In the next couple of weeks, draft season will really start to kick into high gear. I myself have a pretty full slate of drafts dotting my calendar the rest of this month, and like all of you I continue to try and evaluate the marketplace and form opinions and strategies so I can attack my drafts calmly. This requires seeing things clearly, and not blinding yourself to only what you want to see sometimes. So with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some players who I am either intentionally avoiding or just downgrading due to their rising price tags. These are all quality players, and I could make just as many arguments for them as I can against them. Many of them will be drafted at a point where if they don’t deliver everything you are hoping you could be in for a long season. You may like all of these guys, but if you do at least I can make sure you consider the downside involved ahead of time.
C- Mike Napoli, BOS – It’s all going to come down to the health of Napoli’s hip this season. I actually like how his power will potentially play in Fenway, and playing 1B will give him a chance to stay in the lineup, but there is no denying the fact that he has a degenerative hip condition that cost him a ton of money this offseason. The condition is avascular necrosis, and often is linked to steroid use. I’m not suggesting Napoli is a juicer, but sorry, it’s another red flag. There is plenty of risk here, because his season could go south at any point. Napoli hasn’t been a target of mine yet, and I don’t really expect that to change anytime soon.
1B – Mark Trumbo – The number that people get fixated on with Trumbo is 32, or in other words, the number of home runs he hit last year. While the power is undeniable, so is the fact that he tanked in the second half last year, especially in the final two months when he struck out 72 times in 192 at-bats and barely managed to keep his average over the Mendoza line. Some point to a back injury he sustained at the end of July as the cause of his struggles while others will argue that pitchers had figured him out and were exploiting the holes in his big swing. The best course of action is to keep your expectation reasonable. Draft him for the power, but don’t expect the guy who was hitting .348 at the end of May last year.
2B – Jason Kipnis – Look, I love Jason Kipnis, and truth be told I expect him to have another solid year as the Indians' starting second baseman and likely number three hitter. But I have to take my fan’s hat off for a second and at least point out the fact that he is another player who really struggled in the second half last year. After sprinting out of the gate with 11 homers and 20 steals in the first half, he stumbled to 3 and 11 the rest of the way. There was of course an injury here as well, this time a neck injury, so it’s possible he can put those struggles behind him this season. The real problem I am seeing lately is that his price just continues to rise. If you think you are going to lay back and get a discount based on that second half, forget about it. The key again here is to project his numbers correctly. I expect a slight power uptick but a potentially significant speed dip. I’m not saying don’t draft him, I just think you have to start planning not to be able to land him in your drafts unless you’re willing to reach.
SS – Derek Jeter – First off, I’ll tip my hat to the Captain for the great season he had last year, after everyone was writing him off. He silenced a lot of naysayers by hitting .316 and belting 15 home runs, both his highest totals since 2009. His stolen bases dipped below 10 for the first time in his illustrious career, and after breaking his ankle in the playoffs last year, it’s a pretty safe bet that he won’t be reversing that trend this year. Jeter is a great player and role model, but he will also be 39 this year and will not come close to the 730 plate appearances he tallied last year. That means his counting stats will take a hit as well. He’s riskier than he ever has been, and there is enough young talent available at the position to place your bets somewhere else this year.
3B – Will Middlebrooks – Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer are the obvious cautionary tales when looking at Middlebrooks heading into 2013. Middlebrooks, like Lawrie, hit the ground running last year, smacking 15 home runs in just 75 games before a wrist injury cut his breakout short. The danger of course is the dreaded sophomore slump, and Middlebrooks seems like a prime candidate looking at the pretty sub-standard walk-rate (4.5%) he posted last year. He is still an intriguing target to wait on at 3B, but as draft day gets closer, his draft day price continues to rise as people start chasing that 30 homer upside. In a mock recently, I tested out drafting him in the 8th round only to realize there were plenty of other decent options going much later. I have pretty much decided he’s not someone I am going to chase at this point. I’ll either grab my starting 3B early or I will likely be content to wait for Mike Moustakas, who I have been drafting five or six rounds later.
OF - Josh Hamilton – Hamilton is one player I can pretty much safely say I will not be drafting this season. Again, he is one of the best hitters in all of baseball, but it is the combination of everything that we tell ourselves to avoid in an early round pick that will make me pass in pretty much any format this year. Injury risk will always be a factor with Hamilton and now he goes to a worse ballpark and has the baggage of the big free agent contract on top of it. I’m not saying he won’t be good again, I am just saying I am letting someone else shoulder the risk, because there are safer players to take at the point in the draft where Hamilton's numbers and ADP say he should go. Eventually, the value will look too good to pass up, and someone could indeed get back great second round value. It just won’t be me.
OF – Nelson Cruz – I think it’s fitting to list him after Hamilton, since the former’s departure will thrust Cruz into a more crucial spot in the Rangers' lineup. I frankly am just not sold that he will be up to the task this year. He finally stayed healthy last year (for the first time), and the big numbers didn’t really materialize. In fact, his homer total dipped to 24. He won’t give you double-digit steals anymore, and he won’t win you any batting titles either. I just don’t see the upside anymore and would rather get a more stable commodity for my OF2/3 if I can.
SP – CC Sabathia – He’s been a great pitcher for a long time, but the cracks in the armor are starting to show. He’s logged a ton of mileage on that arm of his, and he is not a small man. His arm was barking last year, and at the point he is being drafted, I am firmly deciding he will not be on my teams this year. Can he still go out and have a good year? Sure he can. But for me, beyond the worries I have about age, mileage and conditioning, the once potent Yankee offense looks like a shell of its former self. I think it’s going to be a long year in the Bronx. I’m looking elsewhere for the top of my fantasy rotations this year.
RP – Joel Hanrahan – Honestly, I have other names that I could use here, like Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney or Jim Johnson. But I think if you took a poll and asked which American League closer scares you the most, Hanrahan would come in first hands down. His save totals the last two years obscure a shaky skill-set that is not ideally suited to Fenway Park. The Sox also have a lot of other candidates in their pen, so the leash could be pretty short if too many of the fly balls he surrenders end up as souvenirs.
Last week, I participated in the CBS NL-only Analysts Auction alongside my colleague Christopher Kreush. I didn’t know until two days prior to the auction that I would be taking part, as I was a last minute replacement, and that would mean I would have to get up to speed on the NL player pool pretty quickly.
Due to the time constraints, I tried to keep my plan pretty simple. I mapped out a loose 185/75 budget plan which was designed to spread the wealth with no hitters over $30 and no pitchers over $20. This meant I wasn’t planning on chasing the big ticket items, would try to have a good chunk of money for the middle of the draft and not be forced to roster too many $1 players. The only specific players I was actively targeting were Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann. I figured if I could land those two I could fill in behind them accordingly.
For context, the league is a 12-team NL-only league with a $260 budget for 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. There was then a seven-round reserve draft held immediately following the auction. Here is a recap of all my purchases and the general thought process behind them.
Round 1: None
I basically stayed on the sideline for the first round, although I did think about Andrew McCutchen ($34). This early, I decided to stick to my plan to grab Justin Upton and let the Pirate go when he reached my target price.
Round 2: Starlin Castro $28 (#19)
I nominated Troy Tulowitzki at #16 to gauge the market for SS, and after he went for $30, I decided to make a run at Castro, figuring he would go for less. I look at Castro’s 2012 as his statistical floor and obviously I am hoping for a slight rebound in power and production this year. He’s only 23, and last year’s .315 BABIP was a career low, so I expect a little bounce-back there.
Round 3: Justin Upton $32 (#25), Carlos Gomez $20 (#29)
I was hoping Upton would come out just a little bit later, and Carlos Gonzalez was still on the board, but I went a couple bucks extra for the guy I think has the most upside of any OF after Braun and Kemp. Obviously, I believe the injury to his thumb held him back early on, and I am banking that playing with his brother in Atlanta will help motivate him. He has already established he has 30/20 potential, and at 26, his prime starts now. Cargo went for $37 three picks later, making me feel even better about this purchase.
