The 2018 MLB season is officially underway, with the Mariners and A’s kicking things off in Japan. What most of us will think of as the real Opening Day, however, is still in the offing, and there’s one more weekend of fantasy drafts and auctions to take place between now and then.
We’ve spent the last two months here at SI.com preparing for our drafts and auctions. We’ve talked breakouts, sleepers and busts. We’ve delved into every spot on the diamond in our position primers. We’ve debated, debated and then, for good measure, debated some more. And, of course, we’ve ranked our top 300 players. Now, with one weekend left until the regular season begins in earnest, we’re giving you the last bits of advice you need to have a successful draft or auction: the players you need to have, the players you need to fade, and the last-minute players who just popped up on the radar, but can make a real difference this season.
Below, I present the five players in whom I already have significant investment, and will be getting no matter what in my final drafts and auctions this weekend.
Matt Chapman, 3B, A’s
With one game in the books, Chpaman has one homer. Here’s to hoping my #MattChapmanMarchto40 hashtag takes off.
Chapman was already drawing comparisons to Nolan Arenado after showing off his elite glove and solid pop in 2018. Those comparisons are going to hit a new level when Chapman takes the next step at the plate this year. He slashed .278/.356/.508 last season, with 24 homers, 42 doubles and 68 RBI in 616 plate appearances. All of his relevant metrics—strikeout rate, HR/FB ratio, hard-hit rate and o-swing rate among them—trended significantly in the right direction. The year before becoming a superstar, Arenado hit .287/.328/.500 with 18 homers, 34 doubles and 61 RBI in 467 plate appearances. The next season, he belted 42 homers, drove in 130 runs, and slugged .575. Chapman is going to make a parallel leap at the plate this year.
Mike Clevinger, SP, Indians
Clevinger is my AL Cy Young pick, so you can bet that I’m getting him in as many of my fantasy leagues as possible. He flies under the radar in Cleveland because he shares a rotation with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, but he’d be the No. 1 starter on plenty of teams. In two full seasons, he has pitched to a 3.05 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 344 strikeouts, a 26.2% strikeout rate, and 9.7% walk rate in 321 2/3 innings. Last year, he had a 3.02 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 207 strikeouts, 25.6% strikeout rate, and 8.3% walk rate in 200 innings. From June 14 through the end of last season, he amassed a 2.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 138 strikeouts, 29.4% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate
Yes, it can be dangerous to look into half-season samples for pitchers, but there are three reasons why I’m buying all the way into what Clevinger did from mid-June on last season. First, it was the second half of his second full season in the bigs. It’s reasonable to believe that the strides he made in that particular window were the result of natural growth and adaptation to the league, not just a sample-size quirk. Second, he made dramatic mechanical fixes at that point last season, as described in this story on Trevor Bauer by Ben Reiter. Third, the full-season and two-year samples are so good that, even if we have to fall back on those, the risk was worth it. Go get Clevinger. You will be rewarded.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
Last year, it was Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto. The year before that, it was Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger. Corey Seager and Trea Turner did it in 2016, the previous season it was Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor carrying the mantle. In today’s MLB, there is a pattern of elite prospects with high-level pedigrees arriving in the majors and becoming immediate superstars. Jimenez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are ready to take the torch this season, but only one of those two is going outside the top-100 picks in a typical fantasy draft.
The risk-reward balance in Jimenez’s average draft position is totally askew. There’s almost no risk at his ADP, and the possibility for a monster reward given his ceiling. He split last year right down the middle between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, logging 228 plate appearances at both stops and hitting a combined .337/.384/.577 with 22 homers, 28 doubles and 75 RBI. He was slightly better at the higher level, hitting .355/.399/.597 with 12 jacks at Charlotte. Once the White Sox are done making sure Jimenez’s glove is ready for the majors, which should take approximately two weeks, he’ll be an instant star, along the lines of his forerunners dating back to 2015.
Tommy Pham, OF, Rays
Last year, there were seven players with at least 20 homers, 15 steals, a .350 OBP and .450 slugging percentage. Six of them—Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Christian Yelich, Francisco Lindor and Ronald Acuña—are first-round picks. Pham is the seventh.
Pham hit .275/.367/.464 with 21 homers and 15 steals last season. Remember, too, that he had a disastrous first half, hitting .248/.331/.399 before a midseason trade to the Rays from the Cardinals. Even after being saddled with that sunk cost, he managed to put himself in a group with the players above. Just imagine where he could’ve been if his first half looked more like his second half.
Pham broke out in 2017, slashing .306/.411/.520 with 23 jacks and 25 swipes. His rates may have been terrible with St. Louis last season, but he still hit 14 homers and stole 10 bases in 396 plate appearances. He’s a 20-15 lock, with 25-25 well within his reach, all with plus rates, and you can somehow get him in the middle rounds of typical fantasy drafts.
Robinson Canó, 1B/2B, Mets
All Canó does is hit. It doesn’t matter how old he is or what team he’s on. He was limited to 80 games last year because of a PED suspension, but hit .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and 50 RBI in those 80 games.. You don’t need to be a math genius to approximate his 162-game pace. Canó may not have the ceiling he once did, but he has remained a professional hitter into his mid-30s. Going back to his age-30 season, which covers the last six years, he has hit .299/.359/.480 with 22 homers, 33 doubles and 86 RBI per season. Want to focus on more recent history? OK, no problem. Over the last three years, his age-33 through age-35 seasons, he’s slashed .292/.350/.490, with averages of 24 homers, 29 doubles and 83 RBI, and, remember, that includes his suspension-shortened 2018 season. No matter what, Canó hits. That’s not changing this season.