1. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Altuve’s 2018 has caused him to drop to outside the first round in a lot of drafts. He wasn’t necessarily a bad fantasy player as he still hit .315 with 13 home runs and 17 steals, but he did leave a bad taste in many fantasy owners’ mouths who took him with the second overall pick last season. The ironic part about Altuve’s 2018 is that a lot of his peripherals were actually better than his peripherals in 2017. With a 24.0% line drive rate and 33.8% hard contact rate, I might actually like Altuve more going into 2019 than 2018. With his increase in hard contact and a high amount of batted ball events, I truly believe that he can have another 20 home run season. The downside to this is that the years of Altuve hitting for a .346 batting average are likely over. He can still hit for a .315 batting average like he did last year, which is close to the .311 I projected for him next season. Maybe Altuve is not a top 10 player in fantasy anymore, but he is undoubtedly a quality pick to start your second round.
2. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Baez had a tremendous season in 2018 for fantasy and real life. Sadly, I don’t believe in Baez’s 2018 as much as others in the industry do. I believe he will have a batting average closer to .250 rather than the .290 he posted last season. His poor plate discipline makes him more vulnerable to more soft contact than other players with the same hard contact rate as Baez. He still has 30/30 potential, but a 25/20 season with a .260 batting average seems more likely in 2019.
3. Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
After putting up another spectacular season which saw him hit .304 with 12 home runs and 45 stolen bases, it seems Merrifield has basically become a consensus top 50 player around the industry. With a 29.8% line drive rate last season and one of the best sprint speeds in major league baseball, he still projects out as a high BABIP player. With his aggressive approach at the plate and ability to make consistent contact, he should have a batting average no lower than .280. While there is no questioning his speed, I still don’t know how to feel about his power potential. With more fly balls than ground balls, a hard contact rate above 30% and a lot of batted balls, a 25 home run season is not out of the question. Sadly with a pitcher-friendly home park, this total will likely be in the high teens next season. With his potential of being a 25/45 player who can also hit for a batting average above .300, there is no reason he should be going outside the fifth round.
4. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Torres showcased his raw power after posting a 36.8% hard contact rate and hitting 24 home runs in just 484 plate appearances last season. With a high line drive throughout his professional career, it is safe to say that Torres will continue to be a high BABIP player in 2019. The concerns come from the fact that he missed 29.1% of the balls he swung at, which could resemble a strikeout rate of some the other power hitting Yankee right-handers in the lineup. Even with his strikeout concerns, Torres’ potential makes him a top 60 pick in my books.
5. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Albies “20 grade power” helped him hit 14 home runs before the month of June. He surprised a lot of people last season as many believed his value would mostly come from his speed, but it actually turned out that his power was his golden goose. With a decent fly ball rate and a high amount of batted ball events, I believe we can see another 20 home run season from the 21-year-old, but his 29.4% hard contact rate is a red flag for regression. With an above-average contact rate and an aggressive approach at the plate, his strikeout rate should be well below average, which when added with his speed and line drive rate, could see him have a batting average of .280. Just know with a below average hard contact rate, we could see Albies home run total take a dive in 2019.
6. Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Murphy fell drastically in Justin Mason’s Too Early Mock Drafts as his ADP was outside the top 100, so it looks like I’ll be the high guy on Murphy as I still have him ranked inside the top 75. Although I still like Murphy a lot going into next season, I understand why so many people are off on him. When you go look at his 26.1% hard contact rate on Fangraphs, it is hard to imagine another 20 home run season from the impending free agent. When you take a look at his Statcast hard contact, however, you’ll see a slightly better 28.5%. This still isn’t very good, but when you factor his fly ball, his injuries last season, and the fact that 82.9% of his plate appearances ended as batted ball events, we could see another 25 home run season from 33-year-old in 2019. Although he still has the potential to hit 25 dingers, I have him hitting 19 next year due to a lack of plate appearances. Even if Murphy only hits 15 home runs next season, he will still post a batting average around .305 while also helping you in RBI’s. If I can take Murphy as a ninth or tenth round pick, then I could see myself having a lot of shares of him in 2019.
7. Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
Cano missed a lot of time last season due to a PED suspension, but he was one of only sixteen who had 100 batted balls events and hit more than 50.0% of their batted balls with hard contact. With the ability to drive the ball and make consistent contact, Cano should continue to be a batting average anchor for your fantasy team in 2019. He does hit more ground balls than the average player, but with his hard contact rates and high batted ball events, he could still push 30 home runs. He will be 36-years-old going into this upcoming season, so there is a chance we see some regression from him in 2019. Even at 36-years-old, Cano is a quality bat that is a steal outside the top 100.
8. Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
I have never been a big fan of Gordon because his game remains heavily on his speed. If you don’t believe me, just look at his expected stats versus his real stats on Baseball Savant. Since Statcast was integrated into the league, Gordon’s expected batting average versus his real batting average have had a 019, .068, .067, and .086 point difference. This massive disparity in expected versus real batting average is likely due to his incredible speed, but I hate relying on a player like that. If Gordon’s average does continue to fall like it did last year, then he could become the second base version of Billy Hamilton. Even with the red flags, Gordon is still a viable fantasy option for steals, which should still make him a top 100 going into the season.
9. Brian Dozier, Free Agent
Dozier had a disappointing season in which his batting average dropped to an absurdly low .215. Now although his .240 BABIP will likely be higher in 2019, don’t expect it to be anywhere close to average. With more fly balls than ground balls and an ever decreasing line drive rate, Dozier could be closer to the .260 BABIP player he was back in 2015. We also saw his hard contact rate drop below 30% last season, so we shouldn’t expect another 30 home run season from the 31-year-old. Even with his concerns from last season, Dozier should still be considered as a top 125 fantasy player. Going forward, however, it seems like Dozier’s floor could be that of a player outside the top 300. It’ll be interesting to see where he signs this offseason, as it could drastically affect his overall value in 2019.
10. Jeff McNeil, New York Mets
McNeil is one bright star in an otherwise depressing and poorly managed organization. With an 85.1% contact rate, McNeil should keep his strikeout rate below 14.0% at the major league level. Although he may not have the .359 BABIP he did last season, his batting average should still be somewhere around .280 due to the lack of strikeouts. With only three home runs and a 28.8% hard contact rate, we didn’t see much from McNeil in the power department. I do expect, however, that both these numbers to rise in 2019 as McNeil was on a 30 home run pace in the minors. With his lack of strikeouts and a decent amount of raw power, we could see a 25 home run season with a complementary .280 batting average from McNeil this upcoming season.
11. Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds
Gennett followed up his impressive 2017 season by hitting .310/.357/.490 as the Reds starting second baseman in 2018, so it may seem crazy to have him ranked where I do. Sadly, I am not completely bought in on his past two breakout season for many reasons. The first and possibly most concerning reason is the fact that his expected batting average was .051 points lower than his actual batting average according to Baseball Savant. My second concern is due to a respectable but not great 31.7% hard contact rate. For someone who has a total of 50 home runs over the past two seasons, I would expect a hard contact rate of at least 34.0% over that time frame. I am more of a numbers guy and try to play the percentages, and all the numbers are telling me to stay away from Gennett in 2019.
12. Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
The one thing many experts were concerned about with Moncada was his ability, or lack thereof, to make contact, and those concerns came to life in 2018. At 33.4%, Moncada only trailed Joey Gallo and Chris Davis in highest strikeout rates among qualified batters. This was due to his lack of contact, which is evident by his 70.3% contact rate he posted last season. Now Moncada does have the potential to become a 30/30 type player, but his strikeout rate gives him a ceiling of a .260 hitter. Even with his potential, I still have him ranked in the 150 range due to the possibility of a .230 batting average. I’m likely going to be passing on Moncada come draft season and taking a player like Ramon Laureano, Dustin Fowler, or even Byron Buxton a couple of rounds later.
13. DJ LeMahieu, Free Agent
At .298, LeMahieu had his worst BABIP as a major league second baseman. This was likely due to the worst line drive he has posted since 2014. He did however hit a career-high 15 home runs last season. Even with a 42.6% hard contact rate, however, this will likely be his ceiling due to his incredibly low pull percentage, a super high ground ball rate, and the likelihood of leaving the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. Even with his free agency looming, LeMahieu still hits enough line drives with good exit velocities, so another .300 season is still likely. I still see LeMahieu as a top 200 player no matter where he lands, but his lack of stolen bases and home runs could make him a Joe Mauer type player.
