MLB Power Rankings: Identifying the Top 40 Late-Round Fantasy Draft Steals
In all likelihood, Bud Selig won't be hosting your fantasy baseball draft this year—but that doesn't mean it's not a big deal. You probably wouldn't be reading this article if you weren't in it to win it, and while it's tough to win a league if your top picks don't deliver, the best way to truly separate yourself from your fantasy league opponents is by nabbing some late-round value picks.
The key to uncovering late-round draft day steals is to get a sense of what types of players tend to be undervalued in the fantasy marketplace.
As I've detailed elsewhere, in reasonably shallow leagues sometimes it is the injury-prone player who can dramatically outproduce his draft slot while healthy. Sometimes it is the former superstar many managers wrongly assume is now washed up. Sometimes it is the famed "post-hype sleeper," a relatively young player who did not initially live up to the hype but still possesses the talent that made them a touted prospect in the first place. Sometimes it's a player whose consistent production year after year is routinely under-appreciated, perhaps because the player isn't "flashy" enough.
For our purposes, "late-round" steals will only include players who are going in the 15th round or later (pick 169 onward) in 12-team standard leagues, according to either Mock Draft Central or Yahoo average draft position data.
On to the list we go.
40. Aaron Harang, SP, Padres (MDC ADP: 393, Yahoo ADP: > 263)
Harang was nothing short of a disaster during his final three seasons in Cincinnati, as he went a combined 18-38 while never finishing with an ERA below 4.21 or WHIP below 1.38. While he lost 17 games in 2008 and 14 games in 2009, last year may have actually been the worst, as he finished with a 5.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.
It's hard to have too much faith in Harang after that string of putrid performances, but this wouldn't be the first time Petco Park turned a mediocre hurler into a solid fantasy asset. Harang is a fly ball pitcher who should benefit from Petco's spacious outfield, and he was a decent pitcher from 2005-2007. Some San Diego sun (and long fly outs) may be just what he needs to regain some of that magic.
Don't expect miracles. However, decent strikeouts, an ERA under 4.00 and a WHIP under 1.30 are possible here.
39. Tim Stauffer, SP, Padres (MDC ADP: 350, Yahoo ADP: 246)
Harang's rotation mate Stauffer also deserves some sleeper consideration. Stauffer induces more ground balls than Harang, but pitching half his games at Petco will still help Stauffer's chances at a sub-4.00 ERA.
Stauffer doesn't have the past success as a starter that Harang does, but he also doesn't have Harang's baggage. Stauffer was an adequate starter for San Diego in 2009 and a very effective reliever last year. He then moved to the rotation in September and was quite good, allowing more than one run in just one of his six late season starts.
Stauffer won't strike out a ton of batters, but he's a better bet than Harang for solid peripherals.
38. Chris Young, SP, New York Mets (MDC ADP: 392, Yahoo ADP: 246)
You can't draft "the other Chris Young" expecting a full season; that simply never happens (he's never topped 180 innings in a season). But Young is throwing very well in spring training, and he should be extremely good for as long as he can stay healthy.
Young's 2006 and 2007 seasons with San Diego give you a good idea of the kind of numbers he is capable of if he is healthy and pitching at his best for most of the season. Those two seasons, Young finished with an ERA below 3.50, a WHIP at 1.13 or lower and nearly a strikeout per inning.
That's a best-case scenario, to be sure. Young probably won't be quite that good, even if he does manage to pitch 150-plus innings. However, Citi Field is the next best thing to Petco for a fly ball pitcher like Young, so there's nothing wrong with taking him at the end of your draft and pitching him for as many innings as he'll give you.
37. Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers (MDC ADP: 326, Yahoo ADP: 212)
Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that I'm putting Jackson on this list. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have guessed that Jackson would belong on a list of overrated players, not late-round steals.
Jackson rode a Major League-leading .396 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to a .293 batting average and second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Many fantasy baseball managers don't pay attention to sabermetric statistics like BABIP, and yet it's hard to draw any conclusion other than that Jackson's high BABIP either directly or indirectly convinced many people that his 2010 stat line was a fluke.
It's easy to chalk up Jackson's BABIP to pure luck, and there's no question that he can't maintain that batting average if he continues to strike out more than one out of every four times he comes to the plate. But Jackson had high BABIPs throughout his minor league career, too, which isn't entirely surprising given his speed. He's also still just 24 years old and could take a step forward this season.
All in all, Jackson makes for an intriguing late-game pick who the projection systems expect to remain an asset in batting average and steals while scoring plenty of runs in a strong Tigers lineup.
