If you’re like me, you love the idea of infusing your Fantasy Baseball roster with potential upside. Young baseball players and potential upside often go hand in hand, but it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, many analysts expected rookie starting pitchers like Jose Berrios and Lucas Giolito to have breakout seasons, but instead Michael Fulmer and Sean Manaea emerged as pitchers who appear to have bright futures ahead of them.
I expected Randall Grichuk and Michael Conforto to have big Fantasy seasons in 2016, but instead both got sent back down to the minor leagues at one point during the season. Instead, it was Andrew Benintendi, David Dahl, Ryon Healy and Alex Bregman who made their presence felt in Fantasy Baseball circles last season.
While there is still plenty of hope for Berrios, Giolito, Grichuk and Conforto, their setbacks show how risky it can be to put too much emphasis on betting on potential upside in your Fantasy drafts. It truly is a gamble. Here are five coming of age studs to consider at the draft.
Speaking of gambling and betting on upside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Trea Turner, who was taken with the 10th pick overall in the recent Mixed LABR Fantasy Baseball draft. He’s a great talent who hit .342, with 13 home runs and 33 steals in 307 at-bats, but will he be 2017’s version of Carlos Correa? You remember Correa, right? He was widely drafted in the first round last season, and although he posted some good stats, he didn’t reward Fantasy owners with first-round value.
I expect Turner to have a nice season, but some regression is almost unavoidable. Although he has a history of high BABIPs, it’s going to be almost impossible for Turner to repeat his .388 mark from last season. His 16.7 HR/FB ratio will also be difficult to sustain over the course of a 162-game season. I project that he’ll post a .290 to .300 batting average, his home run total will be in the high teens, and he’ll steal up to 40 bases.
Batting at the top of the potent Nationals lineup, the one area that he should excel in is the runs scored category. With Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy batting behind him, Turner could easily reach 100 runs scored this season. Turner’s multi-position eligibility raises his Fantasy value, and I’m not going to fault you for drafting him, but I’m not willing to take a player who hasn’t yet played a full season in the big leagues in the first round.
The following four players had very good major league debut seasons in 2016. Although not all of them qualify as rookies for 2017, each has less than a full season’s experience. Their 2017 offensive projections are remarkably similar. Three were taken between the sixth and eighth rounds of the 2017 mixed LABR draft and the fourth, Healy, was taken in the 14th round. All four of these second-year players are likely to provide you with good Fantasy production. However, based on where Healy is going in drafts and what he is capable of, I think he gives you the best value. Read on and make your own determination.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox
When scouts describe the 22-year-old Benintendi, one word often used is polished. There are certainly a lot of things to like about Benintendi. The 5-foot, 10-inches, 170-pound Benintendi doesn’t have the physical attributes we’re used to seeing in modern day power hitters, but he has the skill set that could help him develop into a perennial 20 home run, 20 stolen base Fantasy producer. Though relatively small in stature, Benintendi generates his power through the use of his strong hands and wrists. Benintendi is a good contact hitter with excellent bat speed and tremendous balance at the plate. He can also hit for power to the opposite field, a factor that should help the left-handed hitting Benintendi take advantage of Fenway Park’s fabled “Green Monster.”
Like all young players who have yet to play a full season in the big leagues, there are some concerns with regards to Benintendi’s ability to have a full breakout Fantasy season. We’re dealing with a small sample size (118 big league at-bats), but Benintendi’s strikeout rate nearly doubled (from 11.4 to 21.2) once he faced big league pitching. His extremely high .367 BABIP is likely to regress, and that should bring his .295 batting average down along with it. Another thing to note is that his .364 home batting average was 100 points higher than his average on the road. Again, we’re talking small sample size (28 at-bats), but Benintendi hit just .179 against big league left-handed pitching.
Despite those concerns, Benintendi has the tools to hit for average, power and steal bases, and he will likely be a highly sought after Fantasy stud for years to come. He was taken in the middle of the eighth round of the recent 15-team mixed LABR draft. Benintendi should have a good season, but just don’t expect too much from him. He’s expected to bat from the two-hole in the Boston lineup. I project a .275 to .280 batting average, upwards of 18 home runs and approximately 15 stolen bases.
