Yunel Escobar will go down as one of the best value picks when looking back at the 2008 fantasy season. He may not offer huge power or speed potential, but he’s a legitimate .300 hitter who will be batting second in a potent lineup. Also, he’s slugging .692 this spring, so a jump in homers is possible. If you take J.J. Hardy or Khalil Greene ahead of him, you’re certifiably insane. No offense.
Is there a more overrated player than Vernon Wells? He’s had exactly two good seasons during his career and has a lifetime .776 OPS versus righties. Sure, last year’s struggles can be blamed on the bum shoulder, but his .405 slugging this spring makes you question whether he’ll be back to 100 percent anytime soon.
Am I the only one who thinks Bobby Knight is doing a fantastic job as an analyst?
Justin Verlander should be treated like a top-5 fantasy pitcher. His K rate is climbing and his walk rate continues to decline; great signs for the 25-year-old. He has a top-3 offense supporting him and hasn’t been overworked like C.C. Sabathia and Brandon Webb. In fact, I’d much prefer him to Sabathia, who tossed nearly 260 innings last year if you count his postseason work; he had never reached 200 before then.
Edwin Encarnacion is ending up on the majority of my teams. Apparently, most aren’t grouping him with Alex Gordon, Adrian Beltre, etc. like I am. Yes, he keeps failing to live up to expectations, but he’s still just 25 years old and hit .337 over the final two months last year, including nine homers and 14 doubles. He also has 15-steal ability. He’s a candidate to really break out in 2008.
Brian Wilson has been one of the most consistently underrated players in fantasy drafts this spring. With a plus fastball and hard slider, the former Beach Boy has legitimate strikeout potential. He showed improved command over the second half last year and has a 9:1 K:BB ratio over 8.2 spring innings. And avoiding closers on bad teams is a common mistake; Mariano Rivera (the Yankees) had the fewest amount of save opportunities in baseball last year.
John Patterson was flat-out released? I’m guessing the Nationals aren’t too optimistic his velocity will return anytime soon. Of course, he still probably throws harder than Barry Zito.
Although I loved the story and have followed Josh Hamilton’s career since the beginning, I largely undervalued him because of durability concerns and an inability to hit lefties. And I’m already regretting it. The guy is slugging .972 this spring! His OPS stands at a respectable 1.572. He still comes with plenty of risk, but his upside is clearly immense.
Chris Young is my dark horse pick to win the Cy Young this season. I know - he can’t finish a season, always wears down and has never reached even 180 innings in a season. Still, this is someone who had a 1.83 ERA and 0.99 WHIP when July ended last year. He could work on being more efficient – he’s “led” the league in pitches per AB in each of the past two years – but none of his injuries have ever been arm related, and he worked with a physical therapist all winter in hopes of overcoming his back issues. Despite rarely reaching more than 90 mph with his heater, it looks a whole lot faster coming from his 6-10 frame. The abnormally low BABIPs also seem to be sustainable since he’s largely a flyball pitcher, and Petco Park certainly helps. He’s a top-10 fantasy starter.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is possibly headed to Triple-A, and J.R. Towles looks likely to be batting eighth this season – all the more reason to target catchers early. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann should be gone by the end of the third round.
Daniel Cabrera is my favorite last round pick right now. Everyone is officially fed up with him, so he’ll likely be available then, and he does still possess one of the five best arms in baseball. Pitchers develop later than hitters, and remember he’s still just 26. Sometimes the light goes on all at once with hurlers. His walk rate did drop from 6.3 BB/9 in 2006 to 4.8 BB/9 last year. Of course, both are wholly unacceptable, but it is “baby steps” (“What About Bob” is criminally underrated). Odds are you’ll end up dropping him come May, but these are the type of home run fliers you should be taking over boring options like Tom Glavine.