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.
Ned Yost says Mike Moustakas is on schedule to start the regular season as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL. The injury was a tough break for the third basemen who looked like he finally put it all together in 2015 with 22 homers, 73 runs, 82 RBI and career-best averages and on base percentages. His 22 homers, 82 RBI, batting average and OBP all ranked inside the Top 10 among qualified third basemen in 2015. He’s currently ranked 19th at third base within the NFBC average draft position. Seems cheap to me and a great opportunity to buy.
Michael Brantley - Indians - OF
At one time, it appeared the Tribe got burned in the CC Sabathia-to-the-Brewers trade. Milwaukee’s prospect Matt LaPorta was the key piece of that 2008 deal. He failed to stick with the Indians and fizzled out in the Mexican League. Leave it to the player to be named later in that trade to save face. Michael Brantley showed great promise as a reliable, everyday outfielder with 20/20/.300+ fantasy potential.
However, 2015 offseason shoulder surgery eventually led to shoulder fatigue and bicep injuries, which muted most of the 29-year-old’s 2016 season. On more than one occasion, it appeared Brantley was close to a minor league rehab stint only for a flare-up and setback to slam the door on a healthy prognosis. As this report states, “seeing is believing” as it pertains to Brantley’s 2017 outlook and potential fantasy production. In the moment, however, he’s a risky investment.
Danny Salazar - Indians - SP
As tantalizing as Danny Salazar and his 10.00+ K/9 rate is in upcoming fantasy drafts, tread lightly. Why? Dreaded elbow and forearm tightness only allowed him to make eight second-half starts for the Indians last year. His 10-3 and 2.75 ERA first-half production was clouded by the 1-3, 7.44 ERA and .321 opposing batting average in the second half. At full health, the only thing fantasy owners need to worry about is command as 4.13 BB/9 ranked ninth-highest among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched. Bottom line: Salazar is interesting BECAUSE OF the high risk, high reward.
Byron Buxton - Twins - OF
The weight of the Twins’ franchise has been on Byron Buxton’s back since 2012. It was around then baseball prospectors started drawing “next Mike Trout” comparisons. He’s been among the top minor league prospects for what seems like a decade. No pressure, right? Here’s the thing, Buxton now has 138 MLB games under his belt with a .220 / .274 / .398 triple slash and ulcer-inducing 34.5 percent strikeout rate. Yuck.
But. There’s always a but.
Last September, after his final call-up of the season, Buxton hit .287 (.357 OBP) with nine homers, 24 runs, and 22 RBI in 29 games. He’s 23 years old. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts. He’s also about to turn a fantasy baseball corner.
Max Kepler - Twins - OF
If we ignore the seven plate appearances in 2015, fellow Twins’ prospect Max Kepler made his true debut last season. After 30 Triple-A games, the 1B/OF eligible bat hit 17 homers with 52 runs, 63 RBI, and six stolen bases in 113 games. Kepler’s .235 batting average paired with .261 BABIP allows for some wiggle room for 2017 growth at the dish. Also know he stole 19 bases two minor league seaons ago. So, you have the 20+ HR / 10+ SB potential. Could be a late-round bargain.
Justin Verlander - Tigers - SP
If you took a scalpel to Justin Verlander’s 2015 season, you may have enjoyed his 2016 fantasy renaissance.
What do I mean by that?
Well, Verlander’s 2014 fantasy season was ugly by his standards – 6.95 K/9 and 4.54 ERA. He then missed the start of the 2015 season due to injury before he posted a 5.34 ERA in 30 innings ahead of the All-Star break. However, the old JV appeared to be returning to form in the second half of 2015. His 2.80 ERA and .218 opposition batting average was overlooked somewhat by the 5-6 record during that stretch. Regardless, Verlander was righting his ship. He finished 16-9 with a 10.04 K/9 (third-highest of his career) and 3.04 ERA (lowest since 2012) in 2016. His NFBC average draft position is SP-10, which I may believe is a tad pricey for a 34-year-old. However, if he can keep the K/9 rate north of 9.00, fantasy owners should know only 21 other pitchers achieved that threshold in 2016.
JaCoby Jones - Tigers - 3B
When he’s not striking out, JaCoby Jones can bang the ball around the yard. Once a prospect in the Pirates’ organization, he was traded to the Tigers in the Joakim Soria deal. He missed 50 games last season due to suspension for a second positive drug test. Jones will turn 25 years old this May, but may need an injury or shift in depth chart to earn regular playing time. Despite a strikeout rate likely to hover around 30 percent, Jones’ has 20/20 potential in his future. The hope being his past errors haven’t stalled his development as a major league big bat.
Todd Frazier - White Sox - 3B
Todd Frazier has played in at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons. His home run totals have grown from 19 in 2013 (w/ Reds) to 40 as a member of the White Sox last season. Not to poo-poo his 16 stolen bases per season over the past three, Frazier’s 15 swipes in 2016 ranked fourth among qualified third basemen.
For all the positives at the dish, Frazier was far from perfect. He struck out a career-high 24.5 percent of the time, posted a career-low .225 batting average – down 30 points year-over-year, while his line-drive/hard-hit ball were down 3.4 and 6.0 percent, respectively. In other words, fantasy owners will probably sacrifice batting average/on-base percentage in exchange for the power stroke. Just know his .236 BABIP does suggest luck should swing back in his favor this year.
Carlos Rodon - White Sox - SP
Imagine if Carlos Rodon was the third pick in the 2014 NBA or NFL Drafts. Think about the pressure on him to succeed right off the jump. But because the collegiate superstar was selected third overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft, he enjoys little-to-no pressure. Still only 24 years old, Rodon enters his third season with an 18-16 record. While he may carry a 4.00 ERA into 2017, his 9.16 K/9 last season ranked 16th among qualified pitchers last season. Just be cautious of the 1.40 WHIP as the walks can poison a young pitcher's potential.