BATTERS: Early 2017 bench targets

As is the case with starting pitchers, owners often overvalue Opening Day starting lineups. Guys who start the season on the bench often can be rostered at a nice discount. Especially those with hidden or emerging skills, since they are likely to carve out a full-time role once an opportunity arises.

In fact, Jose Ramirez (3B/LF, CLE) was on the CLE bench at this time last year before producing a $30 season.

Here are a bunch of bench bats whose values could increase as the season moves along.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Chris Carter (1B, NYY) has become an after-thought after being dumped by MIL and being overshadowed by the fantastic spring of Greg Bird (1B, NYY). That said, Carter has proven elite power over multiple seasons, and Bird needs to show that he has closed down the holes in his swing that plagued him prior to his shoulder injury. If he hasn't, Carter could step in and produce elite power in a full-time role again.

Jurickson Profar (3B, TEX) is a former top prospect whose development has been slowed by significant shoulder problems. While he didn't hit well this spring, Profar did increase his walk rate by 25% in 2016 after his return from injury. He also flashed his speed tool (134 Spd). At age 24, Profar still has time to tap into his high ceiling. And it's likely that he'll qualify at several positions early in the season.

Steve Pearce (1B, TOR) will start the season on the TOR bench. While we can't expect him to ever become a full-timer (zero 400-AB seasons in MLB career), he can provide good value in doses. For instance, the first half of 2016: .933 OPS, 80 BPV. His sturdy plate control and solid level of hard contact make him a good bench stash.

Trey Mancini (DH, BAL) has become a solid power prospect in recent years. And he put some of those skills on display this spring (.979 OPS in 60 AB). Just keep in mind that his pitch recognition remains a work in progress. He had a 48/123 BB/K in 483 AB at Triple-A in 2016. He also struggled to make contact this spring: 4/17 BB/K in 60 AB.

Ben Revere (CF, LAA) will begin the season as a backup OF. After his struggles in 2016 (.560 OPS), that might come as no surprise. But Revere retained his elite bat-on-ball ability (90% ct%); a fluky 24% H% was the culprit for most of his struggles. Given that he produced a 33-34% H% in each season from 2012 to 2015, there's a good chance it will approach that level again in 2017. That will help him get back to the .300 BA, 30 SB baseline we've come to expect from him.

Joey Rickard (RF, BAL) had one of the best all-around springs of any bat in MLB (.923 OPS, 15/8 BB/K in 55 AB). His prior profile doesn't suggest that he'll be able to sustain that kind of production, but he consistently reached base at a high level in the minors, so his great spring walk rate might not be a fluke. And his 127 Spd in 2016 hinted at more speed upside than he produced (4 SB). Rickard has some value as a 5th OF stash in deep AL-only leagues.

Danny Santana (CF, MIN) is another sneaky end-game speed speculation. He had 3 SB in 62 AB this March and has posted a 140+ Spd in two of the last three seasons with MIN. In addition, this is his age-26 season. While he doesn't have any pop and his pitch recognition is marginal at best, he's someone who could have value as your MI once he qualifies there again.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Jesus Aguilar (1B, MIL) had one of the best springs of any bat. He had a crazy 1.376 OPS in 62 AB, and he didn't do it by being an extreme hacker (9/14 BB/K in 62 AB). As a former decent prospect in the CLE organization, Aguilar could be a player who needed a change of scenery. And it's far from certain that Eric Thames (1B, MIL) will hit as well as he did overseas, which would leave Aguilar as his likely replacement.

Aaron Altherr (RF, PHI) put his power (.986 OPS) and speed (2 SB) package on display this spring. While he still struggled to make consistent contact (17 K in 66 AB), we know that he has flashed both power and speed with PHI in the past. And he's still just 26. After a 92 BPV in 2015 and a -29 BPV in 2016, Altherr is an extreme wildcard who is young enough to carve out a full-time role later in the season.

Stephen Cardullo (1B, COL) is a former independent leaguer who showed some glimpses of power during a small sample size late in 2016. He received the second-most ABs in COL camp (66 AB), posting both power (.545 Slg) and patience (8 BB in 66 AB). His problem was making contact (20 K in 66 AB). If that doesn't prove to be a chronic issue, Cardullo could have value as a CI in deep leagues.

Michael Conforto (LF, NYM) got a long look in NYM camp this spring, as he received more AB than any other bat. He hit the ball quite well (.300 BA, .873 OPS). Problem is, he opened up his swing quite a bit (2/15 BB/K in 60 AB). Still, he was excellent in September 2016 with NYM (.850 OPS, 1.00 Eye, 85 BPV in 34 AB) after getting his season back on track in the minors. He's a high-upside bench bat who should be able to earn a full-time role in 2017.

Wilmer Flores (1B/3B, NYM) will enter the 2017 season in a utility role again, but at age 25, he could be on the verge of a breakout. Few bats were more skilled than Flores in the 2H of 2016 (88 BPV), during which he produced an .853 OPS, plenty of loft in his swing (50% FB%), and a strong 85% ct%. If he can hit the ball with more authority against RHers, Flores could enjoy a breakout in 2017.

Adam Frazier (LF, PIT) has some sneaky BA/SB upside that you might not realize exists. He had a solid .291 xBA and very good 132 Spd during his MLB debut with PIT in 2016. And he has been one of the most impressive bats in March: 1.117 OPS, 7/5 BB/K in 62 AB. With a 530 ADP, Frazier makes for a very good end-game stash.

Alen Hanson (2B, PIT) is a former top-100 prospect who has yet to get an extended look at the MLB level. While pitchers knocked the bat out of his hands in a tiny sample during his 2016 debut (39 HctX), his 127 Spd and 84% ct% give him more speed potential than it might seem. He has posted 30 SB in the minors in each of his last two seasons. And at age 24, he's still got plenty of time to emerge. He's a good MI stash in deep leagues.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.