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The Wheelhouse: Early Mock Risers

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Our first look of the season at early mock draft trends features a rash of rising Red Sox (both current and former members), a trio of young stars returning from injuries, and market correction for one of the league's elite closers.

All ADP trends are from the last 14 days (including drafts held from 1/3 through 1/17) at Mock Draft Central.

Carl Crawford, OF, BOS (ADP - 16.4 +13.4%) - Let's think of this as an aftershock following the rise of Adrian Gonzalez a few weeks ago. Crawford has hit .306 while averaging 17 homers, 79 RBI and 53 steals over the last two seasons. There's no reason to think that moving north in the American League East will do much to impact his fantasy value given that he'll still have an excellent lineup around him (if not an upgraded one). Here's to hoping that his career .275/.301/.406 line in Boston (320 at-bats) is a trend that changes now that he'll call Fenway his home park.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (ADP - 31.2 +18.4%) - An encouraging report - Pedroia said he had to sprint through an airport with his child on his back recently to catch a flight and didn't experience any pain afterward - regarding the health of his foot has likely helped to push his ADP up over the last two weeks. Further, fantasy owners may be taking notice that he had a career-high pace in homers and RBI last season before suffering the injury. Pedroia also had a 90-percent success rate on stolen base attempts in 2010, hinting at the possibility of a 20-20 campaign in his age-27 season.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B, BOS (ADP - 31.6 +16.7%) - Depending on your league's position eligibility rules, Youkilis could qualify at third base as soon as the first week of the season now that he's permanently moving back to the hot corner. If you haven't heard already, third base is very shallow this season and Youk's move is a good step toward improving the position. Youkilis said that he was ready for the start of spring training at the end of October, so there's no reason to think that he'll be limited once he reports to Florida next month. His three-year average shows the upside - .309 AVG, 25 HR, 90 RBI - as well as the risk - 127 games played per season during that span.

Adam Wainwright, SP, STL (ADP - 49.5 +10.1%) - It's still shocking that teammate Chris Carpenter has the higher ADP price tag (48.3), but this trend suggests that correction is in order. Durability has become less of a concern now that Wainwright has taken the ball for 67 starts in the last two seasons. Further, his rates (8.3 K/9IP, 2.2 BB/9IP, 0.59 HR/9IP) all suggest much more sustainability in his sub-3.00 ERA than Carpenter's (6.9 K/9IP, 2.4 BB/9IP, 0.80 HR/9IP) do, especially at this stage of their respective careers.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX (ADP - 50.0 +15.0%) - Tuesday will mark the two-week anniversary of Beltre's six-year, $96 million deal with the Rangers. Fantasy owners - particularly those in keeper leagues with Beltre in the fold - have been celebrating ever since. Signing with Oakland would have sent his draft stock spiraling in the opposite direction. It's much easier for right-handed power hitters to hit home runs in Arlington than at Fenway, so while Beltre's .321 average is almost certain to drop, there's reason to believe he could reach the 30-homer mark for the first time since his 48-homer explosion with the Dodgers in 2004. He should have plenty of opportunities to drive in and score runs with his new club as well.

Kendry Morales, 1B, LAA (ADP - 59.8 +9.7%) - Morales was already back to running and hitting off of a tee in early December, so there should be few (if any) restrictions on his workload once spring training is underway. Prior to breaking his leg while celebrating a walk-off grand slam in May, Morales was on pace to replicate his breakout numbers from 2009 and there's no reason to think that he won't deliver something in the .290+, 30-35 HR, 100+ RBI range again this season now that he's healthy again. Just don't expect much from him in the way of celebrations at home plate when he goes yard in the future. Even with the recent push up the draft board, Morales is the 11th first baseman selected in most leagues with the aforementioned Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau and Adam Dunn all getting selected in the Top 50 of most drafts.

Josh Johnson, SP, FLA (ADP - 77.2 +8.5%) - If you knew the 2009 output would be matched, Johnson would be a Round 4 or Round 5 selection. Instead, he comes with the dreaded injury-prone label after having Tommy John surgery in 2007 and getting shut down early in September with shoulder inflammation and a back ailment. Still, if you look at the last three seasons, you'll see steady growth across the board with an increasing K/9IP (8.0, 8.2, 9.1) and declining BB/9IP (2.8, 2.5, 2.4) and HR/9IP (0.72, 0.60, 0.34). This is an excellent skill set if you can stomach the risk. Keep a very close eye on the reports about his health this spring, as Round 6-7 looks like a nice bargain.

Brian Wilson, RP, SFG (ADP - 92.7 +19.8%) - Let's just say that being the closer for the defending World Series Champions means that Wilson is no longer the best-kept secret in the reliever pool on draft day. In his new draft position, Wilson is fourth off the board among closers and you have to think that he's a safer option to hold his job all season than Carlos Marmol (70.5). If you're looking for stability at a position where it's hard to find, you can take a lot of comfort in Wilson's league-leading 127 saves over the last three seasons.

