The first name that fantasy owners should keep an eye on is Ben Sheets. After hurting himself at the end of 2008 and sitting out all of 2009, Sheets is supposedly healthy and ready to throw off the mound. He expects no problems come Spring, and that bodes well for those that would look to draft him.
Last season, there was another such player that had a track record of injury problems and made a splash. Chris Carpenter had started just four games over 2007 and 2008, but came through with a Cy Young-caliber season in 2009. Sheets has the stuff to be capable of such a season, with the only question being if he can stay healthy.
Point is, the numbers are there. He makes the most sense remaining in the National League, where he can still pick apart lineups that should be considered weaker than most American League teams. Rumors are swirling that the Cubs could make a run at him, and that would keep him in a division he has largely pitched well against. He has a mark of 14-7 against the division since 2007, with three of his losses coming against the Cubs.
With Carpenter, we started to hear buzz over the course of Spring Training that the Cardinals thought he was throwing the ball well and he would be better than advertised. Listen for the same type of words coming out of any team Sheets camps with. Regardless, he would be a steal in the final rounds of your draft. Keep him on your list for a post-round 18 selection in mixed leagues. The upside at that spot far outweighs any risk. And, remember, pitching is ALWAYS available on waivers.
Another name to keep an eye on is Hank Blalock. Blalock has largely gone overlooked because there are some other names that can play the corners or DH that have produced more consistently. He has been injured in two of the last three seasons, and he picked a bad year to hit .234.
Blalock has several pieces working against him at this point. First, there are still several solid players available that can do exactly what he has done over the last three seasons. Guerrero, Russell Branyan, Adam LaRoche, Aubrey Huff, and Carlos Delgado are all still in the same boat. Blalock may be able to go back to third base, giving him a slight edge, but these will be the players considered as options in any team's discussion.
Guerrero and LaRoche will be the more attractive overall. LaRoche adds fantastic defense to the equation, even if his first-half numbers are less than what many might hope. Over a full season, LaRoche and Blalock may even out, but LaRoche's defense and ability to stay healthy make him a less risky investment. Guerrero is breaking down more, but still seems to find a way to hit .300 and even put up 15 home runs in 100 games last season. As a DH, his health will be less of an issue.
Blalock would seem to fall into the next tier. His contract demands could dictate that as much as anything else. Still, there are teams out there that can use his bat in both a DH or first base role. As fantasy owners, the key will be knowing his ability to start.
Plenty of other intriguing names remain, many of which are likely to be called on draft day. Keep an eye out to see where players like Jon Garland, Rick Ankiel, and even Erik Bedard could end up. This is all part of the fun that is the hot stove season.