Fantasy Baseball: Jason Heyward, Jordan Zimmermann and 10 Buy Lows in Your Draft
Every season fantasy owners go through their research, talk their trash and go into their drafts with dreams of championships and bragging rights. Every year they take studs in the first round and those studs perform.
However, every year someone takes, say, Mike Trout in the 20th round and it is that pick, not Miguel Cabrera first overall, that wins the league.
Not all of these picks will be available that late. But the name of the game in fantasy baseball is return on investment, and these are 10 options that should result is a decidedly positive return.
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
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From 2009 to 2011, Troy Tulowitzki had 89 HR, 292 RBI, 271 R and batted .304. Injuries cut his 2012 down to 47 games. Tulo should be back to full strength in time for spring training, but players coming off of injuries often fall in drafts, regardless of track records.
There is some concern with Tulowitzki's injury history. He played just 122 games in 2010 (making his 27-HR, 95-RBI performance that much more impressive) and had his 2008 cut to 101 games.
That being said, Tulowitzki is the top hitting shortstop in the game when healthy, and a full season can be counted on for approaching .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI and 100 R.
Shortstop is extremely shallow every year, but with Hanley Ramirez coming off a .759 OPS season, and Starlin Castro still growing into his power, Tulowitzki provides excellent value even as a low second or early third-round pick.
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
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Victor Martinez missed all of 2012. In 2011, he batted .330 with 12 HR and 103 RBI. Of course, the last time he was in the lineup, Prince Fielder was not yet in town. Now he will bat somewhere below Miguel Cabrera as well as Fielder.
Martinez is a catcher in name only. He played 26 games there in 2011, with most of his time spent as the designated hitter. This, of course, bodes well for fantasy owners as he will be safe from catching-related injuries.
Ultimately, Martinez is a career .303 hitter with an .840 OPS, and he will be a bargain middle-round pick who could easily end up as a top-five catcher in fantasy.
Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
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This might be my favorite baseball stat of the year. Since 2009, Aaron Hill has more home runs and more RBI than Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips or Dustin Pedroia.
Middle infield is hard to fill in fantasy, and Hill has had seasons of 36, 26 and 26 home runs since 2009. The year he only hit eight, he stole 21 bases, still proving useful.
Power at the second base position puts the owner at a significant advantage over the majority of league-mates who will be filling the spot with the likes of Jose Altuve and Howard Kendrick.
At some point, an owner has to decide which positions to wait on. While second base gets shallow quick, Hill is likely to provide well above-average power, 10 to 15 steals and a useful average at a position not easy to find.
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
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B.J. Upton, the lesser appreciated, lesser valued Upton, finished 2012 with 28 HR, 78 RBI, 79 R and 31 SB. His .246 average did not kill owners and was about as good as could be expected, and he did all that in a lineup without its impact bat in Evan Longoria.
Upton now moves to Atlanta, where he will bat either just ahead of, or just behind the likes of Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. While his brother continues to toil under immense pressure in Arizona, BJ has quietly become one of the game's best power/speed threats, capable of a 30/40 season if the chips fall right.
The move to Atlanta means more runs scored, and at 28 years old, Upton is not beyond the possibility of another uptick in numbers this season.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
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In his return from Tommy John surgery in 2012, Wainwright went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA and 1.248 WHIP. But he also matched his 2011 showing of 8.3 K/9. His second-half ERA was more than a full run lower than the first half, and his K/BB ratio jumped from 3.28 to 3.74.
Consider Wainwright's season before the injury. He was 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.051 WHIP and finished second in Cy Young voting.
While a return to those numbers is difficult to expect, a more realistic projection of 15 wins, ERA around 3.20 and his usual eight K/9 would make him a steal outside of the top 15 starters.
Wainwright will be 31 this season, but he has one less season on his arm, so there is upside for Wainwright to return to his pre-injury glory. And even 80 percent of that would be worth the pick.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
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No one knows what to make of Tim Lincecum's 2012. Between 2008 and 2011, he posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, two Cy Young Awards and 977 strikeouts. In 2012, the ERA was over five, WHIP was 1.468 but the K/9 stayed over nine, indicating the swing-and-miss ability remained.
