If you play in a deeper league, you will quickly discover that your goal in the draft is different. Standard formats do not ask you to worry about playing time for anyone except your sleepers, as there are plenty of starting players in MLB to fill every slot in the fantasy league. Try an NL-only or AL-only league, however, and nearly every team is stuck with a non-starting player in their starting lineup.
Consider outfielders as an example. Assuming a 10 team NL-Only league with five OF slots, the league wants 50 players. Each of the 15 NL clubs can only have three starting outfielders, however, producing a supply of 45 players. Platoons and outfielders slotted into other fantasy positions make this calculus even worse. You end up drafting players for playing time alone as a result. Nick Markakis becomes a good player!
Don't worry, we're not going to discuss Nick Markakis. Instead, we'll look at his teammate Ender Inciarte and defensive wizard Kevin Kiermaier. Both have the defensive chops to stay in the lineup even if they slump, helping out in deeper formats. They also may have the upside to matter in standard leagues, and they're almost free to acquire!Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
The Fantasy Jury is Out
Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) ADP: 210.5
Honestly, I'm not sure why Inciarte's ADP is so late. Coming off a .291/.351/.381 line with 16 steals, a mere repeat of last season would be profitable for his owners. He is scheduled to leadoff this year as well. While the Braves may not have the best offense, Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp should have no problem plating Inciarte 90+ times.
I did a little digging to see if I missed something, but advanced metrics suggest a .290 hitter. Inciarte maintains his batting average by striking out almost never (11.8 percent K%, 4.4 percent SwStr%) and hitting plenty of ground balls (49.4 percent GB%). Inciarte's plus speed allows him to post favorable BABIPs on his worm killers (.260 last year), which combines with a line drive swing (23.7 percent LD% last year, 23 percent career) to give him a career BABIP of .324. There are fewer safer batting average bets.
The steals also seem reliable. His seven CS were a little high, but a rebuilding club like the Braves is less likely to give a base thief the red light than a contender. Inciarte may even have SB upside, as he pilfered over 40 bags in each of his last two full years in the minor leagues (46 and 43). He probably won't steal that many, but it is possible. If he does, he's an elite outfielder.
Ender's Game is batting average, runs, and steals in that order. His 26.8 percent FB% and 2.5 percent career HR/FB rule out power regardless of how his new stadium plays, and leadoff guys seldom rack up RBI. Still, you could do much worse than a three category producer at the end of your draft. His batting average can mitigate the adverse effects of owning somebody like Mark Trumbo or Khris Davis, and everyone seems to be chasing steals this year.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TB) ADP: 188.8
This dude can play defense, to the point that everyone assumes he is a defensive specialist. He sort of is, but his offense translates very well to the fantasy game. He hit .246/.331/.410 last year with 12 homers and 21 steals despite missing significant time due to injury. The upside here is 20/30.
Kiermaier does not have elite pop as measured by exit velocity or Barrels, but last year he started hitting a ton of balls into the air (37.6 percent FB% vs. 29.3 percent the year before). If he continues to strike so many airborne baseballs, he won't need to do better than last year's 11.1 percent HR/FB to satisfy his owners power-wise. His HR/FB was just 8.4 percent in 2015, but an increase in pulled fly balls (from 21.9 percent in 2015 to 29.6 percent last year) makes it easier to trust the HR/FB spike.
Kiermaier's speed is also trending in the right direction. His success rate last season was awesome, as he had only three CS all season. He also stole 15 bags in the second half, suggesting that he may feel like running more often in the upcoming campaign. His power keeps pitchers honest, allowing Kiermaier to translate his plus eye (27.9 percent O-Swing% last season) to a 9.7 percent BB% and plenty of opportunities to steal.
An increase in last season's .278 BABIP could help generate SB opportunities too, but it seems unlikely. His FB% spike cost him a few BABIP points, and he popped up with alarming frequency (25 percent IFFB%). His ground balls should be a little more productive this year (.233 last year against a career average of .260), but Kiermaier will be a slight drain on your batting average.
A .250 batting average is a price well worth paying for a 20/20 season, especially if it comes with counting stats. Tampa hit Kiermaier second for 222 of his 414 PAs last year, allowing him to rack up runs and RBI. He usually hit eighth when he wasn't hitting second, but a good lineup slot is a possibility for him. Add in the joy you experience from your fantasy player being on the highlight reel every single night, and you'll be glad you invested in Kiermaier.