Fantasy Baseball: 6 Undervalued Stars to Target in 2013 Drafts

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

Fantasy Baseball: 6 Undervalued Stars to Target in 2013 Drafts

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    Fantasy baseball owners can set the tone for a winning season by identifying under-appreciated studs in the opening stages of drafts. 

    This is usually the time of year to share sleepers who are capable of saving your team with a late-round pick, but some high-echelon players are also underrated.

    While major gains are often acquired in the waning rounds of drafts, owners can also pull a fast one on their peers by stealing a stud in the eighth round that performs to the level of a fifth-rounder.

    These players will all cost an earlier draft choice, but are currently not slated to go early enough.

    Like Rodney Dangerfield and CM Punk, these exemplary players are not receiving enough respect. If that doesn’t change in the next month or two, take advantage of this injustice on draft day. 

1. Matt Holliday

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    It’s human nature to want the next big thing, letting upside blind the potential of a letdown.

    So a veteran who delivers steady, top-notch production often falls between the couch cushions while younger players get scooped up. For those who prefer dependability with their opening picks, try to find Matt Holliday during the third round.

    The 32-year-old outfielder hit .295 with 27 home runs, 102 RBI, 95 runs and four steals, which falls in line with his typical stats.

    His loss of speed hurts, but that’s why Holliday is no longer a first-round talent. Most outlets seem to have wrongfully stripped him of star status despite the fact that he’s a consistent bet to bat near .300 with around 25 homers.

    ESPN’s early rankings position Holliday at No. 40 overall even though he’s far safer than Adam Jones or Jay Bruce.

    Early results from Mock Draft Central peg Holliday with an ADP of 59.77. These numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt with only 56 mock drafts completed and imperfect default rankings, but Holliday’s highest selection in all of them was 36, which is still low.

    Even if Holliday piles up a few less homers or RBI than expected, the downside is you spent a third-rounder on a guy who accrued fourth-round value. 

2. Zack Greinke

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    Clayton Kershaw could enter the season as the game's No. 1 starter, but he might not finish as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ most valuable ace.

    Newly acquired Zack Greinke fits perfectly in Dodger Stadium, where he will utilize the spacious field and weaker National League offenses en route to challenging his teammate for Cy Young votes.

    Greinke has registered an impressive 8.03 K/9 ratio throughout his career, but there’s room for improvement with the change of scenery. In 294.1 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers, Greinke punched out 324 batters, so he could pile up the punchouts with his return to the NL.

    In Mock Draft Central’s early reports, Greinke is the 17th pitcher off the board with a 77.21 ADP. If he stayed on the other Los Angeles team, there would be reason to approach Greinke with skepticism, but he’s now in the ideal spot for his ERA to accurately represent his true performance.

    Although his 3.83 and 3.48 ERAs from the past two seasons don’t exactly scream fantasy star, he recorded 2.98 and 3.10 FIPs during those same years. 

    Moving to a big park in the NL West could slash his home runs and diminish his ERA closer to the low threes.

    Combine that with 200-plus strikeouts, a 1.20 or lower WHIP and the potential for wins behind a revamped offense, and Greinke should get selected as a top 10 starter.

3. Ben Zobrist

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    The commonplace methods of judging a player’s merit robs Ben Zobrist of receiving proper recognition as a premier player.

    After posting the American League’s fifth-best WAR at 5.9 (according to FanGraphs' measure), Zobrist’s name should have found itself on several MVP ballots. But since defense and plate discipline don’t garner enough respect, Zobrist continues to float on unnoticed.

    Part of his skill-set also does not translate over to the fantasy side. Instead of admiring his dazzling .377 on-base percentage, drafters will yawn at his .270 average.

    But Zobrist is still a highly valuable fantasy player who can produce power and speed as a middle infielder.

    During the past four seasons, the 31-year-old has averaged 19 home runs and 18 steals. Even though he’s not gaining you points at batting average, a .270 hitter isn’t exactly hurting you either.

