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.
O’s second baseman Jon Schoop was one of only three players to play in all 162 games last season (George Springer, Alcides Escobar). He was also one of six second basemen who posted 25+ HR, 82+ RBI and 82+ R. So, the obvious question becomes: Can he do it again? At 25 years old, we could be watching Schoop actively hitting his stride at the plate. His home run production in the minor leagues does indicate consistency with room for growth. He hit 19 HR between the minors and majors in 2015, 16 in 2014 (MLB), and 18 at four levels in 2013. The areas of concern would be an OBP flirting with the sub-.300 threshold and 3-year average outside the top 15 players who qualified in the position. However, his NFBC ADP of 2B-15 interests me heading into draft season.
Dylan Bundy - Orioles - SP
Along with Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy was Baltimore’s top prospect for years. After battling numerous injuries – including Tommy John surgery - that spanned several seasons, Bundy appeared in 36 games and started 14 for the O’s in 2016. Among pitchers with 100 minimum innings pitched, Bundy’s 8.53 K/9 ranked 41st just behind Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
Bundy threw his fastball more than 61 percent of the time last season with an average velocity of nearly 94 MPH, but opposing hitters banged out a .279 average against that pitch. This isn’t ideal. He may not be the game changer the O’s or fantasy baseball prospectors had hoped for a few years back, but with Yovani Gallardo shipped off to Seattle, Bundy will have a role in the rotation. He’s still only 24 years old and coming off a season with a fantasy-friendly K/9 rate. Bundy as a late-round flier is fascinating.
CC Sabathia - Yankees - SP
This may land outside the fantasy baseball lines, but I want to know what 36-year-old CC Sabathia has left in the tank. When I say “outside the fantasy baseball lines,” I mean Sabathia isn’t going to be selected on draft day, but you never know how those waiver wire claims are going to shake out as injuries pile up and desperation sets in throughout the season. Plus, don’t look now, but Sabathia started 30 games last season with a 7.61 K/9 rate – ahead of Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ. If the 9-12 record is a turn off, know Sabathia fought around the 12th-worst run support in baseball (3.73 runs per start). I completely understand Sabathia’s odds of keeping his ERA under 4.00 are, ahem, slim, and that he’s coming off a 3.26 BB/9 rate – highest since his second MLB season – but if he can keep that groundball around 50 percent, he’ll be a starter to monitor.
Greg Bird - Yankees - 1B
With Mark Teixeira retired, 24-year-old Greg Bird is expected to take over the Yankee’s first base gig. The pinstriped prospect marinated in the minor leagues for five seasons before a 46-game taste in 2015. Bird hit 11 homers with 26 runs, 31 RBI with a .261 / .343 / .529 triple slash during that stretch. Unfortunately, he missed the 2016 regular season rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He was scheduled to platoon at first with (a healthy) Tex to further ease him into the bigs. The good news - regarding Bird’s shoulder rehab – is he played in 17 Arizona Fall League games. So, the year wasn’t a complete wash.
Like most big power bats working their way through the minors and adapting to major league pitching, Bird strikes out – a lot. He struck out nearly 30 percent of the time in 2015, but has also shown improvement in walk rate, allowing him to see more pitches. Keep an eye on Bird as a late-round flier with huge offensive upside.
Aaron Sanchez - Blue Jays - SP
As of early January, the NFBC average draft position suggests Aaron Sanchez will be the first Blue Jays starter selected. Ranked SP-22, the 24-year-old pitcher has now appeared in 95 regular season games. He flipped to a full-time starter in 2016 and enjoyed 4.87 runs of support per start – 20th in MLB - in 30 outings for the Jays. So, like Boston's Rick Porcello and teammate J.A. Happ, his 15-2 record does come with the run-support asterisk. Sanchez’s 7.55 K/9 rate last season is in line with annual production over the past four years. Parlay that stat with a 54.4 percent groundball rate and his fantasy risk appears low. However, command issues are where Sanchez could get his fantasy owners in trouble. His 2.95 BB/9 rate was down year-over-year in 2016, but if the Blue Jays offense doesn’t support him at the same rate, the 15-2 win-loss record could look drastically different come October 2017.
