Archive for ‘Keeper Leagues’

Monday: 07.25.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Outfield, Part 2

Part 2 of the Outfield Keeper Building Blocks and the final piece of the series (pitchers are a different story altogether that I will address at some point in the future).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base, Addendum

Outfield Part 1

Curtis Granderson (NYY, 30) – Still checking in as a 6th-7th round pick in most leagues, Granderson was hardly “cheap” this spring, but he has definitely exceeded expectations performing as one of the very best players in all of baseball.  Though he has seen an uptick in his HR/FB rate every year since 2007, this year’s jump was from 15% to 21%, easily the largest in the five year span.  That is the biggest change in his profile along with major improvements against left-handers.

I think he can be a low-to-mid 30s home run hitter on a yearly basis, but I would be really surprised if he continued at his 44 home run pace of 2011 the following season and beyond.  Even as “only” a 30 HR/25 SB guy, he is easily a big time keeper especially as the runs scored and driven in should remain plentiful in the Yankee lineup.

Carlos Quentin (CWS, 28) – Imagine if he could stay healthy.  He certainly wouldn’t be a 16th round pick like he was this year, but with a career-best of 131 games played in his three years a regular Quentin is a risk.  He is on pace for a new career high at 151 this year and he is on pace for a 30-100 season at the same time.  With power in shorter supply these days, a 30 home run guy at his cost is a nice piece to tab as a keeper.

Logan Morrison (FLO, 25) – Interesting season for LoMoMarlins so far this year.  He looked like a contact hitter with a great eye in his 62-game debut last year (.283/.390/.447), but his meager two home run output left his fantasy value low this preseason.  He has traded the batting average (.253 AVG) and walks (.325 OBP) for some more power with 14 home runs in 79 games so far this year.  I was kind of hoping he’d simply add the power instead of giving up something for it.

His 14% walk rate from 2010 has dipped to 9% and it wasn’t just a small sample of patience that may have misled his fantasy managers as he posted rates of 16% and 18% in the minor leagues in 2010 and 2009, respectively.  All in all, with less than a season of games under his belt yet (141), the 23-year old’s profile is definitely one worth buying into as I think he will become someone who can hit around .275, an on-base percentage about 100 points (10%) higher and high-teens to low-20s power production, in other words a strong OF2 or elite OF3 depending on how you build your team in a given season.

Adam Jones (BAL, 25) – His 2010 season was a bit of a regression considering he put up the same numbers he had in 2009 despite playing 30 more games.  Unfortunately his 2009 breakout was cut short and he ended up playing just 119 games, but managed 19 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a .277/.335/.457 line.  In 96 games so far this year, he has just about equaled or bettered all that 2009 breakout campaign with 17 bombs, six stolen bases and a .284/.325/.478 line putting him on pace for 30-99-12.

It feels like he has been around forever since this is his fourth full season, but he is just 25 years old and the best is yet to come with Jones.  Just the latest example of how the growth patterns of young studs are unpredictable and why you shouldn’t expect the world, but also shouldn’t give up on them just because of a down season.  Don’t assume that a few similar years before age 25 is what you can expect throughout their prime, you could very miss out on the breakout you were expecting a few years earlier.

Names of Note:

Jacoby Ellsbury’s value varied wildly league-to-league so if yours was one where he was heavily undervalued, then he obviously becomes a part of this list and a major piece to go after.  Of course, if you’re trading with a contender, you’re really going to need to give him the world & then some as removing Ellsbury from his lineup is a huge dent.  Since he still went as high as the late 2nd round in plenty of leagues, he wasn’t included on the list.

Domonic Brown & Jose Tabata are a pair of guys who will come very cheap if you’re trading with a contender and giving up some big pieces to help their team.  You shouldn’t have to make them the centerpiece of the deal in most situations, but I still like them to make a 2012 impact and they should fit nicely as your last keeper in a mixed league.  Both are power-speed combos who have showed a sharp batting eyes in their limited samples for 2011.

