Shopping At Best Buy
High value players to earmark for your fantasy drafts
By Adam Hoff
With each new fantasy baseball season we study fantasy previews and lists and magazines and every year we see guys become universally undervalued in drafts everywhere. Pitchers that get no love, closers from small market teams going seven rounds below Rivera, hitters that fade from memory – it’s inevitable that popularity and “buzz” will become part of the equation and eventually destroy the proper sense of perspective. We see it every year in the NBA with Shawn Marion. At the conclusion of each season, Marion ranks as one of the three best fantasy players in the game. Yet the next year, he will slide down the first round and NEVER get selected higher than the eighth pick. I was in very competitive leagues this year and saw him go #9, #10, #12, and #15. Amazing. Same thing happens in football (Tiki Barber anyone?) and it certainly happens in baseball. Whether it is because of a league change, a return from injury, or simply an oversight, some players just fly under the radar.
With that in mind, here is a list of fantasy studs (by position) that might be available a few picks (or rounds) later than their skill would dictate. For whatever reason, they are sliding down that slippery slope of perceived value. Don’t let these guys drop on your draft sheet!
C – Joe Mauer. Right now he’s undervalued … and it may be the last time in his career. Like a great deal at a waterbed store, Don’t Miss This Sale! Mauer was hitting .308 with more power than anyone expected before he went down with an injury last year and would have surely been the AL Rookie of the Year had he stayed healthy. He’s rated well below Jason Veritek, Jason Kendell, and probably a few other catchers named Jason. It says here outperforms them all.
Runner Up: Chone Figgins. Oh, what? He doesn’t play catcher? Sorry, must be the one position he doesn’t play. Anyway, there really aren’t any other catchers being undervalued – the position tends to be so weak that all the decent backstops get plenty of love.
1B – Carlos Delgado. You have to have a big time power forward to win in fantasy hoops, you need star running backs to consistently dominate in football, and you have to have a stud at 1B to win it all in fantasy baseball. These are the rules. And with so many question marks this year at the game’s premium position, why is the newest face of the Marlins being taken late in the third round? Other than Pujols, Helton, and Thome, I don’t think there’s a first basemen in the game in line for a bigger year. David Ortiz and Mark Taxiera make a good case, but I’d suggest snagging up Del-Yado before you get stuck taking someone like Aubrey Huff or Derek Lee in the fourth round. And yes, I’m insinuating that there’s a big drop off at the position.
Runner Up: I’m tempted to go with Jason Giambi when you consider that he’s being grouped with the likes of Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Cuddyer at first base. However, I can’t reward someone like that (plus, he’s becoming a popular “sleeper pick” in the Griffey Jr. tradition), so we’ll tab Lyle Overbay. He’s way down the list at #139 overall despite hitting over .300 in his breakout season. This year he will have more power around him in the Brewers lineup and should see his 87 RBI climb well over 100. It’s also a good possibility that some of his 51 doubles will turn into home runs. Look for him to jump from 16 to about 28 round-trippers in ’05.
2B – Brian Roberts. This is probably the weakest position in fantasy baseball, but there are still a few impact players. The best bargain appears to be Roberts, who is being left in the double-digit rounds despite the very good possibility that he will steal 40 bases and score 110 runs this year at the top of the Orioles lineup. Now that Jerry Hairston is in Chicago, Roberts can stop looking over his shoulder and play with confidence as the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter. Never underestimate the security that a player feels when his chief rival gets shipped out of town. If you don’t believe me, just check out the numbers Brian Westbrook threw up for the Eagles last year with Staley in Pittsburgh and Buckhalter on the IL. Breathing room counts! (You have to say that last line in the same voice Kramer uses while lecturing Miss Rhode Island on poise.)
Runner Up: Mark Loretta is usually a great sleeper choice except that he’s the #3 rated 2B this year, so he’s out. We’ll go with Mark Bellhorn because of his power numbers, ability to score a ton of runs, and his sweet hair. Junior Spivey isn’t a bad gamble either. Your best bet though is to nab the underrated Roberts or the overrated Jose Reyes and try to get some stolen bases out of this sad sack position.
3B – Melvin Mora. Another Oriole! I think it’s time we give up on the idea of Mora being a fluke. If anyone else put up his numbers a year ago, we’d be talking about a top-20 pick. But because it’s Mora, he’s sitting at #55 on ESPN’s preseason player rater. How is that possible? He’s got enough power and speed alone to warrant a fifth round pick, but when you factor in his runs, batting average, and position, he’s an absolute stud. The Orioles' offense should be better than ever this season and the pitching even worse. The O’s will play in a lot of 11-9 games and that is good news for Mora owners! (And Roberts owners, of course.)
