Fantasy Baseball 2012: Ranking the Top 25 'Buy-Low' Draft Candidates

Gerard MartinCorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Ranking the Top 25 'Buy-Low' Draft Candidates

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    Every fantasy baseball player loves to talk about drafting sleepers, but what about the guys who just can't get any love?

    These buy-low candidates may not be the most attractive options available, but they are calculated risks that can lead your team to a championship.

    Every player on this list is capable of providing value a full round better than where you'll have to draft him.

    However, keep in mind that this list is in order of each player's value as a buy-low option, it doesn't necessarily double as a ranking of which players are empirically best. 

    The draft rounds/positions are courtesy of Mock Draft Central and are based on a 10-team 5x5 mixed league.

1. Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins 3B

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    After entering last season as a consensus top five draft pick, Hanley Ramirez has fallen out of fantasy favor; his draft stock has dropped all the way to the tail end of the second round.

    The worst offensive season of his career gives prospective fantasy owners plenty of reason for discouragement, but the discerning drafter will realize that many of the factors that fueled Ramirez's decline will likely not affect the mashing Marlin in 2012.

    Ramirez's lower back problems robbed him of both power and speed, leading to career lows in home runs and stolen bases, along with his worst HR/FB rate since his rookie season. In addition, his injury conspired with the luck dragons to produce a BABIP over 50 points lower than Ramirez's previous career low.

    In 2012, a healthy Hanley will again have the hustle to beat out grounders, the power to muscle balls out of the park and the speed to swipe bags. He'll deliver first-round value and challenge Troy Tulowitzki for the title of best fantasy shortstop.

2. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals SP

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    Tommy John surgery just isn't that big of a deal anymore. Even just 10 years ago, an invasive elbow operation could spell the end of a pitcher's career. Now, it'll cost you a year, but the vast majority of T.J. patients return as good as new.

    For whatever reason, the fantasy community hasn't taken this approach with Adam Wainwright.

    Wainwright will enter spring training with a full calendar year of rehab under his belt. He's already throwing live batting practice and says he feels no ill effects from his injury.

    If Wainwright can pitch a full season at 100 percent (and all indications are that he can), then he will certainly outperform his 11th round ADP.

3. Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels RP

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    Jordan Walden's 10 blown saves in 2011 would seem to indicate a closer on the brink of losing his job, but his underlying numbers actually placed him among the best stoppers in baseball.

    His ERA and FIP both checked in under 3.00, and he struck out just shy of 10 batters per nine innings.

    Walden was consistently dominant with his fastball, throwing it over 80 percent of the time and averaging nearly 98 mph.

    With an improved offense and starting staff supporting him, only Craig Kimbrel is a better option at closer in 2012.

4. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants C

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    Much like Wainwright, Buster Posey's draft stock has been stymied by injury worries. However, much like Wainwright, Posey's recovery is progressing well through the early offseason.

    The league began to catch up to Posey a bit in 2011, but even after a slight decline from his outstanding rookie campaign, Posey was posting elite fantasy numbers prior to the collision that ended his season.

    Few catchers can deliver quite the same combination of average and power; Posey is an excellent investment in the late fifth round.

5. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves OF

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    Jason Heyward was overhyped heading into 2011, making his precipitous decline even more disappointing.

    Heyward fought through shoulder problems all season long, and the injury completely sapped his power. Unable to elevate the ball to the outfield, Heyward's infield fly ball rate jumped above 20 percent, nearly three times the rate from his rookie season.

    With plenty of time off to get healthy, Heyward will bounce back to produce numbers at least equal to those of his rookie campaign.

6. Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins SP

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    Yet another injury victim, Josh Johnson is even riskier than the rest.

    He's battled a litany of maladies throughout his career, topping 200 innings only once. However, reports out of Marlins camp have his latest recovery progressing well.

    Johnson has the physical build to be a horse, but for whatever reason, he just hasn't been able to hold up. When he is healthy, he's posted elite strikeout rates and held down opponent's home runs better than almost any pitcher in baseball.

    A pitcher with such a checkered injury past is always going to pose an elevated risk, but after seeing what Johnson did in limited action last season, he shouldn't make it into the 10th round.

7. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox OF

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    Carl Crawford's recent wrist surgery is a concern, but it's less so for a hitter whose value isn't wholly dependent on home run power.

    Crawford's 2011 faceplant produced career-worsts in batting average, stolen bases, on-base percentage and strikeout rate. His .299 BABIP wasn't quite a career-low, but it was well below the norm for Crawford.

    The 2012 outlook for Crawford is considerably rosier. His line drive and home run rates were solid last season, indicating he's due for an average-boosting a BABIP bounce-back. A better batting average means more chances to improve on his paltry 18 steals from a year ago.

    He won't be all the way back to his old self, but he'll be well worth a pick in the late third round.