    While his defense does not directly benefit his fantasy owners, his versatility provides value for managers who can slot Zobrist as a second baseman, shortstop or outfielder this season.

    ESPN currently ranks him No. 97 behind the maddeningly inconsistent Aaron Hill, the power-starved Elvis Andrus and Erick Aybar, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who is flat-out worse than Zobrist across the board.

    Consider yourself lucky if Zobrist is still available during the ninth or 10th round. 

4. Aramis Ramirez

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    Aramis Ramirez deserves a lot more praise throughout the fantasy community.

    He’s old, has suffered an array of injuries throughout the year and plays for a small-market club. Everything falls in place for Ramirez to get short-changed in the rankings.

    While all the other owners forget about Ramirez, go ahead and snag a top third baseman at a significant discount. Guys who hit .300 with 27 homers, 105 RBI and 92 runs don’t grow on trees.

    Heck, he even stole nine bases last season, but don’t bank on that occurring again.

    There’s nothing fluky about those gaudy numbers either. Ramirez notched 26 homers in the previous season and 25 the year before that, so he’ll hit 28 this season if the pattern continues.

    Despite his propensity to frequently visit the disabled list, Ramirez has played 149 games during each of the past two seasons. His numbers over that time were more than enough to not mind the occasional day off earned by the veteran.

    ESPN slotted him at No. 92 overall, instead deciding that one year of power from Chase Headley is a safer bet.

    Ryan Zimmerman is also a power-hitting third baseman who lacks speed and battles injuries, but he’s still held in much higher regard. Not that you should avoid Zimmerman, but Ramirez offers a greater value later in drafts.

5. Paul Goldschmidt

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    We all know that Paul Goldschmidt is really good, but has the casual fantasy player realized just how good?

    The first baseman progressed well beyond schedule during his second season, producing a .286/.359/.490 slash line with 20 homers, 18 steals and 82 RBI and runs scored each.

    Goldschmidt always possessed a powerful bat that caused a monumental rise up prospect rankings during 2011. If anything, he fell short of expectations by notching 20 homers.

    Just because the power did not have a strong showing in the home run column does not mean that it deteriorated. The 25-year-old smacked 43 doubles, which ranked fourth in the National League.

    Although strikeouts are still a concern, he showed substantial development by cutting his strikeout rate from 29.9 percent in 2011 to 22.1 percent last season.

    In an early CBS Sports mock draft, Goldschmidt lasted all the way to pick No. 100, just a few spots ahead of Freddie Freeman. ESPN ranks him as the 12th best first baseman.

    Bill James projects the slugger to hit .282 with 27 homers, 109 RBI, 105 runs and 15 steals. Those sure look like numbers you’d want on your squad.

    It’s surprising to see the fantasy experts so lukewarm on Goldschmidt following a sensational sophomore year. If he falls through the cracks, you could snatch a breakout option at a bargain.

6. Shin Soo-Choo

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    You’re going to want to board the Shin-Soo Choo train this season.

    Choo consistently does everything well enough, but nothing spectacularly. He hit .283 with 16 homers and 21 steals last year, fine numbers as long as you don’t need to break the bank to obtain them on draft day.

    Moving from the Cleveland Indians to the Cincinnati Reds, however, should raise enthusiasm about the 30-year-old heading into 2013.

    Choo, who has posted a career .381 on-base percentage, fulfills the Reds’ search for a leadoff hitter to set the tone for Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Don’t rule 100 runs out of the realm of possibility.

    Great American Ball Park’s friendly confines are perfect for Choo, a line-drive hitter who can send some scorchers over the short fences. It’s at least enough of an alteration to propel him back to 20-homer territory.

    Add everything together and you could get a .280-plus average along with 20 homers, 20 steals, 100 runs and 75 RBI. 

    Now consider that he has managed just a 84.91 ADP through the season's initial mock drafts and netted the No. 78 slot from ESPN. Seems like a good deal.