We are the Birchwood Brothers—authentic siblings, senior citizens, dispensers of healing advice and spiritual counsel to the fantasy-impaired—back for our fifth year before the mast. Like those guys who spend their vacations in Trappist monasteries, each season around this time we bid our loved ones, and adult responsibility in general, a gleeful farewell, and immerse ourselves in fantasy baseball, seeking to apprehend and carry out the divine will, as it is expressed through the designation of players who, unforeseen by all but a few of the elect, will help a fantasy team succeed.
And when we say immerse, we do not mean “daintily dip a toe in.” Our fantasy medium is the deep league, and we are seldom happier than when we are thinking and writing about widely-overlooked or disparaged players whose suddenly robust stats will, we hope, make us look like savants. True, we have opinions about other guys, but they’re not any better than anyone else’s.
Thus, for example, if you ask us whether you’re better off taking Javier Baez or Jose Altuve with the 13th pick in the first round, we have a view on the matter (Altuve), but you’d be foolish to act on it. Our opinions about later rounds aren’t any better than anyone else’s, either, but we’re the only ones who offer them to the public with such lunatic single-mindedness. (It’s important to note, by the way, that we talk only about redraft leagues. With one modest exception, we don’t play in keeper leagues, and we avoid dynasty leagues as we do paper cuts, although we applaud the intrepid souls who join them.)
As is our wont, we are beginning our draft/auction season with a National Fantasy Baseball League “Draft Champions” draft: 50-round snake draft, long time for cogitation between picks, no in-season roster changes. (This year, however, we are playing the 2-hour rather than the 4-hour version we’ve heretofore played. If our math is correct, it should take about half as long, and avoid many of the excruciating longueurs of the 4-hour variety.) As usual, we will be reporting on this draft in subsequent installments.
To prepare, we have undertaken an exhaustive team-by-team roster review, trying to identify both established players who might outperform their forecasts and obscure players, second-stringers, and minor leaguers who might turn out to be 2019’s Jesus Aguilars or Max Muncys (Muncies?). And now, we share some of our research with you, by telling you about one player on each team whose NFBC Average Draft Position (in 15-team leagues) of 330 or greater marks him as a reserve from most people’s standpoint, but who we think has a significant upside and might be worth getting at some point in the second half of a 50-player draft. We’ll do National League in this installment, American League in the next.
This review will necessarily be swift and therefore perfunctory—a sentence or two for each guy. We’ll go more deeply into players we like in articles to come, including the next one, where will we spend some time focusing with microsurgical precision on the titular Justin Bour, one of our favorite players since we flagged him four years ago. Until then:
Atlanta: We’d be happy to have Brian McCann (ADP 418) as one of our two catchers. He hit well after his return from surgery last season, and he will be platooning with Tyler Flowers, so he won’t have to face right-handed pitching.
Miami: As you undoubtedly know, this is a major league team only because it says so on the uniform. It’s accordingly tough to find a Marlin you want to land. If you forced us to take someone, it would probably be either Isaac Galloway (ADP 745) or Magneuris Sierra (ADP 708), outfielders who haven’t quite conclusively rebutted the presumption that they can’t hit and who have enough speed to make things interesting if it turns out they can.
Mets: Jason Vargas (ADP 582) may be worth a pick. His weakness is home runs, and in the second half he figured out how to avoid giving them up in Citi Field, which is why the Mets got him in the first place.
Nationals: Anyone who’s played fantasy baseball for a while has been burned by Anibal Sanchez. It’s a rite of passage. We concede that it may well happen again. Nonetheless, you can dig as deeply as you like into his 2018 and you won’t find anything suspicious. This might make him worth getting at ADP 330.
Phillies: This being the Phillies, they will undoubtedly need more starting pitchers than they’ve got. Most people seem to think that their top pitching prospect is Enyel de los Santos (ADP 741), but we prefer Ranger Suarez (taken by no one), who pitched just as well as de los Santos in the minors last year and unlike de los Santos keeps the ball on the ground, which you want in Citizens Bank Park.
