A bust for me isn't a simple ADP inefficiency. I'll have a separate column for that in the coming days. What I'm looking to do here is avoid an early-round land mine that threatens to blow up my entire season.
It's not that these players aren't talented. It's not that I wouldn't have occasion, in the right circumstances, to draft one myself. But judging by their ADP, they're generally not drafted in a way that accounts for their downside.
OK, so they're not all early-rounders, but many of them are. And even the ones that aren't have, I believe, the sort of true bottom-out potential that justifies the bust label. Again, if you want to know simply who I think is being overrated, you'll find it elsewhere.
Jacob deGrom, SP, Rangers
FantasyPros ADP: 29.2
In the right build, at the right value, I could see myself drafting most any one of my bust picks. Not deGrom, though. Not when he still demands an ace premium. I can understand why he does, of course. Inning for inning, he remains the world's best pitcher, his swinging-strike rate basically lapping the field. But his lack of innings has a clear enough explanation that I'm not willing to bet against it anymore.
Quite simply, he throws too hard. He doesn't need to. He didn't always. Back in 2018 and 2019, he was still the world's best pitcher, winning back-to-back Cy Young awards while accumulating more than 200 innings. But in 2020, he added a couple more miles per hour to his fastball, and, well, he hasn't gone even 100 innings in a season since. Pitching isn't a natural motion for the human body. If you push it too far, it'll break, and it certainly seems like the added velocity is more than deGrom's body can withstand. Any number of muscles, ligaments or even bones could give out because of the torque he subjects them to. Several already have.
You never want to hear about a pitcher's velocity being down in spring training, but for him, I'd welcome it as a sign he's emphasizing longevity over the most eye-popping strikeout rate anyone has ever seen. Instead, we're getting breathless reports of him topping triple digits as he rehabs from -- surprise, surprise -- an oblique injury. Yeah, I'm not doing it. I can overcome someone else having a healthy deGrom if by some miracle it happens, but I don't want to be the one with an injured deGrom.
Jazz Chisholm, 2B, Marlins
FantasyPros ADP: 47.2
That land mine analogy I made at the top, the fear of not accounting for a player's downside? Chisholm is one of the clearest examples of that. The upside case is easy to make. At the position with the fewest high-end targets, his 3.47 Head-to-Head points per game last year were second only to Jose Altuve's, and Marcus Semien was a distant third. Meanwhile, Chisholm had 14 homers and 12 steals in 60 games, which prorates to 38 and 32 in 162 games. It's too small of a sample to take at face value, but the upside is undeniable. What I wonder, though, is why we have reason to believe he'll come anywhere close to 162 games.
As a rookie in 2021, he played in just 124 games, missing time with hamstring, ankle and shoulder issues, as well as a bout with COVID-19. Last year, it was a persistent back issue that limited him to 60 games. Sometimes injuries are just freak occurrences better off ignored, but he's had a lot go wrong already through his age-24 season, giving reason to wonder if his lean and muscular build can hold up to the rigors of a 162-game season. And now he's facing the unfamiliarity of a position change, moving out to center field, which will require him to run more than ever.
I suspect he'll manage to stay healthy one of these years. Shoot, maybe he'll turn the trend around and be a model of durability for the rest of his career. It's happened before. But I can't be so pollyannaish with a fourth-round pick. The opportunity cost is too painful for me to give Chisholm the benefit of the doubt.
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Ryan Helsley, RP, Cardinals
Ryan Helsley RP
STL St. Louis • #56 • Age: 28
FantasyPros ADP: 88.0
My concerns for Helsley are threefold. The first is the most obvious. He got only 19 saves last year. Granted, they were more frequent later in the season, when he seemed to emerge as the Cardinals' preferred ninth-inning option, but manager Oliver Marmol has never embraced having a true closer. It wouldn't surprise me if he decided to mix things up again, particularly if there's even a blip in Helsley's performance.