Brett Gardner is a much better real player than all-around player.  He is a great base-stealer, but unless you play in an OBP league, that’s really all he does thus he isn’t someone I would chase in a trade.  Especially since the Yankees continue to misuse him badly.

In just about any other park, Cameron Maybin would make a list like this, but Petco Park makes it really hard to see him much more than 10-12 home runs right now.  He is still just 24 and could reasonably add some more bulk to his 6’3” frame and overcome some of the challenges that Petco presents when hitting for power.  He definitely has some keeper value, but for what we are looking at here which is trading our best non-keeper pieces for the best 2012 keeper pieces, he doesn’t fit.

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Tuesday: 07.19.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Outfield, Part 1

Outfield has a lot of great centerpiece players that would be worth giving up any un-keepable entities you have to in order to land them.  In fact, a number of them are “arm & a leg guys” meaning, of course, that they will cost you an arm and a leg.

You have to give something to get something and as long as you aren’t blowing up your team completely (e.g. trading a few expiring contracts/high-priced un-keepables AND some guys you were planning on keeping), then they are worth it.  Situations will vary depending on league format & keeper rules, but don’t overdo it just to get one guy or you may be worse off than you were before you got him.

Based on talent, age and the likelihood of studs on a cheap contract, outfield is the best position in this Keeper Building Block series to find your truly elite cornerstone.  The first 7 or 8 guys fall into that category and while all won’t be cheap in your league, several should be giving you options.  And it is likely that at least one of them is on a contender and hopefully you the missing puzzle pieces for them to seal a title and be willing to give their star.

There are several more OF building blocks than at any other position, so I broke it up into two pieces.

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base, Addendum

Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – See the third basemen piece for info on Bautista.  He is almost certainly on a cheap contract and it’d take just about any viable piece you to get him, but it might be worth it if you still have a few keepers around him.  His value is much, much higher at third base, but since he qualifies at outfield, I made sure to list him here.

Carlos Gonzalez (COL, 25) – When a season of .287 with 22 HR, 27 SB, 88 RBI & 100 R is your come down season from a career year, you are an elite player.  Plus he is getting better month-over-month so he just might improve those paces.  Either way, he still ranks 26th overall on ESPN’s Player Rater and 8th amongst outfielders.  His 2010 breakout came on the heels of an 89 game debut in Colorado that went well (.284/.353/.525, 13 HR & 16 SB), but still left him with a reasonable average draft position (ADP) of 120.  So he is either on a minor league contract or a regular one that is no doubt affordable.

Andrew McCutchen (PIT, 24) – I am pleased to have this burgeoning star locked up for two more years in my NL-Only league for just $15.  He is a dynamic, five-category (his .279 isn’t elite, but the league-high is .272 and my team average is .262 so he is definitely a positive contributor in that category) stud who appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.  Next year will likely be his first full season in a run production lineup spot (third or fourth) and that should allow to knock in 100+ runs for the first time in his career.  That is if he doesn’t increase his pace of 98 this year and make 2012 his second stab at the century mark.  He is the face of the budding Pirates franchise and he can be the same for your fantasy team.

Mike Stanton (FLO, 21) – This kid is incredible.  He hit 22 home runs in 100 games (hitting one every 16.3 AB) and while the lofty strikeout rate (31%) made it clear that batting average would be a challenge, the power was undeniable.  He has made incremental gains on his power (HR every 15.8 AB and .267 ISO up from .248), his strikeout rate (down to 28%) and walk rate (up from 8.6% to 9.2%, OK so that is essentially the same) putting him on pace for 34 home runs and 96 RBIs… at 21 years old!

If there is one concern, it’s slight and it’s his age combined with the strikeout rate.  His inexperience and lack of contact could lead to prolonged slumps as he continues to grow.  It doesn’t dissuade me from targeting him, but keep it in mind.  In most keeper leagues, he will be on a minor league contract which is no doubt much cheaper than his actual value and with power on the decline league-wide; he should be a premier target.

