Thank you for checking back for part two of this six-part series.
The second installment entitled, "So THIS Is Why I’ve Heard So Much About This Guy!" is a set of players that were on our fantasy radar before 2009, performed better than expected last season and that we should now target as fantasy studs.
Unlike the first installment of this preview, the following slides pertain to athletes who have yet to fulfill their potential. As the 2010 season looms, these players will be drafted much earlier than last year and could play an integral role in your team's success.
Bear in mind, I'm not necessarily sold on each of the players I am about to list, but the leap they took in '09 warrants mentioning nonetheless.
The multi-faceted Choo figures to be the best position player yet to come out of South Korea.
Always able to hit for a good batting average, Choo put together a nice 20/20 campaign that went largely unnoticed in the Indians’ disastrous 2009 season.
If he can hit .300 again, swipe over 20 bags again, post an OPS near .900 again and cut down on the 151 strikeouts he amassed in '09, grab the Soo-Choo Train as a solid OF3. In any language, the 27-year-old's talent is legit.
Serving as Mr. Clutch for the Dodgers in 2009 by batting .362 in late-inning pressure situations with runners on base, Ethier broke out in a big way. The Dodgers desperately needed run production after Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension.
Although Ethier played okay without Manny’s protection behind him in the batting order, Andre is a much more effective run producer when Man-Ram hits after him.
As Manny’s abilities decline, one will have to wait and see if pitchers’ fear factor towards Ramirez remains and whether Ethier will continue to see as many fastballs when he precedes Manny in the lineup. Furthermore, Ethier was a liability against left-handed pitching last season, hitting only .194.
With Chavez Ravine being a notorious pitcher’s ballpark, I’ll let someone else in my Los Angeles-based fantasy league overpay for "The Ethier Bunny."
The fact that Greinke pitches for the god-awful Royals shouldn’t deter you too much from landing this unique talent who battled back from social anxiety disorder to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2009.
The staggering improvement in Greinke’s approach and resulting numbers cannot be ignored, and he should be drafted as the fourth or fifth overall starting pitcher (behind Lincecum, Sabathia, Halladay, and possibly Cliff Lee) with confidence.
In spite of the staff ace’s 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 242 whiffs, Kansas City finished tied for last place in the AL Central in 2009. That said, the Royals are a young team with upside. They have a great closer in Joakim Soria who can effectively shut the door on Greinke’s stellar outings.
Last but not least, Greinke is still only 26 and just entering his prime.
Hill busted out beyond all expectations in 2009 after he was sidelined by a concussion in 2008.
Formerly known as more of a doubles hitter, Hill swatted more homers (36) last season than he had in his first four years in the majors combined! Because of the latter, a little regression in the power department should probably be expected.
While Chase Utley will cost you a first-round pick, you can probably get Hill, who proved that he can put up Utley-esque numbers, in the fourth or fifth round. The market for power-hitting second basemen who get 700 plate appearances in a season is remarkably thin.
If you have a thumper like Hill at second base while using an early-ish pick, your team will have a significant statistical advantage over most other second basemen over the course of the season, allowing more overall flexibility for your team at deeper positions.
This highly-touted prospect finally broke out with a monster season in 2009, and will serve as one of the key pieces of the Toronto Blue Jays' rebuilding future.
As Lind plays at least half of his games as a DH, he figures to be a good candidate to stay healthy due to less wear and tear from diving for and chasing down balls in the outfield.
If Aaron Hill, Travis Snider and Lind continue their maturation process, these three players could form the nucleus of a fearsome Toronto lineup for the next several years.
His development took a couple of years and some grooming, but it looks like Marmol is finally The Man for saves on the North Side. Kevin Gregg, who served as Cubs' closer for the majority of 2009, left the club to sign a free agent deal with Toronto.
If Marmol can cut down on his walks (65 in 74 innings pitched in ’09—yikes), the 27-year-old could prove to be one of the best value picks at closer this year.
Think of Marmol as a second-tier closer with top-tier upside. If he's available after the 10th round, pounce!
