Like most of you, I entered this year's drafts with a group of names that I liked, perceived-value-wise, in drafts. But as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – the end result of which is that among the eight leagues I'm playing this year, I don't own as many shares as I wanted to of a lot of guys I really love for this season: Joc Pederson, A.J. Pollock, Mookie Betts, Taijuan Walker and Drew Pomeranz headline that list.
But there's an intriguing group of players that I own in three or four of the eight, and I believe this crew provides us with some noteworthy takeaways.
First, let's quickly list my leagues, since their formats vary so widely.
- RotoWire Staff Keeper League 2, a 17-team, 15-keeper, 30-man-roster roto league
- RotoWire Staff H2H League, a 12-team, 25-man-roster head-to-head league
- CBS AL-only and NL-only Analysts Leagues – 12-team, 30-man roster roto leagues
- FanGraphs Experts League, a 40-man-roster ottoneu roto "auction dynasty"
- A 12-team, 5-keeper, 27-man-roster head-to-head league
- A 12-team, 5-keeper, 25-man-roster head-to-head league
- A 20-team, 40-man-roster rotisserie dynasty
*Remember, kids: There are no friends in fantasy baseball. As friendly as you may be with anyone in your league, crush them without mercy. Your friends will understand that you have annihilated them in the spirit of pure competition, and it will strengthen your friendship**.
**Results may vary.
Now, without further ado, here are a few of this year's most usual suspects; I've boiled it down to a selection of guys I own in three leagues and guys I own in four leagues.
Wilmer Flores, SS, NYM – Any shortstop with a guaranteed starting job and Flores' offensive pedigree should be coveted by fantasy owners, yet he was studiously ignored in pretty much every one of my drafts. In the four leagues where I own him, here's what I paid: $1 and $3 at auction, a 20th-round draft pick, and $4 of a $200 FAAB budget. Meanwhile, in his last three seasons in the minors, Flores has posted OPSes of .827, .887 and .935 despite always being one of the youngest players at his level. He also makes a ton of contact – last year, Flores had nearly an identical contact rate to Jonathan Lucroy (87.9 percent to 88.0), and a higher one than a whole bevy of guys you've heard of: Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Anthony Rendon, Albert Pujols ... it goes on. Yet despite that and a line-drive rate over 20 percent, his BABIP lagged at .265, depressing his average to .251. Always a high-BABIP guy in the minors, Flores seems a good bet to clock in at a more normal .300 or so this year, which should push his batting average to.280 or higher, with easily 15-homer power and a knack for hitting in RBI situations that's been repeatedly demonstrated in the minors.
Daniel Norris, SP, TOR – You'd think that a prospect in both Baseball America's and MLB.com's top 20 with a guaranteed rotation spot would be highly desirable to fantasy owners. Strangely, no; like Flores, Norris has been widely available at the ends of drafts, if not on the wire afterward. Allow me to put some emphasis on the stats Norris racked up as a 21-year-old rising meteorically though the minors last year: 2.53 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 163 – that's a frickin' hundred and sixty-three – strikeouts in 124.1 innings. How's he been this spring, you ask? Well, he only has 29 strikeouts against five walks in 24.2 innings. The lack of hype around this guy is unreal. Plus, the dude has a spectacular, homeless-grade offseason beard and lives in a 1978 VW van. How can you not love him?
Steve Cishek, RP, MIA – Cishek has always been strangely immune to the high prices commanded by closers, perhaps because no one believes that a sidearmer can be a long-term closer. But he's been doing a mighty good job of it. A so-so 3.17 ERA hurt him last year, but that was a full point higher than his FIP thanks to an unlucky .331 BABIP. Meanwhile, he saw his strikeout rate spike from its former career average of about 9.5 K/9 to 11.57 last year, an increase that puts him squarely in elite-closer territory. To be fair, Cishek was a cheap keeper for me in all four leagues where I own him, but he still deserves more love than I've seen him get this preseason.
Corey Dickerson, OF, COL – What can I say about Dickerson that needs saying at this point? As you should already know, he's still only 25 years old until May and he plays half his games in Coors Field (where he unsurprisingly posts superstar numbers), where his hit tool and power play extremely well. Obviously, coming off a year in which he hit .312 with 24 homers, he's been a high pick – but he should be an even higher one. Prediction models like Steamer tend to predict a bit of a step back for Dickerson this year in terms of rate stats; au contraire, I'm forecasting a big leap forward. If you prorate his numbers last season to 600 at-bats – which, with his now-guaranteed playing time, is a reasonable expectation – you get a .312 hitter with 33 home runs, 104 RBI, 101 runs and 11 steals. That's first-round value in the third round. I'll take him over trendier names like Adam Jones, Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper all day long.
Adam Wainwright, SP, STL – Yeah, Wainwright had offseason elbow surgery – but it was just to trim up some cartilage, which clearly didn't do much to discourage him last season while he put up a 2.38 ERA over 227 innings. And yeah, he had an abdominal issue early in the spring. All of that added up to a deeply depressed price, especially in early drafts, and Wainwright owners such as myself have to be feeling good about their bargain-priced ace as they enter the season.
Shelby Miller, SP, ATL – Once one of the most coveted young arms in the game and a consensus top-10 prospect, Miller took a huge step back in 2014. His strikeout rate plummeted and his walk rate rose, which led to a sizeable spike in ERA (and FIP), and led the Cardinals to ship him off to Atlanta for the similarly underperforming Jason Heyward. The main culprit behind Miller's struggles was the decline of his secondary stuff, particularly the cutter and change, and the lack of progress with his curveball. But he's still one of the league's hardest-throwing starting pitchers, and it's hardly outlandish to write off last season as a sophomore slump. I fully expect to see the 2013 version of Miller this year, if not something even better. For the privilege, I paid $3 in my final draft this week; in my other leagues, I paid $6 and a 17th-round draft pick. For reference, the starting pitchers taken after Miller in that round: Kyle Lohse, John Lackey and Brandon McCarthy. Yes, please.
You can find me on that Twitter: @akfiorentino