Not one pitch has been thrown for the 2011 season, but I have a list of players I am looking to draft if the opportunity presents itself. Conversely, I have another list of players I will avoid at any cost. Of course, there are many other players on the cusp of these lists. However, for practical purposes, these are my choices.
Matt Thornton, LHP, Chicago White Sox (age 33)
5-4, 2.67 ERA, 41 hits in 60.2 IP, 81:20 K:BB, 1.005 WHIP
Thornton should inherit the closerís role with Bobby Jenks now pitching in Boston. He has ice water in his veins and he takes the job with the ability to throw strikes and miss bats. Thatís a perfect combination for a big-time closer. The 6-foot-6 Thornton has the potential to dominate the ninth inning and become an elite closer.
Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington Nationals (age 24)
1-2, 4.94, ERA, 31 hits in 31 IP, 27:10 K:BB, 1.323 WHIP
Zimmermann returned for seven games late last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. His arm should be sound as he enters the season as a staff ace until Stephen Strasburg returns. Bear in mind that a pitcher with Zimmermannís ability can fetch a boatload of prospects from a contending club with a deep farm system. The Nationals are always looking for depth, which makes Zimmermann an attractive blue chip, undervalued pitcher to use in a trade during the season. Upside remains.
Max Scherzer, RHP, Detroit Tigers (age 25)
12-11, 3.50 ERA, 174 hits in 195.2 IP, 184:70 K:BB 1.247 WHIP
Scherzer showed the ability to become more than just a fastball pitcher for the Tigers last season. He now has a complete arsenal of pitches to use in any count to complement the above average fastball. Pitching for a club with an improved offense and a chance to compete for a division championship will bring out his best. My only concern is Victor Martinezís inability to throw out baserunners when he is catching. That could negatively impact Scherzer and the rest of the Tigers' staff, but not enough to curb his upside.
Ivan Nova, RHP, New York Yankees (age 23)
1-2, 4.50, 44 hits in 42 IP, 26:17 K:BB, 1.452 WHIP
Nova is a prime ďkeeper leagueĒ candidate. He has a power arm with improving command. He lacks experience, but the Yankees were in such dire need of starting pitching help last season, they brought him to the big club. If they donít solve their back end of the rotation problems, Nova could return. If not at the start of the season, I think heíll appear in the rotation at some point in 2011. Nova is also prime trade bait to a club with a more seasoned veteran pitcher to offer the Yanks. Put simply, Nova is a star of the future to grab now before he becomes more widely known. The ceiling is very high here.
Daniel Hudson, RHP, Chicago White Sox (age 23)
7-1, 1.69 ERA, 51 hits in 79.2 IP, 70:16 K:BB, 0.841 WHIP
While I donít think Hudson can repeat the phenomenal numbers he put up in 2010, I do think he is a very high quality pitcher worthy of serious consideration on draft day. Hudson belies his age with maturity and mound presence. He throws strikes and gets hitters out. My only concern is pitching in the hitter friendly Chase Field environment. However, he passed his initial test with flying colors.
Delmon Young, OF, Minnesota Twins (age 24)
.298 average, 77 runs, 21 HR 112 RBI, 5 SB
Young had an outstanding season for the Twins while flying under the radar most of the time. Not anymore. He was on my preseason picks list and he didnít disappoint. Young delivered value in every fantasy category and he should come through again. In fact, those numbers may even improve. A very tough out, Young puts the bat on the ball consistently, and is a force with men on base. There's still reason to believe that he's got additional improvement ahead.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (age 26)
.249 average, 82 runs, 28 HR, 89 RBI, 19 SB
I think Don Mattingly will have a positive influence on Kemp. While it is difficult to prove any specific impact on his offensive numbers, Kemp may well have tired of the public criticism, constant fluctuation of his position in the batting order and general lack of appreciation of his game by the Dodgers' 2010 coaching staff. To be sure, I believe Kemp is capable of much, much better offensive production. He should be close to a .290 hitter with at least 100 RBI and 35 stolen bases. Peace of mind and positive energy around him will result in a much better 2011 season. Heís approaching his prime chronological year and Iím still a believer in his abilities.
Dayan Viciedo, 3B, Chicago White Sox (age 21)
.308 average, 17 runs, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB
All one has to do is look at Viciedoís fellow Cuban player Kendry Morales to realize it takes time to adjust to playing baseball in America. Unless they make a move, Viciedo should be ready to take over the third-base position on a full-time basis for the White Sox. He will remind some of Pablo Sandoval in body type and in lack of plate discipline, although certainly not to the extreme of Sandoval in either situation. Viciedo can hit Ė he is challenged in the field, but the White Sox have few better options.
