Fantasy Focus: Nats Deep League Sleepers

For those in deep fantasy baseball leagues the pickings get rough in the later rounds on draft day. But there are two Nationals players who will likely be available then and could provide some serious value for owners.

Last year the Citizens of Natstown Fantasy League was a 16-team 25-man roster behemoth. That’s 400 total players on rosters, despite there only being 390 starting position player and pitcher spots in all of MLB. Playing in such a league quickly makes you intimately familiar with some of the deepest fantasy sleepers: short-side platoon starters, prospects who have a small shot at a call up, injury replacements and more. You’re probably not in quite as deep a league as that, in fact the Citizens of Natstown league shrunk down to 14 teams this year. However for those in deep leagues there are two Nationals who won’t be found at the top of the fantasy rankings, but could provide you with some value.

Yunel Escobar 2B/SS

Escobar is a classic example of a player whose real life baseball value doesn’t translate well to fantasy. His biggest asset over his career has been his above average defense at shortstop, which is useless in all but the most obscure fantasy league. And while his bat has been league average, he has a career 101 wRC+, he doesn’t excel at anything. He only has three seasons with more than 10 home runs and no seasons with 10 or more stolen bases. Overall, he doesn’t make up a desired fantasy asset in regular leagues.

But in deep leagues his statistics don’t matter as much as his position and his playing time and in those categories he excels. As a former full time shortstop moving to second base Escobar should have eligibility at both middle infield positions, the two shallowest positions in baseball. He’s also guaranteed a full time starting job with the Nationals. While he might not have great numbers, having 600 plate appearances in which to amass them is much better than just 300-400.

There’s one other part of Escobar’s skill set that could help him standout on the waiver wire: his contact rate. For his career Escobar has made contact on 85.2 percent of the pitches he swings at according to PITCHF/x. Only Denard Span and Anthony Rendon had higher contact rates among Nationals players last season. Usually such a high contact rate leads to a good batting average, but Escobar’s is dragged down by poor batting averages on balls in play; four of the last five seasons he’s had BABIPs at or below .282. Still there will be times when the BABIP Gods smile on Escobar and he puts up some high batting averages, which can give head-to-head players an additional value.

Michael Taylor CF

With Taylor set up as the clear long term backup outfielder for the Nationals and starters Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span having extensive injury histories, he was an underrated asset before the spring. Then Span underwent surgery to repair a right core muscle and was ruled out for at least four-to-six weeks, opening the door for Taylor to begin the season as the Nationals’ starting center fielder. With GM Mike Rizzo already giving him a vote of confidence, it’s unlikely that Taylor doesn’t get full time plate appearances while he’s a starter and with Span’s recovery time already looking questionable that could be longer than a month.

There are some risks with Taylor though. He’s only had 95 plate appearances above AA (52 in AAA and 43 in MLB) and he has significant strikeout issues. Last season he had a 29.5 percent strikeout rate in 441 plate appearances at AA, which likely won’t be improved much by facing the significantly better pitchers in MLB. However, his combination of raw power and speed is rare for a center fielder and if given a full season of plate appearances he likely would put up double digits home runs and steals. He likely won’t have an opportunity at a full time gig all year, but grabbing him for the first month of the year could be a hidden boost for owners.


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