I decided to make this into a three part series with the final countdown of 10-1 coming out as it’s own piece along with the visual breakdown of the list.
Here are outfielders 50 through 11:
50. Mark DeRosa, 34, Cleveland Indians – A trade to Cleveland virtually guarantees he will get another 500 at-bat season, though after last year’s performance I don’t think that was in doubt in Chicago, either. At his advanced age, you would love a repeat of 2008, but it’s unrealistic to expect it. Like Carlos Guillen back at #61, DeRosa has multiple position eligibility and his owners will almost assuredly find him more valuable at second or third base as opposed to the outfield. He grabbed 87 RBIs from predominantly the sixth and seventh spots in that Cubs lineup last year. Even occupying the same spot in the Indians’ lineup should bring similar opportunities to drive in runners. The Indians were on fire in the second half of last year and that was without anything from Travis Hafner & Victor Martinez. I wouldn’t bet on another 20 home run season this year, but repeats in the remaining categories plus 15 home runs should thrill fantasy owners.
49. Denard Span, 25, Minnesota Twins – Span had his best start in the high minors that helped earn him a chance with the big club. It helped that Michael Cuddyer was banged up and Carlos Gomez was playing horribly, too. He displayed some excellent plate discipline in his 347 at-bat stint, but that was a new skill so it could regress this season. He has 30 steal-100 run potential, but I’m not buying into double-digit power just yet. There is plenty to love here and the fact that he is downright brilliant with the glove bodes well for his chances to remain on the field even if Cuddyer is healthy.
48. Raul Ibanez, 36, Philadelphia Phillies – How consistently strong is this guy? He continues to get older (as we all do, of course) and it seems each year, fantasy owners expect the bottom to fall out and it continues to remain intact and firm. Now he moves to a contender in a friendlier ballpark so surely he will get some respect coming into 2009, right? Citizen’s Bank ballpark wasn’t has homer-happy in 2008 as in previous year coming down to a neutral 100 rating, but it’s still better than Safeco in Seattle. The downside is that Ibanez won’t be hitting 3rd or 4th as he was in Seattle. He will likely be the 5th or maybe even the 6th hitter for that lineup meaning the RBI chances will drop significantly and likely cost him his streak of 100-RBI seasons. Temper the expectations of a power boost, but he should add 3-5 to last year’s 23 with 90 runs scored and 80 RBIs in the easier league.
47. Shin-Soo Choo, 26, Cleveland Indians – He was a key cog in that second half explosion of the Indians’ lineup last year (.1038 OPS in 210 at-bats after break). It was his second big league stint and another glowing success. He has a decent eye, legit power and capable speed. Over the course of a full season, he’s got strong double-double potential. The skills displayed in both the 2006 and 2008 stints were also prevalent throughout his minor league career so there is little to be skeptical about in terms of betting on a big season. At each level (rookie through AAA), he had at least 204 at-bats and never hit lower than .288, never had lower than a .363 on-base percentage (same as the .288 season) and never dipped below an .817 OPS (in AAA over 1054 at-bats). The only potential hitch is the 9-for-16 (56%) stolen base rate in the majors. Choo has minor league stolen base totals of 14, 37, 18, 40, 20 and 26 from 2001-2007.
46. Justin Upton, 21, Arizona Diamondbacks – It was an inconsistent season for the heralded youngster as he opened up white hot (five HR, .963 OPS in April) only to cool considerably (four HR, .177 AVG in May/June) and then suffer an injury that relegated him to just nine games across July and August. On the bright side, he finished strong with a .919 OPS in September that included four home runs as well. Strikeouts were a huge problem, but he also displayed a very strong eye even when he was at his lowest point of the season (35 walks in 50 games spanning May/June). As a whole, the 2008 season wasn’t too bad for Upton when you consider his quick ascent to the majors and the highly useful skills he displayed prominently (power and batting eye). The lacking component that may’ve been falsely attributed to Upton in the first place was the speed. He managed just one stolen base while being caught four times. The 15 and 19 stolen bases during his two minor league season of 2006 & 2007 likely earned him the perceived ability but he was stealing at rates of 68% and 63%, respectively. This guy is a bona fide, but it remains to be seen if he is the power-speed combo that his brother, B.J. Upton, is for Tampa Bay. Buy into a couple more steps forward in 2009.
45. Elijah Dukes, 24, Washington Nationals – Likely known more for his off-the-field indiscretions than his on-field exploits at this point, Dukes quietly knocked the ball around solidly last year in limited playing time. He faltered out of the gate after missing all of April with a .520 OPS in 48 May at-bats. From there he hit nearly .290 with a better than .400 on-base percentage and 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 226 at-bats. Sample size caveats apply, but his skills aren’t entirely unknown after a .280/.363/.448 line in 1555 minor league at-bats. The biggest concern expressed coming out of his solid offering is the groundball rate at 47%. Projections of 25-30 home runs over the course of 600 at-bats seem unrealistic with the ball on the ground that often. He is plenty of capable of adjustments that would yield a big home run total, but betting on it is risky. His 13 steals in 17 attempts (77%) are nice, but I don’t see base stealing as a part of his game that he’s interested in showing off. That is to say, I don’t expect proportionate increases just because he might play an entire season. He had a 73% success rate in the minors, but that was buoyed by 47-for-59 showing in 160 games in A-ball back in 2003-2004. He didn’t top 68% at any other level. Putting it all together, Dukes is a very good hitter in a lineup that I think is progressing meaning he should be able to post significant gains in runs scored and runs driven in if he makes it the entire season. Mark him down for a 24 HR-15 SB offering and hope for the adjustments and focus that could yield a 30-20 season.
44. Xavier Nady, 30, New York Yankees – The X Man has perennially fared better in the first half of seasons with a career .812 OPS before the break compared to a .765 OPS afterwards. Last year upheld the trend, but his first half was so strong (.901 OPS) that the dip only took him to .825. For the trouble, he rewarded owners with more robust power knocking 13 home runs in 250 at-bats after hitting 12 in 305 prior to the break. The question now is where will Nady find playing time in 2009? The signing of Mark Teixeira by the Yankees moves Nick Swisher back into the outfield where a logjam exists at the corners. Perhaps a deal is imminent to clear it up, but even in the jumbled mess I think Nady’s skills will win out for his second ever 500+ at-bat season. From that, a carbon copy of 2008’s cumulative stats with an average near his career mark of .280 is what you can expect.
43. J.D. Drew, 33, Boston Red Sox – It’s the same old song & dance with Drew: he just can’t healthy. After nearly reaching 500 at-bats in Los Angeles back in 2006, he has shaved 28 and then 98 at-bats off of the previous year’s total. He was absolutely destroying the ball in the first half last year when injuries (predictably) befell him. This is a 25-100 talent, even at 33, if he could suit up for 145 games. Betting that this or the next or the next will be that dream season is foolish at best. The wear of getting older will begin causing problems here sooner than later as well and when it’s all said and done; Drew is 400 at-bat player with incredible ability. The best bet is to hope you’re in a league that has soured on him so severely that his price tag offer value instead of great risk. Anything over $15 represents the latter while the $11 I was fortunate to pay in one league was a no-brainer; he earns that in 300 at-bats.
42. Pat Burrell, 32, Free Agent – If you want .250-30-90, Burrell is your guy. He has posted three straight $18 dollar seasons with little change from one to the next. As a rotisserie player, there are few more bankable mid-level options than Burrell. Head-to-head leaguers seeking the week-to-week consistency ought to search elsewhere, however. The only thing consistent about Burrell is his in-season streakiness. I can only imagine how many times a fantasy owner has dealt a struggling Burrell only to watch him catch fire that very same week and reel off a .300/.400/.500 month. His destination is yet to be determined, but once the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez, it was clear that they were done with Burrell. I can’t envision a move that would severely damage his value, but the right situation could definitely boost it. Perceived as hitter-friendly, Citizen’s Bank played neutral for home runs in 2008 so don’t be worried that a new home park will eat up his power. In fact, he hit 21 of his 33 home runs on the road in an almost even amount of at-bats. Having a batting average anchor is always worrisome, but generally overrated amongst fantasy gamers unless paired with multiple others.
41. Delmon Young, 23, Minnesota Twins – Pegged for a huge 2008 breakout in some circles, Young displayed a flat line from his 2007 rookie season. In terms of value for fantasy baseball, he offered $18 in both 2007 and 2008. There are a few decent improvements within last year’s skillset: fewer strikeouts/more walks, more steals & runs scored in 70 fewer at-bats and another strong season for batting average (.290 in 575 at-bats) giving him a career-mark of .292. The power dipped thanks to a huge groundball rate for Young. If he remains as severe a groundball hitter in 2009 then another $18-20 season is on tap. A power spike could yield an 85-20-75-15 season with a .280 average. As a #1 overall pick, he has huge expectations that some feel he isn’t meeting, but he’s been really good in his 1346 major league at-bats and he is still just 23.
