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5 underrated outfielders who could win you your league

Heath explores who can outperform their ADP in 2019.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

There is no room to tout guys like Andrew Benintendi or Juan Soto. Their ADPs are already very expectant and do not leave room for vast amounts of profit. If you select Beni in Round 2, you do so because of the safety he offers you—not because you think he will be a 40/40 player in 2019. Later on, there is room for profit, though.

So my version of a “sleeper” effort will be focused on outfielders who could severely outperform their draft day cost. I’ll do my best to quantify my thoughts, but in general I am considering players based on who I can get around the same pick, and who (from the same position) I can draft earlier or later. For instance, why mess around with David Dahl when I can draft Yasiel Puig about two rounds later? Puig won’t qualify as a sleeper for me, but that is the general idea I am operating from. I suppose in economic or financial terms this idea is arbitrage, where I am trying to take advantage of a difference in market price. Let me avoid a higher pick and draft a guy much later who can offer similar (or better) production. So let’s try it out.

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox

NFBC ADP: 223.66

What I like about Bradley is that he stole 17 bags a year ago, and was only caught one time. That’s pretty useful in the speed-starved land in which we live. Last year’s ALCS MVP also set a career-high with a 41.1% hard contact rate in 2018, and sported a minuscule 10.0% soft contact rate. Only three fellows made less soft contact than JBJ last year, fantasy studs named Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, and Matt Carpenter. So he hit the ball really hard, as hard as anyone, really. His numbers improved as the year wore on, and an alteration at the plate is a sign we can point to as our reason why. Sure, JBJ may enter 2019 with the yips. But what if he has unlocked his swing, finally? What if he is on the verge of being the best version of himself?

Still a 28-year-old Gold Glove defender with speed, if he can bat anywhere close to .269 with plus power like he did in the second half, this pick might win you your league. And this last part might be a bit anecdotal, but he will see good pitches to hit if he is batting ninth in the Boston lineup again. No one in their right mind is pitching around JBJ to get to Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. So either he’ll see plenty of pitches to hit from the nine-hole in front of a pair of stellar top-of-the-order hitters, or he’ll hit so well that he’ll be moved up in the lineup. He is similar to Harrison Bader to me. Both are slated to bat ninth, and both could garner at-bats higher in the order if their performance warranted such. But Bader is being drafted nearly 60 picks earlier, on average. To be clear, I’m not saying don’t draft Bader, since I’ll be drafting both. I’m just saying their lines at the end of the year may not be all that different.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

NFBC ADP: 252.63

Kepler just signed a long-term extension, but that doesn’t mean much to us in fantasy baseball. Except that we know he’ll be swimming in playing time. Kepler has been decent as a big leaguer—a career slash of .233/.313/.417 won’t make anyone all hot and bothered, but his career .184 ISO and improving strikeout and walk rates are promising. Last year many good things began to coalesce—Kepler’s Barrel % of 6.6% was finally above average, his 16.2 degree average launch angle was above average, he hit more fly balls than ever, and made more hard contact than ever. He’s currently slated to hit fifth in the Minnesota lineup, and will probably stay there more often than not—unlike last year when he spent a great deal of time hitting seventh. Kepler feels like a really “steady” way to fill out my outfield ranks this year.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs

NFBC ADP: 261.21

I blindly compared Ian Happ to his teammate Javier Baez, and came away thinking that Happ is still young and has room to improve. He can take a walk, has plus power, and has decent speed. He chased far less last season, and actually has a lower swinging strike rate than Baez. What he needs to focus on his making more contact. Still only 24 years old, it is not absurd to think that Happ continues to grow as an MLB regular. At his stupid-low ADP, I am biting. For reference, in the same vicinity as Ian Happ you can find guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Willians Astudillo. I like Cabrera as a “safe” option, but if you’re chasing upside you know what to do.

MLB: Seattle Mariners-Media Day
I’d be smiling too, if I had just gotten free from MIL outfielder purgatory.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Domingo Santana, Seattle Mariners

NFBC ADP: 281.16

Domingo gave us a 30/15 monster of a fantasy baseball season in 2017. Then the Brewers went out and signed Lorenzo Cain and some MVP guy named Christian Yelich (to go along with Ryan Braun, who will likely die a Brewer). Anyway, the point is opportunity. Now a Seattle Mariner, Domingo is freed from part-time purgatory in Milwaukee. Roster Resource has him batting sixth for the Mariners, but I could easily see him farther up than that on frequent occasions. Yes, he has a lot of swing and miss in his game, but he also has a bit of a safety netting with his walk rate (career 11.0%). He hits the ball really hard, too. Last year’s 40.1% hard contact rate was identical to Cody Bellinger’s, for example. The knock is that Domingo doesn’t hit a ton of fly balls (career 27.5% FB%). However, he does hit line drives and he generates barrels at an above-average rate (10.6% career). So when he does hit the ball, good things can happen. Opportunity is king.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles

NFBC ADP: 292.47

A switch hitter, it is conceivable that Mullins snags the lion’s share of leadoff at-bats in Baltimore this year while Jonathan Villar hits in the two-hole. That might sound hard to believe, but this Orioles lineup is among the worst in baseball (and Mullins is more advanced from the left side, which gives him the platoon advantage against most pitchers). An added bonus is that Mullins’ home park favors hitters (it’s not like we are talking about Miami) and Mullins has some serious wheels. His 29.3 ft/sec sprint speed ranked 32nd in the MLB a year ago, tied with another speedy young outfielder by the name of Victor Robles. And for what it’s worth, half of the guys ranked ahead of Mullins and Robles are part-time players. Anyway, the point is that if Mullins isn’t leading off for Baltimore for the majority of 2019, all Orioles fans should riot. Let the young kid play, and let us reap the fantasy benefits of the Orioles having to manufacture some runs.

That’s it for me and digging deep into the outfield. Let me know who you love or hate. No, I didn’t include Randal Grichuk. My apologies to local prospect guru Zack, who likes Grichuk more than me. I just couldn’t fit him in.


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