The list of bust candidates for baseball always ends up being my least favorite column to write during draft prep season.
I'm not a fan of saying this player will suck, or that one's a bum. I'm a believer that if things break the right way for nearly any player -- a full-time job opens up, a coach suggests a tweak in batting stance, a trade gives him a fresh start -- he could have a real shot at a breakout season.
So my criteria for busts are usually a little different. I look at where I have players ranked, and then hold it against ADP and other analyst ranks (mainly by using FantasyPros.com). This results in a list of players who won't necessarily be bad, but will likely finish significantly lower than where they're being drafted.
Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.
Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 11)
I would be thrilled -- and not wholly surprised -- if Abreu hit .270 with 35 home runs and was an All-Star. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he hit .230 with 20 home runs. And with the White Sox having both Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko rostered and able to handle first base/DH duties, there's a somewhat legitimate possibility that a struggling Abreu -- and I mean really struggling, like .160 with three home runs through May 15 -- could be sent to the minors.
Abreu has a ton of talent, but the element of the unknown scares me a little bit. His spring training will probably shift his ADP significantly (and a bad spring may push his ADP down far enough to the point where he's a potential bargain), but there's still not a ton of indication as to what Abreu is going to do at the major league level. He may end up on some of my teams, but only if the perception of him drops to a certain level. As a 10th round pick, there's just too much risk associated with him to pass on other proven commodities.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 1, H2H: Rd. 2)
Braun had what was arguably the worst season of his career in 2013, battling neck and thumb issues before ultimately accepting a 65-game suspension for his involvement with the Biognesis clinic in south Florida. He returns in 2014 with a new position (he has moved from left to right field) and plenty of rust to shake off after playing in just 61 games last year.
We know very little about what Braun was on -- in terms of PEDs -- so any speculation here is a mix of logic and spotty knowledge, but the regimen Alex Rodriguez was allegedly prescribed by the same clinic suggests a highly-specialized and regulated series of pills and substances, including testosterone supplements taken before games that would act as energy-boosters, of sorts. There's a valid argument that being off PEDs may hurt Braun's power -- and that's before we get into his neck and thumb issues as well -- but if Braun was taking these energy boosters before games (again -- no proof here that he was, but it's a valid concern, considering this is all coming from the same clinic), it could mean an overall decline in numbers that will show up when the dust settles on the season.
There's no way of knowing what Braun did or what he was ingesting, but just by piecing together some information we have in hand, it might be wise watch him underperform on someone else's roster.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)
The numbers Hosmer will end up with this season will be good. I'm not suggesting he's going to return to his 2012 levels (.232 average, 14 home runs, 60 RBI).
I'm just worried that too many people have gotten too wrapped up in Hosmer's figurative upside, and miss the fact that first base is a fairly deep position. You'll probably get an average of about .290 from Hosmer (although his 2012 might give pause to some drafters), along with 17 home runs and 15 steals. His career-high OPS is .801, and he cracked 30 doubles for the first time in his career in 2013.
So it's not that he'll be bad, just that expecting him to really surge past these numbers may be a bit much. As of now, Hosmer is Brandon Belt, with more steals; but he's being drafted 122 spots higher.
Rafael Soriano, RP, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)
Soriano has served as a team's closer in three of the last four seasons; he's saved at least 42 games in each of those three campaigns.
But Soriano took a major hit in strikeouts last season, with just 51 over 66 2/3 innings. The 6.9 K/9 was Soriano's worst since his 2002 debut season, when he was still starting games. And his 91.4 average fastball velocity was the lowest of his career. While his overall line might not be a cause for concern (3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 43 saves), the peripherals bubbling beneath the surface hint at some possible trouble ahead.
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 11)
Wieters is going to hit 20-plus homers, but his average has gone down in each of the past three seasons (.262 in 2011, .249 in 2012, .235 in 2013), while he has failed to hit 30 doubles in any of his major league campaigns.
Wieters does get a good amount of at-bats, which should keep him in the mix for position leaders in RBI -- and helps to somewhat boost his relatively low run totals. But if he's going to hit .240 with 25 home runs this season, he's better taken in the later rounds of most single-catcher drafts, and on the lower end of the first catcher list in Roto leagues. The eighth round is too high for these numbers. His BABIP last season (.247) was far below league average, suggesting there is room to grow in batting average, but it might be more like him going up to .250, and not reaching the heights of his early-career (.288 in 2009) and minor league (.300-plus each season) marks.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 2, H2H: Rd. 3)
For years, I used to listen to MLB.com's Cory Schwartz extol the virtues of Encarnacion. It got to be a running joke at Tout Wars, bidding Cory up on Encarnacion, because you knew he'd go the extra dollar.
In 2012, it finally clicked, as Encarnacion hit .280 with 42 home runs, 13 steals, and 110 RBI. Cory got a Yoo-Hoo shower that October as league champion. Last year, Encarnacion nearly replicated those numbers, with a .272 average, 36 home runs, and 104 RBI. But a wrist injury cut his season short. Encarnacion had surgery on the wrist in mid-September, a procedure that cleared up scar tissue and damaged cartilage.