40. Rick Ankiel, 29, St. Louis Cardinals – You are probably numb to it by now, but sit back and think about the depths that Ankiel has come back from to be a massively productive outfielder for the Cards. The power here is legit after banging out 25 home runs in his first full season. You want to be careful about getting caught up in his age because of the gaps in his career due to everything that has happened. That said, just because it will be his second full season as an outfielder, it doesn’t mean he gets treated like a blossoming 23 year old. The reaction to his being 29 should be that he is in the midst of the power prime and improvements in his game plus a full season of health could easily take him to and past the 30 home run mark in 2009. Think of him as a potential Pat Burrell-plus: same counting stats with 15-20 batting average points.
39. Ryan Ludwick, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – Did the Cards strike it rich with breakouts last year or what? The batting average was a huge surprise, but opportunity seemed to be all he lacked to put that power on display in the majors. He has a .500 slugging percentage in 2780 minor league at-bats on his resume that has to count for something. I’m buying 35-100 here, but if the price starts to creep up into a territory that seems to include an average over .280, I have to drop out because I’m not sold on him sustaining that into 2009. He was mashing line drives at a torrid clip last year that is sure to regress and bring that average down into the .270s. If Rick Ankiel is a Pat Burrell-plus, then Ryan Ludwick is a Rick Ankiel-plus; the base is a run producing power hitter with slight additions from one model to the next. By season’s end, the values of the three aren’t likely to differ markedly, either. Heck, perhaps the Cardinals make a run at Burrell and then the three can begin benefitting from one another.
38. Adam Dunn, 29, Free Agent – Are you catching the general theme of these last few players? If you’re looking for a set of numbers you can legitimately put in the bank and just forget about until October, Dunn & his 40 home runs fulfill that desire. He has exactly 40 in each of the past four seasons and a fifth 40+ home run tally from 2004 when he hit 46. Four of the five seasons have seen him meet or exceed the 100-RBI barrier while the lone anomaly was a 92-RBI campaign in 2006. As I have alluded to earlier in these rankings, Dunn’s issue is batting average. He posted a career best in that 2004 season when he hit .266. In the remaining four seasons of the run, he has topped .247 once (.264 in 2007). I have also mentioned that this problem isn’t likely to destroy your team unless there are a few others carrying the same kind of dead weight for 400+ at-bats. If two teams are going after Dunn or Burrell, the losing team ought to just turn around and sign the remaining player. The same is true to a greater extent for fantasy baseball owners. The draft/auction pool has several of these big power/low average run producers so don’t get stuck overbidding for one when there are plenty of capable fill-ins still available. You don’t have to roster Ichiro AND Joe Mauer to go after Dunn, but pairing him with Mike Jacobs, Rickie Weeks and Michael Bourn is essentially punting the batting average category. Find the middle ground and enjoy a 40-home run season.
37. Brad Hawpe, 29, Colorado Rockies – Hawpe put together a blazing second half performance to ensure another fine season and remain a quality option valued in the low $20s. Coors Field gets a lot of credit for his success, but the splits weren’t so divergent in 2008. Even still, it is OK to acquire players from favorable ball parks. It is often said with a bite that gives it almost a stigma quality, “Well he plays in Coors.” I don’t care if he uses his home field to his advantage, that won’t become a relevant tidbit until leaves said park (see: Holliday, Matt). Back to Hawpe… for his career he has a .283/.374/.504 line at home in 954 at-bats and .282/.376/.482 line on the road in 959 at-bats. He’s a quality hitter who seems to be settling into a nice 25-85 groove with solid batting average on a yearly basis. Speaking of batting average, he had some nice gains against lefties moving up to .282 (in 124 at-bats) after a .214 showing (in 126 at-bats) last year. These gains didn’t show up in his overall batting average because he gave them back to righties with a .283 performance (in 364 at-bats) after last year’s blistering .315 (in 390 at-bats). The difference between a .285 and .300 average over the course of 500 at-bats is five hits so don’t view the move from .291 to .283 as much more than minor variance.
