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2013 Draft Prep: Assessing potential one-hit wonders

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Among the picks that "hit" (as opposed to "missed") in 2013, you have your Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers, your Paul Goldschmidts, Chris Sales and Yu Darvishes.

They "hit" because they were supposed to "hit," and now that they have "hit," you expect them to keep "hitting."

But then you have that other group of picks that "hit" because ... well, I wonder.

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And you wonder. They weren't hyped to the hills ahead of time. They weren't necessarily even on anyone's radar. Yet because of what they delivered, they present you with a dilemma on Draft Day.

If nobody saw them coming, at least not to the extent they did, how likely are they to repeat? How confident can you be drafting any of them?

I'm right there with you, so for the 12 players who, weighing their 2012 seasons against the rest of their careers, give the appearance of being one-hit wonders, I've taken the time to reflect on what they did, how they did it, whether or not they can repeat it and if they need to repeat it to live up to their going rates.

Because in the end, whether or not they "hit" again isn't as important as whether or not they're worth your while.

And the more people wonder about them, the more likely they're worth your while.

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 4)

If Encarnacion's breakthrough season came at age 26 or 27, maybe people wouldn't doubt him so much. But it came at age 29, when most middle-of-the-order hitters already have a couple All-Star selections in the bag.

Of course, the Blue Jays have a history of picking seemingly failed sluggers off the scrap heap and maximizing their potential by making a few small adjustments. If it worked for Jose Bautista, why couldn't it work for Encarnacion?

And actually, Encarnacion's breakthrough was the more predictable of the two. He had previously demonstrated that kind of potential in spurts, hitting .333 with 10 home runs and a .930 over a two-month stretch in 2007, .296 with 12 homers and a .999 OPS over a two-month stretch in 2008, and .304 with 13 home runs and a .943 OPS over a two-month stretch in 2011. Plate discipline likely had something to do with his newfound consistency. If he can maintain his near 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio from last year -- a departure from his near 2-to-1 ratio in years past -- he should be able to avoid the prolonged slumps that might skew his season-long numbers.

In standard Head-to-Head leagues last year, he was the fourth-best hitter, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout, so even with a small step back, he'll more than justify his current fourth-round price tag.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 5)

Just how unlikely was Allen Craig's emergence last year? Well, as recently as 2011, before he made a name for himself in the postseason, I knew him as Craig Allen.

Why? He wasn't the most talked about player in Fantasy. He was no better than a so-so prospect coming up through the minors, profiling as more of a platoon player than a regular, and he likely would have been a reserve last year had Lance Berkman been able to stay on the field.

So his emergence was surprising, given the lack of hype. And yet in terms of actual production, what he did last year is what he's always done.

Over seven minor-league seasons, he hit .308 with an .888 OPS. As a part-timer in 2011, he hit .315 with a .917 OPS. As a hero of the NLDS and World Series later that October, he hit .308 with a 1.189 OPS. By those standards, you could argue he disappointed with a .307 batting average and .876 OPS last year.

So before you try to argue "regression to the mean" for him, stop and consider just what the mean is for him. As far as I'm concerned, this is a looks-like-a-duck-and-quacks-like-duck scenario.

You know who else has routinely hit .300 with a .900 OPS in his career? Matt Holliday. And like Craig, he didn't get any respect until he had already secured an everyday role. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 3)

Dickey's breakthrough last year was so unexpected that if you didn't see his name among the top 20 in the rankings, you might have assumed it was all just a dream.

At age 37 and with a career 4.34 ERA to his name, he won 20 games and the NL Cy Young award, and he did it by way of the knuckleball -- a pitch widely considered a gimmick with little sustainability at the major-league level.

But his knuckleball is unlike any that came before it. He throws it harder than Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield did -- averaging 77.1 miles per hour on it last year -- and thus is able to control it better. His 2.1 walks per nine innings last year ranked 19th among qualifying pitchers.

Knuckleballers generally aren't control artists. The pitch is designed so that no one knows where it's going. Niekro, the best knuckleballer historically, averaged 3.0 walks per nine innings for his career. Wakefield, the best knuckleballer in recent history, averaged 3.4.

As for the age issue, let's just say Niekro and Wakefield weren't the only knuckleballers to pitch into their mid-40s. Even though Dickey throws it harder than them, the pitch still isn't especially taxing on the arm. Now that he's figured out how to dominate with it, he could have three or four years of similar production in store.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Chase Headley, 3B, Padres (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 5)

Headley hit .308 with 23 home runs and a .978 OPS after the All-Star break last year. I'll be the first to say he won't maintain that pace for a full season.

But when you combine his ridiculous second half with his underwhelming first half, you get what should be a fairly reasonable baseline for him going forward. And that baseline was good enough to make him the second-best third baseman in Fantasy last season.

"But wait a second," you say. "Headley hit 31 home runs last year. Prior to that, his career high was only 12."

