The whims of fantasy baseball drafts often hide consistent commodities. Many
opt for hot, less proven fantasy baseball players. Smart drafters take advantage
and grab wrongfully ignored players for their fantasy baseball team.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago
Undervalued, when he has only played two seasons? Believe it. His power-speed
combo is lasting too long in many drafts. Ramirez, 28, nearly doubled his batting
eye ratio from '08 and saw a slight increase in flyball percentage.
There's a drastic drop-off at this position. Why shouldn't those who miss out
on the top shortstops spend a little extra on someone who has two years of four-
or five-category contribution? He's young in MLB tree rings, but he's sitting
in a baseball player's typical power years.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF,
New York Yankees
Work around his batting average woes. He reaches base often and sees a plethora
of pitches. A near guarantee for 20 homers, Swish hit only eight of his 29 dingers
at the new Yankee Stadium. He isn't environment-dependent.
There's no question he's starting this season, unlike last year. That lineup
will continue to help him. His stable run production is hard to find among late-round
mixed outfielders. It's even hard to find established skills that could play
both first base and outfield that late.
Jose Lopez, 2B, Seattle
Gordon Beckham's power potential from his eventual
spot at second base has been a hot topic this offseason. What about someone
with a more established track record? Lopez's power has been steadily climbing
since '05, and he's in his power wheelhouse years.
His poor batting eye brings a bit of pause here, but Lopez is typically going
outside of the top 100 picks and is someone worth waiting on at this position.
He probably doesn't have much to grow from '09, but he's growing into stability,
which isn't a knock for a middle infielder.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Boston Red Sox
First-round talent costs Size-less
Beltre's power will never approach his 2004 level, but what was wrong with the 25-plus dingers in the three seasons before an injury-plagued '09? His dropping flyball rate is scaring many. Last year's drop, however, can be partially blamed on surgery to remove a bone spur from his left shoulder and a bruised right testicle.
It isn't like his draft price would be a kick in the you-know-where. Fenway Park should help boost his batting average, and his surrounding lineup dwarfs his '09 teammates. He's taken in most mixed leagues as a corner infielder. A 20-homer staple when healthy shouldn't be ignored in a year of questionable depth at third base.
Garrett Atkins, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Last year was his floor. Even then, he drove in 48 runs in 354 at-bats. Not bad. A BABIP dip matched his line-drive drop, but a rebound in the latter would all but assure rebounds in BABIP and batting average.
Don't say his power was driven by Coors Field. He hit more home runs on the road than he did at home in the last three seasons. Atkins stays in a hitter-friendly ambience - potentially in the heart of the order - and still boasts 20-homer, 90-RBI potential in a full season. Dual eligibility doesn't hurt for a deep bench, either.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland
A first-rounder for the last few seasons, Sizemore is falling below the first
24 picks often this year. Elbow issues marred his season - possibly for longer
than we know - and his offseason elbow and abdominal surgeries were considered
Sizemore is essentially bank for 20-25 homers and steals among his four-category
contribution and shouldn't be devalued by an injury that is now fixed. He's
a potential top-10 fantasy player with one of the most stable skill sets of
anyone in the first three rounds.
B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa
When will his power potential resurface? His '08 postseason legend still looms.
It's nice to start with 40 steals, though, and work from there. He has some
plate discipline issues, but he isn't .241-average bad. His line drives dropped
drastically and are keen for a rebound.
You should at least be encouraged by his increase in flyballs. If his homers
increase, though, he might not steal as many bags. Having his speed on your
team while he tries to find out isn't a bad thing, especially since this isn't
at the price he was costing many in 2009.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Abreu's power is eroding, but he remains a skilled stick that could contribute in four categories. He has a high-level batting eye and a knack for reaching triple-digit RBIs. Even at age 36, Abreu is once again a good bet to reach 20 thieved bags because the Halos run often.
If you're counting him as part of your power base, you're making a grave mistake. He has similar skills to the fantasy-favored Shin-Soo Choo, who has less of a track record and may have already hit his ceiling. Abreu is approaching his floor, but his trip down there won't hurt your fantasy chances as long as you've achieved a homer foundation. In the middle mixed rounds, few hitters are as seasoned.
Alex Rios, OF, Chicago
His top-50 price tags from recent years made Rios a bust. Many are forgetting
about him. He has stolen 56 bases in the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his
groundball rate and batting eye has hurt him in each of the last two seasons,
including big tanking in both in '08.
However, Rios' flyballs rebounded last year, and he'll now have a full half-season
to play in batter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. He isn't a .247 hitter, but
he's being drafted like one. Rios' power-speed combo finally has a justified
price for the risk involved; don't ignore him.
Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto
His left wrist was fixed with offseason surgery. He'll return to the cleanup
spot a bit trimmer, too. Aforementioned wrist issues have hampered his power
in recent years, but he revved up the steal attempts in exchange.
Wells: rebound candidate
Many now consider Wells draft filler. Let your draftmates keep thinking that.
You're not expecting a roto foundation for his price. If he can find his groove
at the dish, his steals might come down a tad, but a potential return to his
days of mid-20s homers with double-digit swipes is worth the investment.
Juan Pierre, OF, Chicago
Remember what he did last year when Manny Ramirez was suspended? Twenty steals and 34 runs scored in May and June combined. Pierre stole at least 40 bases in his previous eight seasons, too. Did we forget about that already? Why is he ignored when he enters a season with a full-time job?
The White Sox are aggressive on the base paths, and the acquisition of Pierre does nothing to question this path. Pierre is one of the most stable stolen base commodities, and he does enough to avoid a one-trick-pony label; his average hasn't dipped below .276 in any of his MLB seasons. He won't be another Willy Taveras, v. 2009.
