Pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training this week, we are rolling for fantasy baseball season with our player projections and the Cheatsheet Compiler & Draft Buddy for 2011, loaded with those projections. It is an exciting time as we approach the dawn of another season.
As with any set of projections, there are going to be players projected somewhat higher or lower than what the majority of fantasy baseball players think. We can identify these players through a comparison of the player’s ranking versus their Average Draft Position (ADP). These players who are outside the norm can be considered sleepers or busts, or overvalued or undervalued for fantasy baseball.
The important thing to note isn’t that these players are projected “wrong”, but rather, does the projector with his contrarian thinking have valid reasons for projecting these players higher or lower than consensus? We certainly believe the reasons are valid, or we wouldn’t project the players that way.
So who are these players? Let’s take a look at some hitters who aren’t being taken seriously enough and those who are overvalued around Major League Baseball, and more importantly, fantasy baseball.
Russell Martin has received no love since his breakout season of 2007. Since his game has slumped at the plate in the last few years, he has earned what he has received, but look for a revival in the Bronx. Hitting in the New York Yankees order can do wonders for anyone’s game and Martin should be rejuvenated with 2007-esque numbers. The steals might not break 20 like his big season, but look for the average and power to return. He’s being drafted as the 243rd player overall (18th round in a 14-team league) over at Mock Draft Central (MDC), so a mid-teen draft pick should net you a very solid catcher.
Kurt Suzuki always produces when healthy. Unfortunately, he missed almost a month of 2010 and didn’t get 500 at bats for the first time since his rookie season. Suzuki doesn’t put up huge numbers, but because he normally gets a lot of at bats, the stats pile up for him more than most catchers. He’s going in the 12th round at MDC, but should be going earlier than that. Assuming he can stay healthy, he will reward you.
There are four elite catchers in fantasy baseball: Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann and Buster Posey, with Posey joining the group in 2011. Carlos Santana will likely join the group next season, but is probably a cut below for right now.
If you can’t get one of the big four, there are nearly a dozen who can be lumped together with similar expectations. That group includes Martin, Suzuki and Santana. Unless you’ve really fallen in love with one of these guys, don’t jump the gun and draft one too soon, after the big four are drafted. Play the waiting game and get one for value once two-thirds to three-quarters of projected starting catchers are off the board.
Derrek Lee has fallen out of favor with fantasy players. His stats are sliding a bit from his glory days in Chicago, but if you can snag Lee a round or two before his 16th round ADP, you will love the results. Lee is healthy again and is determined to prove that he hasn’t lost it. The Orioles have constructed a nice batting order around Lee with Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Reynolds, which will help the cause. If you have the faith in Lee, he will pay off handsomely.
Aubrey Huff had a very nice 2010, but that wasn’t who Aubrey Huff is. Huff is more like a .270/20/80 guy, but he’s flying off the board at MDC in the eighth round as if he were going to produce .290/26/86 again. Don’t fall for the hype.
Brian Roberts is a guy whose reputation will carry him for the next few years, even as his production declines. He’s still a good fantasy performer, but he now falls into a very large group of players who will give you similar numbers at a cheaper price, and likely less injury risk. Unless he falls in your draft, don’t spend a lot on him.
There are a number of players who will qualify at 2B this season but will play elsewhere. Most of them are good players to have on your team because they will qualify at multiple positions, including a hard to cover middle infield slot. Martin Prado is the best of the bunch and Ben Zobrist will help your team in a lot of areas. Chone Figgins is a notoriously slow starter, but is worth 30-40 steals by the end of the season.
Chase Headley is ready to step up for the Padres. He has reached that magical age of 27 and will progress towards being a better all-around ball player. He’s not about to push David Wright off the All-Star team, but he will likely better all of his 2010 numbers. He’s going in the 21st round over at MDC, which is about ten rounds too late for his production. He’ll contribute nicely in all categories, including almost 20 steals. Grab him and enjoy the ride.
If there is one player that you should stay away from, it’s Adrian Beltre. He has shown us a pattern of playing hard only when his next contract is on the line. In a contract season, he is a monster. He averaged .310/28/89 in his three contract seasons. Compare that to his non-contract season average of .264/18/67. Why the Texas Rangers would back up the armored car for this slacker, no one knows. Make sure you don’t do it, even in a hitter friendly ballpark, unless you want to be disappointed.
Troy Tulowitzki had a September like no other. In September of 2010, Tulo went .376/15/40 with 30 runs scored. Those stats help to inflate his 2010 overall stat line and covers up the goose eggs he took from mid-June through late July as he was on the disabled list. He spent an extended stay on the DL two of the last three years and there are serious concerns about his durability. When he plays, he’s the second best shortstop in fantasy baseball. But it’s hard to get stats for your squad when you’re not on the field. If you draft Tulo, make sure you have an adequate backup ready to slide into his place for a spell, and hopefully not a long spell.
There are about a half dozen guys who can give you stats similar to the ones Jhonny Peralta will put up in 2011. The difference is that he will be on the board for about 10 rounds longer then each of the other players. Grab him shortly before his 18th round ADP and you will be happy. The bonus is that he is also 3B eligible in most leagues for a little flexibility, although SS is a more shallow position.
Two things you need to know about Carlos Beltran’s 2011 season is that he’s healthy and it’s a contract season. He’s not about to return to the glory days of 40-40, but he should end up with 25 homers and 25 steals with an average north of .275. Beltran is going in the late 17th round at MDC, which is a bargain for what you’ll get.
Nick Markakis is a very good hitting outfielder. He’s somewhere in between the outlier seasons of 2007 when he was great and 2010 when he was mediocre. Since his stats have been steadily decreasing every season since his big 2007 campaign, many have given up on him. If you are looking for guy who can hit .300 and drive in 100 runs, then Markakis is your man. He might only hit 15 or so homers, but the overall value is much better than the eighth round ADP he is getting over at MDC.
Josh Hamilton, when healthy, is one of the most feared hitters in the game. But this is a guy who has a great amount of trouble staying healthy. He’s averaged 427 at bats each of the last two seasons and thinking he will see 600 AB is asking too much from a guy who throws his body around in centerfield. Expect him to excel when playing, but temper your expectations to around 500 AB.
Ichiro Suzuki is a great story of a guy who came over from Japan and excelled as an everyday player. He was the first Japanese player to do this and he has been awesome to watch for the last decade. Unfortunately, the man who relies on speed to change the game is slowing down as he ages. The steals are down around 30 and the batting average is getting dangerously close to .300. This isn’t a player to avoid, but Ichiro hits for no power and contributes very little other than his speed. He certainly isn’t a player to select in the early third round, as he is being drafted over at MDC.