The players I'd love to pick in my fantasy baseball drafts — if I wasn't so terrified of them

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Blake Snell, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Bauer (Photo by Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
I'm shook. (Photo by Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we begin here: This is NOT a busts piece.

The term “bust” is divisive in the fantasy community. Some hear the word and think, “Well, this guy might fail this week — gotta prepare for that outcome.” Others hear it and think, “Well, this guy WILL fail this week — I should bench him.”

And if you hear it in draft season, you might think, “I can’t touch this guy — avoid avoid avoid.”

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So it’s why I say we should be clear in that this isn’t a busts piece. Instead, this is a piece on the players I’d normally draft — but due to extenuating circumstances, I’d rather let someone else take them ... because those circumstances terrify me. We’ve all been here, haven’t we?

Who knows? These players might go on to win CY Youngs, batting titles, maybe even MVPs — I just won’t have ‘em on my fantasy rosters.

Without further ado, let’s jump right into the players I’m too frightened to draft this season.

Trevor Bauer, SP, Cincinnati Reds (Current ADP: 94)

Bauer is an exceptionally talented pitcher and one of the true, few workhorses remaining in MLB. I won a championship last season after drafting Bauer at the top of the third round.

I traded him midseason, and it was fear that led to me making that deal.

Fear of Bauer being overworked. Fear of the injuries he was dealing with to his back and ankle. Fear of Bauer losing his grip on his control. Fear of a blow-up outing at the worst possible time.

The numbers don’t lie. Bauer had seven starts the first month of the 2019 season. He threw over 100 pitches in every start in that stretch. In fact, Bauer had 27 starts with over 100 pitches — he threw 115-plus in 14 of those contests. His WHIP catapulted from the 1.09 mark in 2018 to 1.25 in 2019 — which is closer to his career mark of 1.30. All the while, his ERA from month to month just kept steadily climbing until it reached its peak in August of 2019 (8.40). His pre-All Star Break ERA was 3.61; it jumped to 5.89 after.

Bauer got traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the end of July — it was the last straw for me. Great American Ball Park has been top-10 in boosting home runs since 2005. He ended up allowing 12 home runs in the 10 games he started from August and September.

I know this all sounds extremely negative on Bauer, but any elite pitcher can have a bad season. It’s easy to chalk up Bauer’s 2019 as a result of injuries, fatigue, and a change in uniform. With renewed health and a full offseason of work, it’s not a stretch to say that Bauer could deliver a fantastic year on a strong Reds team.

With that said, I do believe last season (11-13, 4.48 ERA) was more an indication of Bauer’s floor — and consequently, what we should expect more often from him — than his impressive 2018 campaign (12-6, 2.21 ERA). This becomes especially apparent when you consider Bauer has never even come close to a 2.00 ERA in his four seasons prior to 2018.

Bauer will definitely give you innings and he’ll give you strikeouts; he might cover those two categories for you by himself, and that’s reason enough to draft him at such a discounted price. But personally, I’m not willing to take the potential fall here.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies (Current ADP: 9)

This blurb won’t be anywhere near as long as Bauer’s. Nolan Arenado has been one of the most consistent stars in baseball, and the numbers speak for themselves. Since 2015 he’s never batted under .280, he’s never hit under 35 home runs, and he’s never driven in less than 90 RBI. Just writing this in the context of players I’m too scared to draft makes me think I’m nuts.

But what happens if he gets traded? (*insert trademark horror-movie scream here*)

We never want our hitters to leave run-producing parks, and few stadiums are anywhere near Coors Field when it comes to an offensive boost. Even a generational talent like Arenado has not been immune to the Colorado home/road split (.351/.412/.645 career slash line at home; .277/.346/.521 away).

Look, Arenado will be successful no matter where he goes (if he goes anywhere) and I don’t expect a massive drop-off in production should he move. Will he still warrant first-round consideration if he’s not playing his home games in Denver anymore? I leave that up to you, but I don’t want to have him on my roster on the day a potential trade is announced.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (Current ADP: 54)

It was a disappointing rookie season for the phenom, to say the least. Unfortunately, we did not see much of the prolific plate discipline or the prodigious power that had been hyped up (although he did put on a show in the Home Run Derby). But hey, it’s the Majors for a reason.

