The 2017 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner, meaning those who take part in fantasy baseball are beginning to study up on which players they should be adding to their team when their draft rolls around. Usually, the top half of the draft is fairly self explanatory as it is filled with big name players and up-and-coming stars that have been discussed ad nauseam by baseball experts. The tough part in building a successful fantasy team is finding players in the mid to late rounds of the draft that can produce for at a higher level than is expected of them. Generally, the most effective way to scout for these under-the-radar players is to scan through spring training stats to find players that stand out, seeing what players’ experts are predicting to perform well in the coming season, and scouring through fantasy baseball player rankings to see where players’ can be had in the draft. Based on this strategy, let’s take a look at under-the-radar players at each position that you should consider when drafting your team:
Taijuan Walker – Arizona Diamondbacks
Overall Ranking: 197 | Positional Rank: 61
The baseball world has been waiting for Tajuan Walker’s inevitable breakout season since he broke through with the Seattle Mariners in 2013 and was pegged as a future ace. In his four seasons in the big leagues, Walker owns a highly average 22-22 record as a starter and an uninspiring 4.18 career ERA. Looking strictly at his numbers it is hard to envision this upcoming season being anything more than mediocre and the projections back up this notion, predicting a season in line with his career averages. Despite all of this, Walker is having an immaculate spring training following his offseason trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Through four spring training appearances, Walker boasts a 2.08 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 1 walk through 13 innings. While it is always wise to take spring training stats with a grain of salt, this kind of performance from a player with Walker’s ability seems to be an indicator that he is finally starting to figure things out.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 170 IP | 13 Wins | 7 Losses | 3.67 ERA | 1.15 WHIP | 160 K | 44 BB
Travis d’Arnaud – New York Mets
Overall Ranking: NR | Positional Ranking: 21
Travis d’Arnaud has had an up and down career to this point but it wasn’t long ago that the 28 year old catcher was considered one of the top prospects at his position. Needless to say, d’Arnaud has failed to live up to those expectations; hitting to the tune of a .245 career batting average while producing a measly 46 doubles and 30 home runs over four MLB seasons. One of the main reasons for d’Arnaud’s struggles is his long injury history; injuries have limited him to just 281 games over his four year career. He is looking to bounce back in 2017 and prove that he can stay healthy over the course of a 162-game season. The Mets are taking steps to ensure d’Arnaud the best chance to do so by working on his throwing mechanics to prevent further injury and tweaking his swing to help him put the barrel on the ball more often. The early returns from these changes have been extremely positive; through 12 spring training games d’Arnaud is hitting .324 and has flashed the extra base hit ability that made him such a coveted prospect early in his career. With his new and improved swing and throwing mechanics, d’Arnaud looks like he is primed for a healthy and productive season in 2017.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 500 AB | 50 R | 20 HR | 61 RBI | .276 AVG | .345 OBP | .464 SLG
Yulieski Gurriel -Houston Astros
Overall Ranking: NR | Positional Ranking: 32
Nobody would blame you if you have no idea who Yulieski Gurriel is, most people don’t. The 32 year old Gurriel had a storied 15-year career in his native Cuba, with a career slash line of.335/.417/.580 and a total of 1585 hits, 974 runs, and 1018 RBI’s. His incredible production led to widespread interest from MLB teams that culminated in him signing a five-year, 47.5 million dollar deal with the Astros last season. Gurriel was initially placed in the minors but he quickly moved through the Astros system, leading to his call-up on August 21st. Gurriel quickly became a staple in the Astros lineup; ending the season with a respectable .262 batting average, 15 RBI’s, and 13 runs in 130 at bats. Gurriel’s 2016 performance barely scratches the surface of his capabilities; now fully adjusted to the MLB game and having locked down the Astros starting first base position, Gurriel is set to take the MLB by storm in the coming season.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 480 AB | 68 R | 13 HR | 65 RBI | 7 SB | .292 AVG | .345 OBP | .446 SLG
Jonathan Schoop – Baltimore Orioles
Overall Ranking: 239 | Positional Ranking: 19
Jonathan Schoop, despite being in the top-tier of power hitting second baseman, continues to be one of the more overlooked players in the MLB. Schoop broke through with the Orioles in 2013 and has slowly seen his role with the team grow, which has led in marked improvement in each of his four seasons with the team. This past season Schoop hit .267 and registered career highs in almost every statistical category, including an impressive 38 doubles, 25 home runs, and 82 RBI’s. The main reason why Schoop remains on the outside looking in when discussing the game’s best second basemen is his swing and miss style at the plate that has led to him amassing 340 strikeouts in 1389 at bats during his career. In 2016 he posted a paltry walk rate of 3.2 percent as well as a high strikeout percentage of 21.2 percent, both of which point to an undisciplined approach at the plate. Although his high strikeout and low walk numbers aren’t ideal, Schoop’s ability to provide strong power numbers without sacrificing batting average make him a player worth adding in all leagues.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 605 AB | 72 R | 28 HR | 90 RBI | .266 AVG | .300 OBP | .466 SLG
