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Daniel Palka - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

With the increase in power production across the board in real/fantasy baseball, owners are finding it much easier to add a 20-plus homer option late in drafts. And yet, not all sluggers are created equal. Take for example the infamous Chris Carter, who even with 41 homers in 2016 has yet to find, or keep, a stable job with a team since. Why? In some cases, the trend to more power means that players like Carter need to offer more than just homers, and in 2016 he only batted .222 to compliment his power numbers.

When there are other options, finding a fantasy option that can add more than just power is not only a good, generic fantasy strategy but also critical to making sure they have the playing time to make that power support count in roto leagues. Targetting power in this era means looking for players who can add to other categories, or like this piece’s focus, players with a lock on a starting spot that can support underlying production.

With that, read along and let us convince you why Daniel Palka should be on your draft board this season. With an ADP of 311 in 2019, the surplus value is there to be had, and with a look under the hood, the numbers are much more positive than some might expect.

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Why Target Daniel Palka?

For readers who checked in our AL-Only Waiver wire pieces last summer, Palka was a regularly recommended add, with a season-long ownership rate under eight percent. Not many caught on making him a solid OF3 in most leagues without any acquisition cost. More specifically, in 2018 Palka slashed .240/.294/.484 with 27 homers and two steals. No threat of speed here and Palka is a power-first player, making him a three-true-outcomes player to be had.

Chicago is in a weird spot, with some incentivize to push to win in a weak Central, but also not wanting to deviate from a solid rebuilding plan. To date, it seems that the latter is the current plan, but with Eloy Jimenez on the horizon, and the rumors of a superstar coming to town, that could all change quickly. Even more, Palka is playing on the cheap, not even arbitration eligible, and also packs a punch that no one else on this team can match. This is ideal for a team in Chicago's position.

Admittingly, Palka might not make a ton of contact, with a 34.1% K rate, but when he does hit the ball, it goes far. In 2018, only 20.5% of his contact was graded as “soft,” with 36.4% being marked as “hard.” This helps explain the 27 HR/FB% and offers some hints at the sustainability of the overall power profile. Add to this that Palka posted an above-average flyball rate at 37.5%, leading to better than expected power numbers. The downside would be the plate skills, with a 16.9 swinging strike rate, but the contact is good enough to make up for this. Owners will take swings and misses, as long as the end result is there.


Elite Power Under the Hood

Palka looks even better when turning to Baseball Savant for some help. In 2018, Palka had a Barrel% of 14.4, which put him in the top four percent of the league. Even more, his average exit velocity was 92.3 MPH or the top six percent of the league. Baseball Savant rates his hard contact percentage at 49.2%, so higher than Fangraphs, meaning that there might even be some hidden power in his numbers. Palka does not just make hard contact, he makes elite hard contact, with a surging grade on his raw power.

However owners slice it, Palka has an elite power profile, and the skills match the production so far in his young career. With the addition of Yonder Alonso and the retention of Jose Abreu, there is not a spot at first for Palka. Based on the depth chart, Palka is slotted in to start the year in left field and should be able to retain this for the whole year. Eloy Jimenez is more likely to kick Jon Jay out of a spot first, and the Sox do not have much else to push him with this campaign. This means that owners can count on drafting a starting outfielder, making this is a definite value buy. Expect 30 plus homers with playing time, and the .24o batting average should be a floor for 2019 with even more time to develop an approach versus top-flight pitching. The only risk of playing time loss is the move to a platoon role if Palka struggles versus lefties, as he did at times last year. Even then, the long side of the platoon still accounts for 75% of ABs, so there will be time to produce. 

Despite the label as a power-only player, Palka's power has a higher ceiling than most on the team. Team context should allow Palka to play out the season to see if they have a diamond in the rough. Fantasy owners drafting him at 311 who have that diamond will not be disappointed.

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