The utility hitting position in fantasy baseball can be used in two different ways:
- The “Matt Stairs” – This approach is using the position the same way Matt Stairs used baseball teams, as a revolving door. Stairs played for 12 different teams during his career always finding a new way to be useful. In this strategy, the Utility position in the lineup is used to plug in the most useful player for that particular day whether based on matchup, hot streak or just plain guessing.
- The “Edgar Martinez” – This approach is all about set it and forget it. Just like Edgar Martinez for most of his career, this strategy looks to bring in the most impactful player for the position. What this approach will lose in flexibility for the roster, it will look to gain in production.
There is not a right or wrong strategy and often the best strategy will not be known until the ebb and flow of draft day opens an opportunity to follow one of these strategies. In today’s column we are going to focus on two players that fit into the latter of these strategies due to their positional inflexibility.
Nelson Cruz (ADP 99)
2020 was a rough season for many players, but Nelson Cruz appeared to be immune (see what I did there?). His 150-game pace delivered 45 home runs, 93 runs and RBI apiece with a sterling .303 batting average. I could try to find flaws in him striking out slightly more than previous years or not being at the very top of the league in every single power category, but I just do not see anything in the profile that shows him slowing down. If we go back to 2014, Cruz has delivered at least 37 bombs every year while never delivering less than 90 runs batted in. Looking at his percentiles against the rest of the league, it is no surprise to why those results are coming through:
As the season approaches, we must at least be cognizant of the baseball aging curve. Cognizant enough to realize that Nelson Cruz has sold his soul to the devil and will be playing this game longer than even Bartolo Colon would believe. Yes, this will be the season in which Cruz turns 41 and it is clear through his free agency that many MLB teams are worried about an abrupt decline. For 2021, I am going to ignore them all. I expect a full David Ortiz impersonation this coming season that will not disappoint.
2021 Projection: 83/41/102/0/.290
Yordan Alvarez (ADP 80)
Yordan Alvarez was a beast at the plate in 2021 with a home run in half of the games he played. I know, he only played 2 games with 9 plate appearances but 2020 was all about small sample sizes, right?
In August, he underwent surgery on both knees to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee while cleaning up his left knee. I recognize we are in an amazing world of medicine, but I still struggle with the concept of a “routine cleanup”. However, this was the right approach to make sure he is healthy coming into 2021.
If there is one guy who can mirror the power profile of Cruz, it would be Alvarez. Just looking at his numbers in 2019, they show an odd resemblance to the chart above.
Looking at that 2019 season across AAA and the majors, Yordan delivered 50 deep flies in only 143 games while getting on base on a clip well over .400. I am expecting the Astros to be careful with him in 2021 and doubt he even sees the field during the upcoming campaign. All that said, this young man is a professional hitter.
2021 Projection: 80/38/96/0/.292
Both players are strictly utility plays for 2021 unless your league carried over eligibility from 2019 in which case Yordan might get a slight advantage in positionally eligibility. While I believe Mr. Alvarez will recover from his injury riddled 2020 season and provide valuable returns at his current draft position, Nelson Cruz is getting his typical treatment in drafts and giving a 2-3 round (or more) discount on his production. Do I like the challenges that come with drafting the utility spot early? No. Do I think it is worth it for what Cruz will provide? Yes. Target Cruz in rounds 7 or 8 and thank me later.