And there's the second concern, the likelihood of a downturn. I say likelihood because, hot dang, he had a 1.25 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 13.1 K/9 last year. Those numbers, particularly the ERA and WHIP, are almost mathematically impossible and a far cry from the 4.03 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 he delivered over the three seasons prior. An entire year of relief work, despite being a whole year, is nonetheless a small sample, which makes outliers more common. Regression is a virtual certainty. It's just a question of how much.
Now, you could point out, rightfully, that Helsley began throwing harder last year, his average fastball velocity jumping more than 2 mph to 99.6, with a peak of (wowzers) 104. Well, that's the third concern. How viable is it for him, or anyone else, to throw that hard? As I pointed out with deGrom, pitching is an unnatural motion, and the body can only take so much. It's on a case-by-case basis, but Helsley only started throwing this hard last year. He hasn't shown he can hold up to it. Few in the history of the game have.
It's possible none of these concerns come to pass and Helsley turns out to be a top-five reliever, but any one of the three (particularly the first and third) would be enough to bring him down. You just have to weigh the risk against the reward, and usually I come down on the side of ... better not.
Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros
FantasyPros ADP: 115.8
Pena was decent enough as a rookie last year, but I fear his splashy postseason performance has led some to overvalue him here. I don't think he has another level to unlock, and in fact, I think a step back is more likely. To explain, I'll begin with the laziest form of analysis, a peak at his Statcast sliders:
Yeah, blue is bad, and at least as far as hitting attributes go, that's basically all he has -- including some troublingly deep shades of blue. I say it's the laziest form of analysis because, of course, a lot more goes into production than simply how well a player impacts the ball. But when we're talking about the capacity for improvement, it just doesn't seem like the skills are there for Pena. His quality of contact is below average. His plate discipline is putrid, such that he scored only 72 runs batting second in the Astros lineup. He could stand to run more, perhaps, but he's not getting on base enough to allow for it (and it's worth noting that his walk rates in the minors weren't much better).
Worse yet, Pena's best work (apart from those 13 postseason games) came in April and May, almost like he caught the league by surprise. The adjustment came for him, and from May 28 on, a span of nearly 100 games, he hit .237 with a .661 OPS.
Hopefully, you address the shortstop position early enough that you don't need to resort to someone as sketchy as Pena, but if not, rather than reaching for him, you may just need to adjust your expectations for the position and settle for a batting average and steals specialist like Amed Rosario or Nico Hoerner. Either that or shoot for a much cheaper upside play like Ezequiel Tovar or Oswald Peraza.
Freddy Peralta, SP, Brewers
MIL Milwaukee • #51 • Age: 27
FantasyPros ADP: 145.6
Wait, didn't he already bust last year? Shouldn't we delight in drafting a discounted Peralta, who delivered a 2.81 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 12.2 K/9 over 144 1/3 innings two years ago? It's mostly a matter of health, right?
Well, it's true he missed time last year with a lat injury and, later, shoulder fatigue, but the amount of time might be less than you think. He still made half the normal allotment of starts -- slightly more, in fact -- but nonetheless fell short of 80 innings. That's because only four of his 18 appearances went six innings or more. Meanwhile, nine -- exactly half -- went less than five innings.
Now, you might say the Brewers were bringing him along slowly after the injury, but does that explain how three of his first eight starts, those that came before the injury, were less than five innings? That's compared to only two that were six or more. I just think that even if Peralta is healthy, the Brewers are going to coddle the heck out of him, and if a pitcher isn't consistently going deep enough to have a chance at a win, he's pretty close to useless in most scoring formats.
Hopefully, that doesn't come to pass for Peralta, who's clearly a talented pitcher, but I think it's a plausible outcome. And frankly, starting pitcher has deepened to the point that I'm no longer desperate enough to take that risk. Other upside plays like Jesus Luzardo, Chris Sale and Lucas Giolito are available in the same range.
