below are infielders that I’m specifically targeting in the later rounds of drafts – after the twelfth round of 12-team drafts is a good place to start – to help round out my categories or bolster my bench. This is done with the “Best Player Available” mindset through the early part of drafts: I don’t really attack positions, I attack the players I think will give the best fantasy numbers. Those happen to be outfielders because in general they’re more dynamic and there are just more of them. That can leave holes on the infield, though, and knowing who to fill them with is important.
I will note that the three targets I look for are batting average, home runs, and stolen bases. Most of the middle-of-the-lineup players that are true producers are long gone by this point so I more or less just let the runs and RBIs fall where they may.
Hart missed the entire 2013 season with surgeries to both knees and that is worrisome for any baseball player, especially one who will be 32-years-old by the time the season starts. If he is to hit behind Robinson Cano as anticipated, though, that could put him in line for 90 RBIs. I know I said I don’t chase runs and RBIs but there are exceptions to every rule.
The 20-steal days for Corey Hart are well past him but, if he’s truly healthy, there still could be 5-10 steals in him. Heck, Chase Utley had eight last year. There is no way to really know how Hart will play until the season starts but if he really can get 525 at-bats, then 20 home runs and five steals should be doable for him. I’m not going to rely on him as my every-day first baseman, but a corner infield or bench spot would be just fine.
Dozier showed a lot of improvement at the plate last year but it didn’t necessarily translate to a good batting average, landing at just .244. Dozier improved his walk rate, improved his swinging-strike rate, improved the rate at which he chases pitches out of the zone, and cut down on his ground ball rate. He’s still just 26-years-old and is a near-lock for double-digit home runs and stolen bases. If he keeps improving at the plate, a better batting average is likely and this pick is a steal come September.
One thing to keep an eye on is a back injury he’s dealing with right now. There’s nothing serious reported yet it’s just a situation to monitor.
Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 433.20)
It wasn’t that long ago that Rickie Weeks was considered to be one of the true up-and-coming power/speed players in baseball. This isn’t hyperbole; Weeks was the only second baseman to go 80/40 from 2010-2013. Batting .230 in 2012 and .209 in 2013 has driven his value into the ground, though.
Last year, Weeks walked as much as he did over the previous three years, he struck out only a shade more, hit line drives at about the same rate, and his ground ball rate only went up a few percent. Earlier in his career, Weeks had back-to-back seasons of .235 and .234 and then went to hit .272, .269, and .269 the next three years. His underlying numbers then aren’t much different from what they are now. I have no faith in Scooter Gennett actually taking the starting job for a long stretch of time so Weeks would make a great flier very late in drafts.
Last year was probably the worst year for Cabrera in his career from a plate discipline point of view. Cabrera struck out more often than he ever had, he chased more pitches out of the zone he ever had, and his swinging strike rate was almost twice as high as it was in 2010.
I think last year was the floor for Cabrera. All the same, he was the 14th ranked shortstop in Yahoo! fantasy leagues and is currently going off as the 14th shortstop in the average NFBC league. This shows a problem in linear thinking: “Player X was really good, then good, then average, so he’s probably going to keep getting worse.” Rather, it should be a three year average so his 2012 season when he was the 10th ranked shortstop is a better estimate.
Cabrera is a rare shortstop who can hit double-digit home runs and steals totals. That alone makes him valuable. If his batting average rebounds at all, he’s a top-10 shortstop and this provides a value opportunity on draft day.
This exercise should help hammer home this point: Third base is very thin. Josh Donaldson is the fifth third baseman off the board in a lot of drafts and he has one (good) MLB season to his credit. It gets pretty sketchy outside the top three and that’s where Lawrie comes in.
I’ve written about this elsewhere but Lawrie is one of the few power/speed threats at the position. Outside of David Wright and maybe Kyle Seager, who really has a chance to get to 10 steals besides Lawrie? The one possible name is Chase Headley and he’s already battling his own calf injury.
The injury concerns are there, as is production, but between changes to his offseason training (adding yoga) and changes to his plate approach (more upright at the plate), there are reasons for optimism going into the season. Also: Lawrie, Seager, Wright, and Headley are the only third basemen to go 20/20 over the last two years. If Lawrie can play 150 games, there’s no reason to think he doesn’t go 15/10.