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Sunday 26th Mar 2017

 

The difference between winning and losing your leagues often comes down to the decisions you make in the middle and late rounds of your drafts. It’s why “sleeper” articles are usually the most popular and well-read articles this time of year, as everyone is looking around for thoughts on this year’s hidden gems and potential value plays. So the use of the word “sleeper” in the title isn’t an accident, for as much as the word can invoke strong feelings regarding it’s overuse, the fact remains I want as many of you to read this article as possible. So forgive me for utilizing the word which most fantasy players inevitably type into Google multple times on a daily basis, looking for the latest list of candidates.

Now that I have you here, a little primer: While I may have lured you here on a quest for “sleepers”, I actually prefer the term underrated. This list focuses only on American League players who I believe will out-perform whatever it will cost you to acquire them on draft day. The number shown in parenthesis is the player's current ADP for NFBC mixed league drafts since the beginning of March. My goal was to provide a broader data point, so that both mixed and single league drafters could find this list useful. As always, Platinum members can refer to our latest rankings, which were updated again last week. So without further explanation, here is this year’s team.

2012 American League All-Underrated Team

C – Ryan Doumit, MIN (231) – Doumit was having one of his best offensive season’s last year before injuries took their toll yet again. He is an injury risk for sure, but the Twins should be able to get him out from behind the plate enough to hopefully keep him healthy longer. If you are looking for a bargain at the position that can easily out-produce his draft position this is your guy. The fact that he is one of the few C’s you can get this late who won’t torpedo your batting average is yet another plus.

1B – Mike Carp, SEA (277) – Carp was one of the better surprises last year, bashing 12 homers once the Mariners finally gave him a chance to play. Consistent contact will always be an issue, but this guy can hit the ball a long way. Power like this can be hard to find this late in your drafts, and I would rather wait to take a chance on Carp, who also qualifies in the OF, than gamble that Justin Mourneau (222) will stay healthy.

2B – Dustin Ackley, SEA (164) – It is no secret that I have been an early backer of Jason Kipnis (152) this year and he is a guy I have targeted in multiple drafts already. But as much as I like Kipnis, I can’t deny any longer that Ackley looks like the better play at this point. He has looked great so far in camp and he has a lock on the second spot in that lineup (while Kipnis will hit 7th most likely).  I think there is more power and stolen base upside here than most drafters are projecting.

SS – Yunel Escobar, TOR (242) – Escobar is a good bet to improve on last year’s numbers, as he battled injuries all year before missing almost all of September. He’s still young enough to shake the injury-prone label, and when he does his counting stats should rebound. He’s slated to hit leadoff for the Blue Jays, which gives him a real shot to score 100 runs for the first time in his career. He’s never been much of a base-stealer, but I can’t see how he doesn’t crack double-digits there for the first time as well. I guess what I am saying is I think he’s possibly on the verge of a career season in 2012.

3B – Edwin Encarnacion, TOR (208) – Encarnacion quietly had a pretty nice season in 2011. He also qualifies at 1B and might even be able to squeeze out enough time in the OF to add that to the resume at some point this year. He has always had power, it’s just a matter of him finding the AB’s. As the primary DH option for the Blue Jays, he could easily get back over 20 home runs this year. With the Blue Jays running at every opportunity, he could match last year’s eight stolen bases, which will just be a little bonus for taking a shot.

MI – Mike Aviles, BOS (293) – When the Red Sox decided to trade Marco Scutaro to the Rockies, it opened up more regular playing time for the versatile Aviles. He looks like he will open the season as the regular SS, and has become a popular sleeper since he enters the year with 2B/3B eligibility already. He’s a great guy to throw on your bench, as he brings a little pop and some speed and can cover your entire infield in case of injury.

CI – Adam Dunn, CHW (215) – You don’t need me to remind you about the nightmare that was Dunn’s first season in Chicago. The best thing I can say is it’s in the past and it has at least provided a buying opportunity for the former slugger. If you are desperate for power you will be tempted to pull the trigger on him the further he falls. You have to have the batting average to absorb the potential damage, but he seems like a good bet to rebound and he won’t cost you a 4th round pick this year.

OF – Delmon Young, DET (183) – Young enters the year as one of the more under-the-radar players on my draft board. He has found his way on to more than a few of my teams, mainly when he falls to a point that I can no longer ignore the upside. He was very good after the trade to Detroit last year, and now gets to hit behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. That’s a recipe for 100 RBIs if ever I’ve seen it. As I wrote on the Forums when I drafted him in Round 16, it seems like he has been around forever, but he’s just 26 years old. This is what a breakout player looks like and if I was going to pick a captain for this year's team, he would be the choice. Don’t be afraid to get in on the ground floor. 

OF – Coco Crisp, OAK (149) – I have been as guilty as anyone of over-drafting Desmond Jennings this pre-season. But it is easy to see that Crisp could match him step for step, and will be available at half the price. There are a lot of moving parts in Oakland right now, but Crisp will open the year in the heart of the lineup, providing a veteran bat for this rebuilding team. His 49 steals from a year ago are what you are getting here, and he’s not pure Judy, as he has a chance to belt 10-12 home runs as well.

OF – Vernon Wells, LAA (245) – Owners didn’t get what they were hoping for from Wells last season as he struggled badly all year, hitting only .213 for the year. Still, he hit 25 homers and like the rest on the Angels' hitters figures to benefit greatly from the addition of Albert Pujols to the lineup. There is a glut of OF talent on the roster, so he could lose playing time if he stumbles again, but he has looked pretty good so far in camp, hinting that he’s made some adjustments at the plate. It will be very difficult for him to disappoint at his current ADP.

OF – Michael Brantley, CLE (277) – Brantley’s stock got a nice little boost in the wake of Grady Sizemore’s latest injury. He has been elevated to the leadoff spot, which gives him a much better chance to accumulate more runs and steals than most will be projecting. He’s not a sexy pick, but cheap speed always has value come draft day.

OF – Dayan Viciedo, CHW (306) – The trade of Carlos Quentin to the Padres has cleared the way for the Viciedo to become an everyday player this season. He is still very young at 23 years old, but he should have no problem cracking 20 homers in Chicago’s friendly confines.

UT – Chris Davis, BAL (312) – Will this finally be the year that someone gives Davis 400 or more AB’s? Time will tell, but if it happens he’ll provide power as well as some versatility at 1B/3B. Many will be afraid to take a chance on him again, making him an endgame bargain that could finally pay off.

SP – Brandon Morrow, TOR (157) – Morrow has the strikeout rate to provide 200 K’s as an SP3/SP4 in your fantasy rotation. He has struggled with his control and secondary pitches, but is making a concerted effort to work on his changeup and breaking pitches this spring. I am not alone in predicting a breakout year for the 27-year-old, as he stands out as a pitcher who could easily burst into the top 20 with a little more consistency.

SP – Hiroki Kuroda, NYY (206) – If Ivan Nova can win 16 games with a 5.3 K/9 and a 3.10 BB/9, then Kuroda can easily have similar success with a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.18 BB/9. He’s never been a big winner in the past, mainly bringing nice ratios to the back end of your fantasy rotation. This year, he’ll finally deliver the W’s as well.

SP – Colby Lewis, TEX (230) – Home runs got the best of Lewis last year and his ERA suffered as a result. Still, in most respects he was basically the same pitcher who was such a nice surprise in 2010. The Ranger offense will provide plenty of support, giving Lewis the chance to win more games than he loses. If he can get back to mixing up his pitches again, he could cut down on the dingers and get that ERA back down again.

SP – Scott Baker, MIN (236) – Baker’s stock is down in large part because most remember the elbow injury that derailed his promising 2011. He has looked healthy so far in camp, and like Kuroda before him, is a guy you target because he’ll keep those ratios in line. The injury risk has just made him cheaper than he should be. He is prone to the gopher ball, but he did display an increased ability to miss bats last year. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s effective when healthy.

SP – Brandon McCarthy, OAK (249) – If you have been reading my column for the past few weeks, you will already be familiar with my thoughts on McCarthy. Mastersball seems to be more bullish on him than just about anyone out there, and I am on board with the site’s assessment that he will continue to build on last season’s breakout.

SP – Henderson Alvarez, TOR (341) – Alvarez definitely fits the profile of the type of pitcher I want at the end of my fantasy rotation. I want a guy with upside who won’t kill my ratios. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but if I’ve gotten my K’s early, I’ll always find room for a guy like this on my team. Most people are discounting him due to his age and there’s no denying that to not expect him to struggle at times in his first full season is unrealistic. Still, this is someone you can get very late in your drafts. I’d rather gamble on him than on Jake Peavy.

RP – Kyle Farnsworth, TB (198) – If you are going to wait on closers, you might as well target Farnsworth. He was pretty darn good last year and he could easily squeeze out another dominant season. The Rays will win games, putting 40 saves within reach again.

RP – Jim Johnson, BAL (233) – He is looking like he’s got the job locked up to start the year. Everyone likes to get that third closer if they can, and this is the most likely guy to fill that spot on draft day. He won’t dominate anyone, but he has the stuff to get the job done.

RP – Addison Reed, CHW (264) – I feel like I am almost contractually obligated to have Reed on this list, but I feel okay since I was driving the bandwagon pretty early this year here on the site. The kid throws gas, pure and simple. He’s going to be a big part of that bullpen. He might not get first crack at saving games but it’s not hard to see that he’s the future. It’s more a matter of “when” than “if.”

RP – Vinnie Pestano, CLE (266) – His stock shot up recently with news of Chris Perez’s injury. With Perez’s rehab going well, hopefully the buzz on Pestano will die down again so you can steal him even later. He’s better than the incumbent and the Indians will hand him the job at some point, likely by dealing away Perez if they can. Even in a setup role he’ll offer big K totals and stellar ratios.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions below in the comments section. 

You can find Ryan most days in the Forums or follow him on Twitter: @ryanpcarey

March has finally arrived and that means baseball is finally back. If you are like me, that means you found time to watch some Spring Training games around the dial this week and once again got to dive back into the box scores to see what was happening around various major league camps. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting storylines from around the American League.

Darvish Impresses in Debut

The biggest news coming out of American League camps yesterday was the much anticipated debut of Texas right-hander Yu Darvish. The 6-5 hurler from Japan was very impressive, striking out three in two scoreless innings of work. He delivered a first strike to seven of the eight hitters he faced and looked poised and comfortable as he worked exclusively from the stretch. He showed command of all his pitches, mixing in breaking pitches and sliders with his fastballs. He even showed off his athleticism in the second inning with a nice stab of a hard bouncer up the middle. He calmly tossed the ball to Yorvit Torreabla who tagged Will Venable out at home for the second out. The Padres definitely came away impressed by his pitch repertoire and the hype should only build for his next scheduled appearance. His price will also likely shoot up a round or two now that people have gotten to see him pitch to major leaguers for the first time. Hope you bought him while he was relatively cheap.