Scott Barlow, RP, Royals
Scott Barlow RP
KC Kansas City • #58 • Age: 30
FantasyPros ADP: 151.0
Everything seemed hunky-dory for Barlow heading into the offseason. He had secured the closer role over the final four months of 2022 and seemed like a safe bet for saves, albeit for a bad team, heading into the new year. But then the Royals hired Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro to be their new manager, introducing the first element of uncertainty. The Rays, as you probably know, are the team most committed to the closer committee, and it stands to reason Quatraro would take some of their philosophies with him.
The most troubling development, though, was the signing of Aroldis Chapman later in the offseason. While Chapman's stint with the Yankees ended on a down note, he's one of the best all time in the role. GM J.J. Picollo has gone out of his way to say Barlow is still the closer, and I'll believe him ... for now. But why would a non-contender ink someone like Chapman to a one-year deal if not to flip him at the deadline? He's a reclamation project, and the best way to reclaim his value is by having him close, if only part-time. I think it's mostly a matter of him proving capable.
Michael Harris, OF, Braves
FantasyPros ADP: 31.8
It's certainly tempting to take Harris at his ADP -- or even earlier, which is how I, the guy classifying him as a bust, rank him for 5x5 scoring. The player pool is begging for another five-category contributor in the outfield, a position so thin that it pays to see every glass half full. But the glass-half-empty case for Harris is perhaps just as likely, presenting enough red flags for you to hold your nose as you gulp it down.
The first of those red flags is the poor plate discipline. Harris' 24.3 percent strikeout rate would have ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all qualifiers. His 4.8 percent walk rate would have ranked in the bottom 10 percent. Usually, so many strikeouts and so few walks make for bad batting average outcomes, and yet for most of his time in the majors, as was also true in the minors, Harris hit over .300, slipping to .297 only in the final week.
The other red flag is the 56.2 percent ground-ball rate, according to FanGraphs, an astronomical number that would have ranked second among qualifiers. First would be Christian Yelich, and we all know the trouble he's had hitting home runs in recent years. In fact, only one qualifier with a ground-ball rate of even 50 percent had an ISO over .200, and it was Vladimir Guerrero. With a .217 ISO, Harris would be an even bigger outlier. Are we willing to bet he's that sort of mathematical unicorn at 22, after only 114 games?
Unless those red flags turn a different shade, with the plate discipline and ground-ball rate improving, a step back seems more likely than not for Harris. And the floor may be much lower than any of us cares to admit.
Shane McClanahan, SP, Rays
TB Tampa Bay • #18 • Age: 26
FantasyPros ADP: 36.4
If ability was all that made an ace, McClanahan might be my No. 1 starting pitcher. Arguably the hardest-throwing left-handed starting pitcher of all time, he found the right pitch mix last year, and well, you see the results. Even with elite ground-ball skills, he had the second-highest swinging-strike rate among qualifiers. So what's not to like?
That's where I turn your attention to the one not-so-great number listed above, the 166 1/3 innings. You want more from an ace, certainly, and yet that was 43 more innings than McClanahan had ever thrown before. Granted, it was also his full first major-league season, and a career high is to be anticipated in that situation, but what you can't anticipate is what the eventual career high will be.
The downside to being the hardest-throwing left-handed starter ever is that there's no precedent for the sort of workload such an arm can take. McClanahan stands only 6-feet-1. He's not exactly Randy Johnson out there. And sure enough, just as soon as he entered uncharted territory with the innings, he needed a couple of weeks off for a shoulder impingement. He didn't look right after returning, his swinging-strike rate going from 16.3 percent in his first 24 starts to 9.6 percent in his final four.
If McClanahan was just a top-20 starting pitcher, it would be making too much of too little, but he'll be one of the first 10 drafted in every league. Frankly, I trust old guys like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to pile on the innings more.
