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Looking Ahead to 2005

 

Sneaking a peak at emerging fantasy baseball stars

 

By Adam Hoff

 

College football gave us a wild second weekend, the NFL is in full swing, pennant races are heating up in Major League Baseball, and fantasy baseball races are coming down to the wire.  Seems like a perfect time to look ahead to next year, right?

 

Although the timing is a bit strange, it felt like a good idea to highlight some of the players that should make a huge leap next spring in the world of fantasy baseball.  Whether it be production or draft status, we'll look at some of the players poised to make a big move forward. 

 

Future Top Picks

 

Brad Lidge.  the Houston closer is already a big time fantasy contributor this summer, but the truth is that he was picked up on many a waiver wire once Dotel was traded to the A's.  that won't be the case next year, as we know that Lidge will be a hot commodity in drafts everywhere.  the question is: how high will he go?  Considering that he's posted a 2.20 ERA and .93 WHIP with 21 saves and 131 strikeouts and 82 innings this year, he should go pretty high.  In fact, I would project him to be the fourth closer taken next year after Gagne, Rivera, and Benitez.  With Keith Foulke's inability to snag saves, Billy Wagner and Jason Isringhausen's injury concerns, and Francisco Cordero's poor track record leading up to this season, you have to like Lidge as a top-five closer.

 

Oliver Perez.  Another NL pitcher that is already a fantasy stud and another guy that was a waiver wire pickup in nearly every instance.  He will also be a high draft pick next spring.  Will he leapfrog guys like Tim Hudson and Javy Vasquez?  I would imagine so.  After all, his numbers are ridiculous.  He's only 10-8, so he's flying below the radar, but his 3.01 ERA and 1.11 WHIP are among the league's best.  Plus, he's a strikeout machine.  K's are the difference between good and great fantasy pitchers, so Perez is in great shape.  He has fanned 212 batters in 170 innings, which comes out to a major league best 11.18 K/9 ratio.  He could easily be a third round pick next year.

 

Jason Bay.  the other half of the Brian Giles trade that is making the Pirates look pretty smart right now, Bay was a late-round flyer in most drafts that appeared to be a fantasy letdown when he started the year on the DL and missed the first two months.  that's all changed in the 341 at bats since he's returned.  the young outfielder has a .296 average and .946 OPS to go with 23 home runs.  He seems poised for a .300/35/100 season next year and will be a hot commodity despite his minimal positional value.

 

Corey Patterson.  the Cubs outfielder had some minor buzz going into the 2004 season, thanks to his fast start in the '03 campaign.  Before tearing his ACL, he'd been one of the emerging stars in the league.  However, with so many good outfielders, Patterson slipped to the 9-14 round range in most drafts.  It was a position that seemed deserved as he played pretty mediocre baseball for the first three months of the season.  then CP was moved to the top of the Cubs batting order where he suddenly turned into Rickey Henderson.  In the last month alone, Patterson is hitting .340 with a 1.037 OPS, eight home runs, and 10 stolen bases.  He'll be a popular sleeper pick in rounds three and four next year as owners search for a poor man's Carlos Beltran.  the possibility of scoring 120 runs won't hurt his stock any either.

 

Jake Peavy.  this guy has been nearly invisible this year.  He was injured and missed a nearly two months so that explains part of it.  But he's got the best ERA in the big leagues at 2.26 (although he's a few innings short of qualifying for the title) and he's 12-5 for a team in the wild card hunt.  How come no one is talking about him?  I don't have an answer for that, but you can bet fantasy owners will be talking about him next year.  His only question mark is a suspect 1.26 WHIP, but when you consider that he strikes out a batter per inning and throws in a pitcher's park for a good, young team, he's an easy guy in which to place confidence.  I imagine he'll go in the first five rounds of most drafts.

 

Aaron Rowand.  Are people on board with this guy yet?  If not, they should be.  the White Sox centerfielder has quietly become a fantasy stud this summer.  He's 12th in the big leagues in batting average at .318 and has a .932 OPS, 20 home runs, and 15 stolen bases.  He'll play every day next year and could be an attractive power/speed/average combo that will come with the added bonus of hitting at the top of a healthy White Sox batting order. 

