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2021 My Guys: Pianow's most common fantasy baseball draft targets

Scott Pianowski
·9 min read
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A funny thing occurred to me as I started to assemble this year’s "My Guys," the players I have regularly drafted and pursued this spring. My Friends & Family roster is almost entirely comprised of these guys.

Of course, we always need reality checks with these things. It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. I’m sure several players on this list will have down seasons or get hurt or otherwise break my heart. But you only need a few things to go right to carry a winning fantasy season.

I’ve already written about a handful of these players in different sections this spring, so part of this will be review. And the listing is in no particular order. Consider all I’ve written (if you care to), and then make your own final decisions — that’s always the best way to go.

This list could be shorter and it could be a lot longer. And I still have a few more drafts to go. We’re chasing a butterfly, a constantly-moving target — let’s see what’s in today’s net.

Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Giants

I didn’t get a lot of Whit Merrfield this year, but I landed plenty of a Whit Merrifield All-Star, Kid Yaz. What is a Whit Merrfield All-Star? A non-pedigree player who blooms late and is commonly underrated further because the market sticks to its prior opinion. Over 161 games, Yastrzemski has a .281/.357/.535 slash with 31 homers, 103 runs, 90 RBIs. How much proof do you want that this guy can hit?

Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets

My favorite first-round slot is the latest I can get deGrom, baseball’s best pitcher. He’s finally supported by a deep offense, and the National League is ticketed for a non-DH season. Every deGrom start becomes appointment television, accompanied by the best TV booth in baseball.

D.J. LeMahieu, Infield, Yankees

He covers all the bases, literally, in the Yahoo format, and he enjoys the buoyancy of the Yankees lineup. And even if DJL’s haul is closer to 2019 than 2020, so what? There’s a logical reason why his game perked up when leaving Colorado — he no longer has to deal with the Coors hangover when the Rockies go on the road — your timing gets messed up, after facing all those thin-air breaking pitches that hardly break — and his opposite-field tilt plays perfectly at Yankee Stadium. You can’t scream “Regression” and walk away, you have to frame it as “Regression to what?” LeMahieu can drop a fair amount from his career year and still justify his draft position.

Cavan Biggio, Utility, Blue Jays

He’s never been caught stealing for his career, and Toronto seems amendable to stolen bases in general (not every team is). The OBP not only reflects possible batting-average upside, but it will probably save Biggio from a lower batting slot, even if he opens the year in the lower third (and I don’t think he will). Scouts were never taken with Biggio during his minor-league days, but that doesn’t mean the story is complete. He’s been better than expected, but we shouldn’t hold that against Biggio. Turn into the skid. You want pieces in this Toronto lineup.

Trevor Story, SS, Rockies

Although his power played from Day 1, all sorts of red ink flowed as well. Egads, the strikeouts. Yikes, the batting average risk. All Story has done the last three years is bat .291, .294, and .289, with 83 home runs, 65 stolen bases, and ridiculous run production. He never goes top fold of Round 1, but you could consider him there. He’s been mildly underrated for virtually his entire career.

I should also mention, no one will struggle at shortstop this year. You can do well at every tier. But in the first round, I’m just looking to build my foundation of numbers. Story playing a loaded position is no reason not to draft him.

Tommy Edman, Utility, Cardinals

Although position flexibility has never been as common as it is today, I still love a team of legos, aiming to play as much “positionless offense” as possible. Edman lost his way on the bases last year, but he was 15-for-16 the previous season, along with a .304/.350/.500 slash. He’s been given the leadoff spot to open the year, with a strong core behind him.

Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners

It was never a question of ability, just a matter of health. He’s been healthy all spring, and parked in the leadoff spot. ADP 252? That’s a gift for you, grab it while it lasts.

Seattle Mariners' Mitch Haniger bats during a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Mitch Haniger offers a potential late-round bargain in fantasy drafts now that he's healthy. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Robbie Grossman, OF, Tigers

He’ll bat leadoff most of the time, perhaps all of the time, in Detroit. He can get on base, steal a base, knock a few over the wall. Cheap category juice that’s almost free, outside ADP 250.

