When you are discussing deep sleepers, there are multiple reasons why they never pan out – injuries, opportunity, quality of play are a few. I have seen many of the players that I have written about in this column have their chance of a breakout decreased, delayed or fully erased – Nick Franklin (playing time), Charlie Tilson (injury), Mike Montgomery (role) – all have seen their somewhat dim star fade further through the course of the offseason events. They all remain interesting (I still recommend that you watchlist them) should the playing time pendulum swing their way, but for now, they can be mostly forgotten except for in the deepest of leagues.
Another player that I wrote about this offseason was Dan Vogelbach, who was sent down yesterday in a surprise move. Vogelbach posted a poor .228/.313/.333 triple-slash, but more concerning was his 19 Ks in 63 PA. The Mariners obviously thought he was overmatched against advanced pitching and needed more time to develop. However, one man’s demotion is another man’s opportunity, and Danny Valencia has the opportunity to seize a full-time role on a very good Mariners offense.
Valencia’s spring has been similarly underwhelming, but Valencia’s recent MLB history suggests that he is a deep sleeper worth eyeing in the final rounds of your draft. Valencia is versatile. He has eligibility at three positions in 10 start formats (1B/3B/OF) and barring an unexpected turn, will add 1B to 3B/OF by the third week of the season in 20 start formats. Once thought of as a short-side platoon player, Valencia made adjustments and has made himself into an above average offensive regular against right-handed pitching. Over 602 PA sample versus RHP, Valencia has slugged 23 homers with a .279/.328/.468 triple-slash – good enough for a 118 wRC+.
If you take each of the last two seasons and reduce to a 600 AB pace, Valencia would pace to 26 homers, 96 runs, 86 RBI while hitting for a .288 AVG. In terms of traditional category production, those numbers compare very favorably to Jose Abreu’s 2016 where he hit 25 HRs, scored 67 runs, and drove in 100 RBI while hitting .293 AVG. Jose Abreu has no additional eligibility beyond 1B and is being selected at an ADP of 61. Valencia has three positions and is being selected at an ADP of 333.69. This is not to suggest that Valencia is better than or equal to Jose Abreu. It is only to point that Valencia is a source of power later in drafts.
Of course, there are a couple of caveats with Valencia. First, his ADP is almost certainly misleading because all offseason, he was painted as returning to a short-side platoon role with Vogelbach handling first base versus RHP. I think Valencia will go in most drafts around pick 300 and if I was being aggressive, I would target him around 275 to ensure his selection.
Second, even with the full-time role, he is not ticketed for the middle of Seattle’s lineup like he was with Oakland. Valencia will likely open the year hitting either sixth or seventh, either in front of or behind Villar Village cohort Mitch Haniger. If that were to stick, Abreu’s 2016 run total (67) might be a fairly accurate projection for a full season of Valencia, but Valencia could still put forth a 85-90 RBI season with full-time ABs from a sixth or seventh spot with Robinson Cano (2016 OBP .350), Nelson Cruz (2016 OBP .360), and Kyle Seager (2016 OBP .359) hitting before him in the lineup.
Another mark in his favor, Valencia is coming to Seattle from Oakland, which is at-worst a neutral move for a right-handed power hitter in terms of park. Of course, being in the same division, Valencia already has a degree of familiarity with the arms that he will see regularly – there is no penalty for division or league adjustment.
On the downside, despite being productive in his last two stops – Toronto and Oakland – Valencia was run out of town. Last season, he was infamously involved in a clubhouse incident with Billy Butler. Oakland also could not give him away at the trade deadline despite their being several suitors that fit the bill – I am looking at you, New York Mets. Thus, there are some character concerns with Valencia and Seattle is unlikely to put up with a bad clubhouse menace for the sake of carrying a 32 year old journeyman. It is also doubtful that Seattle is going to completely give up on Vogelbach and 1B is the only spot where Vogelbach fits. If Vogelbach is tearing up AAA, then he will likely receive the call and cut into Valencia’s playing time unless Valencia is tearing the cover off the ball.
Regardless of these downside factors, Valencia has the opportunity-in-hand, which is key this time of year, and has a recent track record of being a very productive offensive player. He is an extremely useful bench piece in mixed leagues, who is unlikely to come at a price much beyond pick 300 even with his newfound job security.