Every off-season I like to target players who are flying under the radar because they were busts the year before but had quality performances the season prior. Their lack of excellence could have been caused by injury, changing teams and cities, or maybe they celebrated their career year a little too hard and showed up to spring training out of shape and never recovered. Have you ever been injured and still had to attend work and be productive? Have you ever moved to an entirely new city for a new job? It can be a shock to your system if you don’t have your local coffee shop to hold your hand. I would know, I’ve done it six times not to brag. Drafting with this strategy does carry some risk, your crush really might be injury prone (Miguel Cabrera), or the league has figured out his weaknesses and he can’t adjust (Chris Davis) so you end up cycling through the latest 1B flavor of the week. Over the course of this series we will examine 12 players that had highly productive 2017 seasons but failed to live up to expectations in 2018. Now that their stock is low and they’re no longer a trendy name we can capitalize and find some value in the middle rounds. Typically we’re targeting guys in the 6th through 12th rounds that could return top 20 value.
A.J. Pollock was a great example in last year’s drafts, injuries in 2016 and 2017 highly depressed his value and he was available for an intriguing discount. What happened? Pollock was hitting .293/.349/.620 and he led the team in doubles (10), homers (11) and RBIs (33), while topping the National League in slugging percentage before fracturing his thumb in mid-May. He offered great value for whomever took a chance on him and even though he was injured again it was the right play.
Two more guys that personified this strategy last season were Trevor Story and Matt Carpenter. Both had proven success in the past but had down years in 2017 and questions were evident at 2018 drafts, as each could be had outside of the top 100. Was Carpenter too old and often injured to maintain his solid play? Was Story’s breakout 2016 season an illusion? Will he lead the league in strikeouts? Valid questions, but if you took a chance on them late you were likely contending for a title. Story finished as a top 10 player hitting .291/.348/.567 with 37 HR and Carpenter was not far behind managing a .257/.374/.523 line with 36 HR at 32 years old.
So far I’m targeting 12 players that meet the criteria of having proven success in 2017 but failed to live up to expectations for various reasons in 2018. This list may change throughout the draft preseason, if someone begins to get hyped and starts climbing the draft boards the value might not exist come March and we will look elsewhere. I may have also stretched the rules and slipped in one post hype sleeper because he’s being wrongly viewed as damaged goods. I’ve never liked post-hype sleepers much ever since I drafted the aforementioned Chris Davis three years in a row and he did absolutely nothing, then I faded him and he hit 33 HR on someone else’s team. Not a big deal I’m over it and don’t even think about it. Apparently, the saddest thing in life is wasted talent, not sure I agree but for the sake of this exercise let’s roll with it. I imagine these 12 players and their agents have spent the off-season filling up their Pinterest boards and IG pages with inspirational quotes about seeing the light and the past being the past. Yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery sort of thing. They’ve been reading personal development books and listening to podcasts on 1.5x speed, manifesting themselves hitting opposite field bombs, and putting their healing crystals out under the full moon to recharge. Last season was a minor set back for a major comeback.
Ozuna had a massive 2017 with the Marlins where he hit .312/.378/.548 with 37 HR, 124 RBI and finishing as a top 12 player overall and earning a new contract with the Cardinals. He was being taken near the 3rd round in most drafts last year even though he was in line for some regression due to his inflated .355 BABIP in his last season with the Marlins. He struggled mightily in his first few months with the Cardinals. It could have been the classic case of the guy being awarded a huge contract with a new team, mails it in all off season and shows up to spring training out of shape and less motivated. He was also dealing with trading in his expansive leisure activities in South Beach to tram tours of the arch and nightlife at The Landing. Quite the culture shock. However slow his first few months were, his overall numbers were decent, just not the all-star caliber that people were expecting from his breakout season. He still finished with a .280/.325/.433 line with 23 HR and 88 RBI. His K% dropped from 21.2% in his last season with the Marlins to 17.5% in 2018. Most of his batted ball numbers look identical and even his hard hit rate improved from 39.1% to 45.2%. He’s a disciplined hitter with extreme power potential and will be looking to improve on a disappointing first year in St. Louis.
Ozuna is entering his age 28 season surrounded by a great lineup where he gets to hit sandwiched between professional hitters Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina. As Grey mentioned in his top 20 OF column, he had surgery in October to repair his shoulder injury and will be fully healthy for spring training. He will be more comfortable in his new surroundings and his power will return. He’s currently being taken at pick 71, after inconsistent hitter Tommy Pham who is somehow almost 31 years old who Steamer has projected to hit .255 with 16 HR and 13 SB. He’s also being taken after injury prone Rockies OF David Dahl who has tremendous upside but hasn’t played 80 games in a season since A ball in 2014. I’d rather use the draft capital on Ozuna who returned first round value less than two years ago and is poised for a bounce back season.