White Sox Debut Interesting Batting Order

New manager Robin Ventura likely raised the eyebrows of more than a few fantasy players (well at least this one) with his early batting order. He has Alejandro De Aza leading off, followed by A.J. Pierzynski second and Alex Rios in the third spot. Paul Konerko looks like the cleanup hitter with Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham rounding things out. For now this is the lineup Ventura plans to deploy against right-handed pitching. The biggest surprise is Pierzynski taking over the two spot from Alexei Ramirez, although Rios hitting third is no less surprising.  I realized I own a bunch of these three guys (often more than once) across a lot of my teams, making this something I am interested to see play out.  It’s good news for A.J., as he should score more runs near the top of the order. I guess Ventura figures the more patient Pierzynski will help De Aza on the basepaths. Rios gets a slight boost in his quest to put last year behind him. I’ve bought in on the belief that at least a slight rebound is in the cards for the former All Star, and hitting in the top third of the order is a good place to start. Ramirez is an interesting case, as he almost becomes the “second” leadoff hitter at number six. I actually think it might be a nice spot for him to build on his counting stats while not losing too much in the speed department. Hopefully he can produce there, because otherwise he could be ticketed for the eighth spot. In any case, we’ll have to keep an eye on this experiment and see how things develop.

Rangers CF Battle One to Watch

I touched on this battle last week in discussing my investment in Craig Gentry late in my auction. It seems clear that the Rangers want to have Josh Hamilton play more LF this year in an effort to keep him healthy. This opens the door for someone to stake a claim to at least a share of playing time in CF. Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin all entered camp to battle it out. David Murphy also looms as the likely LF on days Hamilton doesn’t play or does roam CF. Manager Ron Washington provided a little clarity on the battle by stating that he believes that Martin will spend most of 2012 in the minors. I think Gentry's defense and right-handed bat makes him the favorite to win the job over Borbon. I think the Rangers have a “been-there-done-that” attitude regarding the latter and like the tenacity Gentry brings to the club. The only way I see Martin having a real impact this year is if injuries strike again, which with Hamilton and Cruz around is always a distinct possibility.

Who’s On First in Oakland?

Daric Barton’s delayed return from injury has opened the door for someone to take the 1B job and run with it. There is no shortage of options in camp as the A’s have collected a stable of former top prospects to compete for the job. Chris Carter, Brandon Allen and Kila Ka’aihue will all be given a look this spring. Allen got off to a torrid start with a 7 RBI game on Sunday. Carter is the youngest of the three and has the biggest power upside of the three. While it seems that Allen will get first crack at the job, Carter’s power potential makes him an interesting name to keep in mind as a late-round flyer. Truth be told, any one of these players could surprise this year, or just as likely, they all could disappoint yet again. That just makes this a situation best avoided come draft day.

Quick Hits:

Yoenis Cespedes went 4-for-5, with a home run, in a simulated game yesterday in Oakland’s camp. He’ll likely get a couple more simulated games, but should make his Cactus League debut sometime this weekend. Hopefully Perry can give us some eyewitness reporting from Arizona.

You hear a lot of fantasy folks asking the question "Kipnis or Ackley?" As much as I like Kipnis, Ackley is gaining in my mind, and fast. The Indians look like they may bat Kipnis seventh most of the time, at least to start the year, while Ackely looks like he'll be hitting second for the M's.

Daniel Bard looked good in his first start, but he only threw fastballs and a few sliders. He’s going to have to work on his changeup and breaking pitches as he progresses in his transition from reliever to starter.

Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann will be battling it out for the fifth starter’s job in Tampa Bay. The loser could eventually get traded. I prefer Niemann, but Davis did remind everyone he’s still in the mix with two scoreless innings yesterday.

Johnny Giavotella has looked very good early in camp in his quest to win the second base job in Kansas City. He’s hitting, stealing bases and playing nice defense while Chris Getz is still looking for his first hit. He’s also held steady as the No. 2 man in the lineup, which makes him a nice target as a MI in any format.

Kevin Slowey passed his first test with a scoreless outing the other day. His control and command have always made him a favorite of sabermetric drafters, but injuries have held him back the last few years. If he can show he’s healthy, he has an excellent chance to grab a spot in the Indians' rotation and provide a decent return on what should be a minimal investment.

Carlos Guillen announced his retirement on Tuesday. This in addition to Franklin Guttierez’s injury has given Kyle Seager a much better shot at making the Opening Day roster. There’s been some talk of using Chone Figgins at least part-time in CF, which would open the way for Seager to get more time at 3B to start the year.

There was a lot of noise on twitter after Michael Pineda’s first spring start due to his velocity, or the lack of it. His fastball was in the low 90’s most of the day which raised concerns from some. The explanation was that he was working on his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup, which looked pretty good when Shane Victorino whiffed at it. Still, the radar guns will be out for his next turn.

Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero are both still in search of a team. The Yankees decided to go with Raul Ibanez as their DH, leaving very few options for these aging vets. Baltimore has been a rumored landing spot for Damon, which could make sense with Brian Roberts still on the shelf. As for Vlad, it doesn’t look good right now. He may have to wait for injuries to hit somewhere before he gets a shot.

Blake Beaven and Hector Noesi both fared pretty well in their spring debuts. They are part of the battle for the last two spots in the Mariners' rotation. Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush and rookie Danny Hultzen are also in the mix. The M’s will likely hand a spot to Millwood to start the year and then choose between one of the two soft-tossers to fill the last spot. Hultzen looks ticketed for Triple-A, but he may be up sooner than you think.

You can find Ryan in the Forums section or follow him on Twitter: @ryanpcarey

Last week I participated in the CBSSports AL Only Analysts League representing Mastersball. It was a standard 5x5 Rotisserie style auction: 12 teams, 23 players with a $260 budget. I knew going in I was going to be competing with some very good fantasy players, against many writers that I have been reading for years. I would have to be on my toes and try to avoid making too many rookie mistakes. My plan going in was to try to shoot for a 180/80 split for my offense/pitching while hopefully building as balanced a team as I could. Below is a recap of the players I purchased in the order I bought them along with some thoughts on each pick.

Round 1: Robinson Cano $33 (4)

The draft opened with C.C. Sabathia ($24), Albert Pujols ($39) and Miguel Cabrera ($39). Cano was the next player nominated and when he reached $32, I jumped in. I didn’t expect to win him with that bid and was surprised to get a player who had gone for $49 the year before.

Round 2: None

I come close on Wilson Betemit ($3). Looking back, I wish I had gone the extra buck here.

Round 3: Felix Hernandez $25 (28)

King Felix was my second buy of the auction and perhaps my best one. I was thrilled to get him for $5 less than Justin Verlander and $3 less than Jered WeaverEric Hosmer comes out and I am an active bidder, going up to $27. I am disappointed when someone goes to $28 and eventually let him go.

Round 4:  Carlos Santana $27 (41), Elvis Andrus $25 (47)

I decide to go after Santana and get caught in a bidding war. He fits my budget, but at $6 dollars more than Napoli, I’ve over-paid. Santana is a player I believe in, but I paid a home-town premium to get him on my squad. I have to hope that he develops even more this season, particularly in the BA department. Andrus was a target of mine before the draft, as I felt coming in that SS was the weakest position in the AL. I went the extra few bucks on him to get one of the few elite stolen base sources available.

Round 5:  Mark Trumbo $7 (52)

After having spent big on Santana and Andrus, I felt I needed to try and find a bargain at 1B. I had Trumbo ranked as my #12 1B coming in, so I decided to take a shot here.  Paul Konerko ($21) and Adam Lind ($16) were the best 1B left and I figured correctly they would cost too much for me. Trumbo has a lot of question marks regarding playing time entering the year, but I am hoping that injuries, trades or his ability to learn 3B will open up enough AB’s for him, because I will need his power desperately.

Round 6: None

I sat this round out. Adrian Beltre ($30) finally came out and rightly went for big bucks. Brett Gardner ($28), Alex Gordon ($23), Delmon Young ($20) and Austin Jackson ($17) are four more OF’s crossed off my list, leaving Adam Jones as the last one available in my top tier.

Round 7: Jose Valverde $19 (75), Michael Young $22 (81)

Valverde was my second ranked closer entering the draft and he fit into the budget slot I had for a top closer. After seeing Mariano go for less than market value, I jumped in on Valverde and got him at what I consider a slight discount. I do have some concerns about him repeating last year’s success, but there is no denying he has a lock on his job and plays on a team that will provide him with lots of opportunities. Adam Jones ($29) was a player I really wanted, but was obviously not alone here, as he shot past the $25 I was willing to pay.  I had missed out on my top OF’s, which wasn’t the plan. Michael Young stood out to me as one of the best remaining bats so I buy him. This was likely an over-reaction as I could have sat back for a cheaper option. Still, I had my infield locked up and a pretty decent one at that.

Round 8: Alex Rios $16 (85), Matt Capps $13 (96)

In my mind, I had to get Rios and was thrilled that no one bid me up any further. He is a bit of a risk, but I think he will rebound this year and easily can out-produce this price. I get caught price enforcing on Matt Capps and am not happy about it. No other closer has gone for less than $14 and I was praying for someone to bail me out here and no one did. This was my first big stumble of the draft.  While I don’t really overpay for Capps, it was money I would have liked to have spent elsewhere.

Round 9: Brandon McCarthy $13 (98)

McCarthy is one of my favorite under the radar starters this year. Unfortunately, in a league like this you aren’t sneaking anyone by, so I was not happy to see him nominated this early. I probably should have dropped out of this one once he went into double figures, but I didn’t. I paid more than I had hoped I would for him. I take note that I had only $60 dollars for thirteen players left.

Round 10/Round 11: None

I was forced to the sidelines as I looked for bargains. I make unsuccessful runs at Lorenzo Cain ($12), Josh Willingham ($16) and Torii Hunter ($16). It is beginning to dawn on me that I have misplayed the OF badly. I also fall prey to some technical issues in Round 11. While bidding on Mike Aviles, my computer froze. By the time I got it fixed, I had missed two subsequent players, one of which I auto-nominated. While I was getting back up to speed, Colby Rasmus ($12) came up and I missed bidding on him. I would have definitely gone to $13 on him. This whole sequence was a bad break for me and cost me at least one player I think.

Round 12: Jonathon Sanchez $9 (139), Chone Figgins $5 (141)

After sitting on the sidelines for 40 picks, I came back with a couple of buys. Unfortunately my first one is not either a very good or smart one. The best thing I can say about Sanchez is he was likely the best strikeout pitcher left on the board. Unfortunately, his ratios will likely be a drag and suck whatever value those K’s would have brought. After nominating Chris Davis ($10) I am able to secure a relatively cheap Chone Figgins to fill my CI slot. He should also add MI and possibly OF eligibility at some point this season. I just have to hope he bounces back this year. I almost bite on Vernon Wells ($8) and probably should have.

Round 13: Carl Pavano $2 (146), Brennan Boesch $21 (147), Henderson Alvarez $9 (150)

At this point I had only $46 for 11 players. I had been regularly jumping in at $2 on players that I thought I could live with if I landed them at that price. Pavano was the one the group lets me have. Boesch is the next player nominated and I tell myself I have to try and get him. I thought he was mine at $15, but Derek Carty jumps in and quickly he is at $20. I waited until the last second to go to $21 and he let me have him. I got the best OF left, but it cost me a precious extra $6 to get him. I was unhappy to see Alvarez nominated. Along with McCarthy he was one of my pitching targets. I got into the bidding and decided to get my fifth SP, one who would help my ratios. It also blew my budget, leaving me with only $14 for my last 8 players.

Rounds 14/15/16: None

I didn’t have enough cash to take advantage of any of the players that came out in these rounds. A tactical error and the price paid for my lavish early spending.

