Every season, ESPN releases their projections for fantasy baseball, which are adhered to in most drafts. For example, if you took Lorenzo Cain early in any draft this year, your friends were likely making fun of you. But, certain players (like Cain) have far exceeded their preseason rankings. Here are this season’s most underrated players at each position.
Vogt been slighted by an abysmal overall Athletics team, but his individual production has been nothing short of remarkable. ESPN’s preseason commentary suggests that Vogt would be part of a platoon, but he ended up being one of only seven qualifying catchers over the entire season. His 18 home runs far surpassed ESPN’s projection of 10, as did his 67 RBI’s (48). While his average was about what was projected, his overall consistency and production allowed him to succeed in fantasy this year. A WAR of 3.6, second overall amongst catchers, stands even more to prove his worth.
First Base: Joey Votto (Preseason Rank: 16, Season Rank: 2)
ESPN hit it right on the head in citing Votto’s career low .299 BABIP from 2014. He’s been much luckier this season, surpassing projections in every category (one run short as of right now, but he’s still got a full month). Like Vogt, his team has been nothing to brag about, but Votto’s personal production will likely shoot him back towards the tops of the fantasy rankings for next season after an extended drought. His WAR, 6.7, ranks second amongst qualifying first basemen behind Paul Goldschmidt.
On the surface, there’s nothing too outstanding about what LeMahieu has done this season. He has succeeded, however, in doing exactly what he needed to do. He’s scored runs (72, 4th among second basemen), stolen bases (21, 3rd), and gotten hits (.318 BA, 2nd). By being around average in all of these categories over the course of a full season, he’s shot up in the rankings, as second basemen this season have been extremely inconsistent. He’s improved on the 62% stolen base success rate that ESPN slighted him for. Despite being not much more than a place-filler, his overall consistency gave him value that may not be replicated in future seasons. That’s yet to be determined.
Bogaerts’ essential value comes in his qualifications as both a 3B and SS. Batting average, speed, and power slowed down Bogaerts last season, and this season’s success can be owed to severe improvements in two of those three categories. His .319 BA is nearly 60 points higher than ESPN’s projection (and by far the highest among qualifying shortstops), and his 7 stolen bases have also been a nice surprise. He might never hit for power, but like LeMahieu, Xander Bogaerts did exactly what is needed of him over the course of the season. His WAR of 3.8 is second amongst shortstops – noticing a trend?
And who is Bogaerts second to? Brandon Crawford, who seemingly came out of nowhere. His season was the definition of a breakout, as he posted nearly career highs in every major category. Like second base, the shortstop position lacked a lot of talent this year, so Crawford’s solid production shot him towards the top. In fact, he leads the position in home runs (19), RBI (75), doubles (29), OPS (.802), and WAR (5.7). He’d be a pretty low ranked outfielder, but his assets made him a nice option on a week-to-week basis, and he has undoubtedly been seen as a major catalyst for the Giants’ uphill season. With a playoff push in the cards, the team will turn to Crawford to lead the charge.
Outfield: AJ Pollock (Preseason Rank: 42, Season Rank: 1); honorable mentions to Charlie Blackmon (Preseason Rank: 40, Season Rank: 4) and Lorenzo Cain (Preseason Rank: 58, Season Rank: 5)
It’s hard to ignore what Blackmon and Cain have done this season, as both have essentially been the best position player on their respective teams. But so has Pollock, who shot up from the depths of the outfielder rankings to the literal top, surpassing the likes of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and even Mike Trout. Granted, these players have more overall appeal, but Pollock has been a fantasy goldmine. He’s tied for second in BAamongst outfielders (.321), and leads all OF’s in runs (93) and hits (162). His power (15 HR’s, .498 slugging percentage) is nothing special, but like the other players on this list, his overall production is extremely beneficial. His 33 stolen bases are also important in category leagues. It seems as if a full season of work was all that Pollock needed to prove his worth.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Arrieta (Preseason Rank: 26, Season Rank: 3)
Add “no-hitter” to the list of remarkable things Arrieta has done this season. Cubs fans knew just how good he was after seeing him all of last season, but he truly has exploded this year and is now in the conversation for NL Cy Young, which he’d undoubtedly win if it weren’t for Zack Greinke and his ludicrous ERA. Who knows why ESPN predicted his ERA to move up almost a full point from last season, and their commentary is nearly all positive. Arrieta is one of just five starters with a WHIP under 1, one of three with an ERA under 2.20, and leads the majors with 17 hard-earned wins. His 190 K’s prove how all-around perfect his game is. Hopefully this isn’t the peak of Arrieta’s career, because if he keeps improving, he’ll be the filthiest pitcher in the game in the near future.
Thanks to Jenrry Meija’s suspension, Familia was able to prove his worth. And prove it he did. Familia was the fourth-highest ranked Mets reliever coming into the season; now, he’s second overall. All parts of his game are there – strikeouts (69 in just under 66 innings), ERA (1.78), and converting saves (36 in 41 chances). Familia made headlines early on, when he was able to take an early and commanding lead of the saves leaderboard despite still being considered a backup. He certainly isn’t a backup now, and if the Mets are wise, they’ll stick with him in future seasons. His production, however, is an issue, as there are concerns about him being overworked.