Vlad was destroying minor league pitching at all levels before he was called up, and instantly we could see that he was trying to adjust to the speed and power of Major League pitching. Vlady struck out 38 times in May and June. We saw some improvement on that front as the season went along (30 Ks in July/August) but then another 19 Ks in September with no home runs hammered home the point: He’s just 20 years old and will have some growing pains.

I say, give Vladdy time. The talent is there. Once he catches up to the speed of the game (he did have an amazing August — .341/.406/.571), the show will begin. I’m just afraid Season 2 won’t be when he does catch up.

Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (Current ADP: 23)

A run on starting pitchers directly below the elite tier begins in the second round of most fantasy drafts, and Flaherty has been a prime target. True, you would be hard-pressed to find a better pitcher than Flaherty in August and September of 2019; it’s not a stretch to say that many fantasy leagues were probably won on the strength of his arm.

That’s all fine, but I still can’t bring myself to select him, especially not with a late second-round pick. He has just two MLB seasons under his belt — a total of five months in those two years can be classified as elite production (sub-3.00 ERA). His minor-league pedigree is evident, but I’d rather see him put it all together for a full season instead of some outlier months showcasing his full potential.

One positive sign in Flaherty’s favor and something unafraid fantasy managers should take into consideration: His fastball velocity in 2019 was up from 93.8 in 2018 to 94.6.

Mike Clevinger, SP, Cleveland Indians (Current ADP: 27)

Admittedly, Mike Clevinger was one of my main targets this season before the time of this writing. In just 126 innings, he compiled a 2.71 ERA (2.49 FIP) and 169 strikeouts in 2019. But AT the time of this writing, that viewpoint has changed from one of excitement to one of sheer terror.

Once again, Clevinger will have to come back from an injury. This time, he’ll undergo left knee surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. He’s been limited in two out of his last three seasons with injuries, and even though he’s one of the most electrifying pitchers in the game, I’m not courageous enough to take a flier on him in my drafts even as his price tag falls in the wake of the injury news.

Chris Paddack, SP, San Diego Padres (Current ADP: 58)

Full disclosure: I LOVE Chris Paddack. I love his fearlessness on the mound, his confounding changeup, and what his future looks like on the Padres. What I’m not feeling is having to hope he’ll get the workload afforded most aces.

I drafted Paddack with one of my final picks last season — traded him before the break (yes, this is a pattern with me — we all have our thing in fantasy, you know you do too!). It was no secret that the Padres would limit his innings, and they did just that (throwing 140.2 as a rookie), even sending him down for a short stint.

Chris Paddack #59 of the San Diego Padres
The future is bright for Chris Paddack — I just don't know if that future starts in 2020. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As the season went along, however, Paddack became more and more hittable. Perhaps it’s because he only throws two pitches (although he is reportedly working on a third, a curveball), or perhaps it’s because his strikeouts dropped the more times he went through a batting order. All these things terrify me, especially when it’ll take a mid-round pick to secure Paddack’s services.

Eventually, I can see Paddack becoming one of the top-five pitchers in the game. Just not in 2020.

... He also got a new tattoo that seems like its made to strike fear in opposing hitters so, yeah, I’ll probably regret not drafting him.

Joey Gallo, 1B/OF, Texas Rangers (Current ADP: 82)

My fear with Gallo is very similar to my fear with Arenado. Yet, where Arenado might be leaving the overly generous confines of Coors Field, Gallo will still be staying in Texas — albeit in a new park.

Globe Life Park has been top-5 in park factor runs the last three seasons. Now, we all know Gallo is a prolific power hitter, but it would be ignorant to say that his park hasn’t played a part in his offensive prowess — it’s the tide that raises all ships. Gallo, like everyone else, has benefitted from this: His career home split reads .228/.356/.566 with a .922 OPS. His away split dwindles to .197/.304.467 with a .771 OPS.

