You can’t judge a prospect by his draft position, the same way you can’t judge a middle-aged man for walking around shirtless in your neighborhood. A player could get drafted 40th overall solely due to signability and financial asking price, but still be a top-15 overall player (more on that later). Along those same lines, that middle-aged man could have recently burnt his nipples on a saucepan while reaching across the stovetop to adjust a knob, and now walking around shirtless is the only comfortable way he can go for an evening stroll. You simply never know the underlying circumstances at play, which is why it’s always best to ask questions and gather reliable intel before rushing to judgment. That exact premise is the motivation for this piece: don’t treat the 2021 draftees as shirtless middle-aged men. Assess the tools and how each player aligns with your fantasy team’s winning timeline, and draft the top players available regardless of where they were selected in the 2021 MLB Draft. Draft position should not directly correlate with first-year player draft (FYPD) order and rankings.
So here’s a few shirtless, middle-aged men to target in your upcoming FYPDs — of the baseball variety, of course!
But wait! Before we get started, be sure to check out my 2021 Complete College Top 100. It includes my top-100 college players prior to the MLB Draft, with a surplus of analysis and breakdowns sprinkled in via numerous links at the top of the rankings. Now, time for some 2021 draftees you should target more heavily in FYPDs than their draft position indicates.
Jay Allen II, OF | Round 1, Pick 30 | Cincinnati Reds
It’s my firm belief that Jay Allen has the potential to develop into one of the best all-around position players in the 2021 class. He’s a true five-tool talent that gets a bit of an extra boost as it relates to fantasy due to his ability to contribute as a five-category star. Allen was a three-sport standout at John Carroll High School in Florida, meaning he should be able to improve upon his tools (50-grade across the board with the exception of a 55-arm) as he focuses his energy on baseball and refines his approach. He already looks more like a 22-year-old man than an 18-year-old kid, and this is a name I would target heavily in FYPDs especially if you’re someone who historically favors prep bats with a high risk/reward factor.
— Baseball Factory (@BaseballFactory) July 12, 2021
Jud Fabian, OF | Round 2, Pick 40 | Boston Red Sox
I understand that Fabian fell to pick 40 in the draft, but he’s still my No. 4 overall college player and No. 2 positional talent in this class. Fabian’s lofty strikeout rates (25.5 career K%, 29.4 K% in 2021) have scared off countless ‘perts and front offices alike — the latter of which I cannot even begin to understand. Fantasy is one thing, especially if you play in an AVG league or a points format that docks points for strikeouts. But as it relates to real-world baseball, isn’t Fabian exactly the type of player we’ve been led to believe has more value now than ever?
Although he set Florida’s single-season strikeout record with 79 Ks in 2021, Fabian is an elite defender with above-average speed that should allow him to routinely steal double-digit bags. I don’t think he’ll necessarily win a gold glove out there in center, but the defense is more than respectable and he makes difficult plays in the gaps look routine, not-to-mention he’s excellent on the warning track and at the wall. Offensively, the in-game power is real and could easily translate to 30-35+ bombs per year. In terms of approach, Fabian posted a 14.9 BB% and .364 OBP to finish with a .924 OPS this past year. He can draw a walk when needed and even refined his approach in the latter half of the season to cut down on the Ks. On top of that, Fabian quite possibly possesses the quickest hands and best bat speed of any college hitter from the last two draft classes combined.
If I were running a front office, Fabian would have been one of the top-ten overall players on my board, and he likely was for many teams — that’s what people need to understand. Signability and asking price are huge factors in draft position, and Fabian was reportedly asking for a lot. In terms of college players, I’m drafting Sal Frelick and then Fabian — in that order — ahead of Henry Davis in a FYPD. Especially if you play in an OBP league, that’s the move. Just be smart about it and don’t reach. Look for value and snag Fabian.
Jud Fabian to the Red Sox in the 2nd round.
Big upside. Homered twice off Jack Leiter in a span of two ABs earlier this year.pic.twitter.com/Sr4gjKwoac
— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) July 12, 2021
Ryan Bliss, INF | Round 2, Pick 42 | Arizona Diamondbacks
Sweet, sweet, innocent bliss! The third-year Auburn shortstop might have gone 42nd overall in the second round, but he plays a premium position and just slashed .365/.428/.654 across 237 plate appearances in the premier baseball conference in college baseball — the SEC. Bliss posted an OPS above 1.000 for the second-straight year, following up a 1.009 mark in 2020 with a 1.082 OPS this past season. The approach (13.1 K%, 10.4 BB%) is solid especially when given his bottom-line production (career .911 OPS), so it’s rather puzzling why Bliss was only the 70th-ranked draft prospect at MLB.com. He also stole 22 bags in 31 attempts over 135 collegiate games, meaning the speed (55-grade) is there with the potential for more steals if his base-stealing efficiency can improve.