Pablo Sandoval – Boston Red Sox
Overall Ranking: NR | Positional Ranking: 61
Pablo Sandoval has had a precipitous fall from grace; the former World Series MVP has gone from an All-Star caliber player during his time with the San Francisco Giants to a punch line after a disastrous start to his tenure with the Boston Red Sox. Sandoval has looked like a shell of his former self during his two seasons in Boston, slashing .245/.292/.366 in 2015 and getting off to a slow start in 2016 before undergoing season ending shoulder surgery just three games into the season. It would be irresponsible to assume that the Sox slugger will return to being the same player he was with the Giants but all signs are pointing to him having a bounce back campaign. The first indicator is the fact that Sandoval showed up to Red Sox camp having reportedly lost close to 30 pounds, which is a significant step forward for a player who has historically struggled with his weight. The second indicator is the noticeable improvement in his defense at third base, as his defense was one of the major reasons why he ultimately lost his starting position before the start of last season. The final indicator is his resurgence with the bat during spring training; batting an impressive .333 with 11 RBI’s in just 39 at bats. By all indications, Sandoval looks as if he will turn in a solid performance during the 2017 season and finding himself in the middle of a stacked Red Sox lineup should only help his case.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 440 AB | 45 R | 17 HR | 58 RBI | .275 AVG | .330 OBP | .441 SLG
Matt Duffy – Tampa Bay Rays
Overall Ranking: 289 | Positional Ranking: 21
If someone were to ask who finished second in the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year voting, it is more than likely the correct answer would not even be in the conversation. The correct answer is none other than former San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy, who put up healthy numbers at the plate that year with a slash line of .295/.334/.428 and provided solid defense at the hot corner; accumulating 12 defensive runs saved and a 10.6 ultimate zone rating while playing third base. His 2016 season was not nearly as successful, his production dipped due to a nagging achilles injury and he was eventually dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays where he played in 21 games before undergoing season-ending surgery on his heel. Duffy’s recovery from his achilles surgery has been slower than expected but it still looks as if he will be ready to play come the first month of the season. Expect Duffy’s well-rounded offensive repertoire to make him a factor in the Rays lineup, allowing him to contribute in all important fantasy categories.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 550 AB | 70 R | 13 HR | 57 RBI | 16 SB | .281 AVG | .335 OBP | .425 SLG
Alex Dickerson – San Diego Padres
Overall Ranking: NR | Positional Ranking: 55
One of the few players who stuck out last year on a woeful San Diego Padres squad was rookie left fielder Alex Dickerson, who flashed his potential at the plate by putting up solid power numbers highlighted by a .455 slugging percentage and isolated power of .198. Dickerson’s emergence has forced the Padres to take a serious look at him this offseason to see where he fits into the Padres crowded outfield picture. At the moment Dickerson is slated to be the starting left fielder with Travis Jankowski in center and Hunter Renfroe in right. This will likely be the outfield alignment for the majority of the season, however, top prospect Manuel Margot could shake things up if he makes the roster as he could push Jankowski out of center and into a left field platoon with Dickerson. His current injury is also a situation to monitor as he is currently shut down for three to four weeks due to back discomfort stemming from a bulging disc, leaving his status for Opening Day in question. All indications point to a full recovery which should put Dickerson in the starting lineup a few weeks into the season and make him a high upside player who should be available in the later rounds of fantasy drafts everywhere.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 400 AB | 61 R | 20 HR | 65 RBI | .275 AVG | .327 OBP | .503 SLG
Tyler Naquin – Cleveland Indians
Overall Ranking: 137 | Positional Ranking: 19
Tyler Naquin’s 2016 season was nothing short of spectacular; the 25 year old rookie produced a .296/.372/.514 slash line, 52 runs, 43 RBI’s, and an eye popping .411 BABIP in 116 games. The question now is, will Naquin be able to produce at or near the same level in 2017? The projections largely predict that he will regress significantly; predicting a .30 point drop off in batting average, .50 point drop in OBP, and similar run and RBI numbers as last season despite a significant increase in at bats. While it seems likely there will be some drop-off in production, an improved hitting approach and better plate discipline have Naquin looking better than ever in spring training where he is slashing an incredible .458/.480/.792 with 6 extra base hits and only 3 strikeouts in 24 at bats. Naquin’s revamped approach at the plate should lead to production closely resembling his stats last year, if they were extended over a full season.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 547 AB | 82 R | 14 HR | 63 RBI | 20 SB | .283 AVG | .355 OBP | .439 SLG