Dylan Cease, SP, White Sox
Dylan Cease SP
CHW Chi. White Sox • #84 • Age: 27
FantasyPros ADP: 43.4
Here's another case of everyone looking at the upside of a player without giving a second thought to the downside. It's a fine approach for later in the draft, when a miss won't really change the trajectory of your team, but if you're drafting Cease, it's likely as your No. 1 pitcher.
His strikeout ability gives him that kind of potential, as we saw last year, but what scares me are the walks. He led the majors with 78, and his rate of 3.8 per nine innings was the highest among qualifiers. The way a pitcher with Cease's ability loses is by beating himself, typically with free passes. You need only look to his 2021 when he had a 3.91 ERA even though his BB/9 and K/9 rates were both actually a little better than last year.
About last year ... Cease's 2.20 ERA was misleading in other ways, too. He had a 14-start stretch in the middle of the year in which his ERA was 0.66, too good to be true as it is. But in addition to the six earned runs he gave up during that time, he also surrendered 10 unearned runs. In theory, those aren't his fault, but having that many still reflects poorly on a pitcher by showing an inability to stop the bleeding. If those unearned runs are all earned, his ERA jumps half a run to 2.69 -- still great, but indicating a lesser margin for error. Meanwhile, Cease's xFIP last year was 3.50.
Adolis Garcia, OF, Rangers
FantasyPros ADP: 60.6
Of all the bust candidates highlighted in this article, Garcia is the one I'm most actively avoiding. My case against him is a true throwback to my earliest days writing for CBS 15 years ago when everything seemed so much easier. It boils down to this: poor plate discipline. You think Harris' is bad? Garcia had the seventh-highest strikeout rate among qualifying batters. Meanwhile, he reached base at only a .300 clip, which on its own suggests he's not scoring 88 runs again, a near-miraculous total for someone who spent so little time on base. He's only the seventh player this century to score so many with an OBP so low.
Such poor on-base skills also leave Garcia with little margin for error in the batting average department ... which is itself in jeopardy because of all the strikeouts. If his on-base percentage slips just 20-25 points to the .275-.280 range, the Rangers have to consider whether he's still a net positive to the lineup. We're talking legitimate bottom-out potential for a player who, it's worth noting, will turn 30 before opening day. Garcia hasn't been a Fantasy asset for long, but for a player whose game relies so much on pure athleticism, you could argue he's already post-prime.
Starling Marte, OF, Mets
FantasyPros ADP: 72.2
Father Time remains undefeated, but he doesn't always do us the courtesy of telegraphing his next move. In Marte's case, I believe he has, and we would be wise to heed it. Durability has never been Marte's strong suit, and that's generally not something that improves over a player's career. He last played 150 games when he was 26 years old. He last played 140 games when he was 29. He's now 34 and has averaged 119 games the past two years, so you should expect to go at least a quarter of the season without him.
That's bad enough, but it's something we may have been able to justify in the past due to his stolen base prowess. Marte has long been one of the few standouts in that ever-scarce category, but again, Father Time remains undefeated. The clincher and ultimate reason Marte is on this list is that his sprint speed dropped from 83rd percentile to a career-worst 68th percentile last year. He went from stealing 47 bases to 18 -- and with only a 67 percent success rate. Maybe he bounces back to some degree with the new pickoff limitations and expectation that stolen base totals increase across the league, but if that hypothetical becomes reality, it would also mean that his stolen bases aren't as in-demand anymore.
Marte's best trait is showing signs of eroding at the same time league-wide changes are making it less valuable. That double whammy could cause his Fantasy value to crater.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Padres
SD San Diego • #2 • Age: 30
FantasyPros ADP: 76.2
The writing on the wall for Bogaerts only becomes visible once you subscribe to a certain narrative -- the narrative of the deadened ball. Players like him, those with middling natural power, came to maturity during the juiced ball era, when hitting home runs was easier, and it's created an unfair expectation now that that era is past. His 15-homer 2022 wasn't a byproduct of normal baseball variance. It was the inevitable consequence of an altered offensive environment.