Brewers: Ben Gamel (ADP 658) seems worth getting to us. He’s still young (27 this season), he backs up the china-delicate Ryan Braun, and his power was compromised last year by an oblique injury. A healthy Gamel in a bandbox like Miller Park hits 15 or conceivably 20 home runs with a good batting average if he plays.
Cardinals: We think that Jordan Hicks, now liberated from the poisonous Bud Norris, will be an elite closer. But maybe we’re wrong, or maybe something happens to Hicks. In that case, we can construct a plausible scenario—Andrew Miller resumes his setup role, Dakota Hudson becomes a starter—wherein John Brebbia (ADP 742) is the Norris of 2019 and becomes the Cardinals’ closer.
Cubs: Mike Montgomery is a bargain at ADP 603. The age and delicacy of the Cubs’ rotation suggest to us that it will need some fixing, and Montgomery seems to be the first-call repairman. In two years with the Cubs, he has an ERA of 3.88 and a WHIP of 1.26 as a starter.
Pirates: We are surprised at how competitive this team looks. It appears as if they are going to use a platoon of Colin Moran and Jung Ho Kang at third base. We think, and we think that sooner rather than later they will also think, that if they’re contending they are better off with Ke’Bryan Hayes (ADP 693), a top prospect with an Arenadoesque glove who (Hayes, not the glove) should hit .275 or so with a little power and possibly more than a little speed.
Reds: Is Matt Kemp really at ADP 337? True, he’s supposed to be the weak side of a platoon with Jesse Winker. But Winker is very fragile, plus which that was a pretty great season Kemp had with the Dodgers last year. We can envision him playing full-time before long.
Diamondbacks: We are surprised nobody’s taken middle infielder Andy Young. He came from St. Louis in the Goldschmidt trade, was excellent in AAA and the AFL, and in a full season should hit 20 home runs with a decent batting average. Apparently, Jarrod Dyson will be on the bench and Ketel Marte will move to center field, opening up second base for new acquisition Wilmer Flores. We’re fans of Flores, but trust us New Yorkers, folks–he’s not a second baseman. Much likelier he platoons with Jake Lamb at first base. In that event, Young could have a job.
Dodgers: You loved Austin Barnes (ADP 377) a year ago, so why do you hate him now? Is it just disappointed infatuation? True, he hit .205 last season, but he’s only one year removed from .289/.408/.486, and his minor league numbers suggest that he should be about in the middle of the extremes of 2017 and 2018. Plus, he’s both a better hitter and a better fielder than his job-sharer Russell Martin, so he’ll play. We expect about .250 with as many as 10 home runs and a few stolen bases, which are not the stats of a reserve-round catcher. Worried that the Dodgers might trade for J.T. Realmuto? We predict that Barnes will be part of that deal, and play at least as much for the Marlins.
Giants: There isn’t a lot to love about this team. Aramis Garcia (ADP 722), who will back up Buster Posey, is a little bit interesting, partly because the breakdown of Posey’s body means Garcia could play as much as his predecessor Nick Hundley did and partly because of the four home runs he hit in 63 major league at bats. He could wind up with a season not unlike the one Jorge Alfaro had in 2018.
Padres: Matt Strahm (ADP 363) was pretty near unhittable last season, although apparently only those of us who had him on our team(s) noticed. We think one of two things will happen to him this season, both good: (1) he will take over the closer job, either because he’s a better pitcher than Kirby Yates (which we think he is) or because Yates gets traded to a contender; or (2) he joins the Padres’ rotation and pitches creditably, including a bunch of strikeouts.
Rockies: If we had to take someone on this team whose value isn’t clearly established, we might take Tom Murphy (ADP 538). As we discovered last year, if it’s midwinter and you’re drafting in a league with no roster changes, even four catchers is too few. Murphy has a little power and his batting average won’t unquestionably kill you, which is more than can be said of Tony Wolters, who’s ahead of Murphy on the depth chart. On the off-chance that the Rockies can’t tolerate Wolters’s bat, you could do worse than Murphy as your fifth catcher.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.