Everyone dislikes something.
The running joke for me, it seems, is my dislike of hot dogs, and my intense dislike of mustard, for that matter. It's perhaps ironic for a baseball writer to include those on his list but, in my defense, aren't "peanuts and cracker jack" cited as the traditional baseball foods in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"? Load up my plate with those, please. (As an aside, spicy Italian sausage over hot dogs, seven days a week.)
The same mantra applies to my fantasy baseball draft list -- as it should to yours. We'll all have the players we'd love to roster, but we're also all going to have those we wouldn't draft to our teams under any circumstances. Call them the "mustard" of my roster. Not on my plate!
Similarly, when considering rostering the 10 names listed below, I have a similar reaction. Not on my team! The explanation should be obvious. Considering current average draft position (ADP), both on ESPN and offsite, as well as my experiences in early drafts and auctions, there's little chance I'd roster these players for the price.
For this column, I've excluded players whom I'd obviously avoid where possible due to injury concerns, including Chris Sale, Giancarlo Stanton and James Paxton. In recent seasons, I've more often than not faded players who are headed to the injured list for Opening Day and surrounded with questionable timetables in the season's early stages, since they tend to be frequent sources of fantasy disappointment. Since they also tend to be more obvious candidates for the column, I'll keep them to the sidelines here as well.
So let's start off by tacking a few words onto the column's title, which are necessary to explain a pick like Tatis. "Not on my team -- at that price!" Only the sixth rookie ever to bat .300-plus with at least 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases -- and the first since Mike Trout in 2012 -- Tatis has been going at the end of the first round in NFBC-style drafts, which seems to entirely drain any profit potential in rostering him. It's not that I wouldn't welcome Tatis to my fantasy team. I'd love to have him, but not if it's going to come at a price that, per 2019 Player Rater numbers, necessitated that a player provide at least two out of the following stats: a .300-plus batting average, 35-plus homers, 30-plus stolen bases or 100-plus runs scored or RBIs. I don't doubt Tatis' ability to meet the homer and steals thresholds if he stays healthy for enough games. However, injuries are a worry for a player with his all-out playing style, and his .317 batting average seems unsustainable given that his BABIP was .410 and his Statcast expected batting average was just .259. We need to be realistic with our expectations, and a top-25 valuation for Tatis simply isn't.
His injury history is becoming a concern, as he has made three trips to the injured list totaling 91 days of missed time over the past two seasons alone. While two of those trips were for shoulder issues, any ailments related to his legs going forward would be especially concerning because Mondesi derives so much of his value from steals. He also remains one of the least-disciplined hitters in baseball -- his 6.9 K/BB rate was third-worst and 23.5% swinging-strike rate was second-worst among those who came to the plate at least 400 times. This leaves him susceptible to extreme hot and cold streaks as well as a mediocre season-ending batting average. If he's again going in the top 50 in drafts (which he is according to many offsite sources), you can have him. Frankly, I'm surprised so few of us seemed to learn this lesson last season.
Let's stick with the shortstops, and another one who had an unsustainable BABIP. Anderson's .399 mark suggests he might have more than 60 points of batting average to give back in 2020. By the way, remember that note about Mondesi's K/BB rate? Well, Anderson's 7.3 K/BB was the worst in that department, and he also had baseball's fourth-worst chase rate -- that's the percentage of swings he took at pitches outside the strike zone -- with a whopping 43.3%. Give Anderson Josh Reddick's .275 batting average in a similar number of at-bats and the White Sox shortstop would've finished only 118th on the Player Rater, rather than 45th. That seems a lot closer to a reasonable price point, except that Anderson is going at least two rounds sooner in most drafts at this stage of the spring.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals
I'm finding that in my early drafts, I'm unwilling to pay the price required to roster Merrifield. In fact, my valuation for him hasn't been that close. It's not that I think a huge decline in performance is coming, rather it's that I no longer consider him the "safe" SB investment that he once was -- and that's a really large part of his game in fantasy. Merrifield's Statcast sprint speed has declined in both of the past two seasons to the point where his 28.6 feet-per-second rate in 2019 only barely cracked the top 100 and no longer classifies as "elite." That he was only 20-for-30 attempting steals didn't help, since it could set him up for more red lights, especially under new manager Mike Matheny, whose St. Louis Cardinals teams routinely ranked among the majors' bottom half in terms of steals attempts.
