Fantasy Baseball Draft Targets and Breakouts

Welcome back to our annual Fantasy Baseball Insider series on RotoBaller.com, where we take you inside Major League Baseball clubhouses, press boxes and front offices for exclusive insights that provide a completely unique edge on the competition. We give you an all-access pass to information and takes that simply will not be found anywhere else, along with comprehensive Fantasy breakdowns.

On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, and media members provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott Engel supplies his fantasy baseball analysis on their commentaries. These reports contain perspectives that you will not find anywhere else, from the truest experts on the game: The Fantasy Baseball Insider series won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s award for best Fantasy Baseball Series. Scott was also a finalist for the 2021 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year Award, as the nomination recognized his work on the Insider Series.

In this edition, we provide you with evaluations from a current MLB veteran who was a 2021 All-Star selection. He is regarded as a solid hitter who mostly works in the infield. He gave us his scouting reports on several guys he has played against over the last few years. His comments are in italics.

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Fantasy Baseball Infield Perspectives

Tommy Pham (NFBC ADP – 256): “The muscles were severed across his back. He worked his butt off to get back on the field last season and now he should have all of his strength back. He is a year removed from his multiple injuries. I think he will have a bounce-back season. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: This player was referring to an off-field incident in October of 2020 when Pham was stabbed in the back. He had three surgeries beginning in August of 2020, on his back, hand and wrist. He will be coming off a much healthier offseason this time and a move to a top hitter’s park in Cincinnati makes Pham a quality bargain target. He had a BA of .229 last season, but the xBA was .258, and he had a .383 SLG, while his xSLG was .442. Pham is a good later target for a .265 average with numbers close to 20 homers and 15 steals.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (NFBC ADP -137): “I think he has been humbled a lot and he is going to be very hungry. His injury was a freak hand deal. He controls the strike zone and is a good gap-to-gap hitter who will naturally run into some home runs. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: Hayes is currently the 11th third baseman off the board, and there is a significant drop-off at the position after he is taken. If you do not land one of the guys inside the top 10, you definitely have to take another shot on the upside of Hayes. He went on the DL last season because of a wrist issue, and his potential rise as a Major Leaguer was interrupted. This year, we should see Hayes emerge as a 15 home run / 15 stolen base producer, and that is very valuable at a thinner fantasy position.

David Bednar (200): ”His stuff is really good, especially the splitter. I think he can be a strong closer because he does not get flustered by the moment. He’s got the guts, you can not be mentally soft and have any doubts in your mind as a closer. “

Engel’s Insider Angles: Bednar’s appeal has taken a slight hit as recently published reports have indicated he could share save opportunities with Chris Stratton. You should still bet on Bednar, who had a 32.5 K% last season and saved 24 games in the minors in 2018 and 2019. As this player has indicated, being a closer is not just about having live stuff, there is also a necessary mentality to operating effectively in the role. Many other MLB players I have spoken with agree on that, and this player knows Bednar well enough to have much confidence in him. When you’re getting to the point of picking off later closer candidates, Bednar should be one of your top targets.

Christian Yelich (101): “I do not see why he can not have a rebound year. He has likely made some adjustments in his prep and workout program. His swing looked the same, so his troubles were kind of bizarre, he was just not in a rhythm. Maybe he just lost his approach, but to the naked eye, he seemed to be the same kind of guy. You get into ruts as a hitter, but I think he will get back on track. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: This player is not the only one I have spoken to this preseason who is very optimistic that Yelich will regain much of his better form. In 2020, he never got on track in a shortened season, and last year he dealt with back issues. At 30 years old, he can not be written off to not produce well again, and Yelich is a good value play who can still deliver a .280 average with 30 homers and 15 steals. His Hard Hit% of 48.4 last season was right in line with his career norm. Read more exclusive takes on Yelich and our next player spotlighted from a longtime MLB scout in this recent edition of the Insider Report.

