Our team of fantasy experts examines which players are likeliest to overperform or underperform in 2021 based on their average draft position (ADP).
Here are Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, AJ Mass, Kyle Soppe, Todd Zola and Mike Sheets to break down their sleepers and busts for each part of the draft.
"Star-caliber" (players roughly within the top 50 overall)
Cockcroft: Trent Grisham finished 37th on the Player Rater, is generally being drafted outside the top 75 in early NFBC drafts, yet had the underlying metrics to support a straight repeat of his rotisserie finish in 2021 -- if not a step forward. He had elite speed and defense, the latter cementing his everyday player status, and I only wish the Padres would be bold enough to boost his lineup spot against left-handed pitchers from ninth (eighth in a no-DH National League); he's a respectable .250/.324/.413 hitter against them besides. Grisham's swinging-strike numbers suggest his contact rate should improve, and he was plenty disciplined in the minors. There's a good chance he'll be a steal of a draft pick in points leagues especially.
Karabell: OK, I will go with White Sox right-hander Lance Lynn, because people view him as a potential ERA/WHIP liability, which he has been on occasion and was in 2018, but he is not anymore! Since the start of 2019 -- and we should not rely on "solely" the 2020 numbers -- nobody has thrown more innings, and only the "Big Four" boast more strikeouts. And Lynn has a misleading 3.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in that span. Why misleading? Every start counts, but his final outing of 2020 he allowed 10 runs because his manager seemed not to care. Sans that outing, his two-year ERA is 3.35. Looks better, eh? This is a safe, durable, strikeout starter with big win potential now.
Mass: Improvement year over year seems likely to continue for Teoscar Hernandez. His hard-hit percentage has risen from 37.3 in 2018, to 43.8 in 2019 and 48.8 in last season's 50-game stretch. I don't believe that his 32.7% HR/FB will continue, but 35 homers over 140 games certainly seems realistic and with George Springer, Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette filling the bases ahead of him in the Toronto lineup, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Hernandez reaches 100 RBI.
Soppe: What if I told you that a pitcher, since the beginning of 2019, has allowed loud contact at a lower rate than Jacob deGrom, has a better strikeout-to-walk rate than Yu Darvish and has gotten whiffs at a higher rate than Aaron Nola? At the bare minimum, this pitcher is going to be around in the fifth round, if not the seventh or eighth. You'd be in, right? Well, draft in a league that doesn't have me in it and you'll be getting yourself a bargain on Brandon Woodruff this season. Book it!
Zola: Given, I'd feel even more confident about Marcell Ozuna if he didn't have to remember to take his mitt to the ballpark, but he's going to play nearly every day, regardless. What Ozuna did in his first season with the Braves was not a fluke. OK, he wouldn't have finished with 50 or so homers over a full schedule, but Ozuna would have smacked plenty. Over the prior four seasons before joining the Braves, Ozuna averaged 28 homers, hitting in two of the least-power friendly venues in the league. His average exit velocity on fly balls has been increasing and is among the league leaders. This is especially important if the early studies prove prescient and the 2021 ball loses some elasticity. Ozuna hits it hard enough not to be penalized as much as others. The associated run production with home runs is often underappreciated. Not only were Marlins Park and Busch Stadium punishing for power, Ozuna's lineup support with the Braves is far superior to that provided by the Marlins and Cardinals. It's pretty easy to leave the draft with three top-20 bats; all you need to do is draft Ozuna in the 4th or 5th round.
Sheets: Grisham was one of my favorite buys heading into 2020, and I'm doubling down on the talented young outfielder in 2021. The former first-round pick, who was one of only six players to rack up double-digit home runs and steals last season, offers both a high floor and a high ceiling. He has good power, elite speed (his Sprint Speed Score ranks in the 96th percentile), excellent on-base skills (he's posted double-digit walk rates at every stop in his pro career), and he's set to bat leadoff, at least against righties, in one of the game's best lineups. The Padres have a deep roster that will leave some talented players with sporadic playing time, but Grisham is a great defender and the only player on the team who can reasonably hold down center field, so he's going to play every day. Even if he doesn't reach his ceiling as a potential 25/25 player with 100-plus runs scored, Grisham will still provide the type of across-the-board production that's hard to find outside the first few rounds.
