At precisely 1:00 PM ET on Monday, February 20, I began to draft my first "real" team of the 2017 fantasy baseball season. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, March 13, it was all over. The NFBC Draft Champions league format consists of a 50-round slow draft with no in-season pickups allowed. The team you draft is the team you will manage for the entire season, though managing involves only setting full lineups on Mondays with the option of making hitter lineup substitutions on Fridays. So, coming out of the draft with enough bench options at every position, especially starting pitching, is vital, as you need to protect yourself in the event of injuries to your regulars.
Since participating in my first Draft Champions league back in 2013, I've become a big fan of this setup. Not only does it require less of a time commitment during the season for someone playing in a large number of leagues, but it has become an excellent preparation tool for my other drafts. There is ample time to do research in between picks, research that is much needed when faced with real decision dilemmas. But even more helpful is that thanks to the depth of this draft, you will become so familiar with the player pool that your other drafts will seem like a breeze. Sort of.
With my Tout Wars auction draft less than a week away, I have just about finished preparing for the auction portion of the proceedings. But the reserve rounds, which follow a classic snake draft format, cannot be overlooked. Yes, it was in the reserve rounds that I drafted Trea Turner last year.
Anyway, I tend to use my Draft Champions league results to help me prepare for the Tout Wars reserve rounds, and this season is no different. Let's take a look at a group of players, drafted in rounds 24-29 (there are six reserve slots in Tout), who could deliver a strong return on investment.
Wei-Yin Chen - Chen was supposed to enjoy a career-best season pitching for the Marlins in 2016, his first year in the NL. And this optimism was justified considering that he had registered a 3.72 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over his first four big league seasons with the Orioles in the heavy-hitting AL East. Instead, the 31-year-old southpaw posted a career-worst 4.96 ERA, though elbow issues almost certainly contributed to his inconsistency. All reports indicate that he's fully healthy now, so I'll side with the track record and give Chen another chance. The good news is that his fantasy stock has dropped to the point where he can be drafted as a fifth or sixth starter, even in a deep mixed league. There's plenty of profit potential here.
Mike Leake - Always boring but usually effective, Leake was both boring and ineffective last season. After a rough April (5.83 ERA, 1.40 WHIP), he rebounded in May to the tune of a 2.31 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. But it was all downhill from there, as the Cardinals righty failed to post a sub-4.00 ERA in any other month. Somewhat encouraging is that Leake's FIP (3.83) was almost a full run lower than his ERA (4.69), which suggests that poor defense contributed to his disappointing ERA. Considering his big league body of work, expect Leake's 2017 ERA to be closer to his 2016 FIP. He's a viable back-end of the rotation option in deeper mixed formats.
Lucas Duda - Seriously, can this guy ever stay on the field? A back injury limited Duda to just 47 games last year and the Mets first baseman has managed to suit up for only 182 games combined over the last two seasons. He's missed time this spring due to back spasms and hip soreness but is healthy at the moment, however long this moment will last. Duda launched a total of 57 home runs from 2014-2015, so the power is legit. Also legit is his ability to get on base, as he sports a career .343 OBP, this compared to his career .246 batting average. In OBP leagues, he's well worth a late-round flier, and even in standard 5x5 formats, owners in deep mixed leagues should not forget about Duda if they choose to go cheap at the CI spot.
Trevor Plouffe - Let's see, 22 homers and 86 RBIs in 2015 followed by 12 home runs and 47 RBIs across 84 games during an injury-shortened 2016 campaign. That's pretty solid production from a player who is garnering little interest in drafts. Yeah, Oakland isn't exactly an ideal landing spot for a power hitter, and Target Field is quietly a plus for righty power, but we're talking about a reserve round pick here. I'll think long and hard about grabbing Plouffe in the Tout Mixed Auction on Saturday,
Jose Berrios - Look up the term "post-hype sleeper" and you'll see a picture of Berrios. For some reason, this 22-year-old righty has disappeared from the fantasy radar just one year after everyone couldn't stop talking about him. Berrios, who boasts a minor league record of 46-25 to go along with a 2.89 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 rate, had a rough time adjusting to the Majors last season, going 3-7 with a 8.02 ERA and 1.87 WHIP in 14 starts for the Twins. But the fact that erratic command contributed heavily to his big league struggles is actually a positive note. Wait, what? Berrios walked more than five batters per nine innings while with Minnesota yet his minor league walk rate is 2.5 BB/9, hinting that nerves could be largely to blame.
I guess this case falls under the 90 percent of the game that's half-mental.
Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB