There is a common misperception in fantasy baseball that the top of the line, All-Star-caliber players are who win or lose you a league.
But I actually find quite the opposite to be true.
If you play in standard snake-draft leagues, everyone is getting one of the best players in the league anyway. Yes, choosing one that performs well is going to help you a lot more than choosing the guy who puts up a stinker of a season, or comes down with a devastating injury.
But it’s your middle and late-round picks that end up separating you from the rest.
Or if you play in auction formats, it’s the $3-$13 players who end up winning you a league.
If you look back at AL-only drafts last year, the picks that turn the big profits are guys like Nick Swisher ($13 in LABR), Luke Scott ($12), Jered Weaver ($12), Brett Gardner ($10), Austin Jackson ($6), Trevor Cahill ($6), John Buck ($5), Colby Lewis ($4), Dallas Braden ($3), Jake Westbrook ($3), and Carl Pavano ($3).
So I’ve been putting together a list of those who can be impact players on the cheap this year.
Here’s a few off my cheat sheet:
Austin Kearns, OF, CLE: It seems like Kearns has been in the league forever, and he’ll enter his 10th season in the majors this year at 30 years old. He put together a very nice line in 301 at-bats with the Indians last season before getting traded to the Yankees, hitting 8 home runs with 42 RBI and 4 steals. He’s slated to open as the Tribe’s starting left fielder, at least until Grady Sizemore gets healthy, and could find his way into the lineup for 350-450 at-bats this season. He went for $1 at Tout Wars. Boom.
Will Rhymes, 2B, DET: Another $1 steal at Tout, Rhymes is the Tigers’ starting second baseman for Thursday’s opener against the Yankees. The 27-year-old hit .301 with Detroit in limited time last year, but stole 22 bases with a .305 average in Triple-A. The playing time should be there, and he won’t cost a whole lot.
Jack Wilson, 2B/SS, SEA: Is Wilson a stud? Of course not. But he’ll be in the field most days covering second base, at least until Dustin Ackley gets the call, in which case Wilson might slide over to short and push Brendan Ryan to the bench. It’s easy to forget he was an All-Star with Pittsburgh a few years back and has the ability to hit for a good average. Wilson was a reserve selection in Tout Wars by our own Lawr Michaels.
Zach Britton, P, BAL: A favorite of Jason Grey, Britton cost $3 on draft day, but it will be a $3 well-spent for Jason. The talented lefty is just 23 years old, but has compiled an ERA under 3.00 at the Triple-A level over the past two years. He had a better spring than any other O’s pitcher, and came two days away from cracking the Opening Day roster. But Britton was told not to make any long-term plans at Triple-A Norfolk, and he could be back up with the club as early as late April. With the uncertainty of Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman in the rotation, Britton could be this year’s Rick Porcello.
Koji Uehara, P, BAL: Uehara took a while to get on the field this spring, but he’s been effective since returning. Kevin Gregg has been perfectly healthy, but Buck Showalter has refused to name a closer, even when Uehara’s status for Opening Day was uncertain. I really think Uehara is going to win the job, as long as he’s ready to pitch, and he isn’t costing much ($6 at Tout).
Jordan Walden, P, LAA: Another Jason Grey selection, for $2 at Tout, Walden can dial his fastball up to triple digits, his only problem has been consistency. The 23-year-old fanned 23 batters in 15.1 innings during a late-season call-up last year and figures to play an important role in the back-end of the Angels bullpen. With the erratic nature of Fernando Rodney and Scott Downs’ preference to remain in a set-up role, Walden could earn some save chances by mid-season. The good thing though is that he has a great skill set, so even if the opportunity doesn’t open up for Walden, he can still play a valuable role in racking up the strikeouts.
Alexi Ogando, P, TEX: Another $6 choice, this one by Lawr, Ogando was originally thought to be the Rangers’ closer as they experimented with Neftali Feliz in the rotation this spring. But a late decision to put Feliz back in the bullpen, along with health issues from Brandon Webb and Tommy Hunter, has left a vacant spot in the rotation. Ogando will fill that void for the time being, and has been working on developing another pitch to add value as a starter. I’d explain, but Jason Grey does a much better job here.