Cockcroft: I handle our rankings for head-to-head categories leagues, and simply put, Adalberto Mondesi is a nightmare to roster in that specific format. Streaky players are difficult to roster, and if not for the fact that the shortstop was the No. 1 player using rotisserie scoring and No. 8 in fantasy points in the season's final 24 days, underscoring his ability to carry a team during his hot streaks, I'd have a tough time granting him even a top-100 overall ranking. Mondesi's shoddy plate discipline isn't the only problem; he has enough of an injury history that it's tough to trust him over a 162-game schedule, meaning you've got the pitfalls of his slumps as well as his being absent for a portion of the season. I'd rather spread my stolen bases across more roster spots than go with Mondesi's hit-or-miss contributions.
Karabell: I am neither rooting against Mondesi, nor denying how likely it is that he leads the sport in stolen bases again, but this is simply not a good hitter, with limited on-base skills, and there is serious batting average risk. Including his ridiculous closing flurry last season, when 14 hits in the final week raised his batting average 41 points, he is hitting .260 with a .292 OBP and 15 measly home runs since 2019 began. Nobody doubts his speed, but Mondesi has almost no plate discipline and a history of injuries, and could really hurt a batting average, yet he's going top 50 everywhere! I cannot fathom the reason in points leagues, and in roto, choose more balanced hitters and scrounge up your stolen bases another way.
Mass: To me, Eloy Jimenez is an all-or-nothing hitter in what could be a very crowded White Sox outfield. Especially if Andrew Vaughn ends up locked in as DH, then any extended slump could easily see Jimenez riding the pine as it's not like Chicago has him in left field for his defensive prowess. At best, I think we see a .275-35-90 season here, which would be fine for a mid-round selection. It's just not top-50 level for me.
Soppe: I understand the appeal of safety that comes with drafting Charlie Blackmon, but the power outage last season was enough to have me off of him in 2021. We know the steals are a thing of the past (four on six attempts over the past two seasons), we know this offense will not be as potent as years past and we know his home/road splits can be scary (his home SLG was 300-plus points above his road SLG in both 2017 and 2019). I don't think he'll be terrible, but I think his current price point more reflects a 90% percentile team than one you can bank on.
Zola: The ensuing explanation why I'm bearish on Alex Bregman can also be used to argue why he deserves a lofty ranking. His patience and contact rate are excellent, which play better in a points format than 5x5 scoring, but that gets factored into his rank relative to the format. My concern is Bregman's batted ball data pales in comparison to other hitters drafted in his range. His average exit velocity is below the league norm, both overall and fly balls, which drives power. He's able to get away with hitting the ball with less authority due Crawford Boxes welcoming souvenirs which would be outs in most other venues. The counterpoint is similar to those playing in Colorado, so long as they stay with the Rockies, they'll reap the benefits of Coors Field. Sure, Bregman will continue to pop homers at home, but without the elevated skills of others in his draft tier, Bregman has a lower margin of error. Not to mention, double-digit steals are no longer a forgone conclusion; he didn't attempt a single pilfer last season.
Sheets: It's easy to be enamored with what Bo Bichette did in 2020. After all, he batted .301 with five homers, 23 RBI, four steals, and 18 runs in just 29 games, which pro-rates to a .301 batting average with 28 homers, 128 RBI, 22 steals and 100 runs over a full 162-game season. I just haven't come around on the 22-year-old's price tag, which has him as the 23rd player off the board in early NFBC drafts. While Bichette's overall skill set is enticing, he still has only 75 major league games under his belt. He's never hit 20 homers in five professional seasons, and he hasn't been an efficient base-stealer in the majors, going 8-for-13 (62%) in stolen base attempts. There's no denying Bichette's hit tool, which gives him a solid floor, but it's fair to wonder whether his power and stolen-base potential are going to be fully realized in 2021. Needless to say, he needs to fully realize that potential to justify his current ADP. I'm excited to watch Bichette play this season. I'm not, however, excited to draft him in the second round.
"Top-100s" (players roughly in the 51-100 range overall)
Cockcroft: Your strategy at the shortstop position is a key one entering 2021, and if you choose not to pay the price for the huge tier of top-30-overall performers, Dansby Swanson might be your guy. He's now 27 years old and with 4 ½ years' big-league experience, and while I'm no believer in that "age-27-breakout" nonsensical theory, Swanson has coincidentally, incrementally improved his performance to the point that said breakout might indeed be imminent. He stroked line drives at a greater-than-30% rate in 2020, posted a career-best Barrel rate and a second straight year of a 40%-plus hard hit rate, and he had a 90th percentile Statcast sprint speed that suggests 10-15 steals are within reach.
