This is a list of all the things I want to do before I die. Some of them are good, some are not so great, but they’re all the things that excite me and distract me from life’s inevitable slings and arrows.
Tristan’s name is a name that means “third son of the king.” It is a name that has been used for centuries.
Filling your fantasy baseball squad with all of your favorite players isn’t the key to success. Building a squad with players you like is enjoyable, but it won’t win you the league. In this game, personal taste meets potential for success. It’s when your well-informed view differs from that of your competitors, for better or worse. That’s what discovering value entails.
That isn’t to imply that players can’t have favorites. How would we know when our viewpoint differed from the majority if we didn’t? Sure, there are indicators like ADP, expert-league outcomes, and mock drafts with which we can practice before the real thing, but you won’t know where those pockets of value are until you sit down at your own league’s selection table.
The most vital step to do before to your draft is to form your own opinions on each and every player. Welcome to the place where I express myself and share my beliefs with you: Here is my yearly “Tristan’s List,” a list of 20 players that I plan to pick on the majority of my teams since I have a very strong, favorable view about each of them.
Despite my admiration for all five, you won’t find Juan Soto, Kyle Tucker, Luis Robert, Rafael Devers, or Lucas Giolito on this list. Who doesn’t like it? In our game, they’re all household names, thus none of them can be considered a potential “value.” I bring them up solely because I believe the premium you’ll pay for each is justified (although Robert’s is — and should be — more inexpensive in terms of points-based scoring).
No, this list goes a little further, with players ranging from the top 50 overall in my rankings to late-round sleepers for those of you in AL or NL-only leagues. I’ve tried to strike a balance, as I usually do. There are ten players from the American League and ten from the National League on the list, as well as 12 hitters and eight pitchers and at least one from each of the infield positions (as well as catcher).
Let’s get started.
Milwaukee Brewers’ Willy Adames, SS: His escape from Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, where he freely confessed he struggled to pick up the baseball while at-bat, was a significant cause for his metamorphosis as a hitter after his May 21 trade to the Brewers last season. Adames batted.293/.377/.542 in his first 81 games with the Brewers, with 17 home runs, 50 RBI, and 50 runs scored (for 34/100/100 full-162 paces), and to underscore the point regarding the ballparks, he had a big, 98-point career home/road wOBA gap previous to his trade (.268 at Tropicana Field, .366 everywhere else). Because of his high strikeout rate, he’s more of a rotisserie value than a points-based value, but he’s an obvious target of mine for my middle-infield slot in either.
Milwaukee Brewers’ Aaron Ashby, RP: The Brewers’ versatility and proclivity for going six-deep in their rotation is one of the reasons Ashby is one of my favorite late-round sleepers, as he’ll almost certainly serve as a sixth starter or bulk reliever for the most, if not all, of 2022. The uncertainty surrounding his role will depress his draft price, and he does have some control concerns (note his 10.4 percent career minor-league walk rate), but he does bring a 96-mph sinker with a legitimate chance at a 60 percent or higher ground-ball rate, as well as a slider and a changeup with over 15% swinging-strike rates.
Boston Red Sox’s Matt Barnes, RP: With the league increasingly pursuing the committee approach, there aren’t many “closer bargains” in 2021, but Barnes is one of the few who qualifies for me. Sure, the sticky-stuff prohibition in June had a statistically significant impact on him, but so far this spring, he seems to have reverted to what he does best: pulling ahead early in counts. Barnes’ abilities make him the greatest match among Red Sox closer candidates, particularly now that Garrett Whitlock seems to be a strong fit for the team’s rotation.
Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz, SS: Even though he won’t be breaking camp with the Pirates, the fact that they’re experimenting with him in left field is a positive indicator for his role in 2022, particularly given that his defense at shortstop might be his greatest roadblock to being a regular. Cruz’s raw power is impressive, with a 408-foot homer among his nine plate appearances in October and two more homers in his 15 spring plate appearances, and it’s not a stretch to think he might lead his team in home runs if he gets the necessary at-bats. (Yes, the Pirates’ lack of lineup depth is reflected in this.) Even though he’ll start the season at Triple-A, he’s a name to remember for when the Pirates’ shortstop (left field?) position becomes available.
Jeimer Candelario, Detroit Tigers third baseman: While his 2021 stat line was unremarkable, Candelario’s underlying abilities were on par with his breakout 2020 season, indicating that he’s more of a.290-20 hitter than a.271-16 hitter. He’s a high-floor (but low-ceiling) player, but playing in Detroit during a rebuild has deflated his fantasy image over the last few years, and this year, the Tigers lineup should start to show signs of life as he continues to hold a three-four place in it. Candelario’s abilities for point-based scoring are underappreciated due to his patience and fondness for doubles.
