You don't hear that old-style cash register working overtime to keep up with the rewards flowing in? Oh. Well, I do, and I'll tell you why.
I just pocketed another player destined to outperform his draft position.
You might as well think of those players as such, and by "those players," I mean the relative no-names who slip through the cracks on Draft Day, providing you with quality Fantasy production three rounds, five rounds, maybe even as 10 rounds later than the pure, unbiased numbers say they should.
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Or you could just think of them as underrated -- Undervalued and Underrated, even.
Hey, the draft averages don't lie. According to actual drafts conducted in CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues, these players don't get nearly the credit they deserve. After each of their names, just check out the numbers in parentheses. They'll indicate when they typically go off the board, both in Rotisserie leagues and Head-to-Head.
With this list, you might notice a distinctive Kansas City flavor. It happens. Historically uncompetitive, small-market teams yield relatively unknown commodities. They don't get on TV as much, don't generate as much preseason hype and generally disappear into the background.
And whether anybody wants to admit it or not, they disappear on draft boards as well.
Not this one.
Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 13)
For years, Fantasy owners have viewed catcher as the weak link in Fantasy -- the position most chided, most denigrated, most skipped and most ignored unless you wanted to reach for one of those elite options in the early rounds.
|Chris Iannetta is making a name for himself with Team USA this spring. (US Presswire)|
But maybe you don't want to use an early-round pick on a catcher considering the higher level of talent you'd have to forfeit at other positions. So what's the solution?
Consider Iannetta, the Rockies catcher, the unheralded eighth member of that newfound catching order and a relative bargain at the point in the draft when your competitors will take players like Mark DeRosa and Joe Saunders.
Iannetta doesn't have the following yet, but he has the numbers, his .895 OPS last year ranking behind only McCann among catchers with 300 at-bats. And he achieved it with an exceptionally high walk rate for a backstop, reaching base nearly 40 percent of the time even though he hit only .264.
Of course, the main reason he doesn't get the credit he deserves is because he had only 333 at-bats last year, and a player obviously can't do much for your Fantasy team if he sits out one-third of his team's games. Most likely, the Rockies, coming off a trip to the World Series, felt compelled to start the man who got them there, Yorvit Torrealba, a little more than they should have, mostly for the comfort of their pitching staff. Now starting over as a bottom-of-the-division ball club (close enough, anyway), they have no reason to keep him out of the lineup.
So get him in yours, and get him a full seven rounds later than someone else gets Soto.
Mike Aviles, SS/2B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 17)
Entering the offseason, Aviles looked every bit like a bust candidate for the upcoming season.
But that's the funny thing about value -- it changes with perception. And apparently nobody perceived Aviles' numbers last season -- his .325 batting average and 10 home runs in 419 at-bats -- as anything close to realistic.
Is that fair? Six months ago, when I expected people to draft him as his numbers suggested, meaning in the Michael Young and J.J. Hardy range, I would have answered with a resounding "yes." Why take a chance on a possible fluke when you could have a proven commodity with comparable production? But for as late as Aviles goes off the board, I think we have to step back and reassess his numbers. Instead of writing them off as a fluke, as the byproduct of a partial season, we have to consider the not-so-radical possibility that they are for real.
How can I have such optimism? How can I honestly believe in a player who managed to disappear in the Royals farm system, with all the shortcomings of the major-league team, until age 27?
It's simply a matter of consistency, of the fact Aviles never showed any signs of slowing down during his entire stay in the majors. Typically, when a player has a fluky season, you can point to its cause simply by looking at his month-by-month breakdown. He might have had a ridiculous first month, for instance, but then slowed to a reasonable pace in the months that followed, skewing his final numbers. But from the time he arrived in May until the end of the season in September, Aviles hit over .300 every single month. In fact, he hit over .330 each of the first three.
If his 2008 season was really a masquerade, he kept it going for a long, long time.
Aviles doesn't have plate discipline, room to improve or any of the other qualities I typically like in a hitter, but he does have ridiculous value beyond the 15th round, when you have a decent chance of releasing any player you draft anyway. Why not take a chance on him then? If he busts, he busts. You'll live. But if you don't draft him and he doesn't bust, you'll have to do some serious soul searching in the months that follow.
Kevin Slowey, SP, Twins (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 18)
|Kevin Slowey isn't spectacular, but he certainly won't kill you in Fantasy either. (US Presswire)|
Well, put aside your prejudices and concentrate on the numbers, because in addition to his plight as one of the most unfortunately named players in the majors, Slowey has exceptional control -- the kind that allows me to sit here today and guarantee he'll finish the season with a WHIP on the right side of 1.20.
