Back in 2013, my pick of Jose Altuve in the fifth round of the ESPN fantasy staff's dynasty draft was received with a lot of raised eyebrows. However, despite the second baseman coming off of a fairly uneventful sophomore season, the second half of which he hit a rather pedestrian .274 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and 18 stolen bases, I truly believed the numbers spoke to the potential for something special. Five All-Star selections, five Silver Sluggers and an American League MVP award later, it might be hard to remember there was ever a time where drafting Altuve wasn't a no-brainer call.
But that's the thing about dynasty leagues. We all know that a large number of "can't-miss phenoms" ultimately do miss. So, if you're going to build only for tomorrow, you're definitely not going to win today. That's why the key to success in dynasty leagues is selecting that rare player who has yet to make a huge name for himself but is on the verge of becoming a perennial top-10 fantasy factor -- and deciding to select him before your fellow managers have even begun considering him as an option.
There are plenty of hitters in their age-25 season (or younger) of note in 2019 fantasy drafts, including the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Cody Bellinger, Ozzie Albies, Gleyber Torres, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. Every single one of these players is likely to be off the board by the time Round 5 is over in your 12-team league, and with good reason.
For me, though, there are three players who currently sit with a triple-digit ADP who, if you're willing to face a little bit of potential ridicule, could well put you in the driver's seat for years to come if you decide to grab them toward the tail end of the first 60 selections off the board. Could one of this trio be the "next Jose Altuve"?
In April 2017, all the buzz in Washington was pointing at Robles as the "next big thing." He was called a five-tool player, with a projected power-speed combination that evoked comparisons to a young Andrew McCutchen. At the start of 2018, Keith Law had him ranked as his No. 4 prospect. Yet, because he hurt his elbow trying to make a diving catch last April and ended up having to miss three months, when the Nationals needed some outfield help, they turned instead to Soto.
Well, 22 home runs and a .292/.406/.517 slash later, and all the buzz is now squarely on Soto, who is expected to be a top-20 outfielder in any fantasy format. Robles, though he healed up enough for a September "cup of coffee," was for the most part forgotten about in the wake of Soto-mania. However, with Bryce Harper's free agency, there's an opening in the Nationals' outfield. Manager Dave Martinez says he feels Robles is ready to play regularly, and while most projections have him barely in the top 40 for outfielders, we're talking about value in the long term here.
Perhaps Soto has leapfrogged him in the present, but even with very little big-league track record, it's not hard to imagine Robles rising up to the top 10 at his position in terms of fantasy value before the end of 2020. I wouldn't hesitate to draft him with that potential in mind, and well before his current neighborhood of OF40.
No, a 40-HR guy isn't going to "sneak up" on anybody. We all know that when Gallo connects, he really smashes the cover off the ball, as they say. However, if you grab Gallo for your fantasy team, you're also looking at a player whose odds of having over 200 strikeouts and a batting average under .200 are pretty darn high. That could be deadly in both points- and category-based leagues, and it's why he tends to sit outside of the top 10 in most first-base rankings lists, despite the incredibly strong power numbers.
The Rangers have said they plan to use Gallo exclusively in the outfield this season -- a plan that, if they stick to it, will end up removing his multipositional eligibility going forward. Regardless, at least for this season, he does qualify at first base ... and he's abundantly aware of his perception as an all-or-nothing hitter. If he were to trim just 20 whiffs from his 2018 total and add 20 more hits to his résumé this season -- something that could happen very easily simply due to luck -- we're looking at a clear top-100 overall fantasy asset.
Now consider that Gallo turned 25 only in November; doesn't have to worry about whether or not a slump will cause him to lose his job after general manager Jon Daniels deemed him part of the Rangers' "core four" going forward; and has a new batting coach (Luis Ortiz) who can help shape his swing. A huge jump in fantasy value that could stick for years to come is not so hard to fathom.
Manager Ned Yost says of his 23-year-old shortstop, "It doesn't matter who you're playing -- on any given night, he could be the best player in that game." When you look at Mondesi's stats from July 10 on, he hit .294 with 13 homers and 31 RBIs in 55 starts, with 28 steals. It's tempting to basically triple those numbers to extrapolate what might be in a full 162-game season at that pace, at the very least just in terms of steals -- but we've all been down that road before.
How many times have we all flirted with the idea that Billy Hamilton might steal 100 bases in a season if he were just able to get on base a bit more than three times out of 10? Spoiler alert: We might never know, thanks to his .298 career OBP that has helped prevent him from ever reaching that 60-SB plateau. That's the fear many will have when considering drafting Mondesi in 2019.
My colleagues Eric Karabell and Tristan H. Cockcroft debated the merits of Mondesi in a recent Fantasy Focus podcast, and I'm not sure we've reached a consensus. For me, I think we could be looking at a "modern day" Jose Reyes here and, especially in terms of points leagues, a near-lock for top-10 shortstop status this season, with top-five upside for 2020 and beyond. If Mondesi ends up with double-digit triples and homers, while getting 50-60 steals for the season, he'll be a top-50 hitter value, even with a likely sub-.300 OPS.