36. Matt Capps, RP, Minnesota Twins (MDC ADP: 302, Yahoo ADP: 208)
This is more about the mounting concern over Joe Nathan than anything else. While we should never overrate spring statistics, Nathan has been absolutely awful in preseason games and doesn't look right coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Capps, on the other hand, has had a nice spring and could "temporarily" take the closer job and run with it. Outside of a forgettable 2009 season, Capps has been an excellent late-inning reliever since he started saving games in 2007.
In short, Capps is a must-have handcuff for Nathan owners, but he's also well worth a late-round pick for any manager searching for an unlikely name who could end up saving 20-plus games this year with strong peripheral numbers.
35. Travis Snider, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (MDC ADP: 292, Yahoo ADP: 217)
There are lots of young outfielders to like from a fantasy perspective these days, but most of them come with pretty high price tags. Snider is a notable exception.
Snider is just 23 years old, has a first round pedigree and has already blasted 25 HRs in his first 612 Major League at-bats. Last year, he hit 14 bombs in just 298 at-bats.
There's also something in the water in Toronto (or at least the water in hitting coach Dwayne Murphy's office). The Blue Jays have a free-swinging approach that allowed them to surprisingly lead the league in home runs last year—by a good margin.
While he probably won't hit higher than .275 or so, Snider could be the next Jay to benefit from Murphy's tutelage with a 30-plus home run season.
34. Edwin Encarnacion, DH/3B, Toronto Blue Jays (MDC ADP: 353, Yahoo ADP: 241)
Encarnacion has teased fantasy owners with his potential too many times to count. So why am I a believer this time around?
Like Snider, Edwin stands to benefit from the Blue Jays' power-hitting approach. Encarnacion put up 21 HRs in just 332 at-bats last year and 26 HR in 506 at-bats in 2009. It wouldn't be completely shocking to see him out-slug top-50 pick Jose Bautista in a full 2011 season.
Penciled in as the team's starting DH, Encarnacion has a clear path to playing time in Toronto, something that wasn't true for much of his time in Cincinnati. Add the fact that he still has 3B eligibility in Yahoo leagues, and Encarnacion makes for an intriguing late-game pick.
33. John Lackey, SP, Boston Red Sox (MDC ADP: 173, Yahoo ADP: 218)
Lackey's streak of five straight seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and four straight seasons with a WHIP of 1.27 or lower ended in 2010 when he posted a bloated 4.40 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Some say Lackey's struggles show he can't handle pitching in the challenging AL East and hitter-friendly Fenway Park, but the answer is not so simple.
In my mind, Lackey’s struggles last year were mostly due to over-thinking and over-pitching. Faced with the media spotlight of playing in Boston—and pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball’s toughest division—Lackey got too cute instead of challenging hitters. As a result, he posted the second highest walk rate of his nine-year career. Lackey was also fairly unlucky, surrendering his highest BABIP since 2005 and posting the lowest strand rate of his career.
His 3.97 ERA and 1.22 WHIP after the All-Star break are more in line with his past performance and are a fair expectation for 2011. With decent strikeouts and good win potential, I'd gladly take those numbers based on where he's being drafted right now.
32. Ian Kennedy, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (MDC ADP: 257, Yahoo ADP: 230)
Kennedy is only 26 years old and put up a solid 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 168 strikeouts in 194 innings in 2010. However, as a former first-round pick, Kennedy's strong finish to the season gives hope that even better things could be in store for him and his fantasy owners in 2011.
In September, Kennedy posted a sparkling 1.55 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 29 innings. While he doesn't pitch in a particularly pitcher-friendly ballpark, there are several of them in his division and a couple less-than-threatening lineups, too. Oh yeah, and no DH. After toiling for the Yankees in the AL East, that can't look too bad.
Consider Kennedy's 2010 line as a baseline expectation for what he can do, and anything above that is just gravy based on where you'll have to take him.
31. James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (MDC ADP: 178, Yahoo ADP: 229)
Shields has had a couple rough years in a row, but a closer look at his peripheral statistics shows that he is really the same pitcher he's always been. Shield's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) numbers from 2009 and 2010 were relatively consistent with his 2007 and 2008 seasons, in which he posted excellent ERAs and WHIPs.
While 2007 and 2008 may be a best-case scenario, 2010 was clearly the worst numbers Shields could possibly put up. While his walk rate has inched up a bit, Shields also saw a big jump in his strikeout rate last year.
Put it all together, and Shields seems like a decent bet for a sub-4.00 ERA and sub-1.30 WHIP. Despite losing Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Rays' acquisitions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon should ensure that they still provide plenty of run support for Shields and the rest of the pitching staff.
30. Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies (MDC ADP: 267, Yahoo ADP: 245)
Fowler is another one of the few young outfielders coming at a nice bargain in fantasy drafts this year. Part of the reason might be that he had a disappointing 2010 campaign, particularly in the steals department. He nabbed just 13 in 439 at-bats after stealing 27 in 433 at-bats in 2009.
