Fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued - MLB

by Tim Heaney and Nicholas Minnix on March 29, 2011 @ 09:45:28 PDT




Mike Stanton, Florida Marlins

OK, so he isn't coming out of nowhere. The former top prospect left the yard 22 times in 359 at-bats last year - at age 20. Something about light towers.... Early practice drafters appear to be down on him because of his batting average. Well, children, clips often fluctuate, but more importantly, top-level power profiles don't wait for you to call.

Stanton is already looking like concrete in that department, especially with the progress he made in adjusting to MLB pitching last year. A spring quadriceps injury isn't expected to jeopardize Opening Day. This is a talent you draft, then worry about BA later. Don't wait for him to fall into your lap. -Heaney

Travis Snider, Toronto Blue Jays

San Diego Padres OF Cameron Maybin
Remember Maybin?

Just a couple of years ago, he was one of the best hitting prospects in the game. High-end power, great swing, nothing wasted. Snider has flaws - a strikeout percentage among them - but packs potential and boasts a discernible ability to adjust as well.

You've heard this story: In mid-May of last year, when it looked like Snider was ready to break through, following a tough start, he sprained his right wrist. After he returned, from Aug. 1 on, he batted .265 with eight homers in 181 at-bats. In the season's final month, he batted .289 with six dingers in 97 at-bats.

That stretch signaled power output concerns were behind Snider, 23. The left-handed hitter tattoos the ball. He has the capacity to improve his plate discipline. He hits southpaws well. No matter where he plays, he'll play every day. Snider is seeking consistency. A season of 25 or 30 homers lies is around the corner. Take a shot before your mates do. -Minnix

Will Venable, San Diego Padres

Venable hasn't dug in against many southpaws in his brief MLB career, but he showed last year he can contribute with his feet. Sometimes you have to build on the latter and hope for everything else to come; the Pads will run, so you don't have to worry there.

San Diego has Venable in their leadoff hitter discussion; the lefty bat hit .299 with a .341 on-base percentage from the lineup perch. If they change plans, he has middle-of-the-order ability, too.

While his strong September was inflated, don't use PETCO Park as an excuse to avoid him; six of his 13 homers came there. His fly-ball jump aids his upside. Maybe his taller stance helps him hit lefties. Even if not, the Pads are less likely to platoon him this year than they were in 2010. They need to see what he has. There's little risk in addressing 20-20 potential, even if his batting average remains an issue. -Heaney

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

Another Padre? PETCO, lineup - same concerns as Venable. Whatever. The positives of fresh starts shouldn't be gospel, but they can't be overlooked. Though he still needs to improve in the contact department, the Florida Marlins didn't preach plate discipline; the Pads are better at that. He'll face less pressure than he did in his time with the Detroit Tigers and Florida because the expectations are gone. Plus, he'll probably hit in the lower third of the order.

Maybin, who in June turns a ripe 24, still boasts the power and speed tools to bounce back from his early quietness. His post-hypeness and accompanying bargain price fit right in with the Pads. Apparently, many find it ludicrous to spend bench dollars on breakout profiles, even if it takes awhile. Take advantage. -Heaney


Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

Werth didn't hit well outside of Citizens Bank Park last year, and this supporting cast won't offer as much protection. Luckily, he hasn't been a road woe-rrior for most of his career, and Nationals Park isn't quite as bad for bats as many make it out to be, especially for taters.

His plate profile is nearly bankable, even if his luck-aided clip comes down a bit. Werth boasts solid plate control (even with his K's) and came off a second straight season with an elite fly-ball percentage. He might not run as much from the cleanup spot, but the Nats like to swipe, so he'll still hit double-digit thieveries. Even if that isn't 20, he's a prime example of a uniform-fueled discount that's pounce-worthy. -Heaney

Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies

He hit 18 home runs and stole 34 bases in 2010. He also hit .259. Don't forget .259. Charlie Manuel said it: Victorino didn't seem focused last season. Maybe he was swinging for the fences too often.

Last year, the 30-year-old had at least 53 plate appearances in four different spots (two at the top, two closer to the bottom) in the lineup. He visited the DL (once again) because of an oblique strain). His line-drive rate fell noticeably, as did his average on balls in play. Irrecoverable?

Victorino is always at risk for a minor injury, but otherwise, he's pretty stable. Slide the home run projection back to the low teens. Inhale his career 87.5 percent contact rate, even after last year's dip. Appreciate his base-stealing efficiency, cultivated by Davey Lopes. See an increase in opportunities? Seems natural, which means he could push 40 thefts.

