Fantasy Baseball: Atlanta's Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Are Worth Reaching For
The Atlanta Braves aren't going to be a very good team this year, barring something unforeseen. They made virtually no impact moves in the offseason to try and improve upon their 72-90 record last year and will feature a lineup and rotation with a mix of uninspiring veterans and some up-and-coming youngsters.
This is what a rebuilding team is supposed to do, and as a team goes through this grueling process, the hope is that a true star or two emerge when the team is ready to rise from the tire fire.
Albies' career got off to a terrific start with Atlanta in 2017 as he put up a .286/.354/.456 slash line in 57 games. He added 6 homers, 28 RBIs, 34 runs scored and 8 stolen bases in 244 plate appearances, with an 8.6% walk rate and 14.8% strikeout rate.
He's also gotten off to a blistering start in spring training this year. With the full understanding that spring starts largely don't predict future success, it's comforting to see Albies is destroying the ball in the fake games. Coming into Monday's action, Albies was 14 for 47 -- good for a .298/.353/.447 slash line and .800 OPS.
He put on this money-making performance last week, homering from both sides of the plate in the same game.
Ozzie Albies smacks a solo home run to right field, putting the Braves on the board in the top of the 4th inning #ChopOn pic.twitter.com/DXuU6u1Xn1
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB2) March 16, 2018
Among the 48 second baseman with at least 240 plate appearances last season, his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 112 was tied for 11th-best, and his weighted on base average (wOBA) of .347 was tied for 10th. He also showed good production from both sides of the plate. From the left side, he recorded a slash line of .327/.407/.519, an OPS of .926 and a wOBA of .396, and he had a .273/.337/.436 slash with a .773 OPS and a .331 wOBA from the right.
At this point in his career, he's a bit stronger from the left side than the right side, but he is certainly capable of holding his own against left-handed pitching. Our projections are high on Albies, as well, predicting a .277 batting average and .710 OPS this season with 12 homers, 17 steals, 59 RBIs and 73 runs scored.
If Albies is a potential superstar in the making, Acuna is a guarantee. Ranked as either the number-one or number-two prospect in all of baseball (some publications have Shohei Ohtani ranked ahead of him), Acuna blitzed through three levels of the minors last year, putting up a wOBA of .370 in 28 games at High-A ball, a .404 wOBA in 57 games in Double-A, and a .413 wOBA in 54 Triple-A games, tallying 21 dingers and 44 steals through those three levels.
Oh, and he's 20 years old by the way.
This spring has been more of the same for the talented young outfielder. Coming into Monday, Albies was hitting .432/.519/.727 in 44 spring at-bats with a 1.247 OPS, 4 homers, 11 RBIs and 4 stolen bases.
Here is one of those blasts from a game last week against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Acuna doing Acuna things...#Braves top prospect hits his 4th #SpringTraining homer in his 1st AB today. @Braves' Ronald Acuna is @MLB's No. 2 overall prospect: https://t.co/TuTZgd5PTS pic.twitter.com/KBxitFEc8p
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 17, 2018
Acuna is not expected to start the season on the Opening Day roster, but instead he will likely be sent down for a few weeks until the team is able to manipulate his service time to the point they can gain another year of team control over him. But his projected arrival of late April shouldn't scare anyone away from taking him early and stashing him for the first few weeks. Remember, Kris Bryant and Cody Bellinger both missed the first few weeks of their rookie seasons in 2015 and 2017, respectively, and both won Rookie of the Year Awards with fantastic fantasy seasons.
When Should You Draft Them?
Per the average draft position (ADP) data at National Fantasy Baseball Championships, Albies is currently being taken as the 13th second baseman in fantasy drafts with an ADP of 123.92, making him a 10th-rounder in 12-team leagues. Our projections largely agree and have him ranked as the 13th-best option at second base in season-long fantasy, ahead of players like DJ LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez, and Matt Carpenter.
Acuna is currently the 28th outfielder off the board with an ADP of 111, so he's a 9th-rounder in 12-team leagues. However, as the top prospect in the game and a player who in currently generating gobs of hype, don't be surprised if someone jumps the gun and reaches for Acuna a little bit earlier than his current ADP. Right now, the players going in Acuna's neighborhood are Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, Lorenzo Cain, Billy Hamilton and A.J. Pollock -- good players but not guys with sky-high ceilings.
For Acuna, our projections are calling for a batting average of .268, an OPS of .738, 15 homers, 17 steals, 53 RBIs and 53 runs scored, but he has the potential to be a 20-home, 20-steal player depending on when he's called up and how quickly he can acclimate to the bigs.
In fantasy drafts, it can pay to be cautious, especially with early picks. But in the case of Albies and Acuna, it won't cost you an early pick to gamble on the upside of both players, and they may even be worth reaching for as both could be fantasy difference makers in 2018.