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Five Guys … on a lot of my early rosters

In preparation for the 2021 MLB season, I’m going to be writing a series of “Five Guys” posts for the website. These articles will be about “Five Guys” that share something in common in terms of their fantasy appeal, or lack thereof. Hopefully these will be entertaining and informative, and also make you crave double cheeseburgers. Mmm … cheeseburgers.

The first in this series is Five Guys … on a lot of my early rosters. I’ve scratched my fantasy baseball draft addiction with 10 drafts so far this offseason. These have all been Best Ball or “Draft and Hold” formats that have no FAAB, no trading, and require little to no time dedicated to roster management during the season. They’re a great way to familiarize yourself with the player pool, and if you play it right, to bankroll some of your other higher stakes leagues.

Without further introduction, here are my Five Guys:

1st Guy: Ryan Yarbrough, SP, TB – The Rays know how to develop their pitchers and set them up for success. They’ve done that well with Yarbrough. He isn’t flashy, but over the last three seasons, he has an ERA under 4.00, a 1.15 WHIP, and he limits both walks (5.8%) and the longball with less than 1.0 HR/9.

Last season, he served primarily as a starter (9 games), but also followed an opener (2 games). Yarbrough pitched more than 5 IP in 7 of those games, including one of the games he didn’t start. People seem to be worried about his usage, but he has passed 140 IP in each of his two full major-league seasons. He has a 16- and 11-win season under his belt.

In terms of 2021 opportunity, the Rays have plenty of it. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton have departed, and Yonny Chirinos is slated to miss the 2021 season after Tommy John surgery. Given how late he’s going in drafts (NFBC ADP 256, Fantrax ADP 287), I’ve been consistently landing him as my SP6 or SP7. That’s insane value for a guy whose line should look a whole lot like that of Kyle Hendricks.

Independent of ADP, I’d take him over at least 20 starting pitchers being drafted ahead of him. Say it with me in your best pirate’s voice: Yar, bro!

2nd Guy: Jorge Polanco – MLB looks a lot more like Little League these days, where the best player is usually at shortstop, than it used to when the most common description in fantasy for the position was “light-hitting.”

This means that players who aren’t MVP contenders at the position can be easily tossed aside and forgotten. Enter Jorge Polanco. In 2019, he had a .295/.356/.485 slash line and fantasy production that compared favorably to early-round shortstop stud Xander Bogaerts.

Last year, the average dipped to .258 and the power sapped. I’m not here to tell you the power’s coming all the way back. But I’d bet money on a .270 average with a chance for more. Throw in 15ish HR and 10ish SB on a Twins team that should score runs, and you have very overlooked player.

But wait, the Twins just signed defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons! Polanco’s playing time will plummet! … In the words of our favorite mascot aficionado, “Not so fast, my friend!”

While Simmons will start at short, Polanco will start at 2B (Tangent: Randy Dobnak’s GB% was over 60% and yet fantasy drafters still hate him for some reason … keep hating, I’ll keep Randying). So after the first week of the season, depending on your league rules, you should have a guy who qualifies at 2B and SS. This is also a good time to remind you that Simmons was born in the 1980s, and has had his share of injuries in recent years.

Polanco’s ADP (NFBC 208, Fantrax 229) is in a range where you’re paying for his floor, so any improvements will be profit.

3rd Guy: Garrett Cooper, 1B, MIA – Garrett Cooper hits the ball, and he hits it hard. His Exit Velo, Hard Hit%, and Barrel% were all above average. And his x-triple slash percentile rankings in 2020 were elite (95th xBA, 89th xwOBA, 87th xSLG).

While those numbers should grab your attention, he doesn’t run, he doesn’t have a clear full-time job, and he’s already on the wrong side of 30.

Cooper took awhile to get to the majors in part because he has been injured frequently in the past, and in part because he was in the deep Yankees system through the end of the 2017 season. What happened then?

A guy named Derek Jeter took over the Marlins and snagged Cooper from the depths of the Yankees system for Mike King and a couple hundred grand. Insert the “gift basket” joke of your choice here.

He has often been labeled a platoon hitter who crushes lefties. But I’m not sure why. He actually has a better career batting average (.284) and on-base percentage (.356) against righties. And Cooper’s career OPS against lefties (.807) vs. righties (.786) is pretty darn close.

Prior to the 2020 season, his own manager – Donnie Baseball – publicly stated that he didn’t view Cooper as a full-time player. Cooper embraced that challenge and was one of the Marlins best bats.

