One of my favorite things to ponder in March just as we begin our fantasy drafts is which players will I use that I currently don’t know exist. I know it’s going to happen. Some no name from a team will burst onto the scene and produce like a maniac, becoming one of the heroes of the season. This year had no shortage of said maniacs.
There aren’t any strict qualifications of this list, but these are the guidelines I set for myself when I made it.
- Could not be a highly rated prospect. I didn’t set an arbitrary cut off for what “highly rated” means. You’ll find a few prospects in this list, but they were more or less unknown or forgotten outside of die-hard dynasty fans.
- Could only have limited appearances before 2016. Alex Avila had his first relevant season since 2011, but he’s had plenty of full seasons and most of us know his name.
Some managers know the baseball player universe better than others. If you spot someone you think shouldn’t be in here, great! Chances are you know more than the average manager. I looked at these through the lens of a typical person who has knowledge of, say, the top 50 prospects in baseball and a solid — but not tight — grasp on all players in MLB. I also will be using Yahoo position eligibility to squeeze in a couple of guys.
C- Austin Barnes, LAD
I struggled with catcher the most because you were either an old vet who did well or you barely got any plate appearances. But considering that only four catchers crossed 500 PA, I gave myself the liberty of including Barnes and his 262 PA. In two years prior to 2017, Barnes had just 74 career PA. This year, after positive spurts of playing time, Dave Roberts began playing him with more regularity around the ASB and he flourished.
In two-catcher, NL-only and deep mixed leagues, Barnes was a great grab. He finished with .289/.408/.486 and chipped in 8 HR (.197 ISO). Did he change your season? Nah. But he didn’t hurt it, either.
1B- Matt Olson, OAK
OK, this guy changed your season. Olson had a forgettable cup of coffee last season. He did not appear anywhere on any midseason top 100 prospect lists. But he returned to the bigs this year to make us all look like fools. Though he got hurt in the final week, owners rode him to glory in September where he hit 13 HR in 22 games. He had a silly .392 ISO in the bigs and finished with 24 HR in 59 games. We can debate his 2018 bust potential another day, but today we’ll acknowledge he was one of the best pick ups of the year.
2B- Whit Merrifield, KC
The whitest sounding baseball player had a small period of relevancy in 2016, but it was nothing compared to the monster year he put up this season. He finished 19/34 (which looks so much worse than 20/35, doesn’t it?) with a .288/.324/.460 slash line and became a mainstay in your lineup. With his multi-position eligibility, this no-name was that much better. Expect to spend a top-10 round pick on him in 2018.
3B- Paul DeJong, STL
If I told you DeJong, who before 2017 had never played above AA, hit 32 combined HR between AAA and MLB this year, would you believe me? No? Good, because he actually hit 38. In 108 games he smashed 25 HR in the bigs along with a .285 AVG. He’s a scary play in OBP leagues (4.7 BB% this season), but you weren’t about to complain when you could plug him in any of your MI spots or at 3B and get fairly elite power production.
SS- Chris Taylor, LAD
In Yahoo, this guy was a swiss knife, carrying 2B/3B/SS/OF eligibility and quite frankly was a viable option for all four of those spots. Taylor accrued 318 PA since 2014, but you probably never noticed them because he hit 1 HR in that timespan with a .267 wOBA. Enter 2017 where every month he contributed in HR or steals and finished with 21 HR and 17 SB. Unlike DeJong, Taylor was an asset in OBP leagues as well.
OF- Tommy Pham, STL, Scott Schebler, CIN, Jorge Bonifacio, KC
Tommy Pham is hands down the MVP of this list and not only the highest fantasy ranked player here, but a top 40 player overall this year. Finishing two HR short of a 25/25 season, Pham was incredibly consistent in both halves of the season and never slumped, which made him incredibly useful in H2H leagues. Toss in his excellent .306/.411/.520 line and he was the epitome of a fantasy superstar. Turning 30 before next season starts, he’ll be one of the more interesting players on the draft board.
Scott Schebler cracked the Reds lineup late 2016, but didn’t make enough noise to get noticed by fantasy managers. I’ll grant that he was on some radars in March, but only in the deepest of leagues. If you snatched him early, you looked like a genius. After May, he had 16 HR and looked to be well on his way to 40. But thanks to a subpar 7.2 BB% and injury, he hit “just” 14 HR in the remaining 330 PA with a .738 OPS. Still, he was a strong no-name performer and for the low price of Pool Pick Up, it was hard to be angry.
In late May, Jorge Bonifacio hit 4 HR in 5 games and made his presence known. The 24 year old basically had the season we all expected Jorge Soler to have, finishing with 17 HR and a near-replacement level .255/.320/.432 line. Ultimately, he played the role of a 4th or 5th OF for you. But truth be told, not even I, who obsesses over everything MiLB, had heard of him before 2017 in any capacity making him a true no-name All-Star.