How Early Should You Target Kris Bryant in Fantasy Baseball Leagues?
Chicago Cubs fans are excited.
Hey, for the first time in a while, there's good reason to be. The team went out and spent a bunch of money on a bona fide ace in Jon Lester. They also have one of the best collections of young players in the game, and the best of the bunch, third base prospect Kris Bryant, was just named by ESPN's prospect guru Keith Law as the number-one prospect in all of baseball.
Bryant has earned his reputation as one of the most exciting young hitters in the game, bashing 45 homers and 110 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A last season, just one year after being drafted number-two overall by the Cubs.
There is every reason to be excited about Bryant's future, and it sure seems as though that future is now, especially after Chicago traded last year's third baseman, Luis Valbuena, to Houston in exchange for Dexter Fowler. That seemingly opened up the hot corner for Bryant, who has done nothing but mash everything he's seen at the minor league level.
So, as you begin to plan for your fantasy drafts this year, where you should think about selecting Bryant?
First, it's important to figure out just when he's going to be in the everyday lineup. If you listen to Chicago, it's not a lock he's going to be the team's Opening Day starter at third. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, after the Valbuena trade, that the two moves were independent of each other.
As of now, MLB.com has Mike Olt atop the team's depth chart. Tommy La Stella would be another option, and Javier Baez could play there, too. While it seems like the perfect time for Bryant to slide into the third base job, Hoyer is making it known it's not a slam dunk. Of course, it could also be a case of lowering expectations on Bryant this spring.
If Bryant is indeed the Opening Day starter, then what can he be reasonably be expected to produce? Our projections will be out soon, but as we look at the projections from the PECOTA and ZiPS computers, as well as Steamer, we see a productive player that should be one of the team's best run producers when he is on the field (stats below reflect standard 5x5 scoring formats).
ZiPS works under the assumption that Bryant will be the Opening Day third baseman. In that scenario, Bryant would be considered one of the best fantasy third basemen already. Compare those numbers to some of those put up by the best third basemen in baseball last season.
As you can see, it's pretty hard to find a single third baseman with better offensive numbers last year in all five categories combined than the ones ZiPS is projecting for Bryant if he plays a full season as the starter at third base.
However, Steamer sees Bryant getting slightly less plate appearances, reducing his home run, RBI and runs scored totals down to a level that's more middle-of-the-pack. And PECOTA is a bit bearish on Bryant's playing time in 2015, giving him only 199 plate appearances this year.
ZiPS' projections are probably too "best case scenario," while PECOTA's are probably less than what we should expect from Bryant in 2015. So, if we use Steamer's projections as a nice middle ground, we find Bryant in the 9-to-13 range among third basemen in standard 5x5, non-dynasty leagues.
Steamer's projection of 21 homers would have placed him tied for fifth among qualified third basemen last season. A batting average of .261, 56 RBIs, and 52 runs scored would have placed him 19th in all three categories, and his 6 stolen bases would have been tied for eighth. However, when you combine his potential ability to fill in all five categories at the same time, his value increases.
In dynasty leagues, however, all bets are off. Aside from a few young, established Major Leaguers, it's hard to imagine Bryant making it out of the first round in a 10- or 12-team league. Everyone is going to want a young, cornerstone third baseman for the next 5-10 years.
Clearly, much of Kris Bryant's value in fantasy will be based upon when he's handed the starting job because not many people doubt he will be productive almost as soon as he takes the field.
Hopefully more will be known about Chicago's plans for him before your draft gets started.