Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 16 future early-round picks

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You don’t want to chase last year’s breakouts; you want to find this year’s. That means identifying players who have the potential not just to exceed expectations, but to provide early-round value at a cheaper price.

Of course, if we knew exactly who that would be, this job would be a lot easier. What we can do, however, is make educated guesses, betting on pedigree, skill sets or past performance. Here are 16 players going outside of the top four rounds on Draft Day who could be talked about as first- or second-rounders this time next year.

Vladimir Guerrero/Eloy Jimenez/Fernando Tatis

How they get there:

J.T. Realmuto

How he gets there: I’m not quite sure there is a comp for what Realmuto could be in this lineup and park. A .285 hitter with 25-30 homers, 165 combined runs and RBI? There hasn’t been a catcher who has hit .285 with more than 25 homers since Joe Mauer‘s MVP season. The best comp might be peak Jonathan Lucroy, who hit .292, 24 homers, five steals and 148 combined runs and RBI. Except Realmuto could be even better; he is a career .309/.356/.492 hitter away from Marlins park in his career. And who knows, maybe he gets back to swiping 8-10 bases?

Tommy Pham

How he gets there: First of all, he stays healthy. In 128 games in 2017, Pham hit .306, with 168 combined runs and RBI, 23 homers and 25 steals. A 30-30 season isn’t impossible, nor is a .300 average. He needs to stay healthy and find some consistency, the two biggest things holding him back. Pham has a good eye at the plate when he’s right, and he hits the ball hard all over the field. Twenty extra-base hits in 39 games with the Rays last season is a nice start.

Josh Donaldson

How he gets there: He turns back the clock. As recently as 2017, Donaldson was still an elite bat, hitting .270 with 33 homers and 143 combined runs and RBI in just 113 games. However, calf injuries limited him that season, and then kept him off the field for all but 55 games in 2018. If he can avoid the calf issues, there may still be that elite hitter last here. After all, he was still in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity on line drives and home runs last year, despite his struggles.

Justin Turner

How he gets there: He just stays healthy. I’ve written before about how Justin Turner isn’t really a significant injury risk, given the seemingly random nature of his injuries. If Turner stays healthy 140 games, he’s probably hitting well over .300, with 25-plus homers and plenty of counting stats in that lineup. He even stole seven bases two years ago. If you’re looking for a candidate for this year’s version of 2017 J.D. Martinez, Turner is my pick.

Yasiel Puig

How he gets there: Puig also mostly just needs to stay healthy and stay in the lineup. He was limited to 125 games last season due to hip and oblique injuries, but still put up 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases in just 444 plate appearances. He played a full game just 96 times, as the Dodgers would routinely remove him early, or have him make an appearance late after sitting. The Reds won’t do that. If he can get to 600 plate appearances, it’s no stretch to say a 35-homer, 25 steal season is possible, especially in this park.

Mallex Smith

How he gets there: Remember when Dee Gordon was a regular early-round pick? That’s the path. Smith showed last year he can hit for average, and he managed to attempt 52 steals in just 544 plate appearances. If he bats leadoff all year for the Mariners, he’s going to blow away those plate appearance numbers, and 50-plus steals isn’t a stretch at all. Especially with how often he walks — Smith had 236 stolen base opportunities in 2018, a number Gordon only topped twice in his career.

Joey Gallo

How he gets there: He stops striking out quite so much and gets a bit more luck. Gallo is going to hit 40 homers. He’s going to contribute a healthy amount of runs and RBI. He may even steal a few bases, something his manager has talked about this year. The question is whether he can just have a plain old bad batting average, as opposed to a disastrous one. If he can cut his strikeout rate to, say, 33.0 percent and has a BABIP in the .280 range, as opposed to one right at .250. If he does that, all of a sudden, there’s potential for huge profit. It’s just tweaks around the margins for the big fella.

David Dahl

How he gets there: He plays a full season in Coors Field. That’s not to take anything away from Dahl, whose minor-league record suggests he’d be a viable Fantasy option anywhere. But in Coors Field, he has the potential to be incredible. For his career in the majors, he has hit .293 with 23 home runs and 10 stolen bases in just 508 plate appearances. Just projecting that out to 630 PA … well, it’s a lot of really good stuff, in a park and lineup that should give plenty of opportunities to rack up counting stats. The upside here is peak Charlie Blackmon with just a smidge less batting average. 

Max Muncy

How he gets there: Do it again. Muncy played like an early-rounder last season, albeit in just 481 plate appearances. And he backed it up with elite walk rates and exit velocity data. If it was a fluke, that doesn’t show up in the numbers. And he hit lefties well, to boot. If last season was for real, everyone but the person who snags him is going to be kicking themselves.

Victor Robles

How he gets there: Follow in his teammate’s footsteps. Trea Turner has established himself as one of the truly elite speed threats in baseball, with enough pop and on-base skills to avoid the one-dimensional tag. Robles, a unanimous top-15 prospect over the past three years, has those kinds of skills. He is a career .300 hitter in the minors, with per-150 game pace stats of 11 homers and 50 steals. The expectation is he’ll hit for more power as he grows, and he’s showing some of that potential in the spring. It’s not out of the question we’re debating whether Robles or Turner goes first next year.

Nomar Mazara

How he gets there: He changes his approach. There’s no doubting Mazara’s skill set. He’s big and athletic, has a smooth lefty swing, and hits the ball pretty hard. The problem is, that swing generates way too many ground balls, and ground balls don’t go over the fence. He’s never had trouble getting them out when he elevates, and the Rangers have talked about trying to get him to do that more often this season. If he does, there is superstar potential still with the soon-to-be 24-year-old.

Franmil Reyes

How he gets there: He plays every day. If all Reyes does is replicate what he did last year over 600 plate appearances, you’re looking at a .280 hitter with 34 homers. It’s not clear he’ll get the chance to play everyday with San Diego’s outfield, but he can force the issue pretty easily if he can sustain what he did late last season. Over the final two months, Reyes hit .318 (with a .367 BABIP), with a 35-plus homer pace.  The batted-ball data backs him up as someone with huge power potential and the ability to hit for average if the strikeout rate gains stick. If he does that, Hunter Renfroe or anyone else won’t stand in his way.

Categories: National Sports

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