This time of year, I love perusing the NFBC ADP data and identifying potential late-round targets. For the sake of using a round number as a cutoff, I opted to focus on players who were select after pick 300 on average. Three players stood out as especially intriguing to me.
Alex Gordon – OF – Royals – NFBC ADP: 317.27, Min: 204 and Max: 365
Gordon will be 33 years old this year, and he’s a veteran of more than 5,000 plate appearances coming off of a down year. At first blush, he looks like an established player who could be on the decline and someone to avoid. From 2013 through 2015, Gordon tallied a 9.4% BB%, 20.3% K%, .161 ISO, .267/.348/.428 triple slash with a 43.6% Pull% and 33.4% Hard%. Last year, his walk rate was up to 10.3%, but his strikeout rate ballooned to 29.2% and his triple slash collapsed to .220/.312/.380. He tallied a career-worst 12.2% SwStr% and his contact rate dropped from a 78.7% mark from 2013 through 2015 to 72.0%. There are some reasons for optimism that last year was a hiccup and not a cliff season.
For starters, his Contact% primarily dropped due to a cratering of his O-Contact% from 62.5% from 2013-2015 to 48.7% last season. His Z-Contact% drop was far less stark (87.1% to 83.1%). He also didn’t turn into a free swinger, as his 24.9% O-Swing% was still well below the league average in 2016 of 30.3%. The plate discipline looks good, and a even a modest rebound in contact on pitches outside the zone should help him cut his strikeout rate down closer to his career norms. What really caught my eye with Gordon was his monthly splits.
From Opening Day through July 31st, Gordon was dreadful tallying a 76 wRC+ with seven homers, a .206/.313/.335 slash and a 10.8% BB% and 27.8% K%. He was a below average offensive player from August 1st through the end of the year, but his marks of a 96 wRC+, 10 homers and a .239/.312/.437 slash were all major improvements. His walk rate did dip a bit to a still strong 9.6% and his strikeout rate rose to 31.2%. Oddly, the strikeout rate rose with an uptick in contact (71.1% before August 1st and 73.1% after August 1st).
The info I was most intrigued by within Gordon’s post-August 1st statistics was his batted ball profile. From 2013 through 2015, Gordon tallied a 11.2% HR/FB%, 43.6% Pull% and 33.4% Hard%. From August 1st through the end of last year, he ripped off a 22.7% HR/FB%, 49.6% Pull% and 38.8% Hard%. The sample size is small, but he ramped up his hard contact and sold out for power with a pull-happy approach. With just two seasons of 20 homers or more and none reaching the 25 homer threshold, Gordon probably doesn’t come to mind as a cheap source of power. However, if his late-season approach change sticks, he could be in line for a new career-high homer total in 2017. He’s unlikely to be .220-hitter bad again, and if he can hit around .248 (as Steamer projects), his batting average shortcomings won’t totally undermine his cheap power.
Daniel Norris – SP – Tigers – NFBC ADP: 324.60, Min: 262 and Max: 395
Norris was a highly touted prospect and the crown jewel of a deal sending David Price to the Blue Jays in 2015. Last year was his first full year in Detroit’s organization. It also was a cancer-free season after he beat thyroid cancer. His 2016 did get a late start as a result of a back injury, but it was a promising year for the young lefty in which he made 31 appearances (30 starts) overall across four levels with 14 appearances (13 starts) for the parent club. The southpaw made one relief appearance for the Tigers in May and three starts split between late June and early July before receiving a bit more minor-league seasoning. Norris returned to the majors for an August 9th start and remained in The Show pitching at a high level, and I’m completely enamored with his upside for this season and beyond.
