The 2020 fantasy baseball season, or lack thereof, shows its negative effects on the quick approaching 2021 season. Under normal circumstances, you start evaluating players at some point during the off-season based on their performance from the previous season. 2020, however, has muddied that process. We do not have as much information as we usually do to evaluate players due to small sample sizes because of the shortened season and players missing time to COVID-19 and injuries. But if you want to improve your chances of having a successful 2021 fantasy baseball campaign, you must find a way to get past this. One way to do this is to identify players that you think are going lower than their value in drafts and then make sure you take them earlier than anyone else.
138 games, 489 ABs, 78 runs, 26 doubles, 4 triples, 31 Homeruns, and 8 stolen bases. Brandon’s combines numbers in a half-season of the big leagues in 2019 and a shortened 2020. His underlying numbers put him in the top percentile going by just about any Statcast number except for his strikeout and walk rate. Both of which improved in 2020. I am going to keep this one short and direct you to his Statcast page, and you can decide for yourself- https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/brandon-lowe-664040?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb
As for me, I do see risk, but I also see a high reward, and I am taking him well above his ADP rank of 64; he is in the top 40.
Knees! He has no knees! He only has one good knee! Insert your overreactive knee joke here. Ok, there is the negative for Yordan. Now, the positives. In 2019 he hit 27 home runs, had 78 RBI’s over 87 games while maintaining a .313 BA and .412 OBP. At Triple-A in 2019, he had 23 HRs, 71 RBIs, a .343 BA, and .443 OBP. The underlying numbers backed this up. In 2019, he was in the 90 plus percentile in several Statcast batting categories, most noticeably a 17.2 percent barrel rate and 96.5 exit velocity FB/LD. Back to the knees. I think people are overreacting. I may have to eat my words, but I am disregarding the knee issue. Reports are that he is recovering well. He should also spend more time at designated hitter, giving his knees a rest. This is a potential 50 HR, .300 BA, and .400 OBP hitter. He is being drafted way too low at a Fantrax ADP rank of 77. He should have LF eligibility in 2020, and even if he turns into a DH eligible only player in the future, if he puts up those numbers, he belongs in the Top 10. I also do not see a lot of good options around him at OF in ADP. At worst, I will start looking at him after OF’s Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, who are at 38 and 39. I will not draft him any lower than 50, and I may jump up more and more on that if I am worried someone else is going to grab him first.
Keller does not get a lot of attention in fantasy due to his lack of strikeouts and a supply of other popular name young pitchers in Kansas City. But I think these two shadows are hiding another young pitcher with more time in the majors and has shown continued signs of improvement. In 2020 he had 35 strikeouts, a 1.024 WHIP, and a 2.47 ERA over 54.2 innings. On the negative side, his average fastball velocity dropped for the second straight year from 93.7 to 92.8 (94.3 in 2018). However, what is overlooked is that his fastball spin rate increased by about 50 rpm. He has also slowly increased the use of his slider from year to year. In 2020 he started using it a lot more, 38.2 percent compared to 31.4 in 2019. A pitch that averaged the 10th most vertical movement among qualified pitchers. Opposing batter’s BA has also decreased from year to year on that pitch, just .187 in 2020. The most impressive 2020 stat is his barrels per batted ball event percentage of 3.7, 5th lowest in MLB. His barrel percentage has ranked in the 70th percentile or better in each of his 3 big league seasons. I am not trying to sell Keller as an overlooked ace or even a pitcher that will ever crack the top 100, but he should be higher than his ADP rank of 274. He will not get you many K’s, but he does produce a decent amount, and he contributes positively to the other pitching categories. I look at the Fantrax ADP rankings, and I see at least 10 starting pitchers above him that I would take Keller in front of for various reasons. I would draft him no lower than somewhere around the 250 range.
Some may view Bellinger as too high up in the rankings to consider a sleeper, but I still think he is going too low. He had a somewhat disappointing 2020 statistical season and a minor celebration injury, which has caused many to drop him in their rankings. But I think he is a prime example of one of the key things I will focus on this season. He will be just 25 going into the 2021 season. He is still learning, developing, and adjusting, and then a short 2021 season disrupted that process. At the age of 23 in 2019, he hit 47 home runs and managed a .406 OBP. His stats year to year stats show consistency and improvement. His barrel percentage of 13 ranked in the top 10 percent in 2019. I see no indications of Bellinger not maintaining a 40 HR, 15 SB with a high OBP profile for years to come. He ranks 14th in Fantrax ADP. On my draft board, he is in discussion with the top 5 batters that are being taken.
He had a terrible debut in 2020. It is hard to determine much from his underlying numbers due to the small sample size, other than the encouraging 93.2 exit velocity FB/LD and 29.3 ft/s, showing his potential power and speed. I am considering a young player considered a .280 BA, 40 HR, 20 SB potential top prospect for the past few years. Under normal circumstances, he would have spent 2020 in Triple-A, continuing to develop. Instead, he was thrown into a short MLB season before he was ready. He struggled, not a surprise. That does not take away from the potential he had before 2020. He has a Fantrax ADP rank of 209. I will take the chance and take him a couple of rounds earlier in hopes that he broke out in 2020. In a dynasty, you hold onto him or try to get him from an overreactive owner.