In 2021, Cooper has Jesús Aguilar and prospect Lewin Díaz to contend with in the Marlins 1B competition. Although the prospects of a National League DH in 2021 are questionable at best, the good news is that Cooper can also play rightfield. And with Díaz likely starting off in the minors, there’s a good chance Cooper gets a chance to prove he deserves everyday at-bats.

The bargain basement ADP (NFBC 393, Fantrax 325) means you can grab him as a bench piece, and see if this is the season he can put it all together. In Best Balls and Draft and Holds, he’s a great bat to get late that will end up contributing to your starting lineup more often than you think.

4th Guy: Michael Conforto, OF, NYM – Unlike the three names ahead of him on this list, Conforto isn’t a late target, but a familiar name in the top 100 of fantasy picks. My guess is that he’s ending up as one of the Five Guys … on a lot of my early rosters because I value his floor and see more upside than most of my fellow fantasy managers.

Conforto is the 21st outfielder drafted in NFBC and the 75th player overall (73rd on Fantrax). He’s not a “sleeper” by any means, but I don’t think he’s being properly valued. Let’s look at what he has going for him:

  • Consistently good power and counting stats
  • A 27 year-old with 2500+ MLB plate appearances
  • Hitting in the middle of a great and improved lineup
  • A nice boy who loves his mother
  • Won’t hurt you in batting average and chips in some SB

Speaking of batting average, Conforto hit .322 in 2020. Before you throw your BABIP-ometer in my face, let me assure you that I don’t think he’ll repeat that. But I also think the projections that are regressing him to the .260 range are selling him short. It looks like he made some adjustments last year, lowering his launch angle and flyball percentage. And increasing groundballs and line drives. A higher batting average and slightly less power make sense given those changes. I’m pegging him for .270-.275 BA with 30ish HR, 190+ R+RBI, and 5 SB.

But the thing I love most about Conforto is that I’m confident in his floor. Look at whatever projection system you want. The numbers on Conforto have a very narrow range. And that range is of a very productive player.

I anticipate his production to be similar to that of studs like George Springer and Marcell Ozuna. They’re going 25-30 picks ahead of him. Meanwhile, Ozuna hasn’t even signed with a team yet, and we don’t know what ballpark Springer will play half his games in. Even outfielders with much riskier profiles like Trent Grisham and Teoscar Hernández are being drafted ahead of him.

But let’s look beyond the outfielder position. Most of us are taking the best players on our board this early in the draft. And on average, drafters are passing up Conforto’s rock solid production for Dinelson Lamet’s inevitable surgery, Max Fried’s regression to fantasy mediocrity, Javier Báez’s video rejuvenation, prayers for Keston Hiura, and the Stephen Strasburg Experience.

You all can keep picking that hodgepodge of risk. I’ll stick with my fantasy OF1 at the end of the 5th round.

5th Guy: Jake Cronenworth, 1B/2B/SS, SD – Hey, who said they all had to be winners? The title of the article is Five Guys … on a lot of my early rosters, not Five Guys … who will win you your league. Cronenworth’s off-season has been quite a ride.

Prospect hawks have been watching him for years. Strong hit tool with average power, above average speed and a glove that should keep him in the lineup even if he’s not as good of a hitter as projected. And then he came up with the Padres in 2020 and became part of Team SLAM DIEGO. Good numbers, great team context, multi-position eligibility. What’s not to like?

Well, first the Padres signed Ha-Seong Kim. Whoa!

Then they signed Jurickson Profar. Wait .. why?

And now the National League DH is very much in question. What the?

Looking at his name on roster after roster of mine can feel like the fantasy baseball version of the NO REGERTS tattoo. That being said, I haven’t given up hope.

Cronenworth’s glove is legit, and it’s also super-flexible. We don’t know how Kim’s production will translate, especially in year one. And Jurickson Profar is still Jurickson Profar. Meanwhile, Trent Grisham has a total of 110 MLB games under his belt and Tommy Pham (one of my favorite players to root for) is constantly dinged up.

Cronenworth’s been picked as high as 120 and as low as 276 in NFBC drafts. I picked him at 262 in a recent Draft and Hold format, and that was after the Profar signing. I still feel good about him at that price.

The Padres are undeniably loaded. But as the saying goes, “these things have a way of working themselves out.” At his current draft price, you can invest in the skills.