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Eric Cross’ Draft Day Targets

When our editor came to us with this idea of writing articles highlighting “our guys” — the players we’ve been targeting most in drafts — I was immediately on board. You want me to ramble on more about players that I love to talk about? I’ll take it.

Obviously, due to varying circumstances, each team you draft is going to look considerably different than the last. However, there’s usually a handful of guys that wind up on a lot of your teams. Sometimes that’s just how the draft falls. Some of your draft targets fall right into your lap, but others you might have to reach a little bit to acquire. If you want a player and don’t think they’re going to make it to your next pick, take them. Don’t think twice about it. If you think you’re drafting a player that can meet or exceed the spot you’re taking them in, is it really a reach?

The below six players have found their way onto a good number of my fantasy teams this season. Most of them were strategic targets that I tried to get on as many of my teams as possible. Why? Because I think that they’re damn good players that have a great chance of performing better than their ADP might suggest.

All right, you want a sneak peek inside my mind during a fantasy baseball draft? Well, here it is. Without further ado, here are “my guys” for the 2018 season.

Aaron Nola (SP – PHI) ADP 66

Grabbing elite pitching early just doesn’t entice me unless they fall to me in a spot where I think they can provide some serious fantasy value. Nothing against guys like Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer, etc., but I like grabbing elite hitting early and start my pitching staff with guys like Aaron Nola. Why? Because he has ace upside without the ace price tag. Those are my favorite type of fantasy aces.

In 27 starts last season, Nola had a 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, and 9.9 K/9, which was good for a top-25 SP finish. Those numbers would look even better if Nola hadn’t gotten off to a slow start. If you exclude April and May, Nola had a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9 across 136 innings.

Nola isn’t a guy that’s ever going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but he’s quietly becoming one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. His fastball was up to 92.0 mph on average last season after averaging 90.1 mph in 2016. That added velocity, plus his above-average command of it, made Nola’s fastball a much more valuable offering for him. On top of that, Nola possesses one of the best curveballs in the game. Outside of Corey Kluber, no starting pitcher in baseball had a more effective curveball than Nola last season.

After fighting myself to hold back from putting him ahead of more established options, I slotted Nola in as my 16th ranked SP for the 2018 season and have no issues whatsoever reaching for him 10-15 spots ahead of his current ADP of 66.

Rafael Devers (3B – BOS) ADP 91

Let’s go back in time a little bit. August 13, 2017, to be exact. It was another Red Sox/Yankees game, just like any other. That is, until 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers stepped into the batter’s box with the Red Sox down one run in the ninth inning against flame-throwing southpaw closer, Aroldis Chapman. With a 1-2 count, Chapman reared back and threw a 102.8 mph fastball, which Devers, a lefty batter, clobbered over the left-center field wall, silencing Yankee Stadium and tying the game at two, in a game the Red Sox went onto win 3-2.

With one swing of the bat, a star was born.

That was just the beginning of a strong rookie campaign for the then 20-year-old Dominican native. Devers finished the season with 10 home runs, three steals, 30 RBI, 34 runs, and a .284/.338/.482/.819 slash line in 222 at-bats. He provided a much-needed power spark in Boston’s lineup and figures to hit in the middle of the order again this season.

As you can see from his Fantrax ADP, the expectations for Devers this season are already high. But not high enough, in my opinion. Devers has that rare blend of a plus hit tool and plus power. Hitting in one of the best lineups in the Major Leagues is the cherry on top of this fantasy sundae.

I’ve been reaching for Devers in the 65-80 pick range and have no regrets whatsoever. This kid is for real. I wouldn’t rule out a .290/30/100/100 season with the potential for more power.

Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL) ADP 119

Not too long ago, I said that I had a man crush on Albies the size of Nomar Garciaparra’s nose. Well, Nomar is turning into Pinocchio, cause my man crush on Albies continues to grow. This kid has all the makings of being a star in the league as soon as this season.

Albies had himself one heck of a season in 2017. Across 628 combined minors and Major League at-bats, Albies racked up 30 doubles, 13 triples, 15 home runs, 69 RBI, 101 runs scored, and 29 steals in just 32 attempts while hitting .285. Not too shabby for a 20-year-old. That entire stat line as a whole is magnificent, but I want to focus on the stolen bases for a second.

