Monday, February 22, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 1 of 6)

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 – A Six Part Series

For those who played fantasy baseball in 2009, we witnessed an unusually robust crop of young players that hadn’t graced Major League Baseball in years. While one can’t complain about a talent pool being richer than before, fantasy fans will have more worthwhile players who, thanks to their unique individual skill sets, will look better on fantasy owners’ rosters.

The following are six different sets of players, grouped accordingly.

The first group is a collection of unknown talent that was completely off the fantasy radar until last season, and is now comprised of people to at least keep an eye on, if not target immediately.

The second group is a set of players that were on our fantasy radar prior to 2009, performed well last year, and that we should now target as fantasy studs.

Third is a list of established veterans who had unexpectedly amazing seasons, but draw speculation as to whether they can repeat their success from 2009.

The fourth group is a collection of young, talented ballplayers who hit a stumbling block in their road to stardom last season. Some of these players’ levels of production suffered as a result of injury or circumstance, while others simply had the shortcomings in their game exposed by the league.

Fifth is a list of players who had served baseball fantasy nation admirably for the duration of their illustrious careers, but should now be crossed off must-have lists due to declining skills, injury, or retirement. Consider this a fantasy eulogy to the players for years of service to fantasy baseball.

The final collection is a group of young players who you may either not have heard of yet, or have not deemed to be worthy of fantasy consideration…until this season. Store this last group of names into your mental archives, as these mid-to-late round sleepers (or mid-season pickups) could provide the statistical boost that wins you your league.

Group 1 (Where Did You Come From, and Where Have You Been All My Life?)

David Aardsma (RP, Sea) – After former closer JJ Putz left Seattle, Brandon Morrow inherited Putz's job in spring training. When Morrow failed to consistently put out ninth-inning fires after the season started, Aardsma took over and never looked back, accumulating 38 saves in 42 opportunities. One of the biggest nuggets of 2009 Waiver Wire Gold, Aardsma should get at least as many save chances with the improved Seattle pitching staff in front of him and defense behind him.

Elvis Andrus (SS, Rangers) – Good for 30-40 steals, Andrus’ glove will keep him in the lineup, albeit more towards the eight or nine-hole. Regardless, his unique skill set works well within fantasy baseball: speed, job security, and upside at a position thin with talent. Elvis needs to improve his plate discipline, work the count, and pick up a few more walks in order to be more than a mid-to-late-ish round pick.

Andrew Bailey (RP, A’s) – Displayed dynamite poise for a rookie, as the All-Star served as one of the few bright spots for Oakland last year. Although Joey Devine, the A’s projected 2009 preseason closer, is scheduled to come back from Tommy John surgery, Bailey’s job as ninth-inning specialist figures to be safe. His only downside is the team he pitches for, which would be lucky to win 75 games. However, given the lightweight Oakland lineup, it stands to reason that most of their wins will be narrow victories requiring Bailey to retire the last batch of batters.

Gordon Beckham (3B / 2B, White Sox) – The White Sox 1st round pick in 2008 provides a nice all-around presence whose eligibility will change from 3B/SS to 3B/2B. Good at everything but statistically great at nothing, Becks is more of a solid everyday contributor (I label these types of guys “spiritual” or “clubhouse” leaders) in several categories than a one-category stud who will carry your team. That said, he provides clutch at bats (.348 BA w/ RISP & 2 out, .400 w/ bases loaded), his all-out hustle style of play is fun to watch, and he’s just entering his second season! There are certainly worse second basemen / middle infielders you could draft.

Chris Coghlan (OF, Marlins) – The National League Rookie of the Year was a base hit and run scoring machine for the Marlins in the second half. His solid approach at the plate makes him a candidate for continued success in 2010, but for fantasy purposes, he doesn’t bring a lot of power or speed to the table. Assuming he maintains his spot atop the Marlins’ batting order, Coghlan will be a nice source of runs and hits. Unfortunately, he’ll only be outfield eligible, which makes him not much more than an OF4 or OF5.

Scott Feldman (SP, Tex) – One of the most unforeseen 17 game winners in the history of the game, the converted reliever was a direct beneficiary of Ranger team president Nolan Ryan’s philosophy shift, which was to stretch out the Texas starting pitchers’ innings to increase their endurance. If he pitches as well at home as he did on the road (12-4 record in 2009) with the vaunted Texas lineup providing run support, he could put up similar wins totals. However, given that Feldman isn’t a power pitcher, the 27 year-old’s margin for error is smaller than other pitchers who can simply overpower batters with filthy stuff.

Tommy Hanson (SP, Atl) – Hanson’s fan base and 2009 fantasy owners will argue that he got hosed in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. At 6’6”/220, Hanson has the build, the confidence, and the repertoire to remain a fixture in Atlanta’s rotation for years to come. Draft him as a good SP3, or a dynamite SP4. Just don’t be shocked if the young hurler’s innings are limited towards the latter half of the season.

J.A. Happ (SP, Phi) – The postseason-tested 27 year-old, who finished in the top-5 voting for ROY, had a stellar season with a 12-4 record and a 2.93 ERA. A workhorse who is capable of going the distance any given night, Happ benefits from a powerful Phillies lineup that provides gobs of run support and great defense. His ERA shouldn’t be expected to stay under 3.00 this year, but Happ could again provide ample wins and strikeouts.

Garrett Jones (1B/OF, Pirates) – The monster HR/AB numbers Garrett posted in just 82 games of 2009 left Pirate fans “Jonesing” for more. As he is envisioned to serve as one of the cornerstones of the rebuilding Pirates’ future, Jones will play either right field or first base, and will likely be eligible at both positions for fantasy purposes. If he can hit 21 HRs in a half-season, Jones should garner mid-round attention in his first full year in Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutcheon (OF, Pit) – Blessed with a great power/speed combination, McCutchen was handed the starting centerfield job when Nyjer Morgan was traded to the Nationals. The 22 year-old rewarded the Pirates by hitting 12 homers (eight in August) with 22 steals. Although McCutcheon has a penchant for streaky play, he could serve as a valuable asset nonetheless, especially in head-to-head leagues.

Miguel Montero (C. Ari) – At a position as talent-starved as catcher, Montero provided a huge boost for those prescient enough to add him as a C2 in July. Playing in Arizona limits Montero’s exposure, so you could get Montero several rounds later than Jorge Posada even though they’ll post similar numbers. Montero tore up the minors before he got called up, so his offensive output isn’t completely unforeseen. If Montero is your second catcher this year, your team will be in great shape behind the plate.

Nyjer Morgan (OF, Was) – Morgan can thank the Pirates' front office for the trade to DC that revived his career. He became instant BFFs with those who picked up or owned Morgan in the second half given his bountiful flurry of steals that put many owners in the catbird seat in their respective leagues (well, that’s what happened in mine). The 42 bags he swiped in 2009 illustrate Morgan’s upside, but his puny power is more akin to Juan Pierre than Juan Gonzalez.

Leo Nunez (RP, Fla) – Another example of why one doesn’t need to spend early draft picks on closers, Nunez took over the closer job after Matt Lindstrom (now on Houston) suffered one of his many injuries. Although Florida went ahead and signed Mike ”back-from-the-dead” McDougal, Nunez was assured by Marlins brass that the job is still his to lose. Aside from last year, Nunez lacks closing experience, so draft Leo in the latter rounds as your last closer. But don’t be shocked if he hits a bump or two in the road during 2010, and gives up a few saves to McDougal.

Ben Zobrist (2B, TB) – Although his monster season came out of nowhere, Zobrist has the right players hitting around him to again produce a similar level of production as he did in 2009. Given that he will be the everyday second baseman in 2010 after the Rays traded Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh, Zobrist may benefit from having a steady job instead of being a jack-of-all-trades utility player. In either case, Zobrist offers rare run production at second base, but proceed with caution, as he lacks a significant track record. I wouldn’t draft Zobrist before more proven commodities at 2B like Brandon Phillips or Brian Roberts.

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 2 of 6)

Group 2: (So THIS Is Why I’ve Heard So Much About This Guy!)