I got caught price enforcing on Gomez. With so much money on the table, I thought I might get bailed out, but Eno Sarris left me holding the bag. Probably my least favorite buy, but far from a disaster. I don’t love his plate skills but he does have elite speed, and that can come in handy in a trading league at some point.
Round 4: Jedd Gyorko $11 (#38)
I think I was not alone in my annoyance that Gyorko was nominated so early, as he was someone who was in my plans. I like him a lot, but I ended up paying full price to get him. I liked his 2B/3B flexibility and figured that would come in handy later on as I would have to get a cheaper option at one of those positions at some point. Almost had Allen Craig at $26 but didn’t go the extra buck when Paul Sporer swooped in at $27.
Round 5: None
No buys this round, but more misses on first basemen, notably Ike Davis.
Round 6: J.J. Putz $16 (#62)
I wanted to get at least one solid closer fairly early in the draft, and Putz was on the top of my second tier of closer candidates. I made a note to try and roster David Hernandez later in my draft if possible, for some injury insurance. I decided to nominate Jason Motte later in the round and was surprised when the bidding on him died at $18.
Round 7: None
I didn’t buy anyone this round, but was in on the bidding for Freddie Freeman ($27) and Adam LaRoche ($21). The options were shrinking at 1B. Looking at the board, I set my sights on Brandon Phillips. I had missed my chance for an impact first baseman, so getting a top option at second became a priority.
This was a busy round for me as I successfully locked up Phillips at my target price and also purchased my first starter of the draft in Homer Bailey. Twenty-one starters were already off the board, so I thought I could get him on the cheap, but I got into yet another bidding war with Chris K on Bailey. This time he stepped aside and let me win one finally. It cost me a couple extra bucks, but I got an arm I really liked and my main target, Zimmerman, was still on the board as well.
When Rutledge came out, I decided to make a run at him, as he was the highest ranked player on my board at a position other than OF. I decided to take the plunge and hope that he can flourish as a starter and deliver on his 20/20 promise from my MI slot. Coming up short at the corners, I felt I needed to try and make up some of the difference here.
Round 9: None
My big miss this round was Cuddyer, and honestly, I should have just went the extra buck here, but sometimes auctions move faster than you want them to, and then he was gone.
I forget who forced me to go the extra buck twice here, but I felt I had to get at least some form of upside from my 1B. I can live with the overpay, but I would have liked him better at $10. Health is a concern, but the move from the OF will hopefully keep him healthy. If he can deliver 2011’s numbers I will be satisfied. I honestly didn’t love the Marcum purchase when I made it, and now have to hope that his shoulder doesn’t fall off and he can squeeze out 150 innings for me. Montero was the last of the top catchers left and I was determined to get him. Having a little extra money in the bank finally pays off with a slight discount here.
Round 11: Jordan Zimmerman $20 (#126)
I had been hoping for a slight discount on Zimmerman, but at this point in the draft I had no choice but to go all in since I had put all my eggs in his basket rounds ago. Lesson learned I guess, but at least I didn’t pay more than I originally budgeted for his services.
Here’s how the rest of the auction unfolded for me:
Kyle Lohse $4 (#159) – Took the gamble he’ll stay in the National League. If he does, he’s a bargain at that price.
A.J. Ramos $1 (#165) – Ramos was a mistake nomination on my part, but I let it stand, as I had planned on grabbing him in the reserve rounds. He is my favorite saves sleeper in the NL this year, and since I was speculating behind Putz anyway, at least now I had him on the squad.
Ryan Vogelsong $6 (#176) – He rates as perhaps my best bargain of the draft. He should deliver quality innings from the middle of my rotation.
Travis Snider $7 (181) – He gets yet another chance to prove that his Triple-A power can translate, even minimally, to the Majors. Should get a little bit longer leash in Pittsburgh, so who knows.
Ross Detwiler $3 (#185) – I was pretty happy to secure the Nationals' likely No. 5 starter at this price.
A.J. Ellis $4 (188) – As a further attempt to close the gap created by my CI deficiency, getting a second quality catcher was a must, and Ellis was the guy I wanted. I had him projected at $7, and I think there is room for even more profit here in that lineup.
Darin Ruf $7 (#190) – I was waiting on Ruf, as I felt he was my best chance to find some cheap power late. He will have to battle to get playing time, but unlike other rookies, at 26, his time is now. He should make the opening day lineup and could play enough first base to gain eligibility there at some point.
David Hernandez $2 (#206) – I was quick with the $2 when I saw him come out. Necessary handcuff to Putz but will deliver great numbers for a MR as well.
Placido Polanco $2 (200) – I was in need of a CI and hit +1 on Polanco. I can live with him at that price, bad back and all.
Brett Jackson $2 (#210) – I have doubts that Jackson will break camp with the big league club, but with the Cubs in total rebuilding mode, they will have to give him a long look this season. He has the skills, now he just needs the opportunity.
Scott Hairston $4 (#222) – Hairston was kind of a Jackson hedge, and I spent my remaining cash to get his power bat into my last open spot.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the team I ended up with. I think the offense has a nice power/speed profile that should keep it in the upper half on that side of the ledger. I would have liked to have done a little better at the corners, but perhaps my MI can cover me there. My pitching has less room for error, and if Lohse doesn’t stay in the league, I will have to search early for a replacement. While I was a little timid in my bidding early on, I did put myself in a position to have a fairly solid middle portion of the draft, and I was able to get many of my targets in the endgame. I did enlist the services of quite a few rookies, and that can always be a risky proposition, but there is nice upside there as well.
The biggest lesson from this year is to “go the extra buck” on the guy you really want or need. For me, this would mean Allen Craig would be on this team, even if it meant spending $30.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
Baseball officially made its return last week as the first games of spring training got underway on Friday. I myself tuned in to the Indians/Reds game, just in time to see my sleeper pick Lonnie Chisenhall smack a two-run home run to put my Tribe in the lead. It’s always nice to see young players you believe in get off to running starts in camp, and Chisenhall is just one of many American League players I will be keeping tabs on the next few weeks in preparation for my upcoming slew of drafts. In addition, there will be the inevitable hot starts from unlikely sources, as well as numerous veterans fighting for roster spots around the league. Today, we’ll check in on a few names that I found myself thinking about over the long weekend.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle – In the two full seasons since Smoak arrived in Seattle, he has failed to live up to the lofty hopes the organization had for him when they acquired him in the Cliff Lee deal in 2010. He has shown flashes of power at times but continues to struggle to make contact consistently. Last year, he was absolutely brutal towards the middle of the season, when three consecutive awful months left him with a batting average below the Mendoza line by the end of August. Then, just when it looked like the team was ready to concede defeat, he flashed the talent that we’ve all been waiting for, hitting .341 with five home runs in the final month of the year. Manager Eric Wedge has already come out and said that the 26-year-old Smoak will be his first baseman to start the year. It’s the right call by the organization since he’s still young enough to finally tap into his immense talent. The difference this time is that the team may show much less patience than they have in the past. For now, Kendrys Morales will be the primary DH, but if Smoak falters again he could start losing playing time as the Mariners have more prospects in the pipeline in Mike Zunnio and Nick Franklin, which could start a domino effect that could send Smoak to the bench.
Mike Carp, 1B/OF, Boston – You may remember this time last year Carp was a nice late-round sleeper target. He was coming off a season where he hit 12 home runs in 79 games and looked like he would get a chance to be a fixture in the middle of the Mariners' lineup. I myself hyped him good and hard, and he ended up on more than a few of my teams as well. Other than Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch, I don’t think anyone disappointed me more than Carp did last year. So why am I writing about him again this year, you might be asking? Well, very quietly last week, Carp was traded to the Boston Red Sox, and he is suddenly back on my American League radar. The minute the M’s signed Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse, Carp became expendable. The fact that he was out of options also was a factor. Now in camp with the Red Sox, Carp looks like he has a good chance to break camp with the team since he can back up Mike Napoli at 1B and could even sub in for Jonny Gomes in LF against some right-handed pitching. His biggest competition for a roster spot is veteran Lyle Overbay. Carp is nine years younger than Overbay, and at 26, he still has a chance to deliver some nice power in a reserve role. It was a pretty sharp move by the Red Sox, who at least have some power in reserve if Napoli’s hip acts up or David Ortiz gets injured again.