Chris B. Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (age 26)
.257 average, 94 runs, 27 HR, 91 RBI, 28 SB
Few people ever stopped to realize how productive Young was for fantasy players. In 2010, Young was a totally different hitter than in his previous two seasons. He has become more disciplined at the plate, enabling him to be more of a force on the bases. Add the pop in his bat and the fact that he hits in a hitter-friendly park and he has the makings of a top-notch fantasy outfielder. I also think he will add points to his weak batting average with his improving contact rate.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants (age 23)
.268 average, 61 runs, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 3 SB
Yes, that was Mike Fontenot and not the Kung Fu Panda playing third base for the Giants in the 2010 playoffs. Sandoval had a season of personal issues and the resulting lack of conditioning took its toll on his offensive production and his defensive agility. The former hitting machine had sputtered to the point that manager Bruce Bochy had seen enough. Sandoval spent the winter in Arizona trying to get back in shape. I have seen what a physically and mentally conditioned Sandoval can do with a bat, and I believe he will bounce back with a big offensive season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Boston Red Sox (age 25)
.167 batting average, 2 runs, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB
Saltalamacchia was traded to Boston from Texas last season, but played only 12 games with 24 at-bats due to injury. He has had difficulty throwing the ball back to the pitcher as well as his overall defensive game. The Red Sox are hoping the worst is behind him. For their pitchers' sake, Iím glad the Red Sox have decided to bring back Jason Varitek, as they really haven't addressed their catching woes. Victor Martinez could hit, but he couldnít play defense. Varitek gives the club some defensive hope and good game calling behind the plate. Saltalamacchia doesn't offer a glove or a bat or an arm. His progress and development have been limited because of injuries, and I donít see Salty providing numbers as a fantasy catcher this time around. Check in on him in 2012.
Scott Kazmir, LHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (age 26)
9-15, 5.94 ERA, 158 hits in 150 IP, 93:79 K:BB, 1.580 WHIP
Kazmir will be seen as the back-end-of-the-rotation pitcher the Angels need to turn their team around, and he will be given every chance to take the ball. However, Kazmir will revert to the below mediocre pitcher he has been with the exception of one better than ordinary season in Tampa. Kazmir hasn't harnessed the command necessary to keep runners off base. I donít have faith that he can deliver fantasy numbers worthy of anything other than a desperation selection in a deep league. Consider him electricity Ė donít touch if you see him exposed on your draft sheet or waiver wire.
Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres (age 23)
.234 batting average, 28 runs, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 9 SB
Where Maybin is concerned, that ship has sailed without me for years. When Cameron, when? Not now. Not next year. Not for me. Yes, the Padres and their pitchers may like his defense in their huge park, but that doesnít mean we have to find a place for him on our fantasy rosters. I donít like the long swing, I donít like the attempt to hit a five-run home run every time at the plate and I donít like to watch the flailing at breaking balls and hitting off the front foot. I like the speed, but I can do better with more complete offensive players. Having said all that, Iíd still be happy for him if he breaks out in 2011. I just donít see it.
Matt LaPorta, 1B, Cleveland Indians (age 25)
.221 average, 41 runs, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 0 SB
Not everyone is ready to call the Indians trade of CC Sabathia to the Brewers a flop. I am. LaPorta was clearly the centerpiece of the deal. He was the top prospect coming back to the Indians for a Cy Young award-winning pitcher in the last year of his contract. La- Porta along with Michael Brantley were billed as ďdifference makingĒ prospects around which to build a team. When? The Indians have handled LaPortaís development poorly, having yo-yoed him back and forth between Triple-A and the big league club and sitting him on the bench during his time in Cleveland. LaPorta lacks the impact bat the team thought they were getting. True, he has been hurt, but his power hasn't appeared. Heís slow, doesnít play good defense and is an average contact hitter, at best. I need more out of first base or the outfield than LaPorta can offer.
Aaron Harang, RHP, San Diego Padres (age 32)
7-6, 5.32 ERA, 139 hits in 111.2IP, 82:38 K:BB, 1.585 WHIP
Good for Harang. Heís leaving a small, hitterís ballpark in Cincinnati for a massive pitcherís park in San Diego. The problem is that he isnít the same pitcher he used to be. Just check out the WHIP. And frankly, thatís due mostly to giving up a ton of hits per inning. The larger ballpark certainly wonít help. Harang was really good during the 2006-07 seasons and hasnít been the same since. The Padres wonít be scoring a ton of runs for him either. If his name is called in your auction, just remember this one little word ... ďpass.Ē
Bill Hall, 2B, Houston Astros (age 30)
.247 average, 44 runs, 18 HR, 46 RBI, 9 SB
Just when I think Iíve seen the last of Hall, he shows up again. Donít look now, but Mr. Hall will be playing second base on a fulltime basis for Houston. What is it that makes me shy away from Hall? Itís his lack of productivity when the game is on the line and when his at-bats matter. Itís his empty batting average, lack of run production and inconsistency year in and year out. But he always finds a job. From a fantasy standpoint, his 20 or so homers in Houston and some stolen bases will be welcomed from his position at second base. However, can you stand the other numbers that come with that package? Iíd look elsewhere.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (age 24)
.247 average, 38 runs, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 18 SB
Losing Lorenzo Cain may have some impact on the potential success of the Brewers. It means that Gomez remains the primary center fielder moving forward in 2011. Thatís a shame because he really doesnít bring much to the position beyond raw speed. I have seen few less emotional and less energetic players than Gomez. He has speed to burn yet he had only 18 stolen bases last year. Itís tough to steal while sitting on the bench after unproductive at-bats. Gomez walked only 17 times last season while striking out 72 times. His best tool is defense, and that doesnít help too much in fantasy play.
