Championships aren't won in the first few rounds of fantasy baseball drafts. Winning selections come in the middle and late stanzas, when fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued players pop up. Who must you watch for in your rotisserie and head-to-head baseball drafts?
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Climb the desert Hill
After a minor league career that displayed his MI power potential, Kipnis gave us a glimpse of why he has the inside track on the keystone job. From July 31 to Aug. 12, Kipnis posted a .333/.393/.745 slash line with six homers, 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored. His battle with a balky oblique and hamstring curtailed that momentum; he wasn't right in September.
Turning 25 in April, Kipnis was fast-tracked, so there's risk of him needing to repeat the top farm level. Still, the former Arizona State star makes contact with lumber just as hard as he did with aluminum, and Progressive Field is less of a hindrance to left-handed launchers. Five of his seven taters last year landed in the right-field bleachers, but he can go the other way with efficiency, too, if not power. He's not as slump-prone as most same-field smashers.
Though his walk rate won't be an asset just yet, he's a patient hitter and remains ahead of the curve in terms of experience. Kipnis' likely two-hole slot might prompt him to garner more free passes. The cherry: He carried over his base-path aggressiveness from Triple-A last season, so any increase in first-base trots will set him up for more opportunities.
The risk for regression over a full season shouldn't mask his 20-20 potential. Though his .300 BAs from the minors won't immediately translate, he has the foundation to approach them. This year's Danny Espinosa sans the clip killing? Tasty.... -TH
Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
The slump-prone Hill once again was the victim of pulling too much on his swings last season, delivering a low clip - but this time without power in his Toronto Blue Jays stint. A hamstring injury sucked the drive out of his lower body, and therefore his ability to leave the yard.
Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy left the soon-departing Hill with a take-home present, though. Murphy helped him lower the placement of his hands during his stance and swing. After being shipped to Arizona last trade deadline, Hill focused on increasing his patience at the dish, which produced a .301-1-10 September. The 20 runs he scored that month look like a preview of what's to come, since he might hit somewhere near the top of Arizona's order for a good portion of the season, depending on the status of Stephen Drew (ankle).
Chase Field isn't Coors Field or Rogers Center, but it isn't PETCO Park. Plus, right-handed round-tripper potential receives a boost in Phoenix. This leaves more to be extracted from Hill's fly-leaning approach - especially with his same-field tendency. At least he makes enough contact to increase his chances to improve the clip that has betrayed his previous owners; he focused more on creating square contact last year, too.
He'll come at an even bigger discount than he did following his 2010 regression ... and now there's a likelihood of adding 15-plus stolen bases to the haul in a full season under steal-friendly skipper Kirk Gibson. Uninspiring SB output was suppressing Hill's fantasy worth during his days as a Toronto thumper. Is Hill, who'll turn 30 in March, becoming a more complete player? For the price of a forgotten mixed MI and a low-end NL keystoner, it's worth finding out. -TH
Marco Scutaro, Colorado Rockies
Scutaro, 36, boasts an elite batting eye and top-shelf contact skills. Now he'll suit up at Coors Field and hit near the top, if not at the apex, of a runs-friendly collection of wood. In fact, Colorado's stable starting lineup, with more punch throughout than they've had in awhile, should offer continuity in helping Scutaro score plenty of runs.
Safe to say Scute would've had another double-digit homer season had an oblique strain not limited his 2011 to 395 at-bats. That injury can linger, but he has been relatively healthy in his years as a starter. His new environment will solidify 10 homers and a .300 batting average as attainable goals; his ability in the latter is as good as you'll find among mixed late-rounders.
NL-only drafters should put a star next to his impending dual middle-infield eligibility on their cheat sheets, but they'll have to plan around the time it'll take for him to earn that designation. Still, his combo of uni and skills, even at his advanced age, give him security that you probably won't find with other high-upside but less proven 6's. -TH
Fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
Fantasy baseball busts and overvalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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