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ADP Champ or Chump - Nicholas Castellanos and Justin Upton

After the third tier of outfielders, fantasy owners have a few options before they find themselves left with only OF3-type candidates. Former teammates, Nicholas Castellanos and Justin Upton are the 24th and 25th outfielders going in drafts. They’re separated by 10 picks in ADP, at 87 and 97 respectively.

Upton has the advantage in history and floor. He’s played 145 games and hit 26 home runs every year since 2013. He also has the advantage of hitting alongside Mike Trout and should have the offensive power of Shohei Ohtani as well. By comparison, Castellanos will be 27 on opening day and just put up a markedly superior season.

As the draft season approaches, do these outfielders offer similar value to fantasy owners?

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Nicholas Castellanos (OF, DET) – ADP: 87

As the Tigers have rebuilt, many fantasy managers have written off Detroit players. As Miguel Cabrera has struggled, the offense has become something of a black hole. Nicholas Castellanos’ efforts have been largely dismissed as those of a respectable player on a bad team. His agent's recent request for a trade could change things but for now, he remains a Tiger.

That sentiment seems to be causing most owners to ignore Castellanos’ quality production and potential, while most commentary dwells on his limited upside and supposedly poor on-base skills. However, in 2018, Castellanos was an All-Star who earned his spot with a 23 HR, 88 runs, 89 RBI, two steals, and a .298 batting average. When he qualified at third base, those were fairly good numbers. In 2019, 23 home runs with 177 R+RBI just aren’t that impressive for an outfielder.

Even though Castellanos hit fewer homers than 2017, the overall season was measurably better because he improved both his walk rate and batted-ball profile. That allowed him to be on base more often and to make stronger contact. Fantasy owners have to ask, is the development believable?

Skeptics will point to Castellanos’ .361 BABIP as unsustainable and expect him to regress all the way back to his .313 BABIP from 2017. However, Castellanos modified his plate approach in 2018. From 2013 to 2017, Castellanos swung at too many pitches in the bottom half of the zone. Furthermore, he was swinging at pitches that were on the outer half rather than the inner half. In 2018, he reversed that trend and laid off more pitches that were down, away, or both — even when those pitches were in the zone. Instead, he swung at more middle-in pitches that tended to be in the top half of the zone, which is where Castellanos hits the ball best.

The change is similar to the one Javier Baez made last year: he’s swinging almost as frequently as he was before, but he’s choosing better pitches to swing at. On the whole, Castellanos’ Swing rate and O-Swing rate look similar to prior seasons. However, a closer look at the 2018 data reveals a more coherent heat map for Castellanos’ swings.

The batted-ball profile also supports that conclusion and that Castellanos’ improvement is sustainable. Among players with 150 batted-ball events, Castellanos had the 36th-highest rate of barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA) at 7.8%. Additionally, Castellanos produced an xBA of .294 and xSLG of .522. The right-hander actually hit .294 and slugged .500. By all indications, his performance last season was entirely justified by the contact he actually made in game action.

Despite being the 13th-best outfielder in 2017, Steamer projects Castellanos to be the 23rd-best outfielder this season. That projection will undervalue him if he maintains the same approach as last season and gets any additional support from Jeimer Candelario, Miguel Cabrera, and Niko Goodrum this season, all of which seems possible if not likely.

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP of 87)


Justin Upton (OF, LAA) – ADP: 97

Justin Upton has been a major leaguer since 2008, he’s just 31 years young, and he’s officially reached journeyman status with his fifth MLB team. Next month he’s releasing a solo cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’”

Upton has struggled with issues of month-to-month inconsistency, which has made owners mistrust his strongest attribute: his year-to-year consistency. Since 2014, Upton has played at least 150 games, batted .246, hit 26 HRs, scored 77 runs, driven in 81 RBI, and accrued 8 SB. Those are his category worsts for the last five seasons. His average stat line has been .259 BA, 30.1 HR, 84.6 R, 92.8 RBI, and 11.6 SB. Those numbers would make him a top-70 player this season.

It’s too much to expect Upton to generate 11 steals, but the rest of his averages are well within his reach in 2019. Among players with 150 batted-ball events, Upton had the 29th-highest rate of barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA) at 8.3%, and his average exit velocity on balls in the air was 18th-best (96.8 MPH).

Upton’s xwOBA for 2018 was .352, right in line with his actual .348 wOBA, and good enough to rank 52nd right behind Trevor Story. What was Upton’s average wOBA since 2014? That’s right, exactly .352.

All of that information is what makes evaluating Upton at pick 97 so difficult. At the moment, there are few outfielders available later who will likely outproduce him. In particular, it’s difficult to recommend Upton at 97, when Yasiel Puig is being drafted at pick 105 and Michael Conforto is being drafted at pick 107.

It seems assured that Upton will fall in many drafts, just as he did last year. Upton could show up to spring training in “the best shape of his life” and lead the Cactus League in home runs, and he’d still get ignored by the fantasy-baseball hype machine. Expect many owners to prefer Conforto, Puig, Mallex Smith, Eloy Jimenez, and Victor Robles to old-man Upton, and that is where Justin Upton’s true value will reside. Unless a league has a J-Up fanatic or Angels’ homer, expect Upton to fall.

In fact, that process has already started. In the last month, Upton has already fallen five draft spots. As a player, Upton belongs in the same tier as Puig and Conforto. In an ideal situation, fantasy owners probably want to take the last one available, but drafts are unpredictable, and owners will have to make a judgment call at around pick one hundred. Even at 97 though, Upton is a virtual guarantee to return positive or at least neutral value to owners. His reliable production at a moment in the draft when it becomes increasingly difficult to find reliability is perhaps the best argument for ranking him as a Champ even before he starts to slide in ADP.

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP of 97)

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