Fantasy Baseball: Is Miguel Sano a Value or a Trap in 2017?

After a great rookie campaign, a step back in 2016 has Sano's stock low coming into this season. Is this the perfect buy-low opportunity or is he a player to avoid?

Even though it was a small sample size, it was hard to not be excited about what Miguel Sano did in 335 plate appearances (80 games) as a rookie in 2015.

Sure, a 35.5% strikeout rate isn't awesome, but it's much easier to deal with that when its accompanied by a 15.8% walk rate, .916 OPS, .262 ISO and 150 wRC+. In fantasy baseball circles, he was the waiver-wire claim everyone dreams of, slugging 18 home runs and collecting 52 RBI's after being promoted from Double-A.

His follow-up effort in 2016 wasn't as jaw dropping, and while there's still reason to feel optimistic about the young right-handed slugger, there's at least some concern about him after seeing a lack of progression from his rookie to sophomore seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

Not the 2016 We Wanted

After such an encouraging debut, Sano shot up fantasy draft boards thanks to his power potential. It probably wasn't a good idea to put him in right field (from a real-life perspective), but it didn't matter as long as his offense didn't suffer.

Unfortunately, it did.

2015 335 15.8% 35.5% .916 .262 18 52 150 2.0
2016 495 10.9% 36.0% .781 .227 25 66 107 1.3

Sano went from ranking 60th overall ahead of the 2016 season, according to ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft, to currently sitting 164th ahead of 2017, according to FantasyPros' expert consensus rankings.

For the optimists, this means one thing: it's the perfect buy-low opportunity for a player who has flashed elite power. For the pessimists, it can be viewed as a trap because of our once warm and fuzzy feelings about him that may not ever come back.

Even though his performance wasn't at all what many were hoping for, it wasn't all bad.

Finding Positives in a Disappointing Season

Young hitters are bound to go through growing pains, and it shouldn't be overly surprising that Sano felt some in 2016. However, his plate discipline numbers show he has a great foundation for progressing into a solid hitter and viable fantasy commodity.

Year O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2015 25.2% 33.8% 61.3% 76.3% 40.3% 60.9% 15.7%
2016 23.7% 41.7% 62.9% 77.3% 41.0% 65.8% 14.0%

When looking at FanGraphs' average plate discipline numbers, Sano comes in well below average across the board (except for his swinging-strike rate). Young hitters tend to have problems being a little too aggressive (see: Javier Baez) early in their careers, but Sano could probably stand to be a little more aggressive at the plate.

As is a theme with most of his numbers, he watched his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (26.5% in 2015 to 20.8% in 2016) and hard-hit rate (43.2% to 40.1%) decrease in his sophomore campaign, but it's not like the numbers he produced were bad -- they were excellent, actually.

When Sano is making contact, it's going out of the park at a similar rate to some of baseball's top hitters, and he's hitting it hard as often as some of baseball's top hitters. He's predictably had trouble against offspeed and breaking pitches, but the offering he needs to improve upon is the fastball.

Improving on Fastballs

Sano's numbers as a rookie against four-seam fastballs are pretty eye-popping, but so is the regression he experienced in 2016 (statistics courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

2015 .313 .735 .422 .364
2016 .252 .497 .245 .306

It's tough to ask a young hitter with a strikeout rate north of 35% to get more aggressive at the plate, but being selectively aggressive and swinging at pitches with the greatest chance of success (which would be four-seamers) at least puts him in a better overall position to produce.

And it's not as if Sano is seeing less fastballs from opposing pitchers (48.0% in 2015 to 49.9% in 2016). As we can see from the plate discipline table above, Sano did swing at more pitches within the strike zone -- he just needs to continue progressing in that category while also increasing his contact rate.

Upside Outweighs Risk Late in Drafts

The potential of Sano bouncing back in 2017 shouldn't make you change who your first choice(s) will be at the third base position during fantasy drafts, but he could end up being a late-round steal for a corner infield or utility spot.

The most attractive part of Sano's game from a fantasy perspective is his power, and his Steamer projection is anticipating a .242/.333/.474 slash line with 30 home runs, 86 RBI's and 76 runs scored in 2017. Obviously, the areas we're most concerned with are homers and RBI's, and compared to other projections, he's among the league's best at his position.

Only four third baseman -- Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant -- are projected to hit more homers than Sano this season. Sano also ranks seventh in projected RBI's, with the aforementioned four, plus Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria coming in just ahead of him.

The other hot corner occupants mentioned above have enough big-league experience where we can anticipate their production based on what they've done thus far in their careers. For Sano, we're still not sure what he's capable of doing if he puts it all together over the course of 162 games.

When looking at FantasyPros' third base rankings, all of the players projected ahead of him in homers and RBI's can be found in the top 12, while Sano is sitting back at 20th, with Ryon Healy, Maikel Franco, Jake Lamb and Eduardo Nunez immediately in front of him.

If you invest in Sano at the right time, there's no way he'll be a trap. We know he'll get the at-bats in Minnesota, and even if his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio and hard-hit rate stagnates in 2017, the power will be there with a chance he outperforms his projections.