Jay Bruce (CIN, 24) – He is essentially a look into Stanton’s future on some level, a pure power hitter with batting average liability.  Bruce doesn’t have the strikeout woes that Stanton does, but they profile similarly.  As a 21 and 22 year old Bruce hit 21 and 22 home runs in 413 and 345 at-bats, respectively.  His walk rate has steadied at 10% the last three seasons and while his BABIP-influenced.281 batting average (.334 BABIP) from 2010 hasn’t held (.265 w/.293 BABIP), the .265 he has posted doesn’t hurt too much in this low-offense environment of 2011.  I have him and Stanton pretty close, but I gave Stanton the edge because he likely cheaper and he is three years younger.

Jason Heyward (ATL, 21) – The ideal situation would be finding Heyward on a contender because his 2011 has been a disappointment (have I mentioned that young talents, no matter how good, don’t improve linearly?) due at least in part to injury.  There is a bit of concern around his massive groundball rates (55% and 58% in his two pro seasons) and how that affects his power potential, but the kid is 21 and even when he is underperforming it is easy to see while watching him that he is a special player.

Colby Rasmus (STL, 24) – Generally when a guy needing a “change of scenery” is thrown around, it is an excuse for his struggles when the truth is that he probably just isn’t as talented as originally believed.  However with Rasmus, I think it is one of the few cases where the change is necessary.  Rasmus has a permanent front row seat in manager Tony LaRussa’s dog house and it seems to have finally crept on the field full time and affected his play.  Instead of aiding his first place Cardinals with a season that builds on his strong 2010, Rasmus looks out of place and appears to pressing with increasingly worse numbers month-to-month:

April: .301/.392/.476

May: .253/.370/.407

June: .213/.268/.416

Generally teams don’t discuss trading mid-20s talents like Rasmus alas his name has come up in some preliminary rumors as we near the trade deadline.  I have no doubts that he can flourish out from under LaRussa’s thumb and his modest 2011 output might allow you to get a discount via trade.  Or he could be a primary reason why you’re building for 2012 already.  If it is the latter, sit tight with Rasmus.

Monday: 07.18.2011

Third Base Addendum

The one name I kept hearing about in comments or Twitter after the Third Base Building Blocks piece was Pedro Alvarez.  I didn’t forget him; rather I chose not to include him.  For these pieces, I am talking about dealing off the best parts of a losing team (which can still contain a handful of valuable pieces including some star power) to build toward 2012.  As such, I don’t recommend taking on a risk like Alvarez who has had a busted season thus far (and likely will end that way as he isn’t even performing at AAA).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base

By no means should he be completely written off at 24, but expectations were high (likely too high in a lot of places) after he popped 16 home runs in 95 games last year.  His 31% strikeout rate was a big black eye on his stat line and his home run rate (18% HR/FB) seemed a bit unsustainable, too, considering his groundball lean (46%).  This isn’t 20/20 hindsight either, these things were clear with a quick glance at his profile, but I think the fantasy community (myself included at least to an extent) expected some growth that would counterbalance those issues and make him a viable option at a very weak position.

As I have stressed throughout all of 2011 here the site, growth trends of youngsters are not at all linear and you can’t just expect year-over-year improvements regardless of what the numbers say, especially if the numbers are built from a small sample size like Alvarez’s 95 games.  So that’s why I chose not to include him.  In most league formats, he should be waaaaaaaaay far down on your list of targets if you are trading the best pieces of your current team to acquire parts for next year.  Third base is thin and it would be great to land a foundational piece there alas it is thin because not many of those players exist.

Dynasty teams and deeper NL only teams that have Alvarez on the cheap likely will hold him over for 2012 and I am not against that as he shouldn’t be tossed aside completely just because of an awful 36 game sample during which he hit .208/.283/.304 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 138 plate appearances.

