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2014 Draft Prep: Potential one-hit wonders

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Rightfully or not, last year's numbers are the starting point for assessing player value.

Of course, most Fantasy owners know to adjust for injuries and role changes, and most know to account for regression or progression with players of a certain age. But what about those who caught us all by surprise last year, those who became relevant, or even significant, Fantasy contributors seemingly out of nowhere? Should we adjust for them, or are they who the numbers say they are?

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What you want to avoid are the one-hit wonders -- those Esteban Loaiza, Derrick Turnbow and Carlos Ruiz types who have that one year when the stars align to make them more than they really are only to sink back into mediocrity thereafter.

So how can you tell the difference between a legitimate breakout and a one-hit wonder? That's where I come in.

First, let's set some ground rules. You won't find my take on the Paul Goldschmidt, Jean Segura and Domonic Brown types here -- you know, the former prospects who we all expected to take a step forward at some point. You can trust in their pedigrees to keep them going. But those lacking in pedigree, those who we all assumed had already established the full extent of their value, leave reason for doubt.

You also won't find my take on Chris Davis and Daniel Murphy here, not because they don't meet the criteria but because I already addressed them in my "busts" column. Share the love, right?

OK, so maybe "love" isn't the most appropriate term for those two, but for some of these 12, it is. For some, the uncertainty actually works in their favor by making them more affordable on Draft Day.

You know, kind of like Edwin Encarnacion last year.

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

Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 3)

Because a certain contingent of Fantasy owners consider home run and stolen base totals to be the end-all, be-all of player evaluation, we first need to establish just how good Carpenter was last year. In Head-to-Head points leagues, he ranked second among second basemen, ahead of mainstay Dustin Pedroia, and second among third baseman, ahead of mainstays Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria. He wasn't quite as valuable in Rotisserie leagues, where home runs and stolen bases carry more weight, but he still managed to rank third at both positions.

What he lacked in home runs and stolen bases, he made up for with everything else. Batting leadoff for one of the deepest lineups from top to bottom, he reached base nearly 40 percent of the time, resulting in a mind-boggling 126 runs scored. He also distanced himself from the rest of the league with 55 doubles, which -- again, in that deep lineup -- made him a surprisingly good RBI man for a leadoff hitter. He finished with 78, one less than middle-of-the-order hitters Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval.

Players have won MVPs for less than that. Carpenter himself finished fourth in the NL.

Now, even as one of Carpenter's biggest supporters at this time last year, I'll admit I didn't see him performing that well. The law of averages says he won't score 126 runs again, and I'd bet against most any player repeating a .318 batting average. Part of me sees him regressing to the Martin Prado numbers I originally pegged him for, making a sixth- or seventh-round pick more appropriate.

But while he and Prado have their similarities, 2013 wasn't the only time Carpenter distinguished himself. His .828 OPS as a part-timer in 2012 was better than Prado has ever put together over a full season, and he was on pace for 45 doubles that year, more than Prado has ever hit. So basically, Carpenter has already delivered 1 1/2 seasons of better than Prado's best, and he's never delivered anything less. That's enough to convince me he's a superior player.

So while Prado in Round 7 of a Head-to-Head draft or Round 10 of a Rotisserie draft strikes me as better value (and a discount, actually, thanks to Prado's struggles in the first half of 2013) a four-round markup seems appropriate for his younger, safer, better self.

Especially since the Cardinals lineup figures to be just as deep this year.

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

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 6)

I'll admit I never understood the Athletics' fascination with Donaldson. Baseball America never considered him much of a prospect, and his minor-league numbers hardly pointed to greatness. But as unlikely as his breakthrough was, it's one of the easier to explain.

In short, it's another Jose Bautista situation. Bautista's 54-homer 2010, as inconceivable as it seemed at the time, was heavily supported by the 10 home runs he hit over his final 98 at-bats in 2009. Because he didn't homer at that rate earlier in the season, nobody paid it a second thought, writing it off as just a late-season hot streak. But looking back, that's when the breakthrough actually began.

A breakthrough that continues from one season to the next, given how much can change with months of inactivity, carries more weight in my book, which is why I see Donaldson continuing his near-MVP performance of 2013. Over his final 176 at-bats of 2012, after a return trip to the minors to get his swing right, he hit .290 with eight home runs and an .844 OPS.

Credit him with 755 at-bats of MVP-caliber production instead of 579 or 7 1/2 months instead of six, and what seemed like an aberration becomes more like a new baseline.

In terms of Head-to-Head points per game, Donaldson performed about on the level of Adrian Beltre last year, but he's getting drafted on the level of Ryan Zimmerman a good four rounds later. You won't find better bang for your buck at third base on Draft Day.

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

Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 8)

Maybe in the most literal sense, Werth doesn't belong on a one-hit wonders list. He had a couple years in Philadelphia that most anyone would classify as "hits."

But after the way his first two seasons with the Nationals went, those days appeared long over. He slumped to a .232 batting average in 2011, and though he made up for it with a .300 mark in 2012, it came at the expense of his power, resulting in just five home runs in 300 at-bats. With a .256 batting average and .756 OPS during that two-year stretch, he had the look of another lucky duck who cashed in just before the start of his decline.

