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. Who must you watch for in your rotisserie and head-to-head baseball drafts?
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Hardly a household name, Lucroy has snuck below many a fantasy radar even while he was making waves in Milwaukee's system ... for a catcher, at least. In 2011, his first full season, he failed to sustain the spurt of production in contact rate he showed the previous year, but we're looking at a Kurt Suzuki Lite.
Catch Suzuki again
Lucroy, who'll turn 26 in June, hit seven homers before July last season and will be practically unchallenged for at-bats to build on his notable improvements from 2011: isolated power (.076 to .126), line-drive percentage (18.8 to 24.2, per Fangraphs), swing percentage (48.3 to 42.7) and September walk percentage (12.2).
For a catcher his age, these are promising indicators; he isn't a traditional powerhouse at the position, but he's bucking the trend of late-blooming backstops in several key offensive components. He'll need to solve right-handers more consistently, but at least he showed power against them. His park has become more neutral but won't suppress Milwaukee's bats.
In most mixed setups, you can snag Lucroy as a No. 2 and net production close to a low-end No. 1 if he puts it all together. He'll be heavily discounted in dual-universe drafts and might sit available if NL-only pickers commit to options with more upside than playing time, like Devin Mesoraco. -TH
Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics
After posting a sub-.250 batting average in each of the past two seasons, Suzuki is testing fantasy baseball owners' trust. Those who remain faithful should be satisfied, however.
Suzuki, 28, has hit 13 and 14 home runs in each of the past two campaigns, respectively, on the heels of his 15 in 2009, his signature season. He enters prime years with indicators that support what he's accomplished in the area of power - along with growth of it. His fly-ball rate has steadily risen in the last few seasons, and his rate of jacks per fly ball has rested quite comfortably in double digits for the past couple of years. Could 20 bombs be on the horizon?
All that has come without a sacrifice of his line-drive rate (a potential indicator of how hard he hits the ball), which is close to 20 percent. He's posted an average on balls in play below .250 - and still more than 25 points below his career rate - for two straight years, however. In mixed leagues, he'll be someone's No. 2 catcher, but he has an excellent chance to perform as a low-end No. 1 catcher. -NM
Fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
Fantasy baseball busts and 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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