In this series I’m going to be helping you find values at each position. There are players whose ADP has risen higher than their actual fantasy value based on name value or anticipated performance. Like a health-conscious cook book I’ll give you the alternatives to the unhealthy high calorie options that will give you heart trouble in a few months.
Draft This: Mike Zunino, SEA
Not That: Salvador Perez, KCR
This first recommendation is not for the risk averse. Perez is the picture perfect example of your safe, average fantasy catcher. In standard leagues where only 10-12 catchers will be drafted, Perez can be pretty attractive mid-round pick. Over his last 4 season he has a .258 average with .260, .260, .247, .268 averages over those seasons. You can pretty safely predict he’ll hit within that narrow range again in 2018. In that same time he has slightly increased his home run power over that time too: 17, 21, 22, 27 (4-year average: 22 per season.) So why would I recommend one of the most disappointing catchers over the past 4 seasons over Perez? Well when you look at their ADP and their 2017 stats — you could make the case. Well not you I guess — ME! And according to ME you should be looking at drafting a player for $1 and hoping he produces like a $10 player not drafting a player for $5 and him producing like an $5 player.
According to Fantrax, Perez’s ADP is currently 122 overall. That makes him the 5th catcher off the board. Zunino’s ADP on the other hand, sits at 215 overall for the 11th catcher off the board. In a recent industry 2-catcher mock draft I participated in Perez was taken in round 9 at #106 overall and ya boy took Zunino in round 17 at #193 overall. That’s an 87 pick difference.
And just how were their 2017’s? In 471 at bats Perez had a line of 57/27/80/1/.268. While in 387 at bats Zunino had 52/25/64/1/.251. In 84 less at bats Zunino had only 5 less runs, 2 less HR, 16 less RBI and a lower average by only .017. I know what you’re thinking — “but Kerry, look at Zunino’s previous 4 years — his batting average will tank your team!” And you’re 100% right. Zunino’s 2017 career-high average was supported by a .355 BABIP which was 16th in all of MLB among batters with at least 400 plate appearances. However, owners have been salivating and hoping for Zunino to be the next great fantasy catcher since being drafted #3 overall in the 2012 MLB draft (right after some scrubs named Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton.) Maybe it’s just a hunch (it is) but I think Zunino is a guy who just needed more big-league ABs to reach his full potential. Over 3 seasons and 362 AAA minor league at bats he had a .290 average albeit in the hitter haven Pacific Coast League. I think Zunino’s pedigree and potential could finally be starting to crystallize. Maybe not .251 batting average crystallize — but he could definitely lead all catchers with 35+ HR but with a .230 average with room for batting average growth. That .230 average isn’t pretty, but in round 9 when Perez was taken, you could take a batter with a safe batting average floor and then take the chance on Zunino in round 17 like I did (I took Xander Bogaerts at the end of round 8.) Zunino is one of only two catchers who are virtual locks to hit 30+ HR. And that other catcher (Gary Sanchez) went 29th overall in the aforementioned mock draft.
Another strike working against Perez in 2018 is his supporting cast. In 2017 he was hitting behind Eric Hosmer and in front of Mike Moustakas. As of writing time (1/3/2018 @ 4:00 PM) neither Hosmer nor Moustakas have re-signed with Kansas City. According to Roster Resource Perez could find himself hitting behind a platoon of Brandon Moss and Hunter Dozier and in front of a declining Alex Gordon. Zunino on the other hand, should be set up to hit 7th in what (on paper) looks like a top-5 MLB line-up. Hitting behind Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger could lead to a lot of RBI opportunities for Zunino.
Zunino will probably (definitely) finish in the top-5 in strikeout rate again in 2018, but if he can pair that again with a 9-10% walk rate and even just a .300 BABIP — he will be the much better value than Perez and his upside could exceed all catchers — especially at such a low draft position. And if you partner Zunino’s high-power, low-average upside with a player with the opposite skill set but matching upside you could be donating your league winnings to Zunino’s favorite charity in October!