There are two ways to approach Lincecum. Most will view him as having passed the short "prime" for starting pitchers, despite his being just 28 years old. If that is the case, he falls into the Brandon Morrow, Max Scherzer realm of high strikeout, highly volatile pitchers.
But if Lincecum's 2012 proves to be a bump in the road and his mechanical imperfections are corrected, he is capable of being a top-five starter, draftable after 30 or more are off the board. He may be a lottery ticket, but this lottery ticket has already been a winner four out of five years.
Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
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There is actually a group of talented starting pitchers returning from injury, and many of them are worth their draft-day price for the potential.
Brett Anderson has not made 30 starts (or even 20) since his rookie year of 2009. In 2010, he posted a 2.80 ERA over 19 starts. He made 13 in 2011 and just six last season. In those six, however, he was 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
Brandon Morrow has a career 9.6 K/9 and posted a 2.96 ERA over 21 starts last season before it ended. From 2007 to 2011, Dan Haren had a 3.33 ERA, 1.127 WHIP, K/9 over eight and a 4.68 K/BB. He managed to make 30 starts in 2012 but pitched through injuries, causing a serious decline in his stats and his 2013 value.
Finally, Matt Garza had 197 Ks in 198 innings in 2011, with a career-low 3.32 ERA, but his 2012 was cut short due to an elbow injury. He returns to Chicago on a one-year deal.
Any of these pitchers is worth a late- or middle-round pick with potential to end up as a top-15 starter if healthy.
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
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If someone said to you they wanted to talk about the other Nationals ace, many would think immediately of Gio Gonzalez, who finished third in Cy Young voting with 21 wins, 207 strikeouts and solid ERA and WHIP totals.
But going unnoticed amid the Strasburg innings-cap drama was Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann merely finished 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.170 WHIP and 7.0 K/9 in the season after his own 160-inning limit.
While Zimmermann may not match the strikeout totals of his two rotation-mates, his last two seasons have combined to produce 58 starts, 3.05 ERA, 1.160 WHIP and 3.74 K/BB.
Zimmermann may be available after 20 starters are off the board, and he will bring predictable, consistent performance as well as seven K/9 and ample opportunities for wins.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
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Bryce Harper is likely to appear on many "bust" or "sell high" lists, but he deserves to be on a few sleeper or buy-low lists as well.
Harper batted .270 with 22 HR and 18 SB at 19 years old. He had an .817 OPS and scored 98 runs...at 19 years old!
Imagine you draft Harper as the 20th outfielder off the board, what some might call a reach on a 20-year-old. If he matches his 2012 numbers, or even slightly exceeds them, that might end up being a slight reach.
But there is a very good chance he tops .280, 30 HR, 25 SB, 100 R and could possibly approach 100 RBI, depending on his spot in the lineup. If he does that, he is a massive bargain.
This kid, who is seven years from his prime that will likely include several 40-HR, MVP-caliber seasons, is already one of the 20 most valuable fantasy outfielders in the game.
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
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The hype came crashing down on Jason Heyward in 2011. He battled injuries and mounting expectations, struggling to a .227 average. However, at 22 years old, Heyward rose to meet those expectations, mashing 27 HR, knocking in 82 RBI and adding 21 SB and 93 R.
Heyward's improvement was tempered slightly by his .269 average and 152 strikeouts. But the talent is evident to anyone who has watched him hit, and he is fully capable of 30 to 35 HR, over 100 RBI and R, while still swiping 20-plus bases in 2013.
While Heyward is likely to be drafted between the top 10 and 15 outfielders in fantasy baseball, his upside warrants a reach once the studs (Braun, Trout, McCutchen, Kemp) are off the board.
No, I did not forget Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton. He belongs among those names, if not ahead of them, at 23 years old.