Written by: Ray Butler (@CoachRayButler)
I had a gigantic conundrum heading into my fantasy baseball league’s draft last season.
I had a spectacular offseason heading into the 2016 season. I acquired Noah Syndergaard, Starling Marte, Carlos Rodon, Justin Upton, Steven Matz, Felix Hernandez, and Joe Ross. My team (which had finished last in the league in 2015 prior to my taking ownership) had gone from cellar dweller to legit contender over the course of a single offseason. I was already in love with fantasy baseball, and I was in the process of falling in love with baseball prospects and minor league players.
Luckily, that flame was further fanned when my league unanimously decided to expand rosters to include more prospect slots. My team was set up to contend for many, many seasons, and I knew I could extend my team’s window even more by adding the *right* prospects.
That’s where the conundrum comes into play.
My biggest prospect need was in the outfield. My outfielders at the time were Starling Marte, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, and Michael Conforto. I knew Marte was a staple, but I wasn’t overly fond of Upton and Davis’ strikeout tendencies and streakiness (and Davis was going to be my main first baseman). Conforto was the wild card of the bunch. He exploded onto the scene during the 2015 season, but I expected the 2016 regular season to be chalked full of adjustments for the Mets’ left fielder. We all know how that turned out.
I needed options. I wanted to draft a guy that I could potentially pair with Marte to form a safe, dynamic outfield duo.
Nomar Mazara was the top outfield prospect available to draft, but I knew he would be taken long before my first pick (I didn’t make a selection until the first pick of the 17th round; a few of my leaguemates began making picks in the 13th round). Bradley Zimmer and Austin Meadows were already owned prior to the draft .
That left me with three options: Andrew Benintendi, Lewis Brinson, and Nick Williams.
Brinson was the highest ranked of the three. Benintendi had the highest floor of the three. Williams had the highest ceiling of the three, and at the time, it was widely thought that he had the earliest ETA of the trio.
I had conversations with several industry folks in the weeks leading up to the draft. The opinions on preference were genuinely split. It was a decision that I lost sleep over as the draft approached.
I ended up drafting Benintendi with the first pick of the 17th round. Brinson went a few picks later, and Williams lasted until the first pick of the next round.
The Benintendi pick has obviously worked out well for me so far, but think about that. Nick Williams’ reality in the realm of fantasy baseball circa Spring Training 2016 was being mentioned in the same sentence as Benintendi and Brinson.
Then the 2016 regular season happened.
It was horrendous for Williams, especially for his standards. A season removed from slashing .303/.354/.491 and two seasons removed from being traded from the Rangers to the Phillies, Williams slashed .258/.287/.427 in AAA in 2016. He only hit 13 home runs after hitting 17 in 2015. He struck out 136 times (25.8%) after striking out only 97 times (18.8%) in 2015.
It was a step backwards for a player who was ranked as high as 25th (by Baseball Prospectus) on prospect lists heading into the 2016 season.
Baseball Prospectus stood their ground and ranked Williams 51st heading into this season, though he fell completely off other mainstream lists. I had Williams ranked 101st in my preseason prospect rankings, and he would have ranked somewhere between 101st and 105th if I had expanded my top 100 midseason prospect rankings.
Repeating AAA this season has led to a mixed bag for Williams. He’s slashed .280/.328/.511 with 15 HRs and 44 RBIs, but he’s struck out 90 times in 306 plate appearances (29.4%). He has a 5.2% walk rate. His wRC+ is 127, which is an increase from the 100 wRC+ he posted last year (though a dropoff from the 151 wRC+ he tallied in 2015). His ISO currently sits at an impressive .230 (.169 last season, .216 in 2015).
Williams will be 24 in September. He’ll make his MLB debut Friday night, and his whole career lies ahead of him. His MLB ceiling still looks something like .300/.325/.500 with 20 home runs. A .300 AVG, 25 home run player is an everyday starter in any format of baseball.
He can still be the player that was preferred by some to Benintendi and Brinson before last season. We know how low the floor can be (see: 2016), but the ceiling is the type of production that can help carry your team to a fantasy championship. If you have some roster flexibility or a spot available, don’t let him slip through your fingers.
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