Thursday: 07.7.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Third Base

If you thought things were sparse elsewhere on the infield, wait until you see what third base is offering for potential keeper building blocks.  Before the season started, I saw third base as easily the second-worst position on the diamond behind shortstop.  There has been some nice improvement in the middle tiers of shortstop to the point where you could reasonably make a case that the two have now flip-flopped.

If it weren’t for Jose Bautista qualifying at third base, the position would be in really big trouble.  It is still a troubled wasteland primarily because it started thin and has since been ravaged by injuries.  Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo  Sandoval, Martin Prado, Scott Rolen, David Freese and Placido Polanco have all missed time due to injury this year.  All but Polanco have hit the disabled list, while Polanco is currently day-to-day with back pain that has been troubling him for a month and has no doubt impacted his modest output this year (.274 batting average, a category you draft him to excel in).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

I came up with six potential candidates, though one will take an arm and a leg (literally) to pry away from a leaguemate:

Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – Yes, this of course is the arm & a leg guy.  He is probably no more than $10 in any league depending on how free agents are acquired and how their contracts work and when you couple that incredible price with the fact that he has been arguably the best player in the game (Matt Kemp’s speed might put him #1), you have a helluva price tag.  Unless it requires several of the keepers you were planning on for 2012, it might not be a bad idea to pay the hefty price to get Bautista.  It would take a unique set of circumstances to acquire him from a leaguemate, but given how cheap he should be in keeper leagues, you have to take a shot.

Pablo Sandoval (SF, 24) – The Kung Fu Panda is back after a rough season in 2010 and if it weren’t for his missed time on the disabled list, he probably would have made a serious run at the starting third base gig for the NL All-Star team.  He should still be cheap from any initial contract in your league, but if for some reason he was on the open market this March, he is probably still at a fair keeper price given the reaction to his modest output last year (.268/.323/.409 with 13 HR, 63 RBI).  The most games he can play this year is 121 and yet he is still on pace for 21 home runs, not bad considering he hit 25 in 153 back in 2009.

Adrian Beltre (TEX, 32) – He was coming off of a down season in 2009 which caused his value to be depressed even as he headed into Boston last year.  Thus he could be on a nice contract in your league.  This won’t apply to all leagues, but I had to include him just in case.  He will be a bit older, but he’s got great power at a scarce position.  That’s keeper-worthy.

Martin Prado (ATL, 27) – Nothing against Prado, but when he is our fourth potential keeper at third base, you know it is thin.  He has definite value, but it is tied to his batting average which can suffer in a year due to luck.  I just think we might have the next Placido Polanco on our hands, which isn’t bad, but hardly a great building block.  Remember, Polanco had back-to-back double digit home run seasons at 27 & 28 years old sandwiched by seasons of nine at 26 and 29.

Mike Moustakas (KC, 22) – In a dynasty league, he probably moves up a spot or two on this list, but even when building a keeper list during a lost season, I’m still gunning to win the very next season so I have him down here because there is no certainty he will be all that fantasy relevant in his second season.  We saw ups & downs in his minor league career and I suspect we will see the same as a big leaguer so at 23 next year, we might see more growing pains than fantasy-worthy production.  But like I said, dynasty leaguers who can keep him forever might want to invest in him over a Beltre or Prado.

Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 22) – Even though he will be the same age as Mous next year, I think he will be more fantasy relevant, but his ceiling isn’t as high.  He doesn’t profile to have game-changing power and of course there is still the fact that he cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  He is someone to look at for AL-Only and deep mixed league players.  I don’t think he is someone you want to invest in as a keeper for 10 & 12-team mixed leagues right now.

I don’t think I forgot any deserving candidates, but please feel free to let me know if you think I have made any egregious omissions.

Wednesday: 06.29.2011

Keeper League Building Blocks: Shortstop

For the past couple of years, shortstop has been universally regarded as the thinnest position on the diamond in terms of fantasy baseball talent.  The star power is there at the top, but things thin out quickly only adding to the value of someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez (this year’s performance notwithstanding, of course).

