Fantasy Friday, Vol. 3: Corner Infielders

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Fantasy Friday, Vol. 3: Corner Infielders
In this week's Fantasy Friday, I will discuss a few corner infielders who are currently being undervalued in drafts. This does come with a warning however, as the drop off from the top 10 first basemen to the rest of the pack is substantial. That said there is no reason why one cannot find this year’s Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez or Carlos Pena. I will also state that it took me about an hour to write that introduction as I am avoiding work I need to do for school and listening to Michael Ian Black.

First Base

First Base is traditionally a very deep position and the 2008 season is no exception. Looking at Yahoos expert rankings there are 15 legitimate options, and while Nick Swisher is the guy I am going to target in drafts, he is not one of the players I intend to talk about. The young first basemen I will advocate drafting are all players whom I believe what people are expecting/projecting of them, will come as their worst case scenario. However, keep in mind that I am by no means suggesting that these players be atop of ones first basemen rankings; rather, I am suggesting that these are players whom are excellent options for ones corner infield or utility slots.

James Loney has a solid minor league resume and at 24, has plenty of room to develop. Although most expect Loney to have minimal power, the pop that he displayed in his 2007 Major League season display to me that he may simply be a late bloomer in that department. That being said let us take a look at what the projection systems have to say (courtesy of FanGraphs):

Bill James: .292 with 13HR
CHONE: .284 with 13HR
Marcel: .315 with 14HR
MINER: .291 with 11HR
ZiPS: .296 with 16HR

Each of the five projection systems mentioned anticipate Loney to rack up a greater number of at bats in the real Los Angeles in 2008 then he did in 2007, so why the modest power totals? It appears obvious that each projection system is taking into account Loney’s minor league numbers where he has a .430 slugging percentage. In fact, with an average of .458, the projection systems suggest that what Loney has accomplished in 446 major league at bats is negated by how he performed in 2203 minor league at bats.

However, I see a different story. Although Loney has benefited from playing most of his minor league career in hitters parks and Dodger Stadium ranks as a pitchers park (courtesy First Inning) I anticipate that Loney’s development in the power department will happen regardless of location. That said, and looking at Loney’s batted ball data, it doesn’t appear as though he has done anything at the Major League level that is unsustainable. Thus, expecting 25HR out of Loney coupled with an excellent average, this is a player that will exceed expectations and rank in the Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Morneau range.

There are two other young first basemen that I anticipate will exceed expectations and take a major step forward in their professional development: Ryan Garko and Billy Butler.

Garko is one of my all-time favorite players and the strides he took in 2007 were very impressive although not out of line with his minor league career. That being said I still caution drafting Garko as his at bats will be limited in Cleveland. Consider that Victor Martinez will receive starts at first base, any time Paul Byrd is pitching combined with Travis Hafner receiving the majority of the starts at first during inter league play, Garko will be hard pressed to improve on the at bat total he accumulated in 2007. However, if one were to manage their roster intelligently, they could very well receive 20HR from Garko in 130 games, meaning another 5-7 from spot starts is not entirely out of the question.

Billy Butler, like Garko and Loney, has limited power potential. Although he is the youngest of the trio, leading me to believe his current upside is substantially higher then the others. As a full time first basemen, Butler should provide a team with an outstanding average but low power numbers. John Sickels asserts that a minor change in his approach at the plate may allow Butler to be an annual 30HR hitter at the cost of his batting average-which some believe is of future Batting Title caliber.

Each of the aforementioned first basemen has extraordinary amounts of potential. For Butler and Loney, they will be given a full time job and 600+ plate appearances to help a fantasy team. I do not advocate waiting to fill your first base slot with one of these three, however if you are feeling as though you are forced to reach for a Morneau or Lee, feel free to take advantage of a bargain at another position, waiting it out on one of these three whom I would rank accordingly: Loney, Butler, Garko.

Third Base

Third base appears to be as deep as ever entering the 2008 season, so deep in fact, that the player I intend to talk about was a player I was hardly considering drafting prior to writing this column. There are also a litany of quality youngsters whom are just waiting to break out. In fact, there are so many quality youngsters, that the values of an Alex Rodriguez or David Wright are negatively affected.

Troy Glaus, the old and oft-injured third basemen who will return to the National League in 2008 after two strong seasons in Toronto. The move to the National League alone should help improve Glaus’ numbers, not to mention the incredible protection he will receive from Albert Pujols. Thus, if Glaus can stay healthy, he should have a spectacular 2008 season and be incredibly undervalued. Given that according to Yahoos average draft position, Glaus is being taken as the 15th third basemen.

However, as mentioned, Glaus needs to remain healthy, something he has struggled with since 2002. That said the projection systems are split upon whether or not Glaus has another quality season left in him. They do however; believe that Glaus does not have much of a chance at staying healthy.

In 2007, Glaus had one injury that crept up on him in April and stuck around until he underwent season ending surgery in September. This injury placed him on the disabled list and continually flared up throughout the season sapping Glaus of his the power he is most well known for.

However, it sounds as if Glaus’ treatments were a success and there hasn’t been any word the injury reoccurring. The switch out of the SkyDome should also benefit Glaus as he will no longer be playing his home games on field turf-in fact, Glaus won’t have to play a single game on a surface other then natural grass in 2008.

With all of that said, give Glaus 130 games in the National League, and there is little doubt in my mind that he will produce more then 30 home runs, outstanding RBI numbers, with the typical Glaus batting average. In other words, I feel Glaus is capable of being a top five third basemen for fantasy managers.

As I mentioned, there is a long list of quality third basemen. With that, a manager needs to sort through all the talent to not only grab the best value, but also the best player. There are two youngsters who I am absolutely enamored with; two players who I feel as though will outperform the expectations of everyone.

Kevin Kouzmanoff turned it on at the end of the 2007 season enough so for me to make the following bold prediction: .310, 25 and 95, something that not one of the projection systems agrees with. However, with how Kouzmanoff has performed throughout his minor league career, coupled with the strides he took as a full time player last year, I feel as though he is capable of Chipper Jones or Garret Atkins type numbers. At 160 picks later, I would define that as value.

Beyond Kouzmanoff is a player whom is an annual fantasy sweetheart. Year after year, experts are predicting Edwin Encarnacion to take the step into becoming a legitimate fantasy contributor. For this season, I am going to go out there and say that 2008 will be the year for the 25 year old to break out.

Even though the projection systems have begun to sour on Encarnacion, I believe that in that ballpark, on that team, he is capable of big things with a ceiling just shy of Miguel Cabrera.

The list of options at both first and third base appear limitless. I could write and add on another five to seven hitters whom I feel will not only exceed expectations, but perform at a high level.

 

If you would like to contact Brandon to ask a question or simply challenge anything he has to say, feel free to email him at bheikoop@baseballdigestdaily.com.

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