Nolan Reimold, OF, Baltimore – Reimold heads into the season penciled in on the wrong side of a potential platoon with Nate McLouth in left field. He is supposedly fully recovered from the neck surgery that ended his season prematurely last year. While he only managed to play in 16 games, some may remember the five home runs in six games he smacked last April, which made him one of the hottest early season waiver wire grabs. Owners who had grabbed him in their drafts went from giddy to crest-fallen, as visions of a major breakout season vanished as quickly as they had arrived. With the departure of Mark Reynolds, the Orioles need someone to step up and provide some right-handed power. Reimold will be given every opportunity to try and get his career back on track. Between LF and DH, he should be able to get enough at-bats to try and force his way into an everyday role, especially since both McLouth and DH Wilson Betemit are far from sure things themselves. He’s definitely a name to remember when you are throwing darts at the end of your auctions or drafts this year.
Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF, Cleveland – Don’t look now, but Ryan Raburn is teasing us again. Raburn, in camp with the Indians as a non-roster invitee, has knocked out three home runs already this spring in his quest to lock down a spot on the bench. His ability to play both corner outfield spots as well as second base increases his chances of making the team, but this is still the same player that tempted us with visions of 20 homers at second base last year only to fail miserably. The good news, of course, is that the bar is set much, much lower this time around. Whatever happens, he won’t be a starter unless injuries occur. What he can be is a decent right-handed bat for manager Terry Francona to deploy late in games, or when he needs to give Jason Kipnis a day off against a tough southpaw. He even got the start at 3B yesterday, which would give him yet another avenue to playing time as a possible platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall. He is shaping up as a decent $1 play in AL-only leagues.
Chris Getz/Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Kansas City – Just like last year, the two second basemen will be battling it out this spring to see who will emerge as the starter on Opening Day. Neither one of these players offers very much to get excited about beyond some cheap speed from the MI position in AL-only leagues, but whoever emerges victorious will be worth drafting in those formats. Giavotella is generally regarded as having more of a future with the organization, but he flopped last year when he had a chance to beat out the resilient Getz. Both players still have options left, so the team will likely go with the player swinging the hotter stick this spring. If you are drafting early, you might want to steer clear of this situation altogether. There just isn’t very much upside to be found here.
Leslie Anderson, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay – The 30-year-old Cuban defector is making some early noise in Rays camp, driving in seven runs and showing good athleticism in the outfield and at first base. The Rays signed James Loney in the off-season to become their new first baseman but have no clear backup on the major league roster. They did go out and sign Shelly Duncan off the scrap heap, and he likely has the leg up based solely on his ability to hit from the right side. Anderson has been stuck at Triple-A for three years, but he did hit .309 with 14 home runs there last year. He has definitely gotten the attention of Joe Maddon early in camp, so it will be interesting if he can continue his hot start and force his manager’s hand this time.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
Ask anyone who drafted Brett Lawrie last year and they will likely tell you he was a disappointment. What they usually leave out of this assessment is that the player had nothing to do with the immense expectations that fantasy owners placed upon him as they jumped over each other to draft him. The Blue Jays' third baseman was one of the most over-hyped players heading into last season. I myself hyped him pretty hard last spring, but at least I told you it might not be worth chasing the upside once his draft stock rose so high. If you were one of those who got swept up in the hype, with visions of 30/30 causing you to jump him up your draft board, you know now it was a mistake. The question you have to answer for this year is are you going to let your misgivings prevent you from drafting him again.
The unfortunate fallout from the outsized expectations is that fantasy owners couldn’t properly appreciate the pretty good season the 23- year-old actually had last year. His line of .273/73/11/48/13 doesn’t look so terrible taken on its own merits. It’s only when we attach it to the price we paid on draft day that we come away totally unimpressed and underwhelmed. The power numbers in particular were a big letdown, especially since he teased us with elite pop in his 43-game debut in 2011, when he flashed a slugging percentage of .580.
There were a couple of factors that helped suppress Lawrie’s home run total in 2012, the first being the fact that he got hurt a lot last year, limiting him to just 125 games. The oblique injury he suffered in August cost him a month, and before that he had suffered from a litany of nagging injuries to his knee, back and calf to name a few. Some of these injuries were a direct result of the aggressive nature of his play at times, such as the headfirst dive into the camera-well in Yankee Stadium in July. While he battled through these minor injuries in the first half of the year, it seems like a reasonable assumption that the cumulative effect sapped a little juice from his bat at times. The mid-season back injury certainly seemed to stall the signs of life he showed in June, easily his best month in a long season.
But beyond the injuries, we have to look at what Lawrie did at the plate to see where he needs to improve for 2013. There has to be more to explain the power outage that saw his HR/FB rate tumble from 17 percent in 2011 to 9 percent last year. First off, he turned into a ground ball machine, with a GB rate of 50.2 percent. That is a ridiculously high number, and to compound things further, he not only hit far less fly balls than expected but he didn’t hit them as far. This will be the first area that the young infielder will need to improve if he is going to rebound this season. Despite all of last year’s struggles, there were some positives that he can build on and fantasy players can look to for optimism.
One area where Lawrie showed growth was in his ability to make contact. It was one of the areas where he actually improved his numbers from the previous year. His 83.6 percent contact rate shows that putting the bat on the ball wasn’t the issue, and at least that is something he can build on for this year. He also showed a more patient approach in the second half, especially after his return in September, when he posted his best BB percentage (10%) of any month. If he can carry that selectiveness over to this year, that will not only mean he is swinging at better pitches but it will mean he’ll be on base more often. That will hopefully lead to more stolen bases, although he needs to improve his success rate (13-21) to reach his potential here and keep the green light on.
I for one am still a believer, and as such I am once again targeting Lawrie in many of my drafts, especially if I miss out on the bigger names ahead of him. The difference, of course, is now I see him for what he is. He is still a young player with a solid track record of success in the minor leagues who is ready to take what he learned last year and apply it. Hopefully he’s learned what it takes to make it through a full season at the major league level and will return in better shape both physically and mentally, prepared to deliver on some of the promise he tantalized us with. I think the smart bet is to hope for improvement to come just from some normalization of some of the percentages mentioned above. Just be realistic this time and hope for a 20/20 season. That way you won’t be disappointed when he delivers.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
When I sat down at the computer tonight to write this article, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to write about, or where I was going to go this week. I thought perhaps I might start some positional breakdowns, or perhaps look inside the Michael Bourn signing in Cleveland. But then, before I could put a word down, I got distracted. The New York Rangers were playing the Boston Bruins in the background on my television, my kids were taking turns resisting going to sleep, I was tracking a slow mock draft I am participating in and the LABR Mixed League draft was getting ready to start. Completely distracted from the task of writing, I wandered over to twitter, where I knew I would find the link to the LABR draft board in my timeline. I decided to tune in to the early rounds since our own Todd Zola was participating, but having some time to kill before the start, I browsed through some tweets until something caught my eye.
A fellow writer, Rob Pallazola (aka @RoJoPal) had decided to throw together a draft for his followers that evening and needed a couple of spots filled. After a quick inquiry, I decided that drafting my own team while I followed along with the LABR would be a lot more fun than figuring out what to write about, and I was actually pleased to find out that it was a 12-team league that would indeed be played out. Much of my prep up until this point has been geared towards 15-team leagues, but having a bunch of big 12-team drafts on my schedule next month, it seemed like as good a time as any to get a little practice in. I didn’t really have anything to guide me going in other than the drafts and mocks I’ve already completed up to this point.