36. Conor Jackson, 26, Arizona Diamondbacks – A personal favorite of mine, Jackson seemed to be headed for a career year after a huge April that saw him hit five home runs and knock in 24 base runners while hitting .348. He came back to earth in May with a 1-10-.247 offering before getting back on track for June and July and finally sputtering into the finish line with zero home runs in 182 at-bats spanning August and September. The biggest jump in value came with his move to the outfield. As a first baseman, he simply does not have enough power to feel comfortable investing in him unless you’re stacked with outfield power. I think there is a 20-home run hitter here as he enters his prime, but even as a .300 hitter with low-to-mid teens home runs and 80+ runs & RBIs, he’s got plenty of worth. Conversely, if he chooses not to expand his power and focuses solely on piling up base hits, a batting title could be in his future. The bottom line is that he has yet to show the best he has to offer and whichever path he takes will be very profitable for his fantasy owners.
35. Vernon Wells, 30, Toronto Blue Jays – Did you know Wells was 30 years old?? Yeah, me neither. Last year helped eliminate doubt that 2007 was clearly an outlier as opposed to the beginning of the end for Wells. He might have reached another 30-100 season had injuries not robbed him of May and July. One of Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn seems like an ideal fit for this punchless lineup, but it’d have to be Burrell in light of the verbal spat between Jay’s GM JP Ricciardi and Dunn last year. A move like that would only add to Wells’ value, but for now let’s just hope for a full season of the 2006/2008 versions of Wells sans that ‘06 speed. Ask any of your league mates and other friends who play how many double-digit stolen base seasons Wells has and most if not all will say a figure higher than the two he actually owns.
34. Milton Bradley, 31, Free Agent – Another 400 at-bats in Arlington Ballpark would’ve been nice, but the Rangers have a glut of OF/DH options so Bradley is likely to suit up elsewhere in 2009. He has been rumored to the Cubs for a little while now, but nothing is official. At this point, he is a younger version of J.D. Drew will a little bit of speed. It is just impossible to bet on him for a 400 at-bat season given his history being shelved by nagging injuries, thus he gets a ranking much lower than his skills merit. A move back to the National League would seem to go against Bradley as he’d be forced to play the field day in and day out. With Texas, he got 329 at-bats out of the designated hitter’s spot which no doubt contributed to him topping 400 at-bats for the first time since 2004. It’s really hard to say what he would be capable of over the course of a full season since there is virtually no precedent for it. As good as Bradley can be, you are likely still better off letting him go to another team than absorbing the headache yourself. You have to figure after last year’s explosion, it will be hard to score him at a next-to-nothing bargain price.
33. Magglio Ordonez, 35, Detroit Tigers – There isn’t a ton of mystery and as a fantasy baseball player you should love that about a guy. Averting unnecessary risks is one of the keys to being successful. With Ordonez, you have a .300-20-100 guy. After back-to-back seasons approaching nearly 600 at-bats, he had some bumps and bruises that cost him some time, but still managed an excellent 561 at-bat campaign in 2008. Health has been the only thing to keep Ordonez down throughout his career so while the power ceiling has dipped from the 30s of his early career to the 20s of now, you should feel comfortable with this reliable skillset occupying an outfield spot on your team. The Tigers ought to be a more stable unit in 2009 meaning the run producing opportunities should be plentiful start to finish and could result in another huge (think 120+) RBI season for Ordonez.
32. Chris Young, 25, Arizona Diamondbacks – The drop in almost all of the counting stats despite the extra at-bats made Young a disappointment in 2008, but the skills were largely unchanged. He did improve against lefties which helped him boost his batting average up 11 points, but that boost still only got him to .248. He will need to make major adjustments against right-handers to eliminate his AVG woes, but even coming up through the minors he was little more than a .260s hitter so the ceiling is low regardless. What fantasy players were really hoping to see was the 30-30 season he narrowly missed in ’07, but he didn’t come close with 22 & 14. It is hard to see anything in skills displayed to this point that suggest better than a .245-80-25-80-25 line, but that holds a better than $20 value and thoughts of a potential 30-30 season with a respectable .260 average stay fresh in the minds of fantasy owners everywhere and drive his value a few dollars on speculation alone.
31. Lastings Milledge, 24, Washington Nationals – The 2008 season was a solid step forward for Milledge as he posted nearly identical halves resulting in a .268-65-14-61-24 line. He found his stroke a bit more in the latter half resulting in a .299 average and counting stats virtually the same as before the break despite 81 fewer at-bats. A very highly touted prospect coming up, he is a heart of the order power-speed combo who is getting better each day. He will have to improve upon his second half power display to chase the HR total up to 20+ to match the stolen bases. That lineup is starting to gain some stability, including the addition of Josh Willingham, and Milledge will benefit from the gains as much as he will contribute to them. This is a player to roster in 2009.