Round 17: Alexi Ogando $4 (200)

My lack of discipline early in the draft left me on the sidelines as the last decent OF and bargains got plucked up. I actually had nominated Ogando and thought $3 was too little to let him go for and price enforced, not a role I should have been playing this late on a MR. He’ll likely out-perform this price, but I had no business spending more than $1 on a pitcher at this point.

Round 18/19: None

Luke Scott ($3) was almost mine at $2.

Round 20: Craig Gentry $3 (230)

I was waiting for a $2 OF that I could grab when Gentry’s name came out. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough and my bid went to $3. I am hoping that his glove will get him the CF job in Texas to start the year. At least I got him, but now I was down to $7 for 6 players.

Round 21: Matt LaPorta $1 (243), Vinnie Pestano $1 (250)

I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for scrubs and decided to take a shot on LaPorta. He might end up in Triple-A to start the year, but news of Grady Sizemore’s injury broke before this pick, so I took a shot. Now if only Hafner can get hurt maybe this pick will pay off. Pestano was my target to use my last $2 bid on. I didn’t do it right and nominated him for $1. The next 10 seconds were the longest on the draft for me. This turned out to be one of my best picks, as news of Chris Perez's injury broke the next day.

Round 22: Jeff Keppinger $2 (252), Ryan Lavarnway $1 (257)

I decided to use my last $2 bid on Keppinger to be my MI. He always manages to find AB’s during the season and there was next to nothing left here. I gambled with Lavarnway, even though he looks ticketed for Triple-A to start the year with Shoppach signed to back up Salty. He could be an early season cut.

Round 23: Endy Chavez $1 (264) , Sam Fuld $1 (268)

I filled out my roster with two fourth outfielders. Neither are guaranteed much playing time to start the year and I will have to be on the lookout for replacements on the waiver wire.

Here is the roster:

C    Carlos Santana  $27 Ryan Lavarnway $1

1B  Mark Trumbo $7 3B  Michael Young $22 CI  Chone Figgins $5

2B  Robinson Cano $33   SS  Elvis Andrus $25 MI Jeff Keppinger $2

OF Alex Rios $16  Brennan Boesch $21  Craig Gentry $3

OF Endy Chavez $1  Sam Fuld $1  DH Matt LaPorta $1

P Felix Hernandez $25 Brandon McCarthy $13 Jonathon Sanchez $9

P Henderson Alvarez $9  Carl Pavano $2  Alexi Ogando $4

P Jose Valverde $19   Matt Capps $ 13  Vinnie Pestano $1

In the end I spent $165 on offense and $95 on pitching. While my pitching staff is pretty solid, my offense has a lot of weak spots and potential holes. I ended up with too many part-time players and a couple who might start the year in Triple-A. I will have to be very vigilant on the waiver wire to try and fix these holes. My power is pretty lousy, but I should have some saves and steals to deal at some point. I have to admit, I am slightly disappointed with my effort, knowing I could have navigated the middle of this draft much more efficiently. It is a good lesson on how a couple poorly timed buys can really hamstring your draft. I think my studs on offense and my pitching can help keep this team afloat but I will just have to hope I can find some extra offense at some point. If you want to view the entire results of the draft, just follow this link to CBSSports.com.

Feel free to tell me where I went wrong in the comments section below.

Follow Ryan on twitter @ryanpcarey

 

 

On Friday, I will be participating in an AL-only Analysts Auction run by the guys over at CBSSports.com. It’s a league they run every year along with an NL counterpart, and Mastersball has a regular seat at the table. This year, I am lucky enough to have been given the assignment to represent the site and I’m looking forward to being able to use this league as a reference point for the column at various points throughout the season. Now, I didn’t find out until Tuesday afternoon that I’d be drafting in three days, so I have spent much of today gathering and organizing data, information and advice as I prepare for battle. Since so much of today was spent researching for my auction, it made sense to focus this week’s column on things to consider as you prepare for your own auctions this year.

While I do have some experience in auctions, I don’t have nearly as much as I do in straight drafts. Luckily, through this column I have been focusing more intently on the American League this pre-season, so I feel very confident that I have a good grasp of player inventory. Still, I knew that I was going to have to brush up on some of the basics and time was short. One of the things I did today was turn to the internet to get a look at some of the advice and “tips” that can be found with a quick Google search. Needless to say, there was plenty to sift through, but my goal was to reacquaint myself with some of the basic tenets that those participating in auctions want to have a grasp of, so I read a bunch of stuff today. Much of it was stuff that I had read or talked about before, but it never hurts to take a fresh look, especially prior to drafting again. Here is a little rundown of some of what I came away with and my reaction or interpretation of what I found to be the most commonly offered “tips.”

Get your players list together: Okay I got this covered. I will be using the in-house projections as my starting point, and as our Platinum members know, the projections here are broken down to fit your auction needs. The one thing I will do is create my own list that will sort players by value and position group.

Deicide which strategy you will use: Well that makes sense to me. Obviously, I want to have a strategy going into my auction. The bigger question is which strategy? The beauty of auctions is they don’t follow the same old script like straight drafts invariably do. So, yes I want to have a strategy, and my first task will be finding which one fits some of my potential targets the best. Do I go for a balanced approach, maybe “Stars and Scrubs” or perhaps some variation on the popular LIMA strategy? Honestly, you could do an entire column on the different strategies that you can employ. In fact, you can go to our own message boards here and dig up plenty of information or ask questions about different approaches. My first instinct is that I will likely try to take a balanced approach, which leads me to the next step.

Create a draft budget sheet: Once you decide on the strategy, you will want to create a budget sheet to use during your draft. I knew I would need to do this, so I had already reached out to the resident experts Perry and Todd and got a few ideas/examples. Basically, you are taking your 23 roster slots and budgeting a certain amount per slot. Some will go a step further and target specific positions, but I think I will not lock myself in like that.  Your total should add up to $260. As you draft, you fill in your sheet and adjust the values of your slots depending on how much you spend at any point.

Spend Your Money: I understand this, but also see how it can be a common mistake, especially for auction novices. I actually think I will need to fight the urge to spend too much, too early just as much. You don’t want to be the guy at the end of the draft with the most money left. I can see how the budget sheet and value lists will hopefully help me manage my resources throughout. My personal experience tells me that I have a natural tendency to lay back in auction settings and try to take control of the middle portions of the auction. The problem here is than you are often not the only one trying this approach, and often the other owner(s) are targeting many of the same players you are. Inevitably, someone ends up either overpaying for mediocre talent or with a bunch of unspent cash.  You don't want to end up with $20-15 dollars at the end and be forced to remember the fact you weren't willing to go the extra buck on a stud or two earlier in the draft.

Track Other Owners Money: We will be doing this draft online and I already checked out the draft room. Luckily, everyone’s money and max bids will be visible throughout so I won’t have to track that manually. You want to know what everyone has to spend when bidding against another owner, especially late in drafts when money is tight. You also want to make sure people don't place any illegal bids. Keeping track of money will give you an advantage. Just knowing that the other owner who needs a catcher only has $4 left for three spots can be enough information for you to nominate the last good C at $3.

Don’t Nominate Players You Want Early: This seems to be a commonly prescribed practice. I understand the concept. By not nominating players you like, you hopefully hold them back until as much money as possible has been spent and get them more easily and cheaply.  The idea is to nominate expensive or over-hyped players you don’t really want early to take as much money off the board as possible early on. It would seem that if everyone is trying this it would open opportunities to shake things up by nominating a low-end player you could live with and seeing what happens. Or even throwing out a stud you actually like and opening with an aggressive opening bid. Who knows, they might actually let you have him.

Don’t Overpay for Saves: In straight drafts, you can get a feel for which points in the draft the different levels of closers will be drafted and plan accordingly. In auctions, you won’t have that luxury. Often, big time closers get thrown out early on and go for too much. It’s a delicate game of course and you need to have an idea of who you are targeting ahead of time. You also need to have lists of all the setup and middle relievers you want to target in the end-game and reserve rounds of your auction.

Vary Your Nominating Patterns: This is kind of common sense advice, but it is something you want to be aware of.  The better your competitors are, the more they will be trying to identify your strategy.  If you keep nominating players you don’t want, at some point they will catch on and you will hear crickets. Now, an online auction kind of insulates you from the pressure of “table talk” or having to worry about others reading your reactions, but you still can’t get lazy.

Keep Your DH/UT Spot Open: This is simple but good advice that will pay off in the endgame of your draft. If you tie up this spot it will limit the players you can nominate and bid on in the endgame. You want to have the flexibility to nominate players that others might need in the endgame that you might not necessarily need, clearing the way for you to get the player you really want for $1.

Caffeine Is You Friend/Don’t Drink and Draft: Auctions can take a lot longer than straight drafts and require your constant attention. You don’t get to wait until your next pick comes up, every nomination could be a player you want to bid on so you need to be sharp and alert throughout.

Don’t Forget About OF’s: It can be a trap to get complacent on acquiring outfielders, since there are so many of them available. But you also need to remember you need five of them. This is another place where your budget sheet should help you by making sure you target the right guys at the right time.

Take Note of Who Bid Against You: It never hurts to make note of the owner you beat out for a particular player. They should be the first one you contact if you decide to trade that player sometime during the year.

Be Relaxed and Have Fun: This is something I always try to adhere to no matter what format I am drafting in. If you’ve done your homework and come to the draft prepared, you have a better chance of being successful and enjoying the experience.

Okay, so I’m off to work on my rankings list and budget sheets and then I’ll be putting it all to work for me on Friday afternoon. I’ll come back next week with a recap of the auction and hopefully a winning formula. If you have any questions or some of your own tips to add, feel free to do so in the comments section.

You can follow Ryan on twitter @ryanpcarey 

 

When you sit down to draft in your AL-only leagues this year, you must have a plan for how you are going to approach the outfield position. Whether you are in a straight draft or an auction you need to have a good idea of who you want to target and how much it will cost you in picks or dollars to execute. While some like to spend big here, I prefer to do my shopping a little further down the list. I always try to come away with one stud if I can, and then hopefully put myself in a position to get at least three, and if I play it right four players from the middle tiers of my rankings. Of course, in an auction that’s easier said than done, because often there will be multiple owners competing for a smaller group of talent. You’ll also want to have some players that you are willing to take a chance on in the endgame and/or reserve rounds, because this is a position that you are going to want to have some depth at coming out of the draft, as the pickings on waivers will be pretty meager. Unlike mixed leagues, I am usually much more wary of taking a chance on injury-prone players. However, I am not afraid to take a swing on a player I feel is ready to take the next big step in his development or I believe can bounce back from a down year. With that in mind, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite OF targets in the American League for this year. At the bottom of the page you will also find my overall rankings for the entire American League OF class. I’ve broken these rankings into Tiers to help illustrate how I value similar groups of players.

Nelson Cruz, TEX – Of all the players in my top two tiers, Cruz has the ability to give you the most bang for your buck. The only thing holding him back is an inability to stay healthy as he seems to battle leg injuries each and every year. I’m not saying you should necessarily reach for Cruz over safer options, but there is a 40 home run season waiting to happen if he can avoid the trainer’s table for a change. He won't cost you as much as the guys at the very top, but he could easily out earn them all.