Clay Buchholz, SP, BOS (ADP - 113.6 +20.7%) - At 26, Buchholz isn't a finished product, but you have to wonder what is driving his price up right now? FIP (3.69) says his 2.33 ERA isn't sustainable (.265 BABIP, 82.0% strand rate), but his 3.5 BB/9IP and 6.2 K/9IP last season leave plenty to be desired. We'll chalk up the price hike to expected growth, but there will almost certainly be drafts where he'll come off the board a couple of rounds earlier than his current ADP. Don't be the one that overpays for him - the pool of quality pitching talent is deeper than ever right now.

Mat Latos, SP, SDG (ADP - 115.4 +33.2%) - Not only does Latos make half of his starts at Petco Park, he also struck out more than a batter per inning (9.2 K/9IP) last season while displaying excellent control (2.4 BB/9IP) for a 22-year-old rookie. In truth, he should be considered a top-10 pitcher - especially when you consider his impressive road numbers (3.14 ERA, 120:30 K:BB in 111.2 IP). Latos has the tools and the opportunity to match the 2011 value of players coming off the board several round ahead of him including Jon Lester (40.3), Ubaldo Jimenez (41.3), CC Sabathia (45.2), Chris Carpenter (48.3) and Adam Wainwright (49.4) - among many others in between. If you're choosing between Buchholz and Latos in your draft, the latter is a much better value.

Carlos Santana, C, CLE (ADP - 126.0 +20.0%) - Maybe the start of baseball season will enable the Cavs to show their faces around Cleveland again. Santana has resumed baseball activities this month and has reported that his knee and legs feel great. It sounds like he'll be at or near 100 percent when pitchers and catcher arrive at spring training next month, which should put him on track to be the Tribe's Opening Day starter behind the plate. Prior to suffering the injury, Santana was producing great numbers in the middle of the Cleveland lineup with a .260/.401/.467 line along with six homers and 22 RBI in 150 at-bats. As positive reports continue to roll in, his ADP stock should rise accordingly.

Neftali Feliz, P, TEX (ADP - 127.0 +15.9%) - While keeping him in the closer's role seems like the viable default option, the Rangers haven't shot down reports about considering him for their rotation. Losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies and failing to make a deal for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza has left Texas in a position to consider moving their young flamethrower into the rotation as early as this spring. It sounds like giving him a look and stretching him out in spring training is the plan right now, while the Rangers can easily move him into the closer's role again if he fails to impress. As a closer, he's a bit of a bargain at this draft slot. As a starter, he might be somewhat overvalued if his secondary stuff lacks polish. Considering that he threw his four-seam fastball 82.2% of the time last season (only three relievers over 30 IP relied more heavily on their heater than Feliz), that could very well be an issue in the short term.

Michael Stanton, OF, FLA (ADP - 140.1 +16.8%) - I've seen many industry folks point out the lack of depth in the upper tiers of the outfield pool this season. Stanton should become a part of that group for a very long time and the acquisition cost may never be lower. Even with a 66 percent contact rate, he managed to carry a .259/.326/.507 line in his rookie season as a 20-year-old. If he reaches our 2011 projection - .264/.334/.530 with 36 homers and 99 RBI - Round 12 is going to be an absolute steal.

Wandy Rodriguez, SP, HOU (ADP - 140.4 +18.0%) - Slow starts really alter the perception of what a player does over the course of a full season. Rodriguez carried a 4.97 ERA and 1.520 WHIP through 18 starts at the All-Star break. Mixed league owners had either dropped him or traded him for a spare part by then, only to see the left-hander regain his 2008-2009 form with a 101:28 K:BB and 2.11 ERA (1.036 WHIP) in 93.2 innings after the All-Star break. Wins could be difficult to come by with the expected lack of run support and a very suspect cast of relievers protecting the Astros' leads, but Rodriguez should be a viable source of strikeouts, ERA and an average WHIP again.

Colby Lewis, SP, TEX (ADP - 149.1 +14.8%) - I wrote a blog entry about Lewis a few weeks back opening up the debate in choosing him versus Brandon Morrow in the middle rounds of the draft. The consensus seemed to be that Lewis was the safer option with the lower ceiling (and floor) with an opportunity to accumulate more wins because of the team providing him run support and holding leads in the late innings. His skill set is much more stable than fantasy owners are giving him credit for and he's a rare breakout surprise without the warts of an elevated BABIP, strand rate, or other indicator that suggests fluky success. He's a flyball pitcher in a park where that type is a concern, but Lewis struck out three batters for each one he walked and should be able to maintain a similar level of production in his second year back in MLB.

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