Pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training in just 24 days! Yes, it's true...Baseball is almost ready to begin again. And as that time swiftly approaches, fantasy leagues will once again be resuming, as champions prepare to defend their crown and newcomers learn the ropes.
So, what better time than now to start getting the draft board up and running? Here are some players whom I think will be drafted higher than they were last year, and some who will move down the draft board.
MOVIN' ON UP
Michael Young, Rangers
Young has agreed to move to third base for the Rangers in 2009, making room for 20-year old rookie Elvis Andrus to get a shot at being the everyday shortstop. Not only is this a class act move by the 32-year old Young, but it gives him a big boost in fantasy as well.
In most leagues, he will be eligible for third base and shortstop, making him a very attractive commodity.
Young has been a constantly productive middle infielder for the last several years. He has hit .300 or better in five of the last six seasons (he hit .284 last season). He's averaged 15 home runs per season over his career, a nice number for a shortstop.
In ESPN leagues last season, Young was drafted at an average position of 80.6 - look for that number to increase in '09.
Pat Burrell, Rays
Another 32-year old, Burrell gets a fresh start with the rejuvenated Tampa Bay Rays. He signed a nice two-year, $16 million contract with the club last month, and will provide a youthful lineup which some much needed veteran power.
He still will strike out a ton, but he won't be expected to play the field nearly as much as he did in Philly, and now can focus on his hitting.
In ESPN leagues last year, Burrell was an average draft pick of 130.5. He should still be good for at least 25-30 bombs, and should get tons of RBI chances with the Rays.
Mike Pelfrey, Mets
Last year, Pelfrey went undrafted in most ESPN leagues. That is sure to change some in 2009. Pelfrey finally showed some positive signs of maturity and perhaps he is ready to break out and become the number two starter the Mets are looking for.
He went 13-11 last season, sporting a nifty 3.72 ERA in 2008, his first full season in the Major Leagues. He made 32 starts for the Mets, and with a stacked lineup, there's no reason he can't reach 15 wins or more in 2009. He has also learned how to paint the corner with a nasty fastball, so an increase in strikeouts can also be predicted.
ON THE WAY DOWN
David Ortiz, BOS
Big Papi had a disappointing 2008, mostly thanks to an injured wrist. But that wrist still hasn't healed all the way, which may force him to skip the World Baseball Classic. If his wrist is hindering his swing, the Sox may see fit to rest him more and more in 2009, especially with Kevin Youkilis inked to a new four-year contract.
Last season, ESPN Fantasy League owners drafted Papi at an average position of 19.3! It's tough to predict what we can get from Ortiz in 2009—it all depends on the wrist. He'll be a risk, with some potential still to be rewarding.
Takashi Saito, BOS
Saito's value took a big hit last season when we went down with an elbow strain and missed most of the year. His value took an even bigger hit when he signed with the Red Sox, thereby ending his status as a closer.
The Sox have a very talented back end of the bullpen, led of course by current stopper Jonathan Papelbon. Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen can also provide solid relief, not to mention the recently signed John Smoltz has closer experience.
Saito was drafted at an average of 67.6 last season in ESPN leagues. It would be far from surprising to see him fall completely off all draft boards in 2009.
Carlos Guillen, DET
He was drafted at a surprising average of 50.1 in all ESPN leagues last season. After hitting a mere 10 home runs, and only playing in 113 games, that number should increase in 2009—if he's drafted at all.
He's versatile and could be eligible in multiple positions in some leagues next season (he played 89 games at third base, 24 at first base, and two in left in '08). That flexibility will likely keep him in the Tigers' lineup, as long as he's healthy. But that versatility may not be enough to keep him in many fantasy lineups.