Shin Shoo Choo (OF, Cle) – The multi-faceted Choo figures to be the best position player to come out of South Korea yet. Always able to hit for a good batting average, Choo put together a nice 20/20 campaign that went unnoticed in the Indians’ disastrous 2009 season. If he can hit .300, swipe 20 bags, and post an OPS near .900 again, grab Choo as a solid OF3.

Andre Ethier (OF, LAD) – Serving as Mr. Clutch for the Dodgers in 2009 (.362 BA in late-inning pressure situations with runners on base), Ethier broke out in a big way, as the Dodgers desperately needed production after Manny Ramirez got suspended for 50 games. Although Ethier played okay without Manny’s protection behind him in the batting order, Andre is a much more effective run producer when Manny hits after him. As Manny’s abilities decline, one will have to wait and see if pitchers’ fear factor towards Ramirez remains, and whether Ethier will continue to see as many fastballs. Furthermore, Ethier was a liability against left-handed pitching last season, hitting only .194. With Dodger stadium being a notorious pitcher’s ballpark, I’ll let someone else in my Los Angeles-based fantasy league overpay for Ethier.

Zack Greinke (SP, KC) – The fact that Greinke pitches for the god-awful Royals shouldn’t deter you too much from landing this unique talent who battled back from social anxiety disorder to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2009. The staggering improvement in Greinke’s approach and resulting numbers cannot be ignored, and he should be drafted as the fourth or fifth overall starting pitcher with confidence. In spite of the staff ace’s 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 242 whiffs, Kansas City finished tied for last place in the AL Central in 2009. That said, the Royals are a young team with upside, and they have a great closer in Joakim Soria who can effectively shut the door on Greinke’s stellar outings. Last but not least, Greinke is still only 26, and just entering his prime. Scary.

Aaron Hill (2B, Tor) – Hill busted out beyond all expectations in 2009 after he was sidelined by a concussion in 2008. Formerly known as a doubles hitter, Hill swatted more homers (36) last season than he had in his first four years in the majors combined! While Chase Utley will cost you a first-round pick, you can probably get Hill, who proved that he can put up similar numbers to Utley, in the fourth or fifth round. The market for power-hitting second basemen who get 700 plate appearances in a season is remarkably thin. If you have a bopper like Hill at second base while using a early-ish pick, your team will have a significant statistical advantage over most other second basemen over the course of the season, allowing more overall flexibility for your team.

Adam Lind (OF, Tor) – This highly touted prospect finally broke out with a monster season in 2009, and will serve as a franchise cornerstone while the young talent around Lind continues to develop. As Lind plays at least half of his games as a DH in hitter-friendly Toronto, he figures to be a good candidate to stay healthy due to less wear and tear from diving for and chasing down balls in the outfield.

Carlos Marmol (RP, Cubs) – His development took a couple of years and some grooming, but it looks like Marmol is finally the man for saves on the North Side. Kevin Gregg, who served as Cubs closer for the majority of 2009, left the club to sign a free agent deal with Toronto. If Marmol can cut down on his walks (65 in 74 innings pitched in ’09 - yikes), the 27 year-old could prove to be one of the best value picks at closer this year.

Kendry Morales (1B. LAA) – The Cuban defector who joined the Angels in 2005 had to wait until Mark Teixeira left town so that he could finally take over full-time duties at first base. 34 homers, 108 RBI later, Morales has lived up to the hype, and in spite of said hype, nobody expected Morales to establish himself as such a force in his first year playing as a regular in 2009. Although Kendry no longer has Chone Figgins or Vlad Guerrero hitting in front of him, he could still deliver big-time numbers in the middle of the Angels’ lineup.

Mark Reynolds (3B, Ari) - His incredible 2009 seems impossible to repeat given how high his batting average was for most of the season compared to his prodigious strikeout rate. 223 K’s? Very impressive…if he were a starting pitcher! The 44-homer upside he displayed last year makes him a possible target to be overvalued, as he simply has too many holes in his swing, doesn’t walk enough, and lacks extensive protection in the Arizona lineup. Let Reynolds’ 2009 owner overpay for him in 2010.

Wandy Rodriguez (SP, Hou) – The Wandyman stepped up in 2009 to take over as the best starting pitcher on the Astros. With a revamped Houston bullpen comprised of injury-prone Matt Lindstrom and B-minus closer Brandon Lyon, and a defensively adequate Houston team shagging balls behind Wandy, a second consecutive excellent season may not be in the cards for Rodriguez.

Pablo Sandoval (C, SF) – Panda Bear provided a sparkling .330 BA and signs of life in the San Francisco lineup. His owners licked their lips throughout the season as Sandoval flirted with catcher eligibility, but ultimately fell a couple games short. Sandoval’s excellent batting average and solid-but-not-spectacular power and run production will help your team. But since the Giants’ batting lineup is hardly loaded with thumpers, Sandoval’s ceiling is somewhat limited.

Troy Tulowitzki (SS, Col) – His amazing second half made his owners forget how awful Tulowitzki played in the first couple months of 2009. After modifying his batting stance a bit, he now figures to be a valued fixture in Denver for years to come. One may have trouble using a first or second-round pick on a shortstop not named Hanley, but after his 32-92-101-20-.297 campaign in 2009, you won’t get a chance to Draft Tulo too low again.

Justin Upton – (OF, Ari) – A 2009 breakout season is only the start of a beautiful career run for the younger Upton. A five-tool specimen who is only starting to realize his 30/30 potential at the major league level, Justin could be a first or second round pick as soon as 2011. Barring injury, this may be the last preseason that he could still be viewed as a value pick, so hop on the Upton train in the fourth or fifth round and watch the trade offers come en masse for the All Star as soon as the season starts.

Joey Votto (1B, Cin) – Votto established himself as a legitimate fantasy stud who can hit for ample power, average and provide run production. Although Votto ranked fourth in MLB in OPS (.981) to go along with a .322 BA, he is rarely mentioned in the elite class of first basemen. At this stage in his career, one can compare Votto to a younger Todd Helton, i.e. a great contact hitter with good power that plays in one of the best hitter’s ballparks in the baseball. Don’t be afraid to reach a little for Votto in the fifth or sixth round on draft day – the 26 year-old is very good.

Adam Wainwright (SP, StL) – The 2009 Cy Young runner-up was awesome from April to October. Good offense, solid pitching mechanics, and great coaching should help to ensure another solid season for the 28 year-old. Assuming the Cardinal bullpen provides the same stellar support in 2010, Wainwright should again flirt with 20 wins. One note of caution: Wainwright pitched over 100 innings more than he did in 2008, so don’t be shocked if fatigue causes him to become more hittable after the All-Star break.

Jason Werth (OF, Phi) – Finally given a full-time gig after seven injury-plagued years in the National League, Werth was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of the NL East in 2009. Situated in the middle of a potent Phillies lineup, Werth has the protection surrounding him, the right home ballpark as well as the all-around skill set to flourish for another year in Philadelphia.

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 3 of 6)

Group 3: (Can He Do It Again?)

Jason Bartlett (SS, TB) – By his fourth year in the league, Bartlett had matured into a defensive-minded shortstop that was good for a bushel of steals per year. In his sixth season, Bartlett shocked the baseball world with 14 homers, 90 runs scored, 30 steals, and a .320 average. If this is Bartlett’s new skill set from this point forward, the 30 year-old should be a good all-around shortstop who can put up Jeter-esque numbers without costing you a Jeter-esque fifth round pick.

Heath Bell (RP, SD) – Bell made a seamless transition to stud closer after Trevor Hoffman left for Milwaukee. Although Bell had Hall of Fame shoes to fill, he stepped up to lead the National League with 42 saves. While he would stand to get even more save opportunities by pitching for a better team, the penny-pinching Padres could already be shopping the 32 year-old, as well as anyone else on the team attracting interest, for anything younger and cheaper…okay, Padre rant aside, Bell is a very reliable closer, but presents risk if he’s traded to a contender and is placed into a setup role.