I had Jose Reyes with those two as the clear stars at the position with a huge gap down to the next tier (as did most, though Reyes’ ranking fluctuated a bit with some putting him closer to Jimmy Rollins than whomever was second between Ramirez & Tulow) and if you didn’t get one of those, you might as well just wait because the next tier or two was going to be overvalued just because they played shortstop and you could get better talent at other positions in those rounds and then take a shot on any number of like-valued shortstops.

How do things shape up for the next crop of talent at the position?  That is what we will look at today continuing the Keeper Building Block series.  While second base was a good position in the preseason position with enough depth to go around for the most part, it came up lame with keeper potential.  Shortstop is a bit better as many were worried about how they would fill the position during their drafts and auctions, but now three months in we see some names emerging as cheap pieces worth keeping.

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Elvis Andrus (TEX, 22) – Andrus is a great example of how young players to don’t necessarily develop linearly.  After his strong rookie campaign as a 20-year old, he was a bit overrated as many expected him to simply build on his .267, 6 HR, 33 SB season.  Instead he regressed a bit.  His average dipped a bit to .265 while he hit exactly 0 home runs.  He lost just one stolen base on his total, but his caught stealing total rose from six to 15 showing a significant decline in base running skill.  Overall, his wOBA (think of it on OBP scale & click the link for more) dropped from .322 to .298.

Many fantasy baseball owners saw a .002 batting average drop, two stolen base drop and a loss of six home runs that you weren’t expecting out of this player at a non-power position and combined it with the scarcity of shortstop to actually upgrade Andrus’ stock.  His average draft position essentially cut in half from 151 in 2010 to 71 this year.  Fantasy owners have to happy with the early returns.  He is hitting a career-best .278 with three home runs and 22 stolen bases putting him on pace for six and 44 as we near the halfway point.

His age, position and excellence in a key category make him a prime fantasy asset.  But his age also means we could see another dip in performance in 2012 as he will still just be all of 23 years old.  If 2010 is a floor, though, he is still fantasy viable in most league formats, especially standard ones as he was an easy top 10 shortstop last year.  In a lot of leagues, he still has at least one more year on a cheap contract making him my top shortstop building block.

Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE, 25) – I have discussed (whined) more than once how I am often a year early on guys.  I’ll get amped about a sleeper, secure him on every team I can and watch him deliver underwhelming numbers or worse, flop entirely.  Cabrera is the latest addition to the list as I couldn’t wait to roster him as a late round, low dollar SS/2B last year.  Injuries limited him to just 97 games and left me needing a replacement for 65 games.  Now I won’t pretend I saw this coming from Cabrera last year, this year or any year.  I had him down for 13-16 home runs and 20-24 stolen bases which would have been pretty significant gains on his 2009 totals of six home runs and 17 stolen bases.

He has had an impressive power surge this year without sacrificing any speed putting him on pace for 27 home runs and 25 stolen bases with a shiny .296 batting average, too.  Coming off of an injury-riddled season, he had an average draft position around 200 and cost of just a few bucks making him a prime keeper target for non-contenders looking toward 2012.

I don’t necessarily see him becoming a perennial high-20s home run hitter (of course we have to see him do it once, first), but a high-teens, low-20s home run hitter with 20+ stolen bases and batting average to go with it (career .285 hitter) is an incredible commodity.  He is a bit over his head, but not wildly so and even if he “only” went 15-15, that’d be great at shortstop especially at the low cost you would have invested.

Starlin Castro (CHI, 21) – Like Andrus, Castro is insanely young making him an elite commodity in fantasy baseball, especially in dynasty leagues.  But I will reiterate with him that just because we have seen growth (so far) from season one to season two (.325 to .353 wOBA) doesn’t mean it will happen again in 2012 for this 22-year old (regardless of where he finishes 2011).  He has proven a little less patient this year dropping his walk rate from 6% to 4%, but he has also brought his strikeout rate down in concert from 15% to 11% so he isn’t just blindly hacking away at everything, either.

