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Strike Zone

2021 Undervalued Players

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: March 4, 2021, 12:56 am ET

The Strike Zone is back for yet another year, and we’re starting up as we have the last couple of years, with a list of my favorite picks for the season. After round one and maybe round two if I’m particularly fortunate, these are the players that make up my mixed-league squads.

Players are listed along with their placement in the overall Top 300 from the highly, highly recommended EDGE+ Draft Guide and their current ADPs in NFBC and Yahoo drafts.

My columns the next two weeks will have notes in a team-by-team format and a little more focus on deeper leagues. I’ll also probably revisit this column once prior to the conclusion of the spring.

 

Catcher

Francisco Mejia - 230th in Top 300 - 501st in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Gary Sanchez - 150th in Top 300 - 176th in NFBC - 153rd in Yahoo

Will Smith - 101st in Top 300 - 99th in NFBC - 103rd in Yahoo

I’m not typically a proponent of simply waiting until the end of drafts to address the catcher spot, but that seems like a pretty good strategy this year, especially if Smith and Sanchez fail to tumble at all. Mejia is my favorite end-game option, even though he probably won’t be of much use in April. If he establishes himself over Mike Zunino in Tampa Bay, he could be a top-five catcher this year, and even if he doesn’t, he could still be useful as a backup catcher and part-time DH.

Jorge Alfaro, Elias Diaz and Wilson Ramos are other intriguing possibilities at the end of drafts. I’d be higher on Daulton Varsho, but my guess is that the Diamondbacks will send him to Triple-A initially.

 

First base

C.J. Cron - 129th in Top 300 - 351st in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 47th in Top 300 - 56th in NFBC - 49th in Yahoo

Josh Bell - 132nd in Top 300 - 161st in NFBC - 178th in Yahoo

Ryan Mountcastle - 124th in Top 300 - 150th in NFBC - 141st in Yahoo

Nate Lowe - 277th in Top 300 - 340th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

It’s been a struggle coming up with value picks at first base these last two years, though I was granted a nice boon when Cron, who I typically like anyway, landed with the Rockies on a minor league deal. Obviously, his ADPs will be moving up now, but I still expect that he’ll be at least a modest bargain. Cron doesn’t strike out overly much, and he could be a threat to bat .270-.280 with Coors Field helping him along. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’ll still be a good bet for 30 homers.

 

Second base

Ryan McMahon - 149th in Top 300 - 241st in NFBC - 255th in Yahoo

Ketel Marte - 66th in Top 300 - 81st in NFBC - 83rd in Yahoo

Nick Madrigal - 135th in Top 300 - 191st in NFBC - 216th in Yahoo

Dylan Moore - 109th in Top 300 - 116th in NFBC - 134th in Yahoo

Brendan Rodgers - 192nd in Top 300 - 497th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Back before the Rockies traded Arenado, I was hoping, with low expectations, that Rodgers would get every chance to beat out McMahon for the starting job at second base. Now there is ample room for both. McMahon will likely slide over to third, and Rodgers will battle Garrett Hampson for the starting job at second base. McMahon doesn’t deserve to be promised anything at this point, but his Statcast numbers on contact remain quite good and the spike in his strikeout rate last season seems like a fluke, given that his underlying stats there held steady. Especially since he’ll probably be batting fourth or fifth, even a modest breakthrough would make him a top-10 second baseman. Rodgers potentially has even more upside if he can stay healthy. He’s one of my favorite late-round picks this year.

 

Third base

Ke’Bryan Hayes - 74th in Top 300 - 141st in NFBC - 149th in Yahoo

Matt Chapman - 97th in Top 300 - 115th in NFBC - 109th in Yahoo

Brian Anderson - 153rd in Top 300 - 227th in NFBC - 240th in Yahoo

Based on his middling minor league numbers, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Hayes following his callup last year. He turned out to be one of the NL’s three-best players in his 24 games, hitting .376/.442/.682 with five homers. So now the surprise is that people aren’t taking him more seriously now. He’s in a bad situation in Pittsburgh, of course, but I think the top half of the order will be a little better than people expect. Also, Hayes is really fast and could be quite an asset in the stolen base department. I’m banking on that here.