The draft was being held over at Yahoo, and this would be my first look at their rankings for the year. I also needed to check the settings for the league. I was happy to see it was a classic 5x5 roto league, with standard categories which meant I could just jump in and draft on the fly. I decided to formulate a general strategy going in, which basically consisted of seeing how long I could wait before diving into the starting pitching pool. Unlike many of the leagues I’ve been drafting, not only was this shallower but it also had a 1400 innings limit. Now, I’m not a big fan of limits, I much prefer minimums when it comes to innings pitched, but I do understand the utility for limits to mitigate streaming in a daily league format such as this. I wondered if I should stick with my original pitching strategy, since getting at least one “Ace” seemed more prudent now.
In the end, I compromised a bit in my mind. I would still try to see how long I could wait on grabbing my first starter, but I would now also try to lock up three quality closers. My thinking was, not only would this hopefully put me near the top in saves, if I could target three relievers with superior ratios and K’s, I’d only need to rely on basically 6 SP’s, and the ERA and WHIP risk incurred by waiting would be mitigated. On the other side of the ledger, I would grab bats for as long as I felt reasonable, and then force myself to go one round past that before picking my No. 1 starter. When I entered the draft room, I saw that I had the #2 pick. The top three players on Yahoo’s software were Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera. I put the Tiger third baseman into my queue and waited for the fun to begin.
Sure enough, the guy picking first grabbed Cabrera. My head said to go with Braun, but having won two leagues last year thanks in large part to Mr. Trout, I availed myself of the opportunity to own him for the first and possibly only time this year. As I waited for my next pair of picks, I briefly toyed with the idea of grabbing Bryce Harper with one of my next picks. He was sitting down at #38, so I figured he’d be there as well. In the end, I decided against it. None of the Big 3 SP’s were still on the board as Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw were all drafted by pick 15, which I guess was good since I would have chucked my strategy in a second for any of the three. I opted instead for Justin Upton at pick 2.11 and after Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia got taken, I selected Jose Reyes at 3.2. I actually didn’t mind drafting near the edge in this draft, because that meant I would get a built-in 15-20 minute break after every pair of picks. I took a look at my selections. I had left some power on the board, but I was pretty happy with a trio that projects for about 60-70 HR’s, 320-340 Runs and 100 SB’s. With my next pair of picks I decided to concentrate on the corners, and while I narrowly missed out on Paul Goldschmidt, I was more than pleased to add Allen Craig and Chase Headley to the roster. Craig was firmly in my sights for this pair of picks while Headley’s speed and 3B eligibility nudged him ahead of Billy Butler as my Goldschmidt replacement.
So, when did I finally buckle and take a starter? Well, as my next pair of picks came up, Jason Kipnis was staring me in the face. Anyone who has drafted with me this year would have known who I was looking at. To my chagrin, he was selected right before I picked, but I grabbed Ben Zobrist instead, which was a stronger pick thanks to the added SS/OF eligibility. The drafter ahead of me had in some ways saved me from myself there. Through six picks I had my infield covered and two stud OF’s on top. At this point, 19 SP’s and Craig Kimbrel had been drafted. It was time to pick a starter, but remember I said that I would force myself to go one more round before diving in?
The top names left in order on Yahoo were Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Matt Moore, Kris Medlen, Max Scherzer, Yovani Gallardo and Jordan Zimmermann. I knew from previous drafts that my Mastersball rankings had Zimmermann ranked ahead of all those guys. I surveyed the landscape and noticed Carlos Santana was there. Needless to say, I had no problem making that pick, even if this was a one C league. If I was going to force myself to grab one more hitter, having him be one of my personal favorites sure didn’t hurt. I added Zimmermann with my next pick and finally had my first starter.
As the draft continued, those extended breaks really came in handy. I could go check in on the LABR draft results and watch the hockey game, which actually got very exciting at the end. The Bruins scored two goals in the final minutes to send the game into overtime. After a fast and furious but scoreless extra session, the Rangers ultimately prevailed in a shootout.
I will add the rest of the draft, including the rest of my rotation and the three closer choices I planned, in the comments section below. Please feel free to let me know what you think.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
I’ve seen some mixed reactions out there on both sides of the coin, but I have to admit to being a little surprised at some of the vitriol fired at the Astros management for this trade from their fan base. I understand it’s tough as a fan to watch your team trade half their players, while losing over 100 games in back-to-back seasons with a virtual guarantee for the hat-trick this year. Still, Astros fans need to take the long-term view with this trade and all the other moves the club has been making the last two years as they continue to implement the plan to bring the franchise back to relevance, while at the same time transitioning to a new league.
For the A’s, Billy Beane’s acquisition of Lowrie is a textbook move for him, and further upgrades an offense that will have to contend with both the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers if it hopes to prove that last year’s surprising first-place finish wasn’t a fluke. The A’s and their GM see the window of opportunity is now, and Lowrie was an affordable answer to a lot of the uncertainty around their infield. His versatility was the key to the deal from the A’s standpoint, as he can play all around the infield, allowing the A’s to cover all of their bets there.
Shortstop was the team’s biggest need in the off-season, and they went out and signed Japanese star Hiroyuki Nakajima to fill the void. Nakajima brings with him a nice resume from Japan, but also the stigma of the general lack of success from previous infield imports from his country. At third base, the A’s have Josh Donaldson, who at 27, finally showed down the stretch last year that he was perhaps figuring things out at the major league level. Was his hot hitting a sign of things to come or will he revert to the player who got demoted in June last year? At second base, Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore were going to battle it out in Spring Training. Lowrie covers all the bases and will likely end up playing a lot of second and third base to start the year.
For fantasy purposes, the trade doesn’t really change Lowrie’s value too much, although his power potential will be somewhat muted in Oakland. The biggest challenge for him will be what it is every year, staying healthy. Last year’s 97 games and 387 plate appearances were both career highs as were his 16 home runs. His current NFBC ADP sits at 245, or right around the 17th round, so current drafters are obviously factoring the injury risk into his projection. I expect he’ll get a little boost with the trade to a better team, but perhaps uncertainty over playing time will help keep his draft stock from rising too high. It seems like the A’s already know they won’t get a full season out of Lowrie but that when he does play, he’ll make them a better team regardless of position. He doesn’t cost much the next two seasons and if he does somehow manage to stay healthy and prove his power spike from last year is real, then the A’s will reap the benefits.
The trade has a lot of other fantasy ramifications beyond the playing time squeeze for the Oakland infielders mentioned above. Let’s take a look at the ramifications for other fantasy relevant players affected by Monday’s trade:
Brandon Moss – The trade of Carter seemingly clears the way for the 29-year-old journeyman to stake a claim as the everyday first baseman. Daric Barton will likely still be in the mix to start the year, but a straight platoon will be unlikely since Barton swings from the left side as well. Moss had a true breakout season a year ago, whacking 21 homers and hitting a robust .291 in just 296 PA’s. The trade will likely make him an even more popular sleeper pick due to his power potential, but there are enough red flags to temper that enthusiasm some. His K% was a Custian 30.4% last year, and his BABIP was inflated at .359. When he did make contact, he hit more fly balls (45.8%) than he ever had before, and posted a HR/FB rate of 25.9%. The last three numbers look like they should be lower this year, which means while I think he should have no problem matching last season’s home run total, I see more strikeouts and a much lower batting average. He’ll still be useful, just don’t get carried away and think the extra playing time suddenly makes him a 35-40 home run guy.
Chris Carter – Carter gets perhaps the biggest fantasy boost of all the players involved in the trade, not only with the promise of more AB’s but also with the change of venue. Minute Maid Park is tailor made to his powerful right-handed swing. He will be in the mix at first base, designated hitter and even possibly in the outfield. With only Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace ahead of him, the 26-year-old should be assured of eclipsing 400 AB’s for the first time in his career. That should be enough for him to deliver some cheap power late in drafts this year. Like Moss, he strikes out way too much, but at least he knows how to draw a walk, at least giving him a slight boost in OBP leagues. The Astros can afford to take the chance that he can still blossom into a more consistent and much needed power source.
