Every year during fantasy baseball drafts, there are a select few number of players who are cornerstones of players’ fantasy teams, and who put up monster numbers year in and year out—Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, etc.
And then there are players who were not at the top of owners’ profiles, even if they are typically drafted, that paid major dividends beyond their draft position.
Today we honor some of these players who were massive fantasy baseball superstars before crowning our 2015 Fantasy Baseball MVP. To be eligible for this list, players had to be ranked outside the top 100 of the rankings for Yahoo! heading into this season. The non-winning nominees are ordered based on their pre-season rankings.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pre-Season Rank: 104
Pollock appeared to be on the cusp of a breakout last season but this was postponed due to injuries that would see him play in only 75 games. If he would have stayed healthy last season, he would have likely been ineligible for the purposes of this article.
In 2015, Pollock showed that a Diamondbacks player can have fantasy value—even if their name is not Paul Goldschmidt. In essence, he did everything; he hit for average (.315), added in 20 HR, 39 SB and scored 111 runs. If the Diamondbacks find themselves back in contention over the next few years, Pollock will be one of the big reasons why.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles, Pre-Season Rank: 109
While Machado had enough success at the plate to almost be ineligible for this list, he was known more for his defense coming into this season. In 2015, the performance with his bat started to catch up with his defensive prowess as he hit .286 with 35 HR and 20 SB. At the age of 23, he has displayed the combo of strong power and speed numbers and he will be a fantasy superstar for years to come. Machado will likely be an early round pick next season.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals, Pre-Season Rank: 139
Hosmer had a disappointing season at the plate in 2014. While he wasn’t a game changer in any particular category, he nearly hit .300, added 18 HRs and had 90+ runs and RBIs. While he hasn’t put up early round draft pick numbers, he is still only 25, and a breakthrough to the next level is still possible.
Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays, Pre-Season Rank: 148
Archer took another step in the right direction this season. While his ERA saw only a modest improvement (3.33 to 3.23), he became a strikeout machine as he had a 10.7 K/9. As Archer is 27 and continuing to improve, he is likely to be an elite fantasy option over the next few seasons.
Hector Rondon, RP, Chicago Cubs, Pre-Season Rank: 170
While Rondon was coming off a strong 2014 (29 SV, 2.42 ERA/2.26 FIP), these numbers occurred in relative obscurity as the Cubs struggled last year. That, combined with the short shelf life for closers, helped to constrain his value in 2015. Despite briefly losing the closer role in 2015, Rondon followed up with another strong season as he saved 30 games at had a 1.67 ERA.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals, Pre-Season Rank: 190
Coming into this season, Cain was known for his post-season heroics and his highlight reel plays. However, neither of these are fantasy baseball categories. While he did hit .301 in 2014 and stole 28 bases in 2014, he also had a .380 BABIP indicating that a regression was likely. Instead, he continued to improve at the plate as he hit over .300 and stole 28 bases again while also hitting for additional power (16 HR) and scoring 101 runs.
Kendrys Morales, 1B, Kansas City Royals, Pre-Season Rank: 280
2015 was a put-up or shut-up year for Morales as he was coming off a season where he hit .218 and had a wRC+ of 72. As a result, his fantasy value had cratered. Morales ended up having a resurgent season for the Royals as he hit .290 with 22 HR and 106 RBI.
It’s starting to look like 2014 was a fluke season and there are still a few good seasons left in his bat. That being said, he’s unlikely to hit .290 again but should still hit 20+ HR and provide solid RBI totals.
Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals, Pre-Season Rank: N/A
Martinez came into 2015 not even on the rankings. He was coming off a season where he had a 4.03 ERA, primarily working out of the bullpen and had a relatively high BB/9 of 3.63. This season, he was part of a much heralded Cardinals rotation and Martinez ending up winning 14 games while having a 3.01 ERA.
A combination of age (24), improved K/9 & BB/9 rates and an FIP of 3.21 indicates that this was not merely the product of good luck indicates that Martinez should be valuable headed into 2015, assuming that the recovery from his shoulder strain goes as planned.
Jeurys Familia, RP, New York Mets Pre-Season Rank: N/A
While Familia had an excellent 2014 season (2.21 ERA in 76 Games), he was not expected to make a fantasy impact as the closer role appeared to be locked down by Jenrry Mejia. However, it was also not expected that Mejia was going to be suspended twice, opening the door for Familia to take the Mets closer job. Familia made the most of this opportunity, racking up 43 saves with a 1.85 ERA.
And The Winner of the 2015 Fantasy Baseball MVP Is……
Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros Pre-Season Rank 255
Despite being congratulated on making it to the ALCS, the Astros fell short of this, losing their ALDS series to the Royals. If not for the efforts of Keuchel, it is unlikely they would have been there in the first place.
Even though he had a solid 2014 season (12-9 2.93 ERA/3.21 FIP), he was still being lightly regarded from a fantasy baseball standpoint as he had pre-season rank of 255 (pitchers such as Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Chris Tillman had better pre-season rankings).
Instead of joining these aforementioned pitchers in providing minimal value, Keuchel continued his breakout as he had a 2.48 ERA/2.91 FIP and received enough run support to win 20 games. Between being at worst the second best pitcher in the AL and providing strong results coming from a draft position filled with landmines, Keuchel wins the Fantasy MVP Award.