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NL-Only Deep League Draft Targets

Objectively, deep-league AL or NL-only fantasy baseball is the best format to play this summer. For one, NL-only leagues were the original formats of fantasy baseball. With both an expanded and limited player pool, the unique challenges of balancing depth with team need come to the fore. While this writer might be in the minority, I believe the unique challenges make more a better experience. Even for readers who do not prefer league-specific drafts, knowing those names that sit just off prospect boards, draft lists, and preview guides is a boon when an injury hits or a player struggles out of the gate.

Why should players investigate deep league formats? First, it gives all owners a chance to get to know the next crop of unheralded players that will make their appearance in the Majors in the next few years. Being in on prospects in fun, but knowing that soft-tossing lefty at Double-A who breaks in, and plays a vital role down the stretch? That is where the real excitement is. Second, deep leagues reward owners who do their homework, dig into the numbers and take risks, hoping they pay off. Targeting a player, taking them for a dollar in the auction, and sitting on them for three months to see that player lead a team to a title is one of the best feelings in fantasy sports.

Lucky for Rotoballer readers, some of that homework is done for you here. Read along for the All-Star team of under-the-radar stars that can help owners win their NL-only leagues this summer.

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C - Taylor Davis, Chicago Cubs

13 total games with the Cubs last year does not inspire much confidence, but a track record of success in the minors bodes well for this backstop. Davis will begin this year as a 29-year-old, so the chances for a breakthrough are narrowing, but he has been a high-average bat so far in his professional career. Last campaign, at Triple-A Iowa, he slashed .275/.348/.360 with four homers and 41 RBI in 107 games.

While he does not provide much offensively other than the batting line, he does rate out well with the glove, making him a viable backup for the Cubs this season as the need arises. In that case, the line-up context is a key selling point, as he should be able to score a few runs to justify his spot in the line-up. Davis is MLB ready but needs a spot to open to secure and earn a job. This is an excellent target in deep leagues, or as a backup in two-catcher formats. Catching is so shallow this year that any batting upside is worth the target.


1B/OF - Rangel Ravelo, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are Ravelo’s third organization in his professional career, and the results have been there to earn a call-up this season. At Triple-A, last campaign, Ravelo slashed .308/.392/.487 with 13 homers and 57 runs. Listed as primarily a first baseman, he can also play a bit in the outfield, offering a nice right-handed bat for a team in the National League. The issue is that he will never play well enough to stay in the outfield, hence why he is listed here in the positional rankings.

Ravelo also might lack the raw power to play at first in a starting spot, but has shown the contact skills to be a key piece in a platoon role at the least. The other plus in the profile is the plate skills, with a 0.86 BB:K line this past year. Add all this to excellent baserunning skills for the position, and Ravelo looks to be the ideal target in deep leagues if he can get a route to playing time.


2B/3B/SS - Kevin Kramer, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kramer struggled to a .135 batting average in 21 games with the Pirates last year, but owners should not be scared away by the small sample. Earlier in the year, at Triple-A, Kramer posted a .311/.365/.492 slash with 15 homers and 13 steals. This is the type of production that owners are hoping he can carry over to Pittsburgh, especially at a middle infield spot. The knock so far has been the K rate, as even in the minors he averaged no better than a 24% mark. For a non-power hitter this is not a good sign, but still, Kramer showed the ability to get on base and hit for average, meaning he limits outs in the field. This is fueled by a .392 BABIP in the minors hinting at the overall luck in the batting profile.

While Kramer might no longer be the top prospect that some had thought, the loss of the prospect hunters is a win for deep leaguers. Kramer has flashed the skills to be a solid, bat-first 2B, who with small adjustments could unlock all the potential that evaluators know is there. Buying low on Kramer, at an ADP of 737, could mean buying into the heir-apparent to departing Josh Harrison.


3B/1B - Josh Fuentes, Colorado Rockies

Fuentes is in a weird spot developmentally, as he is ready to play for the Rockies skill-wise, but is blocked by strong starters at the Major League level. Still, he is good enough right now to contribute, so if there is an opening, will be the first to get that shot and is worth owning on that risk. Fuentes will also be useful to hold for deep leaguers, as he fits the profile of a prospect that could be dealt at the deadline for another starter if the Rockies are still in the hunt. At Triple-A last season, Fuentes slashed .327/.354/.517 with 14 homers and three steals.

Clearly, the bat plays, but there might not be enough power to solidify a starting role at third unless that spot is in Colorado. Fuentes also gets good grades for his fielding, with the arm being above average. This is no Nolan Arenado, but the floor is too good to pass up, and even if owners need to wait for a spot to open, the wait will be worth the payoff.


SS/2B/3B - Ildemaro Vargas, Arizona Diamondbacks

Vargas seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the Chris Owings move to Kansas City and should start on the bench for Arizona to begin the season. While he has been a productive hitter at Triple-A for two years in a row, Vargas has not had a real chance to prove himself with the Diamondbacks. Over two seasons, Vargas has only played 26 total games at the Majors. Still, he has established himself with a .311 batting average in 2017, and .312 in 2018 at Triple-A, meaning there is not much else to prove. He also does not make outs at the plate, with back-to-back seasons of a K rate below eight percent.

Vargas has demonstrated double-digit speed, but owners should not expect more than 15 steals on the high end. With little to no power in the profile, Vargas still projects as a plus defender with contact skills to make him more valuable than his current 750 ADP.