Brad Peacock – Peacock was the second major piece from the Gio Gonzalez trade dealt away, following A.J. Cole, who left town in the John Jaso deal. He was really the key piece in that deal so it was somewhat surprising that the A’s decided to move him so quickly, even after a disappointing 2012 that saw him struggle badly. I spoke about him in last week’s column as a sleeper for the A’s, and I think he has the same AL-only upside, only now has a much clearer road to a rotation spot than he would have had in Oakland. If the Astros continue the fire sale and deal Bud Norris, then he’s the likely replacement. The Astros seem to be hoping that an escape from the PCL will help cure some of what ailed the former top prospect, as home runs and walks plagued him last year. He still averaged more than a strikeout per inning and in the end that could be the only thing he’ll really be able to deliver consistently this year.
Tyler Greene –Greene, who was acquired from the Cardinals last year after Lowrie was injured, should get a nice boost as he looks to have the inside track to getting the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop over defensive specialist Marwin Gonzalez. Greene, a former top pick of the Cardinals, never quite panned out for them at the major league level. Still, he does bring an interesting mix of power and speed to the table, and consistent AB’s should at the very least give him a chance at a 15/15 season. That’s enough to get him on my fantasy bench, and I did just that recently, drafting him in the 25th round of a recent 15-team draft. He’ll likely continue to fly under the radar for awhile since he wasn’t an actual part of the trade. He’s definitely a nice AL-only sleeper now at the very least.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
We are continuing our series of AL-Only sleepers this week with Part 2 of our look at American League pitching. As a reminder, we’ll use the same approach we did in last week's column. The first names listed are those that are likely to be drafted late in deeper mixed leagues, or as potential discounts later in your auctions. I’ve also listed a true “sleeper” for each team as well. Many of these will be names to consider in NFBC Draft Champions leagues, or as $1/reserve picks for your auctions. Consider this a starting point on your journey to deciding who to place your bets on this year. When you get to the end of your draft or auction, you need to know how you feel about these potential choices, because you’ll be drafting some combination of these names to fill out your fantasy staffs this year.
Houston Astros – Bud Norris – Norris has the distinction of being the only No. 1 starter found on this or last week’s lists. That is more of an indictment of the state of the starting pitching in Houston than anything, but it doesn’t mean that Norris doesn’t qualify as a sleeper for this year. Three straight seasons with a losing record, and two with an ERA closer to 5.00 have taken the shine off the one thing that Norris does bring to the table, strikeouts. A closer look reveals that the skills he demonstrated last year were virtually identical to 2011, when his ERA was 3.77. Yes, wins will be an issue, but I have already drafted him twice this year as a reserve pick in some deeper leagues and will likely use him in favorable matchups or two-start weeks early on and see what happens. Keep an eye on the radar gun this spring, as his fastball has lost a little juice three straight seasons, down to an average of 91.9 last year
Sleeper – Lucas Harrell – Harrell started 32 games last year for the Astros, delivering a 3.76 ERA and 140 K’s in 193 IP. The decent ratios and strikeouts, and role certainty, give him some pretty decent value in AL-only leagues this year.
Los Angeles Angels – Jason Vargas –Vargas came over to the Angels in the Kendrys Morales trade. Vargas (like Morales) will hit free-agency in a year, so the Angels get to see how he performs before deciding to invest long-term. The 29 year-old southpaw comes to California off a career-best season that saw him post his best numbers across the board. Lack on overpowering stuff, and an elevated xFIP say the ERA and WHIP should rise, but then on the other hand so could the win total with a better offense behind him.
Sleeper – Garrett Richards – Richards becomes the odd-man out with the arrival of Vargas, but that could be a good thing for the 24-year old. He has the fastball, but hasn’t been able to harness it effectively in AAA or the majors just yet. With Tommy Hanson’s shoulder a concern, and Joe Blanton and Jerome Williams as un-inspiring back-end options, Richards still has an opportunity to fulfill the promise he showed back in 2010.
New York Yankees – Ivan Nova – Nova’s stock is way down in the wake of a 2012 that saw him finish with a 5.02 ERA. He was particularly brutal in the second half, and that has made drafters look elsewhere for late round bargains. However, a closer look reveals that all is not so bleak here. He made significant gains in his K%, and both SIERA (3.84) and xFIP (3.92), say that some bad luck, particularly with the home run ball, drove that ERA up. Double-digit wins will once again provide much of his value, but they’ll come cheaper than they did this time last year.
Sleeper(s) – David Phelps/Michael Pineda – Phelps will once again begin the season as the Yankees long-man in the bullpen, but with ancient Andy Pettitte in the rotation, it’s not a stretch to see a scenario where he is once again pressed into duty as the de-facto sixth starter. He struck out 96 in just under 100 innings last year, so he has the ability to miss bats if he can find the innings. Pineda is progressing in his recovery from shoulder surgery, and currently is slated to return around the All-Star break. He’s a viable reserve stash in AL-Only leagues, because the Yankees will use him if he’s ready, just be warned, shoulder’s are not like elbows.
Oakland A’s – Dan Straily – Straily kind of came out of nowhere last season, leading the minors in strikeouts before getting call up and pitching pretty well down the stretch for the A’s last year. Granted, he didn’t strike out batters at anywhere near the clip he did at AA and AAA, but he still struck out 32 in 39 IP. He looks like the probable fifth starter to start the year, and pitching in Oakland should help keep those ratios solid. I’m not quite as sold on him as some people are, but he’ll be useful as long as he holds onto a rotation spot.
Sleeper – Brad Peacock – Peacock will try to put his disastrous 2012 behind him, and get his career back on track in AAA this year. He has the fastball to succeed, but walks way too many hitters. If he can’t figure things out, he could be headed to the bullpen to stay.
Seattle Mariners – Erasmo Ramirez – After a mediocre 4 start call-up in June, Ramirez opened some eyes in September by posting 4 straight Quality Starts to finish out the year. The 5-11 Ramirez has a decent fastball that he compliments with a nice breaking ball and a very good change-up. He has always shown good control in the minors, and it followed him to the majors, and that, as well as his home ballpark gives him some decent upside as a late round target.
Sleeper – Danny Hultzen– Hultzen will likely get the call at some point in 2013, it’s just a matter of when. Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, made it all the way to AAA last year, but he really struggled badly, with a walk-rate of 7.95 at AAA last year. It’s obviously too early to give up on him yet, and keep an eye on his control this spring to see if he’s figuring things out.
Tampa Bay Rays – Alex Cobb – Cobb had a very nice season last year, acquitting himself very well in his 23 starts. He really started to figure things out in the second half, and finished the year on a tear, going 7-1, with a 3.07 ERA from August 1st on. He’ll enter the year as the Rays fifth starter and will look to build on last year’s success. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher, and that should help him once again help him post solid ratios. Those who didn’t own him last year will be less likely to know how good he was down the stretch. However the hype is already starting to swirl around him, so just be aware that you won’t be the only one at your draft table trying to snag him late.
Sleeper (s) – Chris Archer/Jake Odorizzi – The trades of James Shields and Wade Davis clears the paths for both of these top prospects to make an impact this year. Jeff Niemann only made 8 starts last year, so there is a chance we will see both Archer and Ordorizzi at some point this year. My guess is Archer would get first crack and showed some pretty electric stuff in his cup-of-coffee last year. Ordorizzi has great upside, but the trade from KC really puts a damper on his value for this year.
Texas Rangers – Martin Perez – I’d love to call Alexi Ogando a sleeper, but he just doesn’t qualify in my book. He isn’t dropping far enough in any of my drafts to quite qualify, in fact none of the Rangers main starters seem to be dropping to bargain territory. That leaves the former top prospect as the closest thing to a bargain in Arlington. I’m not sure I would chase him at all in mixed leagues, but as a reserve pick in your AL-Only league you can take a chance that he can finally cut down on the walks and become a little more confident with his secondary pitches, which are actually pretty good. He is a lefty after-all, so maybe the craftiness just takes time to develop.