Russell Branyan (IB, Cle) – The 34 year-old held out a little too long for a multi-year contract, and should have re-signed with the Mariners when they extended him an offer after the 2009 regular season concluded. As it now stands, Branyan joined Cleveland on a paltry one-year deal to back up uber-prospect Matt LaPorta, and possibly DH against righties. If Branyan hadn’t suffered a herniated disc in his back in August, he might have had a crack at 40 homers and gotten the big free agent payday he wanted. As things currently stand, Branyan’s long swing creates a small margin for error, as his career .234 batting average will attest. Don’t get sucked into one good year amid a career of swings and misses.

Marlon Byrd (OF, Cubs) – Although he’s headed for the so-called Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, are there friendlier confines in MLB than the launching pad he left behind in Arlington, Texas? Byrd should have ample RBI opportunities with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez hitting in front of him, but last year was the first time he received more than 500 at bats in a season in his eight-year career. Byrd isn’t stellar defensively, and his move to the National League eliminates the possibility of DH duty. If you believe Byrd will flourish in the National League, then take a shot. Personally, I’m staying away if 20 homers in 547 at bats is the 32 year-old’s upside.

Jorge De la Rosa (SP, Col) – Jorge had a nice season pitching for playoff-bound Colorado, and has shown marked improvement in almost every pitching category in each of his last four seasons. Having recently signed another one-year deal with the Rockies, De la Rosa should be plenty motivated to pitch his heart out this season in an attempt to secure a long-term deal at the end of 2010. Finally, Colorado isn’t the hellhole for pitchers it was ten years ago, as some of the Mile High mystique seems to have worn off with the decrease in scoring in recent seasons.

JD Drew (OF, Bos) – Thought to be on the downside of his disappointing career, Drew played as if it were a contract season with one of his highest OPS ever. While 68 RBI from an outfielder who doesn’t get steals is hardly worth salivating over, Drew is streaky enough so that he may get hot and provide your team with a solid OF5 when one of your other outfielders gets hurt. JD sits against most lefties, which helps to keep his batting average and OPS up, and his name off the disabled list.

Ryan Franklin (RP, StL) – Widely believed to be the biggest surprises of the 2009 season, Franklin titillated both fantasy owners as well as his own coaches with 38 saves and a 1.92 ERA. He’ll be counted on for a repeat performance in 2010 on an elite contender in St. Louis. Since he lacks a proven track record, Franklin could fall to the middle rounds, where he would be a bargain.

Frank Francisco (RP, Tex) – For someone who made three trips to the disabled list, Francisco had a pretty good year with 25 saves and a 1.11 WHIP. The 30 year-old righty is a legitimate talent, but has two factors working against him: 2009 proved that Francisco can be injury-prone, he pitches for Texas, a team that, with so much offensive talent, has a tendency to win big (thereby creating fewer save opportunities).

Brian Fuentes (RP, LAA) – Although he had a career-high 48 saves, Fuentes struggled at times with his command, and was shaky towards the end of the season. Furthermore, the Angels signed former Detroit stopper Fernando Rodney, who figures to cut into Fuentes’ save totals. Traditionally, left-handed closers need to be dynamite every night in order to keep their job as ninth-inning specialists, and Fuentes did not have the stuff to get the job done as 2009 wound down. However, Rodney can be just as shaky as Fuentes in spite of his 37-save season a year ago, so take a wait-and-see approach as to how the Angel bullpen situation shakes out towards the end of spring training, and in the meantime, don’t spend more than a late-round flyer on Fuentes if everyone else in your league is scared off by the Angels’ closer situation.

Raul Ibanez (OF, Phi) – The 37 year-old made a favorable impression on Philadelphia fans (not always an easy task), and posted career numbers with the protection of a mighty Phillie lineup he never had in Seattle or Kansas City. While Rauuul! has had a solid track record of production, and lit up the stat sheet in the first half of ‘09, one should expect a little regression in his second season how that National League pitchers have a better handle on how to pitch to Ibanez.

Brandon Inge (3B, Tigers) – Inge started 2009 off gangbusters, but knee problems derailed his production after the All-Star Break. Further more, he’ll no longer be catcher eligible, which pretty much kills his fantasy value unless you need a third baseman who will sap your BA in exchange for some pop. Mixed leaguers would be well-served to keep Inge out of their starting lineup unless injuries create depth issues.

Jason Kubel (OF, Twins) – Kubel, whom I affectionately started calling “Turtle” based on his uncanny resemblance to Jerry Ferrara’s character on Entourage, busted out in a big way in 2009 with improved stats across the board. With the heart of the Twins’ lineup intact for the next several years coupled with the addition of 564-HR legend Jim Thome, the 28 year-old could have even more in store down the road if he can find a way to hit left-handed pitching (.644 OPS) nearly as well as right-handed pitching (1.013).

Derrek Lee (1B. Cubs) – D-Lee provided a rare ray of sunshine for an otherwise overcast Cubs team in 2009. Many skeptics were convinced that Lee’s days of hitting 35 HR and amassing 110+ RBI ended five years ago, but he proved that his surgically-repaired right wrist was fully healed. While I wouldn’t expect the 34 year-old to repeat last season’s numbers, I would gladly take the durable Lee as a middle-round corner infielder once the elite options are gone.

Joel Piniero (SP, StL) - Coming of five consecutive awful seasons, Pineiro finally took renowned Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan’s instruction to heart, and revived his career with 15 wins, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP as he headed into free agency. The Angels signed the 31 year-old to a two-year contract worth $16M. While Pineiro was so bad in his previous seasons, his move back to the American League scares me, so I’m staying away, as his lackluster strikeout totals are a detriment in 5x5 leagues.

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 4 of 6)

Group 4: (What Happened to …? I Thought He Was Supposed To Be the Next Big Thing!)

Nelson Cruz (OF, Tex) – One would have trouble complaining about a 33 HR, 20 SB season from an up-and-coming talent like Cruz, but occasional streakiness left his owners wondering what could have been if Cruz had played more and not struck out so much. If Nelson can balance out his home/road splits (.286/.232 BA), cut down on his whiffs (118), and play with a little more consistency, he could easily surpass 30/30 in 2010. With Marlon Byrd gone to Chicago, Cruz has right field all to himself, and stands to benefit from the return of a healthy Josh Hamilton as well as the addition of future DH Vladmir Guerrero.

Chris Davis (1B, Tex) – Davis jumped out of the gate with 17 homers in limited action as a 22 year-old rookie in 2008. As prognosticators drooled at the possibility of what he could accomplish over a full season, Davis shot up 2009 fantasy draft boards, only to strike out in 34 of his first 70 at bats last year. After he spent most of July and August in the minors, Davis showed signs of promise by hitting .284 during his late-season stint in The Show. If people remember Davis’ prodigious strikeout rate more than his age and potential, be prepared to jump on this possible value pick in the middle rounds after the elite first basemen are gone.

Stephen Drew (SS, Ari) – 2009 was a topsy-turvy season for the brothers Drew as JD was the one that exceeded expectations while Stephen underachieved. In spite of his lackluster 2008, Stephen will be 27 this season, and last season’s hamstring issue looks to be behind him. Arizona can’t be much worse than they were last year, so draft Drew as an upside pick in the middle rounds.

Yovani Gallardo (SP, Mil) – The ace of the Brewers staff pitched a complete 2009 after missing almost all of 2008. In his return, Gallardo experienced something of a regression as he logged 94 walks in spite of 204 strikeouts. If he can control his pitch counts and free passes, Gallardo has the repertoire to be a perennial All-Star.

Cole Hamels (SP, Phi) – Observors who took the 26 year-old hurler’s enormous 2008 workload into account proceeded with caution in 2009. Critics of pitching coaches who are reluctant to overwork their young pitchers need only to check out the stats from Hamels’ downturn 2009 to understand why young starting pitchers tend to be “babied” towards the end of the season. Although he pitched deep into the 2009 postseason, expect Hamels to bounce back in 2010 as he has reportedly added a fourth pitch (slider or cutter) to his arsenal.

Josh Hamilton (OF, Tex) – While 2008 could be chalked up as too good to be true, Hamilton set unfair expectations for himself by tattooing 32 homers, 130 RBI, and amassing a .305 BA. As playing center field took its toll on Hamilton’s health, he missed almost half the season with a bad back. Since the 28 year-old will play strictly right field, one can expect less wear and tear on his body through a 162-game season.

