The key to winning a championship in fantasy baseball is to find gems in the late rounds of your drafts. Anyone can draft a top-10 player, but only those who truly prepare can find the diamonds in the rough.
Below are some 2017 deep outfielder sleepers for the National League. I will be analyzing five outfielders from the National League who I think will break out in 2017 and provide great return based on their current draft stock.
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Deeper NL Outfield Draft Values
Domingo Santana (OF, MIL)
The 24-year old outfielder battled shoulder and elbow injuries last season, spending most of the year on the DL. He played 40 games in the first half of the season, and hit .234/.347/.391 with four HR and 13 RBI. After returning from his second and longest DL stint in mid-August, Santana hit .280/.344/.508 with seven HR and 19 RBI. His BABIP actually went down in the second half, from .361 to .356. He is fully healthy, and the favorite to land the right field job again this season.
Santana has always hit the ball hard; he has a career hard hit rate of 36%. In the second half last season he got that up to 40%, with a soft contact rate of only 16.3%. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard. Santana also has a 34.6% career strikeout rate, which he will need to find a way to fix. Though it was only 29.8% in the second half last season, he only walked 8.4% of the time. He still finds a way to get on base, he had a .345 OBP last season. If he can stay healthy, Santana has the power to hit 25-to-30 HR and steal 10 bases with an average that won’t kill you.
Travis Jankowski (OF, SD)
The Padres have some nice young OF talent on their roster, including Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Alex Dickerson. Then, there’s this Travis Jankowski fella. Heading into the season, he was supposed to be the fourth man with the former three holding down the outfield the majority of the time. Dickerson is expected to miss the first month or so with a bulging disc in his back, so now Janikowski will be given a full-time gig. He was able to steal 30 bases in only 383 plate appearances last season as a starter in the second half, so his speed alone makes him a valuable asset.
Still only 25, Janikowski still has some work to do with his approach. He struck out 26.1% of the time last season, but did have a walk rate of 11%. You would have to go back to 2013 when Janikowski was in High-A ball to find when his strikeout rate was ever over 14%, so there is reason to expect he can improve this season. He held a .332 OBP last season despite his .245 average, so if he can turn some of those strikeouts into singles we are looking at a late round option that could get you 40 or more steals.
Brandon Drury (2B/3B/OF, ARI)
The next two options on this list won’t be playing in the outfield for their respective clubs, but luckily for us they are eligible there in fantasy. First up is Brandon Drury of the Diamondbacks. Drury showed us some good potential last season, slashing .282/.329/.458 with 16 HR and 53 RBI. He posted an above average .176 ISO thanks to those dingers and 31 doubles. He upped his hard hit rate to 32.9% last season, and lowered his soft hit rate to 17.3% from his brief stint in the majors in 2015.
Drury only walked 6.2% of the time last season, while striking out 20%. If he can improve on his plate discipline, we may see that OBP rise even further this season. Even with that strikeout rate he isn’t swinging and missing much; he’s posted above-average swinging strike rates each of the past two seasons. If he can elevate more balls instead of hitting grounders (GB% of 50.1% last season), a nice jump in HR could be had. His positional flexibility is also a nice draw; he already has 3B and OF, and will soon have 2B because he’s staring there for Arizona this season. The upside is there for a late round 2B who can hit .280/.340/.450 with 20 HR.
Josh Bell (1B/OF, PIT)
Next up is Josh Bell, who will be playing first base for the Pirates this season yet is also available in fantasy as an outfielder. Bell showed us elite-level plate discipline all throughout his minor league career, and that didn’t change in his first taste of the major leagues. Over 152 plate appearances last season, Bell hit .273/.368/.406, and posted a BB/K rate of 1.11(!) which would have placed him behind only Ben Zobrist last season among all qualified hitters.
In those 152 plate appearances, Bell struck out only 19 times. His K% of 12.5% would have led all qualified first baseman in the league last year. The contact rates he posted in the minors are also transferring over nicely into the majors. He had a low 7.6% swinging strike rate last season, and his outside swing rate of 24.8% was also well below the league average. His 82.9% contact rate was above league average, and it led to a ton of contact that went to the opposite field. He hit to the opposite field 42.9% of the time last season, which would have led all qualified hitters. The power department is a work in progress for Bell, but with his elite plate discipline he can be a gem in OBP leagues.
Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)
Last season Conforto had an impressive March and April which really got people talking, then the calendar turned to May. That began Conforto’s massive slump, which led to him being demoted back to Triple-A mid-season. He then proceeded to absolutely crush minor league pitching in a high-offense league, and got a call-up later in the year.
Over the final month of the season, he hit .237/.396/.421 with only one HR, but was clearly working on his discipline at the plate. Over those 48 September at-bats he held a BB% of 16.7% and a K% of 22.9%, both of which are better than his career averages. He will need to show a huge improvement in his ability to hit left-handed pitching (hit only .104 against LHP last season), but at 24 years of age he has time to make improvements. With Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo nursing injuries, the door is open for Conforto to see at-bats with the Mets early in the season. Only time will tell if he can capitalize on his chances, but he’s got the tools to be an impact bat in fantasy.