Written by: Ray Butler
Two games of the 2017 MLB regular season are already in the books (with a third well on the way), and I’ll sleep better tonight because of it.
With active players finally going on the DL and fantasy rosters finally nearing completion, I thought I’d take a shot at naming some undervalued players who could play a big role in the League of Ruthless Gentlemen this season.
Basically, the list you’re about to read is chalked full of guys who I think will wildly outperform their ADP this season. There are some biggish names included, and I know this is basically a dynasty league, but I think you’ll get a sense of the general caliber of player and purpose of this list rather quickly.
Let’s dive in:
John Morrison- North Correa
2B Devon Travis: It’s been injured too often so far during his career, but Travis’s stats suggest a full-season compilation of a .301 AVG, 18 HR, and 84 RBI. All of a sudden, the Blue Jays’ really need his offensive presence at the top of their lineup. He’s a lock to score a ton of runs this season, and, If he can simply stay uninjured, he could be a fantasy star this season.
OF Keon Broxton: Broxton has received plenty of LORG steam in other posts this preseason, but he also deserves a mention here. He really progressed at the end of last season, he had a great spring, and he’ll hit either first or second in an underrated Brewers lineup. He’ll swipe bases and score runs in bunches, and he should easily outperform where he was drafted this season.
SS Tim Anderson: A foundational piece of the White Sox’ future, Anderson inked a long-term extension this offseason and is primed for his first full season of MLB action in 2017. Like Broxton, he’ll hit at the top of his respective lineup. He should get on base more than he did last season, which means he’ll have more opportunities to steal bases and score runs. The Chicago of the American League won’t be good this season, but Anderson will be.
Matt Smith- Super Gurriel Bros
SP Robert Gsellman: The new fixture in the Mets’ rotation has had an amazing ascension. Now equipped with a slider that’s good enough to conceive babies, owners who either drafted or picked up Gsellman prior to the start of the regular season should have a rotation mainstay for the foreseeable future.
Ray Butler- The Syndergaawds
3B Nicholas Castellanos: The hot corner infielder (who is still somehow only 25 years young) was well on his way to posting a breakout season in 2016 before fracturing his left hand down the stretch. He still managed to finish with 18 HR, 58 RBI, and a .331 OBP in 411 official at-bats. He had a great spring training (he’s more upright in his stance this season), and if he can put the ball in play a little more in 2017 (24.8 K% last season), he could truly be an elite fantasy asset.
OF Kevin Kiermaier: From the time he was officially moved to the 2-hole in August to the end of the season, Kiermaier had an OBP of .345 and had 7 HR and 12 SB. He’ll have the opportunity to bat second on an everyday basis in 2017 (after signing a long term extension with Tampa Bay) and could be a real threat to contribute heavily in runs scored, stolen bases, and on base percentage.
SP Daniel Norris: Norris has overcome a trade from Toronto, a cancer diagnosis, and multiple injuries to land the a spot in the Tigers’ rotation. The former top-tier prospect finished with more than a strikeout per inning and an ERA of 3.38 in 69.1 IP in 2016, and, if he stays healthy, could be destined to put up similar numbers over a full season in 2017.
Caleb Stumpf- Very Good Team
C Kyle Schwarber: You already know that Schwarber is really, really good. But let me throw a couple of numbers at you: .300 AVG and 30 HRs. That’s the potential here, and it will be attainable for the next decade beginning in 2017. He’s coming off major knee surgery, but he’ll almost certainly find a way to maintain catcher eligibility for the foreseeable future. Oh, and he’ll also be the leadoff hitter for the best lineup and baseball. I think he’ll (rather easily) be a top 75 overall fantasy player this time next season.
SP Francisco Liriano: The return to relevance. Formerly a viable fantasy starting pitcher, Liriano was good in 2016 only after being traded from Pittsburgh to Toronto. Another player who’s had a fantastic spring, Liriano (though he needs to limit his free passes) could be the piece that the Blue Jays need to make a deep playoff run this season.
Bobby Morrison- Logan’s Heroes
SP Adam Wainwright: Like Liriano, it’s weird to have Wainwright on a list like this after a long run of relative dominance. The Cardinals’ righty was rocked to the tune of a 4.62 ERA in 2016, leaving him largely forgotten about heading into this season. He might not have the stuff to make a Justin Verlander-esque return to All-Star caliber numbers, but Wainwright should be much better this season.
