Season’s greetings! That’s what I tell my loved ones on Opening Day and they always know what I mean! Before spring, news had emerged that top-10 starter Adam Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery on Feb 28. In 2010, fantasy managers who enjoyed elite production from an ace did so with statistics similar to those of Wainwright. 20 wins, 213 strikeouts, and a 2.42 ERA is what we’re always looking for, right?
Now obviously he wasn’t the only one this past spring to suffer a setback affecting competitive mixed leagues. Let’s focus on late-round players who I like here in April and happen to be high on in those late rounds that should serve some importance amongst your lineups when your earlier picks have gone dry. Luckily, they would only be literally worth pennies to replace the well-known guys who have already suffered from player injuries, positional moves, unexpected spring production, etc.
My strategy was to wait on drafting a catcher until at least the 15th round or later out of 25. In a standard ESPN.com 10-team league, I didn’t see much value in taking a big-name catcher like Mauer or Martinez in an earlier round. I don’t care how many consecutive plate appearances catchers see because to me, a catcher is the most injury-prone player second to a starting pitcher. A trip to the DL is very common among backstops and being a catcher takes a toll on the knees, especially in the second half. Yeah, sure, catchers are a scarcity, but do you honestly deem it necessary to draft Joe Mauer (current ADP: 25.7) in the middle of the third round when you can pick up guys around him that are capable of even better numbers? Mauer only hit nine home runs in 2010 and only one of those launched at Target Field. Yes, he hits for average but how many at-bats do you think you might get from him? I don’t know about you, but I feel very comfortable spending my early-to-mid round picks on players who prove themselves as more of a certainty. Fact is, no matter what catcher you choose, injuries are always the major lingering concern.
Matt Wieters – He may have been a guy worth your patience in the 17th round. A surprisingly resurgent Orioles offense featuring Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero should help stir up some confidence in the young sophomore. He turns 25 in late May, which is a nice age to be in baseball, so I’m banking on a serious breakout season. If things go right, I would expect close to 20 home runs with at least posting .800 OPS this time around. Wieters definitely has the potential, but can he do it? There’s a bit of uncertainty here but I’d say he is worth at least your mid-to-late round pick given his prior lack of experience and absent offensive chemistry. Worst case scenario, if he underperforms I’d say you’re still paying for at least 15 home runs, which isn’t too bad.
Mike Napoli – Toward the end of the drafting season, Napoli’s ADP among all ESPN leagues had actually beat out Wieters. That meant that more and more people were digging deeper for this guy and starting to draft him over Wieters. I strongly believe in Mike Napoli; in fact, he’s my favorite catcher this year! Napoli’s power is still present as he swatted 26 homers in 2010, and his switch to the Rangers is the best part. The Ballpark at Arlington ranked sixth in HRs/game in 2010, whereas Angel Stadium only ranked 23rd. I’m all-in on Napoli, and I think he was a steal after the 15th round.
ESPN 2011 projections for top-10 first basemen average 36.2 home runs and 112.6 RBIs. They also range from 26-45 and 92-126 respectively. This is great news because if you missed out on Albert Pujols, there was still a great opportunity to see numbers within those boundaries. Not only are first basemen the most powerful, they are also the most durable, consistent hitters in all formats. They don’t do much running or throwing so they average more plate appearances throughout their career compared to other positions. In a 10-team mixed league, you’re practically guaranteed at least one top-10 stud, and if you get two, well, that’s absolutely fantastic because power is quite rare in the late rounds of drafts. Who was available in the late rounds anyway?
Kendrys Morales – Out of sheer impatience, leagues started dropping him this week. Ignore that. In 2009, he was nothing short of stellar (.306/34/108). Considering Joey Votto’s 2011 projections (.315/32/108) as well as Mark Teixeira’s (.280/36/114), Morales is clearly not too far off from the two early-round selections. I’m just saying that when Morales is healthy and focused, he has the potential to produce like those two studs I just mentioned. Nevertheless, he reads a slimmer projection for this season (.289/26/92) as there are two downsides which made Morales a ninth-round pick instead of a second round pick. The first is that he’ll be on your disabled list for what could be all of April, and the second downside is his overall health for the rest of the season and how he will deal with any lingering injuries. I like him regardless. I believe that he will come back with a vengeance after that freak celebration accident last season.
Ike Davis – He’s worth a look in all formats. Only 24 years of age and presently serving his second major league season, Davis hitting .345 with one home run and nine RBIs starting for the Mets through their first nine games. The problem here is that he’s only available in about five percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, so somebody in your league might have him by now.
Freddie Freeman – He’s worth a look, but tread lightly and don’t be so quick to grab him. He’s only 21, so I would give him just a little bit more time to develop here and prove himself as a viable option into fantasy play. The good news is he is available in about 45 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so if you’re desperate for only a first basemen don’t hesitate too much longer. Additionally, there is no reason for him to be a free agent in NL-only play.
Garrett Jones – Only start Jones against righties as a matchup play. Theoretically, you could handcuff him with a lefty-conquering first basemen or outfielder, but I don’t really see enough upside here. Jones should be acquired for his 20-HR potential only if all the players above him in this section of the article are gone. Note: Jones hit .208 and .220 against lefties in 2009 and 2010, respectively, while turning in averages of .333 and .262 against righties in those same seasons. I would honestly see if there are any safer options unless you notice him go on some sort of hot streak.
