Throughout the next three months, the FOX Sports fantasy department will publish its 2017 fantasy baseball draft guide strategy, rankings and advice features. In this series of galleries, we highlight American League players to watch or avoid come draft day.
The Cubs’ postseason folk hero has an added bonus in FOXSports.com leagues: Since he played only two regular-season games in 2016, we gave him catcher eligibility based on his 2015 playing time. Game changer!
Schwarber is going in the sixth round per ADP, but being able to draft him as a backstop your calculus might need to adjust. He’ll probably bat leadoff ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, adding a ton of runs to his likely 25-plus homers. Would you grab him ahead of Lucroy and Sanchez near the 4/5 turn?
Jake Arrieta – Cubs – SP
The consensus on Arrieta is that he’s still an ace at age 31. He went 18-8 last season with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and threw another no-hitter. All good, right?
Look more closely, and you’ll see that his strikeout rate dropped off from excellent to just very good (18th among SP at 23.9 percent). Also, his walk rate almost doubled from 2015. Of the starters projected to be drafted in the top three rounds, Arrieta is the one whose worrisome red flags stand out.
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Adam Duvall – Reds – OF
Duvall seemingly came out of nowhere to swat 33 homers in 2016, but only 10 of those came in the second half of the season. FanGraphs’ Steamer projections peg Duvall for a solid 26 homers, but with a .233 BA and a .289 OBP. He’s going in the 12th round of early drafts, near fellow non-elite power hitters Yasmany Tomas and Marcell Ozuna. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Duvall, but the price is right.
Brandon Finnegan – Reds – SP
Ah, the 95th most popular starter, per ADP. Makes you want to go out and measure your fantasy championship ring now, doesn’t it? Finnegan posted a 3.98 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP in 2016, and his K/BB ratio was less than two-to-one. What’s to like?
The second half, when Finnegan’s K rate jumped to more than one per inning, his control got better, and his improved changeup made him a very intriguing sleeper heading into 2017. Finnegan is another starter who’s a candidate for Last Man In on my mixed league staffs. The Steamer projections have his ERA at 4.51, but those numbers are rigged! Sad!
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Eric Thames – Brewers – OF
After three seasons in the Korean league, Thames returns to play first base and (probably) bat cleanup for the Brewers (though he’s OF-eligible in FOXSports.com fantasy games). He hit 124 homers during his KBO stint, and plenty of projection systems believe in his power despite only 21 homers in 684 previous MLB plate appearances. Thames’ biggest flash of stateside power was 27 homers at Double A in 2010.
The bet here is on Thames reaching 15-20 homers rather than 25 or more, but that’s not too bad for an OF5 in mixed leagues. Also, note that he stole 64 bases during those three years in Korea, including 40 in 2015.
Corey Knebel – Brewers – RP
Knebel throws gas, and even though he doesn’t always know where it’s going, he’s the frontrunner to close for the Brew Crew. He’s been going outside of the top 300 in early drafts, making him a typical late-round closer flier. Knebel fits the usual closer profile, and should be just fine if he gets the job. As I’ve been saying here for years, whatever you think of a pitcher’s quality, a closer is a closer if the manager says he is. Check out Jeanmar Gomez’s 2016 season for an example of that.
Knebel stands out as an intriguing Brewer pitcher partly because none of their starters are very interesting. Junior Guerra? Zach Davies? Eh, come on.
Andrew McCutchen – Pirates – OF
Don’t look too closely at McCutchen’s tanking WAR, because his 2016 decline in that department was mostly about defense, and we don't care about that around here. As a fantasy hitter, he wasn’t his usual self, but he wasn’t all that bad, either.
McCutchen’s 20-20 days are in the past, as his basestealing ability has clearly faded. There’s value in a 20-homer outfielder with a .275 BA, and current ADP suggests that will cost you a sixth-round pick in mixed leagues. In that range, McCutchen offers steady production without much upside. He’s a shrug-of-the-shoulders option.
Jameson Taillon – Pirates – SP
Taillon was solid in 18 starts with the Pirates last season, posting a 3.38 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP thanks to a strong ground-ball rate (52.4%) and pinpoint control. He’s a 25-year-old former elite prospect who missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to injuries (Tommy John surgery, hernia).
Piscotty batted .273 with 22 homers and seven steals last season, and appears slated to bat cleanup for the Cardinals. He was the 27th-ranked outfielder in FOXSports.com fantasy scoring last season, and is being drafted as OF30 per ADP.
That draft range sounds about right, as there isn’t much unpredictability to Piscotty’s game. He’s 26 years old, and his performances in 2015 and 2016 matched up pretty well. If you need decent mid-round power with a handful of steals and a BA that won’t kill you, Piscotty is unlikely to let you down.
Alex Reyes – Cardinals – SP/RP
Editor's Update: Reyes is out for the season after Tommy John surgery.
Filthy, nasty, etc. The 22-year-old Reyes gets his rotation slot after an impressive 46-inning rookie debut that featured many missed bats along with sketchy control. He posted a 2.20 ERA over five starts, with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks in 28 2/3 innings.
The price will be high on Reyes, as he’s being drafted in the low-end SP3 range. That’s a steep price for a guy who had a 4.96 ERA at Triple A before his promotion last season. Reyes has the chance to be an elite starter, but in 2017, bumps in the road seem likely.