Bargain Hunting: Making Early Moves

Written by: Ray Butler

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I almost decided to not publish this piece, simply because I feel like I’ve seen dozens of “undervalued fantasy player” pieces making their way around the Twittersphere the past couple of weeks. Thankfully, I feel like a lot of my end-game and free agent targets early this season are quite different than the targets that seem to be the “consensus” end-game targets in the fantasy baseball industry.

Let me set a few ground rules. Not only am I listing end-game targets here (though you’ll probably know one when you see one), but I’m pinpointing players whom I feel are undervalued in general. Some of the players you’re about to read about will still cost a pretty penny (yet are still cheaper than they should be)… some not so much.

Note: I make a point in this post to point out players who have undergone a recent swing change. In my opinion, it’s important to add players with new swings as early as possible, seeing as they’re likely to post nice production early in the season (new swings can often make the scouting information accumulated by opposing teams obsolete). Keep that in mind as you research those names.

Another note: These players are listed by position, but they are in no particular order within each position.

May our ideologies be very, very similar.

C Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers

Grandal is somehow still available in nearly 70% of fantasy leagues thanks to the 2017 postseason emergence of Austin Barnes behind the dish for the Dodgers, but skipper Dave Roberts has already announced Grandal will be ‘the guy’ for the Dodgers to start the season. The switch hitter has retooled his swing, primarily with a focus on improving from the right side of the plate against southpaws, and the Spring Training and early-regular-season returns have been very, very promising.

1B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

Maybe I’m naive, but I think Miggy (who turns 35 next month) has one more star-powered campaign left in him. I’m in no way condoning acquiring shares in keeper leagues or dynasties, but I think Cabrera will be a profitable asset in redraft leagues this season. Let’s just hope his back remains intact.

1B/OF Jose Martinez, Cardinals

One of the best kept offensive secrets in baseball, Jose Martinez will officially announce his presence to the world this season. He needs to find a defensive home to remain in the Cardinals everyday lineup, but he’s a shoe-in to bat somewhere near .300 with some nice power. The dual eligibility is also nice. He’ll need to adjust once pitchers begin attacking him predominantly with off-speed pitches, but Martinez should remain valuable over the course of the regular season.

2B Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Carpenter doesn’t hold much value if he’s a 1B-only player in your fantasy league, but he’s a 1B/2B/3B player in my league format, and I think he’ll be extremely valuable as a super-utility player for my team this season. Carpenter has reconstructed his swing to recapture his brilliant gap-to-gap power, so I think a 20 HR, .380 OBP, <100 K’s campaign may be in store here.

2B Ian Kinsler, Angels

With youth, youth, and more youth taking top priority in fantasy leagues across the country, sometimes it’s better to zig when everyone else zags. This season, Kinsler is certainly a zag. Kinsler is nearly 36 years old and he doesn’t possess the on-base skills he once had, sure. But the second baseman is still capable of smacking 20 HRs, swiping some bases, and scoring tons of runs while batting at the top of a stacked Angels lineup. He was just placed on the disabled list, but reports suggest he’ll be ready to be activated after the minimum allotted time (which is ten days).

2B Joe Panik, Giants

Panik doesn’t have a track record of posting flashy numbers, but he doesn’t do anything to get your fantasy team beat, either. I certainly like what he brings to the table this year, especially when you consider the fact that he could score 100+ runs batting near the top of the Giants’ new-look order. Don’t expect to consistently receive the power numbers that Panik has posted so far this season, but thanks to an adjustment based on choking up a little more on the bat, it’s reasonable to think the 27-year-old second baseman may exceed his career high (10) in long balls.

2B/3B Brandon Drury, Yankees

You’ll notice that a lot of the position players included in this list have tinkered with their swings this offseason. Drury is certainly a recent-swing-changer. This offseason, the infielder (he’ll soon have 2B and 3B eligibility, which is quite handy) worked with the same hitting guru who tinkered the swings of both Chris Taylor and J.D. Martinez. That’s not a horrible track record. The Yankees certainly seem to believe in Drury, and you should too.

3B Kyle Seager, Mariners

If you miss out on an elite third baseman, why wouldn’t you look for a player with sturdy consistency? That’s what the older Seager brother brings to the table, and he’s probably a safer option in redraft leagues than someone like Rafael Devers.

3B/SS/OF Kike Hernandez, Dodgers

There’s all sorts of positional-flexibility goodness here, and Hernandez seems to have made some definitive strides against right-handed pitching (he hit 4 HRs in Spring Training vs. RHP). The Dodgers seem set on keeping Hernandez in the lineup frequently, so he’s a viable option that can be slotted into at least one-third of your fantasy lineup.

SS Corey Seager, Dodgers

I know the younger Seager brother is certainly not a cheap acquisition, but I do think he’s a very strong buy-low candidate this preseason (kind of in the same realm as Brendan Rodgers in my prospect obsession post). He played injured down the stretch of last season (though his final numbers for the 2017 season were still very strong), and he’s been slowed to some extent in camp. However, there’s no reason to believe that anything in Seager’s existing health-profile would hinder him from playing a full, healthy regular season. There’s a good chance that Seager returns to being a first round draft pick prior to the 2019 regular season.

SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox

Bogaerts tinkered with his swing this offseason, and I think he’ll reintroduce himself back into the group of shortstops that includes Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager. I feel like Bogaerts is going to be the shortstop on A LOT of league champion teams this season. He’s certainly off to a blistering start.