Jared Walsh, 1B, Angels

He’s only been in The Show for 195 plate appearances, so perhaps you want to write off that .646 slugging last year as too good to be true. But Walsh also clocked 36 home runs in 98 Triple-A games two years back, and even with the obvious caveats — it was the PCL; he was old for the level — I want in on this. The OC theme park is favorable for left-handed pop. Let’s hope the Albert Pujols victory lap (punctuated by a bunch of GIDPs) doesn’t get in Walsh’s way.

Tommy La Stella, Utility, Giants

He’s a contact god, with a K/BB rate close to 1. Anyone with that ratio is a professional hitter, especially if they can also knock one out of the park, as La Stella can. San Francisco’s park — whatever they’re calling it this week — was more fun last year, with the archways closed and the bullpens moved. I’m not positive the former will stick this year, but be careful before you write off this park as Death Valley.

Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals

If I hear that “one-trick pony” red herring one more time, I’m gonna start chucking things. Mondesi’s last 161 games stack up this way: .260-91-15-84-67. This is not Mallex Smith. This is not a banjo hitter. The lousy OBP is a concern, but the Royals don’t seem to care — heck, it sounds like Mondesi will bat third to open the year. Maybe that won’t last, but his angelic defense will keep him on the field, and he’ll run as often as he can. (He has a .292 OBP the last two years, and that hasn’t kept him from running wild.)

Yeah, I guess there’s batting average risk here, with the hacking approach and all. But Mondesi has batted .256, .263, and .276 the last three years. Keep betting against Mondesi, some year, you might be right. Sometimes the question to ask on a player is “what could go right?” rather than “what could go wrong?”

Nelson Cruz, DH, Twins

When has anyone lost money on Nelson Cruz? He led the majors in home runs for the 2010s, carrying a strong average all the while. This is the right-handed David Ortiz. I don’t even care that he’s a utility lockup; I’ll make up for that elsewhere. Sometimes, you throw everything related to the aging curve out the window.

Jose Berrios, SP, Twins

I’ve been eagerly awaiting a jump forward that’s yet to happen, but even if Berrios is going to live in the SP2 neighborhood, it’s worth what his current ADP asks. The defense behind him, especially up the middle, is divine.

Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles

I wish he would be a little more selective, but the ball jumps off his bat. You’re getting a mild Anonymous Discount on this entire Baltimore offense. (Man, I hope Trey Mancini is healthy again.)

Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs

He’s learned how to succeed without a 90s fastball, and that is a feature, not a bug. The best pitchers are usually smart. Hendricks can put a pitch anywhere he wants it — plus-plus control — and he’ll get strikeouts through volume.

[Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Chris Bassitt, SP, Athletics

I’d feel a little better if Bay Area amigo Scott Jenstad liked him — Jenstad follows the club so closely, he should be on the payroll. But Bassitt is a more ADP-affordable version of Hendricks, and he also benefits from a big park and a lovely defense.

Pete Fairbanks, RP, Rays

He did a fair amount of closing in the playoffs, in part because Nick Anderson was used as a fireman, and in part because Anderson was out of gas at the end of the month. I liked Fairbanks as a save-spec play when camp opened, but things are more interesting if Anderson (elbow issues) misses any time.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Phillies

One of the smartest players in baseball, and someone who was ready to give us 100 runs, 20-24 homers, and 12-15 steals over a full season last year. The fridge is stocked behind him. Cutch’s skill set is likely to have a graceful aging pattern.

Jared Kelenic, OF, Mariners

I almost never draft rookies in non-keeper leagues, mindful that someone in the room usually wants the shiny new toy more than I do. Boring fantasy value is usually my jam. But reading and watching Kelenic clips this winter, I instantly fell in love — to the point that I’m willing to say his eventual floor is Kyle Tucker. The Mariners aren’t expected to contend, which further encourages the service-time chicanery, but I suspect Kelenic still plays more than half the season in Seattle and is an instant 4-5 category contributor. One final thing: it’s KELL-nick, two syllables. Pretend the second E is not there.

There are more guys I could write about, but eventually you have to hit send. Consider this an open discussion, and catch me at @scott_pianowski.