MLB Power Rankings: 15 Hidden Gems of the 2011 Fantasy Draft
As good as he is, Evan Longoria is not single-handedly winning your fantasy baseball league for you. Why? Because most of the owners in your leagues are getting fairly off-setting numbers out of their first round picks.
However, the players discussed here could win you that championship, because while everyone is getting minimal value from their late-round picks, you could be getting early-round numbers.
This doesn’t mean you should reach for them in the rounds where their value might end up, but you should target them late, and enjoy the results. (All projected draft rounds are in a 12-team standard snake draft)
Catcher: Matt Wieters
Wieters was drafted as a top-10 catcher last season, in anticipation of an uptick from his 2009 rookie year in which he batted .288, with nine home runs, 43 RBI, and an impressive .753 OPS in 385 plate appearances.
Instead, owners watched as Wieters batted .249 in 2010, with 11 home runs and 55 RBI, on top of a miserable .695 OPS.
Why is there hope for resurgence? Well, he is only 24 years old. In two years of minor league play, Wieters hit 32 HR, drove in 121 runs, scored 114 runs, and hit an astounding .343, with a 1.014 OPS in 693 plate appearances. After Mauer, there isn’t much safety in catchers, and Wieters has as much offensive upside as any.
Projected round (12-team standard league): 10th
Projected numbers: .280, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 70 R
First Baseman: Ike Davis
Yet another sign of how deep first base is in fantasy baseball, Davis, at 22 years old, used 523 at bats to rack up 19 HR, 71 RBI, 73 runs scored, and a .791 OPS.
The Mets first pick in the 2008 draft batted .288 in the minor leagues, so chances are he will be a .270-280 hitter for his career, but with 30-35 HR power, and with healthy versions of Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay, and Carlos Beltran running around the bases, it’s not foolish to hope for 90 RBI.
He is coming off the board as the 20-25th first baseman, and he has top-15 potential. Being able to wait that extra three or four rounds on first base means three or four more players at the shallow spots on your roster.
Projected round: 14th
Projected numbers: .275, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 75 R
Second Baseman: Danny Espinosa
Part of the young core of players being groomed in Washington, Danny Espinosa forced the Nationals to give him a big league shot when he hit 22 HR and stole 25 bases in 123 games of AA and AAA ball in 2010.
He struggled to make contact in the majors, striking out 30 times in 103 at bats, but he did hit six home runs. The Long Beach State alum will compete for the Nationals second base job with Alberto Gonzalez, but Espinosa looks like the early favorite.
With the expected playing time, Espinosa has an Alexei Ramirez-type power/speed combination that would be invaluable at the shallow second base spot for any fantasy team. His average won’t help you, at least in the short term, but the Nationals have enough thump in the lineup to put him in scoring position often.
Projected round: 20th
Projected numbers: .260, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 70 R, 10 SB
Shortstop: Ian Desmond
Espinosa’s counterpart in the Nationals’ middle infield is Ian Desmond. Desmond had his first cup of coffee with the Nationals in 2009, when he batted .280 with four home runs and an impressive .879 OPS in 21 games, but he became their starting shortstop in 2010. In 154 games, Desmond batted .269 with 10 HR and 17 SB.
As with many young players, he struggled to make contact early on, but his batting average after the All-Star Break was 28 points higher than it was in the first half of the season.
Shortstop is among the shallowest positions in fantasy, with only two-and-a-half elite options (Jose Reyes could be, if he stays healthy). Desmond could easily break the top-10 at his position and provide 15 HR and 20 SB, while batting .280.
Projected round: 13th
Projected numbers: .275, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 65 R, 20 SB
Third Baseman: Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart was a target on many draft boards last year, coming off a 2009 in which he hit 25 HR, with 70 RBI and 74 runs scored in 147 games. At first glance, his 18 HR and 61 RBI look like a disappointment for 2010, but he had an oblique injury that cost him most of the last month of the season.
Now he is being neglected, despite playing at the fantasy-weak hot corner, and being only 25 years old. Stewart will never win a batting title, but he has upside, even from his 2009 numbers.
Stewart is buried on draft boards and going outside of the first 15 third basemen off the board. The 2003 first round pick is a .250, 20, 70, 70 hitter, with talent for .275, 30, 90, 80. Don’t take him in the first 10 rounds, but he’s a bargain to be had later on.