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
Like Benintendi, Dahl is expected to be able to hit for average, power and also add the element of speed to his Fantasy game. He was taken at the end of sixth round of the mixed LABR draft. Dahl is a proven offensive force as evidenced by his .310/.357/.512 five-year minor league career slash line. He’s known for his good bat speed and barrel control, and he had a good uptick in his walk rate last season.
At the same time, some scouts note that his swing can get long, and Dahl’s propensity to strike out has been a bit concerning. Dahl’s strikeout rate climbed up to the mid-20 percent range as he progressed through the Rockies minor league system. He posted a 24.9 percent K rate in 222 big league at-bats last season. Dahl will obviously benefit from playing in Coors Field this season, but based on his offensive pedigree, he should be successful in most ball parks and environments.
Health is something that needs to be taken into consideration when deciding on whether or not to invest in Dahl on draft day. Dahl had a splenectomy due to a 2015 outfield collision, and he missed most of the 2013 season due to a hamstring injury. He also had an issue with knee tendinitis toward the end of last season. As for 2017, Dahl’s astronomically high .404 BABIP should come crashing back down to the .340 range that was his trademark in the minor leagues. That should cause his 2016 .315 batting average to scale down to about .280. If he gets 500 at-bats or more, Dahl should be able to club at least 20 home runs and provide you with approximately 15 stolen bases.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
Bregman got off to a slow start, getting just two hits in his first 42 at-bats last season, but he quickly adjusted to big league pitching and finished the season strong. After Sept. 1, he posted a .323/.344/.612 slash line. Bregman should be able to load up on the counting stats as he hits second in the potentially explosive Astros lineup. He has a compact swing and is a good contact hitter, but like many young players, he had issues with strikeouts once he faced major league pitching.
In fewer than two full years in the minor leagues, Bregman’s strikeout rate never reached above 14.5 percent, however, it jumped to 24.5 percent once he was promoted to the big leagues. On the other hand, his walk rate increased slightly from his Triple-A numbers last season, and he’s always had a knack for getting on base, as his .409 college career OBP suggests. Once he’s on base, he’s a legitimate threat to run. Bregman stole 38 bases for LSU in 66 games during the 2015 season in college. He’ll likely never come close to stealing that many bases in the big leagues, but his speed definitely adds to his Fantasy value.
I like what Bregman did at the end of last season, and I like his spot in the Astros lineup. I project he’ll hit in the .285 range, smack upwards of 25 home runs, drive in about 75 runs, score close to 90 of his own, and put up stolen base numbers in the lower double-digit range. Bregman was taken with the fourth pick of the sixth round of the LABR mixed draft, eight rounds earlier than Healy.
Ryon Healy, 3B, Oakland A’s
Healy might just give you the best value among this group of emerging Fantasy studs. I first recommended him in my June 28, 2016 Watch List column. Hard as I try, I may not always identify the best upcoming Fantasy superstars, but when I do, they perform like Healy.
In 269 big league at-bats last season, Healy batted .305 and hit 13 home runs. Healy had always had some pop in his bat, but a slight adjustment he made to his swing helped increase his bat speed and allowed him to get more upward trajectory on his batted balls. Of course, there are some concerns about Healy, as well.
For instance, the tweak to his swing and the advanced power numbers coincided with an increased strikeout rate. Combine that with the fact that he walked just 12 times in 283 plate appearances, and you have to wonder if opposing pitchers might not take advantage of his recent free swinging ways. The A’s might not have an explosive offense, but as their everyday third baseman who is expected to bat third, Healy should have a very good season. I see his batting average dropping a bit as last season’s .352 BABIP normalizes. He should be right around the .285 mark, with upwards of 25 home runs and 80 RBIs.
Let me know what you think. Reach out to me on Twitter @joegallina.