Let's use some common sense here; Fowler is still a fast guy, he just didn't run as much last year. While he's yet to prove that he can hit for a high average at the Major League level (he's hit .259 through his first 900 at-bats), he's got a great chance to top 30 stolen bases and score 90-plus runs hitting atop a loaded Rockies lineup.
29. David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (MDC ADP: 384, Yahoo ADP: 244)
Freese didn't show much power during his first extended stint in the big leagues last season, hitting just four home runs in 270 at-bats, but he did flash his ability to hit for a nice batting average, finishing at .296.
Some may point to Freese's high .376 BABIP, but the fact is he was a consistent .300 hitter throughout his minor league career. In fact, if anything was unsustainable about his 2010 line, it was the lack of power—something that may be at least partially explained by the ankle injury he suffered.
Freese is beginning to get stuck with the injury-prone label, and he's unlikely to develop 30 HR power, so you want to keep those things in mind when you decide just how far to reach for him. That said, 3B is quite shallow this year. Nabbing a young third baseman with the ability to hit .300 and belt 20 HRs late in your draft should be mighty appetizing.
28. Chris Iannetta, C, Colorado Rockies (MDC ADP: 329, Yahoo ADP: 230)
Iannetta has been a trendy sleeper pick ever since he hammered 18 home runs in just 333 at-bats in 2008, but it's been a rocky road for him since then (yeah, I went there).
Iannetta displayed similar power in 2009, hitting 16 home runs in 289 at-bats, but his BABIP tumbled and so did his batting average—from .264 in '08 down to .228 in '09. Things got even worse in 2010, when Miguel Olivo caught fire for the entire first half of the season and took hold of the starting job, while Iannetta failed to hit above the Mendoza line.
Now, with Olivo in Seattle, Iannetta will get a real shot at a full season's worth of at-bats. That (and ample Major League experience) is what separates him from another slugging catcher, the Blue Jays' J.P. Arrencibia, who will reportedly only catch three out of every five games.
Based on his past power output, 500 at-bats for Iannetta could mean upwards of 25 homers. Like many catchers, Iannetta will always be a bit of a batting average liability, but with even an average BABIP he could hit at least .240 or .250.
27. Danny Espinosa, 2B, Washington Nationals (MDC ADP: 382, Yahoo ADP: > 265)
I just picked Espinosa up off the waiver wire in my Yahoo 12-team keeper league—he wasn't even drafted. It's true that 2B is reasonably deep this year, and there's no question Espinosa's value would be significantly higher if he and Ian Desmond switched spots and Espinosa gained shortstop eligibility (he doesn't have it in Yahoo).
But still, this guy should absolutely be owned. Bill James' projections, which do tend to be hitter-friendly, call for 21 HRs and 19 SBs for Espinosa in just 424 at-bats. It's not just James predicting big things for Espinosa; ZIPS similarly projects 20 HRs and 19 SBs. To put those numbers in perspective, Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips are the only second basemen to go 20-20 since 2002, and nobody accomplished that feat last season.
He'll be starting the season hitting seventh—manager Jim Riggleman is helping along his development by not batting him directly in front of the pitcher—and he could move to the top of the order if he has early-season success. Barring some major luck on balls in play, Espinosa's speed and power will likely be accompanied by a batting average in the .250 range, but that still makes him well worth a late-round pick.
26. Michael Pineda, SP, Seattle Mariners (MDC ADP: 380, Yahoo ADP: 245)
Pineda makes for a perfect endgame pick. By that point in the draft, you've hopefully filled your roster with enough trustworthy starters to fill your innings in the early part of the season. So why not add a high-upside flier like Pineda instead of a mediocre (from a fantasy perspective) veteran with a low strikeout rate like Mark Buehrle or Jake Westbrook?
There are legitimate questions about whether Pineda is ready for the Major Leagues, particularly whether he has the secondary pitches necessary to complement his big-time fastball. But Pineda has all the talent you could ask for, pitches in a ballpark that will allow him to get away with some mistakes and is not in the toughest division.
It's impossible to predict what Pineda can do in 2011, but if you can make room for him on your bench, it's better to find out what he's capable of while he's on your roster than on one of your opponents'.
25. Josh Beckett, SP, Boston Red Sox (MDC ADP: 182, Yahoo ADP: 148)
I have mixed feelings about recommending Beckett as a sleeper. He's looked awful this spring, there's some injury risk here, and he's not falling all that far in drafts, which means you'll need to use a mid-round pick on him if you're a believer. I think he'll be worthy of a 15th round pick, but he's not as big a bargain as many of the other names on this list.