 

A.J. Burnett.  After the World Series last year, young Marlins hurler Josh Beckett became the high riser in fantasy drafts everywhere.  It was rare to see him make it past the fourth round.  Next year it should be teammates Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett moving on up.  Pavano is an obvious choice and this list is for the less-obvious players, so we'll focus on Burnett.  After missing a year and half to arm surgery, Burnett has rediscovered the stuff that made him the staff ace in 2002.  He's only 7-6 but has a 3.74 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.  He's been even better as of late with three wins, a 2.73 ERA, a .95 WHIP, and 33 K's in 27 innings over the past month. 

 

Rich Harden.  He's been up and down for the A's this year, but Harden won't get past too many fantasy owners next year.  He's 9-6 with 146 strikeouts and should make huge improvements on his 4.05 ERA and 1.34 WHIP next year.  It's only a matter of time before Harden's strikeout ability makes him the most attractive fantasy pitcher on the Oakland staff. 

 

Making the Big Jump?

 

David Wright.  Nobody symbolizes the move from “unknown” to “everybody's favorite sleeper” better than Wright.  Just as teammate Jose Reyes did last year, Wright has used a mid-summer call-up to generate a ton of hype.  things didn't work out too well for Reyes as he's struggled through an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, but Wright seems like the closest thing you can get to a surefire hit over at third base.  the position isn't terribly deep, so his tremendous rookie production (.314/.944/7 HR/5 SB over the last month) should make him a wildly popular pick next spring.

 

Lew Ford.  the Twins' young outfielder has been one of the best rookies in the majors this year, but he could go either way in fantasy drafts next year.  His combination of power, speed, and average is enticing, but his ability to draw walks (one of this best skills) doesn't really show up in most leagues.  this year he's 24th in the majors in OBP at .389 and has a nice .298/14 HR/18 SB combo to go with it.  If he takes a big step forward in year two, he'll be a huge hit as a .300/20/30 type player.  In fact, that would make him next year's Corey Patterson.  However, if he settles in as a .300/15/20 player, he'll get lost in the shuffle. 

 

Doug Davis.  He hasn't gotten a lot of pub in Milwaukee since the Brewers have been so bad lately and his teammate, Ben Sheets, is such a fantasy stud.  However, Davis isn't doing such a bad job himself.  His numbers for the year are solid, but he's really picked it up over the past month, posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 27 K's in 28 innings pitched.  He could be a legit fantasy starter next season.

 

Gil Meche.  Everybody thought that this would be the year that Meche rattled off huge fantasy numbers.  It was not to be.  He was so bad at times that he got sent down to AAA.  However, the past few weeks have indicated that Meche might be back.  Since coming back up to the bigs, Meche is 4-1 with a .98 WHIP, including a sparkling shutout of the red hot Red Sox last night.  Maybe next year will be the breakout season.

 

Justin Morneau.  Another young Minnesota stud, Morneau was a prized prospect and big things were expected when he became the everyday first baseman.  I would say that his .912 OPS, nine home runs, and 23 RBI over the past month fit the bill.  the big question is how much he progresses next year.  His average needs to come up and he would need to elevate his game to the .975/30/100 range to justify a high draft pick.  He'll be a fun player to monitor on draft day and follow over the course of the season.

 

Victor Zambrano.  He was already a good strikeout guy and was valuable early on when he won five games in the first month of the season, but Zambrano was on and off the waiver wire all summer due to his control issues.  However, the Mets made a questionable trade for him because they were sure they could fix his mechanics and turn him into a dominant starter.  Everything looked great at first as he went nine innings in a New York uniform and picked up a win and seven strikeouts against two runs and seven baserunners.  Unfortunately, he hurt his arm shortly thereafter and hasn't pitched since.  He will be a true mystery next season, but has the talent to be a huge pickup in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft.

 

Khalil Green.  For the first half of the season he looked like a slick fielder that wouldn't be much of a fantasy player.  that all changed after the All-Star break.  Since the midsummer classic, Green is hitting .295 with an .890 OPS and 11 home runs.  those numbers make him one of the ten best shortstops in the game.  He could be a high riser on draft day.