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Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin: In each of the previous three seasons, shoulder injuries have prevented him from establishing a regular place in the Dodgers rotation or reaching the 90-inning mark, but he still managed a 2.55 ERA and 26.0 percent strikeout rate in 27 games out of the rotation. Gonsolin’s shoulder seems to be in much better shape this spring, and his reduced workload, along with the Dodgers’ habit to go six-deep in the rotation while using him as a swingman, has helped deflate his draft price tag. He’s a late-round choice with a great upside that I’m hoping to add to my staff.
San Diego Padres’ Trent Grisham, OF: Last season, Grisham’s hamstring and foot problems took their toll, and after returning from a June IL trip, he batted just.218/.304/.371 with nine homers and only 6-of-10 stolen base tries in 96 games, while moving into a platoon position for the last six weeks of the season. Prior to that, he seemed to be on his way to become a rotisserie superstar, batting.271/.364/.479 with 16 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 98 Padres games between 2020 and the first two months of 2021. Grisham’s playing time will be stabilized by the fact that he brings great defense to the table, and he’ll most likely be required to set the tone for their lineup until Fernando Tatis Jr. recovers. After one poor, injury-plagued season, I’m not ready to write the kid out.
Toronto Blue Jays’ Lourdes Gurriel Jr., OF: Gurriel’s final 2021 stats may seem unremarkable, but he concluded the season well, batting.289/.345/.526 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in the Blue Jays’ last 100 games, which translates to 26-102 figures for a full 162 games. He’ll try to clean up behind the team’s extremely gifted top four in the order, which means a 100-RBI season is certainly within his grasp, particularly given his track record of producing underappreciated hard-contact numbers (see his 45.0 percent career Statcast rate). Gurriel will be able to play on a more frequent basis as a result of the Randal Grichuk deal.
Milwaukee Brewers’ Keston Hiura, 1B: The finest fantasy sleepers are those who have made an adjustment to unleash the full potential of at least one potentially exceptional talent — in Hiura’s case, raw power — while also possessing at least one possibly elite skill (as he apparently has). Hiura has been on fire in the Cactus League, hitting three home runs and one double in his first 18 at-bats, and he’ll benefit from the reinstatement of the designated hitter position, where he won’t have to worry as much about his shaky fielding. He’ll be playing in the final stages of NL-only tournaments, and his previous performance suggests he has a lot of profit potential.
Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox pitcher: Let’s start by removing his roadblocks. The Red Sox didn’t allow Houck to throw more than 90 pitches or 5 1/3 innings in any of his 13 appearances for them in 2021, so although he seems to be a lock to start this year in their rotation, workload concerns remain. His abilities, on the other hand, should not be questioned, as he increased his average fastball velocity to 94.1 mph (on average), set pro-career highs with his 7.5 percent walk and 30.1 percent strikeout rates (including minor league time), and had a minor-league-only 21-point wOBA platoon difference. Houck isn’t garnering much buzz in early drafts, so he’s a must-have back-of-the-rotation choice for me, even in mixed leagues.
Toronto Blue Jays’ Danny Jansen (C): I often talk and write about the long learning curve that rookie catchers have in the major leagues, with Yadier Molina serving as an ideal example, since he didn’t have a 3.0-WAR season until his sixth (age-26) season. Jansen does not look to be the same sort of prospect as Molina, but he did have superior plate discipline stats in the minors and has been a solid defender at this level thus far. Jansen, who will be 27 in April, had a strong end to the season, batting.322/.385/.763 with six homers and 18 RBIs in his last 21 games. If you play in a league that demands a No. 2 catcher, he’s an excellent profit-potential choice.
New York Mets’ Francisco Lindor, SS: Lindor’s first season in New York was a letdown, but the fact that he looked to start to sort things out during the last four months of the year was buried in the cloud that hung over his stat line. In the 79 Mets games during which he was on the active roster, he batted.252/.340/.482 with 16 home runs, 52 RBI, and six stolen bases. Keep in mind that his Statcast predicted batting average was.270, which was quite close to where it was in Cleveland (.278 MLB career). It wouldn’t be the first time a star-caliber player had to acclimate to New York’s limelight at first, and Lindor was doing so under the weight of having recently signed a big deal. Year No. 2 indicates a near-total turnaround, in my opinion.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Gavin Lux, SS/2B: The arrival of Freddie Freeman was the worst news for Lux, who may otherwise have played more prominently in the second base and DH lineups. Still, haven’t we all learned the foolishness of the “no road to playing time” argument as fantasy managers? Lux only had a successful season last year when he was given a consistent spot to play, even if it was in the outfield, but the Dodgers are one of the most creative teams in the league when it comes to putting up a daily lineup, and they wouldn’t roster him to sit out 4-5 times a week. Given his batting average, he’s a good late-round pick. Last September, 360 had a 15.0 percent walk rate and an 84.0 percent contact rate in 17 games.