The thing that makes Beckett appealing is that he still strikes out plenty of batters and has plenty of win potential, so he should have at least some value, even if he doesn't fully rebound. I am not buying him as a fantasy ace, but considering he is only 30 and coming off a career worst BABIP and strand rate and second-worst HR/FB rate, some rebound is likely. It would also help if he got his walk rate back down to where it was from 2007-2009.
Draft Beckett for 13-15 wins, eight strikeouts per nine innings, an ERA around 4.00 and a WHIP in the low-to-mid 1.20s and I think you'll be satisfied based on where he's going in drafts right now. Just don't reach too far.
24. Erik Bedard, SP, Seattle Mariners (MDC ADP: 379, Yahoo ADP: 245)
Bedard looks healthy this spring, and he's always at least somewhat useful when he's healthy.
Bedard's seasons tend to alternate between solid Ks, ERA and WHIP (2006 and 2008) and excellent Ks, ERA and WHIP (2007 and 2009). It's hard to know whether an entire season missed due to injury puts him on track for one of his solid or excellent seasons, but he's certainly in the right ballpark and division to at least give fantasy managers some hope that it's the latter.
Bedard hasn't topped 83 innings since 2007, so you're really only drafting him hoping he can pitch half a season. But based on where he's going right now, and how he looks this spring, half a season of Bedard is well worth the price.
23. Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland A's (MDC ADP: 317, Yahoo ADP: 237)
While we're discussing injury-prone players, we might as well throw Coco into the mix (mmm, that sounds tasty). Crisp hasn't reached 500 at-bats since 2007, but his 2010 line hints at the huge upside he could have if he manages to play a full season atop the lineup in Oakland.
Crisp put up his first 30-plus SB season in 2010, and he did it in just 290 at-bats. Truth be told, Crisp has run much more in recent years, but he hasn't played enough to make that jump noticeable in his end-of-year numbers.
Each team has its own rules and attitudes about stolen bases, so when evaluating speedsters, I like to go after guys who have already shown that they have the green light with their current team. The A's let Crisp run wild last year, so there's no reason they shouldn't do the same this year.
Extrapolating last year's numbers to 600 at-bats, Crisp would have put up 100 Runs, 16 HRs, 76 RBIs, 64 SBs and a .279 batting average. According to Baseball Monster, Crisp was the 10th most valuable hitter on a per-game basis among players who appeared in at least 50 games in 2010. The odds are against Crisp playing a full season or continuing to produce at quite that rate, but last year's success makes him a terrific upside play based on where he's going in drafts this spring.
22. Nate McLouth, OF, Atlanta Braves (MDC ADP: 380, Yahoo ADP: 238)
Simply put, Nate McLouth was McLousy last year. McAwful. McAtrocious.
Despite his Jedi-like ability to lift a baseball bat with his mind (see photo), McLouth batted just .190 in 2010 with six HRs and seven SBs in 85 games. McLouth struck out too much, didn't walk enough and showed an alarming lack of power.
But there are reasons for optimism. McLouth will never win a batting title, but his .221 BABIP in 2010 was well below the previous three seasons (.299, .287, .281). McLouth's inability to consistently make contact or drive the ball could also partially be explained by nagging injuries he suffered during the year, including a mid-season concussion.
Yes, it's a small sample size, but McLouth finished the season with a strong September (.275 average, three HRs, three SBs), suggesting the skills he displayed from 2007-2009 are still there. And while you should never put too much weight into spring training numbers, it's nice to see McLouth hitting over .300 this spring after putting up a .118 average last March and carrying those struggles into the regular season. At the very least, it's allowing him to enter the season feeling confident.
At 29 years old, there is plenty of reason to believe McLouth's BABIP and ISO can return to his career averages, meaning another 20-20 season with a batting average in the .255-.260 range is very possible.
21. Leo Nunez, RP, Florida Marlins (MDC ADP: 348, Yahoo ADP: 181)
People don't seem to realize this about Leo Nunez, but he's a Major League closer. And while he may not have the firmest grip on the job after temporarily losing it to Clay Hensley last September, Nunez still has more job security than half the closers in the league. That has value.
The closer situations across baseball are more uncertain this year than at anytime in recent memory. Many teams have injured closers, committee situations, or save men on a very short leash. Lots of relievers may have better stuff than Nunez, but their paths to saves are indirect at best.
Hensley is a trendy pick to steal the closer job away from Nunez again at some point this year, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon. Nunez has refined his slider this spring, and the pitch has been receiving rave reviews. Despite a rocky August last year, Nunez has saved 56 games for the Fish over the last two seasons and actually improved markedly last year over the previous season.
