Fantasy Baseball

2018 Fantasy Baseball: This Year’s Tommy Pham


Close your eyes and think back to the last fantasy baseball championship you won. As you boast about your achievement to your friend or leaguemate, how does the conversation go?

“Well, I got [underrated stud #1] in the fourth round and [underrated stud #2] in the eighth round. But the best move I made was picking up [way underrated stud #3] off waivers in April.”

There were many guys like that last year and we have other installments of this series on the site. I specifically wanted to discuss Tommy Pham in this piece. He went from waiver wire unknown to fantasy hero over the course of the season. He slashed 0.306/0.411/0.520 with 23 homers and 25 stolen bases. To give you an idea of where that is valued in a normal preseason, he now has an average draft position (ADP) of 59th overall, good for 17th among outfielders.

I wanted to use Pham as the standard to try to identify who could be this year’s Tommy Pham. What sort of mindset do we need to have early on in the season in order to spot someone who could break out like this?

This was a really fun exercise for me! I encourage you to follow along with our other installments of this series to further understand how to analyze players and their situations early on. Let’s hop to this thing then, shall we?

This Year’s Tommy Pham

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Dirt Cheap Draft Price

This has to be the first and most important requirement – affordability. You either have to be able to draft this guy in the last couple of rounds or pick him up on the waiver wire. Pham wasn’t even on radars last year. To give you an idea of how much of an afterthought he was, in my dynasty league with 40-man rosters, I was able to pick him up in May off waivers. Hot damn!

To use these criteria to filter down my pool, I will exclude all players drafted in the top 350 by ADP this 2018 draft season. We will also throw out position labels in this exercise. It’s hard enough finding a player that fits the mold – I don’t want to narrow our research to outfielders.

Post-Hype Prospects

This sort of goes hand in hand with the inexpensive price on draft day. We want a player that has been cast aside for one reason or another in his career. Players that come up past age 30 and finally produce are rare, so I will filter down to hitters under that threshold. On the other side of the spectrum, I tried to exclude pure rookies since they tend to get unwarranted hype no matter what.

Otherwise, if a player has either performed poorly in his previous major league stints or had injuries slow down his progression, that’s what catches my eye.

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No Obvious Spot

Once a player has a declared spot in a lineup, the hype train picks up and all of a sudden they are being drafted where their upside dictates rather than where their reasonable value lies. We want to avoid that with this exercise. We want this Pham-like player to overcome adversity and snag an opportunity when presented to them.

Think back to Pham last year – the Cardinals outfield was seemingly stacked. They just signed Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty was going in the top 125 of drafts (oops), and Randal Grichuk was the hot commodity in the middle rounds. The first got injured while the other two disappointed. Pham steps in and never looks back.

We need to identify which guys could be riding pine or playing in a platoon before dominating plate appearances after an extended strong performance in games. Which brings us to…

Potential Five-Category Contributor

Finally, we need someone who can put it all together and provide epic fantasy value. Five category players don’t grow on trees and if you picked up Pham on waivers last year, count your blessings. He became a top 20 OF that didn’t cost a dime. I know we are getting greedy here, but ideally, we could find someone who could hit their way into the top third of a lineup if things break right.


Here’s the checklist – the player must be:

  1. Outside of the top 350 in NFBC ADP.
  2. Between ages 23 and 27 with fluctuations in the hype over his short career.
  3. Fighting for playing time in Spring Training.
  4. Playing alongside injury-prone players that could yield future opportunity.
  5. A five-tool fantasy asset that can sustain success once given the chance.

Easy enough, right?


Remember, these are meant to be ‘reaches’. If I could actually find the next Tommy Pham every year in the 200-400 range in a draft, I would be winning fantasy leagues left and right. So don’t ‘at’ me if you take this article the wrong way. Any well, I present to you the contenders in order of ascending ADP.

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Jose Pirela, San Diego Padres (ADP – 398)

2017 - MLB831040.2880.8370.355122
2018 - Depth Charts1171380.2640.7370.31596

For some reason, this guy just doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Did you know that he played half the season for the Padres and put up impressive results? A lot of people either didn’t even notice that or choose not to remember. This makes him a perfect candidate for becoming the next waiver wire monster.

Sure, his 2017 statistics are surprisingly impressive. Should they be though? Looking back at his last two years on the Yankees’ AAA squad in 2014-2015, he absolutely dominated. The counting stats weren’t remarkable, but slashing 0.315/0.370/0.438 is no fluke over 190 games. He battled injuries over the 2015-2016 season for the Padres before bouncing back in 2017. He posted even better numbers on the San Diego AAA affiliate as a 27-year-old, going 0.331/0.387/0.635 in 48 games. I know he should be doing that as an older prospect, but still, those are baller numbers.

Now we arrive at Pirela’s 2017 season where he took over in left field for a struggling Hunter Renfroe. In some ways, he has already taken over the starting job, but fantasy drafters are still treating him like a non-threat. As I said before, perhaps his lack of counting stats are throwing people off. However, he did give us 23 dingers and 12 steals over two levels in 2017.

