Fantasy baseball roundtable: Most debatable draft rankings

They say Spring Training stats don't matter, but Randy Arozarena begs the question: what about playoff stats? Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Here are Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, AJ Mass, Kyle Soppe, Todd Zola and Mike Sheets to go over which players they feel fantasy managers may be split right down the middle on this season.

Cockcroft: Four years into his big-league career, Shohei Ohtani has gone from being one of the exciting to one of the most divisive picks in fantasy baseball. He has already proven himself an excellent hitter, with per-162-game career averages of .269-30-94 and 18 stolen bases, and it's possible he could recapture the top-25 starter form he exhibited before getting hurt in 2018. Still, expecting him to stay healthy enough to realize his full potential is a major question, and the "divisive" part pertains to his wide range of values across different league formats. He's a stronger bounce-back pick in leagues with daily transactions, where you can exploit his starts and avoid days he begins on the bench, as well as in rotisserie compared to points-based formats (albeit slightly), but from a broad rankings perspective he probably has a high-end range around the top 100 overall, and a low-end range barely on the cusp of draft-worthy in ESPN leagues.

If not him, then I'd nominate Byron Buxton, and yes, I'm still on that bandwagon based on the hard-contact growth he showed in 2020, added to his already blazing speed. Sigh, if stardom doesn't happen, I guess I'm going down with this ship.

Karabell: I think we have a pretty good idea what Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are at this point, and that is enough for me to fade them regardless of league. Durability is a skill and these fellows lack the skill. Marvel at how far they can hit baseballs but that is not nearly enough anymore. We need to be able to count on them accruing plate appearances.

Mass: The splits are there for all to see. On the road, in 536 games, we've got a .263 batting average and a .793 OPS. At home, in 543 games, we've got a .322 batting average and a .985 OPS. So, without that Coors Field bump inflating his numbers, there's going to be a 2021 fantasy value drop for Nolan Arenado. The question is just how much the change of scenery will impact the third baseman. I don't think anyone is saying that Arenado is suddenly out of the top 10 at his position now that he's in St. Louis, but is he really still a top-50 player if he's topping out at .275 and 30 HR? I'm not sure that he is.

Soppe: Randy Arozarena was the darling last October and what he did for the sport of baseball cannot be overstated ... but I'll pass on the resulting fantasy helium. Tommy Pham and Kyle Schwarber are two players that posted elite average exit velocity metrics last season that are a bit more proven and being drafted a handful of rounds later. My argument against Arozarena is simple: how do you build a roster around him? My plan for the second half of drafts is largely reliant on how I project the first half of my draft going and truth be told, I don't know what to expect from Arozarena. That means I not only have to deal with the risk/reward of selecting him in the early middle rounds, but I also have to do more guesswork than I'm comfortable in the round immediately following that pick.

Zola: Generally speaking, recency bias will drive huge differences of opinion on players with unusually good or bad seasons last year. For example, in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, Zach Plesac's ADP is 60, he's the 21st starting pitcher off the board. This is based on eight starts last season, most against subpar lineups. Three of his starts came on regular four days rest, three came on five days rest and the other two with more than five days rest and he pitched progressively better with more rest. Given, this is a small sample, but the 21st best starter based on eight starts is also quite a leap. I need to see Plesac work against better competition on consistent four days rest before I anoint him borderline top-2o starting pitcher status.

On the flip side, Javier Baez had an awful season. However, despite being a free swinger, he was one of the most consistent offensive performers in the game the previous four campaigns. His NFBC ADP is around 71, a significant drop from the past couple of years. There is a narrative Baez missed looking at video during games. If this is true, hitters will be able to view previous at bats with the catcher's signals blurred out. Even if Baez's struggles weren't related to this, the market is over penalizing the Cubs shortstop.

Sheets: What are we supposed to do with Yordan Alvarez? This was a guy who was being drafted in the third round last season after putting up a .313/.412/.655 slash line with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in just 87 games in 2019. That's not the case anymore. A bout with COVID-19 and knee issues limited Alvarez to just two games in 2020, and he eventually underwent season-ending surgery on both knees in August. He now owns an NFBC ADP of 85.5, which makes him an eighth-rounder in 12-team leagues. I understand that there's some uncertainty here after a lost season, but let's not pretend like Alvarez is suddenly a decrepit old man with bad knees. He's still only 23 years old, so please refrain from slapping an injury-prone label on him.

A quick peek at Alvarez's Statcast profile from 2019 reveals a sea of red. He finished in the top 10% in baseball in exit velocity, barrel rate, hard-hit rate, xBA, xwOBA, xSLG and BB%. This is an MVP-level bat. By all accounts, Alvarez's recovery is on schedule and he'll be ready to go for Spring Training. Any risk of re-injury is already more than baked into the ADP, so I'll happily take the big discount on one of the game's elite young mashers.