While other managers are reaching for exciting young arms like Jake McGee, Luke Gregerson, Chris Sale, Daniel Bard and Kenley Jansen in the hope that they can find their way into saves, boring old Leo Nunez will continue picking up saves with decent enough peripherals.
20. Kila Ka’aihue, 1B/DH, Kansas City Royals (MDC ADP: 379, Yahoo ADP: 242)
While position scarcity enthusiasts may tell you to grab middle infielders and third basemen early in your draft, fielding a team without a big-time power-hitting first baseman is a dangerous game to play. Just ask the guys in the Yahoo Friends and Family league who didn't grab a top 1B early.
There is more speed to be had in fantasy leagues than there has been in quite some time, but a lot less power. In addition, most of the legit power hitters are first basemen who go early in drafts. As such, it's pretty tough to find a late-round first basemen who can keep you competitive with opponents who invest more heavily in the position.
If you've waited on a first baseman in a shallow mixed league draft, you might as well try to catch lightning in a bottle with young players that have the upside to eventually join the more established stars, rather than pinning your hopes on the Aubrey Huffs, Adam LaRoches and Carlos Lees of the world. Guys like that can be had on the waiver wire throughout the season.
Brandon Belt and Freddie Freeman are interesting names to consider, but I prefer Ka'aihue's chances to start raking from the get-go this year. He has been absolutely crushing the ball this spring, playing time is not an issue, and a 20-plus HR season should be in store even if his batting average ends up in the .250-.260 range. Of course, with young players like Ka'aihue, even better numbers than that are certainly possible, which is exactly why you should draft him.
19. Travis Wood, SP, Cincinnati Reds (MDC ADP: 345, Yahoo ADP: 241)
While plenty of other Reds hurlers have received more hype in recent years (Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto), Wood delivered better fantasy numbers last year than any of the others have to this point in their Major League careers.
Wood's 1.08 WHIP was tied for eighth-best among pitchers who threw at least 80 innings last year, and he put up a rock solid 3.51 ERA and 3.42 FIP with a decent strikeout rate. Wood is a fly ball pitcher in a hitters' park who benefited from a fairly low 6.3 percent HR/FB rate, so his ERA could creep up a bit. On the other hand, he also had a pretty low strand rate, so it's not like he was massively lucky last year.
A young pitcher who could also improve his craft, Wood is one of my favorite upside starting pitching picks late in drafts.
18. Angel Pagan, OF, New York Mets (MDC ADP: 276, Yahoo ADP: 170)
If that photo is not enough of a reason to draft Pagan, consider this: only three players—Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Pagan—managed to steal 35-plus bases in 2010 while also hitting double digit home runs. Pagan may not have quite the wheels as some of the other big-time steals plays (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Michael Bourne, Juan Pierre), but none of those guys have ever hit 10 home runs in a season.
Pagan also hit .290 last year, and most projection systems expect him to be able to maintain both the batting average and the power while continuing to run. There's really no reason they shouldn't expect him to keep it up—Pagan's .306-54-6-32-14 line in 88 games in 2009 was perfectly in line with what he did last year. In addition, he should continue to score plenty of runs hitting near the top of the Mets' lineup.
Given how many speedy outfielders there are this season, and the fact that many are falling further than they should be falling, it's a good goal to draft at least one. With Pagan, you'll get the speed and some decent power as an added bonus.
17. Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF, Detroit Tigers (MDC ADP: 320, Yahoo ADP: 223)
It will be interesting to see what Raburn can do with a full season of at-bats. As a part-time player the last two seasons in Detroit, Raburn has smacked 31 HRs in just 632 at-bats while hitting at a quite respectable .285 clip. Considering he has 2B eligibility in Yahoo leagues, those numbers are even more appetizing.
Raburn has hit for more power against lefties than righties to this point in his career, but he's been pretty solid against both, so talk that Raburn could end up stuck in a platoon with Brennan Boesch will definitely be to rest if Raburn just keeps swinging the bat like he has been the last couple years.
If Raburn does manage to get 500-plus at-bats, it would be surprising if he didn't put up at least 20-25 HRs with a decent batting average and a handful of steals. That should be good enough to make him a starting-caliber 2B in mixed leagues.
16. Gio Gonzalez, SP, Oakland A's (MDC ADP: 174, Yahoo ADP: 157)
Gonzalez's draft stock has been soaring lately, to the point where he is barely being taken late enough to make this list. But he's still a solid upside pick based on where he's being selected.
Gonzalez is a highly-regarded young arm coming off an impressive first full season in the Major Leagues. He had an ERA below 3.70 in five of six months and posted a cool 2.59 ERA and 1.23 WHIP after the All-Star break.