Gregg Morris- Mookie Monsters
SS Addison Russell: The Cubs’ shortstop notched an even 1000 official regular season at-bats before he even turned 23 years old. He non-chalantly finished with 21 HR and 95 RBI last season, and while he needs to find his way on base more, the best is yet to come for Russell.
1B Mike Napoli: Napoli’s late-season fade hurt his stock heading into this season, but his move to Texas means that 1) he’s still hitting in a very good lineup, and 2) he’s still playing in a very hitter friendly ballpark. Napoli’s power (combined with a little more consistency) should lead to the first baseman easily outperforming his start-of-season value.
OF Manuel Margot: The Padres’ everyday center fielder may never put up power-friendly fantasy numbers, but he’ll be valuable nonetheless, and I expect that to begin in 2017. A future ceiling that’s similar to that of Starling Marte, Margot should be an above-average contributor in runs, total bases, and stolen bases for the next decade.
SP Ivan Nova: Ray Searage’s masterpiece already made an appearance in our 2017 MLB Bold Prediction piece, and with good reason. After being traded from the Yankees to the Pirates at the trade deadline last season (which led to several LOLs by fantasy baseball industry folks), Nova was nearly lights out. At only 30 years old and with several productive seasons left in his arm, Nova could prove to be a nice complement to Gerrit Cole in 2017 and beyond.
Ben Roach- Dominican DDs
OF Mitch Haniger: Now an everyday player thanks to a trade from Arizona to Seattle, Haniger seems destined for big things hitting second in the Mariners’ lineup. Not only is the monstrous spring encouraging, but advanced stats (namely the change in launch angle) from his brief stint in Arizona last season seem to suggest that Haniger may be a player capable of hitting 20 bombs per season in his prime.
SP Lance McCullers Jr.: McCullers certainly isn’t on this list because he’s a no-name pro ballplayer looking to become relevant in 2017. He’s already good and he’s only 23, but durability is a genuine concern that could lead to the fireballer never reaching his true potential. Even if his annual average hovers at 175 IP, McCullers’ ability should allow him to be a top 20 fantasy starting pitcher. If it rises closer to 200 IP, oh boy.
SP Sean Manaea: Largely forgotten because he pitches where baseball players go to die, Manaea really seemed to turn a big-league corner after the All-Star break in 2016, posting a 2.67 ERA and .220 opponent BA down the stretch. The big southpaw has had an encouraging spring and is poised to be a big-time player in 2017.
McKinnon Ray- A Krismas Story
2B/3B/OF Brandon Drury: Another player on this list who had an underrated 2016 season, Drury should benefit from everyday playing time at a single defensive position. He totaled 16 HR, 53 RBI, and a .329 OBP last season in 461 official ABs, and a full-season of playing time in the comfy confines of Chase Field could lead to Drury becoming a middle infielder capable of hitting north of 20 HR and totaling ~75 RBI. That’s useful in any type of fantasy league.
OF Byron Buxton: The Twins’ center fielder has experienced mixed results since graduating from the very top of prospect lists and becoming a full-time MLB player. He’ll get plenty of chances to succeed on a very bad team this season, and, at at the top-end of his potential, Buxton will be capable of hitting 20 HR and swiping 30 bases on a yearly basis; a 15 HR, 25 NSB performance is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities in 2017.
SP Luis Severino: Like Buxton, Severino has been a mixed bag since becoming a full time major leaguer. He was a dynamic firecracker during his time with the Yankees in 2015, but was largely disappointing last season in what should have been his first full season in the MLB. Instead, Severino spent just as much time in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as he did in the Bronx. He’s once again secured a spot in New York’s rotation, and (after spending the offseason working with Pedro Martinez) I’d like to think that Severino will begin reclaiming his potential this season.
Van Moore- Joe Buck Yourself
3B Mike Moustakas: It’s a contract year for Moustakas, who seemed destined to be an upper-echelon fantasy player after a fantastic 2015 season. Instead, the third baseman tore his ACL after only 104 official ABs in 2016. Now back to full health, the Royals need Moustakas to be a catalyst in an offense that is likely spending its last season together in 2017.
SP Lance Lynn: The Cardinals undoubtedly missed Lynn’s mound presence in 2016 while the big right-hander was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Lots of people forget that Lynn was largely dominant in 2014 and 2015, combining for 379 IP, 348 Ks, and an ERA under 3.00. Now back to 100%, Lynn should be an underrated player for a Cardinals’ team that will spend all season trying to keep up with the Cubs.