Desmond Jennings, TB – Jennings hit the ground running once the Rays called him up at the end of July. He stole 20 bases in 63 games and added 10 home runs for good measure. I am a believer in Jennings' ability to produce a 20/40 season as soon as this year and have been aggressive in going after him when the draft I am in dictates it. Still, he’s likely to be even more sought after in AL-only leagues, meaning the price may actually outweigh the potential risks involved with any young player.

Ichiro Suzuki, SEA – While Ichiro’s stock in mixed leagues has dropped significantly this draft season, AL-only drafters are going to want to take advantage of any discount that comes their way when bidding on the future Hall of Famer. He still has the ability to produce a .300/40 steal season, and you will very likely be able to get him long after guys like Crawford or Jennings.

Shin-Soo Choo, CLE – Choo had a season to forget last year. It started with a DUI that was an embarrassment, especially back home in Korea, and something that clearly affected the proud OF. Then he fractured his thumb in June, missed 6 weeks and got shut down for the year after straining an oblique in September. The Indians missed his bat in the middle of their lineup and he should return healthy and motivated to put last year behind him. There is no reason to think he can’t return to 20/20 levels.

Coco Crisp, OAK – Oakland decided to bring Crisp back as a free agent after a solid 2011 season that saw him swipe an impressive 49 bases. The surprise signing of Yoenis Cespedes further clutters and already crowded A’s outfield, but Crisp should emerge as a starter again for a young team that will need his veteran bat near the top of their lineup.

Alex Rios, CHW- After a great 2010, the bottom fell out from under Rios last year. Righties owned him last year (.204) and his power and speed dipped to their lowest levels since 2005. As bad as he was, he was also was unlucky and it’s not hard for me to see that he is a good bet to rebound and deliver closer to his career norms. I think .275 with 17 home runs and 20 steals is a reasonable expectation.

Brennan Boesch, DET – Boesch was putting together a very nice sophomore campaign before a thumb injury cost him the last 6 weeks of the season. He smacked 16 home runs in 115 games and made adjustments at the plate that helped him finish with a respectable .283 average. He is slated to start the year in the second spot in the Tigers lineup, right ahead of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. That’s about as good as it gets and puts him in prime position for a true breakout this year. The “sleeper” talk is starting to swirl around Boesch and I hope the hype doesn’t get so big as to drive his price too high.

Delmon Young, DET - While I would much rather get Boesch in my lineup, Young will likely come cheaper that just about anyone in his tier. He is still just 26 years old, and I am very intrigued by what he can do with a full season in Detroit. He's going to have plenty of opportunites to drive in runs hitting behind the big bats in the Tigers lineup. Remember, he drove in 112 runs in 2010. He could do it again this year, easily I believe.

Colby Rasmus, TOR – Rasmus came to the Blue Jays in a much ballyhooed trade that sent Edwin Jackson and others to St. Louis. He was terrible down the stretch, hitting .173 after the trade and comes into the year with his career at a crossroads. There are questions about his maturity and work ethic and he has been labeled by some as “un-coachable”. But, the talent is still there and at 25, he is still young enough to deliver on the promise he showed in 2010. Perhaps the sight of his old team winning a World Series after dumping him was a reality check.

Peter Bourjos, LAA – I drafted Bourjos last year in some of my most important leagues last year. He was a big sleeper of mine last year, but I still cut him in a couple of leagues after a dismal May. It was a mistake as something clicked and he started to resemble the player I thought I had drafted, finishing strong down the stretch and setting the stage for more production this year. His stolen base upside is somewhat muted by the fact that he was only successful on 22 out of 31 attempts last year. He also has more pop in his bat than other speedsters, meaning than he should be able to chip in around 15 home runs as well, meaning he’s not just a one category guy. While he’s slated to bat ninth at this point, I think the Angels would love for him to make a “run” at the leadoff spot, allowing them to drop Erik Aybar down one notch.

Yoenis Cespedes, OAK – I honestly really don’t know how I feel about Cespedes at this point, but I also feel it’s hard to avoid at least mentioning him after last week’s big signing. I am throwing him in at the top of Tier 4 more as an indication of where I think he might be drafted than what I actually think he will produce this season. The hype will undoubtedly make him overpriced in auction leagues, but if he falls far enough in straight drafts I may bite. I think the power will translate quickly enough to make 20 homers a possibility.

Dayan Viciedo, CHW - I like Viciedo's chances for a mini-breakout this year as he should be given the chance to nail down a starting job, giving him the AB's needed to produce. I think he could be a potentially cheap source of power, good for 20 homers. He is still very young, and didn't really impress in his call-up last year. Hopefully that will keep his price low enough to make him a worthwhile buy.

Lorenzo Cain, KC – Cain has been one of my favorite late-round OF targets so far this year and like many names mentioned here, speed is his calling card. Melky Cabrera is gone and the Royals will give Cain every chance to take over in CF. He had a very nice growth season in AAA last year, batting .312 with 16 homers, 81 RBI and 16 stolen bases. While I don’t expect those power numbers to translate at the major league level, I do think he should be able to get on base enough to make 30 stolen bases a real possibility.

Mike Carp, SEA – The Jesus Montero trade has taken the spotlight off Carp, and that is a good thing in my opinion. This guy has real power that even Safeco can’t contain. He is going to play almost every day and serve as the likely cleanup hitter for the Mariners. This guy helped carry one of my teams down the stretch last year, so I guess I have a soft spot. But he will be one of the cheaper sources of power on draft day. His dual eligibility is just another plus. I’m going to have to move him up my own board a few notches, because I keep missing him in drafts so far.

Andy Dirks, DET – I’ll tip a cap to Todd Zola for putting Dirks on my radar. He should be the biggest beneficiary of the Victor Martinez injury. With Delmon Young likely to serve as the main DH, Dirks becomes the likely starting LF. While he won’t hit for average, he is capable of providing double-digit homers and steals at bargain rate prices.

Nolan Reimold, BAL – This could be a make –or-break year for Reimold. He will have a chance to stake a claim to playing time in the Oriole lineup and has shown the ability to hit for power in the past. He’s a post-hype candidate who could surprise if he can show he’s put some injuries in the past.

Mike Trout, LAA – Drafting prospects is always a viable strategy in an AL-only setting, and Trout is the best of the bunch. Still, he’s likely to spend a good chunk of time in the minors again this year.

Ryan Kalish, BOS – Kalish makes the ideal guy to draft and stash on your bench. He comes into the season injured, and likely won’t play until the summer. But, once healthy he should get a chance to stake is claim to a starting spot and could give you a nice boost in the second-half.

Aaron Cunningham, CLE – The Indians traded AA closer Cody Burns for Cunningham this off-season, and as he is out of options, it is very likely he will make the club as the 4th OF to start the year. Backing up Grady Sizemore means he could be an everyday player by May. If for some reason you gamble on Sizemore (and that’s much more likely in AL only), you may want to grab Cunningham when the reserve rounds are ending.

Joe Benson, MIN – Benson is more of an AL-only reserve round pick, but he is a guy I like to possibly emerge this year in Minnesota. The OF isn’t so crowded their anymore and all it will take is a couple of injuries to open up playing time and with some of the names on the Twins roster, that is a very likely scenario.

Now here is a look at my complete OF Tiers for the American League:

Tier 1: Jacoby EllsburyJose Bautista (3B)

Tier 2: Curtis GrandersonJosh HamiltonB.J. Upton, Nelson Cruz

Tier 3: Ben Zobrist (2B), Alex GordonCarl Crawford, Desmond Jennings, Ichiro Suzuki, Adam Jones, Shin-Soo Choo, Brett GardnerHowie Kendrick (2B)

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Tier 4: Jeff Francouer, Nick Swisher, Coco Crisp, Torii Hunter, Josh Willingham, Nick Markakis, Alex Rios, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Colby Rasmus, Peter Bourjos

Tier 5: Yoenis Cespedes, Austin Jackson, Alejandro De Aza, Michael Brantley, Denard Span, Dayan Viciedo, Lorenzo Cain, Luke Scott, Mike Carp (1B), Mitch Moreland (1B), Ben RevereCody Ross

Tier 6: Franklin GutierrezDavid Murphy, Andy Dirks, Vernon WellsJosh Reddick, Nolan Reimold, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Raburn (2B), Seth SmithEric ThamesCraig Gentry, Bobby AbreuTravis Snider, Brent LillibridgeBen Francisco, Mike Trout, Ryan Sweeney, Endy Chavez

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Tier 7: Rajai Davis, Ryan Kalish, Andruw JonesShelley Duncan, Trayvon RobinsonSam Fuld, Kosuke Fukodome, Colin Cowgill, Leonys Martin, Jonny Gomes, Joe Benson, Mitch MaierCasper Wells, Aaron Cunningham

Tier 8: Ryan SpilborghsFelix PieJai MillerMichael TaylorBrandon Guyer, Jared Dyson, Julio Borbon, Darnell McDonald, Rene TosoniDon Kelly (2B), Clete ThomasTrevor Crowe, Jordan Danks, Wilkin RamirezMichael SaundersMatt Angle

Free Agents: Juan PierreRaul Ibanez

I f you want to learn how to properly use Tiers for your drafts, I urge you to head to the message boards and we’ll meet you there to discuss. Also, if I’ve left anyone off that you feel needs to be included, feel free to post them in the comments section.

 

As I sat down to write this article, I knew going in that the shortstop position was going to contend for the weakest spot in the lineup for American League drafters this year. Jotting down the names on my notepad only made me realize that it was even worse than I had originally thought. I’ve been knee-deep in mixed league drafts this pre-season, and I guess that has shielded me from realizing how quickly the talent drops off about midway down the list. To make matters worse, the players at the top of the list have their own issues as well. What has happened to all the studs? There are still some nice players around, but nothing approaching the level that we had grown accustomed to in seasons past. It just means that you are going to have to act quickly this year if you don't want to come up "short" at shortstop. Now, let’s take a look at my rankings for this year:

Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE – Cabrera had a breakout season for the Indians last year, coming back from an injury-shortened 2011 to post a .273/87/23/92/17 line. That gets him the top spot in the rankings, but he does not come without some warning flags. He struggled along with the entire Indian offense in the second half, leaving one to wonder just what to expect this year. The power spike came out of nowhere, as he had never hit more than six in the Majors before. While he managed to play in a career high 151 games last year, he battled nagging injuries in the second half, raising the red flag that he will be able to stay healthy again this season. He’ll be right in the thick of it for the Tribe this season, but it’s best to expect a little regression in his overall numbers this year. Pay for homers in the high teens and you’ll be less likely to come away disappointed.

Elvis Andrus, TEX – Andrus took another step forward last year in his third full season. He showed a more patient approach at the plate that led to career highs in runs (96) and steals (37). If not for some bad luck on the base-paths in the second half, he would’ve easily topped 40 stolen bases. Still only 23 years old, I think we are going to see yet another growth season from Andrus, one that likely sees him top 100 runs and threaten to steal 50 bases. That’s right, 50. If I am looking to nab one of the top producers, this is the guy I am taking. I even think there is an outside chance he uncovers a little more power in his game this year, making 10 home runs a possibility. Worst case scenario is he gives you a repeat of last year.