I think a lot of Bliss’ sleeper status comes from his small stature, as he’s just 5-9 and 165 pounds — but he’s athletic and should be able to overcome his below-average frame due to his quick-twitch movements and fast hands, especially if he adds significant muscle mass while in the Minors. After Frelick, Fabian, Davis, Colton Cowser, Ethan Wilson and Matt McClain — which are in a class of their own — there’s a bit of a drop-off, but I’m taking Bliss at the start of that next tier as it relates to college positional players.
— Round Rock Classic ?? (@RRockClassic) February 26, 2021
Ethan Wilson, OF | Round 2, Pick 49 | Philadelphia Phillies
Wilson’s pre-draft ranking of 35 was low to begin with and after going 49th overall to the Phillies, his FYPD stock is nowhere near as high as it should be. I ranked Wilson at No. 7 in my Complete College Top 100, with the only position players ahead of him being Frelick, Fabian, Davis and Cowser. Let me be perfectly clear on this: Wilson could very well be the safest positional prospect of this entire group, which is why I’m so bullish on him: safe floor with tremendous upside. Yes, you can have both!
I have Wilson scouted as possessing the best raw power of any left-handed bat in the 2021 college draft class. He isn’t super toolsy, as the speed (45-grade) and arm (45-grade) don’t jump off the page, but he’s a 55-hit tool prospect whose power (50-grade) has been inaccurately scouted by many. After popping 17 homers as a freshman in 2019 with a .345/.453/.686 batting line, he took a minor step back in the abbreviated 2020 campaign (.282/.329/.465), but homered twice in one game at Arkansas and one of those balls might not have landed yet. Wilson rebounded this past season to hit .318/.419/.528 with eight home runs and 10 steals, deploying more of a contact-heavy approach and consistently working the opposite field as a left-handed bat against both left and right-handed pitching. He walked 33 times (13.0 BB%) with 21 strikeouts (8.3 K%) in 2021, which is impressive despite the fact he played for South Alabama of the Sun Belt Conference.
You can read more on Wilson here, but when you factor in the mature, disciplined approach with extensive raw power that he’s already proved himself capable of tapping into — I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re all sitting at a Denny’s sipping generic coffee 5-10 years from now talking about how Wilson was the best college bat from the 2021 draft class. Oh yeah, and he plays a tremendous corner outfield while being lauded as a big-time culture/makeup guy. I’m higher on Wilson than Chuck Noland.
— PBR Draft HQ (@PBR_DraftHQ) July 12, 2021
Kyle Manzardo | Round 2, Pick 63 | Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays drafted him. What more do you need? Well, the mechanics of his swing are so quiet and smooth, it’s almost surprising how much power Manzardo possesses to all fields. It’s quite possible that Manzardo was a bit overlooked in this year’s draft for two reasons: 1) he’s a first-base only prospect who needs to continue to develop into a better defender and 2) he played for an average Washington State team. Even so, his performance across three college seasons speaks volumes: .336/.404/.533, 16 home runs, one triple, 37 doubles, 105 RBI, 90 runs, three steals, 13.1 K%, 9.2 BB%. He struck out 12 fewer times across his entire college career than Jud Fabian did in 2021 alone. Furthermore, the bulk of that power output came this past season, as Manzardo popped 11 homers and 19 doubles while hitting .365/.437/.640 across 229 plate appearances. That’s sexy, and the swing is going to play. The fact that Tampa Bay selected him in the second round only puts icing on the cake, and I wouldn’t be shocked if that front office had him scouted as a first-round talent.
You won’t get a ton of steals here, so the five-category potential isn’t really there, but regardless of whether you play in an AVG or OBP league — Manzardo is primed to be a FYPD steal.
The #Rays 2nd round pick, Kyle Manzardo, is a 1B out of Washington State.
He possesses many attributes that I’m sure TB’s draft model loves: young for the class (20), contact skills, plate discipline, and power. Great career college hitter. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/3RPULh1RSA
As you can see, I stuck to the first two rounds with these sleeper selections to ensure my choices were relevant for the vast majority of dynasty leagues that deploy a FYPD. The double-digit rounds can be great in terms of discussing potential sleepers, but such players are often off the radar in even the deepest of dynasty formats.
These are all prospects I am personally targeting in FYPDs for the right price and believe hold excellent value in such drafts. These are guys you should feel comfortable reaching for slightly and still getting tremendous value out of.
As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.