30. Jayson Werth, 29, Philadelphia Phillies – He became a fantasy beast with a season of 400+ at-bats. He has a brilliant eye with plus power and plus speed. The lefty-righty splits are the lone raincloud above his head, but he had a .360 OBP (despite a .255 AVG) against righties in 263 at-bats last year and he is .251/.347 in 961 career at-bats against righties. So while he certainly doesn’t hit them as well as he does left-handers, he does still manage to get on base at a legitimate enough clip to warrant continued playing time. Thus a 500 at-bat season starts to call up thoughts of 25+ homers & steals from Werth, even at 29. Geoff Jenkins was a bust as Werth’s pseudo platoon partner which should help facilitate that 500 at-bat season for Werth. Even a repeat of the 24 HR/20 SB with more runs scored & driven in thanks to more playing time would be a great result in 2009.
29. Johnny Damon, 35, New York Yankees – Those waiting for the shoe to drop on the aging Damon are missing out on several post-30 quality seasons. He’s registered a $26 value in the three of the past four seasons with the other year still at $20. Top flight speed combined with a perennially potent lineup leave me confident that another $20+ season is on the horizon. There may be a logjam at outfield, designated hitter and first baseman for New York, but Damon certainly won’t draw the short straw in any situation. He has a near worthless arm, but that shouldn’t outright cost him playing time when he produces at such a high level offensively. Let your league mates hesitate because of his age and enjoy the continued excellence that Damon delivers.
28. Hunter Pence, 26, Houston Astros – When the rollercoaster ride finally ended, many passengers weren’t as sick as they suspected they’d be at the start. There are no doubts that Pence failed to meet expectations in average and speed, but extrapolating his 2007 power numbers into a full season (as many did after he blistered the league for 108 games) show he wasn’t much different in those categories despite the up and down season. He will need to be more selective on the basepaths in 2009 (11-for-21) if he wants to continue to get a green light and the batting average should hit an uptick when his groundball and line drive rates head back to where they belong.
27. Jay Bruce, 22, Cincinnati Reds – How refreshing is it to see guys like Bruce and Evan Longoria pay huge dividends at the major league level after being highly doubted minor leaguers. Bruce has his warts, as any 21 year old will, but to put up 21 home runs in your first 413 at-bats is special. His two offseason focuses are no doubt hitting against lefties (.190 in 137 at-bats) and developing some patience at the dish (110 K in 108 games). They won’t be fixed overnight, but Bruce was a .308 hitter with a 2.7 K:BB ratio in 1341 minor league at-bats so he’s likely to improve on his .254/3.3 offerings sooner than later. There is generally a contingent of two or three owners in every league that goes nuts for wunderkinds like Bruce so if the bidding starts heading north of $20 with no end in sight, promptly check out for this season. Keeper league players, hold onto this guy… he’s of the rare breed that is already producing plentiful numbers but still holds gobs of potential.
26. Jermaine Dye, 35, Chicago White Sox – Remember that group of guys I was talking about that is infatuated with young potential? A byproduct of their love is an undervaluing of older talent still getting it done at a high level like Dye and a few others in this particular grouping (Damon, Ordonez). I doubt there is another MVP-caliber season in that bat of Dye’s, but a couple more 30 home run campaigns are on tap. Power producing teammates like Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez and Jim Thome help keep the runs scored & RBI totals in the low 80s to high 90s, too. Only a freak accidental broken leg has interrupted Dye’s sparkling health resume so you can count on him to suit up for 500+ at-bats over the course of the six month season, a bonus in head-to-head leagues especially.
25. Torii Hunter, 33, Los Angeles Angels – Yet another of the aging producers that scare off buyers with an age on the wrong side of 30. I think because you kinda know what you’re going to get out of them and there isn’t much excitement, it drives down their value because everyone wants the flashy 24-year old breakout candidate. Again, avoiding risk is never a bad thing (in fact, I encourage it more often than not) and when you invest in these heavily established track records of quality skills, you’re mitigating your overall risk. Having a who’s who of the best 23-26 year olds looks great, but they all have to meet or exceed the high expectations to win because they’ve likely never performed at their highest level in the majors. Now that doesn’t mean you load a team with nine of your 14 hitting spots checking in at 30+ years old… that’s a risky proposition in its own right. Mixing young and old within the foundation of your team is the right way to go about and 20-20 talent like Hunter is a great piece for that puzzle. Los Angeles’ struggle to put up runs consistently is shown in Hunter’s 78 runs batted in, but the base skills remained firmly intact and that’s what you’re buying here.
