Fantasy Baseball 2012: My Round 11-and-Beyond All-Star Team
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The following slideshow touts the Round 11-or-later All-Stars from my favorite experts' league (Sports Illustrated & Friends), comprised of 12 teams and 25-man rosters. This 21-player listing—none of whom were taken before pick No. 121 in the SI draft—only honors 2012 statistics. Previous reputations, good or bad, had little relevance with this countdown.
The competition amongst outfielders and starting pitchers was particularly intense...so we added a few more slots.
And yet, this should hardly mollify the embedded masses crying foul over alleged snubs involving Omar Infante, Freddie Freeman, Mark Trumbo, Emilio Bonifacio, Denard Span, Bryan LaHair, Jordan Schafer, Ryan Dempster, Chad Billingsley, Javy Guerra, Jim Johnson or my personal late-round man-crush, Phillies pitcher Vance Worley.
Enjoy the show!
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
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Mauer's low status likely had more to do with injury track record and the overall lack of urgency when drafting catchers than his actual skill set.
And yet, that doesn't totally excuse owners from waiting 120-plus picks before landing a supreme talent like Mauer (one HR, 11 RBI, nine runs, two steals, .319 batting), who won't turn 30 until next year.
Other considerations: A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) and Yadier Molina (Cardinals).
First Base: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays
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It's not a surprise Pena (four HRs, 13 RBI, 13 runs, one steal) leads his position here—his record of success with Tampa Bay extends back to 2007 (46 HRs, 121 RBI). Plus, he is routinely undervalued (read: disrespected) in fantasy drafts every spring.
But there is some shock value to his .297 batting average through 18 games, which is fourth best on the club (minimum 45 at-bats). If Pena is still flirting with .290 this time next month, that'll be a huge story to follow.
(NOTE: Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair barely missed out on toppling Pena here.)
Other considerations: Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Mark Trumbo (Angels).
Second Base: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
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This might be the biggest no-brainer pick of the entire countdown.
Altuve currently leads all second basemen in hits (26), triples (two), steals (four), batting average (.377) and on-base percentage (.429). He's no slouch in runs and RBI, either.
But Altuve's ranking is not a surprise. He demonstrated his five-category worth in the minors, and at 5'5", he was predestined to last 243 picks in a 12-team draft. Brad Pitt/Billy Beane would have loved Altuve in Moneyball.
Other considerations: Omar Infante (Marlins)
Shortstop: Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox
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Aviles (four HRs, 13 RBI, 14 runs, two steals, .328 batting) was a late addition to the countdown, but it would have been a crime to leave him off the list.
Here's the real question, though: Can Aviles replicate the numbers from his rookie season (10 HRs, 51 RBI, 68 runs, eight steals, .325 batting in 2008 with Kansas City) and take full advantage of the cozy dimensions at Fenway Park?
Other considerations: Emilio Bonifacio (Marlins), Ian Desmond (Nationals) and Rafael Furcal (Cardinals).
Third Base: David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
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Freese (four HRs, 18 RBI, eight runs, .339 batting) has successfully proven that last year's World Series MVP honor was no fluke. Now, he's looking at a possible All-Star berth at a position that already boasts three elite talents in the National League (David Wright, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval).
Can Freese maintain this prodigious pace all season? The telltale sign likely lies with on-base percentage (currently .388).
Other considerations: Chase Headley (Padres), Chris Johnson (Astros) and Mark Trumbo (Angels).
Outfield: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Ethier's stellar start (four HRs, 22 RBI, nine runs, .288 batting) has been slightly obscured by the dominance of teammate Matt Kemp and the Dodgers' reported sale price of $2.15 billion to a group led by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
But that shouldn't deter fantasy owners from losing faith in Ethier for the next five months. When healthy, he's a four-category force and a reasonable bet for .300 by season's end.
Other outfield considerations: Denard Span (Twins), Emilio Bonifacio (Marlins), Drew Stubbs (Reds), Jordan Schafer (Astros), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox) and Nolan Reimold (Orioles).