Dylan Carlson (162): “This is a young Carlos Beltran. He is kind of underrated, and is a switch hitter with power. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He is a gap hitter who can give you 20 homers. Also, the NL Central pitching is going to be mostly terrible outside of Milwaukee. He is one of those under-the-radar guys who is really going to hit. We were playing against him and someone said he reminded him of a young Beltran, and I said I can see him as that same kind of hitter. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: After hearing this type of lofty comparison from players who watched and competed against Carlson last season, I have been eagerly pushing him up my draft boards ahead of his current ADP. Carlson elevated his Launch Angle from 9.3 to 15.1 in 2021, so it is evident he has been on a path to hit for more power. We could see a .275 average with 20-plus homers this season, with the promise for even better production. After talking to both scouts and players this preseason, it is apparent Carlson could be on the verge of a significant breakout campaign.

Tyler Stephenson (132): “That guy can hit flat-out. He has a short swing with power and he hits to all fields. It adds value that he will be playing every day in that division. As a rule, I would look at hitters against that division a whole lot. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: Remember this player’s recommendation on taking advantage of the NL Central pitching when faced with tight draft and lineup decisions this season. Stephenson is now ready for prime time as a true No. 1 catcher this season and should be a top target once the top 5 or so players at the position are off the board. You will be very satisfied with an average in the range of .270 and close to 15 homers.

Daulton Varsho (88): “I can see a breakout season ahead. He’s a heck of an athlete. Nobody else catches a night game and plays the outfield the next day like that. That shows mental toughness, too. He is tough at the plate and you will see him barrel it up a lot. You will surely see a lot of hard hit balls from him. I expect him to keep getting better. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: Because he qualifies at catcher, Varsho is well worth his ADP to possibly provide a rare combination of 20 homers and 10 steals at the position. Varsho’s Barrel% was 7.3 last season, but this player is looking for an improvement in that regard. Varsho hit for high averages in the minors, so he may continue to evolve as a pure hitter, while his HR and SB potential is already evident. There is much to like already and the potential for some improvement, making Varsho one of the top 5 fantasy catchers heading into the 2022 season.

Kevin Gausman (66): “He has an elite changeup, and will be just fine switching leagues. He has elite off-speed stuff and keeps the ball on the ground. In the NL West, he was facing the Dodgers and Padres and going to Colorado, too. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: There does not seem to be much skepticism from fantasy leaguers or those inside or close to the game that Gausman will see much of a drop-off statistically despite the move from San Francisco to Toronto. Gausman started raising his strikeout percentages in 2019 and he was at 29.3% in 2021. His xFIP was 3.28 last season. Gausman does have experience working in AL East parks from having spent five-plus seasons with the Orioles. He will also have ample run support to give him a shot at soaring past last year career high win total of 14. You may see only minor dips in his overall numbers other than wins, but Gausman should still be a top 20 fantasy starter.

Sonny Gray (167): “He will do really good in the American League. He has balls, and just comes after you. I do not like facing him. He will be just fine, and he will be in a new division, so hitters will have to take time to adjust to him. He’s got the ‘it’ factor, he wants to come after you. ”

Engel’s Angles: When you consider the ADP, Gray may not be getting enough respect from fantasy players, even though opposing hitters certainly give him the proper admiration. Over the past three seasons, Gray has featured a K% of 27 or better and an xFIP no higher than 3.66 while working in a prime hitter’s park. There are some durability concerns, and Gray’s velocity slipped a bit last season, but he is well worth any perceived risk at the current ADP.

Jake Cronenworth (118): “He hits well to all fields and can really build well on what he did last year. I expect him to only continue to get better. He is a real student of the game. He sits in his apartment studying the numbers. ”

Engel’s Insider Angles: Cronenworth is a solid pick where he is being drafted, as he has a sound approach at the plate and should supply a quality batting average and some power. His 14 percent strikeout rate from 2021 should provide comfort that he will continue to be a solid hitter, and you naturally have to like his multi-positional eligibility. Cronenworth had a .266 average last season, but his xBA was .280. He will be a “glue guy” on fantasy rosters in 2022.

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