Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
Be encouraged. Morneau was working out vigorously after the New Year and began swinging before he reported to ST. They call it "progress." And in case you forgot how devastating the loss of him was, he went .345/.437/.618 with 18 homers and 57 RBI in exactly half a season's worth of contests in 2010 before that knee to the head in Toronto.
Be cautious. Morneau's youth sports endeavors left him with an untold story in concussion history. He's much more susceptible to recurrence. It'll take little, and it'll last. The B.C. man has a mean record of ailments not related to the concussion, too. And you cannot carry out last year's pace. Few players are deserving of labels like "X-half player," but Morneau's pre- and post-break ledger (.306/.376/.553 and .260/.334/.457) smells like one.
Relative to other first basemen, Morneau is a low-end mixed model. Is he a top-50 pick? Seems like a good reason to target a high-end player at the position and consider that maybe first base isn't as deep as you think, relatively speaking. -Minnix
Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
How long until Weeks hits DL?
This is a difficult designation for such a talented commodity. His brilliant September hinted at an impending breakout. After all, he'll hit in the middle of the order and has monster power potential, as many as 30 taters for this year, if you're optimistic.
That fuse is fizzling, though, after reports of Alvarez being overweight. The extent and accuracy are in question, but either way, upper management expressed concerns over his conditioning. Another Pablo Sandoval? Alvarez also has some undeveloped parts to his offense - contact, performance versus southpaws included. Maybe his 25 homers will come with a .230 clip ... and other counting categories suffocated by the Bucs' lineup.
If you're left to pick through the shaky middle tier at third, in most cases you're better off taking a chance on someone with Alvarez's promise. But his September performance can only mean so much in the grand scheme; his work-in-progress batting average profile and questionable effort mean a tanked season isn't a long shot. His price might fall if drafters put stock in those reports, but again, not many third basemen stand out around him. Cover your tracks appropriately if you select him. -Heaney
Aubrey Huff, San Francisco Giants
Huff's midseason homer explosion reflected his '08 pop display. But while in most cases his track record validates his stability, in this case, it prompts tempered expectations for a homer repeat. His HR/FB was inflated in the middle of the season and jacked up his season mark. How much are you betting that fly-ball efficiency can be repeated by a 34-year-old in a pitcher-friendly park and soft offensive cast?
Huff seems like an every-other-year player, for what that's worth. First base isn't as deep as many think, but some are waiting on Huff - often passing up more potent options - to claim as their mixed starter. Huff can be a useful CI, but don't plan your draft around settling for an erratic performer. -Heaney
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
After years (decades?) of teasing, Weeks had that big year in the category we had all dreamed that he could: 160 games. Oh, the .269-29-83 line, with 112 runs and 11 stolen bases, that was nice. A bonus, really. He lands a big extension, and now those wrist and knee issues, the freak occurrences - you know, the reasons you apparently hate Ian Kinsler - are in the past.
The power is about for real, and it should remain that way - as long as he's upright. Weeks' trips to the DL in each of the four seasons prior to 2010 (two 60-day, two 15-day) tell us that he's ready for Kinsler-hood. You can only hope for the speed nowadays. The BA isn't going anywhere, either, judging from those subpar contact and line-drive rates.
The 28-year-old is quite a talent, but one outstanding year doesn't make high risk disappear. Just ask value buy Kinsler in a couple of rounds. -Minnix
Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
This is not denying Andrus' attractive lineup, lineup spot and ballpark. Guy's fast, with a makeup that will probably add power ... someday. With the shortstop class in its current form, Andrus looks like he's a cut above the midrange options.
Is he really, though? How much does a steal-heavy profile outweigh more stable, across-the-board options like Alexei Ramirez and Stephen Drew? Heck, can't forget Rafael Furcal, who's a much cheaper Andrus with a track record. Is Andrus suddenly going to hit 10 homers and .290 this year? Really? You're counting on that? If so, please share directions to your parties.
The weak crop at the 6 is causing many to pay extra for a steals artist who hasn't quite refined his thievery. You're counting on quantity of attempts, which isn't a terrible bet, but everything else in his line - outside of runs scored - leaves more to be desired from a top-six shortstop. -Heaney
Alex Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
Just a guess: There's a reason that Gonzalez hasn't been considered starting mixed-league material in, oh, half a dozen years.
His home run output isn't in grave danger, but last year's gave you the wrong impression. Gonzalez hit 17 of his 23 ding dongs as a member of the swing-for-the-Rogers-Centre-fences Toronto Blue Jays. That club's home digs are notably friendlier to right-handed hitters; Turner field offers no such advantage. The Venezuelan belted eight in 167 at-bats in Canada, just three in 149 at-bats in the Big A. He rode a hot April (.289 BA, seven HR) all the way into your 2011 hearts. His average dipped to .250 by season's end.
