When heading into your fantasy baseball draft, you are probably asking yourself whether you should draft Pujols or Han Ram, Holliday or Braun, Lincecum or King Felix.
Though these choices are essential to your team’s success, late-round draft picks are equally as important and can make or break your season.
Late-round picks are perfect for finding hidden gems. For example, drafting Jose Bautista and his 54 home runs with one of your final picks paid huge dividends for your team last year.
Not only did it give your team a remarkable power source, but it also gave you flexibility for dealing away another power bat for a player who can help strengthen a different area of your team that may be lacking, such as speed or your rotation.
Other players such as Shaun Marcum, Neftali Feliz and Phil Hughes were all brilliant late-round choices too who helped your team achieve fantasy greatness.
Likewise, drafting a dud in the waning rounds of your draft can create a black hole in your team’s lineup or rotation. Dexter Fowler, Alex Gordon and Cameron Maybin did absolutely nothing for your team last year.
Even if you have a stellar start to your draft, mismanaging the closing rounds can prove to be detrimental to the success of your team. Nothing drags down Joey Votto’s MVP campaign quite like Nate McLouth’s horrific season. I know, I was a part of the chorus of boos echoing across Turner Field whenever McLouth weakly grounded out to second.
That being said, 2011 is a brand new year, and instead of being the laughingstock of your league, bragging about how Mark Prior is your sleeper pick for the fourth consecutive year, here are five players that are under most people’s radars who can contribute greatly to your 2011 team.
The seventh overall pick of the 2007 MLB Draft is finally up for good in the big leagues with Cleveland.
In his first 155 games in the majors, he belted 18 home runs, which is the same number Jason Heyward hit in his rookie campaign.
Look for LaPorta to be the Indians' everyday first baseman and to hit 25 home runs.
With Shaun Marcum being dealt to the Brew Crew, all signs point to Drabek, the key prospect the Blue Jays received in return for Roy Halladay, being in the rotation on Opening Day.
Although he was mediocre in his first three big league starts, the blame cannot be solely placed on Drabek’s shoulders. He received very little run support while operating under a Strasburg-esque pitch count.
With a longer leash, expect Drabek to put up numbers similar to Justin Verlander. A 3.50 ERA and 180 strikeouts are within reach for 2011.
After being recalled in September, Sizemore had a .400 average and 1.205 OPS. He was supposed to be the everyday second baseman at the start of 2010 but was optioned down to AAA due to a lack of productivity.
If he can maintain this momentum through the offseason and into spring training, he'll beat out Will Rhymes and again be the Opening Day second baseman for the Tigers.
In his rookie year, Desmond performed well, hitting 10 home runs and stealing 17 bases. The 25-year-old should take the next step in 2011, becoming the National League version of Alexei Ramirez.
Look for Desmond to hit 15 homers and steal at least 20 bases, which would make him excellent trade bait for the Nationals.
Hopefully he will get traded to a deeper team where he can score more runs and become an even better fantasy asset.
The 21-year-old has burst onto the scene over the past year. Between AA and AAA in 2010, he averaged 9.9 K/9 while maintaining a 3.35 ERA and 1.112 WHIP.
He’ll have the opportunity to start the 2011 season in the rotation, and even if he winds up in AAA again in April, he'll be with the Mariners pitching at Safeco by June.