World Baseball Classic – An American Triumph

So while most normal sports fans are getting excited for the second NCAA Tournament weekend (those who still have a decent bracket left), there are those of us who already feel fulfilled.

That’s because not only did the USA team crush Puerto Rico Wednesday night to win its first-ever World Baseball Classic Championship, but baseball geeks like me who passed up the NCAA hoops to catch all but a few innings (via Live and DVR replay) of the WBC can smile a big smile. We got a great head start on the fantasy baseball season.

Bracket that, baby.

While the US players enjoy their gold medals, here’s some (hopefully) golden information for you about the players who played in the WBC – and how they shape up for the 2017 fantasy baseball season.

ADP = Average Draft Position for the player via ESPN.

Marcus Stroman SP Tor

ADP: 131 (SP #29)
2016 totals: 204 IP, 9-10 W-L, 4.37 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

After throwing six innings of no-hit ball in the WBC Championship game against Puerto Rico, Stroman will be riding high. So will the expectations of his soon-to-be fantasy owners. They’ll expect Stroman to provide a No. 2-starter type of season.

But wait… Just five short days ago, Stroman got rocked by the same Puerto Rico team he shut down on Wednesday night. In that PR-beating, Stroman got blasted for eight hits over his four innings, including four straight hits and four runs in the first inning alone. He carried a 7.71 ERA in the tournament into his start on Wednesday night.

And as a former Stroman owner, that’s the problem. This guy is too inconsistent.

My call: Let some other fantasy owner ride the Stroman bandwagon (especially after an undeserved awarding of the WBC MVP trophy). Take advantage of some poor sap taking Stroman (who had a pedestrian 4.37 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 2016) well before the mid rounds; you’d be better taking Danny Duffy (ADP 154), Drew Smyly (ADP #177, and a good WBC himself) and even Toronto teammate Marco Estrada (ADP #197) before taking the inconsistent Stroman.

Brandon Crawford SS SF

ADP: 153 (SS #16)
2016 totals: .275 AVG, 12 HR, 84 RBI, 7 SB

His secret is out… Last season I grabbed Crawford in the 17th round of most fantasy drafts. The 30-year-old, who smashed an uncharacteristic 21 homers in 2015, fell back to earth last season. But power isn’t his forte–consistency is.

The funny part of last year’s fantasy baseball: I was able to pick up Crawford (and his .275 average and 84 RBI) as a backup shortstop! Certainly, Crawford’s consistency during the WBC (.385 avg., four extra-base hits, six RBI in 26 at-bats) showed the world how much of a help on offense Crawford can be to his fantasy owners. He’s real, folks.

My call: As stated, Crawford’s secret is out: he’s a starting shortstop in fantasy land. These shortstops, rated ahead of Crawford, should be taken after this Giant contributor: Dansby Swanson (ADP #113, SS #12); Brad Miller (ADP #141, SS #14).

Jose Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays outfielder
Photo credit: Keith Allison

Jose Bautista OF Tor

ADP: 65 (OF #21)
2016 totals: .234 AVG, 22 HR, 69 RBI, 2 SB

Joey Batts is back… But apparently, so is his back problems.

Jose Bautista, who saw Toronto career lows in batting average (.234), slugging percentage (.452), isolated power (.217), strikeout rate (19.9 percent of his PAs) and fly-ball rate (37.3 percent of balls in play) last season, was cruising along in high gear playing outfield for the Dominican Republic in the early stages of the WBC.

He showed some fielding finesse and throwing while posting Joey Batts-like numbers: .333 average (6 for 18), .435 on-base percentage, one homer, five RBI and even one stolen base in his first five games. But then Bautista, now 36 years old, was pulled from his next start due to lower back problems.

He hasn’t played since–not for the DR as well as Toronto.

Blue Jays’ management is downplaying the injury saying he’ll be fine after some rest.

My call: I’m all in, with a cautionary note. While Joey Batts will be on most, if not all, of my fantasy rosters, I’ll bulk up on backup outfielders/utility/bonus players knowing Bautista will probably spend a stint or two on the DL sometime this season. I’ve taken Jose in rounds 5-7 but also grabbed outfielders like Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley (himself just back from injury), Max Kepler and Nomar Mazara (to name a few) as outfield depth.

Christian Yelich OF Mia

ADP: 44 (OF #13)
2016 totals: .294 AVG, 21 HR, 98 RBI, 9 SB

Wow. Here is the one player who very well could exceed his already-high 2017 season projections.

Christian Yelich not only has a hot mom – apparently MLB Network thought so, too, as she was interviewed at least a half-dozen times during the WBC – but he was just as hot at the plate. The 25-year-old, 4th-year major leaguer hit only .292 in the WBC, with an on-base of .370 and slugging of .417. But his seven hits were at key times for the US and almost half (3) were for doubles. Plus, batting in a position where he was looked on to move runners over, he tallied two RBI.

Even Matt Vasgersian of MLB Network, who – at best – is an average play-by-play broadcaster, touted Yelich correctly by saying several times, “Yelich will one day win a batting title.”

My call: Buy in now! Yelich’s sweet swing is unlike any other in baseball today. Grab him in Round 3 if you can; his batting average alone will off-set any players you might have that drag down your team average (read: Giancarlo Stanton, Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, etc.). Batting title? My bet is it happens this season.

Others who performed well in the WBC and should be targeted for your fantasy baseball draft:

  • Nelson Cruz OF/DH Sea
  • Sam Dyson RP Tex
  • Eric Hosmer 1B KC
  • Andrew McCutcheon OF Pit
  • Gregory Polanco OF Pit
  • Drew Smyly SP Sea
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