His batting average might be a bit BABIP-inflated (which sits at .351), but he managed a .346 mark in 506 plate appearances last year so perhaps he is setting his level a bit higher than the average.  Batters don’t regress toward a league average as much as pitchers, instead setting their own over time with speedsters generally trending higher (Ichiro has a career .354 mark).  He has the speed to add to his BABIP and he needs to keep hitting .300+ or else his fantasy value takes a significant hit as the power isn’t there yet and might not be for a year or two (if ever).

Through his first 856 plate appearances, he appears to be a hit collecting machine with good speed which has plenty of value in our game.  He is on pace for 88 runs scored and 74 driven in, both of which are pretty good given how inept the Cubs as a team.  I rated him behind Andrus and Cabrera because so much of his value is tied to the batting average which can bounce around wildly from year-to-year even without a skills change.

Stephen Drew (ARI, 28) – This is one totally league-dependent as he won’t be at a keeper-price in all leagues, but from what I saw this preseason, he was in a lot of leagues.  He doesn’t have a single-digit price necessarily, but I like his skills profile enough that I would keep him at a mid-to-high teens cost, especially if my league was prone to significant inflation.  He doesn’t overwhelm with his numbers.  In fact, in comparison to his skill level, he is somewhat underwhelming in the fantasy categories, but he is bankable and that has a role.  Let his cost in your league be the guide on him.

Ian Desmond (WAS, 24) – Right now, Desmond is a speed-only asset, pacing toward 40 stolen bases, but that is literally it so far this year.  His average is .224 and his wOBA is a woeful .271. He showed some pop in the first 607 at-bats of his career with 14 home runs, but that has evaporated this year with a .089 ISO and a six home run pace in 562 at-bats.  There is some upside here, though, given his age and the fact that he is likely a single-digit cost in every league.  He wouldn’t be my first choice at this position or anything close to a centerpiece for my best trade assets, but he isn’t a horrible option as one of your last keepers.

Dee Gordon (LAD, 23) – Gordon is an unproven speed asset with the chance to be a speed-batting average asset as he develops and gets experience.  His runs scored will depend on the Dodger offense and his spot in the lineup.  Do not bet on any power now or in the future.  He hit seven home runs in 1544 minor league at-bats which is as clear a sign as you need to know the power isn’t coming.  And if for some reason that wasn’t enough, one look at his 5’11/150 lb. frame oughta do the trick.

Alcides Escobar (KC, 24) – Escobar is a more advanced version of Gordon so while I’d take Escobar for the rest of ’11, I’d take Gordon in a keeper scenario.  He is still a speed-only asset right now, but with 1000 plate appearances under his belt, he has more experience and thus is closer to becoming someone who could reasonably offer some batting average upside along with the speed.  Conversely, with 1000 PAs under is belt, the sample is getting large enough to where we might not see much growth on his career .249 aveage.  He is hitting .245 this year after a huge hot streak so that tells you just how poorly he was hitting before the streak.

JJ Hardy (BAL, 28) – Not everyone is going to trust Hardy regardless of how he finishes the year.  After back-to-back 20+ HR seasons, he hasn’t lasted more than 115 games in the last two years totaling just 17 home runs in 754 at-bats.  He is finally completely healthy and performing like the 2007-2008 version that averaged 25 bombs a season.  He is on pace for 26 home runs this year along with a .303 batting average that doesn’t appear to be a pure fluke. Crazy how well guys can perform when they are healthy.  He can’t be more than a few bucks in just about every league and he is still on the right side of 30, so I would take a shot on him in a lot of league formats.  I am generally more risk-averse than not, but I have a soft spot for Hardy (no pun intended), I guess.