Gonzalez, 34, made a successful comeback from a serious knee injury, but he can't shake his checkered injury history that easily. Don't pay your barely mediocre mixed middle man for his career year. -Minnix
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
Is Sizemore a top-100 mixed player now that he's "healthy"? Let's assume that he plays for the entire season. Believe it or not, that's realistic. How many games, though, 130, 145 tops? His batting average was in serious trouble before the first ambulance arrived. He's getting to baseball activities late. What's his 2011 ceiling, 20 to 25 homers, 10 to 15 steals? He has to hit that to justify the pick, doesn't he?
Carlos Beltran - similar case, just a few years older - has spent quite some time getting back to - near - full strength. He received frequent days off when he returned, last year. Mid-February quote from Sizemore: "I still suspect I'll feel something different in my knee." Sounds super.
Maybe, in the second half, we see a player who resembles Grady Sizemore. And 2012 can't come soon enough. Don't set your sights too high this year. -Minnix
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Cahill ain't so tough
We're at the point where fantasy managers' blind faith is approaching harmful. You don't always see it coming. Ichiro, 37, has experienced steady decay of his of once highly dependable line-drive percentages (past six years: 22, 22, 20, 20, 18, 17). His hit rate has slowly been suffering along with it. We're near the point where "luck" is starting to mean something for Ichiro.
More importantly, the left-handed hitter is at an age when decline in speed is advanced. How long will Ichiro's infield hit percentage remain so high (15.8 percent last year)? He doesn't draw walks regularly. Last year, he posted an uncharacteristically high rate of stolen base attempts relative to his opportunities. Is he keeping up appearances? And let's not ignore the substandard men Seattle asks to drive him in.
Ichiro is extremely reliable. He's in great shape. He won't sink into the Pacific. But he's not a high-end source of BA and thefts anymore. -Minnix
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
First of all, it isn't 2006. Many seem to think so.
More to the point, Sori isn't a stud anymore. To be fair, he made some notable improvements last season, including hitting more fly balls. He stayed healthy, but that came in part due to losing playing time to stay fresh. He'll have that same issue this year, and he's easily replaceable.
In the late mixed rounds, he's a worthy value pick. Unfortunately, many are jumping on him as if he's still threatening 30-30. You can't count on double-digit steals from his 35-year-old legs, and his contact profile doesn't point toward a helpful BA. His power can still serve you wisely as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but you can't pass up younger, more potent offensive options to draft a name, especially one whose long swing will continue to hurt him. -Heaney
Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins
Did you see those 112 RBIs last year? The 21 homers weren't shabby, but the ribbies drove his value. His fly-ball growth hit just a mediocre level and is still tempered by his grounder penchant.
His RBI total just looked ... off, especially for someone whose pop hasn't developed fully yet and is projected to bat sixth or seventh most of the time. You should know better than to overvalue RBIs, which are more dependent on the team aspect.
Sure, the 25-year-old is finally approaching his upside, and we're not writing off his talent. If he's a middle-rounder, bully for you; unfortunately, he's often going much sooner. His line has just as good a chance of ending up like that of the multitude of midrange run-producing outfielders as it does of marking another true breakthrough season. There's nothing wrong with that, but it has its price, and it shouldn't be overpaid for. -Heaney
Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres
Expect Ludwick to rebound. His sickly stretch of 209 at-bats with the Pads last year (.211 BA, six home runs, 26 RBIs) was unusual for someone who had been fairly consistent from half to half in his three previous seasons.
The dedicated 32-year-old expected a lot from himself after the St. Louis Cardinals dealt him to SD. In addition, shortly after he arrived, he aggravated a calf strain that had forced him to the DL for four weeks in June, but he didn't use it an excuse. Instead, Ludwick comes back fresh, having added a little muscle. The move to PETCO Park from Busch Stadium will actually be beneficial to the right-handed batter's back-up-the-middle and pulling ways.
When you add it all up, however, it still comes up short of No. 3 outfielder material in MLB universes. Even in the Friars' revivalist campaign, their offense finished in the bottom third of MLB offenses, averaging about a half run per game less than St. Louis did. Ludwick will no longer have the support of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez.
The right-handed batter's .299 batting average in 2008 was an outlier. Thankfully (and strangely), his platoon splits favor right-handed opposition, and he was improving versus southpaws before last season. But a sub-par contact rate and holes in his approach leave too much to chance. Have you seen his ADP on Mock Draft Central? Ludwick's bounce-back is due. Don't overrate its impact. -Minnix
Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
So they made a fourth movie: The Bourn Overpricing. Sure, he'll see ample at-bats hitting leadoff, but he's still a one-trick Shetland - OK, so runs might make him a double-trick - but he still has little else to offer. You're counting on helpful runs in this offense? He couldn't repeat his '09 performance versus lefties, and it's unwise to think he'll be able to rebound sufficiently there.