Kendrys Morales - Blue Jays - DH
Edwin Encarnacion is out (to Cleveland) and Kendrys Morales is in with the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, the designated hitter doesn’t enjoy the same first base fantasy eligibility as his predecessor. However, he’s played in 154 or more games in three out of his past four seasons. He’s averaged 25 homers, 70 runs and 93 RBI during those three seasons. If he stays healthy, the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre could help pad those stats in 2017.
Rick Porcello - Red Sox - SP
Rick Porcello led MLB in wins last season with 22 in 33 starts. As of early January, his NFBC ADP is SP-24. In other words, owners still aren’t buying him as a top-tier pitcher. And while wins aren’t (and shouldn’t be) the only category fantasy owners covet, it’s worth noting that Porcello enjoyed a league-high 6.61 runs per start courtesy of the Red Sox offense. The run support was great and explains part of the reason Porcello won 22 games, but to be fair, he also ranked second in quality starts (6+ IP / 3-or-fewer ER) with 26. His 2016 xFIP of 3.89 suggests some quality start regression is likely in 2017. Combine that with a 7.63 K/9 rate – which ranked 39th among qualified pitchers – and you can understand the hesitancy in ranking Porcello among fantasy baseball’s elite starters.
Andrew Benintendi - Red Sox - OF
General managers and scouts voted Andrew Benintendi baseball’s top prospect heading into the 2017 season. Without a stop at Triple-A Pawtucket, the 22-year-old left fielder earned a 34-game cup of coffee with the Red Sox last season. He hit .295 (.359 OBP) with a couple homers, 16 runs and 14 RBI during those games. While I would be hard-pressed to believe Benintendi could explode into a Top 50 fantasy player in his first full season as he grows into his MLB body, I’m interested to see if there is 20/20 potential in the near future. He hit 21 homers, while swiping 24 bases in his second collegiate season. Benintendi hit 11 homers with 10 stolen bases in Single A-ball back in 2015 and hit nine homers with 16 stolen bases in the minors prior to his 2016 call-up.
Brad Miller - Rays - 1B/SS
Based on ADP, Brad Miller is being drafted ahead of Troy Tulowitzki. Here are their 2016 stats:
Miller: 152 G | 30 HR | 73 R | 81 RBI | .243
Tulo: 131 G | 24 HR | 54 R | 79 RBI | .254
As has been the case for the majority of his career, Tulo’s health issues and inability to play in 140+ games must have finally landed on fantasy owners' last nerve. As for Miller, the Rays’ shortstop was abandoned by the Mariners and embraced a grip and rip approach in his first season with Tampa Bay. The 30 homers last season blew his previous annual total out of the water including minor league production. In order to reach the 30-HR plateau, Miller sacrificed plate discipline as he struck out a career-high 24.8 percent of the time and walked 7.8 percent – among the lowest rate of his professional career. I was looking for a 20/20 season out of Miller last year, but am now embracing a 20/10 outlook with hopes of a batting average north of .250.
Chris Archer - Rays - SP
I’d like to think Chris Archer is among the top bounce-back fantasy starting pitchers of 2017. The 9-19 record is an ugly stain on what was – in actuality – a pretty sound fantasy season. First, when you lose 19 times in a season, the accountability shouldn’t be placed solely on the starting pitcher. The Rays averaged a meager 3.48 runs per game in Archer’s 33 start – among the worst run support in MLB. Second, his 4.02 ERA is inflated somewhat when 3.41 xFIP is taken into account. Third, his 10.42 K/9 rate qualified him for a small fraternity of only six other pitchers last season who posted a K/9 of 10.00+. Archer could be a bargain on draft day.