He walked only 24 batters in 160 1/3 innings last year. The only other pitchers who came close to that ratio with at least 150 innings pitched -- Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina -- have Hall-of-Fame credentials.
So what's the hang-up, then? Strikeouts? Since he doesn't throw as hard (88-92 mph) as most Fantasy-relevant hurlers, you don't think he gets as many? Think again.
He averaged 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season, ranking ahead of Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright and Matt Garza, among others. He won't ever strike out 200 batters in a season, but he certainly won't sink you in the category either. Meanwhile, he'll repair much of the damage done to your WHIP by some of those hard throwers, especially since his control should allow him to pitch deeper and deeper into games as he solidifies his role in the rotation.
You know that James Shields guy in Tampa Bay, the one you trust for 200-plus quality innings, a top-10 WHIP and an occasional boost in strikeouts? Slowey can and likely will do the same thing. He'll just do it 10 rounds later.
Gil Meche, SP, Royals (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 16)
At age 30, Meche doesn't have much room to improve.
But just by standing still, he might end up one of your league's biggest bargains as one of the last starting pitchers off the board on Draft Day.
His accomplishments last year went largely undetected, disguised by a brutal April in which he went 1-4 with a 7.81 ERA. But beginning on June 10 and continuing over his final 21 starts, he went 11-3 with a 3.09 ERA.
Considering he also recorded 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings, ranking between Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels, he had arguably the most underrated, underappreciated numbers of any pitcher in baseball. He even won 14 games, which wouldn't exactly earn him Cy Young consideration but also doesn't justify the argument to "avoid" him since he pitches for "the lowly Royals."
If he pitched for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Mets or the Dodgers, he'd never last beyond the eighth round. But since he pitches for that anonymous Kansas City team and carries the reputation of a failed Mariners prospect who signed an undeserved $55 million contract before the 2007 season, he goes unloved, unwanted and unappreciated.
And undervalued and underrated, of course.
Denard Span, OF, Twins (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 24)
If you don't know about Span from last year, you either play in an NL-only league or you turned your attention to Fantasy Football in July.
Because make no mistake, he made noise. In the middle of last summer, he took over as the Twins leadoff hitter and never looked back, hitting .297 from that point with a .389 on-base percentage, a .449 slugging percentage, six home runs and 15 stolen bases.
And all in only 316 at-bats.
No, he won't hit 15-20 home runs. He might not even hit 12. But he will hit some, and he'll hit all the doubles and triples you could want in between -- contributions that still have value in Head-to-Head leagues. He'll also get on base, rarely strike out and, if last year's pattern holds, steal somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 bases.
Of course, "if last year's pattern holds" is admittedly an important stipulation, but the former first-round pick showed the same kind of potential in Triple-A earlier in the season, earning him the call to the majors in the first place. In fact, down there, he hit .340.
So in Span, we're looking at a potential .300 hitter with the power to hit 10 homers, the speed to steal 30 bases and the plate discipline ideal for a leadoff hitter. Sounds a bit like Shane Victorino, who sometimes goes off the board as early as Round 5 -- and for good reason.
So why do people avoid him? Well, he does technically have to compete for a job this spring. The Twins also have Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez -- four players for three spots. But with the impact Span made down the stretch last season, with coaches and players often referring to him as their most valuable player, you have to think he'll keep his job.
He is their leadoff hitter. Not only does he get on base, but he gets himself into scoring position either by hitting a gapper or stealing second base. Teams rarely find players with a skill set so perfect for that role, so when they actually have one, they don't squander it.
Between the four players competing to start in the Twins outfield, Span's job appears the safest. And even if I end up wrong about that, what have a lost? A 24th-round pick?
Yeah, I'll regret that day I didn't take Akinori Iwamura instead.
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 26)
Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong.
He won't pull a hamstring circling the bases.
Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong.
His name won't come across the police blotter.
Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong.
He won't come out of the gate hitting .167, forcing me to cut him exactly two weeks before he breaks out for somebody else.
No, none of that will happen. Nothing will go wrong for Dukes this year. You have to hope so, anyway, if you draft him.
But Dukes' talent deserves far more credit than any of those people want to give it.
He hit .283 with nine home runs and five stolen bases over his final 120 at-bats last year, turning the corner despite another injury-plagued year. He still strikes out too much, but he makes up for any shortcomings in batting average with an insane number of walks, enough to make him a candidate for 100 if he could ever stay healthy.
