Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Ramirez looks like a bargain
This guy again? Desmond has been somebody's sleeper for a couple of years now, right? Here's the thing: Despite the fact that Desmond's surface statistics slid in the past couple of seasons, he demonstrated some improvement in his comfort at the plate and control of the strike zone.
In 2011, the right-handed hitter struggled out of the gate, mostly from the top spot in the order. He lost that job for approximately four months, but when he got it back, he was on a roll that kept on rolling. After the All-Star break Desmond hit .289 with five ding dongs and cut down on the K's.
In 2012, he's getting another crack at handling the leadoff role, where he hit .285 last season. Desmond, 26, appears to be close to consolidating his ability to drive the ball on a regular basis, like he did in the second half, with the aggressive base running that he displayed in the first half. A shortstop who hits first in D.C. and rebounds with a .270-type batting average, 25-plus stolen bases and 10 or more ding dongs isn't a bad target late in mixed leagues. -NM
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Luckily, Cozart doesn't pitch, so the Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow isn't expected to force him to miss any of 2012. Sure, it might take him a bit to be in full form at the dish, but there'll be plenty to like if it isn't bothering him.
Before the injury, Cozart lasted 11 MLB games following a promotion from Triple-A Louisville, but note the growth in his second season at the highest farm level: Cozart followed a 17-30 season by posting a 26 percent liner rate in 323 at-bats and sustaining a worthy homer-per-at-bat pace for a middle infielder. Must've felt like tee ball.
He was 25 years old during that run, which is a tad old for that stage, and he still relies on mashing lefties for most of his production. Either way, his budding power-speed pair and penchant for contact will ease some of the pain you'll endure while he hones his batting eye. This profile stands to end Cincy's recent string of unsuccessful prospect developments.
Paul Janish and Wilson Valdez are utility players, not starters. Cozart should get a long look. His combo of opportunity, home digs and stage of development will stand out among late-round mixed shortstop fliers. In NLs, he's hardly a secure starter, but at a much cheaper investment than the top tier, it's not a bad shot to take. -TH
Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
Crawford's leather places the lefty stick into the starting gig ahead of Ryan Theriot as San Fran heads into camp. Though small, his offensive improvements in the bat-friendly Arizona Fall League might help him take another step. He showed improved bat speed while working to clean up his bat's plane to the strike zone and correct his footing. Seeing more left-handed hurlers helped.
He takes enough walks and has enough contact ability to approach a .260 clip, which can be hard to come by from an NL-only middle infielder. Despite his unhelpful home locale, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder still has a hint of power to grow into during his age-25 season and should swipe a handful of bags.
If he can rise above Rey Ordonez levels in the batter's box, his defense should keep him in the lineup at least the majority of the time while he matures as a stick man. -TH
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Ramirez doesn't hit that many flies, so the chances of hitting more than 20 homers are low. And sadly, that's his clearest contribution among mixed midrange shorties.
But does that justify avoiding him if you miss out on the top positional tiers? Even with his flaws, he hasn't hit fewer than 15 homers in each of his four MLB seasons, and he could do worse than playing home contests at U.S. Cellular Field. Continuing his increased line-drive rate from last season would give his in-play clip a slight rebound. This might strip some power, but he'll still offer enough for his owners to get by.
Though his base-thieving efficiency has declined in each of the last two seasons, he'll hover around double digits. The 30-year-old won't carry the category for you, but he still has another year or three left to supplement his value in that manner.
Reports conflict on whether he'll hit second or in the bottom third of the lineup, where he sat for most of last season despite some intermittent time in the five-hole. Sticking near the back will limit his potential for crossing home. Bump him up on your cheat sheet if he'll slot after Alejandro De Aza and before Paul Konerko and potential rebounders Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
The Cuban Missile doesn't explode in one offensive area, but even if he has already peaked, he performs at an acceptable level in the five traditional columns. Stability has a price, and Ramirez's remains reasonable in just about every fantasy circle. -TH
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.
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