OF - Tyrone Taylor, Milwaukee Brewers

After missing most of 2017 due to injury, Taylor did enough in 2018 to be added to the Milwaukee 40-man roster this winter. There are questions about where he plays once he makes it to the team, but the offensive profile alone should be worth the investment. Even taking into account the park factors in Colorado Springs, Taylor’s 2018 was a great rebound after some struggles previously. More specifically, in 119 games, he slugged .278/.321/.504 with 20 homers and 13 steals. Over his time in professional baseball, Taylor has slugged well, and shown the ability to chip in with speed and power, but the batting average has lagged.

The recent success is believable when taking into context that he dropped his K rate from 18.9% in 2017 to 15.4% this season. Even more, the glove will play in center, and with the departure of Keon Broxton, there is a spot on the shuttle between the Brewers outfield and Colorado Springs. Taylor has the skills to make the most of that, and take over in center when Lorenzo Cain is moved to the corner. For owners who are not suffering from prospect fatigue, Taylor is a name to jump in on.


OF - Keon Broxton, New York Mets

Recently traded to the Mets, Broxton moves from being blocked by an All-Star to a real chance to make the team in a key role out of Spring Training. His current ADP is 625, which might change with the transaction, so owners should buy while they still have a chance. The key selling point for Broxton was the hype coming off a strong 2017 that fell apart with a disappointing 2018 season. This means that the stock is low, and like any good Wall Street trader, that is when owners need to buy, buy, buy.

In 51 games with Milwaukee last season, Broxton posted a slash of .179/.281/.410, but did chip in four homers and five steals in 51 games. The 2017 line was much better with a .220/.299/.420 slash complimented by 20 homers and 21 steals. Entering 2019, the ceiling is perhaps a combination of the two campaigns, with useful contributions to the counting numbers, but a sub .240 batting average as well. Still, this is the type of buy-low that NL owners need to be in on in deep leagues, and the injury issues that affect New York only open up more chances for playing time.


OF - Anthony Garcia, San Francisco Giants

Garcia, while productive, was stuck behind a stacked St. Louis and Oakland outfield for the past few seasons. Now, a move across the Bay opens up a chance to earn some playing time. At Triple-A with Oakland last year, Garcia slashed .254/.357/.479 with 25 homers and 91 RBI. The power is the main selling point here, and while the park might hurt that a bit, Garcia is a right-hander, so the impact is not as profound. What also stands out is that for a slugger he does not strike out, as in 2018 he posted an 18.9 K%. Add to that a 11.5 BB%, and the profile looks like one that will translate nicely into a platoon role for a rebuilding club.

Garcia has flashed some speed in the past, but that is extra to what owners can expect in the short term. Unless the Giants add another piece to bolster the outfield, a trio of Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar, and Mac Williamson might not keep Garcia from a spot for long.


P - Kyle McGowin, Washington Nationals

While he did make it to the Nationals at the end of last season, blister issues kept him from really fighting for a sustained role in 2018. Still, McGowin has been a top-quality command pitcher, with only 1.54 BB/9 at Triple-A last year, and 2.19 BB/9 at Double-A earlier in the year. The only knock on last season was a slight drop in the stuff as he moved up the ladder, with the K/9 dropping from 10.58 to 7.52. And yet, over his career he has been a swing and miss arm, even without elite velocity.

McGowin can mix in three different pitches that are at least average, and a slider that flashes plus. McGowin has the upside of an SP4, but even in the bullpen would be an effective multi-innings eater, helping fantasy teams with ratios and stealing wins. With the back-end of the rotation being in a bit of flux and injury risks in Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, owning the Washington starting pitching depth in the high minors is a good play this season. Especially the options with elite command like McGowin.


P - Zac Gallen, Miami Marlins

Gallen finished off a strong year at Triple-A last campaign with an ERA of 3.65 and eight wins. And yet, the significant gain was a spike in stuff, moving from a 5.30 K/9 with the Cardinals organization in 2017 to a 9.18 K/9 with the Marlins. Gallen mixes in four 50-grade pitches and has shown average control to support those offerings. He will never be a top-of-the-rotation style arm but could produce as an SP4. The change in stuff since he moved to Miami was attributed to a spike in velocity as well, so if that keeps up, the floor might move as well.

The main reason to target Gallen this year is that Miami has no reason not to keep him as a starter, see what he has, and then move him if needed. This means that owners can buy on a potential starter, but not have to pay that price. Expect to see him near mid-season, if not earlier. Gallen will be an easy buy-low play if the stuff continues to be effective.


P - Matt Pierpont, Colorado Rockies

Pierpont is a hard-throwing reliever who does not give up homers, making him a perfect fit for the Colorado bullpen. Finishing 2018 at Double-A, Pierpont posted an ERA of 1.95 with 32 saves in 55 appearances. Add that to an 11.55 K/9 mark, and this looks to be the profile of the next call-up to Colorado in light of other bullpen struggles. The other key mark is that he has a low 5.4 HR/FB%, which means that Coors should not kill the gains to date.

For owners willing to sit on a bullpen stash, this is the profile that should be appealing. Currently, he is not being drafted in leagues for obvious reasons but will pay off for ratios in NL-only leagues. Do not draft and expect saves, but if the team struggles, there is an outside chance that he boots Wade Davis from the job. Or, at least he has a better chance than Scott Oberg.

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