Arizona Diamondbacks OF/2B Ketel Marte: Marte’s worth is recognized by the Diamondbacks, who just signed him to a long-term contract deal, but early ADP trends indicate that fantasy managers aren’t as enthusiastic. Injury is a major factor, and it’s worth noting that he’s missed 19.5 percent of the Diamondbacks’ games while on the disabled list over the previous three seasons. Keep in mind that this signifies he has batted. During that period, he hit 318/.374/.543, with 48 home runs, 159 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and 168 runs scored on the active roster, which translates to 25/83/8/88 over a 162-game schedule. In that three-year stretch, Marte had a 91st-percentile contact percentage on pitches in the strike zone, as well as an 86th-percentile hard contact rate (48.4 percent ). He’s a lot better hitter than most people credit him with.
Cleveland Guardians’ Triston McKenzie, SP: McKenzie had control troubles in the early parts of 2021, but he returned with a much better approach following a short midseason stay in Triple-A ball. To finish the season, he reduced his walk rate to 6.2 percent while going 9-of-14 in quality starts, enabling his hard-to-hit curveball and slider to bloom. McKenzie’s mindset has carried over into spring training, and it’s one that makes him another appealing late-round target as I look to build my pitching staff on the cheap — and it’s not just because of their first names. (Thank you for noticing that it’s written “Trist-AN.”)
Oakland Athletics’ Frankie Montas (SP): Montas would be my preferred value-based pick to head a staff if I were to pursue the “cheap aces” way (as I’d wanted to do in LABR). If you’re going to use that technique, I recommend picking two pitchers from this ranks range. He’s been the subject of trade rumors all spring, but even if he stays with the Athletics for the whole season, that’s not a negative thing, since they play in a large stadium, which just raises his ERA/WHIP ceiling, even if limited run support makes winning more difficult. Montas is coming off a career-high 187 innings thrown, and he performed very well in the second half of the season, with 13 quality starts, a 2.17 ERA, and 115 strikeouts in 16 appearances, with his splitter playing a crucial role in his success.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1B Max Muncy: This is a straight-up value choice, since many people seem to be undervaluing Muncy as a consequence of the elbow injury that interrupted his 2021 season on the last day of the regular season. When healthy, he’s a high-floor, top-100 level player, but he’s only gone 113th overall on average in NFBC drafts since Friday, which seems terribly undervalued for a guy who earned the 41st-most fantasy points while finishing 96th on the Player Rater. Muncy has one of the best eyes at the bat of anybody, and he has hit 35 home runs in each of the previous four seasons (when scaled to 162 games). In terms of the injury, having the DH offers the Dodgers the option of gradually reintroducing him to the lineup.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Luis Patino: He’s a young pitcher with potentially top talent, but no outcomes to back it up in the big leagues thus yet. As a result, Patino’s presence on this list is a bit of a gamble, but who can blame me? He possesses four pitches that produced at least a 20% “whiff” rate (percentage of misses on batters’ swings) last season, a fastball that averaged 95.7 mph with an 86th-percentile spin rate, and he’s part of a system that rates among the finest in the country at training young pitchers. I believe the Rays’ view of Patino as a potential ace is a significant reason they didn’t add rotational depth this winter, and although they may curb his innings again in 2022, he’ll almost certainly enjoy a lengthy leash as a member of their starting five (or six).
Texas Rangers SS Corey Seager: If you look at the numbers, Seager batted.306/.381/.545 with 31 home runs and 98 RBI in 147 games, with top-eight Statcast anticipated metrics with his.308 xBA and.407 xwOBA. That’s not even taking into account the fact that he hit.270/.361/.591 with 10 homers and 26 RBI in 30 postseason games over those seasons. Seager’s only roadblock to fantasy glory has always been injury. It’s a valid problem, but one that’s being overemphasized, at least based on the early ADP results.
Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers pitcher: I usually try to keep this list and my Kings of Command lists separate, but Skubal is the only one that appeals to me enough to be included here. He’d always been a strikeout machine in the minors, but the fact that he raised his K rate to 27.5 percent in his last 25 starts of 2021 while retaining a 1.19 WHIP is noteworthy. Skubal was a favorite breakout prospect during the summer, but early ADP results show that fantasy managers aren’t totally sold on him yet. Count myself in as one of them!