But then came 2013, when he put together his best numbers yet -- better even than those he delivered in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park during the prime of his career. His .318 batting average was a career high, and his .931 OPS ranked seventh among all hitters.

To hear him tell it, the positioning of his hands made all the difference. He began holding them higher, getting back to what he described as his natural stance, which makes you wonder why he strayed from it in the first place. Could it have been to compensate for the aches and pains that have become all too common for him at age 34, limiting him to fewer than 130 games each of the last two seasons?

An improved stance might help Werth recapture some of what he lost, but it wouldn't make him superhuman, not as his age. I trust he'll be better in 2014 than he was in 2011 and 2012, but with the time he's likely to miss at this advanced stage of his career, he'd have to be superhuman to justify his draft position.

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

Patrick Corbin, SP, Diamondbacks (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 7)

Tyler Skaggs may have been the main reason the Diamondbacks traded Dan Haren to the Angels way back in 2010, but there was Corbin, a throw-in by comparison, leading the staff in 2013.

How he became so good all of a sudden isn't too hard to figure out. His average fastball velocity increased by nearly 2 mph last year, giving him the ninth-hardest fastball of any qualifying left-hander. And he never had trouble finding the strike zone, his 2.3 walks per nine innings ranking 32nd among the 81 starting pitchers who qualified last year.

Maybe if he finished the year with the 2.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP he had on Aug. 20, I would argue it was too good to be true, but his bumpy finish -- most likely the result of him throwing a career high in innings -- brought his numbers up to a sustainable level.

Because he's not a strikeout-per-inning guy, he doesn't profile as a Fantasy ace, but he's not getting drafted as one. An efficient innings-eater with just enough strikeout potential to hold his own in standard mixed leagues, Corbin deserves to go just ahead of the Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto types in the middle rounds.

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

Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 16)

Cuddyer has had years where he mattered in Fantasy, but not where he won, much less competed for, a batting title. Coming into 2013, his career high was only .284.

Nothing fundamentally changed en route to a .331 mark last year. He walked at roughly the same rate. He struck out at roughly the same rate. He hit his usual rate of line drives. So as you might expect, he finished with an outrageously high .382 BABIP that suggests a correction is in store.

Pretty simple, really.

Complicating the matter somewhat is the fact he now plays half his games at Coors Field, where batted balls tend to fare better than everywhere else. But considering Cuddyer hit .268 there in 2012, his first year with the Rockies, its influence, at least in his case, is probably overstated.

At age 35, he's on the downside of his career and has already had trouble holding up over a full season, averaging 123.3 games over the last three. If he's in and out of the lineup, batting .270 along the way, you'll wish you had used your 12th-round pick on Billy Butler or Manny Machado instead.

You know how Josh Willingham let everyone down last year after a career performance at age 33 in 2012? Expect something similar for Cuddyer this year.

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

Coco Crisp, OF, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 17)

Crisp mattered in Fantasy prior to 2013, but he had never hit 20 home runs before. He hadn't even hit 15 since 2005, when players still routinely hit 40 and 50.

Of course, a home run isn't a home run unless it clears the fence, and Crisp's barely did last year. Among the players with at least 18 home runs, his were the shortest at 368.9 feet. No one else's averaged less than 382.5.

In other words, Crisp hit his in just the right spots of just the right parks. Playing half his games at pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum, he won't be so lucky again. Fly balls typically get shorter for players on the wrong side of 30, not longer.

That said, Crisp was long one of the more underrated players in Fantasy prior to his unlikely 2013. In 2012, when he hit a modest 11 home runs, he averaged 3.26 Head-to-Head points per game, or about what Adam Jones averaged in that format last year. And for you Rotisserie owners, he's normally a safe bet for 35-40 steals. Obviously, the home runs cut into that total last year.

Yes, he has an injury history, but while in the lineup, he's a high-end Fantasy contributor. If it takes a misleading 20-20 season for Fantasy owners to draft him appropriately, so be it.

Will he live up to last year's numbers? Not exactly Will he live up to his going rate? Yes

Jason Castro, C, Astros (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 18)

The reason Fantasy owners might mistake Castro for a one-hit wonder is because they misjudged him in the first place.

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Yes, he was selected 10th overall in the 2008 draft, but by a regime that ran the franchise into the ground with its poor decision-making. When he flopped in his first look in the big leagues as a 23-year-old-year in 2010, it was enough for some people to declare him a lost cause, especially since he missed all of the following season with a torn ACL.

But a fundamental rule of prospecting is that players in their early 20s tend to get better. It took a little longer because of the knee injury, but as a 26-year-old just entering his prime last year, sure enough, Castro broke through, performing on a 22-homer pace for the five months he was healthy.

It wasn't a completely isolated event. He looked like he might be coming into his own after returning from a bout with leg soreness late in 2012, hitting .282 with four home runs and an .851 OPS in 78 at-bats. It's not like his approach dramatically changed then. More of his fly balls just began carrying over the fence, which is typical for a player reaching his physical peak.