Derek Jeter, NYY – The captain still lands near the top of the rankings, and that in itself kind of sums up the state of the position in the American League this year. A hot second half, where he hit .331, salvaged his season and somewhat hides the continuing signs of decline. He hit over 60% of his batted balls on the ground to lead the league in that dubious stat for the second year in a row and benefitted from an extremely lucky hit% in that hot second half. The double-digit power he once possessed is likely gone forever and at 37, his best years are clearly behind him. Still, no one works harder than the future Hall of Famer, and the 15 steals and runs he’ll score hitting atop the Yankee lineup will keep him afloat for another year.

Alexei Ramirez, CHW – Ramirez is the guy to target if you want steady production at a somewhat discounted price. He’s been a consistent performer for four years now, and since his numbers took a slight dip last year he enters the year undervalued. I think he could very well be the guy who benefits from the departure of Ozzie Guillen. If new manager Robin Ventura sticks with him in the second spot in the order, that would certainly help restore some of the luster to his numbers, particularly his stolen bases, which dipped to 7 last year. He is an extremely durable player, so at least you know he’ll be out there every day, which could be enough reason to take him over Jeter, for instance.

J.J. Hardy, BAL – Hardy was a tremendous value for anyone who took a chance on him last year as his 30 home runs were more than anyone anticipated. The fact that he missed almost all April with an oblique strain meant that some who drafted him might have actually dropped him early on, missing out on everything that was still to come. Aside from the power, the biggest news was that he managed to stay healthy the rest of the way, leading the Orioles to ink him to a three-year extension. The power he possesses is real, though it’s best not to expect another 30 home run season. He has no speed whatsoever and if he manages to avoid the DL it would be the first time.

Erick Aybar, LAA – Much like Howie Kendrick last week, Aybar is a player who should benefit from the addition of Albert Pujols to the everyday lineup. He posted career-highs in homers (10) and steals (30) last year and if he can stay in the lead-off spot he could see a nice boost in runs this year. I think he’s still flying under the radar, and has even more value in AL-only leagues. He’s also got an eye on free agency after the season, so the motivation to build on last year’s gains should be there. Don’t be afraid to invest.

Jhonny Peralta, DET – Peralta had one of his best seasons ever in 2011. He hit 21 homers, getting back to that level for the first time since 2008. He also managed to hit a career-high .299 and played solid defense all year for the Tigers. Although I will give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that his power should remain intact for another year, I think there is no way he hits .299 again this year. Like Hardy, he’ll give you nothing in the speed department, meaning if that batting average falls back down, he’s a lot less valuable than he may seem . If it’s late in the game and I need some pop at SS, maybe I’ll give him a call, but he’s not someone I’m going out of my way to roster this year.

Yunel Escobar, TOR – Escobar rates as a safe, if unexciting option if you miss out on the names above him on this list. He was able to get his average back up to .290 last year, scored 77 runs and managed to muscle out 11 home runs. But what you see is what you are likely to get. There just isn’t a ton of upside here, but if you get to this point in the rankings and you don’t have a SS, you might not want to wait any longer.

Alcides Escobar, KC – He actually had a decent season after coming over in the Zack Greinke deal. He stole 26 bases from the bottom of the Royals lineup and played solid defense, which is of course his calling card. Many think a breakout is coming this year, and I can’t deny that he has the talent to steal 35-40 bases as soon as this year. I doubt he’ll be able to do it, but there are worse gambles this far down the line.

Sean Rodriguez, TB – I wrote about S-Rod in my second base rankings, and while I like him better there, my belief that a mini-breakout could be in store makes him a guy to keep in mind if you are desperate for a shortstop this year.

Cliff Pennington, OAK – Pennington nabs the next spot on the list based upon his solid second half and the potential to deliver a 20-steal season.  He only stole 14 bases last year after swiping 29 the year before. Speed is what you are buying here and if you are lucky, maybe he finally manages to swat a few more balls out of the park.

Alexi Casilla – MIN – Casilla also qualifies at 2B, but I would argue he has slightly more value at SS in AL-only leagues. He has the ability to deliver 20-30 steals if he can manage to stay in the lineup.

Brendan Ryan, SEA – He will open the season as the starter in Seattle, and brings some speed to the table but little else. If you draft him, you may want to spend a reserve pick on prospect Nick Franklin, who could take over the job later in the year.

Mike Aviles, BOS – He doesn’t enter the year with SS eligibility but he’s very likely going to be the best option for the job in Boston. He’s got much more upside than Nick Punto and as such he’s the guy to take a flyer on late.

Eduardo Nunez, NYY – He is a must for anyone who drafts Derek Jeter to be their starter in AL-only leagues. He delivered a quiet 22 stolen bases last year in part-time duty and will once again fill in when Jeter and A-Rod miss time or need a day off.

Robert Andino, BAL – Anyone who backs up Hardy and Brian Roberts is a good bet to out-produce their projections, since there is a very good chance he could be an everyday player come Opening Day. Speed is his main asset, but he does have a little pop.

For me, the only player that really excites me at shortstop this year is Elvis Andrus. I see the mix of youth, speed and lineup as the ingredients for a big 2012. While I concede I didn’t rank him first, it’s only a lack of power that keeps him from the top spot. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Cabrera. Trust me, as a Cleveland fan I do, but so does everybody else this year. As such his price has climbed to elite status, and I’m just not sold that he’s going to deliver the numbers to justify what it will take to get him on my teams this year. My advice is to let someone else set the market with Asdrubal, then make your move and get on board with THIS year’s breakout star.

Best of the Rest

Ramon Santiago, Adam Rosales, Nick Punto, Trevor Plouffe, Reid Brignac, Yuniesky Betancourt, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jose Iglesias, Nick Franklin, Jason Donald

As always, I encourage you to add your own thoughts in the comments section or on the message boards.

 

 

 

 

In our continuing look at the position rankings in the American League, we will turn our attention to second base. Once upon a time SS was the place you would go to look for power from your middle infield, but in recent seasons, particularly in the AL, the tide has shifted to the other side of the diamond.  This is the place to go if you are looking for that rare combination of power and speed from a scarce position.  Led by an impressive group of veteran stars, the field has been further bolstered by an exciting group of emerging young players at the position.  The new talent should help make second base one of the most interesting positions to approach in drafts this year. While the position is led by a trio of MVP caliber studs, there are more intriguing options further down the list than there have been in years, making it possible to still find an impact bat if you miss out on the elite options.  I for one will likely do my shopping further down the ranks, betting on upside plays and bounce-back candidates.  Now let’s take a look at my rankings for the upcoming season:

 

Robinson Cano, NYY - Cano has cemented himself at the top of the 2B rankings after another dominant season in 2011.  He has established himself as one of the most consistent performers in all of fantasy and will be highly sought after on draft day.  You can bank on another season of elite production, making last year’s .302/104/28/118/8 line a good benchmark for what to expect again this year .  He’s money in the bank and his prowess with the bat means you can overlook the fact that speed really isn’t part of his game.

Dustin Pedroia, BOS – Pedroia  came back from the broken foot that ended his 2010 and was as good as ever.  Playing with a screw in his foot, he hit .307 and posted career highs in homers (21), RBIs (91) and steals (26) to go along with 103 runs.  He had the screw removed at the end of the year and enters 2012 as healthy as ever.  He will once again be one of the elite options in the AL, with 20/20 again within reach.  Bear in mind though, he's just a likely to slip back down to career norms across the board, making him slightly less valuable than he may seem at first glance.

Ian Kinsler, TEX – Much like Pedroia, Ian Kinsler rebounded from an injury-plagued 2010, stayed healthy all year, and turned in his second 30/30 season in three years.  He scored a career high 121 runs from the top spot in the Ranger lineup, thanks in large part to an insane 723 PA, and chipped in 77 RBIs.  The only blemish was a .255 BA that was partly a result of swinging for the fences a bit more and a little bad luck (his 24% hit rate tied a career low).  While he has proven to be an elite player when healthy, you always need to worry that he’ll miss time with injuries, something that had happen every season before last year.  This reality will always make him a bigger risk and means you should plan on him missing some time again this year before you go moving him any further up your own 2B rankings.

Ben Zobrist, TB – Zobrist rebounded from a terrible 2010 that left most of his owners cursing his name to once again move up the rankings.  He fell just short of a 20/20 season and as a result his other counting stats returned to ‘09 levels.  But that’s the dilemma with Zobrist.  The 2010 collapse stills looms and makes it tough to have full confidence he’s totally put his struggles from that year behind him.  Last year he was a value pick, this year he’s just outside the elite again in terms of where he’s being drafted.  For me, that means he likely won’t end up on many of my teams, since I’ll likely look further down the list if I miss out on the top .

Howie Kendrick, LAA- My first set of rankings back in December had Kendrick ranked lower. I have never been a big fan, but I guess he’s burned me before. However, the addition of Albert Pujols to the lineup has me a bit more excited about Kendrick than I was before.  I seem to be less quick to dismiss his power uptick from last year as a fluke and actually see the potential for more production than I did before.  While he has failed to deliver on the batting average prowess that was predicted for him, he won’t hurt you there either.  After stealing 14 bases for the third year in a row you should feel confident in that stat.  Heading into his prime, I think I’m starting to believe this could be a big year for Kendrick.

Jason Kipnis, CLE – I will start of by saying that I’m a big Kipnis believer.  I’m also a Cleveland fan, so that may be blinding me somewhat to the struggles he’s sure to encounter in his first full season this year.  I guess I just want to believe he can be the guy I saw come up last year and immediately add excitement to the Indians' lineup.  So my ranking definitely has him hitting his upside, partly because I think the Indians will stick with him even if he struggles.  For me, he’s basically Ben Zobrist at half the price.  I’d rather have Kipnis this year than any of the other up and coming 2B in this year’s class. If my view of Kipnis tells you anything, it should be that Kipnis is likely to be overvalued by the time March rolls around.  After missing out on him twice in my first two drafts, I am beginning to realize this myself.

Kelly Johnson, TOR – Johnson came over to Toronto last year in a trade for Aaron Hill.  I think the hope for both teams was that a change of scenery might help both players get back on track.  Johnson hit .270 in 33 games in Toronto, which gives hope that he can rebound from a season that saw hit hit .222 for the year.  He has 20 home run power and added a career high 16 steals last year.  Staying in Toronto is a good thing, as Toronto really doesn’t have anyone threatening his playing time this year.  Unlike the “hot” names around him, he’ll come cheap on draft day and makes a good guy to target in you decide to wait on 2B this year.

Jemile Weeks, OAK – Weeks is kind of a throwback player at the position, with speed being the primary weapon he brings to the table.  He acquitted himself very well in his first taste of the Majors, hitting .303 with 50 runs, 36 RBIs and 22 steals in just under 100 games last year.  He should open the year as the A’s leadoff hitter, and while I don’t think he’ll hit .300, I do think he easily tops 30 SBs.  I know I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full season on the basepaths.

Dustin Ackley, SEA – A lot of people are more excited than I am about Ackley heading into 2012.  Many have him tabbed as the sophomore to get this year.  While I may agree that he has better long-term potential than Kipnis, for example, I’m not as sold that he is going to deliver on that upside as quickly.  Safeco will put a cap on his power and while he has shown decent speed, it’s not really a part of his game.  He does have a chance to post a better BA than Kipnis, so your decision could come down to what you need. The biggest thing that has me down on Ackley is his price.  He’s  being drafted ahead of Kipnis and Weeks, so rather than chase him you might be better off using him as a cue that it’s time to pull the trigger on one of the other two.