 

Craig Monroe.  the young Tigers' slugger has been on fire lately.  He's hitting .360 over the past month with a 1.201 OPS, 10 home runs, and 25 RBI.  My word.  Yet very few owners are picking him up for the stretch run in their fantasy leagues.  Does this mean that owners will be turning their backs on him during the draft next year as well?  We'll see.  But if Monroe keeps up this charge all the way to the finish line, he could be an emerging star going into 2005.

  

Sleepers

 

Joe Mauer.  He was a sleeper this year and was drafted ahead of plenty of proven catchers.  Unfortunately, several injuries have taken the luster of off this top prospect and relegated him back to square one in terms of fantasy value.  the good news is that he's hitting .308 with a .939 OPS in his 107 at bats.  If he can stay healthy next year, he could be -- as Willie from Real World Philadelphia would say -- “mad cool” at the catcher position. 

 

Gavin Floyd.  All the talk has been of the D-Rays' Scott Kazimr, but Floyd looks like the guy to put your money on as a pitching sleeper for next year.  In two pressure-packed starts for the Phillies, Floyd is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA and seven strikeouts in 11 innings.  He could breakout next year with a 15-win campaign.

 

Mike Lamb.  Is the Morgan Ensberg era at third base over in Houston?  Mike Lamb was a bargain basement player scooped up from the Yankees in the hope that he could give the Astros some depth on the corners.  there really weren't any scenarios that had him taking meaningful at bats away from Ensberg or Bagwell.  However, thanks to his hot bat and steady glove -- coupled with Ensberg's mysterious vanishing act -- Lamb has become the everyday third basemen in Houston.  In limited time he has posted a .312 average and .921 OPS to go with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.  Good numbers, but nothing overwhelming.  However, if you give him the same number of at bats that Ensberg has received this year (still not close to the league average for everyday third basemen), those numbers jump up to 19 home runs and 94 RBI.  Now you are talking about a fantasy stud.  It will be interesting to see where he's at next year in regard to roster and depth chart. 

 

Yhency Brazoban.  the guy that gave Paul DePodesta confidence to break up the Dodgers' bullpen, Brazoban has been nearly unhittable since coming up from AA in July (.95 ERA, .82 WHIP, and a strikeout per inning) and could be the next great fantasy setup man.  In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see him become next year's version of the man he's replaced in LA, Guillermo Mota. 

 

David DeJesus.  the center fielder prospect that convinced Kansas City to deal Beltran has shown some flashes of brilliance since taking over on an everyday basis.  He's only six out of 15 on stolen bases, which is a huge concern, but over the last month he's hitting .293 with an .871 OPS and 23 runs scored.  If he can be a .280/.850/30 SB/100 runs scored player next year, he'll vault ahead of plenty of “big name” fantasy outfielders.

 

Dustin Hermanson.  All the talk in mid-summer was of the Giants going out and getting a proven closer to replace the awful Matt Herges.  that talk has died down completely as former starter Hermanson has stepped up in a big way.  Since taking over the closer job, he has 12 saves to go with a 2.50 ERA and 19 K's in 18 innings pitched.  His value will obviously be dependent on gaining saves in 2005, so watch the health of Rob Nen next spring.

 

Russ Adams.  this pick is a total guess, but anytime a shortstop comes up to the big leagues and hits .429 with a 1.095 OPS over his first six games, you have to take notice.  Toronto seems to want to get him into a starting role next year and if his early flashes of power are an indication of things to come, he could be a popular sleeper pick next year.

 

Luis Torrero.  A total dark horse pick here, because this young center fielder hasn't done a whole lot to warrant high fantasy expectations.  However, he's a leadoff hitter that is willing to run.  He's hitting .261 with seven stolen bases since taking over for Steve Finley in the Arizona outfield.  the big bonus here is that Arizona could be much improved next year and if Torrero is the catalyst at the top of the order, well, you never know.  Besides, we all know stolen bases are hard to find.

 

Jeff DeVanon.  If he can find a way into someone's starting lineup, he'll be a fantasy stud.  In only 248 at bats this year, DeVanon is hitting close to .300 with seven home runs and 16 stolen bases.  Just give this guy a starting spot and he'll be a hot sleeper pick in '05.

 

Adam Hoff is columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at ahoff@uchicago.edu or by sitemail at adamo112.

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