As much as we all love to find that diamond in the rough who exceeds expectations in the late rounds of our fantasy drafts, we loathe drafting a guy, expecting great things from him and being let down. It’s inevitable that it will happen to some fantasy owners. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid it, but we can certainly try by attempting to identify some potential fantasy busts for 2017.
This year’s crop of American League outfielders feature a lot of players with high expectations, which unfortunately means that some of them will disappoint. It happened last year with guys like Jose Bautista and Alex Gordon, and is sure to happen again with some outfielders that are drafted with high fantasy expectations.
My list of three players I wouldn’t depend on this year includes one youngster who seems ready to put it all together and a pair of veterans whose best days are behind them.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!
AL Outfield Bust Candidates
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
It seems unfair to predict a guy to bust when he has fewer than 500 major league plate appearances under his belt and has yet to break out at the major league level. But we must consider draft position and expectations when evaluating a player’s bust potential. 23-year-old Buxton fits the mold here despite his limited major league results to date.
He heads into 2017 with the Twins’ starting center field job in hand after slashing .225/.284/.430 with 10 homers and 10 steals in 92 games in 2016. He was a big time prospect after being drafted second overall in 2012, while expectations remain high for him to fill into the on-base and speed guy that he was in the minor leagues. However, what really jumps out from his major league performance suggesting he is not quite there yet is his 35.6 percent strikeout rate; it was the second highest in the majors last season among players with at least 300 plate appearances. Only his teammate Miguel Sano struck out more frequently. That’s the kind of thing that is going to hold a young player back.
Buxton still has tremendous upside and was averaged a .380 OBP in the minor leagues, though it wasn’t on the strength of walks. He’s a player who needs to make more contact, putting the ball in play and using his speed to get on base. He could make some of those adjustments and show improvement this year, but it probably won’t be enough to justify counting on him as an everyday fantasy outfielder, which many fantasy owners will do anyway on name recognition and talent.
Rajai Davis, Oakland Athletics
Power and speed are a great combination in a fantasy player, and Rajai Davis provided both of those with the Cleveland Indians last season. In 495 plate appearances, he hit a career-high 12 homers and swiped a league-leading 43 bases. Of course, Davis has been around for a while – this most recent year was his age-35 season, and now he’s headed to the league’s premiere pitchers' park, having signed a one-year deal with the Oakland A’s over the offseason.
The move from the more hitter-friendly Progressive Field to the O.co Coliseum for 81 home games will put a damper on the power he flashed in 2016. He’s not going to get drafted for his power anyway, despite the theatrics he provided in Game 7 of the World Series. He is one of the top speedsters in the league, having swiped 30+ bags seven out of the last eight seasons. Playing time and getting on base are important for his stolen base opportunities. The first one shouldn’t be a problem, as the rebuilding A’s signed him to be their everyday center field and there’s no obvious up-and-coming prospect pushing for his roster spot yet. However, getting on base at an adequate rate may be a little more challenging.
Davis has never been a big walks guy – his walk rate of 6.7 percent in 2016 was pretty close to his career average of 5.7. He’s going to have to hit his way on base, and he saw his strikeout rate go up and his contact rate go down last season. That doesn’t bode well for him getting on base more in 2017, which will seemingly limit his stealing opportunities and attempts. Fantasy owners should expect a drop in both homers and stolen bases for 2017, making him more of a fringe roster guy than a fantasy player to count on for the long haul.
Matt Holliday, New York Yankees
Another veteran switching teams for the 2017 season is Matt Holliday. On the surface it would appear that he’s moving to a better situation for this stage in his career. After spending parts of eight seasons in St. Louis, he signed a one-year free agent deal with the New York Yankees, and is expected to be the team’s everyday designated hitter. For a guy going into his age-37 season, a full-time DH gig seems like a best case scenario, as it would presumably keep him fresh and in the lineup more often.
Holliday has hit 20+ home runs in 10 of his last 11 seasons, so there is consistency that fantasy owners have come to depend on from him. But he is getting up there in years, and his last two seasons were injury-shortened. He also posted career lows in average (.246) and OBP (.322) in 2016, and as a right-handed hitter, he’s not going to get a big boost from Yankee Stadium. It’s a fine home run park from both sides of the plate, but park factors suggest it’s tough on right handed hitters when they don’t hit the ball out of the park. Holliday’s average was already at a career low and his wRC+ at 109 was his lowest since his rookie year.
There’s a perception among many that Holliday is a sleeper because he’s moving to the A.L. East and has a chance to DH, but I see too many things heading downhill to be optimistic about him being anything other than a bust in 2017, particularly when it comes to health. Take your chances elsewhere.