We don’t know what to expect from the new Globe Life Field, what with its retractable roof that will undoubtedly protect teams and fans from the searing Texas heat. For all we know, Gallo might hit more home runs. Or, his numbers might drop across the board, and after having a career-year in every stat but home runs (he only played 70 games), some park-induced regression isn’t out of the question. We just don’t know for sure. I’d rather be on the outside looking in, instead of experiencing it firsthand with Gallo on my roster.

Khris Davis, UTIL, Oakland A’s (Current ADP: 190)

Khris Davis is gonna come at a CRAZY discount this season when you compare his current ADP to his 2019 one (he was being drafted as high as the fourth round last season). I just won’t be taking advantage of that potential bargain price.

For a long time, you knew what you were getting with Khris Davis. A .247 batting average (his remarkable consistency will forever be one of my favorite sports stats). 40-plus home runs. A 100-plus RBI. Great numbers if you could stomach the strikeouts and poor OBP. But injury struck in 2019, and Khrush was only able to play 133 games after three straight seasons of over 150 outings. His numbers shrunk across the board. When he returned from the IL, he was a shell of his former self, and that was while the rest of the league was hitting bombs at will.

If healthy, Khrush could bounce back, and the chance at a 40-home run season is well worth a late-round pick. But I don’t know if I want a 32-year-old with no speed returning from an injury-shortened season who’s only value is in his power.

The entire Tampa Bay Rays “rotation” (Current ADPs begin at 39)

I just can’t do it, and it pains me to say it. Every pitcher in this rotation (and I don’t even know if you can call it a rotation — at one point last season the Rays depth chart had just two starting pitchers in it) comes with electric stuff, be it of the swing-and-miss or run-suppressing variety. And Tampa Bay is capable of pulling off wins against any team. But who can you really trust completely here:

  • Blake Snell followed up his shocking Cy Young season with a disappointing, injury-darkened 2019. Will we get 2018 Snell or 2017 Snell in 2020?

  • Tyler Glasnow might have the best stuff in this staff but has never pitched more than 115 innings in his career.

  • Charlie Morton might be the most trustworthy of the bunch, but he is 36 and has already suffered a season-ending injury.

  • Ryan Yarbrough/Yonny Chirinos: Are they even starters? I’ll gladly take them as long relievers.

  • Brendan McKay has immense upside, but he’s just 24 and pitched just 49 Major League innings last season.

I love them all — really, I do. Any one of these guys can go off for a ridiculous season — but I’m too shook to find out.

And hey, I get it — once you get past a certain round, you’re not supposed to trust your picks completely. It’s more-so banking on upside, or hoping for a sleeper to awaken, or an underrated player to breakout. I understand — but I still don’t want to be the one grabbing these guys.

(Notice I wrote “rotation” and not “pitching staff.” I’m all over TB’s relievers.)

Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros (Current ADP: 12)

Under normal circumstances, not wanting to draft the ace of a World Series-contending team who also finished as the highest-scoring fantasy pitcher last season is a tad crazy. Okay, so it’s a lot crazy, but that’s why we’re here.

I’ll keep this simple — we see and hear this all the time across all sports: FATHER TIME IS UNDEFEATED.

Justin Verlander will be 37 by the time the 2020 season kicks off. He’s clearly a freak of nature who has already defied time and advanced analytics (seriously — most of his advanced stats painted a worse picture of him in 2019, yet still he produced), but I don’t want to be a victim of circumstance here.

Verlander is in the perfect situation: Playing in a pitcher’s park on a contending team, and last year’s Cy Young victory showed no signs of regression. Yet, the fear of a sudden breakdown remains — and let’s not even get into the mental effect this entire sign-stealing scandal could have — so if I get the 12th pick in my draft, JV won’t be getting his number called.

Are there any players who you would love to draft, but don’t see yourself taking the leap? Let us know in the comments below and hit us up @YahooFantasy!