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NL Outfielders - Draft Avoids for 2021

MLB players have reported for Spring Training and plenty of big offseason moves have taken place; it's beginning to feel a lot like baseball season! Big-league players are not the only ones getting ready for the start of the season at this time, though. Fantasy players are now putting the work in to prepare for one of the most fun aspects of fantasy sports, draft day.

One of the biggest efforts of draft prep is to comb over each position to identify potential draft values as well as potential draft busts. The abbreviated 60-game regular season in 2020 presented some interesting player performance trends relative to other seasons, so sifting through the data will be even more important to prep for this season.

I will be taking a look at National League outfielders who look like they could bust for this exercise. Some of these players will be mentioned as potential busts due to anticipated performance versus ADP, and some will be mentioned because their underlying 2020 numbers simply do not seem sustainable. To be clear, these players could end up having great seasons or perform well within the expectations of their ADP (I have miscalled player performance plenty of times, and I am not the only one!). However, at this point in Spring Training, these NL outfielders stick out as ones to avoid at their current ADP.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Michael Conforto, New York Mets

ADP: 74

This first player is an example of being defined as a potential bust due to underperformance relative to ADP, rather than potential overall performance. Michael Conforto has quietly been a solid fantasy contributor over the past several seasons, but 2020 was a highlight season. Conforto put together a slash line of .322/.412/.515 with nine home runs, 31 RBI, and three stolen bases. As such, he is currently being drafted at pick 74 overall. While it is understandable that fantasy players may be high on him given his performance, there are a few reasons why I think he likely won't return pick-74 value.

First, I simply do not think Conforto will hit as well as he did in 2020. His career batting average is .259, which he massively exceeded in 2020. This could be due in part to a career-high .412 BABIP, whereas his career mark is .305. This BABIP also seems unsustainable given its large departure from average. Further, Conforto achieved such a high BABIP without hitting the ball hard and without having above-average speed. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2020 were both in the bottom half of baseball, and his sprint speed was just below league average.

This brings me to my second concern. Prior to 2020, Conforto had hit at least 27 HR for three consecutive seasons. However, he managed to do so without ever having an average exit velocity above 89.2 MPH (his 2020 value was 88.4 MPH) or a hard-hit rate above 43.4% (his 2020 value was 36.6%). His career launch angle is a decent 11.9 degrees, but he just does not profile as a power hitter. The Mets' improved lineup will provide plenty of runs scored and RBI opportunities, but I forsee some negative regression for Conforto's batting average and question his HR potential.

Consider a reasonable best-case projection for Conforto in which he bats .260 with 30 HR (again, this is based on his previous performance, not what I necessarily think will happen given his batted-ball profile) and 85 RBI. Per Nick Mariano's Expected Draft Values research, these numbers would be expected from pick 90-100 overall. Of course, Conforto could exceed these numbers; however, given what his numbers look like under the hood, I think reaching for him at pick 75 would make him a bust for fantasy players.


Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks

ADP: 159

We now move on to a player who I think could bust both in terms of ADP as well as general performance. Daulton Varsho is an intriguing prospect for the Diamondbacks; he is projected to have a nice power/speed combo and can play catcher in addition to the outfield. Varsho saw time both behind the plate and in the outfield in 2020, posting a less-than-impressive .188/.287/.366 slash line with three HR, nine RBI, three stolen bases, and a 28.7% strikeout rate in his first 115 plate appearances. Obviously, this was a small sample size, and Varsho's fantasy value as a catcher who can steal bases would boost his overall value considerably.

The problem here is that Varsho's role with the team is currently unknown and he did not perform well, yet is being drafted at pick 159, ahead of plenty of more-established outfielders. Let's take a closer look into why I think Varsho is currently too risky of a pick.

As I mentioned, Varsho simply did not perform well in his first big league experience. This is not all that surprising, given that Varsho completely skipped Triple-A from 2019 to 2020. He did show off all of his skills in 2019 at AA, but the lack of experience in developmental ball likely affected his play in the big leagues. Digging deeper, Varsho did not hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 86.2 MPH and a hard-hit rate of 38.2%. He also had a large uppercut swing, with an average launch angle of 18.4 degrees. Not only does this not pair well with hitting the ball softly, but it also negates Varsho's speed weapon; you can't out-run a pop-up or fly ball.

I do think that Varsho is a very intriguing fantasy player from a dynasty perspective. If he can eventually bring what he did in Double-A to the Diamondbacks, then he would definitely be a higher-end catcher option and a solid outfield option as well. However, given the uncertainty of his role with the Diamondbacks in 2021 and his poor 2020 performance, it seems clear that Varsho is not a safe bet. As such, I would steer clear of him at pick 159 for the 2021 season.


Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks

ADP: 257

My final potential bust is a teammate of Varsho's. Kole Calhoun continued to show his newfound power in 2020, posting a .226/.338/.526 slash line with an impressive 16 HR and 40 RBI. Calhoun is currently being drafted as a late-round pick at 257, but he is going ahead of several intriguing outfielders in both the NL and AL. His power potential is likely behind his current ADP, but here's why I wouldn't count on it to come to fruition again.

The odd thing about Calhoun is that his power has come later in his career; prior to 2019, Calhoun had not hit at least 20 HR since 2015, and he has only ever done that twice in his career. 2020 was even more of an outlier, as his HR/FB rate hit a career-high 28.6%, compared to a career 15.2% mark. His 2020 average launch angle did increase from 14.9 degrees to 17 degrees, but his overall batted-ball profile was merely average, with an average exit velocity in the 61st percentile of baseball and his hard-hit rate in the 43rd. Further, his barrels/batted-ball event actually dipped slightly, from 12.3% in 2019 to 12.1%. Combine that with the fact that Calhoun hasn't hit above .250 since 2016 and that he will hit in a little-changed offense that performed poorly overall in 2020, and there isn't a ton to be hopeful about.

All this being said, Calhoun could defy the warning signs and mash 30 HR in 2021, which would make him a great pick at 257. The bust potential here is relatively balanced given his current ADP, but with players like Raimel Tapia, Manuel Margot, Mitch Haniger, and David Peralta going 20 to 30 picks later, I think there's just as much of, if not more of a chance to snag a potential impact outfielder with a longer track record of success.

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