My 2011 preseason stock exchange is open. Take a look at the ďBig BoardĒ and get an idea for your own Fantasy Portfolio. Best Buys are listed in ALL CAPS.
Chris Sale, CHW, P - Possible closer candidate with upside BUY
Adam Dunn, CHW, 1B - Will DH in Chicago, monster in Cellular Field Buy
Jhonny Peralta, DET, SS - Empty BA, uninspired player Sell
Casper Wells, DET, OF - Up and coming rookie Buy and Keep
Jeremy Jeffress, KC, P - Power arm for rotation or bullpen Buy and Keep
Wilson Betemit, KC, 3B - All he does is hit Buy in Deep AL Leagues
Danny Valencia, MIN 3B - A sleeper with tools Buy Low
Brian Matusz, BAL, P - Will struggle for wins with Oís, solid stuff Buy
Andrew Miller, BOS, P - Havenít seen it yet, overrated Sell
Mike Cameron, BOS, OF - At 37, his slip is beginning to show Sell
Brett Gardner, NYY, OF - We havenít seen the best yet Buy
A.J. Burnett, NYY, P - New pitching coach = new guy? UhÖNo. Ė Sell
Matt Joyce, TAM, OF - Hasnít shown pop in brief trials Sell
Marc Rzepczynski, TOR, P - Healthy and ready to pitch Buy
Travis Snider, TOR, OF - Only 22 with remaining upside Buy
Rich Harden, OAK, P Starter? reliever? DL occupant? For sure! Sell
Gio Gonzalez, OAK, P - Lefty is a gem and a star on the horizon BUY
Dustin Ackley, SEA, 2B - Team offense so bad he has to play Buy
Alexi Ogando, TEX, P - Did you listen to me last year? Buy
Engel Beltre. TEX, OF - Listen to me this year Buy and Keep
Fernando Rodney, LAA, P - Jepsen still in closer mix. Caution here Sell
Jason Kipnis, CLE, 2B - Moving up quickly, high energy Buy and Keep
Luis Valbuena, CLE, 2B - Moving down quickly, no bat Sell
Aaron Rowand, SF, OF - Role has diminished, no longer viable Sell
Madison Bumgarner, SF, P - Mid rotation means great matchups BUY
Ryan Ludwick, SD, OF - Bigger park = power outage continues Sell
Tommy Hanson, ATL, P - Pitched in tough luck, rebounds Buy
Martin Prado, ATL, 2B OF? 3B? 2B? - Wherever he plays heíll hit Buy
Chris Coghlan, FLA, OF CF? 2B? 3B? - Wherever he plays, I pass Sell
Angel Pagan, NYM, OF - Mets have to find a place for BA and SB guy Buy
Jason Bay, NYM, OF - Did you see what I saw? Wrong team and park Sell
Roy Oswalt, PHI, P - Oswalt has found new life in Philly Buy
Carlos Ruiz, PHI, C - Better hitter than we think, undervalued Buy
Rick Ankiel,WAS, OF - Valiant effort, but falls short for me Sell
Stephen Strasburg,WAS, P - Tommy John surgery, but keeper candidate Buy and Keep
Kosuke Fukudome, CHC, OF - Has never been a force at the plate Sell
Carlos Pena, CHC, 1B - I believe BA improves and offense rebounds Buy
Mike Leake, CIN, P - Pitched above talent first half of í10, wore out Sell
Johnny Cueto, CIN, P - Reds loaded on the mound, but not Johnny Sell
Jay Bruce, CIN, OF - Last year was the coming out party BUY
Bud Norris, HOU, P - If he commands fastball, watch out Buy and Keep
Jason Castro, HOU, C - Will struggle against quality pitching Sell
J.J. Putz, ARZ, P - Closes for Arizona if he remains healthy Buy
Kelly Johnson, ARZ, 2B - Very underrated for power Buy
Dexter Fowler, COL, OF - Lacks power, crowded OF Sell
Jonathan Herrera, COL, 2B - Not in my mix of top second-base guys Sell
Neil Walker, PIT, 2B - In my mix of quality second-base guys Buy
Jose Tabata, PIT, OF - Lacks power, but has speed and BA Buy
Shaun Marcum, MIL, P - A great move for Marcum and team Buy
John Axford, MIL, P - Emerged as top notch closer Buy
Hiroki Kuroda, LA, P - Outstanding pitcher; target him Buy
Hong-Chih Kuo, LA, P - In mix to close. Plus command pitcher Buy
Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a "graduate" of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix, Arizona. He writes a weekly column for RotoWire.com and gives his insight regularly as a guest on ďRotoWire Fantasy Sports TodayĒ on XM 175 / Sirius 211.