Yes, but you have to understand the constraints placed on him from the moment he set foot in the big leagues. Though touted as an elite prospect with middle-of-the-order power, that monstrosity of a ballpark in San Diego neutralized his talents to the point that he pretty much gave up on them altogether. He became so focused on getting on base, he told SI.com, that he forgot how to pull the ball in the air. Of his four home runs in 2012, three were to the opposite field.

He needed to get back to driving the ball. So he and hitting coach Phil Plantier worked to get his swing back to what it used to be, and though it took a couple hundred at-bats, it eventually worked. And when it did, that monstrosity of a ballpark became not so imposing.

Of course, with the Padres opting to move in the fences about 15 feet this offseason, it's not so imposing to anyone anymore. Seeing as Headley has a career .836 OPS on the road, he could revert to his old self and still rank among the top third basemen with those new dimensions.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Kris Medlen, SP/RP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 4)

Any time a pitcher performs better as a starter than as a reliever, it's cause for skepticism. We're so used to seeing the reverse -- a failed starter dominating in relief -- that for many of us, it just doesn't compute.

Especially when it's to this magnitude.

Medlen was fine as a reliever -- good enough to keep his job, certainly -- but it's not like anyone considered him a closer in waiting. But when he got an opportunity to start in the second half last year, he was the best pitcher in baseball, posting a 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 12 starts.

You don't need me to tell you those numbers aren't sustainable. The more pertinent question is whether or not they're indicative of his ability.

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We all know a pitcher's stuff improves when reduced to only one or two innings, but when extended to six or seven, he has access to his full arsenal and can better vary the way he attacks hitters.

When extended last year, Medlen revealed to the Braves and all of baseball that during the time since his Tommy John surgery in 2010, he developed a sinister changeup. He was able to make better use of it as a starter than as a reliever, and hence, he got better results.

Though an 0.97 ERA isn't in his future, his walk rate speaks for itself, and his strikeout rate would seem to suggest he's deceptive enough to stick as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 8)

Where'd those 22 home runs come from? Why should we expect them to happen again?

If you haven't asked, someone near and dear to you has. It's like Molina's reputation as a defensive catcher prohibits him from being an offensive threat, in some people's minds.

It didn't start last year, you know. Maybe he needed to cross the 20-homer threshold to get people to notice, but he went deep 14 times in 2011. Yeah, he's been in single digits for most of his career, but for most of his career, he was building a rapport with a pitching staff, making his defensive game the top priority.

Even then, he showed he could handle the bat, compiling a .291 batting average in the four years prior to 2012 and striking out no more than 51 times in any one season. Now, he's in his prime. Things he did before he does better. Things he couldn't do before he now can.

This latest incarnation of Molina will hit his share of homers. With two years of data suggesting it, you have little reason to doubt it. Even if he falls short of 20 this year, as long as batting average or strikeouts count for something in your league -- which should pretty much cover all formats -- he's an elite option.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Aaron Hill, 2B, Diamondbacks (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 10)

Hill isn't a one-hit wonder in the strictest sense. He was a big hit in 2009, when he socked 36 homers, but since then, he has struggled to find his identity.

His flyball rate soared the next season, allowing him to hit 26 home runs, but at the expense of his batting average. Then, after coming to Arizona in a midseason trade in 2011, he seemed to revert to being the line-drive hitter he was in 2006 and 2007 -- not one who was especially valuable in Fantasy, but one you could trust to keep his job.

Last year, he delivered the best of both worlds.

Now, it's a matter of trust for Fantasy owners. His career has had so many ups and downs that no one can say for sure which Aaron Hill is the real Aaron Hill. If he was capable hitting for power and average at the same time, why wasn't he doing it all along?

A fair question, but one without a simple or straightforward answer. Considering his line-drive rate last year ranked among the best of his career, he should be fine as long as he stays within himself. But as we know from that 2010 season, when he sees himself as a home run hitter, everything gets out of whack.

The good news is Fantasy owners are reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt, allowing him to slip to about the same point you'd be drafting Rickie Weeks or Jose Altuve. Even if his line-drive approach more realistically makes him a 16-homer guy than a 26-homer guy, he's still well worth that price tag.

If his batting average plummets again, though, all bets are off.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 9)

What the heck?

How does a former punch line of a closer for the Tigers who eked out 37 saves despite a 4.40 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 2009, suddenly become a strike-throwing, arrow-shooting reincarnation of Dennis Eckersley, his 0.60 ERA rating better than that of the near god-like Craig Kimbrel.

Location, location, location.

During that rocky season closing for the Tigers, he issued 4.9 walks per nine innings. In fact, he entered last season with a career rate of 4.9 walks per nine. He issued just 1.8 per nine last season, cutting his previous career best in half.

When he gets ahead in the count, Rodney certainly has the arsenal to put hitters away, boasting a high-90s fastball and a low-80s changeup that look the same coming out of his hand. He simply had to learn the value of getting ahead.