The Flyin' Hawaiian has been a top-100 type for a couple of years. One poor batting average has seemingly changed that. Be smart enough to capitalize. -Minnix

Jason Bay, New York Mets

He didn't show much before his head was rattled last season, but Bay hasn't been showing post-concussion symptoms for months. Citi Field can be a bane, especially for righty pull hitters. Bay excelled in that fashion at Fenway Park but fell flat in his first Queens season.

Have some faith, though. David Wright adjusted in his second year at Citi Field; maybe Bay needs more time, as well. The Canadian slugged much better at home than on the road last year. It's hard to give up completely on a cheap outfielder that drove in 100-plus runs in four of the five years prior to 2010. Even if his homer total doesn't reach 30, you're still netting a solid price for a high-upside bat. His fly-ball frequency puts a rebound to 20 dingers well within range; his track record keeps a bigger total in play. -Heaney

Angel Pagan, New York Mets

At 29, a player receives his first full-time major league exposure. His playing time is largely the result of a long-term injury to a teammate. The player hits .290 and double-digit homers as well as steals 37 bases. This performance is obviously a fluke.

Or is it? Pagan is a .285 hitter. He displayed flashes of this same skill set (touch of power, good bit of speed, contact rates above the mid-80s and a high line-drive rate) when he was trying to break through with the Chicago Cubs. Injuries and illness derailed his career. In 2009, he was finally at full strength and once again demonstrated this ability.

Now in a full-time role, Pagan is excelling at what he does best. His job is secure. The lineup around him can only get better; its cornerstones finally have a positive (at least more than it used to be) health outlook.

Reel in the stolen base total just a bit. Project a realistic (.280?) batting average. Place that profile in the sixth spot or (better yet) the two-hole on the Mets, the club that drafted him in the fourth round in 1999. Sounds like a winner of a pickup. -Minnix

Andres Torres, San Francisco Giants

"I want him to show me again," you might say. We're not asking you to pay for a career year but instead to recognize the value that Torres carries. Plus, how much are you even paying for his best numbers? Others are writing off the 33-year-old as it is. It isn't like you're spending a fifth-rounder on him.

Colorado Rockies SP Jhoulys Chacin
Chase Chacin

His power-and-steals combo deserves your focus. His wheels aren't falling off; Torres is by taking his medication for ADHD. His long, odd route to the bigs means he still has something to offer - maybe a slightly normalized version of 2010, which would still be solid. His BB/K in the bigs has steadily improved, and he relished his PT opportunity.

It's not an ideal lineup, but he'll stay at the top. When filling your mixed outfield, that shouldn't be taken lightly. -Heaney



Dan Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks

After landing in Arizona, Hudson took the NL by storm: 1.69 ERA, 70 K's and 16 walks (!) in 79 2/3 innings. Maybe the DH-to-P switch in opposing lineups helped that much? Fly balls are a concern, though. That ERA and his low HR/FB prove fortune was involved, and there will be some correction at Chase Field, but the promise his control showed on the farm paid off. For what it's worth, he limited homers throughout the minors.

His fastball and dominance rate are better plays on the Senior Circuit. Don't let his ballpark scare you away. There are skills here that could fall to No. 4 mixed SP range on draft day and perform as a No. 2 during the season. -Heaney

Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies

A right-hander with four quality pitches steadily rises through the Rockies' system. He's rough around the edges, but he impresses in limited MLB innings. He matures before the staff's eyes and embraces a momentous role while the club makes its usual post-break run at the postseason.

Sound kind of like Ubaldo Jimenez's story? He and Chacin aren't exactly alike. The former has a mid-90s zinger and walks more than his fair share; the latter sports low-90s heat but has historically been more efficient with bases on balls.

Chacin, 23, made a habit of sub-3.00 BB/9s and grounder rates of 60-plus percent in his first couple of farm seasons. Colorado may have pushed him a little too quickly. A mild decline in walks per nine and moderate rise in ground-ball coaxing - as a full-time starter - in the season's final two months bode well. He went 4-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 49 K's in 55 frames during that stretch.

The former top-notch prospect's 2010 ending is due for some correction, but it grabbed your attention, didn't it? After last year's demotion, a mature-beyond-his-years Chacin stepped up. The next one is? -Minnix

Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds

Plenty of risk lurks behind the bed curtain of a pitcher who recently underwent Tommy John surgery. One who exhibited sincere problems with his command heightens it. This right-hander has a 4.68 BB/9 lifetime, with 5.80 and 5.03 marks in the past two seasons.