Nomar Mazara – Texas Rangers
Overall Ranking: 250 | Positional Ranking: 27
Nomar Mazara’s performance last season was one of the best among his rookie counterparts; he batted a solid .266, slugged 20 home runs, and added 59 runs and 64 RBI’s for good measure, all of which was good enough for him to finish fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Mazara’s emergence has him locked in as the Rangers starting right fielder to start the season and his power potential makes him one of the most intriguing young sluggers in the AL. It is wise to be cautiously optimistic about Mazara going into 2017 due to his regression down the stretch last season, struggles against left handed pitching, and surprisingly high ground ball rate for a home run hitter. Regardless, Mazara’s tantalizing skill set and power potential make him a player worth considering come draft time.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 560 AB | 70 R | 22 HR | 76 RBI | .273 AVG | .340 OBP | .429 SLG
Ryon Healy – Oakland Athletics
Overall Ranking: 213 | Positional Ranking: 20
With the impressive numbers that Ryon Healy put up during the 2016 season, it is curious why his production went largely unnoticed throughout the year. Healy quite simply put on a hitting clinic for the Athletics last season; producing a slash line of .305/.337/.524 while contributing 33 extra base hits and 37 RBI’s in 269 at bats. He also flashed unexpected power that was not present during his time in the minors and his .219 isolated power suggests that this newfound power is no fluke. Some doubt the authenticity of Healy’s 2016 production and point to his lack of plate discipline, low walk rate, and seemingly poor batters eye as signs that he will experience regression in the coming season. However, his career minor league batting average of .293 and BABIP of .324, as well as his o-contact and z-contact percentages from last season of 66.7 and 87.7 respectively, suggest that his high strikeout numbers do not affect his batting average because he makes contact inside and outside the zone at league average rates while getting hits at above-average rates when he puts the ball in play. Healy’s advanced hitting skills make him a safe bet as a bench power bat who should provide positional flexibility with eligibility at both corner infield positions.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 518 AB | 67 R | 25 HR | 85 RBI | .278 AVG | .320 OBP | .486 SLG
Non-Closing Relief Pitcher
Blake Treinen – Washington Nationals
Overall Ranking: NR | Positional Ranking: 96
The Washington Nationals search for a closer did not go as the front office had hoped; missing out on several notable free agents this offseason and failing to swing a trade for a proven closer after their failed free agent pursuits. This has left the Nationals with a handful of in-house options to fill their closer spot, including but not limited to Shawn Kelley, Joe Nathan, Koda Glover, and Blake Treinen. Throughout spring training the list has seemingly narrowed as Kelley is reportedly out of the running and Nathan has posted lackluster spring training numbers, which leaves Glover and Treinen as the main candidates come the start of the season. There are several reasons why Treinen should emerge as the victor in the Nationals closer competition: he is coming off the best season of his career in which he posted a 2.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 67 innings of work, he keeps the ball on the ground evidenced by his career ground ball percentage of 62.6 percent, and he has been identified as having the best “stuff” of all the Nationals options at closer. Don’t be surprised if the Nationals trot out Treinen to close for them in 2017 and don’t be surprised if he ends up thriving in the role.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 60 IP | 3 W | 1 L | 2.21 ERA | 1.15 WHIP | 65 K | 21 BB | 4 HLD | 33 SV
Greg Holland – Colorado Rockies
Overall Ranking: 299 | Positional Ranking: 44
Greg Holland is a name that should sound familiar to baseball fans because not too long ago he was one of the premier closers in Major League Baseball. Between 2011 and 2015, he converted 145 of 161 save opportunities while pitching to an excellent 2.15 ERA while with the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, Holland’s career took a turn for the worse at the tail end of the 2015 season when he was shut down due to a torn UCL that required him to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2016 season. Holland now finds himself with the Colorado Rockies, where he hopes to revive his career and show that he still has what it takes to be a closer in the MLB. He has looked understandably rusty so far in spring training, although he did pitch a perfect frame in his first spring training appearance, but once he knocks off the rust he should turn out to be a serviceable closer as the year progresses.
Predicted 2017 Stats: 51 IP | 2 W | 2 L | 3.33 ERA | 1.28 WHIP | 63 K | 25 BB | 32 SV