Wednesday: 06.22.2011

Second Base Addendum

After I posted the Keeper League Building Blocks for second base a reader mentioned a couple of names to me on Twitter that were to surprise exclusions for the reader: Dustin Ackley & Jemile Weeks.  The freshly called up prospects without 20 games between the two of them (17, 14 of which are Weeks’) weren’t included on purpose.  Anyone who has been reading this site for any amount of time since last year knows I am fan of both, so what gives?

A large portion of it has to do with their scant track records as we haven’t really seen how they will handle the majors leagues.  While I am bullish on both, I would certainly like to see more before recommending them as building blocks for a team.  Building block is the key phrase.  The point of this exercise is to identify the strongest and best players for your 2012 title run.  After all, you are trading your best 2011 pieces to your opponents so you need to get the best return possible.

Additionally, the fantasy profiles of each also contributes to their exclusion from a list that focuses so much on key contributors.  Ackley is supposed to be an on-base percentage monster (alas he’s yet to walk in his four games… so much for that, amirite???), but if you don’t play in an OBP league that hardly helps especially since he can have a great OBP based on walks with a batting average of .275 or below.

Let’s assume he does get on base at or near the 40% clip we’ve seen from him in his minor league career, who is going to drive him in?  They are less awful than last year’s historic futility, but they are still awful.  Beyond that, in the short-term he doesn’t profile to excel in any category whether as a pure hitter (batting average), a power producer (HR, RBI) or as a speedster (though he did get a 65 speed grade from Baseball America in their ’11 Handbook).  I think he can eventually become a .300+ hitter, but I don’t see it happening right away.

I really like Weeks, but like his brother Rickie he needs to show he can stay healthy which is something he has yet to do for a full season as a professional.  Initially he profiles as a speedster who could pile up SBs and use that speed for some extra hits en route to a good enough batting average (.260-.270).  Long-term his peak profile is a Ray Durham, but Durham didn’t start offering meaningful power or top .275 until his fourth year in the league.

The progression of youngsters isn’t linear so as hard as it is to project any player, it is even harder to project where Ackley & Weeks will go in 2012 and ultimately that is why I decided not to recommend them as essential building blocks for teams currently selling off their best players for foundational pieces.  If you have a deal lined up to get a building block, try to get one of these two thrown in, but don’t make them the centerpiece focus of a deal where you are trading your ace or $35 power bat.

Tuesday: 06.21.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Second Base

Second base is a position that has some sneaky depth.  To wit, on ESPN’s player rater the 3rd and 12th ranked second basemen are split by just 0.86 points on the scale.  Conversely, it’s a 3.35 point split at first base at least 2.72 at every other position except for relief pitcher (but that’s not too surprising giving how little variance there is between RPs).

Despite this depth at the position, there aren’t a ton of building blocks at the position as the best are in their late 20s and already high-priced assets and the next cut is also filled with mid-20s guys with solid production, but nothing overwhelming that you would want as a primary keeper.  Let’s take a look at the ones I did come up with, though.

Danny Espinosa (WAS, 24) – He just barely crossed the 100-game plateau for his career so there is a lack of track record, but it’s hard to argue with the across the board production even at the cost of batting average.  He has a career .250 BABIP so far, though, so we could even see some growth there.  I have been saying it since last year, but the Nats are really building something there in Washington and Espinosa will be a key part of the success.

Howard Kendrick (LAA, 27) – See what I mean?  There’s nothing wrong with the actual depth of the position, but it’s thin on burgeoning talent.  Even though he is atop of this list, if you combined the catchers, first basemen and second basemen, he’d be near the bottom.  He is on pace for .308-16 HR-11 SB, but just 52 RBI (thanks to an inept supporting cast) and decent 81 runs scored, again because of his teammates.  His price will vary from league to league, but considering that last year was his first full season and he already blew his shot at a second in a row this year, I doubt he’s too expensive anywhere.