Corey Hart (OF, Mil) – Corey was a real Hartbreaker (so sorry, I couldn’t resist) for his owners coming off of two consecutive 20/20 seasons. Until he improves his undisciplined approach at the plate, his batting average, runs, and on-base percentage will suffer. Still only 28 years young headed into 2010, Hart has many years ahead of him to return to his impressive totals from two years ago.

Francisco Liriano (SP, Min) – 2006 seems a long time ago in terms of Liriano, doesn’t it? Four years ago, the southpaw took the baseball world by surprise at the age of 22 by going 12-3 with 144 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. Since Liriano’s rookie season, most fantasy drafts have had at least one sucker hopeful enough to grab the Liriano of yore. After he tore up the Dominican Winter League in January, optimism is abound that the old (or, should I say, young) Liriano is back. With a solid Twin defense and excellent bullpen behind him, Francisco is definitely worth a mid-to-late round pick with tremendous upside.

Nate McClouth (OF, Atl) – After his stellar ’08 campaign for Pittsburgh, the Braves confidently went after Nate the Great in on hopes of having him bat leadoff and play centerfield. Things didn’t go according to plan, as a bum hamstring limited his productivity both at the plate as well as in the field. Fully healthy for 2010, McClouth should improve upon a lackluster 2009, and push his way back into the 20/20 club.

Carlos Quentin (OF, White Sox) – Quentin is coming of wrist surgery, and has indicated he is all systems go for spring training 2010. An MVP-type season in 2008 made the Arizona Diamondbacks regret trading Quentin for minor-league 1B Chris Carter (your reaction is correct, “Who?!”), but now Quentin, who recently signed a one-year contract with the ChiSox for $3.2M, is playing for a long-term deal. Grab Quentin after the supposed “elite” OFs are off the board, and you could get great value with a mid-round pick.

Alexei Ramirez (SS, White Sox) – Not-so-sexy-Alexei hit fewer HRs and RBIs than in ’08 when he had 62 more at bats. Still only 28, the Cuban has room for improvement, but his less-than-stellar on-base skills coupled with the fact that he’s moved all over the White Sox batting order limits his upside. Ramirez’ luster since he placed second in 2008 American League Rookie of the Year voting has worn off a bit, but he could be a good value pick if he bounces back.

Grady Sizemore (OF, Cle) – Speaking of 2009 first-round busts (namely, mine), Grady tried admirably to play through a sports hernia and elbow issues even though those two maladies clearly affected his performance on an Indians team that was in fire sale mode anyways. Regardless, Sizemore is 100% healthy, ready for spring training, is in his age-27 season, and will probably be undervalued headed into 2010 considering he has 40/40 potential. If he somehow, someway, falls to the third round of your draft, do not hesitate to get Grady as your OF1.

Geovany Soto (C, Cubs) – A horrendous sophomore slump not only put Soto in a platoon with Koyie Hill, but also dearly cost owners who drafted Soto as their top catcher. In an attempt to get into the best shape possible, Soto dropped 40 pounds this offseason, which should help his stamina and knees. Geo shouldn’t be as bad as he was in 2009, but a repeat of his breakout 2008 seems optimistic.

Joakim Soria (RP, KC) – Based on his 2.21 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, one wouldn’t have expected Soria to be part of Group 4. But Soria set the bar so high in 2008 with a 1.61 ERA, .86 WHIP, and 42 saves that, in hindsight, he didn’t leave much room for improvement. Furthermore, the 2009 Royals were projected to be a lot less awful than they turned out. As a result, Soria’s save opportunities were few and far between. But the young closer turns 26 this May, so his best years should still be ahead of him. Soria is likely to surpass his paltry ’09 save total, so buy low on the fearless fireballer.

Matt Wieters (C, Bal) – One of the trendier, sexier picks of preseason 2009, Wieters didn’t get consistent playing time until well into the second half of last season. Owners who overpaid but waited patiently were treated to a .362 BA from Wieters in September/October. In other words, he has shown enough upside in limited action to prove that he may be the real deal, but don’t make the same mistake by reaching too far strictly based on his potential. Personally, I’d rather take the comparable Miguel Montero in the 16th round as opposed to Wieters in the 12th.

David Wright (3B/Mets) – When the Mets moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field in 2009, experts predicted a dropoff in home runs for many hitters in their lineup. Last season’s rash of injuries created a nightmare season for the Metropolitans. Although Wright played most of the lost season until he was plunked in the head by a fastball in September, his 10 homers and 72 RBIs were hugely disappointing considering he was a top-three pick in many fantasy leagues. The good news is that Wright ranked tops in the major leagues in BABIP (.400), so some statistical correction is due for Wright in 2010, who was arguably the unluckiest hitter in baseball last year.

Chris B. Young (OF, Ari) – The 26 year-old is another example of a prime talent whose coveted power/speed combination teased us early in his career, only to have the holes in his swing eventually get exposed by the league. Since his breakout season in 2007, Young’s OPS has declined each subsequent year. C.B. needs to cut down on his strikeouts, because a .212 BA will endear you to neither your coaches nor your fantasy owners. As Arizona’s best defensive option at center field, Young’s glove buys him job security. Take a speculative pick in the last round of your draft if you’re searching for upside, and have enough batting average to cushion Young’s negative impact.

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 5 of 6)

Group 5: (Well, It’s Been a Time and a Half, But…*checks watch*)

Garret Anderson (OF, Atl) – Anderson found out what life is like when you’re not batting cleanup behind Vlad Guerrero, and his numbers reflected this realization. Relegated as a fourth outfielder in Atlanta, Anderson doesn’t have much left in the tank to be considered in mixed leagues. Nostalgic Angel fans beware.

Milton Bradley (OF, Sea) – Hopefully, eight (as in, teams he’s played for) is enough! Even without his mouth, shenanigans and domestic issues getting him into doghouses across the continent, Bradley’s upside has eroded. While Milton is still a talented ballplayer, he doesn’t stay on the field to get enough at bats to warrant serious fantasy consideration. However, Seattle is not a pressure-cooker environment like previous cities Bradley has played in. So even though he now plays home games in a pitcher-friendly park, the soon-to-be 32 year-old could benefit from a change of scenery, and, possibly, an improved attitude. Only the daring should take a chance on a potential headache like Bradley as their OF5.

Carlos Delgado (1B, Free Agent) – The Mets parted ways with him, and as spring training gets underway, he has yet to find a team for 2010. Only two years removed from a 38-homer campaign, Delgado had to recently undergo a labrum reconstruction, as well as microfracture surgery on his hip socket. If all goes well (which is a big “if” for the 37 year-old), he might have a healthy two months of 2010 if someone is desperate enough to give Delgado a shot. In other words, stay far, far away.

Nomar Garciaparra (1B/3B, retired) – Red Sox Nation may play a bagpipe-laden dirge for No-Mah’s illustrious but shortened career. Before Boston's World Series run in 2004, Garciaparra gave Red Sox fans reason to cheer with his all-out style of play and clutch hitting. Subsequent stints on the Cubs, Dodgers and A’s never panned out, so remember him as the 1997 ROY who took baseball by surprise, and helped to lay the foundation for the Red Sox’ return to prominence.

Ken Griffey Jr. (DH, Sea) – It’s been a fun and occasionally injury-riddled ride, but honestly, if Ken Griffey Jr. is anything but a last-round throwaway pick by the most fervent of die-hard fans in AL-only leagues, it’s to throw away the Smash Mouth CD and and stop living in 1997. He’s a shell of a shell of his former self. Assuming the, er, “Kid” stays healthy, he could be good for 15 homers and 70 RBI in a little over 400 at bats. You can do better.

Travis Hafner (DH, Cle) – While a 25 home run bounceback season isn’t totally out of the question, Hafner’s swing has slowed to more of a fierce wave recently. Last season, he couldn’t get around on inside fastballs, a pitch he would clobber five years ago. If his back is okay, take a late-round flier, but don’t expect the return of Pronk from 2006.