8. Colby Rasmus, Toronto Blue Jays OF

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    By now, we all know that Colby Rasmus' 2010 outburst was a BABIP-fueled mirage, but after a disappointing year in 2011, the prevailing opinion on Rasmus has shifted too far. He's not a 30/20 player, but he's much better than the 14/5 he produced last season.

    Rasmus is still only 25 years old with plenty of room to improve. His stodgy tendencies as a member of the Blue Jays don't portend a return to 15-plus steals, but after an offseason with a team that specializes in developing power, Rasmus' home runs will bounce back.

    He's shown the capability to clear the fence with 15 percent of his fly balls, that means he'll challenge 25 homers with a full season of at-bats.

9. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles C

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    In the two years since his post-call-up hype has dissipated, Matt Wieters has steadily established himself as a solid fantasy option at catcher.

    His fantasy numbers have improved in every season, topping out at 22 homers, 72 runs and 68 RBI last year.

    The Baltimore Orioles offense will limit Wieters' ceiling in the run production categories, but 30 dingers is absolutely within reach.

    He's a much safer investment than an injury-wrecked Joe Mauer, who's going 14 spots ahead of Wieters on draft day.

10. Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays 1B

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    After bottoming out in 2010, Lind's surface stats showed modest improvement in 2011. Yet, a look even further into the peripheral numbers shows a more encouraging trend.

    Lind upped his batting average nearly 15 points, even as his BABIP dropped by almost the same amount.

    He cut his strikeout rate while also boosting his HR/FB rate.

    Lind is making better contact, more often. Once his BABIP luck bounces back, Lind will deliver much greater value than his 14th round draft position would indicate.

11. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants 1B

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    Brandon Belt has disappointed in the early part of his major league career, but with injuries and inconsistent playing time robbing him of any semblance of rhythm, it's hard to blame him.

    At only 23-years-old, Belt has clearly accomplished everything he can in the minor leagues, and with only an aging Aubrey Huff (and his .676 OPS) standing in his way, it seems that he'll finally get his shot on the big stage.

    Belt has all of the tools. With regular playing time, he'll produce just as well as higher-drafted youngsters like Freddie Freeman and Gaby Sanchez.

12. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox SS

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    Shortstop is surprisingly deep this season, but somehow, Alexei Ramirez remains a forgotten man. He doesn't have any singular, outstanding skill, but he does everything well.

    Since entering the big leagues in 2008, Ramirez has never posted a batting average lower than .269 or hit fewer than 15 home runs.

    Though there seem to be plenty of capable shortstops available heading into this year, no player outside the top five can promise the level of stability that Ramirez will provide. He's a great buy low and an incredibly safe investment.

13. A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates SP

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    A.J. Burnett hasn't pitched outside of the American League East since 2005. As a member of the Florida Marlins in that season, Burnett struck out nearly a batter per inning and posted a 3.44 ERA (backed up by a 3.11 FIP).

    Since then, the strikeouts have remained consistent, but opposing offenses have tagged Burnett for more and more runs each year. When he returns to the weaker-hitting National League, expect that trend to change.

    Burnett can still miss bats at an elite rate, and his move to an advantageous situation in Pittsburgh will turn him into a much more well-rounded fantasy performer.

    Currently going in the 27th round, Burnett will easily outperform his draft status and deliver value that ranks among the top 50 starting pitchers.

14. Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians SP

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    After benefiting from a consistently low BABIP during his time in Colorado, the luck dragons paradoxically turned on Ubaldo Jimenez during his move to Cleveland in 2011. His home run rate also spiked last season, something unlikely to continue while Jimenez pitches in a neutral park against a division with only one elite offense.

    Heading into 2012, Jimenez is likely to produce the same two things he's delivered in every season of his career: strikeouts and ground balls.

    With a solid infield defense behind him and an improving offense backing him up, Jimenez gives drafters a chance to acquire a top 25 starter after the 15th round.

15. Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics SP

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    Much like Josh Johnson, Brett Anderson is a perennial injury risk. Also like Johnson, Anderson has been consistently excellent when healthy, posting an FIP under 4.00 in each of his three major league stints.

    Anderson has the ability to miss bats, which just amplifies his value in an already cozy situation in Oakland. Few ballparks are as helpful to pitchers, and while a weak A's offense will limit his win potential, Anderson will get the chance for a few starts against a similarly weak Seattle attack.

    He's a risk, but Anderson is a worthwhile investment.

16. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox DH

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    There's really not much left to say about Adam Dunn's 2011 season. The suddenness and severity of his decline is unprecedented in recent baseball history.

    It's entirely possible that those levels of production are what Dunn is capable of, that he's completely lost the capability to put bat on ball with any kind of regularity.

    However, it's also possible (and far more likely) that last season was nothing more than a collision of unfamiliar circumstances and a devastating run of bad luck.

    I have every reason to believe that Dunn's skills still exist. With that in mind, there's no way you'll find greater home run potential in the 25th round.

17. Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins 1B

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    Any pick used on Justin Morneau is a roll of the dice. There is a real chance that his concussion problems will end his baseball career in the very near future.

    However, there is a chance that those problems are mostly behind him. If that's the case, you can grab MVP-caliber production at an incredibly discounted rate.

    Even if Morneau doesn't make it through the entire season, a hot start would quickly return him to the forefront of the fantasy world, making him trade bait for a rival owner who's comfortable with taking a calculated gamble.

18. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals 3B

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    Mike Moustakas was called up to much ballyhoo in June of last season, but a swoon in July dropped him off of the fantasy radar.

    Moustakas has consistently displayed big power throughout his minor league career, the only question was whether he could consistently make contact with major league pitching.

    Though he only ended up with five home runs in over a half season of at-bats, Moustakas absolutely proved that he could hang in with big league pitching. His strikeout rate in the majors was actually three percentage points better than what he'd posted in Triple-A.

    Moustakas' HR/FB rate will rise this season, making him a steal as a 20-plus home run hitter who won't hurt your batting average.

19. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers RP

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    Much like his former Minnesota teammate, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan will spend the rest of his professional baseball career as an injury risk. Yet, that shouldn't chase drafters away from him.

    Although he hasn't fully returned to form, the signs from his performance late last season are encouraging.

    His fastball velocity remains a tick below its previous levels, but the speed of his secondary pitches is right in line with his career norms.

    Nathan was almost back to normal at the end of last season, striking out 32 percent of the batters he faced in September.

    If he can perform at anything near that level with the Texas Rangers, he's a lock to be a top 10 closer. Not too shabby for a 19th rounder.

20. Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh Pirates of

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    Jose Tabata has been relatively consistent through his first two seasons, but a significant drop in BABIP brought down his batting average in 2011. Hidden beneath that, increases in walk rate and line drive rate show that Tabata has learned to be more selective at the plate and has improved his ability to punish pitchers' mistakes.

    He'll be lucky to get anywhere near 10 home runs, but Tabata can be a terrific addition to any team in need of average and speed. Batting average, especially, is usually scarce after the first few rounds of the draft, but Tabata will deliver 500 at-bats of .290 production at the cost of a 27th-round pick.

21. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers SP

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    Though Max Scherzer's 2011 batted ball rates remained almost exactly in line with his career norms, hitters suddenly began to fly the fence with greater frequency than ever before. This led to spikes in his ERA and FIP, but Scherzer's 2011 xFIP, which normalizes home run rates, was almost exactly the same as 2010's.

    When his home run rate fades back to the norm, Scherzer will surely outperform his 15th-round draft position.

    He'll continue to post elite strikeout numbers, and his fly-ball tendencies will minimize the impact of Detroit's awful infield defense.

22. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves OF/3B

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    Martin Prado wouldn't have been anywhere near this list heading into last season, but after a disappointing effort fueled by a .266 BABIP, he's plummeted down the rankings.

    Normally, .266 wouldn't be that far out of the ordinary, but throughout his career, Prado has demonstrated an ability to generate a higher than average BABIP. From 2007-2010, it never dipped below .321.

    There's no reason to think that it won't bounce back in 2012, and when it does, Prado will regain his status as an elite source of batting average.

23. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks SS

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    Stephen Drew hasn't fully recovered from the ankle injury that ended his season last July, but even if he starts the season on the disabled list, the Diamondbacks shortstop is a great fantasy investment.

    He has the capability to deliver production that would put him on the fringe of the top five at his position, and the depth at shortstop gives fantasy owners an opportunity to stash Drew and plug the hole with a capable replacement.

    In a 10-team league, players like Ian Desmond, Zack Cozart and Cliff Pennington will be around until the last couple of rounds of the draft. All three can plug the hole with adequate production while Drew is out, making him a steal in the 15th round.

24. Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners 1B

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    After rising through the ranks as a Texas Rangers uber-prospect, Justin Smoak has been written off as another victim of Safeco Field.

    Yet, oddly enough, his power actually showed more at home than it did on the road. His 13.5 percent HR/FB rate at home is exceptionally strong given his surroundings. In fact, that rate was better than what higher ranked corner infielders Kevin Youkilis and Aramis Ramirez posted for the full 2011 season.

    Smoak's poor road power will normalize, and when it does, he'll be a solid fantasy producer at first base.

25. Brent Morel, Chicago White Sox 3B

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    Brent Morel isn't a sexy name, but as a late round pick, few players offer bigger upside.

    Morel won't help your batting average, but he is a blossoming power hitter in an advantageous environment.

    He swatted eight home runs in only 103 September plate appearances, with a ridiculous 29.6 percent of his fly balls finding their way over the fence. Yes, the rate is completely unsustainable, but 103 plate appearances is a readable sample size. Morel has real power and a chance to reach 25 home runs in a full season of work.