Having now completed 3 mock auctions, 4 actual auctions, and 3 drafts, I feel like I'm getting a sense of which players are being especially favored by owners this year and which are flying under the radar. Here are my overrated and underrated teams going into 2009.
+ Victor Martinez, Ramon Hernandez, Yadier Molina, Jeff Clement
- Matt Wieters, Geo Soto
It is safe to say the Russell Martin and Brian McCann should be the first backstops off the board and for the most part that seems to be happening. What's surprising is that V-Mart, once considered by far the best option at his position, has fallen considerably in many rankings, behind the likes of Martin, McCann, Joe Mauer, Geovany Soto, and Ryan Doumit after an injury-plagued 2008 campaign. Martinez averaged 21 HR and 97 RBI in the four preceding season and I see no reason why he won't return to form, especially since he'll be seeing more time at 1B and DH after the breakout of Kelly Shoppach. In September Martinez hit .288 with 14 RBI, even after a prolonged absence. Take him with confidence for $8-10 or in the middle rounds. Meanwhile, Geo Soto will cost as much as $15 or a pick in the first five rounds and is unlikely to perform any better than V-Mart. I like Soto, but following up on his Rookie of the Year campaign is going to be difficult. I wouldn't consider him an elite option until he proves he can do it two years in a row.
Matt Wieters is going to be a monster. Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer, but unless you're in a keeper league or you can get him for under $5 or in the late rounds, he's not worth the investment just yet. The Orioles will delay his arrival in order to keep him off the arbitration clock. Remember Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun, both of whom were held off until late May or early June for similar reasons, only got tickets to the show as early as they did because their clubs had made themselves contenders. Unless the Orioles are surprising everybody this spring (not likely), I don't see Wieters getting at-bats before the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Jeff Clement will work his way into the lineup at C, 1B, or DH nearly everyday from the start of the year. He's just 25 and had a 1131 OPS at AAA in 2008.
Ramon Hernandez is a good power option (15 HR in '08) who's moving to the Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati. He's a solid late-round sleeper. Yadier Molina quietly hit above .300 last year. He's also just 25, but already has four seasons as a big-league regular. His offensive production has improved every year. These are the type of guys who come cheap and contribute at a couple of categories, which is much to be thankful for at a thin position.
+ Justin Morneau
- Mark Texeira, Chris Davis
There aren't a lot of steals at this position. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are potentially to two most valuable players on the board and everybody knows it. Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Lance Berkman aren't far behind. If any one of these fellows falls to the third round or goes for less than $25, you've gotten a heck of a deal. The same should be said of Justin Morneau, yet in two separate auctions I got him for $24. That seems strange for a guy who's a perennial MVP candidate. He's only 27 and he already has three years of at least 23 HR and 111 RBI. He may not have the upside of Howard or Fielder, but a season of .300 - 100 - 30 - 125 is a fairly safe bet.
Texeira is also a quality option, but I'm seeing him going early in the first-round and for upwards of $35 in the wake of his signing with New York. Maybe that will prove a reasonable estimation of his value, but you can have Pujols, Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, or Jose Reyes for around the same price. You be the judge.
Maybe I just arrived late on the Chris Davis bandwagon (unusual for me) and I understand that the 2008 numbers are pretty stratospheric (.305 -119-40-130-11 combined at AA/AAA/MLB), but I caution you to remember the likes of Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young. Chris Davis hasn't proven his pitch selection capability quite yet and until he does, I not willing to rank him ahead of Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Carlos Pena, Carlos Delgado, Joey Votto, and James Loney (which is where Davis is getting drafted). Caution is warranted here.
+ Brandon Phillips, Orlando Hudson
- Mark DeRosa
I let others pay $30 for Dustin Pedroia (coming off career year), Chase Utley (coming off injury), and Ian Kinsler (coming off injury in a career year), I'll happily grab Brandon Phillips for around $20. He will put up quality stats in at least four categories and has the five-tool talent outperform the lot of him (see also, Alexei Ramirez, who has now moved to shortstop).
Based on my experience, Orlando Hudson is still going to be on the board in Round 25. You could do much worse with that pick, especially if you can slot him in as your third middle infielder. Between injuries the last two seasons Hudson has hit .300+ with an 800+ OPS, and that was on a team that expected him to bat in the three hole. Now he's likely to slot in between Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. As long as he's in the lineup he'll be a cheap producer in all five categories.
Mark DeRosa is coming off three consecutive seasons of improving production, capped off by a .285-103-21-87-6 year with the Cubs in '08 (kudos, Jim Hendry). Now he's 34 and heading back to the AL, to a team (Cleveland) which has a lot of young talent waiting in the wings. Don't be surprised if DeRosa loses his starting job and ends up as a veteran utility-man who only gets around 400 AB. We'll miss him in Chicago, but I'm quite skeptical.
+ Garrett Atkins, Ryan Zimmerman
- Evan Longoria
Maybe Longoria will equal or improve upon his rookie campaign, as Ryan Braun did last year, but I worry about the high ticket price. He's been going considerably ahead of guys like Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis, both of whom seem like safer options to me. His K/BB ratio (almost 3/1) worries me, especially since in was worst at the end of last year (20/3 in September, 20/5 in October). He still has to prove that he's capable of adjusting to the league and could be prone to some extended slumps which you are not likely to get from Ramirez or Youkilis.
Atkins is the prototype of the underrated player. He consistently lasts until the middle to late rounds, despite averaging .300-93-25-110 the last three seasons. He'll no longer benefit from the presence of Matt Holliday, but he still represents a top-quality choice at a surprisingly think position (especially now that A-Rod is questionable).
Nobody wants to touch Nationals hitters after they were among the worst in baseball last season, with no player exceeding 14 HR or 61 RBI. However, Zimmerman was limited to only 106 games in 2008 and stands to benefit the most from the addition of Adam Dunn, who will likely hit cleanup right behind him. Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Christian Guzman should be capable table-setters and, most importantly, Zimmerman will be only 24 in his fourth big-league season. He seems to be consistently available late in the draft or auction. Few players at that point have this much upside.
+ Rafael Furcal, Troy Tulowitzki
- Derek Jeter
Remember, "intangibles" are not a fantasy category, so the fact the Jeter is going directly behind Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins is probably the most laughable aspect of this years draft. Jeter is still a solid middle-of-the-road shortstop, capable of providing you with .300-90-10-70-10, but similar guys are available late in the draft (i.e. Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta). If you're going to pay a premium price, take a gamble on Furcal, Tulowitzki, Alexei Ramirez, or Stephen Drew, all of whom could be competing with the trio of elite shortstops in years to come. Furcal will probably be the cheapest of the group (because he is the oldest and coming off an injury-plagued season). His combination of speed, plate discipline, and a threatening lineup behind him could allow him to challenge for a batting title and he has shown consistently improving power as his career has progressed. Two years of battling injuries may lead us to forget he is still in his prime.