His Achilles heel to this point has been one of the highest walk rates in baseball. However, Gonzalez was completely dominant in 41 innings in August (1.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP), which provides some hope that he can begin to cut down on his walks and take his game to the next level. His strikeout rate was also down a bit last year, but it could well rebound to nearly a strikeout per inning in 2011.
Given his pedigree, ballpark and division, Gonzalez is a safe bet to be a solid contributor while also possessing the upside to join the game's elite pitchers.
15. Magglio Ordonez, OF, Detroit Tigers (MDC ADP: 221, Yahoo ADP: 230)
Ordonez is a great example of a player that fantasy managers either wrongly assume is washed up or have grown tired of for some reason.
It's true that Ordonez does not have the 30-plus HR power he displayed earlier in his career, and he's not a great bet to stay healthy after playing in just 215 games over the last two seasons. He hits in the middle of an imposing lineup, however, and is still one of the better pure hitters in the game.
If he manages a full season of at-bats, Ordonez is very likely to have 20-plus HRs and a .300-plus batting average while breaking the century mark in both RBIs and runs. There simply aren't that many players in baseball who have a good shot at putting up those kind of numbers, and most of them aren't going in the 18th round of fantasy drafts. Despite the injury risk, he's a great upside pick.
14. Jon Rauch, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (MDC ADP: 376, Yahoo ADP: 238)
When it comes to relievers who are not the undisputed closer for their team, I will always prioritize guys who are getting saves now over those who may get them down the road. With both Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel starting the season on the disabled list, Rauch is going to get a chance to pick up some saves from the get-go.
Manager John Farrell insists that Francisco will remain the closer when he is healthy. Francisco managed to visit Dr. James Andrews and live to tell about it, so it doesn't sound like his injury is too serious.
The simple truth is that every year managers publicly stand by their original closer before eventually going with someone else, and Francisco's resume as a ninth-inning guy really isn't any better than Rauch's. Francisco has 32 career saves and lost his closing job in Texas last season. Rauch has similar peripherals to Francisco and 47 career saves.
Would it really be that surprising if Rauch got off to a hot start closing games and never gave up the job? Or if Francisco struggled upon returning and quickly lost the job back to Rauch? Draft Rauch late both for the short-term saves and the potential to grab saves all season long.
13. Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Colorado Rockies (MDC ADP: 270, Yahoo ADP: 204)
Chacin has a lot in common with Gio Gonzalez. Both pitchers have had trouble with walks but have great stuff and put together impressive performances after the All-Star break.
Chacin's second half consisted of a 2.21 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. While not nearly as effective at Coors Field as on the road, he misses enough bats to succeed in any ballpark. Chacin struck out more than a batter per inning in 2010, he induced plenty of ground balls, and his peripherals largely backed up his impressive 3.28 ERA.
Chacin will need to find a way to cut down on the walks to become a truly dominant starter, but even if he continues to dole out the free passes, he should have little trouble getting a sub-4.00 ERA, sub-1.30 WHIP and a whole bunch of strikeouts.
12. Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees (MDC ADP: 187, Yahoo ADP: 128)
With speedsters, it's probably best to try to take whichever one falls the furthest. However, I can certainly see the argument for prioritizing guys like Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit atop impressive lineups, over a guy like Michael Bourn, who stands little chance of scoring nearly as many runs.
The question, then, becomes why Ellsbury (MDC ADP: 63, Yahoo ADP: 86) is going so far ahead of Gardner in fantasy drafts. The difference on Mock Draft Central is particularly confusing.
Ellsbury is a better bet than Gardner to put up a batting average in the .290-.300 range, so I can see the Boston outfielder going a round or two earlier. Ellsbury is also coming off an injury-riddled season, however, which has raised questions about whether he will always be injury-prone. Consequently, he may be the riskier pick.
Gardner should hit at least .270 with 100-plus runs, 50 or so RBIs and 40-plus steals. That is a valuable commodity to acquire in the middle rounds of a mixed league draft.
11. Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (MDC ADP: 187, Yahoo ADP: 179)
Kuroda is a perennially under-appreciated commodity. In his three seasons in Los Angeles, Kuroda has thrown nearly 500 innings with a 3.60 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. His peripheral stats back up those numbers and his strikeout rate, while hardly elite, is good enough that he won't harm your strikeout total in leagues with an innings cap.
He's yet to have a season where he won more than 11 games, but that is bound to change sooner or later if he continues to pitch this well. He doesn't pitch deep enough into games to see a huge jump in wins, but with the Dodgers offense supporting him, 15 wins could be attainable.
Even if he doesn't manage a jump in wins this season, Kuroda has been a top-30 starting pitcher on a per-game basis over each of the last two seasons, and he should be able to repeat that feat again this year. Yet, he is typically the 45th-50th starter drafted in mixed leagues. That, my friends, is a bargain.