Sean Rodriguez, TB – Things start getting a little dicey at this point in the rankings. S-Rod gets a little boost with his 2B/SS/3B eligibility and my belief that a mini-breakout could be in store for him this season.  He struggled terribly against RHP last year, and if he can make some gains there he should be able to tap into some of his power potential. While I’m not reaching for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to get him as my MI if I am able to. The addition of Jeff Keppinger to the roster also means he’ll have to step it up to keep himself in the lineup.  It also means he could see time in the outfield, making him even more versatile.

Ryan Raburn, DET – I’ll state upfront that Raburn is not a guy I am targeting this year.  I drank the Kool-Aid last year and it left a bitter taste.  Add in the fact that it seems very likely he’ll enter the year in a platoon with Ramon Santiago.  He’s got the ability to hit 20 homers if he can keep himself in the lineup.  Just know going in he’s likely to remain a part-time player this year.  Still, his 2B eligibility gives him value late in drafts.

Gordon Beckham, CHW – The shine is definitely off Beckham after a second consecutive disappointing season.  The promise he showed as a rookie seems even further away, but he still is young enough to turn his career around.  At least this year he'll be cheap, so there could be worse plans than to sit back and take a chance on him figuring things out.  Worst case is he delivers another mediocre season or he could just become the post-hype sleeper of the year.

Johnny Giavotella, KC – He profiles better as a MI, but he should be able to hold off Chris Getz to win the starting 2B job in KC.  He’ll bat near the top of an exciting young lineup, which gives him some upside to score runs, but don’t get carried away.  I’d much rather have him as a backup than a starter this year.

Brian Roberts, BAL – Roberts is the epitome of a health risk after two seasons cut short by injuries.  At this point, you really shouldn’t invest more than a late-round pick to see if he can stay on the field this year.  When he plays, he’ll be pretty good.  He just won’t stay healthy.  That’s one thing you can safely predict.

Mike Aviles, BOS – The trades of Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie have put Aviles back on the radar.  He should be in the mix for playing time at SS, adding that to his 2B/3B eligibility. If he can find the at-bats, he could out-perform a bunch of the guys ahead of him here.

Alexi Casilla/Jamey Carroll, MIN – I’ll list these two together because they are both going to play.  Casilla will man second base and Carroll will be the shortstop.  Casilla has slightly more upside, but both will provide some cheap speed late in drafts.

Michael Young, TEX – I wanted to mention Michael Young at the end of this article just to remind you that he actually started 14 games at 2B for the Rangers last year.  While this didn’t gain him eligibility in many leagues, make sure to check your league and see if he qualifies.  If so, I’d slide him in right ahead of Howie Kendirck.

Best of the Rest:

Maicer Izturis, Robert Andino, Jeff Keppinger, Ramon Santiago, Chris Getz, Nick Punto, Jason Donald, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, Brent Lillibridge

One of the keys to being successful in fantasy is being able to assemble a competitive pitching staff while not compromising your offense, especially early on. It is a delicate balancing act, trying to find the right time to add an arm you like or predict when a run on starters may occur. While most drafters have strong opinions about which "Aces" they'd like to anchor their respective squads this season, often they don't spend near enough time thinking about who they will target later on to fill out their fantasy rotations. Most seasoned players already have a very good feel for the pitching inventory at this early point and likely already have a couple “real” drafts on the books. It is not surprising that the early 50 round Draft Champions format is taking hold over at the NFBC.  These are the best money players in the land, and they are drafting these early leagues to re-acquaint themselves with the player pool, get a reading on early market trends and get an edge on you. In fact, these leagues are getting so popular they are providing enough data to set their own market trends. At the same time, projections, rankings lists and early mock draft results are popping up left and right. Magazines will be hitting the newsstands any day now. All this information helps flesh out a general overview, and to some degree can help you map out a strategy and build a plan to hopefully calmly “attack” pitching in your drafts rather the panicking because you keep missing on all your targets. Panic leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to wasted picks. The key to avoiding falling into this trap is to not be scrambling at the draft table. That means knowing who you like and why you like them.

Today we are going to start off looking at some pitchers further down the list of the American League starting pitching ranks. These are just some of the names you will want to examine further and form your own opinions on between now and draft day, especially in AL-only leagues where you will not have the luxury of avoiding them or taking them all in the reserve rounds. I’ve chosen one late round target and one sleeper per team to get you started.

Baltimore Orioles – Wei-Yin Chen – Chen was one of two international imports the Orioles brought in this off-season, the other being Tsuyoshi Wada.  Of the two, Chen has the most upside, with a good fastball, breaking ball and excellent command. Chen posted a 2.68 ERA in 164 innings in Japan last year.

SleeperBrian Matusz – Many will write of Matusz after an injury-filled season to forget. Still, he has more raw talent than anyone in the rotation and will get a chance even if he doesn’t break camp with a rotation spot.

Boston Red SoxDaniel Bard – As of this writing, both Bard and Alfredo Aceves are penciled into the back of the Boston rotation. Bard has the more exciting skills of the two and would seem a better bet to have success as a full-time starter. The Red Sox may grab another starter from free agency, sending someone back to the bullpen. A lack of a clear role may hold Bard’s price down, but his skills will deliver useful stats in whatever role the Sox use him in.

SleeperFelix Doubront – Doubront will be the first one called upon should injuries hit or the Bard/Aceves experiments go awry.

Cleveland IndiansDerek Lowe – The Indians obtained Lowe to give a stabilizing veteran presence to a young rotation. His job will be to make 35 starts, gobble up innings and try to regain some of his lost command. A consistent winner before last season, the price is right to see if he can right the ship somewhat in his return to the AL.

Sleeper - Jeanmar Gomez – With Fausto Carmona’s issues opening up a rotation spot, Gomez will only have to wait for Kevin Slowey to fail or get hurt again to get his chance.

Chicago White SoxChris Sale – Sale isn’t flying under anyone’s radar heading into draft season, but at the same time most are hedging their bets on him until they know what his role will be. While he won’t be super cheap to roster, he has the upside to be one of the bigger bargains on draft day. If he can somehow lock down a rotation spot, 200 K’s could be on the horizon.

SleeperNestor Molina – Molina came over in the Sergio Santos trade and will get a chance if Jake Peavy can’t return to form.

Detroit Tigers - Rick Porcello – Although his ERA and WHIP don’t show it, Porcello made some nice strides last year for the Tigers. Still only 23 years old, he enters his fourth year poised to take a big step forward. His command improved, he finally topped 100 K’s, and backed by a great offense he should once again be a great source of cheap W’s.

SleeperJacob Turner – Turner enters the year as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and will be given a chance to compete for the 5th starter’s job.

Kansas City Royals - Felipe Paulino – It could be argued that the entire Royals staff are potential bargains this year. This could just as easily be Jonathan Sanchez, but I’m going to spotlight the less sought after Paulino instead. He has always had a great fastball (95 mph) and finally started to show some control and better complimentary pitches last year. This is the type of arm you want to take a chance on late as he has the potential to rack up a ton of K’s, and you can hide him on reserve until needed.

SleeperDanny Duffy – He had some success in his 20 starts last year but doesn’t have a lock on a rotation spot.

Los Angeles AngelsJerome Williams – Were it not for Ryan Vogelsong, Williams may have been the big redemption story last year. He hadn’t appeared in the Majors since 2007, but went 4-0 for the Angels down the stretch last year and will get first crack at holding down the 5th starter’s job. If you are going to speculate, it never hurts to go shopping on winning teams, especially ones that just added Albert Pujols to the lineup.

SleeperGarrett Richards – If Williams can’t do the job, Richards will be next in line. He showed some promise in his late season call-up and makes an interesting stash on draft day.

Minnesota TwinsFrancisco Liriano – Having to write about Liriano as the guy from the Twins to keep an eye on late in drafts speaks to the lack of upside talent at the back of their rotation. The roller-coaster ride he has taken fantasy owners on the last five years makes him a risky bet. Still, it should be noted, he is entering his contract year, so the incentive will be there for him to perform. He’ll be cheap again this spring, so taking a shot will be that much more tempting.

SleeperAnthony Swarzak – With Liriano and Jason Marquis always a threat to land on the DL, Swarzak will see the mound at some point this year.  He’s not that exciting, but he can be a serviceable back-end starter.

New York YankeesA.J. Burnett – Much like Liriano, he’s one of those guys that no one will want to draft this year. Two straight years of ERA’s north of 5.00 will do that. His stuff is still good, so he can still give you some value at a bargain basement price this year. The Yanks are talking about trading him, but he’s owed $32 million over the next two years, making it very likely he starts the year in the Bronx. I’d rather gamble on him getting his head straight than Phil Hughes staying healthy.

SleeperManny Banuelos – If the Yankees are able to trade Burnett, Banuelos could get a chance to compete for the 5th starter’s job as early as this Spring. I like him a bit more than fellow phenom Dellin Betances simply due to him being a lefty who can induce ground balls.

Oakland Athletics - Brad PeacockJarrod Parker will get all the hype in drafts this spring, but Peacock could very well end up having a better year at a fraction of the price. He came over to the Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez deal and now has a clear path to a rotation spot. The move to the Coliseum will help keep a few more fly-balls in the park and his excellent control and good curveball makes him a nice arm to take a chance on late.

Sleeper – Tommy Milone – Milone’s path to a rotation spot got murkier with the signing of Bartolo Colon. Another piece of the Gonzalez trade, he’ll get his shot once Rich Harden gets hurt again.

Seattle Mariners - Hector Noesi – Noesi, who came over in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero deal, looks headed for the Mariner rotation out of camp this year. He’s not an overpowering pitcher, relying instead on pinpoint control and a four-pitch repertoire to keep hitters off-balance.  Safeco Field and good defense will only help him.

Sleeper – Danny Hultzen – Hultzen will be competing for a rotation spot this spring, and even if he starts the year in the Minors, Kevin Millwood won’t be able to hold him back for very long. He is part of the reason Seattle wasn’t afraid to deal away Michael Pineda.

Tampa Bay RaysJeff Niemann – I could write about Matt Moore, but his stock has already shot into the upper ranks. The Rays have been shopping Wade Davis, and that would just clear the way even more for Niemann to stake a claim to a rotation spot. An injury plagued '11 will hide how good he was once he came back healthy. Go look at the splits, then make sure to grab him late on draft day. He could be one of the best bargains of 2012.

Sleeper – Chris Archer – Archer was the key piece in the Matt Garza deal from 2011 and should be able to force his way onto the roster in the second half, likely in the bullpen.

Texas RangersMatt Harrison – While others chase Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando, my advice is to sit back and wait for Harrison. The Rangers will want to keep another lefty in the rotation if possible, and I think Ogando is better suited to work out of the bullpen, which is what I think will happen to start the year. Ogando might be used to monitor both Feliz’s and Darvish’s innings, meaning Harrison could stick all year.

SleeperMartin Perez – The best young arm in the Rangers system, Perez is more of a keeper prospect. Still, he’s an exciting arm to keep tabs on this spring.

Toronto Blue JaysDustin McGowanHenderson Alvarez is another intriguing arm on the roster, but I’m not convinced he’s going to build that much on last year’s performance. I’m much more intrigued by McGowan, who finally made it back after three years of injuries. He is the classic end game lottery ticket that could pay off big time for the cost of a reserve pick.