Jason Isringhausen (RP, Free Agent) – Izzy maintains that he’s healthy and ready to pitch, but first he needs a job. Only time will tell whether he’s the last one who needs to be told the party’s over. At 293 career saves, Isringhausen surely wants to close out at least seven more victories before he calls it a career.

Randy Johnson (SP, Retired) – One wonders what might have never been had Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan not taken a then 28 year-old Johnson under his wing after the 1992 season and corrected his pitching mechanics. Although Randy’s pursuit of 5000 strikeouts fell short by 125, I will maintain that, all due respect to Johan Santana and Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson was the best left-handed starting pitcher I ever saw. Sayonara, Unit.

Chipper Jones (3B, Atl) – This fan favorite should no longer be considered a mixed-league option at 3B. His body prevents him from staying healthy for an entire season, and he will start getting spelled at third base more from 2010 moving forward. Count on Chipper more as a late-round reserve corner infielder if you absolutely have to have him on your squad.

Andruw Jones (DH, White Sox) – A name I will rue forever after I wasted a third-round pick on him in 2007, Jones’ putrid batting average, in spite of his HR/AB, will cause more headaches than jumps for joy. His inability to cover the outfield any longer is the reason the White Sox will use Andruw as a DH. The perfect example of an “old” 32 years old, Jones looks indifferent on some nights, and washed up on others. On a side note, nothing brought Dodger fans more closely together in 2008 than the chance to mercilessly boo Jones (signed for an appalling $36 million over two years) each time he stepped up to bat. Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti will NEVER live that free agent acquisition down.

Mike Lowell (3B, Bos) – Now that Boston signed Adrian Beltre to hold down the hot corner, Lowell will be relegated to a bench role. However, Lowell has been showcased at first base in spring training while Red Sox GM Theo Epstein attempts to deal him. As he will be 36 come Opening Day, Lowell’s best days are behind him, and given the he is still recovering from a thumb injury, look elsewhere for corner infielder help unless Lowell proved he’s healthy and gets a regular gig somewhere.

Ivan Rodriguez (C, Was) – In this downturn economy, Pudge hit paydirt by accepting a 2-year, $6 million offer to platoon with Jesus Flores and Will Nieves in Washington DC. The future Hall-of-Famer’s name may look good on paper as your second catcher, but his stats will leave something to be desired.

BJ Ryan (RP, Free Agent) – He can’t even get a minor league deal right now. His fastball is currently of the Reagan Era variety (mid-80s). Stay away, and instead reminisce about his salad days from five-to-six years ago when he struck out an average of over a batter and a half for every inning he pitched.

Gary Sheffield (OF/DH, Free Agent) – His playing career literally spans my entire fantasy career. Instead of boring you with my many Gary Sheffield trades, rants, and anecdotes, I will tell you that the 41 year-old doesn’t have much left in the tank. He may think he has a shot at 3000 hits (currently at 2689), but his defensive limitations limit him as a candidate for DH duties.

Tim Wakefield (SP, Bos) – At 43 years of age, Wakefield is still a very effective pitcher. His command of his famous knuckleball is as good as when he was a Pirate in the mid-90s. Wakefield was actually leading the American League in wins at one point near the All-Star break in 2009, but given Boston’s recent free agent acquisition of All-Star pitcher John Lackey, Wakefield’s rotation spot will probably go to up-and-comer Clay Buchholz unless Buchholz falters. Stay tuned for further developments, and only use a late-round flier on Wakefield if he’s the Red Sox fifth starter.

Fantasy Baseball Preview 2010 (Part 6 of 6)

Group 6: (I’ll Keep an Eye On This One)

Julio Borbon (OF, Tex) – Slated to be the everyday centerfielder batting leadoff for Texas, Borbon is a thief on the bases. Having swiped 19 bags in less than a third of a season, he has a chance to become this year’s Michael Bourn. Given the protection Borbon has in the Texas lineup, one can expect him to get 100 runs scored provided he stays healthy. Target Borbon in the middle rounds after the big-name stolen base threats are gone.

Wade Davis (SP, TB) – This 24 year-old prospect provides the Rays with solid depth at the back of their young pitching rotation. Although he had one horrific outing against Boston in 2009, Wade gave up three eared runs or less in each of his other five outings. Davis plays in arguably the toughest division in the AL East, but gets enough strikeouts and keeps the walks down to be a good major league pitcher. Given Tampa’s speedy defense, the acquisition of the talented Rafael Soriano to bolster the back of the bullpen, and the announcement that the youngster won’t be put on an innings limit, Davis has the pieces in place to serve as a nice late-round sleeper for the back of your rotation.

Neftali Feliz (SP, Tex) – The Dominican flamethrower has the tools to jump to the front of the AL Rookie of the Year race, and aims to open the season in Texas’ starting rotation. Still only 21 (22 in May), Feliz is anchored slightly by control issues and his inexperience. If he can continue to keep the walks down and the heater in triple digits, Feliz could be the talk of Major League Baseball by May. Grab him as a mid-to-late round prospect with high upside, but be forewarned that he probably won’t pitch 200 innings if he stays in the rotation throughout the season, as he only pitched 108 between Triple-A and Texas last season.

David Freese (3B, StL) – Freese is expected to be the Cards’ Opening Day third baseman. With four successful seasons in the minors under his belt, the 27 year-old rookie begins his major league career in a powerful lineup, and stands to benefit from having All-Stars like Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick to drive in. Monitor Freese's progress during spring training, and keep him in mind as a speculative reserve pick towards the end of your draft, as he hasn’t proven anything in the majors yet.

Carlos Gonzalez (OF, Col) – Gonzalez sucked it up as a 2008 rookie in Oakland, then came over to the Rockies in the Matt Holliday trade. Although Gonzalez struggled in his first month in Colorado, he hit .314 the rest of the regular season, batted .588 (no, that’s not a typo) in the postseason, and provided five-category success for those intrepid enough to snag him off the waiver wire. While the A's wish they had Gonzalez back considering Holliday is long gone, Car-Gon should get substantial playing time in Colorado’s outfield, and offer considerable upside as a OF4.

Jason Heyward (OF, Atl) – The 20 year-old phenom is currently in the Braves’ farm system, but has demonstrated uncanny discipline at the plate. Having excelled at each level of the minors thus far, manager Bobby Cox is considering having Heyward begin the season in Atlanta. If his immense talent translates at the big league level, Heyward stands to be a legitimate contender for National League Rookie of the Year.

Howie Kendrick (2B, LAA) – Although we’ve been discussing him as if he were a fresh-faced prospect for years now, Kendrick enters his fifth season with untapped potential. His roller coaster 2009 involved a rough start involving a .231 BA and a .281 OBP, a trip to the minors, a July callup, and a .351 BA from the point of the callup through the end of the season. Angel manager Mike Scoscia has platooned Kendrick with Maicer Izturis, but Howie is a far better offensive talent who should take playing time away from Izturis. Kendrick, who turns 27 in July, could be a shrewd under-the-radar acquisition towards the end of your draft if you still need a second baseman.

Matt LaPorta (1B, Cle) – We’ve been hearing a lot about this kid since he played with Team USA in the Beijing Olympics a couple years ago. Now 25 but coming of hip and toe surgery, LaPorta will be handed the Indians’ starting first base gig. However, the Tribe recently acquired Russell Branyan in case LaPorta is not physically or mentally ready for everyday big league action, but LaPorta has bigger upside of the two.

Cameron Maybin (OF, Fla) – Slated to hit second between Chris Coghlan and Hanley Ramirez, the Marlins’ starting center fielder has gotten a great deal of press as a major leaguer considering he hasn’t accomplished much yet. As Maybin will be just 23 in April, he has yet to come close to tapping into his 20/20 potential. Provided he plays well in spring training, keep an eye on Maybin as a possible OF5, and hope for the breakout that the Marlins envisioned when they traded for him from Detroit. Given the protection he’ll be provided in the lineup, Maybin is being given every chance to flourish.

Nolan Reimold (OF, Bal) – Baltimore Manager Dave Trembley sees Reimold as a fixture in left field for 2010. With 15 homers, eight steals and a .279 batting average in 358 at bats, the 26 year-old has both the tools and buzz to get Oriole and fantasy fans equally intrigued. Reimold’s 30-home run potential is exciting, but his impressive plate discipline is what may keep him in the lineup.

