If four different AAA players from four different major league organizations all have the exact same talent and equal potential, why would one be a better player to draft than the others?
The same question could be asked of four current major league reserves. Opportunity would be the answer. Which player is blocked from the opportunity to get regular at bats at the major league level, and which player will be afforded the chance to play.
At first glance, Emilio Bonifacio appears to have no position, and therefore no opportunity for regular at bats. As we look deeper at the Florida Marlins lineup for 2011, there are opportunities lurking just under the surface.
This is ideal for draft purposes. Most fantasy owners will see him without a regular position and Bonifacio will go undrafted in most 12-team leagues. In deeper NL-only leagues, he will be drafted with the players that appear to be one-category contributors, in his case, stolen bases.
I see the versatile speedster getting almost 500 at bats this season, and that will translate into a real contributor either drafted as part of your taxi squad or picked up in the first week or two of your season as drafted players are put on the DL or are sent down to the minors.
The starting outfield has two second-year players with great potential in Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton. Chris Coghlan, the starting CF, is likely to begin the year on the DL. Matt Dominguez is slated to be the starting third baseman. Gaby Sanchez is starting at first base.
Other than Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante, difficulties by any one of those other players present a possible playing opportunity for Bonifacio. Scott Cousins, a career minor leaguer who can play 3B and OF but who has never hit at the major league level, is the only player who could take at bats away from Bonifacio if any of those players falter.
Matt Dominguez has a great glove at 3B but he might still be too raw at the plate. If he is hitting .205 and being overmatched at the plate by the end of April, the Marlins will have no choice but to send him back down to the minors to work on his hitting. This would either put Bonifacio at 3B or move Infante to 3B, thereby opening up 2B for him.
Gaby Sanchez appears to be on more solid footing as a hitter, but along with the two other young talents being counted on in the outfield, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, they all must overcome the dreaded sophomore jinx.
I believe two of the three will likely flourish, but having all three avoid both injury and the jinx defies the odds. The sophomore jinx is really just the league catching up to the success of a rookie hitter, and then forcing the second-year player to face an assortment of pitches and locations completely eliminating the pitch type and location where they had success in their rookie year.
If any of the three players are not able to make the necessary adjustments and are not able to hit the steady diet of new pitches they will face, another opening will present itself for Bonifacio.
During inter-league play, manager Edwin Rodriguez will look to get Gaby Sanchez's glove off the field. Watching the young first baseman stab at throws from the left side of the infield should inspire Marlin fans to vote for the DH. Those interleague games will also open up playing time for Bonifacio.
The Florida Marlins have an excellent pitching staff and will be trying to manufacture runs as their starting staff keeps them competitive. On days he does not start, Bonifacio should get pinch running opportunities to steal bases and score runs. He also should be a frequent part of double switches. These opportunities will help him qualify at 3B, SS and 2B early on in the season even though he qualifies only in the OF currently.
I believe, presented with playing opportunity, Bonifacio, still only 25 years old, will end up hitting around .275-.280 with 80 runs scored and 35-40 stolen bases. His HR and RBI production will be limited, but that can also be said of Juan Pierre and Michael Bourn, players who are being drafted early in many leagues.
So draft Bonifacio on your taxi squad, pick him up after the season begins as a replacement or keep an eye on the lack of success of the young Marlin hitters and pick up the versatile Bonifacio when one of them shows signs of losing regular playing time.