SleeperKyle Drabek – He stumbled after a quick start and found himself back in Triple-A for the rest of the year. Toronto hasn’t given up on him and he’ll get another chance to prove himself this year.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments sections or post a question about a specific pitcher on our message boards.

Next Week: Back to the infield with a look at 2B.

The Detroit Tigers were one of the better stories in baseball last year. They marched to the AL Central Division title and returned to the playoffs again for the first time since 2006.  They then proceeded to knock off the Yankees in the first round and gave the Rangers a tough fight before succumbing in 6 games in the ALCS.  Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera got most of the accolades, but the biggest move the Tigers made prior to the 2011 season was signing Victor Martinez.  He was a mainstay in the lineup and provided a key left-handed bat that was lacking. He hit .330 with 103 RBI,  and provided protection for Miguel Cabrera that was sorely needed. He was everything the Tigers had hoped he would be on the field and in the clubhouse.  And then the unthinkable happens.

In case you haven’t heard the news yet, Martinez tore his left ACL last week during off-season conditioning, and will most likely undergo surgery causing him to miss the entire 2012 season.  It’s a tough break for the Tigers, who will have to soldier on without their primary DH.  For fantasy purposes, an already mediocre catcher class just lost one of the few elite options available.  If you drafted him early or have Martinez in a keeper league, my condolences.  You have permission to scream a little and kick something if need be, because you don’t really expect to get this kind of news in January. With Martinez likely out of the discussion let’s take a look at what's left in the AL this year.

Mike Napoli, TEX – Napoli takes over the top slot after a season that saw him lead all catchers in homers with 30.  He also managed to hit .320, something that likely won't be repeatable.  Still, the power is real, and he shouldn't have to wait two months to get regular playing time this year.  He carries 1B eligibility as well and will see some time there and at DH to keep his bat in the lineup.  Those extra at-bats will help him once again offer premium power for a backstop.

Carlos Santana, CLE – Although he’s second on my list, Santana is really my 1b to Napoli’s 1a.  In fact, I believe there is much more upside potential in Santana’s overall numbers.  He produced 27 home runs last year, drove in 79, scored 84 and even chipped in 5 stolen bases.  The one blemish last year was a .239 average that he should be able to turn around to respectable levels.  Like Napoli, he is eligible at 1B as well, and he will be in the lineup almost every day, also spelling Travis Hafner at DH.  The time off from behind the plate will help keep him healthy and fresh, so that’s just one more reason to draft him.

Matt Wieters, BAL – Wieters put a disappointing rookie season behind him and went out and had a very solid sophomore campaign.  He doubled his home runs to 22, and improved his numbers across the board.  He also grew as a receiver, handling a young pitching staff and becoming a real team leader.  He could use a little help around him in the lineup, but there is more power potential here that is untapped. Bank on a repeat on last year and hope for further growth in year three.

Joe Mauer, MIN – In April he had everyone searching google for "bilateral leg weakness", and we found out it meant no Joe Mauer for over two months. He had no power at all once he returned and then hit the D.L. again in September after getting a case of pneumonia. He is reportedly 100% again and is getting ready to put last year behind him.  If healthy, the three-time AL batting champ should have no problem getting north of .300 again.  Those 28 homers from 2009 aren’t coming back though and keep in mind the Twins offense as a whole could struggle this year, limiting his other counting stats.

Alex Avila, DET – This time last year Avila was a late round sleeper with some power upside.  He was a pleasant surprise for anyone who took a chance on him and enters this year perhaps slightly overrated. The power he showed last year by mashing 19 HR’s is for real, but his value was boosted by a .295 average that is sure to tumble.  He’s still a solid option, just realize that last year numbers might be somewhat of a ceiling for him going forward.

J.P. Arencibia, TOR – Arencibia put up nice power numbers in his rookie year finishing with 23 HR’s and 78 RBI’s.  The hole in his game was a propensity to strike out which fueled his dismal .219 batting line.  He should be able to do better than that this year, which will make it a little easier to draft him for his power, which has even more value in AL only leagues.

Jesus Montero, SEA – I have moved Montero up a couple notches in my rankings with news of the trade that has sent him West to Seattle. He doesn’t start the year with C eligibility, so if you draft him, you will have to wait for it to come, but his upside should make it worth the wait. You will have to grab someone else further down the list to pair with him, but he'll be worth rostering in any case. He’ll be the primary DH for the Mariners, which means all he will have to focus on is doing what he does best, hit the ball really hard.   20 plus HR’s to go along with a solid batting average should be well within reach.

Kurt Suzuki, OAK – Suzuki is one of those guys who is better than the numbers end up showing.  The problem with him is that he plays almost every day behind the dish and it really seems to take a toll on him as the year progresses.  Reportedly he lost 15 pounds in the heat of the summer, when his BA plummeted. He still delivered double-digit HR’s, but the rest of his counting stats were way down. His career low .234 average will lower his price, so he should be able to outperform whatever it costs to roster him this year.

Russell Martin, NYY – Martin had a nice comeback season and will once again be the primary C for the potent Yankee lineup.  It’s the perfect spot for him to produce decent numbers again and a repeat of last year’s .237/57/18/65/8 line seems like a reasonable expectation.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS – He finally started to show some of the promise we’ve been waiting for. His 16 homers were a career high and he will get a chance to show he deserves the full-time job with Jason Varitek gone.  On the downside, he only hit .235 and Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway will be there to steal playing time if he fails to build on last year’s positive gains.

Chris Iannetta, LAA – The Angels traded for Iannetta to try to provide an offensive upgrade over the since departed Jeff Mathis.  Iannetta has a clear path to playing time so he will get another chance to try to deliver the upside that is still lingering here.  He has good power for a backstop, so 20 homers are within reach.  The move from Coors field doesn’t instill much confidence that he will raise his lousy batting average any time soon though.

Salvador Perez, KC – Perez was a revelation in a late season call-up that saw him hit .331/20/3/21 in 148 AB.  He is penciled in as the starter and should be given a long look this year.  That said, he has minimal power, and is unlikely to top .300 again in full time duty.  He’s the perfect No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues and not a bad guy to grab if you take a chance on Mauer or Montero.

A.J. Pierzynski, CHW – He is a consistent option and the guy you target if you are waiting on the position.  For years I would wait in drafts and grab him in the final rounds as my No 2 guy. He always delivers a decent average and won’t hurt you anywhere.  One thing working against him is father time, since at 35, he’s likely to spend more days on the trainer’s table.  Oh yeah, he’s also a renowned jerk and for some that’s enough reason to draft someone else.

Best of the Rest

Jose Molina, TB – For now it looks like the Rays will enter the year with Jose Molina and Joe Lobaton behind the dish. Hopefully neither will end up on your fantasy roster, leave them to the waiver wire.

Miguel Olivo/John Jaso, SEA – Olivo and Jaso figure to open the year in a platoon for the Mariners.  As such neither has much upside.  Olivo is on the strong side of the platoon and has shown decent power in his career. Jaso will have a chance to battle for the job and both make reasonable reserve selections.

Rob Leibowitz did a great write-up on many of the up and coming prospects in yesterday’s Prospector column, so give that a read for some sleepers and keeper league options.

Next week: Bargain Starting Pitchers for 2012

After taking a look at the first base position in last week’s column, we head across the diamond to assess the third base class in the American League for 2012. What you will quickly realize is that the situation isn’t as robust as it has been in the past. Yes, there is still some MVP talent at the top of the heap, but the position is littered with more question marks, risks and pitfalls than ever before. The biggest question facing drafters this season will likely center around Alex Rodriguez, who comes into the year as the biggest risk/reward play on the board. You've likely heard about his trip to Europe for special treatment on his ailing knee. The talent is still there, but so is another birthday in July, when he'll turn 37. In mixed drafts it'll be a lot easier to let someone else take the gamble of A-Rod, but AL-only drafters may be more inclined to gamble on the former MVP. I've kind of made my mind up to look elsewhere if I can this season, but know that he'll tempt me in more than one draft this year as his price drops to a new low. If you want a stud here, it’s going to cost you and if you miss out you will then have to decide where you want to place your bets this year. I just don't want to bet on A-Rod if I can avoid it. Maybe it's because I did last year and he killed my NFBC DP team. I'll admit it, I don't always forgive and forget in fantasy. Still, someone else will inevitably take a chance and how he performs may very well make or break their season. At least it won't cost them a 1st or 2nd round pick this year.  I usually wait a bit at 3B, but I don’t want to get caught empty-handed here either. It's a tricky landscape to navigate, so you want to have a plan for where and when to strike. Otherwise, you'll wind up shopping at the dollar store. You also want to think long and hard about who you want to avoid and plan accordingly.  

Now let’s take a look at my rankings for the AL this year:

Jose Bautista, TOR – He followed up his breakout 2010 by once again leading the Majors in homers with 43, and in the process silenced those who claimed he was a one-year wonder doomed to fall back to reality. Although he hit 11 less home runs and drove in 21 fewer runs, in many ways he had an even better year in 2011. After a torrid first two months, no one wanted to pitch to him, and he easily led the Majors with 132 walks (24 IBB). He adjusted to how opposing teams pitched him, and ended up hitting .302, which was a pleasant surprise from a player whose previous career high was .260. He may primarily be an OF in Toronto, but for fantasy purposes, we can hope he can squeeze another 20+ games in at 3B.

Evan Longoria, TB – He suffered an oblique injury to start the year, missed all of April, and once healthy took awhile to get back up to full speed. The injury and some bad luck undermined his batting average, which tumbled down to .241, and the speed he showed the previous season vanished as a result. Still, his power remained and I expect a full rebound in 2012. He is still a young star on the rise with 40 HR upside. Take whatever discount last year brings and reap the rewards.

Adrian Beltre, TEX – After signing with Texas as a free agent, Beltre had a great season, bashing 32 homers with 105 RBIs. The only thing fantasy owners had to complain about was a hamstring injury that interrupted a torrid July and cost him all of August. He was absolutely on fire in September, and showed that he enjoyed hitting in Arlington. He doesn’t chip in any steals anymore, but he delivered a solid BA for the second year in a row, dispelling talk that 2010 was all a product of Fenway Park. At 33, he’s likely to miss time with an injury again at some point, so build that into you calculations. However, with drop off in talent after him, Beltre is in a tier by himself. He’ll cost you less than the top two and he’s a step ahead of the rest.  He may be the smartest guy to target on draft day.

Brett Lawrie, TOR – I ranked Lawrie this high in the preseason and drafted him in my first draft of the year, so I see no reason to change my thinking now and move him down my list. I admit to being a little biased, because I owned him on a bunch of my teams last year and he was such a sparkplug when he finally arrived in August. A broken finger ended the party prematurely in September, but before that he had more than lived up to all the hype he had after a hot start at Triple-A. Lawrie brings speed to the equation and 20/20 seems like a reasonable expectation in his first full season. There is upside for even better numbers, but at 22, you have to expect some bumps in the road. Still, the stolen bases will buoy his value all year and I’d rather bet on a youngster staying healthy than some of the names coming up next. As of this writing, he's shooting up draft boards at the NFBC. He's not going to come cheap, so if you want to own him this year, you might want to do what I did and grab him in an early draft just to make sure you get your fix.