 

Shortstop

Carlos Correa - 52nd in Top 300 - 125th in NFBC - 131st in Yahoo

Adalberto Mondesi - 14th in Top 300 - 23rd in NFBC - 32nd in Yahoo

Corey Seager - 23rd in Top 300 - 36th in NFBC - 42nd in Yahoo

Amed Rosario - 156th in Top 300 - 302nd in NFBC - 262nd in Yahoo

Willy Adames - 182nd in Top 300 - 343rd in NFBC - 93% undrafted in Yahoo

Oddly enough, this is the same top three as last year’s list. Mondesi and Seager met my lofty expectations then, but they still seem underrated anyway. I understand why that’s true with Mondesi, who was one of MLB’s worst hitters for a good 60 percent of last season. Seager, though, doesn’t seem very risky to me. He’s one of the game’s best players, and this will be his age-27 season.

Correa did disappoint last year, hitting just .264/.326/.383. However, he managed to stay healthy, which was the biggest concern going in, and he looked terrific in October, hitting .362/.455/.766 with six homers in 13 games. He also seems destined to move into the cleanup spot this year after hitting sixth and seventh last year. At age 26, he has a whole lot of upside for a guy available into the middle rounds of drafts.

I actually had Rosario about 20 spots higher than this before Cleveland re-signed Cesar Hernandez. He’s more of a question mark now, but there’s still room in the outfield for him or he could get the nod at shortstop if the team wants to work on Andres Gimenez’s service time. Rosario hit .287 with 15 homers and 19 steals as a 23-year-old in 2019. I’m not sure he’s actually a good enough player that the Indians should be carving out a regular spot for him, but he offers plenty of fantasy potential.

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Outfield

Byron Buxton - 27th in Top 300 - 115th in NFBC - 124th in Yahoo

Eloy Jimenez - 16th Top 300 - 35th in NFBC - 32nd in Yahoo

Eddie Rosario - 77th in Top 300 - 111th in NFBC - 130th Yahoo

Ian Happ - 80th in Top 300 - 163rd in NFBC - 160th in Yahoo

Nick Senzel - 102nd in Top 300 - 278th in NFBC - 259th in Yahoo

Luis Robert - 22nd Top 300 - 36th in NFBC - 34th in Yahoo

Teoscar Hernandez - 59th in Top 300 - 75th in NFBC - 81st in Yahoo

Franmil Reyes (DH) - 95th in Top 300 - 152nd in NFBC - 152nd in Yahoo

Anthony Santander - 115th in Top 300 - 158th in NFBC - 163rd in Yahoo

Max Kepler - 133rd in Top 300 - 185th in NFBC - 218th in Yahoo

This is shaping up as a terrific year for outfield bargains, and there are plenty of others who could still emerge prior to Opening Day. It Mitch Haniger looks good in exhibition action, he’ll be a great late-round pick. Top prospects Jered Kelenic in Seattle and Alex Kiriloff in Minnesota could claim starting jobs. Victor Robles, Victor Reyes, Sam Hilliard and Franchy Cordero are others I’ll be watching this spring.

Buxton is my very favorite pick this year, the guy I’m swooping up in every draft. He’s still a health risk, of course, and he’ll be batting low in the Twins order initially. However, he legitimately showed one of the game’s best power strokes last year, and he remains a stole base threat. If he plays in 140 games this year, I expect him to approach 40 homers. Even if he only plays in 100, he could still make back that modest price tag.

I think Jimenez will end up as a top MVP candidate in the AL. Rosario always seems underrated for fantasy purposes, and he wound up in a nice situation in Cleveland. Happ will be an everyday player in Chicago, probably as a leadoff hitter. It’s crazy that he’s going 160th in Yahoo when he actually qualifies at both second base and third base there (he played neither position last year). Senzel could be a leadoff man, too, and I don’t think people realize just how fast he is. He’s certainly disappointed in the majors thus far, but the numbers will come. He was a .312/.388/.508 hitter in the minors.

 

SP

I’m going to separate this out into two groups.