Coming up through the minors, Albies was given many 70 grades or higher for his speed. That 90.6% success rate stealing bases last season gives us all a little nibble of what Albies is capable of on the bases. A success rate like that is going to give you the green light more often than not, regardless of your age or Major League experience. Don’t be surprised if Ozzie went all crazy train and stole 40+ bags this season.

Another boon to his fantasy value is his likely spot at the top of the batting order. He’ll be hitting in front of Freddie Freeman and eventually Ronald Acuna as well. The RBIs will likely be limited, but 100 runs are certainly in play if Albies keeps hitting near .300 and stealing bases like he did last season.

I look at Albies’ current Albies ADP of 119 and laugh so hard that people around me give me funny looks. Albies checked in at #8 on my 2018 second base rankings, and that was honestly a conservative ranking from me. I’ve been reaching well into the top-100 to acquire Albies services and still think that’s a bargain given his top-50 fantasy upside this season.

Brad Hand (RP – SD) ADP 128

You’ll never find me taking guys like Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen early. With how volatile relief pitchers can be and the overall turnover year to year, I just can’t bring myself to waste a top-100 pick on a closer. However, there is one particular closer I’ve been targeting just after pick 100, and that’s Mr. Brad Hand.

I’ll save you the hand puns, but it’s an accurate statement that he’s been handy when called upon. Over the last two seasons, Hand has a 2.56 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9 across 154 appearances. He’s currently being taken as the 12th relief pitcher off the board at pick 129 on average. I’m willing to take him a bit earlier than that and have on several occasions this spring. He’s a top-10 closer option for me on an up-and-coming Padres team.

Luiz Gohara (SP – ATL) ADP 250

I could talk about Luiz Gohara all damn day. An 80-grade heater and 70-grade slider combination get me salivating like Homer Simpson in a donut shop. That combination of weapons helped Gohara post a 2.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 across three minor league levels last season. He ended the season with a five-start cup of coffee in the Majors and performed well there, too. The 4.91 ERA with Atlanta was a bit inflated, as evident by his 2.75 FIP.

I know it was just five starts, but Gohara cutting his walk rate down to 2.5 is an encouraging sign for 2018. His control has long been his weakness, but the Brazilian Superman has been learning how to harness that control for the greater good, and it’s no longer a hindrance to his fantasy value like it once was.

With the Braves in full rebuild mode, Gohara should have no issues locking up a rotation spot this spring. He’s proven that he’s ready, and Atlanta’s current rotation is a hot mess, to say the least. It won’t take much for Gohara to finish the season as Atlanta’s most valuable pitcher and a potential top-30 fantasy arm. His current 248 ADP is pure highway robbery. BUY, BUY, BUY!

Lewis Brinson (OF – MIA) ADP 298

The later rounds are either for filling out areas of need or grabbing a high-upside flier. Lewis Brinson definitely falls into the latter. I get that his first Major League stint didn’t go so well, but it was only 47 at-bats. What Brinson accomplished in over 2,000 minor league at-bats is why I want him on my fantasy squads this season. Brinson averaged 25 home runs and 27 stolen bases per ever 600 minor league at-bats while hitting a smooth .287/.353/.502/.855.

A little over a month ago, Brinson’s 2018 outlook was gloomy. With Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana entrenched in the corners and Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips battling it out with Brinson for at-bats in center field, it didn’t seem like there was going to be much opportunity for him to provide any significant value in 2018.

Then the trade happened. Brinson was the centerpiece of the return package Miami received for Christian Yelich. Now, all of a sudden, there was a clear path to regular at-bats for Brinson. Even with Cameron Maybin in the picture, Brinson is likely to be the Marlins’ everyday center fielder this season, and with the highly questionable lineup they’re putting out there, it’s likely he’ll have a spot somewhere in the top half of the batting order.

With 500+ at-bats, a 20/20 season isn’t out of the question, and the average shouldn’t kill you. A potential 20/20 player near pick 300? Yes, please!

I hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members.  Got a question that I didn’t cover here? Then follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.

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