Kevin Youkilis, BOS – Youkilis missed time with various injuries for the third straight year, finally getting shut down in September due to a hernia and a nagging hip injury. He struggled all year and it showed as he only hit .258 after topping .300 each of the previous three years. He’s such a gamer, but the way he plays the game takes a toll on his body. Add in the fact that he’s now back at 3B full-time and you just know he’s going to end up on the DL a couple of times a year.  Even so, his talent is tough to pass up and it is reasonable to bet on him having somewhat better health and luck than he did last year. I'd feel good drafting him and hope for a rebound to .290/85/20/85. Still, if you do draft Youkilis, make sure to try to grab a backup just in case.

Michael Young, TEX – Michael Young started the year griping after the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre to replace him at 3B. He then just went out and played wherever the Rangers asked him and had a monster year, hitting .338 with a league leading 213 hits. He was indispensible to a Ranger offense that lost Beltre and Josh Hamilton for significant stretches. He drove in 106 runs despite only smacking 11 homers after topping 20 the two previous seasons.  He basically traded fly balls for line drives, and should get some of those homers back this year. He’s always underrated because he doesn’t put up huge power numbers, but if you are going to wait at the position, this is the guy you should target. Young also played 14 games at 2B last year, which means check your league rules to see if he has even more value.

Alex Rodriguez, NYY – A little more on my whipping boy for this column. For the fourth straight season, A-Rod missed time due to injury, and last season he finally succumbed to his recurring knee problems. He missed 6 weeks after surgery in mid-July and when he came back he was clearly not 100% as he limped to the finish line. He was a non-factor in the playoffs as the Tigers knocked the Yankees out. Don’t kid yourself when it comes to Rodriguez, much like Youkilis (even more so, actually) admit going in that he’s not going to play every day or stay healthy all year. For those of you who want the best case scenario, if everything breaks right, he could still reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs, but be smart and account for more modest totals. In an AL-only league, I think the smart play is to pass and hope that someone else will gamble and take him higher than they should. In mixed leagues, if you can get him as a CI, I say go ahead and take a chance. Just realize that he is now officially the Chipper Jones of the AL.

Mark Reynolds, BAL – As the promise of 2009 fades, we can now accept Reynolds for what he is, a free swinging power hitter who will chip in a few SBs (not 24 again I'm afraid). With power on the decline around the Majors, there is always a place for a guy who can deliver 35-40 homers, but Reynolds struggles to make contact so much that hoping he figures out a way to hit .230 seems optimistic. He will kill your BA, so if you roster him you better be able to absorb the damage.

Mike Moustakas, KC – Moustakas had a decent debut season last year, but was easily overshadowed by fellow rookie Eric Hosmer. He didn’t show much power and struggled badly against LHP.  Still, he consistently got more comfortable as the season progressed and finished with a nice September, when he hit 4 of his 5 home runs and hit .352. It gives a little glimpse of his upside and makes him a sneaky guy to sit back and wait on if you don’t want to overpay for Lawrie and want to avoid the land mines that will likely get drafted ahead of him. Just don’t expect miracles here. He’ll be a serviceable option, but he’s still got a lot of work to do as his struggles against lefties show.

Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE – Chisenhall is a very similar player in my mind to Moustakas, with much less hype.  He was somewhat rushed up to Cleveland last year after the team's surprising hot start, and like most rookies struggled with his first exposure to major league pitching. He joins Lawrie and Moustakas as part of the new wave of 3B in the AL and should open the year as the Tribe’s starter.  He’s never going to hit for a lot of power, but should be good for 15-20 homers and 70-80 RBIs.

Edwin Encarnacion, TOR – Encarnacion continued his reputation as a streaky hitter who can carry your fantasy team for a couple of weeks when he is hitting well. He’s a man without a position, but the Blue Jays will likely continue to find ways to get his bat in the lineup. He’s not a bad backup for an injury-prone veteran.

Chris Davis, TEX – Davis looks like he may finally get a shot at regular playing time this season in Baltimore. He qualifies at 3B, as well as 1B, and his power upside is definitely worth a shot in AL-only leagues if he shows he is healthy this March. He's teased us for years, but there is no doubt in my mind he can put up some numbers if he gets the at-bats.

The rest of the pack includes:

Danny Valencia, MIN – Had a decent year for the Twins last year, but there isn’t any upside here and there is the chance he falls into a platoon as he kills lefties but can’t hit righties a lick.

Scott Sizemore, OAK –I actually remember being excited about him when he came up as a 2B for Detroit and I actually think he has the best chance to break out of this pack and surprise a little this year.

Brent Morel, CHW – Don’t get fooled by his late season power outburst. He’s not going to turn into Robin Ventura anytime soon.

Brandon Inge, DET – He is the weakest link in the Tigers lineup and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they made a play for Michael Young at some point this year. Or they could turn to rookie Nick Castellanos at some point. In any case, he could be out of a job by midseason.

Kyle Seager, SEA – Should get first crack in Seattle. Chone Figgins is still getting paid and Alex Liddi waits at Triple-A.

Eduardo Nunez, NYY – Worth a late round pick, especially if you draft Rodriguez.

Alberto Callaspo, LAA – Someone else will be manning 3B full-time in LA this year. Pass.

When it comes time to look for power in the American League, first base is the place most fantasy players go for surefire fantasy studs.  This season is no different, except for the new face at the top of the AL rankings. As Christopher Kreush noted in yesterday’s NL Beat, Albert Pujols’ signing with the Los Angeles Angels was the biggest story of the Winter Meetings.  Pujols figures to be the first name off the board in AL drafts this spring, and it is hard to argue against anyone taking the perennial MVP candidate to start things off.  How good is Pujols? He had a “down” year for him and still posted a .299/105/37/99/9 line in 2011.  He actually looked human at times, walked far less than normal and hit the ball on the ground more often than ever before. That was the main reason for the dip in power, and if he doesn't reverse that trend, he’s no lock to get back up to 40 homers. He’s not getting any younger, so it is possible we could see those stolen bases begin to erode even further. Still, he’s Albert Pujols, and most fantasy players won’t be looking to nit-pick when getting the chance to finally have him on their AL-only squads.  The biggest question that you will face this year, is how much are you willing to invest in the position?  There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but even if you miss out on the top tier, there is plenty of depth here if you choose to wait.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of my rankings at First Base:

Miguel Cabrera, DET – After an off-season of off the field questions, Cabrera went out and had another dominant season.  He hit .344 to claim his first batting title while hitting 30 home runs for the fifth consecutive season.  His batting average upside and his consistency set him apart from the rest of the field and it wouldn't surprise me if some drafters opt for him over Pujols.  There is still a 40 HR/Triple Crown season waiting to arrive.

Adrian Gonzalez, BOS – Last year’s big arrival to the AL scene didn't disappoint as the move from Petco to Fenway helped him hit a career high .338.  The only thing that didn't materialize was the power that many were expecting, as his 27 homers were his lowest total since his first full season in 2006.  He had a big spike in GB%, up to 46.7%, which was the main culprit for the power outage.  He also may have altered his swing somewhat coming off shoulder surgery.  With the table setters he has in the lineup, he’ll drive in plenty of runs and ranks just below my Top 2, but you shouldn't plan on more than 30 homers and don’t expect him to hit .330 again.

Mark Teixeira, NYY – If you miss out on the elite options at the position but still want to make sure you get premium power production, Teixeira is your guy.  Actually, I think he is a bargain this year, as he likely has the best chance of any of the top options to outperform his draft day price.  He hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs for the eighth straight year, so you know what you are getting here.  Yankee Stadium’s short porch keeps his 40 HR upside intact.  What makes him a potential bargain is his BA, which sank for the fourth straight year to a career low .248.  While I don’t expect him to hit .300 again, I do think it’s reasonable to hope for a return to the .270-.280 range.

Eric Hosmer, KC – The rookie hit the field and never looked back, hitting .309 with 21 HR and 13 SBs. He’s only 22, so in a keeper league, there aren’t many better choices than this.  The stolen bases will help buoy his value, but any power spike will likely take another year to emerge.  He’s an exciting player, but don’t get caught overpaying for numbers that may not come until 2013.

Paul Konerko, CHW – For the second straight season, Konerko proved the naysayers wrong by once again staying healthy while being one of the few bright spots for the White Sox.  U.S. Cellular Field means another 30 HR season is attainable as long as he can stay on the field.  He's a solid option if you decide to wait until the big guns are off the board.

Adam Lind, TOR – Lind was well on his way to recapturing the promise he showed in his electric 2009 campaign.  He had many of his owners giggling after his monster first half.  Then the bottom totally fell out on his season.  His second half swoon makes it hard to know what to predict for him, but he still profiles as a young slugger in a nice lineup.  I think if you keep expectations low, then there is room for profit here.  At worst, he should be able to deliver a repeat of last year’s numbers.

Mike Carp, SEA – Carp finally got a shot in the second half last year and he was a pleasant surprise to those who grabbed him off the waiver wire.  He hit .286 with 12 HR, 46 RBI and 15 doubles. If the Mariners don’t sign any free agents, Carp should be able to get the bulk of the at-bats at first base as well as seeing some time at outfield and DH.  If that happens, he will be a cheap power source capable of mashing 25 homers and potentially a risk worth taking on draft day.

Mark Trumbo, LAA – Trumbo took over for an injured Kendrys Morales last year and provided more than the Angels could have hoped for by mashing 29 HRs with 87 RBI and 9 SBs.  The biggest question facing Trumbo is where he will play in the wake of Albert Pujols' arrival.  The Angels say they are committed to keeping him and will even give him a look at third base.  He also could be traded, but I think the Angels would rather see Bobby Abreu head out the door.  Pay for the power and hope he stays in the AL.

Justin Morneau, MIN – 2011 was a season to forget for the former MVP.  He never fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in 2010 and added a litany of nagging injuries on top of that last year.  There is no denying that he can produce if he’s healthy, but he is not for the risk averse.  It was recently reported that he was still suffering post-concussion symptoms, which will likely drive his price down to the point where he makes a worthy gamble on draft day.

Mitch Moreland, TEX – He’s an unexciting player, but as of this writing, he is still the likely starter on a World Series team.  He’ll provide average power and production while struggling to hit .260. He profiles better as a CI, and the Rangers still may make a splash in free agency. 

Adam Dunn, CHW – This is a case where you let the numbers do the talking.  Dunn hit .159 with a paltry 11 HR, 36 R and 42 RBI in 2011, all career lows.  It ended a seven-year streak that never saw him hit fewer than 38 dingers.  The only people who were happy were the Nationals, who let Dunn walk away to Chicago.  Dunn is as good a candidate to bounce back some as any, because it is unlikely he will be as awful again.  Hold your nose, grab him late and pray for 25 homers.

The rest of the pack includes:

Kendrys Morales, LAA - He will try to recover from the broken foot that has now cost him almost two years.  I’m not buying, but I can see him as a late round gamble. 

Chris Davis, BAL – The departure of Derrek Lee has seemingly opened at-bats for Davis.  He has power but hasn't been able to put it together in the Majors.  Keep an eye on him in March.

Brandon Allen, Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta, Chris Parmalee - All three are former top prospects who have failed to fully emerge at the major league level.  Allen might have the best shot at regular at-bats.  Parmalee could see action if Morneau misses more time.

Free Agents include: Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Casey Kotchman.  One of the last three likely winds up in Tampa Bay.  Fielder could still end up in Texas or Seattle.  If so, I'd slot him in behind Gonzalez.

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