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.
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
The Bravos sustained Freeman's run-creation potential even with the departures of Michael Bourn, Martin Prado and Chipper Jones; Justin Upton and B.J. Upton join Jason Heyward as support.
Freeman deserves merit on his own, too. He clubbed 12 of his 23 bombs at Turner Field, so his environment hasn't hurt him. Fighting through vision woes and a bum finger didn't hinder his stick work. Superficial stats didn't display mastery of left-handers, but the 26.4 liner rate (up from 18.8 last year) against them shows he's squaring them up more efficiently and could sport BA growth soon.
Percentage boosts in walks (mainly versus left-handers), fly balls and ropes (already elite) hint that pieces are in place for a third-year coming-out party. -TH
More bombs for Morneau?
Ike Davis, New York Mets
Last season, this left-handed masher put up Adam Dunn-like numbers (.227 batting average, 32 bombs and 90 RBIs), practically. Unfortunately, a sluggish start (.201/.271/.388) thanks to, most notably, some residual fatigue from valley fever appears to have retarded his numbers. What could have been?
Rotisserie players who buy the first baseman for his age-26 campaign may find out. After last season's All-Star break, Davis posted a .255/.346/.542 slash line on the back of 20 second-half ding dongs. Imagine what the up-and-coming corner man's numbers would've looked like had he just been healthy and ... mediocre ... in the season's first two months. And think about what people would be paying for him if he did. -NM
Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
He's clear-headed coming off a nearly full campaign, though during it, he probably felt some after-effects of wrist surgery as the year went on. Still, for the price of a mixed corner infielder, Morneau deserves more attention.
Don't forget the nine homers in his first two months last year. Though his thump tapered off later on, he cut his infield-fly rate by more than half from 2011. The Canadian mounted (mountied?) a .289 clip after the break, and his hit rate luck wasn't miraculous because he recaptured a useful liner frequency.
Consolidating these abilities should push him toward the mid- to upper-20s in the HR column while he approaches 100 RBIs, even with this bland lineup. And there's always the chance Minnesota ships him to a more favorable offensive locale. -TH
Kendrys Morales, Seattle Mariners
This switch-hitting DH batted a modest .273 with 22 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. Quite pleasant, especially when you consider that he hadn't played since May of 2010 because of the broken leg that required multiple surgeries. Fantasy owners may not be pleased with his relocation to Seattle, however. Perhaps they wonder if he'll ever again resemble the man who hit .306 with 34 bombs in 2009, too.
If either of those reasons is holding you back, don't let it. Morales may be closer to pre-injury form than you realize. Consider the time he spent without playing competitive baseball. Prior to the break last year, he batted .289 with eight home runs and a .431 slugging rate in 246 at-bats. In the second half (238 at-bats), he looked like a hitter who'd regained his strength; he posted a meager .256 average but belted 14 round-trippers and slugged .504.
In his career, Morales hasn't been the soundest hitter versus southpaws, but he's not in danger of losing time yet. He enjoyed a normal offseason for the first time in four years. The M's have a bolstered lineup and hitter-friendlier dimensions at home. If Morales doesn't hit .300 with 30-plus dingers again, he should be a hell of a lot closer, at least. -NM
Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers
Obviously, the Puma's age (37) and propensity to miss time (130 games in 2012) drive his 2013 price. He shouldn't cost much, because you can't depend on him for much. He'll attempt to play on a surgically repaired right knee that isn't even 100 percent yet.
But you can wonder what he'll do if he plays in 120-plus games, something he's done in every year prior to last. You can speculate about what the switch-hitter will accomplish in the heart of Texas' order, with roughly half of his games taking place in one of baseball's best hitting environments. You can figure that Berkman will spend most of his time as DH, so he'll avoid additional stress on his right knee that comes with fielding a position. Just think of this as an endorsement to give him a shot since you won't be risking much. -NM
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.