Projected round: 13th
Projected numbers: .265, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 75 R, 5 SB
Left Field: Logan Morrison
If you play in a league that specifies LF/CF/RF, as opposed to just having three or five OF spots (this, by the way, adds an entirely new dimension to drafting outfielders and an exciting element to a league), you know how shallow left field is.
Morrison, at 22 years old, played 62 games with Florida in 2010. He batted .283, walked 41 times, and scored 43 runs. He was held to just two home runs and 18 RBI, but the .837 OPS was helped by 20 doubles and seven triples.
Morrison was a 22nd round pick in the 2005 draft, and proceeded to bat .292 in five minor league seasons with .849 OPS. He’s not going to steal many bases, but his plate discipline is rare for someone of his age, and at 6’3", 235 pounds, the power should come with experience. Worst-case scenario, he becomes a James Loney type hitter, with a high average, lots of doubles, RBI, and a solid OBP.
Projected round: 17th
Projected numbers: .290, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 60 R, 5 SB
Center Field: Grady Sizemore
This is a guy that is in the running for sleeper of the year. First of all, contrary to popular opinion, Sizemore is young. He is only 28 years old, despite having been drafted by the extinct Montreal Expos.
In seven pro seasons, Sizemore has a career .272 batting average, and .477 slugging percentage. Between 2005-2008 he played four consecutive seasons of 157 games or more, and in each of those seasons he tallied at least 22 HR, 22 SB, 75 RBI, and 100 runs scored. In 2008 he finished with 33 HR, and 38 SB.
Now he is being drafted in the 13-15throunds. After two injury-shortened years, the Indians feel confident he is healthy and ready to go. Don’t draft him expecting another 30/30 campaign, but he has realistic 25/25 potential while being drafted as a has-been.
Projected round: 13th
Projected numbers: .270, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 31 SB, 80 R
Right Field: Jay Bruce
Two nameless 23-year-old right fielders played the 2010 season.
Player A: .273, 17 HR, 69 RBI, 18 SB, 73 R, .799 OPS
Player B: .281, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 5 SB, 80 R, .846 OPS
Player A is being drafted in the first round of many fantasy drafts.
Player B is being drafted in the ninth, outside the top 30 outfielders.
Player A is Justin Upton.
Player B? Jay Bruce. You can get the same numbers for an eight round discount. Both players should mature this season. Which one is in a lineup that provides RBI and scoring opportunities on a more regular basis? That’d be the Reds.
Projected round: 9th
Projected numbers: .280, 35 HR, 90 RBI, 5 SB, 80 R
Starting Pitcher: Rick Porcello
CBS Sports recently ranked Porcello No. 96 among starting pitchers in fantasy baseball for 2011. This is the guy who, at 21 years old, went 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA in 170 IP in 2009.
After struggling mightily in the first half of 2010, the Tigers decided to send Porcello down to the minors to work on his mechanics, and to regain confidence. When he returned, the baseball world saw the 2009 version back in action. After a miserable first half in which he was 4-7 in 13 starts, with 70.1 IP and a 6.14 ERA, Porcello rebounded to go 6-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 14 starts totaling 92.1 IP in the second half.
Still maturing, the 22-year-old has some growing to do, and he will never strike out a ton of batters, but he has shown the ability to be a workhorse for the Tigers rotation, and will be given every opportunity to succeed.
Projected round: 20-plus
Projected numbers: 14-11, 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 200 IP, 5 K/9
Starting Pitcher: Jair Jurrjens
At 23 years old, Jurrjens burst onto the fantasy scene going 14-10 with an unreal 2.60 ERA in 34 starts spanning 215 IP while striking out six per nine innings and boasting a 1.214 WHIP. Naturally, he shot up draft boards in 2010, and as should have been expected, he let many owners down. He went 7-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 20 starts.
As with Porcello, batters learned Jurrjens after 2009 and adjusted their approach. This season, Jurrjens is appearing outside the top-50 SP on most fantasy rankings, and it’s time to go get him.
Right now, he is being drafted between the 15th and 18th round in most 12-team leagues, and while his 2009 numbers might not be a realistic expectation, some serious improvement should be seen immediately.
