Ever wonder what separates the great fantasy managers from the rest of them? The answer is preparation.
It is never too early to start looking towards the future, and with baseball season only a few short months away now is the time to get a leg up on your competition. Lets take a look at some players who may be overlooked and undervalued on draft day.
Nelson Cruz, OF Texas Rangers
Before getting called up to the big leagues at the end of last season, Cruz dominated the triple-A Pacific Coast League by batting .342 with 37 home runs and 24 stolen bases in just 383 AB. He continued to swing a hot bat for the Rangers after joining the club. In just 115 AB Cruz blasted seven home runs and batted .330 while knocking in 26 runs.
This season Cruz will have RF all to himself with Milton Bradley out of town. At the prime age for baseball players, 28, and playing in one baseball's most dominant offenses Cruz is primed for a breakout season. Expect Cruz to be a safe source of power and RBI.
Matt Wieters, C Baltimore Orioles
Because of the hype surrounding this guy I don't know if you could truly call him a sleeper. However, with the starting job all but locked up and his MLB-ready skills, Wieters could easily be a top-five catcher by season's end. In his first minor league season the former No. 5 overall pick in 2007 did not disappoint. Splitting time between single-A and double-A, Wieters hit a combined .355 BA/.454 OBP/.600 SLG with 27 home runs and 91 RBI in 130 games.
Expect the young switch hitter to bat around .285 with 20+ HR, 75 runs, and 85 RBI. Think Joe Mauer with power.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF Cleveland Indians
Now we are digging a little deeper. This South Korean-born major leaguer has seen spotty playing time in his young career. At just 26, Big League Choo will start in RF for the Indians this season and see plenty of AB. Choo was an excellent source of runs in the second half of last season, touching home plate once every 4.7 AB.
He will undoubtedly be forgotten on draft day, but at such a young age one can only expect Choo to improve. In 509 career MLB AB, Choo has hit .291 with 97 runs, 17 HR, and 95 RBI. Expect a slight decline over the course of a real major league season, but the numbers will still be a great late round value.
Brian Buscher, 3B Minnesota Twins
Buscher is a clear-cut contact hitter. Buscher began 2008 in triple-A, but on June 12 the Twins called him up to replace a struggling, and over the hill, Mike Lamb. He made the most of his opportunity and in 218 AB for the Twins last season he batted .294 with 47 RBI. That's a rate of one RBI for every 4.6 AB.
The Urban Legend will continue to stay under the radar for the most part early next season, and he should be a steal in the very late rounds of your draft.
Khalil Greene, SS St. Louis Cardinals
Petco Park is where a hitter's career goes to die. Think Clemson's all time leader in hits, doubles, and RBI is happy to be out of there? You bet he is. He will join a lineup stacked with power and will now play in a hitter friendly ballpark for the first time in his MLB career.
Known mostly for his glove, Greene has surprising power. Remember it was just one season ago that Khalil hit 27 dingers while playing half his games at Petco. I fully expect him to outdo the pitiful batting performance of 2008 and put up decent numbers at the paper thin SS position.
Expect the former Baseball America Rookie of the Year to bat .260 with 70 runs, 20+ HR and 80 RBI, and be available very late in fantasy drafts.
Others to consider: Mike Aviles SS, Kansas City Royals; Chris Davis, 1B Texas Rangers; Jayson Werth, OF Philadelphia Phillies; Cameron Maybin, OF Florida Marlins; Coco Crisp, OF Kansas City Royals; Dallas McPherson, 3B Florida Marlins; Brandon Wood, INF Anaheim Angels; Denard Span, OF Minnesota Twins