10. Ted Lilly, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (MDC ADP: 218, Yahoo ADP: 150)
It's impossible to mention Kuroda as a late-round steal without also giving a shout-out to his rotation mate, Mr. Lilly. Like Kuroda, Lilly pitches in a pitchers park and division and has put up a great ERA and WHIP for years with decent strikeouts.
Lilly's strikeout rate and WHIP are a bit better than Kuroda's. In fact, Lilly's 1.07 WHIP over the last two seasons is the best of any qualified starter in baseball during that time. Unlike Kuroda, Lilly is a fly ball pitcher that gives up his fair share of home runs, so their ERAs tend to end up being similar.
Overall, Lilly is the slightly more valuable commodity, but he's also the slightly more expensive one—at least in Yahoo leagues. There's no point in quibbling over which one is a better draft day steal, though. With the ability to consistently post an ERA in the mid-3.00s and a WHIP under 1.20, both pitchers are excellent bargains.
9. Jonathan Broxton, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers (MDC ADP: 164, Yahoo ADP: 120)
In the time I've been putting this article together, Broxton's average draft position at Mock Draft Central has risen to just beyond my initial cutoff, but I'm not going to drop him from the list for it.
There is lots of current speculation that Broxton is on a short leash as the Dodgers' closer, but I'm not buying it. Hong Chih-Kuo is a good pitcher, but his elbow is too brittle to allow him to pitch on back-to-back days. Kenley Jansen is another name that frequently comes up, but he's thrown a grand total of 27 innings in the Major Leagues to this point in his career, and the Dodgers aren't about to hand over the closer role to someone that inexperienced when they are aiming for a division title.
The biggest reason I'm not worried about Broxton's job security, however, is that he's about to have a big year.
Broxton was one of the most dominant closers in baseball in 2009, finishing with a 2.61 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 36 saves and incredible 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. As of June 26, he was well on his way to another dominating season in 2010 with a 0.83 ERA. Fatigue did him in, though. After a 48-pitch effort against the Yankees on June 27, Broxton just wasn't the same pitcher in July, August or September.
Heading into a contract year, I fully expect Broxton to be his usual dominant self as the Dodgers are careful not to overwork him.
8. Matt Thornton, RP, Chicago White Sox (MDC ADP: 207, Yahoo ADP: 149)
Thornton has three straight seasons of excellent setup work on his résumé, as he's had an ERA below 3.00, a WHIP below 1.10 and a K/9 rate above 10.00 in all three seasons. Now he is finally getting the chance to bring his nasty stuff to the ninth on a regular basis.
While there's always a bit of risk investing in a new closer, Thornton already has 17 career saves, so he's been able to gradually get used to pitching in the ninth. And although top prospect Chris Sale may be the team's closer of the future, the White Sox have always had a "win now" mentality and it's clear that Thornton is the best bet to help them do that, so he should have plenty of job security.
If Thornton can translate his numbers as a set-up man to closing, he could easily finish among the top five fantasy closers this year.
7. Juan Pierre, OF, Chicago White Sox (MDC ADP: 141, Yahoo ADP: 177)
Pierre is quite possibly the best of the speedy outfielders available on draft day, but he's rarely the first one to be taken.
Pierre had 16 more steals that anyone else last year, marking the eighth time he's stolen at least 45 bases. In other words, while there is more speed than usual available in drafts, Pierre is still a difference-maker in the category. Plus, while he only hit .275 last year, Pierre is a .298 career hitter, something that separates him from some of the other speedsters who struggle in batting average.
While he doesn't play for the Red Sox or the Yankees, Pierre should score plenty of runs hitting atop the White Sox' powerful lineup. With his potential for elite production in Runs, SBs and batting average, Pierre is a nice pick in the 15th round of a draft.
6. Colby Lewis, SP, Texas Rangers (MDC ADP: 119, Yahoo ADP: 180)
Lewis was one of my favorite endgame picks last year, after I saw projections that had him taking what he learned in Japan and using it effectively stateside. And yet, after being every bit as good as I hoped he would be in 2010, Colby is still underrated in Yahoo leagues.
While some people are questioning whether Lewis can repeat his 3.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 196 strikeouts from last season, I think he could actually better it. Lewis had a 3.33 ERA and 1.12 WHIP at the All-Star break, but the long Major League season seemed to take a toll on him—he was not nearly as effective in the second half. With that experience in mind, Lewis may be able to develop the endurance this year to maintain his early season performance throughout the entire season.