Karabell: Batting average matters in most roto leagues, and Mets basher Dominic Smith clearly has that edge over his more popular teammate Pete Alonso. Who hits more home runs? OK, give it to Alonso, since nobody has more of them since the start of 2019, but Smith has good pop, too, and he hit .316 with a .993 OPS in 2020. If Alonso goes top 50 and Smith misses the top 100, assuming the latter is likely to see regular playing time (which I think he will), then something is wrong. Smith is good. Really good. And a better value than his famous teammate.
Mass: Trey Mancini missed all of 2020 due to treatment for colon cancer. That's incredibly scary, but the good news is that all signs point to his being back on the field and ready to go as soon as teams get the green light to report to camp. In 2019, he hit .291 with 35 HR, while showing improved BB/K (0.44) and HR/FB (23.6%) rates. Sitting out a season under normal circumstances might make fantasy managers nervous about a player potentially falling a year behind his peers. After 2020, I'm not as concerned about that -- in fact, I think he will return with a vengeance. And even if he is a bit slow out of the gate, I'll be thrilled to get even 90% of his 2019 stats at this point of the draft.
Soppe: I mean, yea, you could lock in Nelson Cruz's production and hope that he continues to mash as a 40 year old (I'm not saying he can't), or you could wait a few rounds and grab a potentially identical stat line courtesy of Franmil Reyes. Not only does Reyes share a Zodiac sign with Cruz, he also owns a very similar career chase rate after showing great improvement in 2020, something that I think stabilizes his power as there is no denying the pop in his bat. Cleveland's offense isn't going to be great, but I don't mind the top half and that should be enough to make Reyes a very strong value as you approach the 10th round.
Zola: I wish I could point to something specific in Jose Berrios' profile and say, "This is why he'll reach the next level." Admittedly, I can't. Plus, the current level is pretty good. However, the eye test says there is something more. Actually, Berrios' reliability and durability alone are worth a couple brownie points in today's landscape. Having that buffer of solid innings allows taking chances on upside arms later in the draft. Perhaps the easiest pathway to lower ratios is better control. A career 3.02 BB/9 (7.9% BB%) is around league average. That's not bad, but there is room for improvement. From 2017-2019, Berrios posted a 7.1% walk rate, so even if he returns to that neighborhood, his WHIP would improve slightly. A career 8.91 K/9 (23.3% is also right around league average, but a few ticks below the elite tier. Berrios doesn't have a dominant putaway pitch, but his changeup induces the most swinging strikes and he has been throwing it more the past two seasons. Perhaps Berrios will continue to massage his arsenal to garner better control and more swings and misses. Even if he doesn't, the floor is such a bankable foundation, riskier hurlers with a high ceiling can be drafted later.
Sheets: Back in 2019, Eugenio Suarez clubbed 49 homers, the second-highest total in the majors behind Pete Alonso. Two years later, he's barely being drafted as a top-10 third baseman. Fantasy managers are no doubt being scared off by last season's .202 batting average, but that was driven by a career-worst .214 BABIP. Suarez owns a career .310 BABIP that had never fallen below .304 prior to last season, so the batting average should bounce back in 2021 with a little more batted-ball luck. Other than that, not much changed in Suarez's game from 2019 to 2020. Suarez continued to mash the ball, putting up an elite barrel rate (14.4%) for the second straight season. He improved his hard-hit rate from 40.8% to 44.7%. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (94.4 mph) also ticked up compared to 2019 (93.1 mph). Suarez even boosted his walk rate from 10.6% to 13%. This is still a 40-HR bat that is now coming at a nice discount, and I'm buying.
Cockcroft: I'm fading Stephen Strasburg this year, no matter how promising his spring training health reports look. It's more than just the carpal tunnel surgery and his recovery from it; he had exhibited a linear decline in his average fastball velocity in the four seasons before 2020, meaning he was already showing hints of the aging process as he moved past his 30th birthday (he's now 32). We don't have much in the way of injury-recovery comps, and besides, Strasburg has averaged 24.5 starts per 162 team games since the beginning of 2015. How is it that the fantasy baseball community is so optimistic as to draft him clearly within the top 100 picks?