Adam Stumpf- Sausage Party
2B Logan Forsythe: Chase Utley somehow scored 79 runs last season while tallying a mere .319 OBP. Once Dave Roberts figures out that Andrew Toles has no business batting leadoff (which should be sooner rather than later), Forsythe should benefit from getting on base often and letting the lineup behind him (which is *just* a little bit better than Tampa Bay’s) play to its potential.
OF Nomar Mazara: The gigantic left-handed hitter had a hot start to his rookie season last year before tapering off down the stretch. Now acclimated to a full 162-game schedule, Mazara should give us a better idea of what we can expect from him for years to come this season. He should knock on the door of 3o home runs in 2017 (also, he’s only 21).
SP Mike Foltynewicz: Mike Long Last Name figured to be one of several young Braves pitchers to truly “arrive” in 2016. Instead, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler will begin the year in AAA. Foltynewicz, however, found a relative amount of success last season and could really turn the corner in 2017. Among the hardest throwers in the big leagues, Foltynewicz was at his best in 2016 when he relied heavily on his sinker. He should continue that pattern this season as he looks to become a mainstay both in the Braves rotation and in fantasy leagues across the country.
Zach Gerhart- The Disabled List
SP Garrett Richards: A miracle of modern medicine, Richards was slated to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss most of the 2016 season and the entirety of the 2017 season. Instead, Richards received stem cell treatment and now claims to be fully healthy and ready for the 2017 regular season. Strong spring training outings supported his claims. The Angels will certainly monitor Richards’ innings (especially early in the season), but the hard throwing right hander should return to being a top 30 SP and easily the ace of the Angels’ rotation if he remains healthy.
SP Charlie Morton: Let’s go back in time for a moment: Morton, the newest addition to the Astros’ rotation, posted a 3.83 ERA in 171.2 IP in 2011. In 2013, the righty finished with 157.1 IP and a 3.72 ERA (he played for the Pirates in both of these seasons). I think he’ll match or surpass these numbers in 2017. He’ll also outperform his 6.3 lifetime K/9. He’s had a fantastic spring (his velocity is higher than it’s ever been), and Morton could be the missing piece for an Astros team that’s been searching for consistent quality at the back-end of their rotation.
Frank Selesky- SeagerShine
1B Josh Bell: He’s not your typical fantasy first baseman, but Josh Bell is going to be a really good player for a really long time. His power likely tops out at around 20 HRs a season, but Bell should be a guy that will post an OBP north of .350 with very few strikeouts (he had 93 in 636 PAs in 2016) each and every season. He won’t be as valuable in leagues with no corner infield position and only one utility spot, but Bell shouldn’t hold a fantasy team back for the next 10-15 years.
1B/3B Ryon Healy: Is the power for real? Healy hit 13 bombs in only 269 official at-bats after being promoted to Oakland down the stretch last season. That’s after never hitting more than 16 home runs in an entire season since being drafted in 2013. He’ll transition from third base to first base this season (which will obviously hurt his stock a little), but if the power wasn’t simply a flash in the pan, Healy will be a viable fantasy option regardless of position.
SP Joe Musgrove: The biggest thing that Musgrove has going for him is his pinpoint control. Throughout his career in the minor leagues, Musgrove managed a 7.8 K/BB ratio. Now a full-time big leaguer, Musgrove has a strong chance to make a real impact. He may never strike batters out at the rate of Astros teammate Lance McCullers, but Musgrove has a top 30 SP ceiling. Also, if Dallas Keuchel can return to his 2015 form and McCullers, Morton, and Musgrove (the Three M’s, who have all been mentioned in this post) all live to their potential or near their potential, the Astros’ rotation will be *fire emoji* this season.
SP Zack Wheeler: The long-awaited return is finally here. Wheeler seems to be close to 100% healthy following Tommy John surgery in 2015, and he’ll get a chance (after most folks assumed he’d start the year in extended spring training) to prove his good health from the onset of the regular season (thanks Steven Matz). The Mets will be careful with Wheeler, but consider the fact that he struck out 187 batters in 185.1 IP in 2014. Now consider the fact that he’s still only 26 years old. I think there’s still frontline potential here.