Runner Up: Mike Lowell will be surrounded by good talent in the Florida lineup and is underrated year in and year out. He should be good for .280/30/90 and will probably be available as late as the seventh round in most drafts.
SS – Jimmy Rollins. Maybe too many Rollins owners have been burned over the years, but he’s tremendously undervalued coming into this season. His numbers compare favorably with Rafael Furcal yet he’ll probably go three rounds later in your draft. Sure, Phillies players are generally disappointing, but Rollins steals bases (30 in 2005) and has some power, which isn’t bad at a position that is suddenly looking thin again.
Runner Up: Nobody. Maybe Bobby Crosby or Orlando Cabrera. The verdict is still out.
OF – Corey Patterson. At the tail end of 2004, I was predicting that Patterson would be a second round pick based on his power and speed numbers in the second half. However, his overall totals weren’t great and conspire with the generally negative vibe surrounding the Cubs to send Corey’s stock plummeting. I’m here to tell you that now is the time to buy low. Having moved to Chicago at the end of last summer, I watched this guy everyday. To summarize: he’s good. I’ve got him going .285 with 33 home runs and 42 steals. Granted, he plays outfield and not second base, but you’d take those numbers from Soriano wouldn’t you? (I should admit that part of my affinity for Patterson comes from the fact that he wildly strikes out a lot … something I did extremely well during my own playing career long ago. So beware on this one.)
OF – Lance Berkman. I always like to snag one guy starting the season on the DL. Not only are you getting great value in a later round, you are also getting a free player after the draft thanks to the IL spot included on most rosters. It offers lineup flexibility, trade bait, and a pleasant surprise a month or two into the season, Plus, Berkman is a stud. Even if he misses 45 games, he’s good for 30/90 and a .300 average. What, you’d rather have Vernon Wells?
OF – Aaron Rowand. I’m not sure why this guy is flying so far under the radar. Could be that he’s on the overlooked of the two Chicago clubs. Maybe it’s the horrible goatee. Maybe people simply aren’t convinced by his huge second half last year. Nevertheless, he’s a guy with the potential to go .300/30/80/30 … easily. If he hits in the middle of the Sox order, he’s a top 40 player.
Runner Up: With a full season’s worth of at bats, Jason Bay would have had 40 jacks and 110 RBI last year. He could be a great source of power long after the big guns are off the board.
SP – Mark Mulder. Mulder is getting plunked down in the sixties on cheat sheets and surrounded by players such as Brett Boone and David Wright. As recently as eight months ago, Mulder was considered the ace of the best pitching staff in baseball. Now he’s in a pitcher’s league with perhaps baseball’s best infield behind him and one of the best offenses in the game providing run support. I say he’s a lock for 20 wins. I’ve got him going 23-6 with a 3.03 ERA and winning the NL Cy Young Award.
Runner Up: Mark Prior. Every ranking I’ve seen has this guy in the upper teens to early thirties. Word is coming back that he’s going as late as the fourth round in some drafts. Stop the madness! All you need to do is check out his final three performances from last season to know that he’s back and ready to roll (26 innings, 12 hits, two runs, 30 K’s).
Closer – Francisco Rodriguez. Last time I checked he was rated #85 on the ESPN player rater and going, on average, in the eighth round of fantasy drafts. That is nothing short of larceny. Considering that Gagne goes in the third and Rivera in the fourth, there is no way K-Rod should be sliding this far. Now that he’s the man for the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles (classic name change), Frankie should put up monster numbers. I don’t think 50 saves, 110 K’s, and a sub .92 WHIP is out of the question. I’d make him the fourth closer taken after Gagne, Lidge, and Rivera.
Runner Up: Joe Nathan. He was the top relief pitcher in the AL last year and a decent candidate for the MVP Award. He racked 44 saves and 89 K’s in 72 innings to go with a 1.62 ERA and .98 WHIP and he’s sure to have a chance to replicate those numbers for the Twins in ’05. Yet he’s listed well below such closers as Billy Wagner, Francisco Cordero, and Keith Foulke.
There are plenty of other great buys out there and some of those listed above may get hurt or flop and make me look like an idiot. However, based on early projections and draft results, these appear to be the players that will wind up on a lot of winning fantasy teams due to the tremendous value they bring to the table. Have your own list of “best buys”? Let’s hear ‘em! Send your All-Value players to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.