24. Jacoby Ellsbury, 25, Boston Red Sox – Ellsbury’s huge callup performance in 2007 set a series of misguided expectations for his first full season last year and it’s just another example of why you can’t place too much stock into 116 at-bats no matter how good or how bad they may be for a player. Ellsbury looks to be a perennial 45-50 stolen bases player, but the mid-teens power will either need to be developed or it doesn’t exist. He lost a lot of plate discipline in the second half (from 10% walk rate to 4%), but with it saw a nice boost in batting average (from .268 to .291). Stolen base totals look unbalanced in favor of the first half thanks to anomalous months of May (18) and August (1). He looks to be a solid 8-9 steals per month player and those two months were blips on the radar. For now, invest in huge speed, big runs scored totals thanks Boston’s lineup and a solid (if unspectacular) batting average. If the power comes, enjoy it; but don’t pay a premium expecting it.
23. Andre Ethier, 27, Los Angeles Dodgers – If you have been playing this game for a little while now, you have probably heard the phrase “pay for skills, not roles” either verbatim or in some derivation thereof. I chanted it in my head as the bidding for Ethier started in my NL-Only league. Sure, he was the odd man out on the Dodgers behind Matt Kemp, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, but there was no way he was the 4th-best outfielder on that team heading into 2008. When the bidding stopped at $13, I felt I had committed some sort of crime. I finished my chant, penciled his name onto the roster page and moved on. Now all of this may sound like a 20/15 hindsight revision of how my auction played out (you’ll have to believe that I’m telling the truth), but the main point is that a skilled player like Ethier will have ample opportunity to get into the lineup over the course of six months and you can’t use latest depth chart from your favorite website the morning of your draft/auction as the end all-be all of playing time decisions. I didn’t plan on Ethier being as good as he was, but I knew that 450 at-bats of his skills were worth $13 dollars. Now firmly entrenched in right field, Ethier has the chance and ability to approach a 30-100 season.
22. Vladimir Guerrero, 33, Los Angeles Angels – I have covered ad nauseum the value of aging studs, so I won’t take that angle again here, but rest assured that Guerrero meets the criteria to a degree. Is it the dwindling at-bat totals yearly since 2006 that prevented 30 home runs in 2007 and 2008 or is it really just a mark he is unlikely to reach again? Trick question as the two options are related. Start betting on a ceiling of 550 at-bats as Guerrero eases into the homestretch of his brilliant career. With the power he is displaying (still very good, by the way), a 25-30 HR total is what can be expected in 500-550 at-bats. Despite their penchant for stealing, the Angels know it’d be foolish to risk getting Guerrero hurt for a few extra stolen bases. As with Hunter, Guerrero suffered in RBIs because the team wasn’t proficient offensively. Now they have lost Mark Teixeira and the re-signing of Juan Rivera suggests that Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez aren’t options to bolster the lineup (at least according to their GM) so it could be a similar story in 2009 without the emergence of a Kendry Morales or Brandon Wood. I am happy investing in a .315 AVG with 25 HR from Guerrero even if the RBI totals linger in the 90s again… that said, I think the Angels will bring in one of those boppers since they could easily slot whomever they picked at DH while Rivera plays left.
21. Carlos Quentin, 26, Chicago White Sox – Clearly plenty of fantasy players forgot that Quentin was once a highly touted prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but even those that knew full well couldn’t have predicted the onset of the breakout this quickly. It was a perfect storm of high quality skills, opportunity and home ballpark that led to Quentin’s excellent 2008 campaign. A self-inflicted wrist injury cut the season short and may have cost him an MVP award in the process. Wrist injuries are always tricky for power hitters so he might not be right back to pushing 40-45 HR even if he plays the entire season. In fact, lingering wrist problems or not, he just might have the same mix of skills and luck to reciprocate 40 HR potential. Even with 30 HR power, it’s tough not to like Quentin’s prospects in the middle of that White Sox lineup. A 100-30-100 would be a welcomed follow-up to a dream season. Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of extrapolating the 36 HRs over 550-600 at-bats, pay for 30 at most.
