Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fantasy baseball draft: Five guys to key on, avoid; A-Rod the fantasy stud of all studs

At no time is it more important to secure that edge in fantasy sports than during the draft phase of a league. Your drafted roster lays the foundation of whatever competitive edge you will have during the season.
I’ve been playing fantasy sports, including baseball, for 25-plus years. One of the first things I do is put together my own personal list of top players to key on early and list of players to avoid who have the potential to be fantasy busts. You want that first pick to be a killer pick, a player likely to be among the leaders in fantasy point production.
My top five stud players to draft are certainly among your typical top-five Web site projections. But the order in which I would draft them is what usually separates me from your typical “expert.”

My top studs to draft in the following order are 1. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees, third base), 2. Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals, first base), 3. Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins, shortstop), 4. Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies, second base), 5. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies, starting pitcher).

Pujols should be the No. 1 pick of any baseball draft according to most fantasy sports Web sites. As an offensive standout he is likely going to put up some good numbers. But will he play a full season? For the second straight year he enters a season coming off surgery to clean out his right elbow. I just don’t believe the typical numbers will be there.
The guy I will key on if I have the top pick in any of my drafts is Rodriguez.
I’m not saying this because I’m a huge Yankees fan. I grew up in Massachusetts and in the early 1980s I was a correspondent for the Associated Press, helping cover every Boston Red Sox home game for then-AP New England Sports Editor Dave O’Hara. Yes, I’m a bit biased toward the Red Sox, although the bottom line is I just love watching sports no matter who is playing.
This is what separates fantasy winners from losers – selecting players by focusing on facts, trends and potential instead of just going with your heart and fan loyalty.

I think Rodriguez is going to have a monster season.
Missing the first month of the 2009 season, Rodriguez had to deal with hip surgery and an admission of sterioid use and still ended up with 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
Despite his age (will turn 34), with a full season ahead of him in the home-run launching pad known as Yankee Stadium II, I see Rodriguez blowing away other fantasy players. I see him getting around 50 homers, 140-plus RBIs, 20-plus steals and a .300 batting average.

I’m a bit hesitant with Pujols because I think injuries could haunt him. I would still keep him in the top five of your draft with the potential for solid numbers - 30 homers and 100 RBIs. But be wise - draft a decent backup at first base to cover yourself.

The fantasy stud at shortstop this season will be Ramirez. He’s coming off a career season with 106 RBIs and the NL batting title with a .342 average. The potential for 30 homers, 100-plus RBIs and .300-plus batting average make him a top-three selection.

Utley always has the potential to hit around 30 homers and post a .300-plus average.

You will likely find San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum ranked higher than Halladay in some projections. But Halladay will be a fantasy stud with the benefit of being on a World Series contender with a great offense to give him early and often run support. And he has the benefit of being in the National League where there is no designated hitter and he’ll be pitching to pitchers. Expect 20-plus wins and less than a .300 ERA.

My top five players to avoid, at least in the early rounds of your draft, are 1. Curtis Granderson (Yankees, outfield), 2. Carlos Beltran (Mets, outfield), 3. Javier Vazquez (Yankees, starting pitcher), 4. A.J. Burnett (Yankees, starting pitcher), 5. Joel Pineiro (Anaheim Angels, starting pitcher).

While Yankees fans are pumped up with the addition of Granderson on their team, it might take a while for him to get used to the New York atmosphere and pressure. Outside of a career-high 30 home runs last season, most of production has been on an incline the last four years. He has trouble with left-handed pitchers and he could put added pressure on himself trying to hit homers with that short fence in right field staring at him. A .260 batting average, 20-25 homers and 70-80 RBIs might be to generous to project for him.

Beltran is going to miss the first month of the season with an injury and will likely struggle trying to get back into rhythm when he returns.

Vasquez had a career-year last season and was a fantasy stud for the Atlanta Braves. But the move to New York could hurt his stat line. Sure, he’ll get the run support, but his ERA will likely rise as will the homers allowed.

When it comes to Burnett, I don’t think it’s wise to risk a high pick on him because you don’t always know what you’re going to get with him – a guy who wins 18 games with Toronto in 2008 or 13 games with the World Series-winning Yankees in 2009.
And he has a history – a history of being wild and a history of being injured. He’s been healthy the last two seasons and could be due for a stint or two on the DL.

There are some mixed emotions for me naming Pineiro a player to avoid. In the 1999/2000 seasons when he played for the now-defunct Minor League New Haven Ravens, I covered some of his games as a backup to the beat reporter at the New Haven Register those years. When my son was 5 years old I took him to a Ravens game and Pineiro made his day by giving him his first pro baseball autograph.
He’s my fifth-ranked player to avoid because he has a tendancy to be inconsistent. He won 15 games last year with the Cardinals, the first time he had double-digit wins since he won 16 with Seattle in 2003.
Last season, there was a stretch of 10 weeks where he averaged about 18-20 fantasy points a week. But there were back-to-back weeks where he would get you 40 fantasy points and the next week get you only 4-8 points.
He should do okay with Anaheim but don’t expect another 15-win season and a low ERA. Wait on this guy for the later rounds when drafting your team.

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