Outfield: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A's
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Cespedes (five HRs, 18 RBI, eight runs, four steals, .269 batting) is living proof that strikeouts are overrated in fantasy circles.
Most GMs only care about Cespedes being on pace for 38 homers and 36 steals; they also love his .367 on-base percentage and .537 slugging rate.
It's early in the Cuban's MLB career...but it's not too soon to label Cespedes as the 2012 version of Mark Reynolds (circa 2009)—a boom-or-bust asset with far more positives than negatives on the balance sheet.
Outfield: Nick Swisher, New York Yankees
Swisher (four HRs, .264 batting) earns a spot here for two reasons:
1. His 21 RBI (including 17 since April 11) ranks No. 3 among outfielders;
2. It's weird to see an undervalued veteran Yankee in drafts, and it may be even weirder to see that pinstriped asset make fantasy owners regret passing on him with the first 268 picks.
Outfield: J.D. Martinez, Houston Astros
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My outfield in the SI league is a definite weak spot, partly because Brett Gardner/Lorenzo Cain have been shelved with injuries and Angels super-prospect Mike Trout (Triple-A ball) remains an active-roster stashee.
But that's still no excuse for passing on Martinez seven times after Round 10. His numbers to date (three HRs, 18 RBI, eight runs, .313 batting) have been sublime, and it's not like this early success took me by surprise. Damn!
The good news: Martinez will be a major trade priority in the coming weeks...but not before Gardner gets off the disabled list.
Outfield: Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
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Willingham's great first impression with the Twins (five HRs, 13 RBI, 11 runs, one steal, .333 batting, 1.114 OPS) has been a triumph for fantasy owners everywhere, except those who had sky-high hopes for speedy outfielder Ben Revere heading into the season.
That's not to say Revere won't fulfill his 40-steal potential as a super sub; it just means that Willingham is a full-time fixture in left field. He's also a solid bet for 29 homers in back-to-back seasons.
Starting Pitcher: Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers
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So much for the notion that MLB hitters had finally adjusted to Lewis (2-0, 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 24/1 K-BB) after his wildly successful two-year stint in Japan (2008-09). So much for the rationale that Lewis would fall behind Rangers starters like Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, while also being the first casualty if/when Martin Perez earned a big-league promotion.
Bottom line: Lewis should be an entrenched fantasy dynamo for the entire season.
Other considerations: Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Chris Sale (White Sox), Vance Worley (Phillies), Jake Arrieta (Orioles), Ivan Nova, (Yankees), Jeff Niemann (Rays), Bartolo Colon (A's), Danny Duffy (Royals), Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), Tom Milone (A's) and Jason Vargas (Mariners).
Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
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If such an honor existed, Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 27/7 K-BB ratio) would probably be the early Cy Young of this group.
The Nationals should be commended for rolling the dice on Gonzalez in an offseason trade. Yes, Gonzo's numbers at Oakland (38-32, 3.93 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 511 strikeouts in 535.1 innings) were encouraging, but to sacrifice a haul of talented prospects for a hot-and-cold southpaw was a tremendous risk and overall brilliant strategy.
At his current pace, Gonzalez will finish the season with 16 victories, 216 strikeouts and microscopic ERA and WHIP totals.
Starting Pitcher: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
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Cueto (2-0, 1.78 ERA. 1.11 WHIP, 19/6 K-BB) has arguably had the quietest season of any other pitcher in the countdown.
But it's hard not to reward the 26-year-old's progress in his fifth MLB campaign.
It's even harder to ignore the fact Cueto may surpass career highs in wins (12), ERA (2.31), strikeouts (158) and WHIP (1.09) this season.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
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The powerful Peavy (3-0, 1.88 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 26/4 K-BB) has the stuff and mental makeup to remain Chicago's ace for the rest of the season.
At the very least, he's worth your full attention when targeting pitchers in trade talks.
What's not to love about a late-round asset with the realistic capacity for 200 strikeouts, a sub-3.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP?