Sleeper- Colby Lewis – Lewis is another Tommy-John stash, and he will reclaim his rotation spot as soon as he is able. The injury derailed a nice start to the season, and he should be able to get back up to speed fairly quickly. He could provide a nice boost down the stretch for your AL-Only squads.
Toronto Blue Jays – Ricky Romero – If you feel really lucky, then Romero could be the guy for you. I personally haven’t had the guts to bet on one of last season’s biggest busts in any mixed leagues yet, as I’ve always found another arm I have a little more confidence in. His 5.77 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 5.2 BB/9 illustrate just how bad he was last year. So the questions are will he rebound and if so how much. Well, I think it’s safe to say he won’t be worse than he was last year. Normalization of his BABIP, which shot up to .311, last year, will help in and of itself. He should come cheap enough that he can turn you a profit.
Sleeper – J.A. Happ – Happ will get the call if any of the arms ahead of him falter or get hurt. He showed some nice gains in his both his K/9 and BB/9 rates last year, and if he can work his way into the rotation, could be a nice cheap strikeout source in AL-Only leagues.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey
We are continuing our series of AL-Only sleepers this week by heading to the mound as we try to help you uncover some targets for the back-end of your fantasy rotations. The first names listed are those that are likely to be drafted late in deeper mixed leagues, or as potential discounts later in your auctions. I’ve also listed a true “sleeper” for each team as well. Many of these will be names to consider in NFBC Draft Champions leagues, or as $1/reserve picks for your auctions. In the interest of time, I won't hit you with many numbers here, just more of a snapshot of my feeling about a particular player. We are all going to have to gamble on at least some combination of the names to follow, so consider this a starting point on your journey to deciding who to place your bets on this year. We’ll tackle half the league this week and finish things up with Part II next week.
Baltimore Orioles – Chris Tillman – I have witnessed other drafters more enamored with Miguel Gonzalez early this draft season, but for me the 6-5 Tillman has more of the skills I am looking for out of my sleeper pitching targets. Both Tillman and Gonzalez benefitted from luck and the Oriole playoff wave, and both will likely be slightly over-valued this spring by those who look at last year’s ERA’s, but at least Tillman has the underlying skills to prove that last year wasn’t a complete fluke.
Sleeper – Dylan Bundy – Bundy made a steady climb up the ranks of the Orioles system all the way to the majors at the tender age of 19. He won’t be rushed, but when things get shaky in the O’s rotation, and Bundy is dominating in the minors again, the inevitable call-up will come. He’s worth stashing in hopes of some second-half magic.
Boston Red Sox – Felix Doubront – Doubront was my sleeper pick here last year, and he more than delivered after stepping into the injury void. I like Doubront as a bet to make gains in his control this year, as fatigue seemed to slow him down a bit in the second half. We know he can strike people out, but if he can limit the homers I think we could see a real breakout coming here.
Sleeper – Rubby De La Rosa – Part of the mega-deal with the Dodgers, De La Rosa finds himself in the spot Doubront held last season. He will likely get the first crack at a rotation spot should injuries strike again. He showed some promise in 2011 before Tommy John surgery derailed him.
Chicago White Sox – Jose Quintana – Quintana looks locked into the fifth spot in Chicago’s rotation heading into the year. As a rookie, he started out very strong, before the inevitable regression kicked in down the stretch. Use that late season collapse to your advantage when scooping him up late in your auctions and reaping the profits, however modest they may be.
Sleeper – Hector Santiago – Santiago set the fantasy world buzzing last year as he opened the year as the surprise closer for the Sox. He coughed up the job by May, hung around the bullpen, before making four surprise starts to close out the year. He struck out 26 batters in 19 innings in those starts, and those numbers show that he has the arm to make noise as a starter in injuries hit this staff again this year.
Cleveland Indians – Justin Masterson – I’ve finished three real drafts so far this year and I have drafted Masterson in all three. In every league he is my SP6. Yeah, I know the Cleveland fan in me is talking here, but there isn’t a whole lot of downside to drafting him at that point. His price is being driven down by last year’s major step back from the promise he showed in 2011, and while I don’t think he’ll be that good again, neither do I think he’ll be as bad as he was last year. His price is low enough to draft him and use him when the matchups are favorable.
Sleeper – Carlos Carrasco – Carrasco will be returning to the rotation after missing all of 2012 recovering from TJS. He will try to pick up where he left off in 2011, when he showed signs of finally starting to put things together at the major league level.
Detroit Tigers – Drew Smyly - Smyly is a Mastersball favorite and one of my favorite late round targets this year. He absolutely saved my bacon as a waiver wire grab in my AL-Only league last year, and I was actually disappointed when the Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez. He’s currently undervalued by many, as there doesn’t appear to be a spot for him in the rotation, but I expect a Rick Porcello trade is coming sooner than later. When it does, Smyly should stake his claim to being the best fifth starter in the American League.
Sleeper – Casey Crosby – Crosby finally got a taste of the majors last year, and will be the first name called up from the minors if reinforcements are needed. He hasn’t shown the control to truly succeed at the major league level yet, but as a lefty, he should be able to carve out a career in someone’s rotation. My guess is he is a piece that will be moved at some point this year.
Kansas City – Wade Davis – Davis was part of the return for Wil Myers from Tampa Bay, and after a pretty impressive year out of the bullpen, will return to starting, at least to begin the year. He never showed the K-rate he demonstrated last year as a RP in the previous two years as a starter, but there is at least some hope that he will retain some of the extra “oomph” on his fastball this time around. He is worth a late round gamble to see if he can follow the career path Phil Hughes took. Sometimes confidence can carry a young pitcher over the hump and back to the promise left behind.
Sleeper(s) – Danny Duffy/Felipe Paulino – Both Duffy and Paulino will return from Tommy John surgery around mid-season. Both have the ability to make some noise down the stretch for owners. I’m a little more bullish on Paulino’s chances for success, mainly because I think the team will play it safer with the younger Duffy.
Minnesota Twins – Vance Worley – Yeah I know the Los Angeles Angels should come next, but since we hit the other AL Central squads, we'll bump the Twins up a spot and close out the division this week. Coming over from the National League, and landing in Minnesota is about as good a cover as you can get if you are looking for a potential under-the–radar name to throw out at your AL-only auction this year. Coming off elbow surgery only helps take the shine off the package. He’s not likely going to be a major difference maker, but he can still deliver some decent ratios that won’t kill you late, and that’s always useful in any size league.
Sleeper – Kyle Gibson – Gibson showed signs in this year’s AFL that he could be ready to get his career back on track. He’ll be one to watch in Twins camp this year, as he could easily pitch his way into a starting spot with a strong camp. With so many shaky starters ahead of him, he should get the call fairly quickly regardless.
Follow Ryan on twitter @ryanpcarey
Last week, we took a look around the infield for late round or endgame targets from the American League. In this installment of our early sleeper series, we’ll turn to the outfield and take a look at some names to consider when you are looking to fill out the end of your fantasy lineups this year. Like last week, we are looking for cheap or over-looked options, so while I love the prospect of Wil Myers this year, he won’t be slipping far enough thanks to Mike Trout’s historic assault on American League pitching last year. Instead, here are a few names that will come much more cheaply on draft day, and as you will no doubt need to fill at least one (if not two) of your OF slots at bargain rates, you’ll want to figure out who you want to target and why before you hit the draft table. Here’s some of my favorite targets in early drafts thus far.
Justin Maxwell, HOU – Following the theme that we established in our previous sleeper column, the Astros will be a great place to look for endgame picks in your deep or AL-only leagues this year. The 29-year-old OF finally got an extended look at the major league level and displayed good power and better than average speed once pressed into action last year. As the Astros make their move into the American League, Maxwell will get every chance to flex his muscles in the middle of their lineup and provide some much needed power. He very likely will be a batting average liability, but could approach a 20/20 season at bargain prices.