Lewis' peripherals back up his performance from last year, but even with some slight regression, he'd be worth quite a bit more than a 16th round pick. It's hard to find a mid-round pitcher with the potential Lewis has to significantly help you in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
5. Rajai Davis, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (MDC ADP: 282, Yahoo ADP: 204)
The last—and most underrated—of the speedster outfielders, Davis hit .284 with 50 SBs last season after hitting .305 with 41 SBs in 2009. He did not play a full slate of games in either season, which means that even more stolen bases could be in store for Davis in 2011.
While Davis has shown the ability to pair a solid average with a league-leading stolen base total, one thing he hasn't done is hit for any power. However, even that could start happening this year.
Under the tutelage of Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, Davis is reportedly developing some power to go with his speed. Davis' value could skyrocket if he is able to reach double digit HRs while hitting around .290 and nabbing 50 bases or more. If he is able to pull that off, his value won't be all that different from Carl Crawford's.
Even if he just repeats what he's done the last couple years, Davis is a steal.
4. Mike Aviles, 2B/SS/3B, Kansas City Royals (MDC ADP: 168, Yahoo ADP: 198)
In leagues where he has shortstop eligibility, Aviles is a highly underrated option for filling a very scarce position.
Excluding his 2009 season (almost completely lost to injury), Aviles has hit .314 in 843 at-bats over the 2008 and 2010 seasons. He also has collected 18 HRs and 22 SBs over those two seasons, which averages out to about 13 HRs and 16 SBs per 600 at-bats. According to Baseball Monster, Aviles' per game value ranked third among all shortstops in 2008 and sixth among all shortstops in 2010.
Hitting leadoff for the Royals this year, Aviles should finally surpass at least the 500 at-bat mark, meaning he can translate that per game value to a full season. If he stays healthy and in the lineup, he can reasonably be expected to hit .300 with 15 HRs, 15 SBs and around 90 runs scored.
For those who don't have the luxury of drafting Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki, Aviles can give you solid production for a very affordable price.
3. Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees (MDC ADP: 150, Yahoo ADP: 188)
Posada is another great example of an older player who has been prematurely forgotten by fantasy owners. Posada still has catcher eligibility, but he won't be playing catcher this year. Consequently, he stands a much better chance of playing everyday and staying healthy.
His batting average dropped to .248 in 2010, but the power was still there as Posada smacked 18 HRs in just 383 at-bats. If he can come closer to 500 at-bats in 2011, he'll have a great shot at 20-plus HRs, a total of only four catchers managed to reach last year.
Posada's average was held down by the lowest BABIP he's ever had in a full season, so while some of the drop-off may be age-related, Posada could well return to hitting in the .265-.285 range. He should also continue to drive in and score plenty of runs hitting in a loaded Yankees lineup.
Add it all together, and you have a likely top-10 catcher going five or more rounds after comparable players.
2. Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City Royals (MDC ADP: 343, Yahoo ADP: 256)
Is there really that big of a difference between Elvis Andrus and Alcides Escobar?
Yes, Andrus is in a better lineup and should score more runs. In addition, there's no question Andrus is more established and less risky, having put together back-to-back 30 SB seasons.
As recently as last year, however, Escobar was just as high a prospect as Andrus. He's also just as fast as Andrus and has the contact skills to hit for as high an average as Andrus—if not better.
Escobar was simply not given the chance to steal bases last year. Part of it was his own doing, as he struggled to reach base consistently. However, it can also be partially explained by having to hit eighth in the lineup in the National League for much of the year. It's tough to see good pitches to hit in that situation, and when you do manage to reach base, you're not going to get the green light very often when the pitcher can just bunt you over. Manager Ken Macha didn't play very aggressively on the base paths, either.
A change of scenery could do Escobar quite good in 2011, and you won't have to pay much to find out. There is a real chance that this late round pick could hit .280 with 80 runs and 30-plus SBs this year.
1. Manny Ramirez, OF/DH, Tampa Bay Rays (MDC ADP: 158, Yahoo ADP: 202)
Don't doubt Manny Ramirez. He's just too good of a hitter.
Ramirez hasn't played a full season in either of the last two years, and he struggled in his brief stint with the White Sox last year, but for the most part he has continued to hit the ball very well. I have the feeling he will be extra motivated to play this year after signing for just $2 million and returning to the AL East to regularly face the Red Sox and Yankees.
Ramirez has never hit below .290 in a full season, so I wouldn't bet on it happening this year, either. And while his power was down last year, it would not be at all surprising to see him again top 30 HRs in 2011. The Rays lost some good hitters over the offseason, but they should still have plenty of offense, allowing Ramirez to put up very strong RBI and run numbers as well.
Manny will be Manny until proven otherwise, and that means a .300-30-100 season is possible for a player going in the 19th round in Yahoo leagues.