Here is the second half of my favorites for this year:
10. Kevin Slowey – Without a spot in the rotation his value is going to plummet, but it’s a buying opportunity. Don’t draft solely for April. It’s a 6-month grind and skills almost always win out. Slowey has more talent than Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing, but to start the season both will have rotation spots while Slowey will work out of the bullpen. Slowey will be an afterthought even in AL-Only leagues and I would be more than willing to slot in him as your 8th or 9th pitcher for a few bucks and wait for him to win a spot that he deserves. A 4.6 K/BB rate doesn’t lie. He’s long been one of my favorite pitchers and a poor decision by Minnesota at the beginning of the season isn’t going to change that.
11. Tim Stauffer – The former #4 pick overall took a while (29 y/o in 2011), but it looks like he’s finally paying dividends on that lofty draft status. He plays in the perfect park for pitchers, showed a major uptick in groundballs last year (up to 55%) and has seen his team add strong middle infielders (Jason Bartlett & Orlando Hudson) to field those grounders adding up to a potential breakout season. There is a slight premium on anyone in PETCO for obvious reasons, but Stauffer seems to be firmly entrenched off the radar in most standard drafts. He went for $8 in NL Tout Wars and could easily return twice that when you consider what PETCO did for someone with lesser skills than Stauffer in Jon Garland.
12. Chris Narveson – His near-5.00 ERA from 2010 (4.99 in 168 IP) is sure to scare most away, but he pitched much better than that. He doesn’t have the groundball tilt I usually like out of my pitchers, but with Milwaukee’s horrendous infield defense, that might not be such a bad thing. He has nice base skills, the next step is learning to work with runners on so he can strand a few more guys. Part of that is cutting down the long balls, too. I think he takes a step forward in 2011 and ends up as one of those $1-3 glue guys instrumental in a team’s success.
13. Bud Norris – Like Narveson, his skills were better than his 4.92 ERA indicates, but many will pass based on that figure and the team name on his jersey. I’d caution strongly against that as Norris has the kind of stuff that “out-of-nowhere” seasons are made of starting with his 9.3 K/9 rate being overshadowed by unimportant factors. Are you one of those owners dying for an upside pick? Norris is your guy. The lofty strikeout rate is matched with an average groundball rate and a BABIP and LOB% combo worse than league norms that could be in for positive regression. Even if he doesn’t take that major step forward this year, his sub-$5 price tag is at worst an even investment with all of the strikeouts.
14. Carlos Carrasco – We could have a budding Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) profile on our hands. It was only 45 innings of work last year, so temper the expectations a bit, but he had a 7.7 K/9 with an elite 57% groundball rate and his changeup was the best pitch in his arsenal. This is a 3-time top 54 prospect (2007: 41, 2008: 54, 2009: 52) according to Baseball America so the pedigree is there, too. Like Norris, his jersey will have some shying away or ignoring him completely, but his first full season in the majors could be a big one.
15. Derek Holland – It seems like I have been touting Holland for so long that he should be older than 24. Alas, he doesn’t even have 200 major league innings under his belt yet here I am again espousing the virtues of this man’s abilities. He started to come together in a 57-inning sample last year, but the loss of Cliff Lee opens an opportunity for him to finally prove it over a full season. Although the sample was tiny, it was nice to see him greatly improve on 2009’s ugly 1.7 HR/9 down to 0.9 a season ago. That’s about the limit for him if he is to have that breakthrough season many see as a possibility. He’s one of those popular sleepers so be careful if his value gets too high in your league.
16. Jason Hammel – Similar to several guys on the list whereby he has above average base skills, but is missing one ingredient that keeps him from legitimate success. For Hammel, it’s an ability to work with runners on as he his LOB% actually got further from league average 2010 leaving him with an ERA a half run higher despite improved skills. You could easily be looking at $10+ profit out of Hammel if leaves a few extra men on base and continues or improves his already impressive skill set.
17. Chris Tillman – Remember when Tillman was the 22nd-ranked prospect in all of baseball? It was alllll the way back in 2009. He then proceeded to dominate AAA for 97 innings posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 9.2 K/9 and a 3.8 K/BB. Later that season he was knocked around in 12 starts in his major league debut resulting in an ugly 5.40 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. The skills were nothing like his minor league pedigree at 5.4 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB. It was essentially rinse & repeat for 2010 with 121 strong innings at AAA then 54 ugly ones in the majors. He turns 23 on Tax Day this year. Too often the fantasy community gives up on top prospects if they don’t set the world afire right away a la Ryan Braun or Jered Weaver. This is a post-hype play going for as little as a dollar in some AL-Only leagues who could end up as a tremendous keeper for 2012 and beyond. Worst case is he is still not ready in 2011 and you cut bait with little invested.
18. Ross Detwiler – This is my biggest spec play of the bunch. I just think there could be something here with Detwiler. He has 278 innings of minor league success suggesting he is better than the 106 innings of major league work thus far. He is the left-handed Tillman with less fanfare and a few years older (OK, I guess there are a enough differences to make that a bad comp). Point being he showed enough in the minors to be something of a top prospect and though he hasn’t put it all together at the major league level yet, there is reason to believe he still can and will. Furthering his spec play status is the fact that he’s not going to have a rotation spot on Opening Day, but the four surrounding Jordan Zimmermann are neither bastions of health, nor particularly skilled at pitching so he will get a shot at some point. If he doesn’t win a bullpen spot, just monitor him. But if he does make the team out of camp, he could be a high strikeout $1 reliever as he bides his time for a rotation chance.
So there they are, my favorite 18 for 2011. There is something in here for everyone regardless of what kind of league format you play in. I guess the only thing missing is minor league prospects, but I posted 50 from each league just a few weeks ago, so you know who I like there. I know it’s a big draft/auction week for everybody so I’m trying to get as much material out as possible for your last minute prep. I have a draft tonight, but hopefully I can get another piece up shortly after it finishes.