For those who played fantasy baseball in 2009, we witnessed an unusually robust crop of young talent that hadn’t graced Major League Baseball in years.
While one can’t complain about a talent pool being richer than before, fantasy fans will have more worthwhile players who, thanks to unique individual skill sets, will look better on fantasy owners’ rosters.
The following is a slide show of players, separated into six different groups.
The first group, entitled, "Where Did You Come From, and Where Have You Been All My Life?", is a collection of unknown talent that was completely off the fantasy radar until last season. It is comprised of people to at least keep an eye on, if not target immediately.
The next five groups will be rolled out throughout the coming week.
After former closer JJ Putz left Seattle, Brandon Morrow inherited his job in spring training. When Morrow failed to consistently put out ninth-inning fires after the season started, Aardsma took over and never looked back, accumulating 38 saves in 42 opportunities.
One of the biggest nuggets of 2009 Waiver Wire Gold, Aardsma should get at least as many save chances with the improved Seattle pitching staff in front of him and defense behind him.
Good for 30-40 steals, Andrus’ glove will keep him in the lineup, albeit more towards the eight or nine-hole. Regardless, his unique skill set works well within fantasy baseball: speed, job security and upside at a position thin with talent.
Andrus needs to improve his plate discipline, work the count and pick up a few more walks in order to be more than a mid-to-late-ish round pick.
Bailey displayed dynamite poise to win American League Rookie of the Year. The All-Star served was one of the few bright spots for Oakland last year. Although Joey Devine, the A’s projected 2009 preseason closer, is scheduled to come back from Tommy John surgery, Bailey’s job as ninth-inning specialist figures to be safe.
Bailey's only downside is the team he pitches for, which would be lucky to win 75 games. However, given the lightweight Oakland lineup, it stands to reason that most of their wins will be narrow victories requiring Bailey to retire the last batch of batters.
The White Sox first round pick in 2008 provides a nice all-around presence whose eligibility will change from 3B/SS to 3B/2B. Good at everything but statistically great at nothing, Becks is more of a solid everyday contributor (I label these types of guys “spiritual” or “clubhouse” leaders) in several categories than a one-category stud who will carry your team.
That said, he provides clutch at bats (.348 BA w/ RISP & 2 out, .400 w/ bases loaded). His all-out hustle style of play is inspirational to watch, and he’s just entering his second season! There are certainly worse second basemen/middle infielders you could draft.
The 2009 National League Rookie of the Year was a base hit and run-scoring machine for the Marlins in the second half of the season. His solid approach at the plate makes him a candidate for continued success in 2010. But for fantasy purposes, he doesn’t bring a lot of power or speed to the table.
Assuming he maintains his spot atop the Marlins’ batting order, Coghlan will be a nice source of runs and hits. Unfortunately, he’ll only be outfield eligible, which makes him not much more than an OF4 or OF5.
One of the most unforeseen 17-game winners in the history of the game, the converted reliever was a direct beneficiary of Ranger team president Nolan Ryan’s philosophy shift, which was to stretch out the Texas starting pitchers’ innings to increase their endurance.
If Feldman pitches as well at home as he did on the road (12-4 record in 2009) with the vaunted Texas lineup providing run support, he could put up similar wins totals. However, given that Feldman isn’t a power pitcher, the 2-year-old’s margin for error is smaller than other pitchers who can simply overpower batters with filthy stuff.
Hanson’s fan base and 2009 fantasy owners will argue that he got hosed in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. At 6’6”, 220 lbs., Hanson has the build, the confidence and the repertoire to remain a fixture in Atlanta’s rotation for years to come.
Draft him as a good SP3, or a dynamite SP4. Just don’t be shocked if the young hurler’s innings are limited towards the latter half of the season.
The postseason-tested 27-year-old, who finished in the top-five voting for ROY, had a stellar season with a 12-4 record and a 2.93 ERA. A workhorse who is capable of going the distance any given night, Happ benefits from a powerful Phillies lineup that provides gobs of run support and great defense.
His ERA shouldn’t be expected to stay under 3.00 this year, but Happ could again provide ample wins and strikeouts.
The monster HR/AB numbers Garrett posted in just 82 games of 2009 left Pirate fans “Jonesing” for more. He is envisioned to serve as one of the cornerstones of the rebuilding Pirates’ future. Jones will play either right field or first base and will likely be eligible at both positions for fantasy purposes.
If he can hit 21 HRs in a half-season, Jones should garner mid-round attention in his first full year in Pittsburgh. I wouldn't yet trust him as my 1B, but I'd take him as a high-upside corner infielder or OF4.
Blessed with a great power/speed combination, McCutchen was handed the starting center field job when Nyjer Morgan was traded to the Nationals. The 22-year-old rewarded the Pirates by hitting 12 homers (eight in August) with 22 steals.
Although McCutcheon has a penchant for streaky play, he could serve as a valuable asset nonetheless, especially in head-to-head leagues.
At a position as thin as catcher, Montero provided a huge boost for those prescient enough to add him as their second catcher in July. Playing in Arizona limits Montero’s exposure, so you could get Montero several rounds later than Jorge Posada even though they’ll post similar numbers.
Montero tore up the minors before he got called up, so his offensive output isn’t completely unforeseen. If Montero is your C2 this year, your team will be in great shape behind the plate.
A trade from Pittsburgh to DC revived his career, and he became instant BFFs with those who picked up or owned Morgan in the second half. His bountiful flurry of steals put many owners in the catbird seat in their respective leagues (well, that’s what happened in mine).
The 42 bags he swiped in 2009 illustrate Morgan’s upside, but his puny power is more akin to Juan Pierre than Juan Gonzalez.
Another example of why one doesn’t need to spend early draft picks on closers, Nunez took over the closer job after Matt Lindstrom (now on Houston) suffered one of many injuries. Although Florida went ahead and signed Mike ”back-from-the-dead” McDougal, Nunez was assured by Marlins brass that the job is still his to lose.
Aside from last year, Nunez lacks closing experience, so draft Nunez in the latter rounds as your last closer. Don’t be shocked if he hits a bump or two in the road during 2010 and gives up a few saves to McDougal.
Although his monster season came out of nowhere, Zobrist has the right players hitting around him to produce at a similar level as he did in 2009.
Given that he will be the everyday second baseman in 2010 after the Rays traded Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh, Zobrist may benefit from having a steady job instead of being a jack-of-all-trades utility player. In either case, Zobrist offers rare run production at second base, but proceed with caution. He lacks a significant track record.
I wouldn’t draft Zobrist before more proven commodities at 2B like Brandon Phillips or Brian Roberts.
To check out the rest of The Fantasy Baseball Hintbook 2010 Preview, click on the links below.
Part 2: Promoted to Stud Status
Part 3: Late Bloomer or One-Year Wonder?
Part 4: Young Talent That Hit a Rough Patch
Part 5: Keep an Eye on These Sleepers
Part 6: Thanks For the Memories