Soler is another player that has taken a fall in ADP due to a disappointing 2020. He managed just 8 home runs with a .236 average. This has made it too easy to write off his 48 home run, 117 RBI, .265 BA, and .354 OBP 2019 season as a fluke. His strikeout rate also went up 8 percent to a concerning 34.5. But there are reasons to make an argument for 2019 not being a fluke. First, he struggled with an oblique injury most of the 2019 season. An oblique injury added to a shortened season can make it hard for one to work out their swing. This could explain the increase in strikeouts. More importantly, the underlying numbers show that power was the same. His barrel percentage, exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage remained in the 90th percentile plus for the 2nd year in a row. He improved his barrel percentage from 16.9 to 18.9. 3rd highest behind Miquel Sano and Fernando Tatis, Jr. Pretty good company. The Royals also added Carlos Santana to their roster, potentially positioning Soler in the cleanup spot between two other decent power bats, Santana and Salvador Perez. Soler may be an overlooked top power hitter, and I will take him well above his 136 ADP rank. I can easily justify taking Soler in the top 100 with the potential reward of a Top 50 or better bat.
White was a popular late-round pick last year as a potential first-year breakout. He was disappointed in the short season with just a .176 BA and 8 home runs in 54 games. If this happened to a player in his first year through his first 54 games, it would be wise to ask if this is a player that cannot make the transition to the big leagues or is there something that can be looked at to show that he will break through these numbers. He spent the entire 2019 season in AA, where he had 18 home runs, a .293 BA, and a .350 OBP. Skipping AAA and then coming up in a shortened season are pretty good excuses for White getting off to a slow start with his bat. His OBP has never been under .333 in any of his college or minor league seasons, apart from a short 4 game stint in 2018 at AAA. So, I do not think his struggles in AVG and OBP will continue. His underlying numbers show encouraging signs that he will translate his power into the big leagues as well. His barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in 2020, and his 96.9 exit velocity FB/LD ranked 12th. He may break out big in 2021, but he should continue to improve enough on his numbers to be better than his ADP rank of 308. For me, his potential to be a 30-homerun batter with .350 OBP puts him up in the 250 range at least.
I will keep this one short and get to the point. His Fantrax ADP rank is 299, and as of now, he is expected to be the Cardinal’s closer. He had a 3.14 ERA, .94 WHIP, and 31 K’s over 28.2 innings in 2019. He converted 14 out of 15 save opportunities before going down with a torn UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He opted out of 2020. It will be important to monitor his progress and expected role, but if he is on track to be the closer, he will be a steal even if you must move up a couple of rounds from his current ADP of 299.
This is a risky one, but some of his numbers are hard to ignore, and he made a big change in his pitch selection, which led to some pretty good results in 2020. He basically replaced his fastball that he struggled to control with a sinker. This shows me a pitcher that is willing to make changes to succeed. The underlying number that really sticks out to me is his barrel percentage, 3.7 in 2020, 4th best among qualified pitchers. His pitches show movement that ranked in the upper percentiles. He has walk issues going back to the minors, but he continues to improve that, down to 8.6 percent in 2020. He had 48 K’s, a 1.301 WHIP, and 3.58 ERA. Even more encouraging is that those stats improved as the season progressed. His current ADP rank is 248. He is young and still improving, it is not a given that he will succeed in 2021, but I will risk drafting him 20 to 30 spots higher just considering the potential and the changes he made in 2020. In dynasty formats, I am trying to get as many shares as I can.
For my final sleeper, I will go with a player that I am a little reluctant about. But the reason for my reluctance is the same reason why he is being taken so low. Any Houston hitters that struggled in the short 2020 season have been quickly written off a lack of cheating. This may have some truth to it, but I am not writing off Bregman that easily. Bregman hit just 6 home runs in 42 games in 2020, making him an easy target for the Cheating Astro tag. But he also had 12 doubles, and while his strike percentage was up slightly and his walk percentage down slightly, he still stuck out 26 times compared to 24 walks. He had more walks than strikeouts in the previous two seasons. I think a lot of people write him off because his underlying numbers do not look good either. His barrel rate percentage, hard-hit percentage, and exit velocity dropped for the 3rd year in a row. But he keeps hitting home runs, he keeps putting up a high OBP, and he walks more than he strikeouts. Underlying stats aside, I do not think you can overlook a player that repeatedly shows that he has good eye contact. And you cannot pick out very many batters that maintain an even walk to strikeout ratio season after season and consistently put up high home run totals. Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez are two that come to mind. Until Bregman has a full season of disappointing numbers, he will remain a Top 10 potential player for me. I can justify the reward of his potential above the risk of his success being entirely due to cheating and luck. His ADP rank is 29. He is the 2nd highest ranked third baseman in my rankings and easily Tops 20 overall.