His 0.343 BABIP isn’t exactly repeatable, but his spray chart indicates that he’s a knowledgeable hitter. We shouldn’t discredit his 2017 statistics as much as the community seems to be doing in drafts.

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Devon Travis, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP – 404)

2017 - MLB50540.2590.7290.30889
2018 - Steamer1001370.2750.7680.327102

Alternatively (relative to Pirela), Travis receives respect when he’s on the field. In 213 major league games, he’s slashed 0.292/0.331/0.462. Additionally, this dude plays second base – a rather weak position in 2018. Why isn’t he being hyped more as an MI option?

The typical fantasy player will tell you that Travis is injury-prone as hell. You won’t hear anything different from me, as those 213 games were scattered across three seasons. As it currently stands, Travis is healthy and ready to man second base. The Blue Jays made moves to cover themselves in case Travis or also oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki find their way to the disabled list. They acquired Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte as super utility guys. These acquisitions should tell you how doubtful they are about Travis and Tulo staying healthy.

One positive you could see from this – perhaps Travis sees some time at DH. He’s not your typical DH, but it’s no secret that the Jays love his bat in the lineup. They desperately want him to become their leadoff hitter so they aren’t relying on terrible options like Kevin Pillar. If they can preserve his body by taking out reps in the field, I imagine they will exhaust those avenues. At-bats will likely be lost, but maybe that’s a good thing for the 26-year-old.

My advice to you is to draft him as a platoon middle infielder in your final round. The injury history is built into his free draft cost and he buys you time to find a better option on the waiver wire. However, he could provide you top 15 2B stats in April and May until his inevitable injury doom. That’s valuable in my books for a last round dart throw. If he somehow stays healthy, look out.
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Dustin Fowler, Oakland Athletics (ADP – 375)

2017 - AAA7013130.2930.8710.379138
2018 - Steamer12816170.2560.7170.30388

I know, I know, I said no rookies. However, Fowler presented a special case that I couldn’t ignore in this study. Fowler has a legitimate shot to take over an outfield spot in Spring Training. However, he’s not getting the hype that usually comes with prospects (yet). What gives?

A very serious knee injury in his first game as a major leaguer for the Yankees has set him back a bit. He ruptured a patellar tendon that required surgery back in June of last season. The good news is that he is on track to play in Spring Training and fight for the center field spot. There will be plenty of competition for that spot before the season starts but I believe Fowler will be up to the task. His speed was always prevalent in the minors, stealing 68 bags in two and a half minor league seasons between 2015-2017. It was his power that was on the rise, improving his ISO immensely from 0.081 to 0.249 across three levels without sacrificing batting average at all.

Oakland acknowledges that they would have never acquired Fowler if it weren’t for his depreciated value post-injury. They seem giddy about it almost. If there’s any team that I tend to trust on buying low on players that could become stars, it’s Billy Beane and the Athletics. I gotta believe that, after allowing him to get his feet under him, they will turn him loose and let him show his worth. If he’s really fighting Boog Powell and Matt Joyce for playing time, I’m not worried about it at all.

If Fowler does start the year in AAA, keep a keen eye on him. Once he gets called up, he could provide the bang that fantasy owners around the world will hear. Potential five-tool hitter here that should certainly be watch-listed.

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Andrew Toles, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP – 513)

2017 - MLB31500.2710.7720.329104
2018 - Steamer50570.2710.7350.31394

Speaking of knee injuries, what a perfect segue into the Andrew Toles section of this article! Toles blew out his knee after having a strong start to the 2017 season. This performance came after an even stronger showing at the end of the 2016 season where he had a 0.365 wOBA and 131 wRC+ in 48 games. So where is the path for Toles to return to relevance in 2018 for the Dodgers?

Sure, it’s a crowded outfield, especially after they traded for Matt Kemp to platoon with Joc Pederson (sort of). First things first – let’s make sure Toles has a spot on the 25-man roster. He needs to beat out Trayce Thompson at the moment. Yes, the same Trayce Thompson who put up a 58 wRC+ in 95 games at AAA last year. I say Toles can handle that.

Now, let’s find him some playing time. In the same way that Chris Taylor played his way into everyday at-bats, Toles needs to figure out which player he needs to focus on beating out. There are plenty of options. Logan Forsythe could suck it up and have his spot in the infield consumed by Taylor. The Pederson-Kemp platoon could flop due to inconsistency in playing time. All this to say, there are multiple avenues of which Toles could travel down to playing time.

There’s no doubt that Toles, with his minor league track record, could be awesome given the chance. The Dodgers obviously dig his skill set – he batted leadoff for 16 of the 31 games he played in 2017. He’s had his fair share of injury issues and off-field battles, but it’s time for the bell to ‘Tole’ for this strong player.

And the winner is…

As you can imagine from my preceding sentence, I really believe in an Andrew Toles breakout this year. Yes, I’m choosing the guy with the lowest ADP of the group. He should see some platoon time early on against right-handed pitching. However, if he starts to get some at-bats against southpaws, stash him right away and get ready for a Pham-like season.

Do you have any contenders for this field? Post your players below in the comments and let’s see what you got!

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

About Tyler Thompson

Follow me on Twitter at @therealwody. For all the latest news and best advice out there, like us on Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

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