Karabell: I love watching Byron Buxton play center field. Who doesn't, right? The problem is he doesn't get to play it enough because he is not durable. If Buxton was a lock for a decent batting average, with power and stolen bases, OK, I might overlook it in the first 10 rounds but he is simply not this player. Buxton batted 135 times in 2020. He walked two more times than you and I did. Two! He also stole only two bases. Since the start of 2018, Buxton has hit .240 over 154 games (total) and 524 PA. That's three seasons! Sorry, unless defense counts, I need more playing time.
Mass: Nobody is denying that J.T. Realmuto is the top fantasy catcher out there. He's freshly signed to a long-term deal and seems very happy to be back in Philadelphia. Hooray! That said, as I see it, there's nothing but downside if you take him in the first 10 rounds -- which is where you're going to have to in order to get him. May I remind you that Realmuto was hurt this past September due to the wear and tear of his position -- and that was after just a few months of play? A full 162-game season is going to have Realmuto resting for at least 20 games (and that assumes he doesn't get hurt). Potentially getting 25 HR/10 SB is amazing and very likely. However, it's also likely as good as it may get and the odds aren't going to be ever in his favor.
Soppe: What is exactly the hope for with Joey Gallo? His chase and fly balls rates were about as good as they could be last season for a player like Gallo and what was the end result? A .181/.301/.378 slash and under a run-plus-RBI per game. And that's with promising underlying metrics? C'mon now. This is not an offense that is going to consistently put Gallo in a position to produce fantasy numbers and the low floor makes him an easy pass for me anywhere inside the first 15 rounds.
Zola: Nick Anderson is being drafted as a top-10 closer. This has nothing to do with, "Never pay for saves." I'm not docking him for last year's playoff struggles. I understand the closer inventory is lousy this season. The bottom line is unless Tampa Bay goes against what they've been doing for the past several seasons and anoints Anderson as the primary closer, he won't compile ample saves to justify his lofty ADP. In the abbreviated 2020 campaign, a dozen different relievers logged a save for the Rays, with Anderson leading the way with six. Number one closers usually garner at least 85% of their clubs saves. You have to go back to 2017 to find the past Tampa Bay closer to eclipse that level when Alex Colome notched 47 of the squad's 53 saves. Maybe this is the year Anderson is deemed the guy, but it's not worth the draft capital to find out.
Sheets: While I really like Cavan Biggio's multi-position eligibility, his elite walk rate, and his base-stealing proficiency (a perfect 20-for-20 in the big leagues), I have trouble getting past last season's downright ugly batted-ball profile. According to Statcast data, Biggio's hard-hit percentage (13th percentile), exit velocity (26th), barrel rate (27th), expected batting average (12th) and expected slugging percentage (12th) all ranked in roughly the bottom quarter of the league or worse. At 103.6 mph, his max exit velocity ranked dead-last among 142 qualified hitters. His batted-bata data from 2019 is slightly better, but still below average in multiple areas. Needless to say, I'm skeptical about Biggio's home run output when he's so rarely hitting the ball with authority, especially in light of the recent news that MLB is deadening the ball in 2021. A career .255 hitter in the minors, Biggio is also a poor bet to help in the batting average department. The on-base skills and stolen-base potential will provide a decent floor, but those question marks make me very hesitant about a guy who is being drafted just outside the top-50.
Middle rounds (players roughly within the 101-200 range overall)
Cockcroft: If fantasy managers are avoiding Julio Urias, worried about his past as a Dodgers swingman, I'll be happy to scoop him up everywhere. Sure, his workload will come into question, and perhaps 150 total innings is an unreasonable ask, but what he'll give you in the frames he gets might be borderline top-10 starting pitcher worthy. This was Urias' stat line from Sept. 1 forward last season, playoffs included: 11 appearances, 2.12 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, .157 batting average allowed, 26.2% strikeout rate. I think it's his time to shine.
Karabell: Do not look at the final Dylan Carlson numbers in 2020. In 2019, across two minor league levels, he hit 26 home runs and stole 20 bases, with a .914 OPS. We know this fellow can play, and the Cardinals knew it as well, batting him cleanup in the playoff series. Carlson knows the strike zone, boasts good power, enough speed to pique our collective interest and a full-time lineup spot is all set. Do not be surprised if this mid-round pick ends up a top-20 fantasy outfielder.
Mass: There's no real reason that Leody Tavares should have played for the Rangers last season, but with no minor leagues, Texas decided to give the Double-A outfielder a shot. He was most definitely overwhelmed a bit at the plate, as his 32.1 K% would indicate. However, the Rangers are in a rebuild and can afford to see what they've got here in center field - and if what they've got is a 10 HR/25 SB hitter out of the No. 9 spot who can get comfortable enough at the plate to reduce those whiffs? I think top-200 fantasy value might be within reach here.