Instead of marveling at Volquez's perseverance and ability, however, we get hung up on the devastating effects of those free passes. Like, on his recent ERA marks of ... 4.35 and 4.31? He was 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and 206 strikeouts in 2008. He walked 4.27 hitters per nine, which didn't exactly lead to his downfall. His sheer ability to dominate (8.69 K/9, .249 BAA career) in other areas of the game allowed for that success.

In 2009, Volquez returned from a minimum stint on the DL for back pain and pitched only one inning before leaving with an elbow injury. Most hurlers recovering from TJS and the layoff suffer through control issues. Pin some blame squarely on those circumstances from the past two years. Witness the recent post-break comebacks of Tim Hudson and Josh M. Johnson. How'd things turn out for them in the following season?

Volquez, 27, dominated in his minor league rehabilitation stint and brief demotion last year. The question isn't about the return of his ability but how soon he brings it up to major league speed. There's plenty of reason to believe that he'll do so in 2011. And he turned down a low-dollar, multi-year offer from Cincy for a one-year deal to do just that. -Minnix


Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox

Beckett's 2010 disaster, including a velocity dip, was at least partially caused by a preseason bout with the flu and early-season back problems. Hearing Beckett and an injured body part in the same sentence hardly causes confidence, but that's good for you; your other drafters won't touch him. Reports of him working to strengthen his back and core reflect efforts he underwent after his dismal 2006, when he was first adapting to facing AL hitters frequently.

He tried to succeed last year by throwing cutter ... after cutter ... after cutter. He wasn't Mariano Rivera. Look inward: He intends to stick with what he knows, and if he remains healthy his control rate will be bound for improvement. You'll have to deal with his homer bug, but be encouraged by the fact he still fanned more than eight per nine and kept a respectable grounder inducement rate.

He suffered a mild concussion Feb. 28 after being hit with an errant batted ball, but early reports are encouraging. His price is already low, and he still holds ace-like characteristics. You're merely looking for positive pieces in the midrange SP class, and Beckett's outweigh many overhyped starters and less talented arms either coming off a mediocre year or boasting a shorter track record. In his case, your No. 4 could be your No. 1. -Heaney

Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics

What is it that scares the average fantasy manager away from Anderson, everyone's favorite up-and-comer entering last year? It must be last April's strain near the elbow that landed him on the DL for more than a month. Add the inflammation that put him back there for nearly two more.

It can't be his nasty slider or spacious home ballpark. It's definitely not the 7.04 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 31.6 fly-ball percentage, 3.57 ERA or 1.25 WHIP that he has amassed in 287 2/3 major league frames. There's little doubt about Anderson's ability.

Unquestionably, the southpaw carries some health risk. Few are willing to pay for the possible reward. The 23-year-old closed last season by pitching the final two months without an elbow-related incident. His 2010 setbacks weren't surprising; his 2008 workload swelled by 70 innings in 2009.

Oakland improved the club around its staff. Anderson's danger makes you cautious. His fantasy ceiling - a No. 2 or No. 3 mixed league starter - is too high to forsake going a buck or two more than this year's timid crowd is willing, however. -Minnix

Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox

It's a little strange that fantasy players seem out of touch with the potential value that this southpaw holds. It begins with the value that he definitely (or, really, kind of as close as you can get to definitely) does hold. Thornton's past three seasons were quite valuable to a roto owner.

67 1/3
72 1/3
60 2/3

If you enjoyed the fruits of that ERA, WHIP and K's, with a handful of wins and some bonus saves, say hallelujah.

Now, Thornton has been named the closer on the South Side to open the season. But fantasy managers don't seem too impressed, at least not much more impressed than they were in the past couple of years. The 34-year-old's competition includes a kid entering his first full season as a pro (Chris Sale), a young fella entering his second full season as a pitcher (Sergio Santos) and Jesse Crain (who needs no introduction).

People, people, people, come on. Buy. -Minnix

Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers

His age (35) and fly-ball rate are the scariest parts of his game. He's as flashy as a spatula, but there's nothing wrong with being a rock, especially since his deceptiveness still induces whiffs. Lilly's fly-ball and homer problems aren't as worrisome in Chavez Ravine as they were in Wrigley Field, and he works around his tater issues.

Shoulder and knee surgeries cost him most of April; no reported issues this spring, and he came back strong, especially in his new home (2.90 ERA and 0.86 WHIP at Dodger Stadium, 3.90 and 0.99 career). He'll continue to benefit from his starts against offensively offensive division opponents. Most are simply waiting for a skills erosion to kick in while ignoring his pristine control. -Heaney

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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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