He has league-leading OPS potential, making him another Milton Bradley in the sense that he'll give you both hitting and headaches. But at age 24, he still has time to shake that reputation as an injury-prone, off-the-field distraction, and unlike Bradley, he might just steal 20-25 bases.
Risk or no risk, how could you not use your last-round pick on a player with a ceiling so high?
Here's a quick look at a few other players currently undervalued on Draft Day:
Matt Garza, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 13): Thought Garza might become the latest postseason hero to surge to Fantasy prominence? Maybe if the Rays had won the World Series. Turns out his exploits in the ALCS didn't do much for him and, in fact, left him a virtual unknown still. But few pitchers improved more over the course of last season than Garza, who overcame the control problems he had with the Twins. As hard as he throws, his strikeouts will surely rise, and because he pitches for a contender, so will his wins. Yet he gets drafted after the inconsistent Matt Cain, the unfulfilled Jered Weaver, the broken down Erik Bedard and the often wild Ubaldo Jimenez. For a pitcher with ace potential who has virtually no downside, you can't ask for a better bargain.
Gavin Floyd, SP, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 12): Entering the offseason, Floyd looked like the kind of player Fantasy owners would overrate. He was coming off a 17-win season in which he didn't record even 150 strikeouts, making him prone to a statistical backslide if his luck took a turn for the worse. But when drafting started and Fantasy owners had to make up their minds on Floyd, they scoffed. A 17-win season hasn't gotten so little love since Kent Bottenfield's conspicuously improbable 18-win 1999. People, Floyd was a top prospect -- the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft, in fact -- so what happened last year happened as a result of natural progression. Now that Floyd has found his footing in the majors, he should only get better, even if he falls short of 17 wins. He could stand to strike out a few more batters and walk a few less, but neither strikes me as a glaring weakness. I'll take him as my fourth or fifth pitcher and do it with a smile.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 17): Over the years, Cruz inherited the "bust" moniker with failure after repeated failure. But to become a bust, a player has to have talent in the first place, and Cruz finally made sense of his as a 28-year old last year, hitting .342 with 37 home runs in 383 at-bats at Triple-A Oklahoma. Those numbers sound too good to be true, obviously, but for a player batting in the heart of a loaded Rangers lineup, 30 homers and 100 RBI don't, especially since Cruz carried over his performance to the majors late in the season, hitting .330 with seven home runs in 115 at-bats. With the ballpark, the supporting cast and the emergence of talent, the man simply has too much working in his favor not to perform. He'll likely outproduce guys like Xavier Nady, David DeJesus and Nick Swisher even if he gets drafted behind them.
Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 19) The guy went 20-20 last year, but people treat him more like Cory Sullivan than Corey Hart on Draft Day. And now, after that breakthrough season, he has the assurances of a full-time job for the first time in his career. You'd think people who play Fantasy would dance in the streets, thrilled over the latest discovery of a legitimate mixed-league talent. But they don't care. They just yawn, shrug and take Hideki Matsui, J.D. Drew and Carlos Gomez instead. Not me. Not ever.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 18) If you've read anything about Choo on CBSSports.com over the last few months, you've probably heard the comparisons already. Last year, Choo had a better OPS (.946) than David Wright, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard and just about anybody else you might draft in the first round. Granted, he achieved that mark in only 317 at-bats, but what does that even mean? He did it in 317 at-bats, meaning not 100 or 150. You can't give it quite as much credit as a full season, but you have to at least pay attention to it. He probably can't repeat the mark, but the Indians like him in the middle of the batting order, which should almost guarantee 100 RBI and 100 runs scored considering how often he gets on base. Anything else he gives you is gravy.
Billy Butler, 1B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 25, H2H: Rd. 19) Butler hasn't shown much power in the majors yet, which is the only reason a 22-year-old former first-round pick can fall so far on Draft Day. He has power. If you can't tell by his big frame, then just look at his minor-league numbers. He compiled a .977 OPS in 1,532 career at-bats, which would rank among the league leaders in the majors last year, not to mention ahead of Shin Soo-Choo ... and David Wright, Hanley Ramirez, etc. Besides, for all Butler hasn't done in the majors, he has done something even more impressive. Last year, he struck out only 57 times in 443 at-bats, a rate not far behind Albert Pujols'. He has already mastered perhaps the hardest part of hitting in the majors: making consistent contact. Now, all he needs to do is grow into his body. Why not take a flier on him with your last pick, behind guys you know won't give you anything special like Casey Kotchman, Casey Blake and Mike Jacobs?
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