Get an early start on 2018 rosters
Time to stock keeper leagues
With a month left in the regular season, only a select few are still playing to win their 2017 championships, and the long season has taken a toll on many non-contenders. Even with plenty of latesummer distractions — vacations, back-to-school prep, the onset of fantasy football — savvy keeper league owners will take advantage of this time to jump-start their 2018 effort. Particularly with landscape shifts created by trade deadline moves and September roster expansion, these final weeks are prime time for scarfing up bargains and flyers ignored by others.
With this in mind and a look toward roster optimization, the following checklist should help you sift through the possibilities.
The home run and strikeout spikes, together with pitching injuries — both in the majors and minors — have dominated 2017, serving as a reminder that pitchers are riskier than hitters.
Betting on high-upside prospect arms far away from their MLB debuts can be foolish, which in turn has made established aces prohibitively expensive. For hitters, while those who strike out less are preferable, plenty of swing-and-miss sluggers still have fantasy value. And similar to scarce No. 1 starting pitchers, position players with 30-plus stolen-base upside can be worth their weight in gold.
So focus on rebuilding MLB clubs, particularly those with outstanding minor league systems, such as the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. Those clubs will have plenty of job openings throughout 2018, particularly in the rotation, and each has superlative talent on the farm that soon will be ready to contribute.
Identify your squad’s strengths, weaknesses and needs, along with your preferred keepers, trade targets and cast-offs. Set a reasonable target date for your return-tocontender status. This will help in identifying a balance of nearready talent with players who have high ceilings but whose MLB debuts are further off.
Identify the forgotten-but-talented players at the MLB and minor league levels who have age and skills on their side. An example is Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler, 25, who has struggled in limited opportunities, but whose 20 home runs and 48 walks in 252 Class AAA at-bats speak to his talent. Soler’s skills are comparable those of Nelson Cruz, whose MLB breakthrough season eventually came at age 28.
The same can be said for former No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers, for whom injuries seemingly shortcircuited a sure-thing MLB career. Now healthy but blocked in Texas, Profar, 24, has posted an .834 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) with a 38/28 walks to strikeouts (BB/K) ratio through 302 at-bats in Class AAA. In addition, his average power has returned. In today’s home run-happy environment, Profar’s plate skills should be in demand by at least a few organizations this coming offseason.
Sometimes these situations have little to do with current performances. At least a few owners who checked their league free agent lists last year at this time would have turned up unsigned reliever Greg Holland, who missed all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Before that, Holland averaged 40-plus saves over the previous three seasons as a premier closer. Eighteen months past surgery as 2017 began, Holland was a good bet to return to closing form, which he obviously has with the Colorado Rockies (36 saves), despite his August struggles. Finding a post-injury fantasy gem such as Holland requires some digging, but the payoff can be considerable.
Search for post-hype and pop-up names who are suddenly playing (and producing) more than expected.
Detroit Tigers outfielder Mikie Mahtook, 27, a former All-American at LSU, is beginning to translate his tools and athleticism into everyday skills. Normally an aggressive hitter, Mahtook has become more patient in the second half, posting a near double-digit walk rate while hitting .296 and making better contact than ever. Mahtook’s performance suggests Detroit might have found a longawaited answer to its troublesome center-field spot.
Even if your league’s in-season trade deadline has passed, you can begin a dialogue looking toward offseason trades.
Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow logged a 7.45 ERA over 12 major league starts to begin the season, but his demotion has depressed his immediate fantasy value. But a subsequent 2.06 ERA and 131/31 K/BB through 871⁄ innings at Class AAA speak to Glasnow’s still lofty ceiling. Take advantage of these buy-low situations as they arise.
Most scouting and minor league sites have posted updates (BaseballHQ.com’s midseason Top 50 was released in mid-July), and much has changed since the preseason. Most new lists include some high-upside, far-away names that weren’t that weren’t prominent this past spring.
Among the more conspicuous are shortstops Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays and Fernando Tatis of the San Diego Padres, neither of whom has seen his 20th birthday yet. The bat-first Bichette has hit .372 between Class A and advanced Class A through 425 at-bats, while Tatis is a five-tool athlete who has posted a 20-home run/30-stolen base season in Class A.
Though neither is expected to factor into the 2018 season, both of their offensive ceilings are considerable. And Tatis’ monster second half (1.108 OPS, 17 stolen bases) has fueled a leap to Class AA, where he’ll finish August and a likely playoff series or two. Tatis could be a quick riser, possibly even making his MLB debut by the end of next year.
Tatis is one example of players whose strong finishes or rebounds from previous seasons might still be under the radar. Another name to know: Houston Astros third baseman Colin Moran, another former first-round pick who struggled in 2016.
Moran roared back this season, showing off his once-vaunted hit tool again with .916 OPS (31/55 BB/K) at Class AAA Fresno while hitting with legitimate power for the first time.
A foul ball to the face derailed his call-up two games in, but there was much to like about his 2017 performance. Rebuilding MLB teams will get first looks at players they hope will help them in 2018. Two recent examples are Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle, whose command and 2.06 ERA in 1441⁄ innings between Class AA and Class AAA suggests No. 3 starter upside, and Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, whose plate skills and pop (43 walks, 54 extra-base hits in 389 Class AAA at-bats) give him the ceiling of an average MLB regular.
Visit BaseballHQ.com for more winning fantasy baseball analysis.
Mikie Mahtook’s second-half play could make him a long-term answer in center field in Detroit.