He's a pitcher who often earns "top 15 at his position" attention. Well, if that's anywhere near his price point, count me out. Syndergaard's 32 starts and 197 2/3 innings last season represented pro-career highs, but it seems unwise to pay for repeats of either, considering he has made four trips to the injury list over the past three seasons combined. In his four full big-league campaigns, he's averaged only 24 starts and 142 frames. Additionally, Syndergaard's fastball (key to his dominance in his first two big-league years) hasn't performed like that overpowering pitch, totaling barely one run above average (per FanGraphs) from 2017-19 combined. He's a very good second- or third-tier fantasy starter, and if that's the cost, fine. However, I'm no longer in on him as a top-20 option.
He seems to have earned the "power/speed combo" label coming off his out-of-nowhere 2019, but that's about where his positives end -- and there are flaws tied to both of those facets of his game. In terms of power, Santana's 28 home runs were more than double his total in his previous five big-league seasons combined. You can't ignore that they came in the "happy fun ball" 2019 season. While he showed a hint of power while with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2018, his 18.5% HR/FB rate (fourth-highest among batting title-eligibles last year) suggests significant regression is in order. As for Santana's steals, his free-swinging nature threatens a sub-.300 OBP and his 38.1% chase rate is also strong evidence of that. There's no way he should be picked even close to the top-100 overall.
Drafting strategies at catcher tend to be the most variable across leagues, due to the divide between one- and two-catcher leagues. In general, though, I'd rather not pay a premium at the position for small samples -- at least not when there are cheaper, similarly skilled players available (see my "Tristan's Twenty" for two examples). Smith was excellent in limited time last season and should have a fine career, but so much of his current game is tied to power, and that's a concern due to the questions surrounding the composition of the baseball. Among players with at least 150 trips to the plate, his 38.0% flyball rate was the majors' highest, and he was one of only five players with at least 35% flyball and 25% strikeout rates (joining Tyler Austin, Cavan Biggio, Joey Gallo and Eric Thames). That's a real threat to his batting average. And then there's this: Smith's Statcast hard-contact rate was 39.2%, only slightly better than league average, which hints that any change to the baseball could significantly impact his homer total. He's a solid pick for sure, but I wouldn't pay a premium for him.
Mike Minor, SP, Texas Rangers
His was a magical 2019, culminating in top-85 rotisserie and top-60 points finishes overall, but given the choice between surprising Rangers starters, I'll take Lance Lynn and his adjusted-arm-slot-driven strikeout boost. Minor's 23.2% strikeout rate last season was only marginally better than the league average (23.0%), and that number dipped to 21.9% after the All-Star break, during which time his ERA was 4.93 and his WHIP 1.38. He also managed to throw 208 1/3 innings for only the second time in his nine-year career. It's a reminder that the injury question always lurks beneath the surface. Minor looks like more of a streaming/matchups candidate than a trusted regular member of a fantasy staff, so I think it's foolish to draft him as a top-40 starter.
Like Smith, Soroka should enjoy a long and fruitful big-league career. But, like Minor, Soroka doesn't miss many bats. His 20.3% strikeout rate from last season was 17th-lowest among the 61 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. Soroka's FIP (3.45) was more than three-quarters of a run higher than his ERA (2.68), and it's a bad mix to combine the possibility of regression with an injury history that shouldn't be completely dismissed. If you don't recall, he missed nearly four full months with shoulder issues in 2018. If it's a keeper or dynasty league, count me in on this right-hander with an elite sinker and plus slider, but it's rarely a good idea to chase last year's stats in redraft formats. Soroka is often going within the top-25 starters, which is too great a premium.
Count me out on one-category performers this season. Smith has consistently gone within the top-200 players overall in drafts both on ESPN and offsite. He's the kind of player you'd often see selected much sooner when fantasy managers become desperate to fill the SB category after ignoring it in the early rounds. He provides little other than his speed, having posted the majors' seventh-worst Statcast hard-contact rate (19.8%) and 13th-worst average exit velocity (84.3 mph). Beyond that, he continually showed such weak contact against lefties that a platoon role might be potentially in order -- and remember, you want playing time from your speedsters. In today's homer-happy game, you're simply wiser getting power/steal combo guys earlier than backing yourself into having to reach for one-category speedsters in the mid-to-late rounds.