Soppe: Any draft I exit without Chris Paddack will be a failure to execute my plan. I like the idea of filling out your rotation with upside options in the middle rounds and Paddack's brutal 2020 has him qualified as such. Did you know that his FIP was nearly 7% lower last season than in 2019, despite his ERA rising by just over 42%? Or how about the fact that his swing-and-miss rate was right in line with his encouraging rookie campaign? It's possible that we were too high on him entering last season, but I think he's closer to SP20 than the SP30 we currently have him ranked as.
Zola: Maybe Hosmer isn't what he is. He's long known for endangering the well-being of worms inhabiting infields from San Diego to New York and everywhere in between. However, last season Hosmer made a conscious effort to hit more balls in the air, setting a career high with a 34% fly ball rate while hitting grounders at less than a 50% clip for the first time since his rookie campaign. Not only that, Hosmer didn't lose a thing in terms of average exit velocity while improving his contact rate. Once a player gets a reputation, it's hard to shake. For years, Hosmer has been a fantasy afterthought, not productive enough for a first baseman. Obviously, he's still nowhere near the top end of the pool, but sleeping on Hosmer's change in approach is a mistake. The added oomph in one of the league's most stacked lineup should render Hosmer a four-category contributor, albeit a couple tiers down the ranks.
Sheets: It's time we got over our collective bias against hurlers who don't have mouth-watering strikeout rates. I actually yawned while typing Marco Gonzales' name, so I include myself in that group, but we're doing ourselves a disservice if we ignore these guys. Gonzales is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 3.10 ERA and 0.95 WHIP across 11 starts. While it might be easy to write that off as a small-sample aberration, it's noteworthy that he altered his pitch mix in 2020, relying more on his sinker and cutter while curtailing the use of his changeup. The results included a career-best 8.3 K/9 and 0.90 BB/9, which led to an MLB-best 9.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While the 8.3 K/9 wasn't supported by a spike in swinging strike rate, Gonzales is a pitcher who consistently gets more called strikes than his peers because of his pinpoint command, ranking top-four in called strikes each of the last two seasons. Don't underestimate the value of finding hurlers who can help stabilize your ratios, even if they aren't huge strikeout guys. Think of Gonzales as Kyle Hendricks-lite, who can be drafted roughly 80 picks later.
Cockcroft: Four weeks of the majors' second-best batting average (.376) and five home runs, and suddenly Hayes is being regarded by prospective fantasy managers as a completely different player than the scouting reports indicate. Heads up: He's an elite defender with a contact-oriented swing and decent speed, not a batting title contender or big power source. Statcast's expected stats said Hayes should've had a batting average 76 points lower, and his 48% ground ball rate, coupled with his calling the worst park for right-handed power (PNC Park) his home, says that he's probably in for some struggles in his first full taste of the majors. He's a good prospect, but it's best to pass on what'll probably be a so-so 2021, then dive right back in when everyone is fading him entering 2022 based off "disappointing" prior-year stats.
Karabell: Some will note the tough home ballpark and playing with a last-place Pirates team, but Josh Bell was not just terrible in 2020. He was bad the final four months of 2019 as well. In fact, in six months and 506 PA since his monster May 2019 (.390, 12 HR), he is hitting .229. Sounds a bit like former Phillies phenom Domonic Brown, eh? Bell gets to start over with a new franchise, but other than one magical month, he has not been a noteworthy fantasy option most of his career, so stop drafting him as such.
Mass: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I was very much in the Victor Robles camp heading into 2019 and what did that get me? Sure, the 28 steals were nice but everything else was very disappointing: 17 HR, 65 RBI, and a .255 BA. That's not what we wanted from a guy we thought could be a top-40 overall fantasy value. Expecting a rebound in 2020? That certainly wasn't the case with a .220 average and .315 slugging percentage. Throw in a 28.0% K rate and there's simply no way I'm going to take this underachiever into the fold for 2021.
Soppe: Kris Bryant carries name value, but I'm not going to have any shares of him. He doesn't deserve it. Guarding against overreacting to 2020 will be critical, but I don't think a truly viable fantasy option posts a 0.3 BB/K rate over any reasonable stretch of time. Go back to 2019 and you'll see valleys among the peaks (.734 OPS in April, .751 OPS in August). I'm not comfortable in investing in him at our current ranking and I tend to think his ESPN ADP will be even higher given his status as a known name.