On a side note, those who look to draft Clay Buchholz for his 2.33 ERA in 2010 would do well to study the careers thus far of Porcello and Jurrjens.
Projected round: 18th
Projected numbers: 15-12, 3.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 175 IP, 7 K/9
Starting Pitcher- Trevor Cahill
Many people know Brett Anderson as the up-and-coming stud of the Oakland A’s rotation, but fail to recognize its 23-year-old ace, Cahill.
In his second season in the majors, Cahill lit up the rotisserie and category leagues with 18 wins, 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and one complete game shutout in 30 starts and 196.2 IP. He doesn’t strike many out (5.4 K/9 in 2010) but he only issued 63 walks on the season.
No, you shouldn’t expect him to repeat all these numbers, but at 23, Cahill could become a mainstay at the top of the A’s rotation with Anderson forming the second half of a lethal 1-2 punch for the A’s as they enter their primes in the next three seasons.
Projected round: 11th
Projected numbers: 17-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 210 IP, 5 K/9
Starting Pitcher: Travis Wood
Travis Wood was called up for a July 1 start against the Cubs. He allowed two runs in seven innings, but fantasy owners barely noticed.
His third start was the one that got peoples’ attention. He dueled Roy Halladay in the single best pitcher’s duel of the season. Wood threw nine innings. He allowed one hit, no runs, no walks, and struck out eight. Halladay also threw nine innings, allowing five hits and striking out nine, while walking one. The Reds eventually lost in extra frames.
Meanwhile, Wood went on to post a 3.51 ERA and an even more useful 1.081 WHIP in 102.2 IP over 17 starts. He also struck out 7.5 per nine innings. Wood appears to have locked down a spot in the Reds 2011 rotation, but is being drafted outside the top 50 SP.
Projected round: 15th
Projected numbers: 13-10, 3.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 150 IP, 7 K/9
Relief Pitcher: Andrew Bailey
There are two ways to draft closers. One is for saves only (a challenging task as the category is elusive, and relies on save chances outside the pitcher’s control), the other is for K, WHIP and ERA, trusting the saves to come with opportunity.
The 2009 AL Rookie of the Year was injured for parts of last season, affecting his saves total. But the rest of his numbers should not be overlooked. In 132.1 career innings, Bailey has a combined WHIP of .907, an ERA of 1.70, 9.0 K/9 and 3.59 strikeouts per walk issued.
Bailey is being drafted after the first 10 closers, and (barring injuries, which are impossible to predict) should register another sub-2 ERA and sub-1 WHIP. As long as he stays healthy, the 26-year-old is in line for 30-plus saves on an Oakland team that won’t be blowing many people out.
Projected round: 12th
Projected numbers: 3-2, 1.79 ERA, .890 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 34 SV
Relief Pitcher: Jonathan Broxton
There is legitimate concern that the Dodgers could replace Broxton with Hong-Chi Kuo if he struggles, but some of Broxton’s 2010 numbers are worsened because of his ineffectiveness after he lost the confidence in his fastball. If he can regain his 2009 form, there is no reason to believe he won’t hold onto the closer job in LA.
Broxton was the consensus No. 1 reliever chosen in drafts last year for a reason. Now only 26 years old, Broxton has incredible strikeout numbers (13.5 K/9 IP in 2009). Owners should draft him right after the top tier of closers and do so with confidence.
Projected round: 15th
Projected numbers: 2-4, 2.84 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 40 SV
Relief Pitcher: Drew Storen
Storen, who was the second Nationals pitcher drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft (the first will not be named and will be MIA for all of 2011 anyway), wasn’t given the closer job until late in the season when Matt Capps was shipped off, but was solid when called upon.
In 55.1 IP, Storen delivered a 3.58 ERA, 1.265 WHIP and 8.5 K/9. He is not a top-10 reliever at this stage in his career, but Washington will give him a long leash, as he will be the finisher when the Nationals unveil the future, featuring Strasburg and phenom Bryce Harper, likely during the 2012 season.
Storen is being drafted late, if at all in standard leagues, and is a bargain in the final rounds of the draft.
Projected round: 20-plus
Projected numbers: 3-4, 3.20 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9 K/9, 31 SV