2011 Fantasy Baseball: Identifying the 10 Best Late-Round Draft Steals

Brent NaultCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2011

2011 Fantasy Baseball: Identifying the 10 Best Late-Round Draft Steals

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    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Omar Infante #13 of the Florida Marlins during Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    This article will identify the 10 best late-round fantasy draft steals.

    When I identify these players, I will make reference to the draft I participated in with Yahoo! in terms of when these players were drafted.  I will also examine where Yahoo! has ranked said players overall and how that affects where they are taken in the draft.  I will also examine why these players would pay huge dividends for any fantasy team.

    However, you should note that I am not trying to find you the next Jose Bautista, I am merely giving you elite players that you can wait until later to grab in the draft and be considered a genius.  So, without further ado...Let us begin!

10. Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  (EDITORS NOTE : THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY DESATURATED). Yunel Escobar #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on February 20, 2011 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Yunel Escobar is without a doubt one of the more underrated shortstops in baseball.  He has fantastic defensive skills and seems to be developing with the bat more and more each year.  When I peeked at Yahoo!'s overall rankings this year I was quite shocked to learn that Escobar was only ranked 194th.  Not saying that 194 is bad, but I thought he would be a little higher up.  In the draft I participated in, Escobar was drafted first in the 15th round.  If you ask me, that team got away with highway robbery. 

    Yunel Escobar is in my mind a candidate to have a breakout season.  Escobar is without a doubt extremely talented, but when he was with the Braves, his maturity levels and constant arguments with Bobby Cox interfered with his growth.  

    Upon joining the Jays near the deadline last year, Yunel flourished under Cito Gaston and really came into his own.  I also consider Escobar a steal in the draft because of the lack of options at the shortstop position.  It is also notable that he has had a monstrous spring training that has seen him lead the Jays in hitting, highlighted by a .400-plus average.

9. John Buck, Florida Marlins

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    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  John Buck #14 of the Florida Marlins during Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    John Buck had a terrific year as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, so when I saw that he was ranked a ridiculously low 269th, I almost couldn't believe my eyes.  Yes, I understand that Buck is up there in terms of age and yes, that last year could very well have been a fluke, but come on, 269th?  I think John Buck deserves a little more credit than that.  John has never been as good as he was last year, but he has always had a powerful bat.  

    What was even more disturbing to me was that someone in my league was able to grab him with their sixth pick in the 20th round.  What was most shocking about this was that I couldn't see how someone as powerful as Buck, and at a position that is desperate for depth in fantasy leagues, could go so low?  Either way, in most drafts Buck will be available as he was in mine, so my advice would be to hold off on grabbing a backup catcher and snatch John up come the later rounds. 

8. Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Pitcher Joe Nathan #36 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a photo during photo day at Hammond Stadium on February 25, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Joe Nathan was one of the best closers in all of baseball with the Minnesota Twins for many seasons. Unfortunately for Nathan and the Twins, it was discovered last year that Joe would need to undergo Tommy John surgery and as a result he missed the entire season.  But now, Nathan appears ready to go for this season and will return to being the everyday closer for the Minnesota Twins.  

    I consider Nathan's rank of 187th overall to be quite fair considering the injuries.  This only means that Nathan will once again have to prove himself as being an elite closer.  To most fantasy owners, Joe could scare some off with the injury problems, but for others who are willing to take a chance, he could be a big steal.  

    In my draft, I was able to snatch Nathan up with the second pick in the 14th round which I considered to be theft.  Because if Joe Nathan even returns to being half the pitcher he was before the injury, I will still be happy with my selection.  

7. Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves

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    LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Tim Hudson #15  of the Atlanta Braves during Photo Day at  Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports of Complex on February 21, 2011 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Tim Hudson was one of the best pitchers in the National League last season pitching for the Atlanta Braves.  Hudson had always been a formidable pitcher, but has been slowed in recent years by injuries that have limited him.  Like others on this list, I was surprised that Hudson was ranked only 179th.  In my draft, I drafted Timmy 13th in the 11th round which I found was again another steal on my part.  What I also found odd is that players like Shaun Marcum were going before Tim Hudson.  

    In my opinion, Hudson is an absolute steal and one you should monitor into the later stages.  There are no signs of Hudson slowing down and he is a wonderful pick regardless of when you get him.

6. Rajai Davis, Toronto Blue Jays

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  (EDITORS NOTE : THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY DESATURATED). Rajai Davis #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on February 20, 2011 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Rajai Davis was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason for a few minor leaguers from the Oakland Athletics.  This move was considered odd until Vernon Wells was dealt in which it was made clear that Davis would be the Jays everyday center fielder.  

    In my mind, Rajai has tremendous fantasy value and by Yahoo! rankings he is 174th overall and was taken with the seventh pick in the 11th round.  Some may scratch their heads and say that the 11th round isn't exactly a late round, but it is for someone of Davis's fantasy upside.

    Rajai Davis main contribution comes on the base paths where he has stolen 50 bases with the Oakland Athletics before, and it was in rather limited playing time.  So figure in the fact that Davis will be playing everyday, some could probably guess near 60.  Davis also has a nice bat and has shown that he can hit for average.  