He's not superhuman (as he appeared to be last year), but his arsenal places him among the top closers in the game. With their deep pitching staff and suspect starting lineup, the Rays should again play in plenty of close games, making Rodney a likely candidate to rank among the top five relievers.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Josh Willingham, OF, Twins (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 13)

Prior to last year, Fantasy owners could count on only two things from Willingham: back pain and about a two-month period when he'd hit .185.

He delivered on neither in 2012.

The result was a career year by just about every measurement. He always had power and walked at a decent rate, but injuries and inconsistency had condemned him to being no more than a fringe contributor in mixed leagues. Last year, he was the 10th-best outfielder in Fantasy.

Maybe he would have performed at that level all along if not for his chronic back issues, but it's a moot point. He's 34 now. Back issues are the expectation for every player at that age. Maybe one who has been a model of health throughout his career wouldn't have much trouble repeating the 145 games Willingham played last year, but for Willingham to do it, he'd have to match his career high.

That's right. He set a career high for games played at age 33.

Even if he is, in his truest, purest form, a 35-homer guy, the years will prevent Willingham from reaching that perch again. And as the 25-homer guy we've seen so many times in the past, he's just a fringe mixed-league option.

A player like Michael Morse has similar power potential, better batting average potential and a back that should hold up over a full year. Yet because he's the one who happened to get hurt last year, he's going later in drafts. Go figure.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Kyle Lohse, SP, free agent (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 12)

In a way, the market has already spoken on Lohse and the performance that earned him a seventh-place finish in NL Cy Young voting last year. A good two weeks into spring training, he remains unsigned, with teams unwilling to forfeit a draft pick to procure his services.

So fine. Him ranking eighth among starting pitchers in Head-to-Head leagues last year was the fluke of all flukes. His stuff is too hittable for him to repeat that performance, and no matter where he lands, he won't have the run support he had with the Cardinals. Fair enough.

But even in 2011, he ranked 38th among starting pitchers. He may not have the best stuff, but he's learned to get the most out of it, as countless other soft-tossers have done throughout the history of the sport. And because he doesn't hurt himself with walks -- his rate of 1.6 per nine innings ranking second among qualifying pitchers last year -- he can afford to be a little hittable.

His ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate over the last two years compare favorably to those of Tim Hudson, and we'd all agree Hudson is a useful Fantasy option -- not stellar, but useful.

Lohse's stock has fallen to the point where he's barely getting drafted in some leagues. Eventually, some team will pick him up. Too many have pitching needs for it not to happen. And when it happens, you'll be happy you got him at the bargain basement price, even knowing he won't deliver top-10 numbers.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 20)

At age 35, not only was Pierzynski too old for a breakout last year, especially for the position he plays, but he had already gotten 14 big-league seasons to establish the full extent of his value.

But sure enough, the real Pierzynski and not some otherworldly imposter hit twice as many homers last year as in any of the last four seasons, topping his previous career high by nine. Inexplicable as it may be, it happened. Yet because it defies everything we know about Pierzynski, natural progression and pure biology, you can't expect it to happen again.

Sure, he hit 18 of his 27 homers at homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field, and with the move to Texas, he gets to continue his career in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But he played in Chicago for eight years. If he owes his breakout to his surroundings, why didn't it happen until last year?

Judging by Pierzynski's going rate, nobody really buys into the 36-year-old catcher's 2012 performance, but in Rotisserie leagues, which typically require the use of two catchers instead of one, he's getting drafted sooner than he should. Considering his backup in Texas is a former All-Star in Geovany Soto, Pierzynski could fall into a platoon if he doesn't get off to a hot start. And then, he might not even be so desirable as a second catcher.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 25)

Normally, no player, much less a catcher, breaks out at age 33, but something about Ruiz's transformation from fringe starter to All-Star last year just felt right.

His career got off to a late start, with him not reaching the majors until age 27, and at that point, the Phillies were so loaded on offense, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all in their prime and Pat Burrell still in the mix, that Ruiz mostly just focused on handling the pitching staff. And as is the case for many young catchers, it came at the expense of his hitting.

But the signs of greatness were there. His exceptional plate discipline -- which accounted for his .292 batting average and .385 on-base percentage in his previous two seasons -- and his doubles power both suggested that once he settled into his role behind the plate, he could deliver more at the plate.

Boy, did he.

To an extent, it was too good to be true. Including last year's plantar fasciitis, injuries have plagued Ruiz throughout his career, which not only makes him a risk going forward but also further explains his delayed development, and even if you buy into the idea that he's peaking late, his age suggests he can peak for only so long.

If he didn't get busted for amphetamine use in the offseason, prompting a 25-game suspension, he might have presented you with a real dilemma on Draft Day, but because he'll sit out that first month, he's sliding to the late rounds in most leagues. Even if he proves to be more of a .300-hitting, 12-homer type than whatever we saw last year, he's well worth stashing at that price.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? No. Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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