And in fact, it could have been worse. He still played his home games at Fenway Park, after all, which allowed him to take advantage of the exaggerated outfield dimensions. Like so many right-handed hitters before him, he thrived at pulling the ball over the Green Monster, and in fact, 10 of his 15 home runs came at home. Home is Petco Park now, where there is no Green Monster. While Fenway was the fourth-best park for right-handed hitters last year, Petco was dead last.
I suspect Bogaerts will still be a reliable source of batting average and contribute a decent number of runs and RBI in a deep lineup. But he's never hitting 30 homers again and may struggle to get to 20. Frankly, a dozen makes for a more reasonable expectation.
Andres Gimenez, 2B, Guardians
FantasyPros ADP: 85.6
As with Harris, it certainly benefits us to see the glass half full with Gimenez, whose five-category contributions would be a welcome sight at second base around Pick 85, and I'll admit to partaking at times in drafts myself. But it's hoping against hope when you see the blue splattered across his Statcast page. While he hit .297 last year, his expected batting average was only .257. While he slugged .466, his expected slugging percentage was only .400. I'm sorry to say he was one of the 12 biggest overachievers in both categories.
Gimenez does have a number of factors working in his favor. He accomplished all this at age 23, so natural growth might make up for some of his shortcomings. His 94th percentile sprint speed suggests the stolen bases were legitimate, and he's such a good defender that regular playing time is a lock (his 7.4 bWAR was actually better than any mark Francisco Lindor produced in Cleveland). He also excels at pulling the ball in the air, which is one way to overcome substandard power in a post-juiced ball league. But again, it's hoping against hope, and explaining how a player could repeat the unlikely doesn't make it any more likely. If you miss out on the studs at second base, better to wait another 60 picks to draft Jorge Polanco, one of my sleepers, than settle for Gimenez.
Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles
BAL Baltimore • #25 • Age: 28
FantasyPros ADP: 118.2
If you don't like this choice, you can blame it on the fact Santander is going about 30 spots ahead of Hunter Renfroe, who I consider to be a more stable version of the same player. What do I mean by more stable? Just look at Santander's injury history. Dating back to his major-league debut in 2017, last year was only the second time he lasted even two-thirds of a season. And I'm including all his stints in the minors.
Even if he manages to stay healthy, how certain are we that the production will be there? He's a switch-hitter who does much of his damage from the right side of the plate while playing in a venue that greatly suppresses power from that side. His on-base skills are lacking, with a career rate of .300, and he's a detriment on defense. As the Orioles break in new talent and charge ever harder into the playoff race, Santander may lose his hold on an everyday role.
It's not long after his place in the rankings that the outfield position drops off a cliff, but if you want one last shot at a 30-homer guy whose batting average won't kill you, Renfroe is the better bet.
George Kirby, SP, Mariners
George Kirby SP
SEA Seattle • #68 • Age: 25
FantasyPros ADP: 119.8
It's not that I don't see the upside in Kirby, who was a consensus top-25 prospect last year and remained a masterful strike-thrower upon reaching the majors, his 1.5 BB/9 rate ranking seventh among pitchers with at least 130 innings. It's that so many have gotten out over their skis by ranking him as a top-25 starting pitcher already. With quality pitchers becoming more plentiful as offense wanes, now isn't the time to take that kind of leap on a talent so unproven, particularly when the shortcomings from his rookie season are so glaring.
Yes, really. Look beyond the 3.39 ERA, and you'll see the flaws in Kirby. Wonder why he had a 1.21 WHIP despite the stellar walk rate? The guy was actually pretty hittable, allowing more than a hit per inning despite recording more than a strikeout per inning. He was one of just seven pitchers to meet both criteria, and the only one being drafted anywhere near as high as Kirby is Kevin Gausman, who you may have heard suffered from horrendous batted-ball luck.