20. Bobby Abreu, 35, Free Agent– The fourth of five free agents within the top 50 meaning there is still plenty of action to be done in this season’s hot stove league. Without knowing his new home, it is hard to say how much, if at all, Abreu’s value will be dented by leaving the Yankees and that very potent lineup. Last year marked his 10th straight season with 20+ stolen bases, but he was just 22-for-33 so we will have to see if that’s an outlier or an age-related decline. Again too, will his new team be prone to stealing as a team and are they interested in letting him take off 33 times at his age? The sooner he signs somewhere, the sooner his value can be best assessed for the year ahead. For now, I’m content to bet on a double-double with at least 80 runs scored and driven in and a .290+ batting average. That factors in the potential (and likely) move to a weaker lineup as well as some age-induced decline, but it’s still a very valuable season to put on your fantasy roster.
19. Ichiro Suzuki, 35, Seattle Mariners – Ichiro is amazing. He has at least two more .300+/100+ runs/30+ steals seasons in him even at age 35. Imagine if he hadn’t been slowed by a hamstring in the second half of last year, he might’ve reached 55 stolen bases. His skills are incredibly consistent and they’ve resulted in eight straight 200+ hits/100+ runs/30+ steals seasons. He seems to be falling a little bit in some of the early mocks out there, but that could be more because of a deeper pool of options than something against Ichiro. With someone as bankable and skillful as Ichiro, there isn’t a ton to write about because it has been the same old story for so long.
18. Corey Hart, 27, Milwaukee Brewers – Many believed, including yours truly, that a 600 at-bat season would allow Hart to approach or exceed a 30-30 season. Instead, he used those 100+ extra at-bats to score 10 fewer runs, hit four fewer home runs, drive in just 10 extra runs and tie his stolen base total of 23. I can understand his fantasy owners feeling ripped off, but that’s still a very quality line to run out there. He could be an early round sleeper now (a guy that goes a few picks or maybe a round later than he probably should) as he still has the potential for a 30-30 season, or at least 30-25. The point is that it would be foolish to give up on a 27-year old coming off of back-to-back $20+ dollar seasons without any discernible loss of skills or injury-related reason. Hart’s high quality skills are intact by and large and he’s operating with a clean bill of health at the time of this writing. Buy him up!
17. Shane Victorino, 28, Philadelphia Phillies – Victorino starting hitting radars with full force in 2007, but might have slipped off a bit because he had just 47 at-bats over the final two month of the season. He still managed 12 home runs and 37 stolen in 456 at-bats. Like Hart, Victorino got quite a few more at-bats in 2008 and didn’t necessarily deliver how you might have thought. Despite the extra 114 at-bats, he had just two more home runs and one fewer stolen base. He did tack on 24 runs scored and 12 extra knocked in, though. He has pretty well established the power-speed combo that he can be called upon for now: mid-teens pop/mid-thirties speed is a heckuva combo especially when it comes with 100 runs scored. His 50-something RBIs won’t be a game-changer, but at least he is adding to the bottom line.
16. Alex Rios, 28, Toronto Blue Jays – Maybe there was something in the Toronto water that took away the power hitting abilities of the Blue Jays. Rios continues to put up a monster half with an OK one year in and year out, leaving fantasy owners drooling over the prospects of him putting up a full season of him at his best. What he failed to deliver in what was a growing power profile he made up for with a doubling of his usual speed output. He hit the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time in the first half of the season which naturally sapped his power, but a reversal in that trend down to just about a third of time helped him pop 11 second half home runs. Talks of 30-30 potential have been tied to Rios for a few seasons now, but staph infections, home run derby curses and a “who knows what went wrong” 2008 have kept him from maxing out his potential thus far. Even if he settles in as a low-to-mid 20s producer in homers and steals with a .290 average, 90 runs and 90 driven in, he is still one of the more valuable outfielders available.
16. Nate McLouth, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – After a huge showing in just 329 at-bats in 2007, McLouth was all over sleeper & breakout lists for 2008 and he didn’t disappoint. He hit everything in sight in April and didn’t really cool down until June. August was another chilly month, but he ended with a very strong September and has now positioned himself into the conversation of 30-30 potential. He is part of a nice group of late 20-something outfielders that all offer a similar dollar value with put go about it in different ways. For McLouth, the Pirates seem ready to make him a middle-of-the-lineup force, but his power seemed to evaporate during the audition in the 3-hole (just three HR and a .394 SLG in 208 at-bats.) Pay attention to where the Pirates plan to bat him this season as he may not be comfortable anywhere but at the top. However, if the Pirates tell him he’s hitting third, I’m confident he will adjust and put together another fine season of mid-twenties power and speed.
