Hitters I Like More Than The Dynasty Guru
One of my favorite fantasy baseball-related days of the year is when Bret Sayre comes out with an updated “top 500” list. The task of ranking 500 players must be overwhelming at times, with multiple factors to consider, especially when you start considering prospects. Ultimately, it’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all list. Owners at different points in the competing/rebuilding cycle will value the same prospect quite differently. A rebuilding owner should prioritize ceiling over proximity while a competing owner has the flexibility to do either. From my perspective as an owner competing in my dynasty league, these are a few hitters I place more value on than our own Dynasty Guru. In fact, all of these hitters were left off the list completely.
Engel broke out in 2014 with a season that was highlighted by 62 stolen bases. In case you haven’t heard, stolen bases are on the decline in major league baseball, making an elite speedster more valuable than your intuition might suggest. Unlike other out-of-nowhere stolen base explosions – here’s looking at you Garin Cecchini – Engel is considered to have plus-plus speed. Scouting reports on him are mixed, with John Sickels being the highest on him. Baseball Prospectus projects him to be a fourth outfielder and mlb.com splits the difference, praising his tools and improved hitting mechanics while noting his less than ideal strikeout rate. His strikeout rate in 2016 was a slight improvement over 2015’s, declining from 23 percent to 21 percent. Each report on Engel noted an improvement in his hitting mechanics over the course of 2015 which lead me to be more optimistic that he might be developing into a legitimate major league hitter and perhaps tap into some of his raw power and turn it into game power. A look at his splits suggest some validity to this statement as his OPS for June-July-August improved dramatically to the tune of .587-.769-.862 and he, for the first time, hit more fly balls than ground balls. The capper to his season was obviously winning the AFL MVP with a dominating effort that included a slash line of .403/.523/.642 and ten stolen bases in 19 games. A key to look for in 2016 is his strikeout rate. If it continues to improve and drop below 20 percent I would feel very confident in investing in Engel. The fact that it dropped to under 13 percent in the Arizona fall league only adds to my optimism. If your league rosters enough minor leaguers to penetrate the top-50 available minor league hitters I would recommend given Engel a chance to prove his gains are real. The worst case scenario is that you realize by July that they aren’t.
Travis is another favorite of mine. This feels a little like cheating as I have the added information from a month of spring training that was not available when the rankings came out. Of course we now know that Travis is capable of, in small samples at least, providing excellent production against major-league pitchers at times in which their motivation might reasonably be questioned. Oh, and let’s put the Paul Goldschmidt comparisons to rest. He’s not going to be the next Goldy. It’s doubtful he will ever be a fantasy stud as he’s unlikely to provide outstanding power as there is little projection left in his body, and he will likely be relegated to first base, the largest of all hurdles to hitting relevance. So what is there to like about Travis? Plenty, as long as he fits your fantasy team’s needs. All he has done at every level is hit. He’s never had an OPS below .800 and his strikeout rate was a tidy 12 percent in 2015. In a fantasy league where OPS and Ks are counted – mine does – these are two categories that do nothing but add to his value. On a team already stacked with power – mine is – Travis could serve as a nice batting average anchor. Add in context such as ballpark and lineup and Travis continues to rise in value. A projection of 15 home runs, solid ratios, and a handful of steals could make for a fairly good Eric Hosmer imposter. In an ideal world, that could happen in left field. And that’s plenty good for me.
I have previously written about Shaffer and I continue to like him for all the reasons laid out in my ISO article. Now we also have the fact that the playoff hopeful Rays have first base manned by Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce. Sad! Shaffer could get time not only at first base, his natural position of third base, but also in the outfield. He offers legit power and could easily hit 25-30 home runs annually but it will come with a price. Strikeouts and the low batting average that usually accompanies it will always be an issue. He is off to the hottest of hot starts in Triple-A so far with a slash line of .529/.636/.706 and an encouraging strikeout rate of just 18 percent. I am well aware the label “small sample size” doesn’t even come close to describing 22 at-bats but it, along with his walk rate and power, are a few things to keep an eye on during the season’s first month. He’s got a ways to go before proving anything, but keep in mind that strikeout rate stabilizes very quickly. As long as your league or your team aren’t going to be heavily penalized by a potential strikeout drag, Shaffer might provide a nice shot-in-the-arm for your power-based statistics.
The last player on my list just improved his standing by beating out a big-name player on a high profile team. So maybe beating out Pablo Sandoval isn’t as impressive sounded as it might have seemed at this time in 2015, but the fact that the Red Sox were willing to reward Travis Shaw with the starting third base position shows how much faith they have in him. Even if they were down on Sandoval, there was some incentive to play him to not only justify the contract but also to save whatever trade value he might have had. Either way, Travis Shaw is a player that deserves your fantasy attention. For one thing, he’s starting in the major leagues right now and the contextual environment the Red Sox provides adds to his value. Throughout the minors he generally averaged around 20 home runs per 550 at-bats which indicates a decent floor in the event that his performance last year, which would prorate to 25-30 home runs, was luck driven. Whatever the reason, Shaw improved each of his last two full seasons in the minors and last year where it matters most, the majors. It’s not a lock that he keeps a job as the Red Sox still have a huge financial incentive to restore Sandoval’s value. I also take pause at the oddly successful batting line he posted against lefties – same sided – compared to that against righties. The statline against righties was a lot more representative of his minor league career which suggests small sample size at play. But it’s still impossible to ignore how good Shaw has been since he was called up to the majors last season. Even if you don’t believe in him, it’s worth it to give his performance to date a chance to prove itself.
Hopefully you find this list to be useful in identifying a few potentially undervalued dynasty assets. Next week I will take a look a few pitchers who I feel are undervalued in top-500 dynasty players.