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.
Yu Darvish was a top 10 fantasy baseball pitcher before missing 2015 due to Tommy John surgery. The out-of-sight, out-of-mind short-term memory of fantasy owners combined with a delayed start to Yu’s 2016 season, pushed Darvish to the draft day back burner. Despite only 17 starts last season – which included a month-long DL stint for shoulder discomfort – Darvish finished 7-5 with an 11.84 K/9 rate. His strikeout rate ranked only behind Jose Fernandez’s 12.49 among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched last season. Darvish is back among the top 10 fantasy pitchers heading into draft season and we’re about to be treated to 30+ starts of quality production.
Joey Gallo - Rangers - 3B
The closest present-day comp to Joey Gallo would be Chris Davis (maybe Chris Carter). The O’s big bat struck out 33 percent of the time and carried a .221 average and .332 OBP with 38 homers last season. The 23-year-old Gallo – who has 50-HR potential – struck out 35 percent of the time and posted a .240 average and .367 BOP with 25 homers in 102 PCL (see: hitter-friendly) games last season. The red flag being a 35-percent strikeout rate in Triple-A could result in a higher K-rate in 2017. He’s not the answer in the early-to-middle rounds of drafts, but Gallo’s prospect tag has haunted him since 2012. He’s going to get a shot this season and if a fantasy owner can snag him as a late-round flier with corner-infield eligibility, he could be a cheap source of power on the bench.
Albert Pujols - Angels - 1B/DH
What does Albert Pujols have left in the tank? Now 36 years old, gone is the limelight he enjoyed during his days with the Cardinal. But for fantasy owners, he’s still getting the job done. Over the past three seasons, Pujols has averaged 150+ games played, 33 homers, 106 RBI, 82 runs scored. For all the three-year split celebration, Pujols underwent foot surgery over the winter and may not be ready for Opening Day. His physical therapy progress will need to be monitored before reaching for him on draft day.
Tyler Skaggs - Angels - SP
If you’re searching for a starting pitcher with upside late in drafts, take a look at Tyler Skaggs. One of the many victims of Tommy John surgery, it took him 18 months to return to action. Before he returned to the bigs last season, Skaggs went 3-2 with a 12.53 K/9 rate and 1.67 ERA in seven Triple-A starts (32 IP). He finished the season by making 10 starts for the Angels with a 9.06 K/9 and 4.17 ERA. It’ll be fascinating to see if the 25-year-old can continue the high strikeout rate, while improving his command. The 4.17 BB/9 rate will knock him out of games before the end of the sixth inning and squash win opportunities for fantasy owners. FanGraphs Steamer projections have Skaggs pegged at 8.84 K/9 and 3.52 ERA in 26 starts.
Dallas Keuchel - Astros - SP
Dallas Keuchel was 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA in 2015. Last season, the Astros’ ace finished 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA. What happened? Well, per the norm, there are a few layers to this onion. First, his fantasy-friendly groundball rate dipped five percent between 2015 and 2016, while his flyball rate increased to his highest since his rookie season in 2012. Add to that a 1.29 WHIP and increased walk rate, and owners should see how Kuechel failed to live up to lofty expectations in 2016. However, with a young group of players behind him, fielding did negatively impact his production as his 3.53 xFIP – nearly a run less than his ERA – illustrates. Keuchel will bounce back in 2017.
Alex Bregman - Astros - 3B
From 2011-2013, the Astros averaged less than 60 wins per season. The paltry play also awarded them an opportunity to rebuild their farm system via the draft. Fans and fantasy owners have enjoyed the fruits of that minor league labor over the past three campaigns. In terms of production at the plate, we were first treated to the emergence of George Springer, then Carlos Correa and, last year, the second pick from the 2015 MLB Draft, Alex Bregman. The 22-year-old hit 20 homers at AA and AAA before a late-July call-up last season. Bregman started off 2-for-38 at the plate. Not exactly the hot bat the Astros were looking for off the jump. However, he hit .307 the rest of August with 22 runs, 20 RBI and five homers. Without question, he’s got great potential to hit 20+ homers in 2017. Owners just need to keep an eye on the 24 percent strikeout rate and make sure that doesn’t spike.
Jean Segura - Mariners - SS/2B
Jean Segura’s redemption season was one of the feel-good stories of 2016. He joined Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and teammate Paul Goldschmidt as one of only four players with 20+ homers, 100+ runs and 30+ stolen bases last year. Now with Seattle, fantasy owners should be concerned with significant production regression. First, he plays in a pitcher’s park half the season, which is a 180-degree flip from his time spent in hitter-friendly Arizona. Second, he may bat second behind speedster Jarrod Dyson, which would potentially limit his stolen base opportunities. Third, his .353 BABP last season was 40 points above career norms. If Segura hits 15 homers with 20+ stolen bases boasting 2B/SS eligibility, his fantasy owners will still cash in.
Edwin Diaz - Mariners - Closer
After starting the season in a set-up role where he picked up 13 holds, Edwin Diaz earned a promotion to closer in early August. He converted five saves in five straight appearances and 11 of 11 before his first blown opportunity. While he may not have the brand appeal of Aroldis Chapman, fantasy owners aren’t ignoring his 15.33 K/9 rate of 2016. Diaz’s NFBC ADP is RP-8, which is pricey and which my colleague John Halpin notes is steep price to pay on draft day.
Ryon Healy - Athletics - 3B
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. It’s hard to hype up the A’s fantasy potential. Ryon Healy hit 13 homers with a .305 batting average and .337 OBP in 72 games for the A’s last season. He’s eligible at first and third base in 2017. So, in those fantasy leagues that start a corner infielder, Healy’s 15- to 20-HR potential should be considered deeper into drafts.
Sonny Gray - Athletics - SP
Coming off the 2015 season when he finished 14-7, it appeared Sonny Gray was settling in as a front-end starter. Then – as so many did – he fell victim to 2016. The 27-year-old posted a 5-11 record with a hard-to-stomach 5.69 ERA in 22 starts. To dig a little deeper, he really paid for getting the ball up in the zone. His 53.9 percent groundball rate ranked ninth among pitchers with 110 IP, while his 17.5 HR/FB ranked inside the top 12 highest rates. That’s pretty extreme. I do believe Gray and those owners who take a chance on him will see improved production in 2017 if his 4.13 xFIP and .319 BABIP – which was 40 points above career norms – are any indication.