Here's where I think we're missing some concern. Encarnacion is still being drafted early -- his ADP puts him in the second or third round of most formats. But he's coming off that wrist surgery, which could have a negative effect on his power. Granted, the procedure wasn't as serious as Jose Bautista's or Mark Teixeira's, but two months of rehab is no joke (it's not like a Mat Latos-style knee scope, where he's walking around a few days later) and Encarnacion may have some issues early in the season, which could drag down his value.
Encarnacion can still hit 30 home runs, but I'm not sure it's the lock that it would have been without the surgery.
Matt Carpenter, 2B, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 3)
Carpenter is currently the third second baseman being drafted in Head-to-Head formats and the fourth being taken in Rotisserie. His breakout 2013 campaign was punctuated by a league-leading 126 runs and 55 doubles. He also hit .318 with 11 home runs.
Carpenter is actually in the mold of players I like to draft -- he was an underrated darkhorse candidate who finally got a crack at full-time at-bats last year, and his skill was allowed to shine through. I think he can hold the line in average and home runs this year, but doubles and runs scored tend to fluctuate, and it's tough to rely on Carpenter for stats which he may not have a lot of control over. Scoring 100 runs at the top of the St. Louis lineup is doable; 126 will be tough to repeat (especially if Jhonny Peralta turns out to be a shell of his former self at the No. 2 spot). And while Carpenter could be good for 40 doubles, anticipating 50 is a tough task. Ask last year's Alex Gordon owners -- he hit 45 doubles in 2011 and 51 in 2012. With 700 plate appearances in 2013 and nothing seemingly wrong, Gordon only managed 27.
Carpenter will still be a solid Fantasy producer in 2014, but you'll have to make an effort to draft him, and he may not be able to replicate his success from last year.
Ben Zobrist, SS, Rays (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 7)
Zobrist has been a boon for Head-to-Head owners in the past -- he has 40 double potential, and his OBP has gone as high as .405 in the last five seasons. He also has 20/20 within reach every season and offers multi-position eligibility.
But Zobrist is erratic. While he's hit .270 or higher in three of the last five seasons, his career mark is still depressed at .263. His doubles have ranged from 28 to 46, and he has two seasons in the last five with 12 or fewer home runs. He's stolen 10 or more bases in each of the last five seasons (and he's never played in fewer than 151 games), but his totals have ranged from 11 to 24. If Zobrist isn't clicking, he becomes Zack Cozart with more steals. With an ADP of 81, Zobrist is going in the seventh round of most H2H drafts. While this is fine if he's going .290 with 20 homers, 35 doubles, and 15 steals, Zobrist has seen his numbers dip enough over the past five years to have drafters show a little more concern than his top-10 round stats.
There's upside with Zobrist, but also significant risk, which may outweigh his current ADP.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins (Roto: Rd. 3, H2H: Rd. 4)
Mauer, 30, will see more at-bats with the move to first base this season. And there's going to be significantly less wear and tear on his body. So he's set up for a nice boost in counting stats.
Mauer may hit 15 home runs with these 550-plus at-bats (assuming/legitimately hoping he has no ill effects from last season's concussion). He'll probably flirt with 40-plus doubles and is pretty much a lock for a .310-plus average. Five steals may be his ceiling. But his run scored and RBI totals will probably sag, as the Twins didn't do much to improve their lineup in the offseason.
And while they're mired in the village of Small Sample Size, Mauer's splits don't help his case much -- in his career, Mauer has played 55 games at first base. While his numbers there are in line with his overall career rates (.324 average and four home runs over 207 at-bats), his OPS is slightly lower (.831 vs .889) than when he catches. As much as I like Mauer, I'm not taking him in the third or fourth round; and if someone, somehow, forced me to take a catcher there, it would be Buster Posey, who has the same average potential, can hit more doubles and home runs, and should be able to equal Mauer's runs and RBI totals.
It's not that Mauer will put together a bad season, it's just that drafters may be overvaluing the move to first base and the 75-100 at-bats that will come along with it.
Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 12)
Cabrera's Biogenesis suspension seems to bother me more than it does anyone else. I'm not sure where I stand with his batting average -- it fluctuated wildly in the minors, although it eventually evened out to a solid .290; he has a season of .246 and a season of .283 in the majors -- but I get the feeling his speed will take a hit.
Whether it was muscle-building PEDs or the gummy bear energy-boosting type, Cabrera got some help with his performance. And that performance, logically, should suffer from being off the PEDs. We don't have much to go on in terms of busted speedsters who served 50 game suspensions and returned the next season. Melky Cabrera was a disaster in 2013, but he turned out to have problems beyond the PED suspension and topped out at 20 steals previously in his career, so he wasn't exactly a pure speed play. And Mike Cameron, the only other real speed demon who served a suspension for PEDs, was 35 years old when he was caught in 2008. So this is uncharted territory.
Cabrera is the eighth shortstop being drafted, with the hopes that he'll get up to 50 steals and repeat his batting average. But if he falters at the plate, he's not going to have the opportunity to steal bases. And even before the suspension, there were batting average questions. By the end of the season, Asdrubal Cabrera might have more value at shortstop.