As long as you build up power, Pierre is an ideal No. 4 or 5 outfielder in deep mixed leagues and could be a No. 2 in AL-only setups. He's often going as a steal - in every sense of the word.
NEW - Mike Cameron, OF, Boston Red Sox
The batting average is scaring people off. Drafters should just be happy they can grab a consistent 20-homer, 70-RBI, 75-run commodity with double-digit steals. You pencil in some injuries and deal with the strikeouts, but he's nothing if not steady.
His new lineup isn't too shabby, and his new home park helps right-handed batting average. Every little bit of the latter counts with Cameron, who can give you suitable No. 5 outfielder numbers in the late rounds of mixed leagues.
Magglio Ordonez, OF,
The power and flyballs are dropping. Let's get that out of the way. We know. But last year's sinking was so Titanic that he is almost guaranteed a profit opportunity. He kept up his batting average, for one, while increasing his line drives for the third straight year. Maggs still boasts great plate discipline, as well. A public relations snafu and his wife's cancer diagnosis weighed on him, too. Luckily, his wife is cancer-free as he heads into 2010.
His post-July performance, including a .439 post-August clip, shows his bat still has life as long as he has a clear head. Reaching 20 homers is his new upside. As long as you don't bank on that, it would take a bigger collapse to disappoint elsewhere. He's stable in batting average, runs and RBIs, with playing time. You could do much worse for your No. 5 mixed or No. 3 AL-only outfielder. The best part: Most drafters will let him fall past the first 20 mixed rounds.
Jake Peavy, SP, Chicago
Funny how so many fantasy players value environment before skills. For years, Peavy benefited from PETCO Park. Can't argue that. What you can argue for was his elite dominance. Sure, easy to say, "That was the National League, though. He's in the American now." AL pitchers more frequently need big breaking stuff. You're saying Peavy's five-pitch arsenal doesn't cover that?
Peavy's groundball rate has rested above 41 percent for most of his career - not a great figure, but nothing that alarms you regarding his slight flyball increase last year. His '09 ankle injury worries many, but there have been no issues reported this spring.
As small a sample size as it was, Peavy's AL taste at the end of last season hinted at him recapturing his nasty stuff. Peavy is a bargain ace you can wait on in most mixed setups.
James Shields, SP, Tampa
Three straight seasons of at least 215 innings is scary on the surface, but
this 28-year-old eats innings with an efficient command-oriented approach. Not
as much exertion.
He doesn't possess outstanding dominance, and wins enhance his value. He was
being drafted as a No. 1 starter in '09, though; he typically falls outside
of the top 25 mixed pitchers this year. Shields' stability warrants more attention
than that; you can pluck a No. 2 that can perform as a low-end No. 1.
Rich Harden, SP, Texas Rangers
Roto drafters hold grudges. Harden consistently burned his owners with injury problems. In his second straight season of significant work, the long ball victimized him in Chicago.
It's easy to be skeptical of him holding up for a third straight season and avoiding similar homer troubles in Texas. However, it also pays to question his enemies' percentage of homers on flyballs, which was the worst of his career and a big jump from his '08 figure. He brought his grounders back up last year while his opponents' flyball rate went down.
Harden's dominance ranks among the best in the game, and the injury risk is hardly worth the worry if you can make him your No. 4 mixed starter with the potential to post No. 2 numbers.
Jose Valverde, RP, Detroit
Valverde managed to collect 25 saves in an injury-marred '09 after back-to-back
40-save seasons. He brought more groundballs into his game following his return
from the DL; that rate has been on the rise for three years.
Valverde has sustained elite dominance through bouts with control issues and
consistently posts high strand rates. The Tigs took steps to build up the 'pen
this season even after the loss of Fernando Rodney,
and they typically offer frequent save chances. Mark Valverde as a bargain No.
Bobby Jenks, RP, Chicago
The Doughboy is less squishy, but many drafters are afraid to poke him: trade
rumors, his promising underlings (Matt Thornton
and J.J. Putz) and his 3.71 ERA in '09. He jacked
up his dominance and spotted a delivery flaw that partially caused his terrible
July. When that month is discarded, Jenks had a 2.93 ERA.
His homers-per-flyball percentage was fluky; he still forces ample grounders
despite a flyball increase and can dial up the heat if needed. Jenks' stability
is going as a No. 2 mixed closer among numerous shaky candidates. He could perform
as a No. 1.
Kevin Slowey, SP,
Slowey's wrist looks OK after '09 surgery to insert two screws and remove bone chips. The injury halted a promising 10-win half season. Since his arsenal is based on elite control, his opponents' BABIP will probably be pretty high, but lefties had a whopping .425 in-play clip against him. That's ripe for normalization.
His dominance jump from last year put less reliance on his sparkling walk rate. A healthy season sets him up to build on that growth and make him a more complete fantasy pitcher. As a No. 4 mixed starter, Slowey presents a buying opportunity to give you No. 2-level performance.
Jeff Niemann, SP,
Tampa Bay Rays
It's easy to question Niemann's effectiveness when you first look at his season-long K/9 from last year. You must, however, note the late-season growth there: 6.75 in July, 6.02 in August and 8.74 in September. The former top prospect can eat innings, and his groundball rate was on a steady climb before he sputtered at the end of the year.
He's often being taken around options with less mixed-league upside. Don't settle for Randy Wolf-types when you can grab a promising pitcher who displayed growing dominance. Niemann is an optimal No. 5 or 6 starter in mixed leagues and can be a low-end No. 3 in AL-only drafts.
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.
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