    The last thing is that although Davis has never shown much power in his career, this spring, Davis has hit four homers.  I am not saying that Rajai is going to be a power threat this year, but it is something to keep an eye on.  Another thing about Rajai is in a productive lineup like that of Toronto, Davis will provide your fantasy team with a lot of runs scored.  Even in the 11th round I consider Rajai Davis to be an absolute steal.

5. Javier Vasquez, Florida Marlins

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    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Javier Vazquez #23 of the Florida Marlins during Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Javier Vasquez was once one of the better pitchers in the National League, but once he was traded to the New York Yankees, everything seemed to change.  Vasquez dealt with some injuries, but mainly seemed to have trouble adjusting to the style of the American League as some pitchers do after making the transition from league to league.  Vasquez ended up pitching out of the bullpen for the Yanks for quite a while and wasn't entirely successful there either.  

    But, this is a new year for Vasquez in my mind.  Javier was smart in the offseason as he returned to the National League after signing a nice contract with the Florida Marlins.  I believe this impacts his fantasy value tremendously in a good way.  Seeing that Vasquez though, was only ranked 222nd overall, I was a little bit surprised.  In my Yahoo! draft, Vasquez was taken with the 11th pick in the 16th round which seemed like quite the deal.  

    Yes, there is some risk with Vasquez, but like a lot of people on this list, you can get them in the late rounds and there is truly little risk.  What Vasquez can provide is a pitcher with both starting pitcher and relief pitcher eligibility in most leagues.  He can also give tons and tons of strikeouts and wins if he can return to his old self.  This is in my mind, pretty much robbery.

4. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

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    LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Austin Jackson #14 of the Detroit Tigers poses for a portrait during Photo Day on February 21, 2011  at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Austin Jackson was acquired last season by the Detroit Tigers in the deal that saw Curtis Granderson become a New York Yankee.  The deal played out in Detroit's favor as Jackson made an immediate impact on their lineup and had an absolutely phenomenal season that saw him finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.  Jackson showed tons of speed on the bases, showed he could hit consistently, and showed glimpses of power.

    After being so good last season, one would have assumed Jackson would have been at least in the top 200, or around there.  But alas, Jackson was ranked 211th overall in Yahoo!'s rankings and in my draft was taken with the ninth pick in the 16th round.  For a young player with tremendous upside, tons of speed, and a bat that is still developing, this seems like it is almost too good to be true.  

3. Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during media photo day at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on February 24, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Trevor Cahill emerged as one of the best young pitchers in baseball last year after a phenomenal season as a member of the Oakland Athletics.  Cahill garnered several CY Young votes at the end of the year after being among the league leaders in wins, ERA, and several other major pitching categories.

    When we got into the later rounds of my Yahoo! draft I began wondering where on earth was Trevor Cahill.  Upon searching for a few seconds I found Cahill who I discovered was only ranked 210th overall!

    Blasphemy I cried!  In my draft, I had Cahill on my queue, but he got stolen away from me by someone with the last pick in the 12th round.  Even though you may say that the 12th round isn't that bad, allow me to put it in perspective for you.  Off the top of my head I can remember pitchers like Shaun Marcum went before Cahill.  Trevor is an excellent fantasy pick for anyone and if you can, monitor Cahill until the later rounds and steal him.

2. C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers

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    SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  C. J. Wilson #36 of the Texas Rangers poses for a portrait during Spring Training Media Day on February 25, 2011 at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    C.J. Wilson moved from the bullpen to the rotation last season, and the move clearly payed off.  Wilson impressed the league as he posted an excellent win-loss record and an elite ERA.  So, coming into this year, I expected that Wilson would probably be ranked fairly high and would be taken within the first 10 rounds at least, if not quicker.  

    But, I was sadly disappointed to find out that Yahoo! had ranked him 260th overall.  Like most on this list, I rubbed my eyes a couple of times to see if I was seeing right.  What surprised me even more was that when the 15th round rolled around and I was picking 13th, I was somehow able to steal away a very nice starting pitcher. 

    Kudos to me I guess!  Either way, this ranking seems somewhat unfair for Wilson who had a great season, but who am I to complain as I am happy to have him on my team.  Although I believe Wilson's numbers won't be like last years, I believe that with a productive Texas lineup and the confidence of last year, Wilson's win total, and ERA should still be stellar this year.  

1. Omar Infante, Florida Marlins

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    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Omar Infante #13 of the Florida Marlins during Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Omar Infante was arguably one of the best hitters for the Atlanta Braves last season, so when I saw that some lunatic had ranked Infante 329th overall, I almost died.  Yes, granted, Infante was dealt to the lesser hitting Florida Marlins in the offseason in the deal that saw Dan Uggla end up a Brave, but that shouldn't lessen his value too much.  Infante was never a hitter whose fantasy value came from his runs batted in, so regardless of where he hits, he can still be valuable.

    In my fantasy draft, a smart team owned by my MLB team leader if I am not mistaken, was smart, and took Infante with the ninth pick in the 12th round; kudos to you Stephen!  Omar provides fantasy owners with an extremely high average, some stolen base potential, and a good OBP.  But perhaps Infante's most attractive fantasy quality is his eligibility to play every position with the exception of first base, catcher, and pitcher.  

    Most people won't go looking down in the 300 ranks until later on in the draft, so unless you're playing with smart people, most won't notice Infante until later on.  Infante is the biggest steal of the draft without a shred of doubt in my mind.