So is that the excuse for Kirby, too? It's harder to say that when his swinging-strike rate was only 9.7 percent, about the same as Cole Irvin. Kirby's issue is that he lacks a deep enough arsenal to miss bats, leaning heavily on his fastball and pinpoint control for called strikes. It's possible his secondary pitches take a leap forward in his second year, but failing that, I suspect he'll remain mid-tier.
Brandon Drury, 1B/2B/3B, Angels
LAA L.A. Angels • #23 • Age: 30
FantasyPros ADP: 189.4
This one is almost too easy, with early ADP suggesting that everyone recognizes Drury is unlikely to repeat his career-best 2022. But for as late as he's going, he could stand to go even 50 spots later, I think. He was clearly the beneficiary of the best home run venue in the game, Great American Ball Park, and him being dealt to the Padres at the trade deadline made it all the more obvious. In short, he hit .298 with a .915 OPS in Cincinnati last year and .240 with a .746 OPS everywhere else. Turns out he didn't sign back with Cincinnati this offseason, which means there is no chance, no chance, of him delivering those numbers again.
Or maybe there is a chance. While he didn't go back to the Reds, he did sign with the Angels, who have the fourth-best park for home runs over the past three years. It's on the opposite end of the spectrum from San Diego, if nothing else. And when you consider he's eligible at second and third base, the two weakest positions, in addition to first, well, maybe there does come a point when it makes sense to draft him. Just food for thought if the bust talk begins pushing Drury out of drafts completely.
Cal Raleigh, C, Mariners
FantasyPros ADP: 190.0
Raleigh struck out 29.4 percent of the time last year. Meanwhile, he put the ball in the air 55.7 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs, second-most among players with at least 400 plate appearances. He sold out hard for home runs and hit 27 of them, three more than any other catcher. But that's all he did. I mean it: all he did. He hit 27 homers. He hit 30 singles. If that ball wasn't leaving the park, he was no good to anyone, and that's a dangerous way to live.
You know who it reminds me of is Mike Zunino, who struck out 35.2 percent of the time while putting the ball in the air 54 percent of the time two years ago. It was good for 33 home runs to go along with a .216 batting average, and we would have taken that again. But instead, that .216 batting average slipped to .148, and while it's possible Zunino would have recovered if he hadn't suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in June, we had moved on from him in Fantasy well before that point.
Catcher right now is as deep as anyone who has ever played Fantasy Baseball can remember, with more than a dozen quality options to go around. Raleigh doesn't need to be one of them.
Josh Rojas, 2B/3B, Diamondbacks
FantasyPros ADP: 214.0
There are basically two factors keeping Rojas in the draftable range for Fantasy. One is that he's eligible at second and third base, the two weakest positions, which is a pretty big deal. The other is that he stole 23 bases last year, which isn't as big of a deal as you might think.
I understand that we're trained, at least in 5x5 scoring leagues like standard Rotisserie, to believe that anyone with the capacity for 20-plus steals has some kind of superpower that makes him immune to all criticism, but we're going to need to recalibrate for a new era. Stolen bases are about to explode to levels not seen since the early 2000s, just like they did in the minors when these same new rules came into play, the limited pickoff throws and the like. And just like that, Rojas' 20-steal ability won't seem so magical anymore. Ah, but won't he improve in proportion with the rest of the league? I have my doubts. His sprint speed was only 50th percentile, so it's kind of a miracle he got to 23 in the first place. He hadn't shown that kind of aptitude on the base paths in previous big-league stints.
That's ultimately what it comes down to for me: the one thing we're convinced Rojas does well I'm not actually convinced he does all that well. He certainly doesn't offer much power, and he's not really needed at third base with Evan Longoria and Emmanuel Rivera also on the roster. On top of everything else, it's not hard to imagine Rojas sliding back into a reserve role for most of the year.