Today, we will use the tool on the offensive side of the ball, as we search for outfield sleepers. This is incredibly important, as many fantasy baseball players will draft for offense way before they draft pitching, especially in today's pitching dominant game. Nothing kills a fantasy season quicker than missing on a big bat in the early rounds; on the other hand, hitting on a productive bat late can go a long way towards winning your league.
Overrated: Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees, ADP: 11.8
I will admit that there's a lot to really like about Jacoby Ellsbury's game. He's a lock for a solid batting average, tons of runs scored and an elite stolen base total. Unfortunately, with the exception of one season in 2011, he offers almost nothing in the power categories of home runs and RBI production. That makes Ellsbury a three-category player at best, and that alone makes his ADP of 11.8 (late-first/early-second round depending on your league size) a bit high for me.
Perhaps it's that 2011 season that saw Ellsbury combine his .321 batting average, 121 runs scored and 39 steals with 32 dingers and 105 RBI that is making owners reach for him this year, especially since he'll be playing his home games in lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium. If Ellsbury is able to duplicate what he did last year while hitting 20 homers and driving in 80 runs, he'll not return first-round value-- he'd be every bit as valuable as Mike Trout. With stolen bases and runs scored down last year, I can see taking a chance that Ellsbury will rediscover his power stroke, but when you consider that 2011 was the only season in which the former Red Sox star ever even reached a double-digit home run total, it becomes a risk that I'm not willing to take with a first- or second-round pick.
The other trouble with Ellsbury is the fact that he can't seem to stay on the field. Over the last four seasons, Ellsbury has appeared in only 384 out of a possible 648 games, meaning he missed almost 40% of his team's games due to injury. Even in a relatively healthy contract year in 2013, Ellsbury still ended up missing 28 games-- that's an entire month's worth of baseball.
Injuries can happen, but after a while, they become a trend. While the possibility of Ellsbury putting up a 20 HR, 70 SB season is appealing, the thought of having such a high pick for only half a season isn't. In my opinion, using your first or second pick on a consistently injured player is too risky for my blood, and there's no way I'd take a chance on Ellsbury until at least the third round.
Underrated: Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles, ADP: 136
There are a couple of things at play here when it comes to Nelson Cruz's ADP. First, it's obvious that fantasy players don't know what to make of Cruz's numbers now that he's been linked to PEDs. Second, it took Cruz a long time to find a place to play this year, meaning that many of those in the real game of baseball where just as worried that the former slugger's production would take a real hit in the absence of the roids.
I have seen Nelson Cruz taken as early as the fourth round this year, and as late as the 19th, and while I have seen him going much earlier now that he has a team, this still speaks to all of the uncertainty surrounding him. While we won't know for sure what role (if any) PEDs have played in Cruz's production over the years, he still may be worth a gamble on draft day.
Nelson Cruz taking a one-year deal to play for the Baltimore Orioles is a real boon for fantasy owners. Not only does it find the slugger in another hitter-friendly home ballpark like he had in Texas, but once again, Cruz will be in a contract year. He's betting on himself that a productive year with a clean slate will lead him to that big multi-year deal that many teams balked at giving him this offseason. Nothing motivates a major leaguer more than a contract year.
If Cruz was going to cost you a second-round pick, then the risk just wouldn't be worth the reward. Since he can still be had in the double-digit rounds in many drafts, taking a flier on him is worth it. At his best, Cruz can offer 30-homer power, solid RBI production and a handful of stolen bases. In the mid-to-late rounds, that kind of power is typically difficult to find. Usually, you're looking at names like Chris Carter, Brandon Moss and Adam Dunn, none of whom is as well rounded a guy as Nelson Cruz is. Yes, the PED thing is going to be a worry, but I would have been more worried had Cruz ended up in a power-sapping park like Seattle. If you plan to pass on the injury risk of Ellsbury, settling for Cruz-- maybe as much as 10-15 rounds later-- is a smart move.
Underrated: Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals, ADP: 59.2
Maybe you're not a risk taker. Maybe you prefer solid, reliable production and aren't worried about upside. If so, Matt Holliday, whose ADP puts him in the fifth-to-sixth-round range, is a player you should target.
For much of the past decade, Matt Holliday has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball. While he hasn't reached the monster numbers he put up in Colorado in some time, he's been a lock for solid production in home runs, RBI, runs and batting average. Entering his mid-30s means there's little upside here, but the value in Holliday comes with knowing exactly what you are getting every single year. His numbers in 2013-- a .300 batting average, 22 homers, 103 runs scored, 94 RBI and an .879 OPS-- are not that far off of his career averages of .311, 28 home runs, 107 runs, 109 RBI and a .918 OPS. That's a tribute to Holliday's machine-like consistency. If he were still a threat to steal bases, he'd probably be a second-round pick, but he's so solid in the other categories that he still feels like a steal between rounds five through seven.
Underrated: Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants, ADP: 50
Much like Holliday, the beauty of Hunter Pence's fantasy game is his consistency, and that he offers a very nice power/speed combination. Pence has never had a monster season, but year-in and year-out he'll give you a solid batting average, 20+ homers, 90 or so RBI and solid production in runs and steals. Pence quietly had a terrific 2013 season, posting a .285 average, 91 runs scored, 27 home runs, 99 RBI and 22 steals. The only other player in baseball to put up at least 20 homers, 90 runs, 90 RBI and 20 steals was consensus top pick Mike Trout. That's exclusive company, and when you consider that Pence can be had about five rounds later, it puts his value in real perspective. For my money, Pence is a much better power/speed combo than many players who will be drafted before him, including Ellsbury. I will be targeting him in rounds 3-5 wherever I can.
High Upside: Will Venable, San Diego Padres, ADP: 184.5
The later you go in a draft, the harder it is to find that very precious power/speed combo. Sure, you can find one dimensional guys like Adam Dunn or Rajai Davis, but finding a guy who has 20/20 potential is difficult. Still, if you're savvy enough, you could walk away from the late rounds of your draft with San Diego outfielder Will Venable.
In 2013, nine players topped the 20/20 plateau. That list is: Hunter Pence, Mike Trout, Ian Desmond, Shin-Soo Choo, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Coco Crisp and Will Venable. That's exclusive company, considering that Venable's ADP puts him in the 15-18 round range, and all of the other guys on that list, with the possible exception of Crisp, will likely be gone by round six. He could become the steal of many drafts.
While the power and speed Venable offers at a cheap price is nice, there are some things to consider here. First and foremost, he's going to kill your batting average. His .268 mark last year was a high for the .257 career hitter, and we could just as easily see him bat in the .240s like he did in 2010 and 2011. He's also going to offer little run production, numbers that are hurt by his propensity to whiff and a low walk rate, not to mention that the 22 long balls Venable hit last year were a career high. Prior to that, he had never hit more than 13 in a season.
Still, even if he regresses to a .255, 15 HR, 25 SB season, he will be plenty valuable as a late round flier. In fact, you're more likely to see someone in your draft reach for a bounce back year from B.J. Upton than draft Venable. If I had to choose, I'd take a chance on the San Diego outfielder continued improvement, especially with such a late ADP.