Judging by his .351 BABIP, Castro will have to cut down on his strikeouts to continue hitting .275, but even at .255, his 20-homer power puts him at least on par with Matt Wieters. He, Wilson Ramos and Yan Gomes are why I choose to wait at catcher in 2014.

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

Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 15)

Took him long enough.

The reason Lowrie even qualifies for this list is because people got tired of waiting for him. It wasn't entirely his fault. For the first five years of his big-league career, he suffered one major affliction after another, from a broken wrist that sapped his strength for two years to a lengthy bout with mononucleosis to a sublexed shoulder that again sapped his strength to a sprained ankle and consequent nerve damage that sidelined him for two months when he finally had a job to himself in Houston.

Nobody knew what he could do over a full season because nobody had seen him play a full season.

That changed last year. Playing half his games in one of the league's more pitcher-friendly venues, he more than held his own, ranking fifth among shortstops in Head-to-Head points leagues and seventh in Rotisserie, as well as seventh among second baseman in Head-to-Head points leagues and 10th in Rotisserie. With consistent playing time, he produced a steady stream of line drives that kept his batting average over .290 virtually all season.

And though the larger home venue prevented him from homering as often as he did with the Astros, he made up for it with 45 doubles, delivering what I like to call Martin Prado-like power ... but at shortstop -- you know, that position so short on talent that two of the 20 worst players in terms of OPS last year, Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons, are two of the more attractive options on Draft Day.

Really, the threat of injury is the only excuse for Lowrie to fall so far, and all of his were such freak occurrences -- usually collision-based -- that you can't assume they'll happen again. You guard against it, of course, but allowing Lowrie to slip to the Norichika Aoki and Nick Swisher range is a complete overreaction.

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

Marlon Byrd, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 25)

Byrd's power surge in 2013 was perhaps even more unlikely than Crisp's. Apart from an aberrational 2009 in Texas, when he hit 20 home runs, his previous career-high was only 12.

This time around, though, he hit 24, making him just one of 36 players to reach that number. He did it consistently, hitting five or more in four separate months, and he did it in two of the more pitcher-friendly parks, PNC Park and, to a lesser extent, Citi Field. And oh yeah, he did it at age 35.

A power breakthrough at 35? Inconceivable!

So it seemed, until Byrd offered this juicy bit of insight this offseason:

"When I say it out loud, it sounds kind of silly," Byrd told the Philadelphia Inquirer in November. "My whole career, I've been taught to hit the top of the ball. When I started breaking down the swing, I realized when you hit the top of the ball, the ball goes down and it's a ground ball. If you can stay through the middle of the ball, you can get the ball in the air. That's what we worked on to try to drive the ball for more power."

Now, I'll admit, as Byrd does, it seems a little too convenient to be true. But it also jibes with everything we know about him to this point. He was a power hitter to begin his minor-league career, hitting 17 home runs in 515 at-bats in 2000 and 28 in 510 at-bats in 2001, and the coaching tip does seem like the kind any player with speed would have received in the pre-Moneyball era. The change in approach would also explain his elevated fly ball rate last year.

And unlike Crisp, his home runs weren't scraping the fence. Of the 82 players to hit at least 18 last year, Byrd's were the seventh-longest.

Yeah, you could make an equally strong argument for him falling flat on his face, given his age and track record, but for an end-of-the-draft, nothing-to-lose-type pick, you're better off seeing the glass half full.

Especially now that he's in one of the more hitter-friendly parks.

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

Travis Wood, SP, Cubs (Roto: Rd. 29, H2H: Rd. 21)

Presumed to be just a placeholder in a throwaway rotation for a rebuilding club, Wood was one of the biggest finds off the waiver wire at starting pitcher last year. Not only did he throw 200 innings for the first time, but his 3.11 ERA ranked 19th among the 81 qualifying starters, and his 1.15 WHIP ranked 21st.

So why don't Fantasy owners want anything to do with him, drafting him 90th at the position in Head-to-Head points leagues and 98th in Rotisserie? In short, they know better. Advanced statistics make flukes like him pretty easy to spot. Specifically, xFIP, which normalizes external factors like luck, ballpark and defense to approximate what a pitcher's ERA should be, gives him away. His was 4.50.

But while the odds are against him repeating last year's numbers, he's not an open-and-shut case. True, a pitcher who misses so few bats, averaging 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, can't afford 3.0 walks per nine innings, but he's had a WHIP below 1.20 in three of his four big-league seasons. His 4.27 ERA in 2012 had more to do with his 1.4 home runs per nine innings that year. His rate of 0.8 per nine last year was more in line with the rest of his career.

Judging by his low hit rate every year -- one more befitting of a power pitcher like Chris Sale or Homer Bailey -- Wood might be one of those pitchers that xFIP can't accurately measure. Most of the contact he allows is too weak to amount to anything.

That doesn't mean he didn't perform over his head last year, but the widespread skepticism makes him an underrated innings eater in Head-to-Head leagues and WHIP specialist in Rotisserie.

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

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