Starting Pitcher: Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
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Just 30 days ago, no one could have imagined that Lynn (4-0, 1.33 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 24/6 K-BB) would enjoy a greater start than Neftali Feliz, Chris Sale or any other 2011 bullpen stalwart making the on-the-fly transition to starting pitcher. What an amazing story.
As dominant as Lynn has been in fantasy circles, is it fair to ask how long he'll keep up this run of All-Star magic? Also, one has to wonder how long Lynn owners should go before entertaining serious trade talks with pitcher-needy clubs.
Well, as a Lynn owner in six of my eight leagues, I won't float the proverbial trial balloon for at least three more weeks...although I would certainly blame no one for selling high after Wednesday's impressive performance against the Cubs.
At this point, he's worth a high-end No. 2 outfielder in 12-team leagues.
Starting Pitcher: Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
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Strange but true: Harrison (3-0, 1.66 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 13/4 K-BB) was a free agent in roughly 60 percent of 12-team leagues (ESPN) just 10 days ago—a stunning revelation, given his respectable numbers from last year (14 victories, 3.39 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 126 strikeouts).
But thankfully, the fantasy universe has caught on to Harrison's stealth act in wins, ERA and WHIP. They've also come to realize Harrison may be the ace of a Rangers rotation that deserves top-six billing among baseball's elite staffs.
Starting Pitcher: Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals
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We should have known that Lohse (3-0, 0.99 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 16/2 K-BB) would be a fantasy force after his shutdown effort against the Marlins on April 4. He had the perfect temperament to stifle Miami on the night it christened a gleaming new ballpark.
Year after year, the righty gets undervalued in drafts; and year after year, he comes out smelling like a rose by season's end.
Thanks to Lohse (.170 opponents' batting average) and Lance Lynn, the Cardinals haven't been unduly affected by the injury loss of Chris Carpenter or the ongoing rehabilitation of Adam Wainwright.
Bottom line: By mid-July, Lohse may still be the fantasy ace of the Cards' staff.
(NOTE: We'll revisit baseball's best fantasy rotations in two weeks...and this time, the Cardinals will be featured prominently.)
Starting Pitcher: Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
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If Hammel (3-0, 1.73 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 25/8 K-BB) can flourish over his next three starts—against the Red Sox and Yankees (twice)—that may clinch a spot on any "underrated" All-Star team from this point forward.
Baltimore's starting rotation is markedly improved, and the lion's share of credit goes to Hammel, the former Rays and Rockies hurler who may have found a permanent home with the Orioles.
Prediction: At the bare minimum, Hammel is a lock to eclipse career highs in wins (10), ERA (4.33), strikeouts (141) and WHIP (1.39) this season.
Closer: Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
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Color me foolish for thinking rookie Rex Brothers could immediately usurp Betancourt (1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 6-for-6 in save opportunities) from the role of Rockies closer.
Color me idiotic for thinking that Betancourt's impressive finish to last season had little bearing during spring training.
But hey, mistakes will be made when it comes to projecting greatness in the fantasy realm. I still believe in Brothers' immense talent and upside, but no under-25 stud could possibly bump Betancourt during this run of sustained excellence. He's a top-five closer from this point forward.
Other considerations: Javy Guerra (Dodgers), Grant Balfour (A's), Chris Perez (Indians), Joe Nathan (Rangers), J.J. Putz (Diamondbacks) and Henry Rodriguez (Nationals).
Closer: Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
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There's no denying Rodney's well-deserved spot here: 1-0, 1.08 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and six saves (zero blown opportunities). He has continually brought the heat to a high-pressure gig for a team with viable championship aspirations.
On the flip side, there's a sell-high aspect to Rodney in mixed leagues, even though 2011 closer Kyle Farnsworth (elbow) might be out for a while.
After all, it's not everyday you can propose a 1-for-1 blockbuster deal involving Rodney (career marks: 4.23 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) and Nelson Cruz or Brandon Phillips...without getting laughed out of the room.
Utility Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
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Let's keep this one short and sweet.
There's no recourse for including a non-starter or non-closer with 11.1 innings (through April 25) in an All-Star countdown...unless he has the following numbers: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 20/2 K-BB and .105 opponents' batting average.