The Cuban defector who joined the Angels in 2005 had to wait until Mark Teixeira left town so that he could finally take over full-time duties at first base. Thirty-four homers and 108 RBI later, Morales has exceeded the hype by putting up All-Star caliber stats that nobody expected out of him in his first year as a regular in 2009.
Although Morales no longer has Chone Figgins or Vlad Guerrero hitting in front of him, he could still deliver big time numbers in the middle of the Angels’ lineup.
His incredible 2009 seems impossible to repeat given how high his batting average was for most of the season compared to his prodigious strikeout rate. Two hundred twenty-three K’s? Very impressive…if he was a starting pitcher!
The 44-homer upside he displayed last year makes him a prime target to be overvalued. He simply has too many holes in his swing, doesn’t walk enough and lacks extensive protection in the Arizona lineup to repeat this feat.
Let Reynolds’ 2009 owner overpay for him in 2010.
The Wandyman stepped up in 2009 to take over as the best starting pitcher on the Astros. Although Rodriguez pitched like a fantasy stud for most of last season, he has a couple factors working against him this year.
Since Houston apparently valued quantity over quality at the back of their bullpen, the club is now bereft of star closer Jose Valverde. They recently added injury-prone Matt Lindstrom and B-minus closer Brandon Lyon.
Also, given a defensively mediocre Houston team shagging balls behind Wandy, a second consecutive excellent season may not be in the cards for Rodriguez.
Kung-Fu Panda provided a sparkling .330 BA and signs of life in the San Francisco lineup in 2009. His owners licked their lips throughout the season as Sandoval flirted with catcher eligibility, but ultimately fell a couple games short in most leagues.
His excellent batting average and good, but not spectacular, power and run production will help your team. With the Giant free agent signings of Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, Sandoval will have more than just doppelganger Bengie Molina to protect him in the lineup.
Sandoval just announced he will wear corrective goggles this season. So, if he is capable of hitting .330 without glasses and decent protection in the lineup, he could get even better in 2010.
Tulowitzki's amazing second half made his owners forget how awful he played in the first couple months of 2009. After modifying his batting stance a bit, he now figures to be a valued fixture in Denver for years to come.
One may have trouble using a first or second-round pick on a shortstop not named Hanley, but after Tulowitzki's 32-92-101-20-.297 campaign in 2009, you probably won’t get a chance to draft Tulo too low again.
A 2009 breakout season is only the start of a beautiful career run for the younger Upton. A five-tool specimen who is only beginning to realize his 30/30 potential at the Major League level, Justin could hold first or second round value as soon as 2011.
Barring injury, this may be the last preseason that he can still be viewed as a value pick, so hop on the Upton Express in the fourth or fifth round and watch the trade offers come en masse for the All Star as soon as the season starts.
Votto established himself as a legitimate fantasy stud 1B who can hit for ample power, a top-10 batting average and also provide a reliable source of run production. Although Votto ranked fourth in MLB in OPS (.981) to go along with a .322 BA, he is rarely mentioned in the elite class of first basemen.
At this stage in his career, one could compare Votto to a younger Todd Helton, i.e. a great contact hitter with good power that plays in one of the best hitter’s ballparks in the baseball. Don’t be afraid to reach a little for Votto in the fifth or sixth round on draft day. The 26-year-old is a very, very good ballplayer who would be a lot more expensive if he played in a major market.
The 2009 Cy Young runner-up was a stud from April to October. Good offense, solid pitching mechanics and great coaching should help to ensure another solid season.
Assuming the Cardinal bullpen provides the same stellar support in 2010, Wainwright should again flirt with 20 wins. One note of caution: Wainwright pitched over 100 innings more than he did in 2008, so don’t be shocked if fatigue causes him to become more hittable after the All-Star break.
Finally given a full-time gig after seven injury-plagued years in the National League, Werth was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of the NL East in 2009.
Situated in the middle of a potent Phillies lineup, Werth has the protection surrounding him, a home ballpark that suits his power swing and the all-around skill set to flourish for another year for his fantasy owners in Philadelphia.
Part 1: New Names on Your Cheat Sheet
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