From August 9th through his final start on September 30th, Norris toed the rubber 10 times. He totaled 56.1 innings, allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his starts and pitched between five innings and 6.2 innings in each turn. During that 10-start stretch, he earned a 3.04 ERA, 3.82 FIP and 4.07 xFIP with a 7.8% BB% and 22.6% K%. His WHIP was high at 1.37, but a .315 BABIP is largely to blame. He struggled with allowing hits in his first three starts of the 10-game stretch, but in the last seven games his BABIP dipped to .290 and his WHIP settled in at 1.17. Circling back to the larger — yet still small — sample of 10 games, Norris’ above strikeout rate (21.1% was the league average in 2016) was supported by a 11.1% SwStr% that bested the league average of 10.1%. Had that sample been large enough to make Norris a qualified starter, his SwStr% would have ranked tied for the 18th highest. The 23-year-old (he’ll be 24 in late April) isn’t striking batters out with smoke and mirrors, either.
In his last 10 starts, Norris’ four-seam fastball’s average velocity was 93.1 mph. Only 18 qualified starters had a higher average velocity on their heater, and only three of those starters were southpaws. Norris backed his plus-velo heater with a changeup, curve and slider. The slider, in particular, is a great offering that Eno took an in-depth look at last September. Norris allowed a .334 wOBA to right-handed batters to close out the year, but his four-pitch mix should give him the goods to improve against his opposite-handed hitting foes. His improvement throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters supports his sizable strides in walk rate, and Norris appears poised for a breakout that’s actually already started. He’s the 85th starting pitcher going off the board on average in NFBC drafts, and I can safely say without fully diving into rankings at starting pitcher yet, I would select him in front of at least 25 of those starters and likely more than that.
Roman Quinn – OF – Phillies – NFBC ADP: 395.00, Min: 287 and Max: 477
Let me start with the bad. Last year, I fell head over heels for Delino DeShields. That didn’t work out, and there are some obvious parallels between the speedy outfielders. DeShields was penciled in as the starter in the Rangers outfield at this point last year, but there was competition nipping at his heels. Ditto for Quinn this year. Also like DeShields, Quinn’s ascension to the majors included bypassing the Triple-A level after fewer than 600 plate appearances at the Double-A level and a high-ish strikeout rate for a below-average power hitter. DeShields totaled 492 plate appearances in the majors in 2015 before his face plant in 2016, and Quinn’s cup of coffee included only 69 plate appearances last year. There’s less big-league work to analyze, but Quinn was the more successful hitter in the minors. And that segues nicely into the reasons to commit a pick to Quinn at his current ADP.
If he face plants, who cares? The investment is minimal, and his speed is elite. Quinn stole 41 bases in 92 games (415 plate appearances) split between three levels last year. He stole 29 bases in 59 games and 257 plate appearances at the Double-A level in 2015, and he swiped 32 in 88 games and 382 plate appearances in 2014 at the High-A level. He was extremely efficient swiping bags last year doing so at a 80.4% success rate. It’s no secret speed was down across the game last year, and only 28 players stole 20 bases or more. Quinn doesn’t even need to carve out a full-time gig to reach that mark with his blazing speed.
The switch-hitting outfielder is a table-setter who can wreak havoc on the bases when he gets there, and he did an exquisite job of getting on base last year. He walked at a 9.3% clip in 322 plate appearances at the Double-A level and reached base at a .361 clip. In his tiny 69 plate appearances sample size in the majors, he bumped his walk rate up to 11.6% and his OBP up to .373. Quinn rarely went fishing out of the strike zone with a 20.3% O-Swing% (30.3% league average). Quinn isn’t a sure thing to start for the Phillies with two of three outfield spots locked down by Odubel Herrera and Howie Kendrick, but he should have a shot to win the last remaining outfield job. Of course, merely winning the job won’t assure he’ll keep it, as DeShields proved last year. Quinn’s ADP will definitely rise and fall closer to the start of the regular season as it becomes more clear who will man the third outfield spot for the Phillies. If you’re drafting now, though, you don’t have the luxury of a clearer outfield picture for the Phillies. Still, Quinn’s worth rolling the dice on in 12-team mixed leagues or larger at pick 300 or later.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.