2019 MLB Draft Guide: Maximizing Late-Round Value
They say fantasy baseball championships are won in the later rounds of your draft and Jon Impemba shows you how best to utilize those late-round picks and maximize your value.
A major component to a successful draft is the ability to maximize value in the later rounds. There are a few ways to do this, so let’s take a look, while keeping in mind that, ultimately, each fantasy player will develop their own strategy as the draft wears on.
Draft for Need
This is the most obvious one, right? In this scenario, you should head into your draft with a few players you are comfortable with as a starter. If you end up deciding to completely punt a position, or if things just do not go as expected during your draft, at least you have them as a safety net. It’s important to have these players in mind as you get towards the later rounds where the statistical separation between players is less obvious than in early rounds. Often these players specialize in one specific stat such as stolen bases or home runs. These players may not completely “wow” you across the board, but they can certainly get the job done and contribute to a winning fantasy team. Looking at some early ADP numbers there are few players that I think can fit that bill.
If looking for some late round power, someone to keep an eye on is Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber . Early ADP’s have Schwarber as a 16th round pick in 12-team leagues. We know that he has his flaws but the one thing he has proven is that he can hit the long ball. Over the last two seasons he has totaled 56 homers and should have little trouble approaching the 30-homer mark again this season if he just repeats what he has done since entering the league.
If targeting some steals in the later rounds of your draft, Billy Hamilton is the obvious choice. Going around the 13/14th round in 12-team leagues according to early ADPs, Hamilton gets a fresh start after signing with the Royals this offseason. The Royals are a team that likes to run and there is no real pressure on Hamilton here like there may have been while in Cincinnati given all his hype. He has the upside to lead the league in steals, something his new teammate Whit Merrifield has done in each of the last two seasons.
If you are looking for strikeouts, Rockies starter Jon Gray is an interesting bounce back candidate. Gray made 31 starts last season for the Rockies and posted a 9.56 K/9. Unfortunately, he also had a 5.12 ERA which killed fantasy owners. Gray pitched better than his ERA indicates if you trust the peripheral stats as his 3.47xFIP and 3.68 SIERA were in line previous career numbers. If 2019 is destined to be a better season for Gray then we could see him approach 200 strikeouts.
Draft For Upside
This is likely the route many will take come the later rounds. It’s all about the sleepers am I right? Identifying the next Aaron Judge or Ronald Acuna who were later round picks before their breakout seasons can be key to winning your fantasy league. This year there are few players who flashed last season that could be poised for big things.
On the big stage last year we saw Luke Voit join the Yankees and hit 14 home runs over 39 games. Now, the power numbers were aided by a ridiculous 40.5% HR/FB ratio which will certainly come down, but the power is definitely legit. A drop in batting average is likely but home run totals closing in on 30 is also very likely in the cards. Voit is going around the 16th round according to current ADP numbers.
Another interesting late round flyer is Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader . Bader put up double-digit home runs (12) and stolen bases (15) last season over 138 games. In roto leagues the ability to fill up the stat sheet is extremely valuable and if we project Bader for somewhere around a full season’s worth of at bats, then we could see a possible 20/20 season for a player going in rounds 14/15 of 12 team leagues.
Looking for this year’s Blake Snell ? Ok, maybe that is a tough expectation to meet but keep an eye on Padres southpaw Joey Lucchesi , who is currently going around the 18/19th round of 12-team standard leagues. Lucchesi made 26 starts for the Padres last season, going 8-9 with a 4.08 ERA while finishing with a 10.04 K/9. The home run ball was a problem for Lucchesi as he allowed 1.59 HR/9 on the season but that is a number that if corrected in 2019 should lead to an improved year. Lucchesi had a very solid 3.45xFIP and 3.64 SIERA which gives me further hope that his sophomore year could lead to even better overall totals.
Take A Risk
Often you will find players ranked much lower in drafts coming off a bad or injury plagued season. Depending on when you draft you could find players who get injured during Spring Training slip into the later rounds as well. This is your chance to take that risk and draft a player at a discounted rate if you believe a bounce back is in order. A perfect candidate who could fit right into this scenario for this upcoming season is Miguel Sano . Sano was an absolute disaster last season for fantasy owners that drafted him around the 6th-to-7th round of their 12 team leagues. Now, there was expectations for a huge season from Sano who hit 28 home runs and drove in 77 RBI over 114 games in 2017 but in 2018 we saw Sano demoted all the way down to High-A Fort Myers where he played 19 games and another nine games at Triple-A Rochester. Sano finished with 71 games played at the major league level in which he hit .199 with 13 home runs and an OPS of .679. We know that the power upside is real, and we know that his hard contact rate is going to be over 40%. We also know that he is going to strikeout A LOT. What killed Sano last season was his .286 BABIP. A .286 BABIP is very low for a player that is hitting the ball as hard as he does. We should see that BABIP jump back over .300 this season and thus we get another season where Sano should approach 30+ home runs. As of now Sano has an average ADP of a 17th round pick in 12-team standard leagues.
It may be asking a lot, but a full season out of Tyler Skaggs could greatly boost his value as a late round selection. We almost got it in 2018 as he made 24 starts for the Angels, going 8-10 with a 4.02 ERA over 125.1 innings. He posted a solid 9.3 K/9 last year and his 3.79xFIP and 3.86 SIERA show that Skaggs actually pitched slightly better than his ERA would indicate. Of course, injuries are the big concern here with Skaggs but that is also the reason why you get to take a stab at him near the final round of your draft. Skaggs offers a solid K-rate and decent ERA while pitching in a pitcher ballpark, I’d say he is worth the risk.
Draft A Soon-to-Be-Closer
This one is more aligned with common fantasy strategy, but it is still worth noting. There is little reason to waste middle-round picks on the elite closers when saves are always going to be available in your league. Use those late-round picks on middle relievers who have strong ratios, good strikeout upside and the potential to take over the job should their team’s ninth-inning man falter. There are a number of teams who have a closer tabbed, but maybe not for too long. In the meantime, those relievers should appear in more games than a typical closer and help you out in the rest of your pitching categories like ERA and WHIP as they more often than not toss scoreless innings.
So let’s be clear, there is no right and wrong answer on how to maximize value in the later rounds of your fantasy baseball draft but being prepared for that draft and the final few rounds will put you in the best position to be successful. And the best way to be prepared for your fantasy baseball draft is to participate in mock drafts and try out different strategies.