 

Max Scherzer - 19th in Top 300 - 29th in NFBC - 28th in Yahoo

Dinelson Lamet - 40th in Top 300 - 85th in NFBC - 89th in Yahoo

Chris Paddack - 42nd in Top 300 - 111th in NFBC - 101st in Yahoo

Carlos Carrasco - 43rd in Top 300 - 66th in NFBC - 103rd in Yahoo

Luis Castillo - 26th in Top 300 - 28th in NFBC - 43rd in Yahoo

Tyler Glasnow - 30th in Top 300 - 51st in NFBC - 60th in Yahoo

Kyle Hendricks - 49th in Top 300 - 85th in NFBC - 88th in Yahoo

This group is comprised of quality picks early in drafts. Obviously, Lamet is riskier than most, but he looked like one of the NL’s very best pitchers last year. Paddack is another with question marks, but he’s saying the right things this spring (he’d also benefit more than most from a deadened baseball). In a standard mixed league, I’m probably going to want three pitchers from among the aces and this group before moving on to my preferred group of bargain starters.

 

Jose Urquidy - 46th in Top 300 - 216th in NFBC - 182nd in Yahoo

Joe Musgrove - 56th in Top 300 - 131st in NFBC - 144th in Yahoo

Kevin Gausman - 73rd in Top 300 - 134th in NFBC - 155th in Yahoo

Drew Smyly - 122nd in Top 300 - 224th in NFBC - 242nd in Yahoo

Jesus Luzardo - 65th in Top 300 - 103rd in NFBC - 113th in Yahoo

Pablo Lopez - 92nd in Top 300 - 128th in NFBC - 151st in Yahoo

Elieser Hernandez - 151st in Top 300 - 249th in NFBC - 223rd in Yahoo

James Paxton - 165th in Top 300 - 252nd in NFBC - 245th in Yahoo

Urquidy was one of my favorites last year, too, but he missed the first six weeks for undisclosed reasons and was a little off after returning. He has excellent fastball command, a terrific changeup and two decent breaking balls at his disposal. People are still skeptical because of the way he came out of nowhere two years ago, but I just don’t see why he wouldn’t be a legitimate No. 2 starter in mixed leagues.

Musgrove has been here three years in a row and still hasn’t put it together. He’ll get far more support than usual in San Diego this year, though. Gausman and Smyly were small-sample size champions in San Francisco last year, both showing improved velocity and greatly improved strikeout rates. I’m not at all sure Smyly will stay healthy in Atlanta, but if he just holds on to half of his 3-4 mph velocity spike, I bet he’ll be quite effective.

 

RP

James Karinchak - 55th in Top 300 - 105th in NFBC - 97th in Yahoo

Edwin Diaz - 61st in Top 300 - 81st in NFBC - 82nd in Yahoo

Ryan Pressly - 93rd in Top 300 - 122nd in NFBC - 108th in Yahoo

Trevor Rosenthal - 99th in Top 300 - 164th in NFBC - 161st in Yahoo

Giovanny Gallegos - 136th in Top 300 - 293rd in NFBC - 231st in Yahoo

Mark Melancon - 155th in Top 300 - 279th in NFBC - 212th in Yahoo

Tyler Rogers - 198th in Top 300 - 646th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Pete Fairbanks - 206th in Top 300 - 476th in NFBC - 3% drafted in Yahoo

Everyone loved Karinchak last year, but who is willing to take him as the No. 1 RP this year? I think he’s the right choice, though I’ve usually been able to make him the fourth or fifth reliever off the board. Control is an issue, of course, but he’s pretty much unhittable and he’s in a great situation for a closer on an Indians team that’s both pretty good and won’t score a ton of runs.

Both are inexpensive enough that it could work to pair Gallegos and Jordan Hicks. Many are hoping Hicks will run away with the job in St. Louis, but Gallegos has a nearly spotless track record the last two years (his one bad outing last year came in a game in which he strained his groin). He would be the safe choice for the team, at least initially.

The Padres didn’t promise Melancon anything when they signed him last month, but I think it’d make the most sense to keep him in the closer’s role and let Drew Pomeranz continue to do his thing as a setup man. We’ll see if that’s how it works out. The Giants could have Rogers and Jake McGee share the role initially. I’d bet on Rogers being the better reliever of those two, though it’s possible Reyes Moronta will outpitch both and claim the gig later. It’s hard to say what the Rays will end up doing, but I expect Fairbanks to be terrific and that could result in more saves as the year progresses.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.