Average Draft Position (ADP) should never be the end-all, be-all when it comes to mapping out your draft. Still, it serves as a top signifier of 'the way the wind is blowing,' as we get closer to Opening Day. Let's be honest, that magazine you bought on the way to the draft room was put together back in late-December. It's missing free agents who signed late. It's missing rookies who've emerged in camp. It's missing all the injuries that have piled up over three months. In other words, it's missing a load of the most important things!
My goal over the next nine weeks (every Wednesday) is to follow the trends and movements, to tell you why a certain player is going up or down, and to give you my take on whether or not it's warranted. Our numbers will come from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, courtesy of their director, Greg Ambrosious.
If there are specific players or positions you would like me to discuss over the coming weeks, just let me know in the 'Comments' section at the end of each column.
In our first look at the numbers of 2017, we'll focus on a half-dozen of the over-arching draft storylines that are making waves in draft rooms ...
• What's Happening at the Top?
If you've been on this fantasy baseball carousel for more than a blink, you should know that winning teams are not built on successful first-round picks. Sure, a stud always helps, but this is not fantasy football where one incredible running back can take you all the way to the league semi's.
In baseball, we challenge you to build an actual team with a starting lineup of nearly two dozen. We challenge you to fill multiple positions. We challenge you to collect solid bats and arms. Just because you lined up Mike Trout with the number-1 overall selection doesn't mean much when you have another 25+ rounds of picking still to go.
Still, we all know how this goes. The first question you'll be asked by your friends, wife, or child when you return from your eight hour draft get-together is 'Who'd you get in the first round?' It's the starting point for everyone. It's usually the most exciting name you'll have on your team. It's also the pick that dictates all future needs. Your first grab should be the fulcrum that your next 5-6 selections are built on.
Historically, there is not much carry-over of first-round picks from one year to the next. But, 2017 is very different. The overall collective of fantasy drafters actually had a fantastic year when it came to predicting which guys would be the top-12-to-15 players in 2016. Frankly, we usually struggle to hit on 60%. But, as you scan the list below you'll quickly notice that a great deal of the names are repeat first-rounders from a year ago.
Entering February, here's the look of the usual first-round, right now ...
1. Mike Trout
2. Mookie Betts
3. Kris Bryant
4. Jose Altuve
5. Nolan Arenado
6. Clayton Kershaw
7. Paul Goldschmidt
8. Manny Machado
9. Max Scherzer
10. Bryce Harper
11. Trea Turner
12. Josh Donaldson
There's just one name in that dozen that should surprise and we'll have more on him below. The other names are guys who have either been here before or who have jumped up just a round or so from last year.
Obviously, there are just two hurlers in the first twelve. It speaks to the greatness of Kershaw that he can miss two months with a back injury and barely budge in his ADP from one year to the next. As for Scherzer, his immense workloads, K-rate, health, and ability to rack up wins makes him a very easy '2nd-best SP' for 2017. Barring a spring injury there shouldn't be much of a change on this list before April.
• Blinded by the (Half-Season) Heights
So, about that first-round interloper ...
Trea Turner posted a truly incredible first season in the bigs. He mostly turned into something that even his biggest supporters couldn't have predicted ... a ton of steals, a great average, and an excellent home run total. Over the course of only 73 games and 307 at-bats, Washington's next cornerstone became one of the top players in fantasy baseball for the second half of the season.
But, let's be honest about these numbers? A .340-plus average? Thirteen homers in just over 300 MLB at-bats (after lifting a total of 19 over the wall in 1,000+ minor league at-bats)? Thirty-three thefts in under a half-season (when he never had even 30 in a minor league campaign)?
Yet, even if Turner has a notable pull-back, he's an extremely interesting add. The batting mark could fall more than 40 points and Turner could still turn in a top-25 season. How many guys can you say that about? You can indeed say it because of Turner's ability to steal a bag. Frankly, guys with 50 steal potential are fewer than the fingers on your two hands. That single ability and stat will carry a few players to high valuations this year.
Turner has other items in his favor. For one thing, he has always been seen as an upper-end prospect (just not to this level). He will pick up shortstop eligibility by mid-April to go along with his current outfield designation. He will also be lined up in the midst of new lead-off man, Adam Eaton (ADP #132), gap-finder Daniel Murphy (ADP #38), and superstar Bryce Harper (ADP #10). That's a lot of thunder to surround his lightning.