Zola: Not worrying about batting average and drafting Nick Madrigal later sounds like a plan. However, like Mike Tyson said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." A strategy requiring rostering a specific player is always a risk. All it takes is one other drafter to target Madrigal and you're checking for a bloody lip. While it's unlikely, if Madrigal slumps and loses playing time, he won't accrue the at bats necessary to balance your categories. He could get hurt. Other than average, Madrigal offers speed and some runs. Expecting to grab Madrigal later could result in passing on steals earlier. It's not so much that Madrigal himself will bust. It's more about counting on a lot going right without a viable Plan B. In points leagues, it's not about the power versus speed balance, but the difference between hitting near the top of the order and the nine-hole is huge. Madrigal is being drafted as if he's a top of the order mainstay and it's quite plausible he acts as a second leadoff hitter from the bottom.
Sheets: I can't shake the feeling that fantasy managers drafting Kyle Lewis are essentially paying for one good month. After looking like one of the best hitters in baseball in the first half (.368/456/.585 with seven homers in 125 plate appearances), Lewis had the rug pulled out from under him in the second half. He struggled to a .150/.265/.280 triple slash over his final 117 plate appearances, failing to adjust to pitchers feeding him more offspeed stuff. Lewis, who battled high strikeout rates in the minors, saw his whiff rate balloon to 36.8% during that stretch. Perhaps the 25-year-old would have adjusted with more time, but a below average hard-hit rate (35%) and average exit velocity (88.3%) don't paint a particularly encouraging picture. A slugger like Lewis who has a lot of swing-and-miss is going to have many peaks and valleys over a full season, and I'm worried the valleys are going to be much more frequent in 2021.
"Deep sleepers" (final-round, "only" league or outside-the-top-200-overall players)
Cockcroft: He might be just outside the draft-worthy range of ESPN standard 10-team leagues, and his probable No. 8-in-the-lineup role isn't that desirable, but Mauricio Dubon is a player I'll be tracking closely, who can provide you dirt-cheap stolen bases if you're hurting in the category late. Through two big-league seasons, he has shown an ability to get decent lift on the ball, well-above-average speed and potentially elite defense in center field, which should fuel everyday at-bats. Watch his spring training performance closely.
Karabell: The Twins knew rookie Alex Kiriloff could hit, thus he made his big league debut in the postseason, and with Eddie Rosario gone he figures to have a safe role in the team's lineup this season. Kiriloff reminds me a bit of Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, another sweet-swinging lefty that hits for average, though likely with more power, and enough stolen bases to matter. The value is there as your fifth outfielder.
Mass: C.J. Cron had four home runs in just 13 games in a 2020 that was cut short due to a dislocated kneecap that required surgery. He recently signed with the Rockies on a minor-league deal with an invitation to camp. This is a guy who could easily have given you a 20-HR season even if he got only around 400 plate appearances in a potential return to Detroit. If he makes the team and calls Coors his home? Lock it in.
Soppe: Adam Eaton feels very much like a Karabell pick and he's a smart guy, so that's not a bad thing. The 32-year-old comes with exactly zero excitement, but 12.6 homers and 14.2 steals per 550 at-bats over the past three seasons isn't going to hurt you. The current expectation is for him to hit in the top third of a lineup that features not one, not two, but three players we believe has top-50 upside this season, so I think he is a cheap way to get some exposure to this White Sox offense.
Zola: Batters on lesser teams are often unfairly penalized. Sure, hitters in productive lineups are preferred as early cornerstones, but those hitting in the heart of weaker orders can still be productive, especially relative to their draft price. Austin Hays is being overlooked. As a team, Baltimore won't be lighting up the scoreboard, but Camden Yards is a great place to hit and Hays has some company with Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and the returning Trey Mancini. Like former Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis, Hays doesn't excel anywhere, but is very good across the board. Health has been an issue for Hays while Markakis was as durable as they come, but if Hays can stay on the field, he'll put up numbers comparable to outfielders drafted earlier.