Michael Saunders, SEA – The lanky Saunders was a waiver wire darling a year ago, as he took advantage of the extended absences of Franklin Guttierez and Mike Carp to log a career high 553 AB’s. The regular playing time opened the door to one of the more quietly effective seasons in the American League last year, as he fell just one homer short of a 20/20 season. He enters the year with an inside track to the starting RF job, and unless the M’s make another deal before the season starts, he’ll have every chance to build on last year’s breakout and once again provide a nice combination of power and speed at the back of your outfield.
Darin Mastroianni and Chris Parmelee, MIN – When the Twins traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere this off-season, they opened two gaping holes in their outfield. They will look to fill the void with in-house candidates, most likely starting with the speedy Mastroianni and former first-round pick Parmelee. These two players bring different skill sets to the table, and the decision on which one to chase late in your draft will come down to needs. If you are looking for speed late, then Mastroianni is your guy, as evidenced by his 21 steals in just 186 AB’s a year ago. Now, you don’t want to go crazy and project those numbers out and think you are going to get a 60-steal guy here, but if he grabs the starting CF job and bats leadoff, then he will do the one thing he does well, run. Top prospect Aaron Hicks is the future here, so you will want to keep an eye on this battle this spring, but I expect the Twinkies to play it safe and send Hicks, who hasn’t played a game above Double-A, back to the minors to start the year.
Parmelee actually enters the season eligible only at 1B, but GM Terry Ryan has already stated that he will be the likely starting RF on Opening Day. Parmelee made some noise late in 2011 with a torrid September that landed him on a ton of sleeper lists this time last year. With Justin Mourneau staying healthy last year, playing time early on was tough to come by, and when he did finally receive consistent at-bats in the second half, he couldn’t duplicate the results he had delivered the first time around. His struggles last year put a damper on his stats heading into this year, but he simply tore the cover off the ball at Triple-A last season, and if you are looking for a little power late he’ll make a nice addition thanks to the dual eligibility he’ll accrue two weeks into the year. If you decide to gamble on Mourneau staying healthy for a second year, then Parmelee is a great insurance policy there as well.
Peter Bourjos, LAA- Bourjos is another speed demon whose stock has gotten a boost thanks to various moves made by his team this off-season. The Angels let Torrii Hunter leave via free agency, signed Josh Hamilton to a mega-deal and then promptly traded Kendrys Morales to the Mariners to free up DH AB’s for both Hamilton and Mark Trumbo. That leaves only Vernon Wells standing in the way of consistent playing time for the second best CF on the Halos roster. He brings a little more pop to the table than other speed merchants, and his name recognition will likely make him a tad pricier than the other options on this list.
Anthony Gose, TOR – The Blue Jays prospect saw his value for the upcoming season take a big hit in the wake of the flurry of moves the team has made since the end of last season. With the arrivals of Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio, there simply doesn’t appear to be any room on the roster for the 21- year-old speedster. The Blue Jays have made it clear with the big trades and free agent signings that they are serious about contending this year, and that is just another strike against Gose breaking camp with the team, as it is unlikely they want the rookie to languish in a bench role, especially since they already have Rajai Davis in the fold. Still, Gose figures to get his shot at some point, although it may not come until the second-half. Colby Rasmus is all that stands between Gose and the everyday CF job in Toronto. If I had to choose today the one player the Blue Jays will be looking to unload at some point during the season, then Rasmus would be my first choice. If that happens, Gose will get the call. His lack of a clear role will drive his price down, likely all the way to the reserve rounds of your auction. At those prices, it’s worth taking the shot that Rasmus will wear out his welcome yet again.
Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, TEX – As of this writing, the Rangers have yet to make a move to replace Josh Hamilton as the starter in CF. That leaves a likely Martin/Gentry platoon as the logical path the team will follow, unless they finally buckle to the mind-control powers of Scott Boras and sign free agent CF Michael Bourn or trade for Justin Upton. If the team stands pat, then both of these players are much more intriguing for fantasy players looking to fill out their rosters late in their drafts or auctions. Martin is the more hyped and “toolsy” player, and would be on the right side of any possible platoon. He brings more power potential to the table but hasn’t yet shown he can consistently hit for average in the big leagues. Gentry is a far less exciting player but he knows how to steal bases and is far more likely to be guaranteed a roster spot, at least as a fourth OF to start the year.
Jeff Francoeur, KC – One of the bigger fallouts of the Myers trade is that Jeff Francouer still has a starting job, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else on the roster that can seriously threaten his job to start the year. Now, I’m not saying he’s someone you necessarily chase, and I doubt he ever approaches his surprising 2011, since the steals aren’t likely coming back. Still, he is a solid veteran, and is more than capable of outperforming the price it will take to roster him this year. Sometimes, last year’s biggest flops are this season’s best bargains. I doubt you’ll find a better candidate than Frenchy to fill this role.
Jonny Gomes , BOS – The Red Sox signed Gomes to a two-year deal, and he will open the season as the starting LF for the Sox. Gomes is what he is, and that is a defensively challenged fielder with some nice pop in his bat. He kind of profiles for the team as Manny Ramirez-lite, and the team will hope that the Green Monster will mitigate his lack of range in the outfield. While Gomes will get every opportunity to be the regular guy in front of the wall, the fact is he still profiles best as a platoon option against left-handed pitching. Still, even in a part-time role he should be able to deliver consistent enough power to make him a viable option, especially in AL-only leagues.
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It’s that time of year again, when the ever popular sleeper articles start popping up all over the web, because there is nothing fantasy players like more than an article talking about all the fancy new superstars that will emerge in the coming year and lead you to fantasy glory. I will let you know up front, this isn’t one of those articles. No Will Middlebrooks, Manny Machado, Jurickson Profar or Wil Myers today. But hey, it’s only January, so you can rest assured we will touch on these four and lots of other players from now until Opening Day. Today we are going to start at home plate and work our way around the diamond taking a look at some names to keep in mind for the end of your drafts or AL-only auctions. None of these names are going to be this year’s Mike Trout, none of them are sexy. But they all have one thing in common. They are currently positioned to deliver draft day profits at bargain prices and give you a few extra bucks to spend elsewhere.
C – Jason Castro, HOU – It would be easy for me to write about guys like Salvador Perez or Carlos Santana yet again, but that’s not what I am going for in this article. We are looking for guys who aren’t on anyone’s radar that will be useful in AL-only or deep fantasy leagues this year. As an incoming Astro, Castro fits the bill as a young player on a lousy team that many of your league-mates may overlook at the draft table. The 25-year-old backstop enters the year as the team's presumptive starter and stills holds the promise that surrounded him the last couple of years. Injuries have slowed him down but the prospect of a mini-breakout still exists. If you like to wait on the position, Castro should be able to deliver 10-15 dingers and at least a respectable .250 batting average.
1B – Brett Wallace, HOU – Yeah, that’s right, another Astro here in the former top prospect, and perhaps my favorite AL sleeper on this list. Like Castro above, Wallace comes to the junior circuit flying under the radar. If you just take a look at the stats he has so far accrued in his brief time in the majors, you will likely come away uninspired by the general lack of power and mediocre batting average. But he does have a couple things going for him. First, and most importantly for AL-only drafters is that he’s going to play. When you are looking for cheap options, you want to get guys who are going to at least see the field from the get-go. It also doesn’t hurt that in the weak Astros' lineup, Wallace should find himself in the heart of the lineup, where he will at least get a chance to drive in some runs. The real key for Wallace this year will be if he can finally tap into his power at the major league level. We have him penciled in at about 15 homers with a .250 average. If he can finally get some confidence, there is 20-homer upside here at a bargain price.