Scott Sizemore (2B, Det) – Although the Tigers flirted with the idea of offering arbitration to veteran Placido Polanco or possibly signing free agent Orlando Hudson, Jim Leyland decided to resort to the farm system, and declared the 25 year-old Sizemore his starting second baseman. Coincidentally, Sizemore’s offensive skill set is not unlike Polanco’s and Hudson’s: a fistful of homers and steals to go with a solid BA, but strictly late-round consideration at this stage.

Travis Snider (OF, Tor) – One look at the 5’11”/230 pound Snider, and visions of 40-homer seasons come to mind. After an impressive stint in a cup of coffee at the end of the 2008 season, Snider was named the Blue Jays’ 2009 opening day left fielder. The then-21 year-old struggled in Toronto, but dominated Triple-A after he was sent down. When he was recalled in August, Snider played a bit better, but not as well as the year before. He now faces starting 2010 in the minors, and will need a big spring training to stay with Toronto. Still, he has enough upside to stash on your reserve with a late pick.

Drew Stubbs (OF, Cin) – Stubbs was forced into major league action after a flurry of injuries hit the Reds’ outfield in the second half of 2009. Upon his callup, Stubbs responded with eight home runs and 10 steals in 180 at bats. While he has proven to be a legitimate threat on the basepaths in the minors, he doesn’t have a solid track record for hitting for power, having hit only as many as 12 homers for Single-A Dayton in 2007. Stubbs shouldn’t be counted on as a power/speed threat, but if he hits more than 15 to go along with 30-40 steals in 2010, consider any additional run production gravy.

Joel Zumaya (RP, Det) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…but Joel Zumaya is healthy! Unfortunately for his closer aspirations, the Tigers went out and got the best free agent relief pitcher available in Jose Valverde. Even when Zumaya isn’t injured and has his blazing 99+ MPH heater humming, he hasn’t been able to put it all together long enough to stay on the fantasy radar. But If Valverde experiences a rough transition to the American League, take a flier on Zumaya.

Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Season – A Recap

Whether the images are new or all-too-familiar, the 2009 fantasy baseball season was a memorable year with many surprises, disappointments, and milestones.
When I look back at the 2009 baseball season, I will remember the Yankees’ return to prominence in their new stadium, a spike in strikeouts, a robust crop of young talent, and the growing disparity of talent of between the American League and the National League. Before we get into all that, let us first recap five of the more heartwarming stories of the fantasy baseball season.

Chris Carpenter – Considering he made two unsuccessful comeback attempts from Tommy John Surgery just last year, Carpenter was hardly the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year headed into 2009. Although he missed a month after his first two starts of the season, Carpenter provided yet another example of how this revered surgical procedure has saved yet another elite pitching arm, as he put up a minuscule 1.01 WHIP to go along with a 2.25 ERA and 17 wins in only 28 starts! The Cardinals may have disappointed in the postseason, but Carpenter and Adam Wainwright formed arguably the most unstoppable 1-2 punch in the National League for most of the regular season.

Zack Greinke – Rare is the year when a pitcher on a last-place team gets such widespread support for the Cy Young Award, but 2009 was Grienke’s, if not the Royals’ year to shine. In spite of the fact that he won less than half (16) of his 33 starts, he was absolutely dominant with 242 strikeouts, a 2.16 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP. The award means a great deal to Greinke given that he has had to overcome social anxiety disorder, which at one point, put his career in jeopardy back in 2006. Imagine what Greinke’s totals would look like if Kansas City were a .500 team, much less competing for a playoff spot.

Todd Helton – When Helton was sidelined to undergo back surgery in 2008 at age 35, his career was feared to be circling the drain. As one of only a handful of true hitters in the majors, Helton came back in 2009 to hit .325, good for fourth in the National League in an impressive 544 at-bats. As he helped lead Colorado to an improbable postseason run, Helton was one of the feel-good stories of this season with his return to form. Based on a level of production similar to his pre-injury years, Helton’s 2009 performance showed that he is “back” on track.

Raul Ibanez – When the Phillies addressed the departure of Pat Burrell by signing the 36 year-old Ibanez to a three-year deal, fans grew worried that Ibanez’ best years may have been behind him. Through the first four months of 2009, Ibanez made GM Ruben Amaro Jr. look like a genius, as he turned out to be the best free agent hitter signing in the National League. Ibanez’ production fell off in the second half due to a sports hernia he just underwent surgery for after the World Series, but Ibanez made himself a fan favorite (not always an easy task in Philadelphia) with 34 home runs, 96 RBI and solid defense in left field.

Mark Reynolds – After looking at Reynolds’ prodigious strikeout rate, one might have thought he was the lovechild of Dave Kingman and Rob Deer. In spite of the fact that this milestone shattered the major league record, Reynolds’ 223 strikeouts is hardly the most surprising stat of his season. As Reynolds was a premiere prospect with high upside, his lofty totals of 44 home runs and 24 stolen bases weren’t completely unexpected either. Until a September swoon where he hit .187, Reynolds had been keeping his average in the .270-.280 range in spite of his exorbitant strikeout rate. His season total fell to .260, but had already won the hearts of many a fantasy owner that used a mid-to-late round pick on Reynolds.


The Biggest Disappointments

Stephen Drew – Headed into 2009, the younger Drew’s name was mentioned as a legitimate breakout candidate with his multi-faceted offensive game and his star-crossed pedigree. His 2009 owners were instead treated to a season of regression, as Drew batted .261 with 12 HR and 65 RBI in 533 at-bats. Thanks in large part to the underachieving team he played for, his opportunities for production were limited. Although the Diamondbacks were one of the worst teams in the National League in ’09, their front office closed out the season entertaining trade offers for the enigmatic Drew in an effort to bolster their pitching staff. Should Drew be dealt, a change of scenery could benefit him. Only 26 years old, the first-round pick is still young enough to develop into a star.

Cole Hamels – Hamels’ spectacular 2008 postseason caused his name to climb up 2009 draft boards. In hindsight, we should have known that his extended workload would result in eventual fatigue on the young hurler’s arm, and prove to be a detriment the following year. Drafted as a SP2 in many leagues, Hamels’ 10 wins, 4.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP were more befitting of a back-of the rotation starter instead of the Phillies’ ace entering 2009. Although his trade value was in the toilet all season, he started 32 games. Alas, his fantasy owners had little choice but to ride out the mediocre campaign, and hope for a late-season turnaround. In all likelihood, there are a few Hamels owners out there from last season who will see his name on 2010 cheat sheets and remind themselves, “Never again…NEVER again.”

Josh Hamilton – Anyone who watched Hamilton’s prodigious power display during the 2008 Home Run Derby in the old Yankee Stadium would have loved to acquire him for 2009, and pencil in 40+ homers and 130 RBIs. However, a pinched nerve in his back derailed Hamilton’s 2009 campaign, as the injury lingered almost all year. Often times, we would prefer if one of our premiere players would just get hurt, get put on the 60-day DL, thereby enabling us to drop him so we could make better use of the roster spot. There was a prospect of Hamilton coming back in the final months of the season, causing his owners to keep him on their rosters as they held out hope he would return to his mashing ways, if only for a third of the season. Hamilton’s injury can be chalked up to bad luck, and he should be back to full health in time for spring training 2010. Given the wealth of young talent protecting Hamilton in a dangerous Texas Rangers lineup, I sense a great value pick if Hamilton falls to the third round of your draft.

Manny Ramirez – What a difference a year makes. In the second half of 2008, Ramirez whined his way out of Boston, got traded to the Dodgers, and became an instant deity to Doyer Nation as he carried Los Angeles on his back to the playoffs. Early in the 2009 season, Manny tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug and received a 50-game suspension. Upon his return, he played like he was, you guessed it, off the juice. He hit only one more homer in 110 more at bats after his suspension than before it. He hit .255 upon his return, as opposed to .355 before his extended break. If not for the fact that Ramirez signed a one-year contract with a rare player option for the second season that would pay a cool $20 million, Dodger brass and fans could wash their hands of a Manny who now looks to be in rapid decline at age 37. To nobody’s surprise, Ramirez picked up his option, and the Dodgers once again head into 2010 with an outfield logjam featuring Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, the selfless Juan Pierre, and Man-Ram.