Sheets: There are many foggy closer situations around baseball, so drafting relievers can feel a little bit like a guessing game. The Cardinals' Jordan Hicks is one late-round reliever I'm feeling good about. Many pitchers battle control issues when they return 12-15 months after Tommy John surgery, but after opting out of the 2020 season, Hicks will be 22 months removed from surgery come April. That gives me confidence that he'll be completely ready to go when the season starts. The Cardinals had seven different pitchers register a save last season, with no one accumulating more than four. I don't think they want to go that route again. With Hicks healthy, he should be the front-runner to hold down the ninth inning. Prior to getting hurt in 2019, Hicks racked up 14 saves for the Cardinals with a 3.14 ERA and 9.7 K/9 rate. Armed with a sinker that averaged 101.5 mph in 2019 and led to an elite 67.2% ground ball rate, along with a swing-and-miss slider, Hicks has the stuff to be a top-tier closer. An early ADP of 262 makes him an easy target in the later rounds if you're short on saves.
Cockcroft: I waffled here between Padres infielders Ha-seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth, because I think both present playing-time obstacles for one another (and you can throw Jurickson Profar in there as well). Kim is expected to be the team's super-utility man, but in early NFBC drafts, he's being selected among the top 200 players, which seems like a price tag more befitting of a player guaranteed everyday at-bats. Most projections systems expect roughly a .260/.330/.430 stat line, which means he'd have to steal 15-plus bases to provide a return on your investment.
Karabell: The main reason to avoid new Rangers outfielder David Dahl is not solely because he no longer plays half his games at Denver's Coors Field, though that is a rather important reason. Consider also the fact Dahl can rarely stay healthy and was never much of a base stealer to start with, and he is probably a platoon player as well, struggling to hit left-handed pitching. Outfield looks deeper than normal for 2021 and there are myriad upside options more deserving of your last-round selection.
Mass: Gary Sanchez would probably like to forget last season entirely. His anemic .147 batting average, a career-worst 36.0% strikeout rate, and more combined passed balls and errors than home runs culminated in Kyle Higashioka getting most of the playing time behind the plate in the ALDS. A complete turnaround is certainly possible here, but we're still talking about a career .236 hitter who averaged only around 105 games played between 2017 and 2019. The catcher spot is weak overall in fantasy, but I'm not sure counting on a guy who might well get benched again if he struggles early is the answer.
Soppe: For a third straight season, Joey Votto's contact rate dipped and I don't see it rebounding for the 37-year-old. This call, however, is more about protecting you from yourself. Due to the value we (myself included) associate with Votto's name/resume, it would only be natural to draft him late and hold on for too long. The truth of the matter is that Votto's best days are far behind him and, for the season as a whole, he isn't worth your time. Could he spike for a week? A month? Sure, but if that production results in you playing him during the inevitable struggles, doesn't it do more harm than good? Do yourself a favor as a manager and avoid that headache by drafting a flier that you are comfortable in cutting should early struggles occur.
Zola: After posting a combined 4.58 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over the previous four seasons, Adam Wainwright turned back the clock with a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP last season. Unfortunately, Wainwright's success was more smoke and mirrors than a renaissance campaign. Under the hood, there wasn't anything markedly different last season that the previous four. To his credit, Wainwright displayed improved control, but he was the beneficiary of a fortunate .247 BABIP and 78.8% left on base mark. Resist the temptation, let someone else draft last season's visit from Lady Luck.
Sheets: Even if I'm short on steals late in my draft, Nick Madrigal is the type of player I try to avoid. Madrigal is a contact machine with a borderline elite hit tool and good speed, but he's going to hurt you in three categories in 5x5 leagues. If he played a full season and didn't hit a single home run, it wouldn't be a surprise. He has four home runs in 731 professional at-bats, with at least one of them being of the inside-the-park variety. In last season's limited 29-game sample, Madrigal didn't barrel a single ball, put up a paltry 20.8% hard-hit rate (ranked 341st out of 351 players), and rarely hit any fly balls (18.8%). Speed or not, that's not a profile I want to invest in. Despite some nice stolen base totals in the early minors, Madrigal stole only six bases (in 10 attempts) in 58 games between Triple-A and the majors. Keep in mind, the 23-year-old's Sprint Speed score (28.0 ft/sec) ranked just 101st in the majors last season. Sure, he's going to steal some bases, but don't confuse him for a guy with game-changing speed. This isn't Billy Hamilton, folks. A spot at the top of the White Sox's batting order would improve his prospects, but Madrigal is projected to bat ninth, which saps any run-scoring potential. Drafting Madrigal means you're going to have a lot of ground to make up elsewhere. I don't want to deal with that burden.