Brandon Belt – Act like a hawk. His value drastically increased by 15 percent since Opening Day, and he is still available in about 75-80 percent of leagues. He hit a home run on April 1, so keep your eye on him. Cody Ross may take the outfield role away at the end of April once he returns from the DL. Therefore, Belt needs to show San Francisco management that he can stay consistent (unlike in the spring) for him to stay on your fantasy roster, but he could be a nice temporary play until Morales is back.
This position contains less depth because less of that “30 home-run and 100 RBI” potential is available. Indeed, some second basemen are in fact seasoned to hit for power while conversely others prove to be aggressive along base paths. There are also those like Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips that fall in the neutral zone between power and speed, demonstrating some 20/20 potential. The availability of talent worthwhile for fantasy leagues, however, is quite limited here when relating to a 10-team mixed league. Robinson Cano and Dan Uggla are the only two second basemen projected to hit for at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs. Obviously, Chase Utley’s injury has not helped these matters. When drafting a 2B, the plan was to either go early or wait until the last minute. The ones that flew in the middle rounds appear to be too much of a gamble. Examples consist of Ben Zobrist, Aaron Hill, Gordon Beckham and Howie Kendrick; while a few have started off the season hot, they all serve as hopeful-for-a-breakout, risk/reward type of candidates. Injury concerns revolve around Kelly Johnson’s wrist inflammation from 2009, which kept him out for three weeks as well as last season’s back troubles for Brian Roberts. In the event that you didn’t draft a stud of a second baseman…
Tsuyoshi Nishioka – The Minnesota Twins acquired him from the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball last December. If your league is heavily stacked on the corners and/or carries two top-five pitchers, Nishioka was a sensible option as your late-round middle infielder. For Chiba Lotte in 2010, he hit for .346, walked 79 times, and went 22-for-33 in stolen base attempts resulting in a fabulous .423 on-base percentage. Last but not least, he also led the league by scoring 121 runs. He hit .345 during the spring, and is now rehabbing from an injury suffered on a take-out slide. Don’t forget about Nishioka after a few weeks, because he has the potential to really help at the MI position this year.
Omar Infante – It’s time to stop overlooking Infante. Last year he was an All-Star and almost won the National League batting title by 16 points. This year, he’s eligible at 2B, 3B, and OF, demonstrating strong versatility yet again. He is handling everyday at-bats so why not take advantage? He’s still in the NL East and can be used to plug up a spot for an injured player (Evan Longoria anyone?). He’s currently available at a healthy 30 percent of all leagues.
Mike Aviles – The last 157 at-bats in 2010 went like this: .338/28/6/17/14. If he takes at-bats away from Alcides Escobar or Chris Gets, then expect a fine season from Aviles after he fully recovered from 2009 Tommy John surgery. He posted one home run and two stolen bases in the first six games for Kansas City.
Danny Espinosa – The Nationals played a bit of a will-he-or-won’t-he game with Espinosa in the leadoff spot, but his minor-league track record suggests he could have success in the role. He posted a .365 on-base percentage in the minors. So far through nine games in 2011, he has a cool .387 OBP with two doubles and a home run, and he’s available in 94 percent of leagues.
Shortstops are even more limited than second basemen. Also, they can be very injury prone because of the types of acrobatic skills necessary to accomplish intense, double-play opportunities. Smart owners drafted one of the two first-round shortstops. This strategy required a little bit of planning out the next few rounds in order to selectively and optimally stack a fantasy team on the corners. In my opinion, the safest and most productive picks were Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro. You’re probably thinking, Starlin? By looking at this past week’s performance and where he was drafted, that’s got bargain written all over it.
Alternatively however, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Rafael Furcal present themselves as serious injury liabilities. Don’t get me wrong, they have a good chance at putting up 550 at-bats, and if they do they can potentially steal 30 bases while hopefully hitting for .300 plus. However, as a result of past injuries these are gambles and risky business is usually not good business. Recently, there has been no questioning the lack of depth at short, and this year is no exception to that. In the event you missed out on Hanley, Troy, or “Superstarlin”, see below.
Erick Aybar – Through the Angels first three games he hit .417 with one stolen base. I put him in this article because I just find him as a bit underrated and due for a nice rebound season, especially as a 19th round pick with an ADP of 180.3. I feel like many people are willing to drop him if the slightest thing goes wrong, which it did with his current injury, so keep your eye on the waiver wire. Aybar stole 22 bags last season with lingering injuries. In January, he turned a still-ripe 27, a fairly healthy age so I’ll have to predict that he steals 25-35 for his 2011 campaign.
Asdrubal Cabrera – Get him while he’s hot and hopefully he stays hot. He’s at .316 with 3 home runs, 9 RBI, and almost owned in all leagues. He hit three HRs all of last season, so if his power potential is really coming forward, he’s worth adding and holding onto for the remainder of the season.
Yunel Escobar – If you miss out on Asdrubal Cabrera, Escobar would be next in line for you. He hit .474 with a home run and a stolen base before suffering a mild concussion last Wednesday. He came back on Sunday to go 1-for-2 with two walks, so he’s obviously fine.
Orlando Cabrera – Watch his stat line daily. He somehow unexpectedly keeps putting numbers on the board, and if he keeps up this type of consistency he may be owned in all leagues by the end of the month.
Anthony Clawson graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's degree of Arts in Economics. Although he is involved in all fantasy sports Anthony specializes in Baseball and currently manages over twenty leagues on ESPN.com.
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