New York Mets – Before the 2009 season started, the New York Mets were widely viewed as a hotbed of fantasy talent. Upon its conclusion, the season turned into a nightmare for the Metropolitans, their fans, and especially their fantasy owners. The Mets resembled a MASH unit with serious injuries to almost every one of their stars. Johan Santana (bone chips in pitching elbow), Carlos Beltran (knee), Carlos Delgado (hip), Jose Reyes (calf), David Wright (concussion) and JJ Putz (elbow) all missed significant time with injuries. Wright’s season was especially frustrating for those who used a top-5 pick on him. He played almost every game until he got hit in the head by a pitch in August, and missed time with concussion-related symptoms. Upon Wright’s return the following month, his average dropped 17 points since the beaning, proving he wasn’t quite 100%. His 27 steals and .307 BA were nice, but owners who viewed Wright as a five-category can’t-miss stud were surely bummed that Wright could only muster 10 home runs along with a pedestrian 72 RBI.

Carlos Quentin – Quentin’s 2008 season was off to a hot start when he launched 8 homers in April. Unfortunately for Quentin and his fantasy owners who did not sell high on the early production, he missed a good chunk of the summer due to plantar fasciitis. When Quentin returned to action in August, his power remained intact, but his average suffered, as he finished the season hitting a disappointing .236. In spite of his lackluster 2008, Quentin is expected to make a full recovery in time for spring training, and big things could be in store for 2010 as he enters his age-27 season.

11 Fresh Faces to Remember For Your 2010 Fantasy Draft:

Elvis Andrus – Andrus made news before the season started when the Rangers coaching staff asked Michael Young to switch from shortstop to third base so that the athletic Andrus could eventually take that position over. While the move seemed premature at the time considering Andrus’ age and lack of experience, he started the season with Texas, and quickly became their everyday shortstop at only 20 years old. His excellent defense will keep him on the field, but 30 steals at the shortstop position certainly helped fantasy owners, and if Andrus, who finished second in rookie of the year voting, works on his hitting and develops a little pop in the coming years, we could be looking at a stud in the making.

Andrew Bailey – Considering he pitched for last-place Oakland, Bailey had an extremely impressive season with 26 saves, a .88 WHIP, and 91 strikeouts in just over 83 innings pitched. While the A’s got D’s on their collective report card this year, the back of their bullpen was stellar when given the rare opportunity to close out a victory. Originally drafted as a starting pitcher, Bailey was converted to a relief pitcher in his last year in the minors. Unless the 24 year-old gets traded (which wouldn’t be a shock), Bailey should hold down the closer role in 2010 even when 2009 would-be-closer Joey Devine returns from Tommy John surgery.

Gordon Beckham – Anyone (including myself) who grabbed MLB’s version of “Becks”, and plugged him in as their new SS in June patted themselves on the back for the duration of 2009. Beckham’s stats may not jump off the page, but he clutched up when the White Sox needed him most. Becks’ overall batting average was a decent .270, but he hit .323 with runners in scoring position, and .400 with the bases loaded. Headed into 2010, Beckham will not be quite as valuable as last year given that he’ll no longer be shortstop-eligible. But he has a very bright future in the league with a steady all-around game, and a consistent approach at the plate. Many pundits feel Gordo, not Andrew Bailey, should have won AL Rookie of the Year, and given the fact that Beckham matched the hype he came into the league with, these sentiments are not unwarranted.

Chris Coghlan – Wade Boggs seems to have been reincarnated as a young outfielder for the Marlins in Coghlan. If you picked up Coghlan for the stretch run in August, you may feel compelled to name your first-born after the NL Rookie of the Year. Not only did Coghlan become a run-scoring machine hitting at the top of the Marlin lineup, but he also galvanized many a fantasy lineup by hitting .372 after the All-Star Break! Not unlike the above-mentioned Beckham, Coghlan loses position eligibility this year, as he played outfield almost exclusively. As an OF who lacks game-changing power or speed, Coghlan shouldn’t be drafted until the middle-to-late rounds, but he proved in 2009 that he can be a significant contributor to a team’s batting average and can also help in the runs department.

Tommy Hanson – The Atlanta Braves had questions about the back of their rotation when the 2009 season began. While Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez, and Jair Jurrjens served as formidable 1-3 starters (Tim Hudson was still recovering from surgery), the Braves’ front office was reluctant to promote Hanson in spite of a great start to his 2009 in the minor leagues. When Hanson finally got the call in June, his consistency was but one of his many positive attributes. July was the only month when his ERA was above 3.00, and his 11-4 record demonstrates that Hanson is a winner. He received two first-place votes in the National League Rookie of the year voting, and finished third overall. Factor in a stellar 2.89 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and 116 K’s in 127.6 innings pitched, and Hanson could be the future ace of the Atlanta pitching staff.

J.A. Happ – Owners who picked up Happ early in the 2009 season were tempted to sell high on the rookie after he jumped off to a 5-0 start by late June. Those who sold high on Happ wish they had held onto this horse. Not only is the lefty a fiery competitor who keeps the Phillies in most games regardless of the pitch count, but he has also accumulated valuable experience pitching in two consecutive postseasons. Given that the 27 year-old Happ has had the opportunity to hone his craft starting in the same rotation as fellow southpaw ace Cliff Lee and future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez, he could get even better this year. The Phillies’ bats will surely supply the run support. If Happ can provide the same level of production on the hill in 2010, 15-20 wins is not out of the question if the Philadelphia bullpen doesn’t collapse.

Garrett Jones – With ten seasons in the minor leagues already under his belt, Jones made the most of his call to The Show on June 30. With 21 home runs and a .293 batting average in only 314 at-bats, Garrett looks like a legitimate source of pop for the Pirates. He has shown that he can play both first base and right field, but doesn’t hit left-handed pitching particularly well (.208 BA vs. lefties). Pittsburgh isn’t exactly loaded with thumpers throughout their lineup, so Jones will get every shot to continue his success as a Pirate in 2010.

Andrew McCutchen – In a deep rookie class of 2009, McCutchen stands out as a unique five-tool player with tons of upside. The Pirates (of all teams) boast a wealth of young talent that stands to improve in 2010, and McCutchen could be the centerpiece of this offense for years to come. One hurdle stands between McCutcheon and stardom: consistency. Of his 12 home runs, eight were hit in August alone! If he maintains feast-or-famine production, McCutchen would be better recommended for head-to-head leagues than standard Roto-style leagues.

Nyjer Morgan – After two lackluster seasons in Pittsburgh as a platoon outfielder, Nyjer Morgan needed a change of scenery for his star to shine. A trade to Washington finally gave Morgan an opportunity to play every day. He paid immediate dividends for the Nats by hitting .388 in July with 14 steals! Anyone who took a flyer on Nyjer proceeded to build a shrine to honor him and the shot in the arm he provided fantasy teams. As most fantasy baseball owners will attest, steals are one of the most difficult categories to flourish in given the relative paucity of stolen bases compared to more common stats like homers, RBI’s and runs. That said, when a player appears on fantasy radars halfway through the season and swipes 42 bases, he tends to makes a splash. Expect more from Nyjer in 2010 as the leadoff hitter starting a full season in center field for the Nationals.

Jeff Niemann – Although Niemann was the fourth overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft, he wasn’t figured to be more than a back-of-the rotation option for the Rays. That said, Niemann exceeded all early season expectations with a 13-6 record, a 3.95 ERA, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2 to 1 (125 to 59), and two shutouts. While the AL East is arguably the toughest division for pitchers to succeed, Niemann has a superb defense behind him, and a young offense loaded with potential providing him with run support. Niemann has proven that he can pitch deep into games time and again as he completed 7 IP or more in 10 of his 30 starts. If he stays injury-free and the Rays’ bullpen improves, Niemann can serve as a nice option in the middle of your rotation.