14. Lourdes Gurriel, Toronto Blue Jays
Gurriel was drafted outside the top 200 in Justin Mason’s Too Early Mock Drafts. With an above-average contact rate, a 23.7% line drive rate, and a 45.1% hard contact rate, I expect to see his ADP rise come draft season. With a decent amount of fly balls and good sprint speed numbers, Gurriel has the ceiling to hit 30+ home runs while also stealing 10+ bags at the major league level. If that’s the case, then that is a steal according to his current ADP. The only concern I really have about Gurriel going forward will be his playing time. With four decent middle infielders, the Blue Jays will have to make some adjustments in 2019. Due to Gurriel’s raw abilities, however, he should be in the lineup for most of the Blue Jays’ games next season.
15. Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics
Lowrie was my big sleeper going into last season and helped make me look like I actually knew what I was doing. With his fly ball and line drive rates combined with his 37.6% hard contact rate, I believe we would could see him replicate his 2018 numbers this upcoming season. I always like taking the “safer” players who show good plate skills with encouraging batted ball profiles, and Lowrie fits this profile to the bill. With good contact numbers, a decent amount of raw power, and one of the best line drive rates in the majors, Lowrie could actually post a higher BABIP than he had in 2018. Although Lowrie had a breakout season with the peripherals to back it up, it looks like he will still be going outside the top 200 in 2019 drafts. If that’s the case, then I could Lowrie making his way onto many of my teams next seasons.
16. Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
To say Odor has been an inconsistent fantasy player the past three seasons is an understatement. With players who have as poor plate discipline as Odor, this is somewhat to be expected. With decent speed and a 38.1% hard contact rate, he could be a high BABIP player, which in that case would probably make him a top 100 fantasy player. The problem comes when you take into account his poor plate discipline. There is a correlation between poor plate discipline and the margins between soft and hard contact rates. If you are swinging at balls outside the zone more than the average players, then you are more likely to have a higher soft contact rate than other players who make the same amount of hard contact. For this reason, I see Odor having a batting average below .250, and will mean I will most likely be out on him this upcoming season.
17. Jonathan Villar, Baltimore Orioles
Villar had another season with more than 30 steals, and he did it in just 515 plate appearances. He will likely get a majority of the playing time in Baltimore, but I still have my concerns going into next season. Yes, Villar was on a 19/48 pace with a .260 batting average, but let’s not forget that this is a guy who had a 72.2% contact rate, a 2.29 ground ball to fly rate, and .042 difference between his expected and his actual batting average. Although Villar’s ceiling is something to marvel at, his floor could be that of a 10/25 hitter with a .235 batting average. As a potential top 100 pick, I will just wait and try to find my steals elsewhere.
18. Luis Urias, San Diego Padres
Urias has always been seen as a contact hitter, so I was surprised to hear that he had one of the highest exit velocities among his fellow prospects last season. Although he has never had a batting average below .290 in a season throughout his minor league career, I am a little concerned about his batting average going into 2019. With an increase in strikeouts at Double-A and Triple-A and a contact rate just a tick above average at the major league level, I fear that Urias profiles more as a 20.0% strikeout guy rather than the 16.0% we are hoping for. It is also worth noting that his minor league line drive rates are above average, but aren’t as good as you would expect from a guy who had a .373 BABIP at Triple-A last season. With his line drive rate and exit velocities, a .315-.330 BABIP seems to be his most likely outcome. If all goes right in 2019, then I’m expecting pre-2018 Eric Hosmer numbers from Urias. With his type of upside, I have no problem with his 239.6 ADP in Justin Mason’s Too Early Mock Drafts and may end up taking him around there as well.
19. Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies
Hernandez has shown the ability to hit for a high batting average while also showing superb plate discipline. This ability to get on base paired with his above-average speed gives him the potential to steal 20+ bases at the major league level. He doesn’t feature great raw power, but with he could still post something like the 15 home runs he hit last season if his improved fly ball rate carried over to next season. Due to his plate skills, ability to drive the ball, and speed, Hernandez has a repetitively high floor and could be a great pick outside the top 150.
20. Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays
Players like Wendle often go overlooked in fantasy because they aren’t exceptional in any one category, but the truth is players like Wendle make for great bench players who you can put in your lineup and not worry about hurting you in the standings. With a 35.2% hard contact rate and a 28.3 sprint speed, Wendle is a 15/15 player who won’t bring down your batting average. With second base being the second worst position for fantasy this season, Wendle is an excellent pick at the end of your draft.