Sometimes, drafting a one-trick pony is the best play. But in most cases, it isn't. If you spread your steals out, the damage a Bourn Collapse would do won't hurt. But it's part of the same old adage: Don't put all your swipes in one basket. -Heaney
Denard Span, Minnesota Twins
Upside with a side of fortune
Span is a solid player. He's a BABIP maven who dealt with a bit of misfortune last season. The average should bounce back to the .280-to-.290 range. His stolen base opportunities will go up. He runs and hits at the top of a good lineup. He's ... solid.
The 26-year-old faded in the second half. That's also reflected in his numbers. And it will soon be reflected in his PT. Ron Gardenhire expects to give him more time off in 2011. If the Twinkies have all hands on deck, it's only natural that Span gets it. Good for performance, bad for impact.
Span isn't an elite base stealer or a high-end source of runs. You could get 40 or 50 thefts, with the same BA, from Rajai Davis multiple rounds later. -Minnix
Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics
A ground-ball artist with manageable control can go a long way for the right price. But Cahill is too rich for fantasy comfort. He feels hardly any batter breeze, and his irrationally microscopic .236 BAABIP presents the archetype of batted-ball normalization.
Opponents make plenty of contact against this soft tosser. It's not like his velocity jumped or his control is all that sparkling for what it would be to ease your lack-of-dominance concerns. It's hard to put stock into location-based arms. If you make him one of your draft day priorities, you will suffer. Let someone else bow blindly to Cahill's 2010 stats. Buy the enticing Brett Anderson, or Gio Gonzalez as a lesser alternative, instead. -Heaney
Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
He's Trevor Cahill, but with more believable meat. Buchholz's rebound from '09 issues was mostly real. He'll continue to be one of the MLB's best grounder inducers. His 8.53 K/9 from '08 isn't likely to show up, though; he has changed his M.O. Plus, his BB/9 isn't exactly pristine. The stuff that he controls isn't ... well, in control yet.
The 26-year-old has posted small BAABIPs so far, but his lack of whiffs and penchant to pitch to contact leave that trend highly volatile. He'll still make, say, a decent No. 3 or No. 4 mixed starter, but he'll hit earth harder and lose more draft-invested money than many expect. Don't pin your rotation hopes on him. -Heaney
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
Oh, look, he's in the National League now! No more AL East - Garza will be a fantasy ace! He has the control and innings-eating ability needed, but there's a reason Cubs fans are somber: They're realistic.
Sure, maybe facing the pitcher will give the smallest aid to Garza's K/9, which has been on a roller coaster ride the last few years and dipped again last season. How comfortable can you be with his fly-ball rate and HR/9 - both on three-year climbs? Yeah, his new home park will do wonders for that profile. Sell his Senior Circuit move to your fellow drafters so they peg him as something more than a No. 4 innings-eating starter. Then target someone else. -Heaney
Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco Giants
Sanchez's career performance doesn't back up his .267 BAABIP and lofty 79.5 percent strand rate. It's too good to be true. He's dominant and has a safe home park, but don't belittle his fly-ball and walk problems all in the name of K's.
Sanchez's three years of ERA and WHIP improvement haven't exactly made him elite. It's false elite. He has more upside, but how much more? Note his sizable innings jump, including postseason, and the fact that he wore down in October, with less of a layoff. Still confident in him? He's essentially Jorge De La Rosa (who can be had so much later) without the ground-ball penchant. Sanchez doesn't throw that hard, either. Your WHIPlash will hurt for months if you spend No. 3 or No. 4 mixed SP money on him. -Heaney
Brett Myers, Houston Astros
Myers, who boasts reliable control, made some notable gains last season as he settled back into rotation duty: He boosted his K/9 and grounder inducement while tempering his homer allowance and becoming more difficult to hit. Thank his rejuvenated slider and curve, along with a more mature approach.
The issue is not with his profile, which has now become more reliable, but with how much people expect him to build on it. In 2010, the 30-year-old vet possibly showed us the best of what his career can offer - it isn't a bad level, but it's not something to pay extra for while passing up bigger payoffs.
He remains a threat to give up taters - do you want to bank on that 8.5 percent HR/FB again compared to his career 14.3 percent? Plus, he doesn't produce as much velocity as a starter as he did in his K/9 heyday, and you're betting on another 14-win season to help carry an Astros arm's value.
Myers' mixed profit nearly universally came from waiver wires last season. For 2011, many are expecting him to meet the price of a No. 4 starter. Don't fall into that crowd. -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 LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.