Willingham's second-half was dictated by a poor batting average and his inability to get the ball out of the park with just seven long balls in 239 at-bats. That isn't terrible production from the everyday player, but he was looked upon to provide power to fantasy rosters at a fairly cheap price. The reason for optimism in 2009 is partially due to a change of scenery (not saying that Washington is a great place to play or situation, but sometimes a change is just what young players need) but also because he did hit eight homers in the first half in just 112 at-bats. Also, in the second half, it isn't like he was striking out more than usual or pounding the ball into the ground. He was still getting the lift, just wasn't hitting them out. His power is for real and if he stays healthy and gets 550+ at-bats, he could approach 30. If you find yourself hurting for power numbers late in the draft or auction, Willingham might be the perfect remedy on the cheap.
This is my man at shortstop this year. Instead of using an early pick or tons of dollars on Hanley, Reyes or Rollins, take a step back and realize the potential of Peralta. He has slowly worked his way back on the scene after many wrote off his '05 rookie campaign, in which he blasted 24 homers, hit .292 and drove in 78, before falling to .257-13-68 in '06. He was just 24 years old and will enter this season at 26, a perfect time for maturing into stardom. In '07 he showed signs of coming back with .270-21-72 and then in 605 at-bats last year he finished with 23 long balls, 89 RBI and a solid .276 average. That .270 average is about what we should expect from him, but 30 HR isn't out of the question. He is also a solid source of runs scored (104 last year) and seems to avoid prolonged slumps. Need another reason to like him? Look at his AB totals since 2005: 504-569-574-605. He has enjoyed good health so far. Recommendation: Knock on some wood and then go get him.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL
I know what you are thinking, 'this Stanley guy must have never had this guy on his team.' Well, I haven't, but I know the thoughts of inconsistency and not living up to potential still weighs heavily on the minds of owners he has brought down in the past. I do think, however, that if you jump ship this year, you will really dislike the guy. Hear me out. The talent is there. It just needs to be uncovered. I saw this guy hit a ball at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis to the upper deck in dead center field. That just doesn't happen. It prompted a standing ovation from the home crowd. His first half was horrendous, hitting just .215 with seven HR and 22 RBI. But those who follow the Brewers could attest that there was some bad luck involved in that. The optimism comes from a second-half rebound that saw him hit .257 in 214 AB's, which were limited due to the signing of Ray Durham for the post-season run. I know the Brewers picked up Craig Counsell, but the Brewers will hand Weeks the first shot at second base. Equation: solid lineup + maturity + 25+ SB potential = BREAKOUT.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, ATL
I don't have any hard statistical backup with this one, which doesn't bode well for people buying in, but how can a guy put killer numbers starting at age 21, including 208 RBI in a two year span and a .293 batting average in 2007 and just fall off the face of the earth? Last year's .239-11-71 is troubling, but that is what everybody else is seeing. You need to see those past seasons when he was a top prospect in all of baseball and take into consideration that the Braves still have faith in him. They aren't giving up on him and apparently neither is teammate Chipper Jones who is working out with Francoeur this off-season as he tries out a new batting stance. Don't overpay for him, but he could provide a major risk/reward benefit to your squad if taken late. In deep leagues, his value becomes greater.
Denard Span, OF, MIN
It's not that I project the speedy Span to improve drastically upon his .293-6-47 rookie campaign over a full season with the Twins. In fact, I would say, take those numbers and stretch them over a full season, giving a few points in batting average and he should come in around .285-10-65. Here is the kicker: 30+ stolen bases. The guy converted 72|PERCENT| of his stolen base opportunities last year and you aren't getting him for his power anyway. He should stay somewhat under the radar and will be a nice SB pick-up later on if you find yourself in need of a boost in that category.
Paul Konerko, 1B, CHW
2007 was the first year we saw his batting average drop (to .259 from .313 in '06) but the power was still there with 31 jacks. Last year, nagging injuries led to another drop in average and just 22 homers in 438 at-bats. At 33, his health is always a concern, but the guy has proven, before 2006, to be a pure hitter and a consistent one at that. Don't expect the days of 35-40 HR, 110+ RBI and that .313 in '06. Rather, something in between for a guy who, for the exact reason we mentioned above (health) will fall down much lower than his output should be if healthy for a full season in a good offense. I fully expect to see him above 30 homers and should get close to getting back to the 100 plateau in RBI if that wretched injury bug stays away.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, MIN
Another Twins outfielder makes the list this year and for good reason, his injuries a year ago led him to just 249 at-bats, a .249 average, 3 homers and 36 RBI. This is the same guy that in '06 put up a .284-24-109 line. In 2007, he put up less impressive but still serviceable numbers for deep leaguers looking for cheap production in the outfield: .276-16-81. Further, his injuries were freaks occurrences, with two broken fingers and a broken foot. It's not like he is constantly throwing his shoulder out or pulling his hammy. Playing time could be a little hard to come by with the emergence of Span, however, the Twins made a fairly large investment in Cuddyer prior to last season and he should be given the opportunity to start in right field and see some time at DH as well.
Juan Rivera, OF, LAA
Rivera has been dealing with injuries the past two seasons but the upside is his 2006 numbers, .310-23-85. The downside is the fact that his 448 at-bats in that season is by far the most he has logged in five seasons. He didn't get much action early in the season and he doesn't thrive without consistent PT, so his numbers were affected. In 256 AB's he belted 12 homers. Simple math says that 550 AB's would yield close to 26 homers. He did sign a deal this off-season which shows he is a part of the Angels' plan in the outfield this season. He could be a very nice source of power and RBI numbers late in a draft or throw a few bucks at him and enjoy an injury-free (fingers crossed) season.
Andy LaRoche, 3B, PIT
After coming over in a trade from the Dodgers, LaRoche all but fell off the radar of many fantasy owners with his disgusting performance. Five homers, 18 RBI and a .166 batting average is pretty ugly. But the kid is just 25 years old and still has the label of "prospect". Maybe his big brother Adam could take him under his wing and show him how to consistently perform at the Major League level…ugh…nevermind, scratch that. He was extremely unlucky after putting the ball in play 85|PERCENT| of the time (above average) but only succeeding to reach base 18|PERCENT| of the time – and it just snowballed from there. This recommendation is for dynasty leaguers and/or deep leagues. I could think of 20 at this position I would rather have for a re-draft league, but there is nothing wrong with the low risk, high reward that could come of it in other situations. If he gets off to a hot start, he should show up on your radar.
Mark Ellis, 2B, OAK
If you are one of the many looking for a cheap option at second base but don't want somebody so bad they could hurt you (Adam Kennedy), Ellis should be a good option this year. He does have some history of injuries, but 20 homers and .275 won't hurt you and he can do that ('07: 19 HR, .276 in 583 AB). His average (.233) was sapped because of the lingering injury until he finally shut it down. What is hard to explain is how he dropped to .176 against LHP, down from .313 in both '07 and '05. Expect that to reverse back to the norm and with some extra pop in that Oakland lineup, he could have solid season and provide that cheap option at second.
As always, comments are welcome.