Rick Porcello – When Porcello went 5-0 in May, not only was he mentioned as a front-runner for the American League Rookie of the Year, but he was also viewed as a long-term solution to a young Detroit Tiger pitching staff that was considered top-heavy. After Cy-Young candidate Justin Verlander and All-Star Edwin Jackson, the Tigers don’t have a lot of talent after these two given the persistent blood clot-issues with Jeremy Bonderman, and the various maladies afflicting Dontrelle Willis. Porcello came in relatively unheralded, went 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts, and finished third in AL ROY voting. Although Porcello struggled with inconsistency at times, he pitched well down the stretch, and helped the Tigers finish the regular season with a share of first place (even though Detroit lost a one-game playoff to the Twins). He won’t spearhead your rotation, but he pitches for a team with a good offense and a steady bullpen.


Breakout stars of 2009

Felix Hernandez – It may have taken four years for King Felix to finally reach his throne, but 2009 was an amazing campaign for Hernandez and the owners who stuck with him after three years of decent-but-not-great-production. After logging an impressive 238.3 innings pitched, 217 strikeouts, a 2.49 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and a league-leading 19 wins, Hernandez has turned the corner and matured into a top-5 pitcher in the American League. When the 2010 season gets underway, Felix will just be entering his prime at 24 years young, and could be downright scary to face as he continues his development.

Aaron Hill – In 2007, Hill put in a very respectable season that seemed to measure up with his projections. After an injury-plagued 2008, he was a forgotten man in many fantasy circles, and was viewed as a late-round flyer-type in 2009 drafts. Speculative types who took a chance on Hill were paid back in spades as the Blue Jay hit more homers (36) than he had in his first four seasons (28) combined! Add 108 RBI and 103 runs to the equation, and Hill was one of the best value draft picks of the year. Second base is a position where power is scarce outside of the usual suspects (Utley, Kinsler, Uggla), but Hill out-homered all of the aforementioned players who were selected as many as twenty rounds earlier in most drafts! Perhaps Hill may not reach as lofty totals in 2010, but as a thumper entrenched in the middle of an upstart Toronto lineup, Hill will be viewed as a legitimate commodity in 2010 drafts and beyond.

Adam Jones – His numbers may not jump off the page like some of the previous entries in this section of ’09 breakout stars, but the 24-year old formerly known as “Ms. Pac Man” shed his pejorative nickname with a fabulous all-around performance last season. In spite of his two extended stints on the disabled list, Jones gained significant job security by winning a Gold Glove for his sterling defense in center field, hitting 19 home runs, stealing 10 bases, 70 RBIs, and 81 runs scored in 473 at bats. Jones figured to be a centerpiece of the Orioles offense for years to come after Baltimore appears for now to have fleeced the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade.

Adam Lind – Projected to be a .300 hitter with 20-ish homer power, Lind exceeded all expectations as he put up a monster season that will surely launch him into the top 20 outfielders drafted in 2010. Not only did he anchor a Blue Jays lineup with 35 home runs, 114 RBI, a .305 average and an absurd .562 slugging percentage, but he could get even better as he is just hitting his prime at age 26. Owners of Lind in redraft leagues who gained ground in their standings in late September/early October thanks to five homers he hit in the last week of the season will be keen on owning Lind for another season.

Kendry Morales – When the Angels let Marx Teixeira walk via free agency after they rented his services for the second half of 2008, Angel fans were irate that the front office didn’t try to sign Teixeira to long-term deal. Little did they know that the Angels have a more-than capable first baseman ready to take over first base in 2009. Morales astounded baseball with an electric campaign that helped keep the Halos in first place even when Vladmir Guerrero spent extended time on the disabled list. Although the Angels were viewed to be a team with one big bat, this can no longer be considered the case given Kendry’s arrival. Most of his production came in the second half as he hit .330 with 19 home runs after the All-Star break. If Morales can improve his walk total (only 46 in 566 at bats), his stats could get even better in years to come.

Justin Upton – Upton was a can’t-miss prospect whose breakout season came earlier than most people projected. At only 22 years old, Upton became the fifth Diamondback in team history to hit 20 (actually 26) home runs and steal 20 bases. He also hit .300 with an OPS of almost .900. The only factors keeping the younger Upton from putting up a downright gaudy stat line were three weeks spent on the disabled list with a strained oblique, as well as relatively poor protection from an underachieving Arizona lineup. Dynasty leaguers should hold onto Justin with a kung-fu grip, and not trade him unless Even Longoria is offered in return.

Ben Zobrist – From the “straight out of nowhere” department comes Zobrist, who hadn’t logged more than 198 at bats in any of his three previous seasons in the major leagues. Mostly viewed as a utilityman, Zobrist fulfilled his duty to the Rays by logging time at every position besides catcher and pitcher. However, Zobrist went above and beyond all expectations by busting out for 27 HR, 91 RBI & runs, as well as 17 steals in 501 at bats. These totals shattered his previous season-highs, and set the bar for Zobrist to appear on everyone’s fantasy radar in 2010 as a solid second-tier 2B.


What to Look for in 2010

Juice Effect? – While one would expect home runs to decrease given MLB’s ramped-up testing on performance enhancement drugs, the players from around the league actually hit over 5000 homers for the first time since 2006, which translates to an almost 4% increase of home runs-per-at-bat. Curiously, only two more hitters (30) slugged 30 or more dingers in 2009 than 2008. However, five fewer players hit 20 or more homers, which makes middle-tier power a little more scarce headed into 2010. Given the astronomical jump in strikeouts in 2009 from the year before, it stands to reason that you will have trouble finding a so-called “thumper” who doesn’t hurt your team batting average.

K’s up to all-time high of 33,591! – Pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander serve as the most dominant hurlers in their respective leagues, but based on the 2009 strikeout totals, one might think that they pitched every night! Not to get too scientific on crunching the numbers, but based on this stat coupled with the fact that batting averages have dropped for a third straight year, one would infer that strikeout pitchers shouldn’t be targeted as highly heading into 2010 as 2009. Conversely, .300 hitters are more valuable than they were a year before. Upgrade batting average as more of a premium statistic in your pre-draft rankings, and downgrade power pitchers a bit.

AL vs NL – We all know that the American League has owned the National League in the All-star game since the mid-1990’s. For years, analysts have wanted to chalk this disparity up to mere coincidence, but based on the talent that has flourished in recent years since moving from the AL to the NL, there seem to be a certain talent shift that has come to light. If you don’t believe me, ask John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Matt Holliday, Cliff Lee, or Adam LaRoche. Each of the aforementioned players struggled mightily in the AL, but when they were involved in a mid-season trade that landed them in the “Senior Circuit”, each of them dramatically turned their seasons around. This, of course, raises the question of whether the AL should still be called the “Junior Circuit.” Also, the AL went 138-114 in Interleague play, which is the sixth consecutive season that they have beaten the NL more than vice versa. Based on this information, I will target players who are switching from an AL to a NL team, and will avoid players headed in the opposite direction.

New York, New York – With two new stadiums opening in The Big Apple in 2009, baseball fans had a lot to be excited about, but weren’t sure how the new ballparks would affect their respective teams’ performance. The new Yankee Stadium, featuring shorter power alleys to left-center and right-center field, fueled an outcry from baseball purists, pundits, and opposing pitchers when a record-number of homers were launched. By the Bronx Bombers’ 73rd home game, the record for homers hit in a season (215) at Yankee Stadium had already been broken. This provided Yankee veterans who may have been perceived to be on the downside of their careers (Damon, Matsui, Posada, Jeter) with robust production in the power department. This new ballpark creates a reason for power-starved fantasy owners to target Yankees come draft day, and to start any hitters scheduled to play in Yankee Stadium that week.

In contrast, Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, turned out to be more of a pitcher’s park with a huge outfield, especially in right-center field (415 feet to the wall). While the Mets’ season was nothing short of disastrous, it is too early to tell if the stadium deserves part of the blame. Those who are eyeing various Mets to rebound from an awful 2008 should take Citi Field’s dimensions into account before drafting Met sluggers (especially the lefties) too early. On the other hand, Met pitchers, as well as pitchers who will play in Citi that week, could be expected to perform a little bit better in the spacious confines of Citi as opposed to Shea Stadium of yesteryear.