Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Infielders
Alex Avila – C ARI (ADP: 234.3)
If you aren’t willing to draft a catcher in the first couple rounds, you are forgoing having any huge fantasy players at the position. Catcher is very thin (and quite a few have injury concerns); after Posey, Sanchez, and maybe Wilson Contreras, there aren’t very many catchers that combine good offense with a ton of playing time. So the two strategies are draft one of these guys in the first few rounds, or wait it out and try to get a bargain. If you choose option two, then we recommend going with Alex Avila.
Alex Avila will be in his first year with the Diamondbacks after a breakout year in 2017 that saw him hit for a 124 wRC+ and 14 homers. That means he ranked sixth among catchers with 300-plus plate appearances in wRC+, and 15th in home runs. Based on those metrics, Avila was an above average catcher last year, yet so far in drafts, fantasy owners haven’t been picking him very high. He has been the 24th highest pick at catcher according to Yahoo, and he is only being drafted in five percent of leagues. On top of that Avila doesn’t have any significant injuries to his name, which is rare at his age.
Many may discount his year as a fluke, or that he will be forced to split time with incumbent catcher Chris Herrmann, but neither of those are likely to be true. Avila is one of the latest beneficiaries of the now cliche “fly-ball revolution,” so he has a great chance to maintain his production from last year. Additionally, he is at very little risk to splitting time with Chris Hermann, as Hermann was absolutely terrible last year (58 wRC+, -0.6 WAR). Avila will start as long as he is healthy, and that should give him an easy 120 games this season, and put him in Top 15, maybe even Top 10 catcher territory.
Lucas Duda – 1B KCR (ADP: N/A)
As an all-around player, Lucas Duda is not very good. As a fantasy option, he is actually pretty solid, maybe even above average. Despite being a solid fantasy option, he has been drafted in very near to zero leagues due to the fact that he has just very recently been picked up by the Royals. But sentiment analysis shows that Fantasy owners are low on him. Among first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances last year, Duda ranked 11th in home runs and sixth in ISO. While he did strike out a lot, he also had the 13th highest walk rate. First base is a very deep position, meaning that there are quality fantasy options for everyone to go around, and then some. But if you are looking for a sleeper back-up, Duda is a good choice.
Although it depresses home runs slightly, Kauffman Stadium actually plays as a slight hitters park. And while you don’t want to hear that Kauffman Stadium suppresses homers, Duda was able to average nearly 30 a year with the Mets, who play in one of the worst parks to hit in in the league. With guaranteed playing time on a rebuilding team, Duda has potential to be a 30 home run guy again, even if the RBIs might not quite be there. That could be incredibly valuable when you consider that he will probably go undrafted in most leagues. He’s healthy now, but if any mention of a back problem comes up during Spring Training, forget about him. He has a slightly concerning history of back injuries.
Joe Panik – 2B SFG (ADP: 228.2)
Joe Panik hasn’t been able to put together another year like 2015, when he slashed .312/.378/.455 and put up a 4.0 WAR season, but he has been extremely consistent in all 4 years of his career. He is a career 107 wRC+ guy, with moderate pop (he only had 10 home runs last year, but remember where he plays), and he almost never strikes out (career 9.7% strikeout rate). But despite being an above average hitter, he is being drafted only in 3% of leagues. Panik’s inconsistency can be linked to his many injuries over the last few seasons that include his elbow, thumb, shoulder, groin and back. He also has never played in over 138 games in a season. He’s healthy now, though, so he worth consideration.
If we rank Panik in some key fantasy stats, we can see that he is a good fantasy player: among qualified second basemen in 2017, Panik ranks 1st in K%, 9th in OBP, and 16th in ISO. So his power is about average, but his ability to get on base is pretty top-tier. And that is based on his 2017, which is absolutely not his ceiling. If he were to put up his 2015 numbers again, which is a perfectly realistic outcome, he would have ranked 1st, 3rd, 16th, meaning he would be able to maintain his power numbers, while drastically increasing his on-base ability.
Joe Panik is kind of a boring pick. He won’t hit 30 homers, and he won’t steal 30 bases, but he is a guy who you could draft in the last couple rounds of your fantasy draft and not feel too bad about playing as your starting second baseman.
Marcus Semien – SS OAK (ADP 254.6)
Marcus Semien has been one of the most consistently average hitters in the majors over the last several years. In his last 3 seasons, he has had wRC+ marks of 97, 98, and 96. For a shortstop, that is quite good, and his power is actually pretty incredible. Since the beginning of 2015, Semien is tied for fourth in home runs for a shortstop. All three players in front of him (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Didi Gregorius), are being drafted in the top 120 picks (Correa and Lindor in the top 25), but Semien is being picked with the 255th pick. Some of that might have to do with his 2017 season, where he played just 84 games while recovering from wrist surgery. He looked good later in the season and proved he was fully recovered, so it isn’t a concern going forward. His power took a hit, but with the offseason to work on his strength his home run numbers should improve.
Semien also has some other strengths as a player. He has a solid walk rate, he always reaches double-digit steals, and he plays in a division that has fairly weak pitching (the Astros have arguably the best pitching, but the Angels, Mariners, and Rangers are all well below average). Semien will be a great option with huge power upside for a shortstop, and he could be had for a last round pick, or off waivers after the draft. Not bad for a bench piece.
12.215- Marcus Semien. Underrated because he missed time with injury last year. Was more patient and power and speed were still there. Could have a big year. pic.twitter.com/ehrHdloc8p
— Justin Mason (@JustinMasonFWFB) February 25, 2018
Kyle Seager – 3B SEA (ADP: 118)
Kyle Seager is probably the best player on this list. He is getting some respect by fantasy owners, being drafted in the middle rounds as the 16th third baseman. But he should be taken much higher than that. While he was just merely “good” last year, he is just a year removed from a dominant 2016, when among qualified third basemen he ranked eighth in home runs, eighth in runs, fifth in RBI, seventh in OBP, sixth in BB%, and seventh in K%. Because of all of this, he ranked fifth in WAR among third basemen. That is a very good player to have on your team. Even last year when he had a “down year,” he ranked Top 10 among third basemen in home runs, RBIs, and was just on the periphery for BB%, K% (He also wasn’t worse than 16th in any of the above stats).
So Seager is being drafted 16th among third basemen, despite being better than 16th in just about every possible category. That means there is a market inefficiency. You shouldn’t be embarrassed if Seager is your starting third baseman, and if he is your backup, you should be very excited. Seager in the first 100 picks is a great value pick. His health is also great. He’s a Low Injury Risk with a Peak HPF (Health Performance Factor), meaning he should be at the top of his game.
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Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Froschauer