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.
NEW - Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
@DatDudeBP has been a staple of the top four or five players in fantasy's second-base pool for, oh, approaching a half-decade. It appears that this trend will end in 2013, although his declining appeal appears to be no fault of his. Has Phillips, who batted .281 with 18 home runs and 15 stolen bases last season, become so dependable that he's boring?
Come on, Weeks isn't that weak
Perhaps it's because he turns 32 in June. Perhaps it's because he played in only 147 games in 2012. Perhaps it's because he drew a walk on what's virtually a career-low 4.5 percent of his plate appearances last year. Perhaps it's because Cincy plans to bat him second this season instead of cleanup or leadoff, where he frequently hit in the past couple of years. Ummm ... c'mon, throw something out there. Let's try to find what nitpicky reason might have sent his stock downward.
There's something to be said for the reliability of a profile like Phillips'. That's worth an extra dollar just as much as the prospect of the upside of considerably riskier players in his class. If not, he's one hell of a player for whom to settle. -NM
Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates
A freak pinkie injury and a herniated disc in his back abruptly halted a run of .348 plate work and 10 homers over 42 contests last year. His immobility made him dead weight for nearly six weeks as his season came to an early end.
Cue the eye rolls: He's "in the best shape of his life." But this isn't just a fat-trimming exercise. The nerve damage in his lower half resulting from his second malady sapped his leg strength; regaining that with proper rest should help rediscover the thump he had but then watched slip away.
Walker won't dominate one category but contributes a little everywhere - and could stealthily approach the mid-20s in homers if all goes right in his age-27 season. Here's the next breakout Bucco that you'll land cheaply just about everywhere. -TH
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Weeks has gaping flaws with health, contact rate and BA peripherals, but that first half was in the eighth circle of fantasy hell; Weeks usually resides around the fifth or sixth when he slumps. He didn't have full strength back in his previously injured ankle, and that contributed to a blatant jump in his rate of infield flies over the first half. That post-break .261/.363/.457 line is more like it.
Making squarer connections over the course of a full season may push his homer column closer to the 29 he mashed in 2010. Add in his typical double-digit-steals potential and you could make doubters pay for only a modest mixed investment. -TH
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
For the third straight year, Utley's average draft position has slipped, understandably. His knees are probably in worse shape than those of the average retiree. He batted .259 with 11 home runs and 14 steals in 454 plate appearances in 2011 and then .256 with 11 ding dongs and 11 thefts in 362 plate appearances last year. The 34-year-old is clearly on the decline.
But how about some reasons to target him as a candidate for a bit of a bounce-back? Heck, an increase in PT alone would make him quite profitable. His organization requested that he work out throughout the offseason in order to maintain strength around his knees, and he obliged. Barring a mishap in spring training, he'll be in the OD lineup for the first time in three years.
Oh, and reports of his demise against southpaws may be overstated: In 2011, he was awful, but last season, only his results stunk. All his BA indicators in his small sample size of PAs against lefties were as good as or better than those from any of his past seasons. -NM
Fantasy baseball sleepers, undervalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
Fantasy baseball busts, 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, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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