2B – Jeff Keppinger, CHW – One of the more surprising signings of the off-season had to be the White Sox handing Keppinger a three-year deal to become their new third baseman this year. While it may be a curious move on paper, for fantasy purposes the supposed promise of regular at-bats gives the reliable veteran more value heading into the season than he’s ever had before. Versatility has always been his calling card, and because of that he qualifies at 1B/2B/3B, and he even added SS to the list during the season last year. Now, he’s never going to deliver the stats to justify starting him at the corners of your fantasy team, but he makes a great addition at MI, since he can help you navigate through injuries in leagues where replacements are scarce. While he likely won’t hit .325 again, he won’t hurt your batting average, which can come in handy with an endgame pick.
SS – Eduardo Nunez, NYY – The signing of Kevin Youkilis has at least on the surface put a damper on Nunez’s value heading into the season, but if you are looking for some cheap speed with upside late in your drafts, then there may not be a better play than the 26-year-old infielder. 2012 was in many ways a lost season for the enigmatic speedster. Manager Joe Girardi showed little faith in him during the year, often opting to play unexciting veteran Jayson Nix instead. Still, my thinking is that Youkilis, A-Rod and Derek Jeter aren’t getting any younger and the injuries will just continue to mount. Even when Jeter returns, Girardi will have to rest him more than he ever has before. That opens the door for Nunez to finally pick up where he left off in 2011. Out of all the names on the list, Nunez is the one I have the least faith in. It’s more about Girardi than it is the player himself. Keep an eye on the situation in March and see if Nunez can secure a spot on the roster. If he can, the opportunity to run will follow.
3B – Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE – Just a few years ago, Chisenhall was penciled in as the Tribe's third baseman of the future. After a shaky promotion in 2011, he failed to grab a starting job in camp last year as the team turned to Jack Hannahan instead. They finally called him up at the end of May before a broken arm knocked him out until late in the year. Fast-forward to this year, the former first-round pick has the job all to himself, as Hannahan was finally released. The hype has definitely died down, and in many ways this could be a make-or-break year for the 3B. The 25-year-old will get every chance to prove that the upside he showed in the minors will finally translate to the big leagues. He doesn’t have near the upside of a Will Middlebrooks or Manny Machado, but he’ll cost a lot less. The Indians have Mike Aviles lurking, but that could actually be a good thing for Lonnie’s bottom line. He doesn’t hit lefties very well, so sitting him against tougher southpaws could actually help him get the batting average up a few notches.
“Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer the destination, the more you slip sliding away” – Paul Simon
Much like the real teams and players, whose exploits provide the statistics that fuel our game, the goal is to still be playing meaningful games late into September. Now that we have entered the final two-week stretch of the 2012 season, races for fantasy glory will have usually been whittled down to a handful of teams, with the rest of the league resigned to player spoilers or re-tooling for next year. If you are lucky you have at least couple of teams, if not leading your leagues, at least in contention for a money finish. Now it’s time to try and finish strong.
The first thing you’ll want to good is take a good, long look at your standings. Since you are now talking about what amounts to basically a two-week sprint, you want to try and identify where you can gain the most points as well as areas that you may be safe enough to take some chances or shift your statistical focus. You also want to take a realistic look at your lineup, and make sure key contributors won’t begin losing at bats or starts down the stretch. This can often occur on real major leagues teams that have fallen out of contention and use the final weeks of the season to take a look at prospects. There isn’t always a ton of good information to help you make these calls, especially when it comes to pitching, but you want to do your best to maximize your roster’s potential, especially in weekly leagues.
I you are fortunate enough to be within striking distance of your league front-runner don’t let up now. Two weeks is a long time in fantasy to make up significant ground. If your team manages to get extremely hot and the teams ahead of you hit an unfortunate cold streak, things can get very interesting down the stretch. Bear in mind that a significant portion of your league has likely turned their attention to their football teams or the leagues where they are in contention. This reality often provides the opportunity to gain some points easy points, but as with anything in life, there is a flip side to the coin. If you happen to be the team currently in first place in your league, it can provide those teams chasing you an opening to close the gap, which brings me to the quote at the top of the page. Most readers here likely know the song well, and perhaps the tune is playing in your head right now as you read this. It’s a great song from one of our country’s finest singer-songwriters but it’s not one you want to be singing right now if you sense your fantasy season is heading in the wrong direction.
You may remember a few weeks back I talked about the fact that I was in the midst of one of the more successful fantasy campaigns I have had. At that time I had four separate teams that were sitting in first place, some of them by comfortable margins. A couple of those teams were so solid that they had been out fronts for months. Alas, fantasy baseball is a six month proposition. You don’t get any bonus points for leading your league at the All-Star break, or being in first place the most weeks. Nope, even if you have been in first place for 25 straight weeks, if you aren’t there when the last pitch of the last game it doesn’t matter. There is nothing more frustrating than having a team that was dominating heading into September, suddenly start to look very ordinary while someone else in your league gets smoking hot.
That’s where I find myself today. In two of the aforementioned leagues I have given back a ton of points over the last two weeks and have allowed others to turn what should have been relaxing cruises to the finish line into bare knuckle brawls where I am now fighting with not only one but two or three teams for the title. Instead of getting to pull a Usain Bolt, and take my foot off the gas pedal and admire myself on the Jumbotron as my competitors try in vain to catch me, I am the one fighting like mad to reclaim what is mine. Well, if I don’t succeed it won’t be mine obviously, but when you’ve led a league for most of the year you hate to let someone eat your cookies at the end. One of these teams is my NFBC Slow Draft Championship team, which is a tough fix, since all I can do is work with the roster that I have. Injuries to some key contributors like Michael Cuddyer, Mark Teixeira, Kenley Jansen and Brandon McCarthy have taken some of the fight out of my squad. To make matters worse, and at the same time more fun, the team that has passed me in this league is owned by a fantasy comrade who is a tenacious competitor Mark Srebro aka Gordon Gekko. So while it is true that this team, that peaked at 117 points just over a week ago (108.5 as of today), may end up losing, there are worse things than get to battle it out down the stretch with someone you know and respect in the game.
My other team that has coughed up a commanding league is my Razzball.com Expert league squad. Being as this the first year I have had the pleasure of playing in industry leagues, it was doubly satisfying to jump out front in this league and basically be in first place for most of the year. Well, being the fierce competitors that they are in this league, I have been reeled in by some very good fantasy players and now find myself battling it out with Tim Dierkes, Rudy Gamble, Dalton Del Don and a fast charging Scott Pianowski. I have been pinballing around in this league from first to third almost daily, and since this is a daily transaction league with a very shallow bench and unique rules, it has morphed into a daily chess match against competitors I admire greatly. I won’t lie; I want this title more than I want to win my money leagues. I think I have a good shot at pulling this one out and even if I end up coming up short he excitement is about all you can ask for in a fantasy league.
All is not so bleak for my first place team though. My NFCB Online Championship team still has an 8 point lead as of today, although even here I have given back 7 points since the beginning of last week. Injuries again are at the core of my slide as losing Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen saw me lose three points in saves alone. While I shouldn’t drop any further here with Addison Reed still active, I also likely won’t get those points back.
The team chasing me also just had one of the best weeks I’ve have ever seen a team have. He laid 22 home runs and double digit steals on the table last week to get back in my rear view mirror. The good news is he has nothing left in the bank while I still have $10 bucks, so I have a little advantage there. Still, if I somehow lose this league it will be a huge failure. I have been in control of this league all season. This one has really felt like mine all year. So if I don’t close the deal I will not be happy. NFBC titles are hard to come by and you don’t want to cough up ones you should have in the bag.
At least I have one team I don’t have to worry about that much down the stretch. My FSWA industry league is surging down the stretch and is the one team I have out front that has increased its margin of error for the stretch drive. Of course there is also an accompanying overall competition here where I currently sit in third place, behind John Radowski and KFFL’s Nick Minnix, so I still have a bigger carrot to chase here as well. In any case, I will undoubtedly be sitting in front of my computer screen every night for the next two plus weeks, and my wife with inevitably shoot me some curious looks as I yell at the monitor. But again I can’t complain about the action, after all it’s why we play the game in the first place. Here’s hoping you’ve got your own battles to entertain you and here’s hoping we are all singing a different tune in October.