I like the guy, but I will always be hesitant on extrapolating 325 incredible plate appearances and then proceed to claim that a guy is top-12 in all of baseball. I believe in trusting a player once he has established a full season baseline. Turner's half-year was stellar, but he didn't get enough exposure for me to notch him inside the top-12. (This rule also applies to Yankee catcher, Gary Sanchez (ADP #51), who we'll discuss in a future ADP column.)
• Give Me Fuel, Give Me Fire, Give Me the Stolen Bases I Desire
Turner is definitely one of the bigger storylines heading into the new season. And, he also plays a large role in one of the two or three other giant talking points for '17 ... the search for stolen bases.
Stolen bases were actually up last year ... barely. In 2015, base runners stole the fewest bases since 1974 (2,505). In 2016, base runners stole the 2nd-fewest bases since 1974 (2,537). Only 14 guys hit 30 steals last year. That number was over 20 just four years before. Let's set the mark at 20 stolen bases ... 28 guys pulled off the 'feat' in '16. That number stood at 50 a half-decade ago.
Reasons? Well, steals aren't favored as an effective tool for scoring anymore (thanks to the saber work of so many). Home run totals are sky-high and most managers would rather sit around and play for the game-changing, 3-run shot. All extra-base hits are up and singles are way down. Teams are also armed with better knowledge about when they should attempt a steal. They're finding that staying put at first base is often the best move.
For the most part, this trend should continue in 2017. Thus, you can look at ADP numbers and notice that many of the best speedsters are getting a push up the charts. Jonathan Villar led baseball in the stolen base category (62) and is just outside the top-20 overall (ADP #21), ahead of fancier names like Edwin Encarnacion (ADP #24), Joey Votto (ADP #25), and Robinson Cano (ADP #33).
Other steal-heavy assets that have been sent climbing in early drafts include Dee Gordon (ADP #45 ... despite a 70-point drop in batting average), Billy Hamilton (ADP #52 ... despite a pitiful three HRs and 17 RBIs), Jean Segura (ADP #53 ... despite the easy realization that last season will go down as a career-year).
• Need a Slugger? Just Wait
The flip-side of a lack of steals? The growth in power. Home run totals continue to reach historic levels. Last year's total of 5,610 ranked 2nd all-time. Unlike the glory days of McGwire and Sosa, we're not in a world where a dozen guys take aim at 50, either. Instead we have a good half-dozen that sniff 40 round-trippers, another two dozen who can go for 30, and then about half the hitters in all of baseball who can legitimately say they are a 20-homer hitter (I kid ... slightly).
Check out the list of some of the 20 HR guys from last year ... Jonathan Schoop (27 HR, ADP #175), Danny Espinosa (24, ADP #367), Tommy Joseph (21, ADP #218), Freddy Galvis (20, ADP #356), Ryan Schimpf (20, ADP #334). More than 110 guys popped 20 shots last year!
How does this play out in a draft? First, don't fret if you're sitting in the 11th round and your team is short on four-baggers. There are dozens of low-end options to be found. The absolute key is to not get stuck with four guys who are 20 home run hitters, but who are also .225 hitters. If you line up too many of those types of clubbers in your lineup, you'll likely be middle-of-the-pack in homers, but near the bottom in batting average.
• Wake Me Up on 'The Sleepers'
Isn't this what everyone wants?! The eternal search for 'undervalued sleepers' continues into a new season. The names always change, but the thirst is never quenched. Here are just a few names (outside the top 200) that stand out to me ...
o Devon Travis (ADP #207) - If healthy (and, he's yet to do that), he'll be a top 10 2B
o Cam Bedrosian (ADP #222) - The stuff to replace Huston Street (ADP #374) and to dominate
o Nate Jones (ADP of #282) - Until David Robertson (ADP #126) gets flipped, Jones will rack up strong ratios and K's. After Robertson leaves, Jones will add the saves.
o Daniel Norris (ADP of #301) - Fleeting runs of dominance will happen more often as he finally gets to 20+ starts.
o Ben Revere (ADP of #344) - Now with the Angels, he's been written off after a brutal season with Washington. Did I mention he could easily get to 35 SBs?
o Jon Jay (ADP of #487) - Simple rule ... you're the leadoff hitter for the Cubs? I'll take ya!
You can hear Kyle each weeknight on 'The SiriusXM Fantasy Drive' from 7-10 ET, Sirius 210, XM 87.
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