There are three phases of a fantasy baseball draft. It starts with building the foundation with big-name stars, then the middle rounds are used for filling out the rest of the starting lineup and, finally, taking some sleepers to round out the roster.
Many owners will make throwaway picks in those later rounds, knowing they can always work the waiver wire later on. That's a mistake. Since the investment level is so low, it's a golden opportunity to make some key selections.
Even though the players available usually aren't capable of carrying a team on their backs, they could end up playing an important role before season's end. So don't take those picks lightly. Here are a couple underrated players to keep in mind at the back end of the draft.
The Atlanta Braves are loaded in the middle of the lineup. The acquisition of the Upton brothers to go along with Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and, when healthy, Brian McCann gives them a lot of power to drive in runs.
Simmons, who's slated to bat leadoff for the Braves, will be the beneficiary. The second-year shortstop hit .289 and posted a .335 on-base percentage in 49 games last season. He's also coming off a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic.
He should see plenty of pitches to hit thanks to protection from Heyward, which means his OBP should increase. Once on base, he's got enough speed to become a useful contributor in the stolen base category and should score plenty of runs. All at a weak fantasy position.
Consistency is boring. That explains why players like Swisher, who's hit at least 21 home runs in eight straight seasons, tend to slide in fantasy drafts. Owners become obsessed with a player's upside and lose focus on a surefire reserve.
Earlier in his career, it was easier to understand why Swisher would get passed on. His low batting average would offset much of the power he provided. He's addressed that issue, however, hitting at least .260 in three straight seasons.
Since he won't kill a fantasy team's average and should take hold in the middle of an improved Cleveland Indians lineup, his numbers should match or exceed his recent totals. That makes him a valuable option to have available off the bench, especially in case a high-upside pick busts out.
Hammel is coming off the best season of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. Judging by the lackluster rankings, people still aren't ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. If he can replicate last year's partial season over an entire campaign, he would be a late steal.
The biggest reason for his improvement is an increased strikeout rate. He punched out just under a batter per inning, well above his previous high mark. It's no surprise his ERA and WHIP followed suit, checking in at 3.43 and 1.24, respectively.
Yes, owners who select him are taking a chance that he's able to maintain the high strikeout numbers. But, since he's being taken in sleeper territory, the amount of risk is minimal. The potential reward, on the other hand, is a solid rotation member.
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