OF Bradley Zimmer, Indians

If there’s anyone on this list that could super-unexpectedly return first or second round value, I think it may be Bradley Zimmer. There are contact-ability questions, yes. But you don’t have to think too outside-of-the-box to envision Zimmer posting a 15 HR/25 SB (or better) line while manning centerfield in Cleveland. Seriously, take a look at the holistic offensive profiles of Byron Buxton and Zimmer, then ask yourself why Buxton is being drafted so early and Zimmer so late. Even if Zimmer’s floor is what we see this season and we have to pick our spots to utilize him, he can still swing categories with limited action in our fantasy lineups.

OF Jesse Winker, Reds

I want so badly to believe in Winker as a fantasy asset. As it stands now, Winker will be a really, really good real life player and an unspectacular fantasy asset. I’ll go on the record now though: Winker has some power. He showed it in the low minors earlier in his career, and if it reemerges, Winker could be a straight-up star. As it stands, Winker is a high AVG/OBP, low K% fantasy role player who you should monitor closely. If he remains at the top of the Reds order, he should eclipse the 100 runs scored mark.

OF Ender Inciarte, Braves

Inciarte may bore you to death, but he’s the token fourth outfielder that plays an underrated role in clinching your team a playoff berth and a league championship. The centerfielder doesn’t strike out often, he hits for both AVG and OBP, he steals bases, he contributes some power from time to time. He’ll never be a fantasy star, but it’s time for us to properly appreciate players like Ender Inciarte (also, his numbers should only improve once Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley make their big league debuts).

OF Nomar Mazara, Rangers

Nomar Mazara has nearly 1200 PA at the big league level. Nomar Mazara won’t turn 23 years old until April. He’s one of the ten youngest active players in the big leagues to begin the regular season, even though 2018 will be his third year (and second full season) in the majors. There’s a reason he was a top prospect before making his big league debut, and he’ll eventually be an elite hitter, both in real life and in fantasy. While he’s still far from a finished product, I think we’ll begin to see his emergence at the top level beginning this season. He’s currently an elite buy-low option in deep keeper and dynasty leagues.

OF Manuel Margot, Padres

Based on his professional track record, Margot’s 2017 numbers were quite weird. I think we’ll get a better look this season, and Margot will flirt with 20 HR/20 SB numbers with a better AVG and OBP. Thinking ‘big picture’ with the Padres, Margot could be an upper-echelon table setter for a long, long time. Your buy-low window could be on the brink of shutting forever.

OF Franchy Cordero, Padres

Cordero is currently A) injured and B) without a role in San Diego, but goodness me. The tools Cordero possesses are legitimately some of the loudest in the big leagues, and while there’s still some patch work to be done, if Cordero is given an opportunity, he could become an instantaneous fantasy asset. Sure to be a Statcast darling, put Cordero on your watch list and keep an eye out for the quantity of playing time he receives after he is activated from the disabled list.

SP Marco Gonzales, Mariners

A new arm slot has led to an uptick in velocity and comfortability for Gonzales, and a stellar spring led the southpaw to securing a spot in the Mariners Opening Day rotation. He may never pile up the strikeouts we’d like from a left handed starting pitcher, but Gonzales is a former top-prospect who is pitching his home games in the friendly confines of Safeco Field; there’s upside here. I truly think Gonzales is one of the best ‘sleeper’ starting pitchers in fantasy baseball heading into the regular season.

SP Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays

One of my favorite targets this preseason, Sanchez has a strong chance to post top 30-40 SP numbers as long as he remains healthy. With the blister/fingernail issues now seemingly a thing of the past, I think Sanchez and Marcus Stroman will finally form the long-awaited dynamic duo that anchors Toronto’s rotation. I’m not sure if Sanchez will ever consistently post the sexy strikeout numbers (or minuscule walk numbers) to reattain the top 20 SP he was labeled as prior to last season, but he’s almost certainly better than the 53rd best starting pitcher he was drafted as this preseason.

SP Michael Wacha, Cardinals

There’s always some injury risk associated to Wacha, but I think 2018 is the season the young right-hander finally puts it all together. He won’t be the best arm in your rotation, but he might be the third best arm in your rotation; he’ll also be the second best starting pitcher in the Cardinals rotation this season.

SP Tanner Roark, Nationals

When formerly consistent pitchers have a down year with promising peripherals, I’ll blindly acquire stock in them the following season. Teammate Gio Gonzalez might have been the luckiest pitcher in the big leagues last season, and Roark received almost an equal amount of poor luck. I think he’ll bounce back in 2018, which means he’d be an asset at the back end of your fantasy pitching rotation.

SP Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks

I could easily make this blurb about Chase Field’s new humidor, but the truth is that Patrick Corbin fared just fine at home last season without any park adjustment. I’m simply a believer in the southpaw, who finally seems completely back to full-health following Tommy John surgery rehab (and seemingly getting better and better the further he gets from the operation). The fastball/slider combination from the left side will lead to plenty of strikeouts, and if Corbin can limit the long-ball, he’ll have a fantastic return for fantasy owners.

SP Julio Teheran, Braves

Teheran had some funky home-away splits last season that I think will positively regress in 2018. He’s also been working to reestablish his slider, and the returns were encouraging during Spring Training. He’ll be more of the rotation leader the Braves need him to be this season, even if he doesn’t post gaudy strikeout numbers; just make sure you pick your spots to utilize him.

RP Blake Treinen, Athletics 

I’m always looking for late-inning value in closers, and I think Treinen perfectly fits the bill this season. The right-hander settled in nicely with the Athletics after a few bumps in the road early in the season (before and after being traded from the Nationals), and Treinen has very little pressure from a bullpen competitor to overtake his role as closer. I think there’s a chance Treinen flirts with a top 10 RP return this season.

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Featured image courtesy of Sporting News

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