14. Nick Markakis, 25, Baltimore Orioles –Markakis enjoyed some legitimate growth in key skills last year and almost reached the exalted .300/.400/.500 line. He was 13 points shy in slugging percentage. Most fantasy owners will notice the drop in speed (from 18 to 10) and slightly fewer home runs (from 23 to 20) and overlook the sharp gains in plate discipline (38 more walks in 42 fewer at-bats) and equal amount of extra-base hits (69) again, despite 42 fewer at-bats. He didn’t display a ton of speed in the minors, so his stolen base totals will likely be closer to 2008’s total than 2007’s. If he reaches the .300-100-30-100 he’s capable of, nobody will care if he steals “only” 10-12 bags. Focus more on Markakis as a bona fide run producer as opposed to your prototypical power speed combo similar to the likes of Rios, Hart, Curtis Granderson, etc…
13. Curtis Granderson, 28, Detroit Tigers – Speaking of Granderson… it’s tough to be disappointed with his output from 2008, but it’s even tougher when you consider that he missed the first month of the season. Fearful of running out of innings as the team spiraled out of control, Jim Leyland kept Granderson from running at will leaving him with just 12 stolen bases by season’s end. But the 22 home runs in just five months and sharp gains against his kryptonite (.259 vs. lefties after .160 & .218 in two previous seasons) point to another very bright season for one of the game’s best and coolest players. The power displayed in just a five month season now has rumblings of 30-30 circling Granderson. A full season in that lineup makes Granderson a prime contender for the runs scored title in the American League. Make no mistake; this is a still-growing skillset sure to bolster your team’s number across the board. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a diehard Tigers fan and an even bigger Granderson fan so while I value these last six players almost the exact same, Granderson won out in the rankings perhaps due to some bias. Put ‘em in a bag and pull one out and you can’t be disappointed with whomever you get.
12. Manny Ramirez, 36, Free Agent – Maybe Ramirez remaining unsigned is why the other quality free agents in this list can’t get work yet. I have completely tired of the media-driven saga surrounding Ramirez’s free agency and I am eager for it to end regardless of where he goes. If I had to bet, I’d place money on one of the Los Angeles teams as his landing spot. Even if it is with the Dodgers, there is virtually no chance we will see the same sort of unconscious destruction of pitchers that he displayed post-trade last year, but a big year is in store. The key isn’t (and wasn’t in 2006 & 2007) skills, rather health. The idea that he doesn’t give it his all is pure garbage. This is easily one of the best hitters the game has seen and as long as he gets 500 at-bats, a .300-30-100 season is coming. The more at-bats beyond 500, the higher the counting stats go, naturally. The unfounded dislike for Ramirez, especially from delusional Red Sox fans, shouldn’t play any sort of role in constructing your team. I love him most if he lands in LA, the NL is obviously easier, but Jake Peavy is still with the Padres, Brandon Webb and Danny Haren still in Arizona and San Francisco’s staff is very deep. Either western division has its launching pad complete with horrible pitching so the end of it all is that Ramirez is a great player and should be targeted regardless of final destination.
11. Matt Holliday, 29, Oakland A’s – How surprising was this off-season move? The first and most obvious difference is the home ballpark as he moves from one extreme to the other. This predictably set off the calls that Holliday is “nothing” outside of Coors. Apparently, he is still paying for Dante Bichette’s sins. Holliday has posted OPS figures of .892 and .860 outside of Coors the past two seasons, both figures that would have easily led the A’s in 2008. The fact of the matter is, Holliday is a great baseball player and he won’t just forget how to hit now that he doesn’t get to play in Coors Field for 81 games. For the record, Oakland’s Jack Cust hit 20 of his 33 home runs in McAfee Coliseum last year. The panic caused by the move from Coors to McAfee is setting up to make Holliday one of the best values amongst superstars in 2009. It’s almost similar to drop in value for Albert Pujols after all the speculation that he wouldn’t make it through the season because of a balky elbow. Proceed with confidence.
The top 10 and a nice breakdown of this list is next on the docket. I encourage any and all comments on the list. As I have mentioned before, I will be posting updated versions as the hot stove league shakes out and spring training gets underway.