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.