Kelly Johnson (ARI, 29) – I have Johnson and Kendrick neck & neck here (along w/the next guy, to be honest).  Johnson’s .215 batting average is no doubt ugly, but I am more focused on the 27 HR-18 SB-71 RBI-87 R pace and since we are focused on 2012, his batting average this year doesn’t mean much.  He can be a .260ish or better hitter just as he was last year (.284) and in his two other full seasons (.287, .276).  However, like Kendrick, even with an average at his career .264 he isn’t a prime building block.

Ben Zobrist (TB, 30) – Rinse and repeat from the first two guys.  Zobrist has been an inconsistent, yet ultimately productive player the last two years and he is on pace for a season closer to his 2009 breakout when he was one of baseball’s best overall.  While many believe 2008 to be his career year, his current pace is just 6 HR, 9 RBI and 1 SB behind.  His runs are ahead by seven.  The biggest difference is his batting average which by just over 3% (.297 to .265), but the counting stats production across four categories is more important than the average.

Neil Walker (PIT, 25) – A younger option than the last three, but I still have him as the lowest because he doesn’t produce across the board like the others and his power lags a bit, at least right now.  He is doing his best work with runners on which has led to his gaudy RBI total, but we know it is hard to bank on that year-to-year and since that is his biggest category at this point I am reticent to rate too highly.

Monday: 06.20.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: First Base

Continuing my series of the best Keeper Building Blocks for those with an eye toward 2012, let’s take a look at the remarkably deep position of first base.  While it is almost certainly the deepest position on the diamond, at least for hitters, it is heavy with premium talent.  This means we see a lot of early round talent from the position so finding cheap keepers at the position isn’t always a priority, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Part 1: Catchers

Joey Votto (CIN, 27 years old) – Yes, Votto is a premium early round, top dollar talent, but his meteoric rise to stardom means he could still be in the midst of a cheap contract in some leagues. This is the case in two of my leagues and so I thought it might not be a rarity.  Obviously, you’d have to sell the farm to get him, but if you are building for 2012, you shouldn’t be concerned about selling off multiple high dollar, non-keeper pieces to acquire him.  I fully realize that he won’t be on a cheap contract in ALL leagues, but given his unique circumstances, I thought he was worth mentioning.

Adam Lind (TOR, 27) – What the hell was that 2010 all about?  After a .305-35-114 breakout in 2009, Lind cratered like no one could have predicted falling to .235-23-72.  He has bounced back in full force and he is currently on pace for a massive season, even exceeding 2009, at .339-44-130.  Even if he “only” puts up a 2009 line, he is still going to be an appealing keeper because his 2010 failure drove down his price this preseason.

Gaby Sanchez (FLO, 27) – A strong rookie year from Sanchez last year got him some attention, but sub-20 HR first basemen aren’t in high demand and they often end up in the corner infield of a fantasy team.  However writing him off as a sub-20 HR 1B may have been a premature judgment as Sanchez has done some impressive work 70 games into his second season.  He is on pace for a .312-28-100 season which would no doubt boost him into the second tier.  He has improved his walk and strikeout rates while nothing in his batted ball profile suggests the extra power is huge fluke.  As a second year player he is cheap in almost all leagues and worth acquiring for a 2012 title run.

Justin Smoak (SEA, 24) – He underwhelmed in his 100-game debut season last year, but in 63 games this year he already has one more double and one home run fewer than last year despite 123 fewer at-bats.  Even though it is still not great, his .253 batting average is much improved from last year and I think there is growth potential for this youngster.  There may be some prospects you would find more desirable than Smoak because they are the new thing that hasn’t yet struggled in the majors, but remember how highly touted he was coming in and he is now more advanced than the first year guys we are seeing this summer.

Eric Hosmer (KC, 21) – This would be the type of prospect I suspect people have higher than someone like Smoak because fantasy baseball owners love blue chip prospects.  I am a big Hosmer fan too, but let’s be careful with our expectations.  His 600 at-bat pace for his current numbers would be 19 HR and 82 RBI and he’s insanely young so it is reasonable to project some growing pains for him whether this year or at times during 2012.  He is definitely someone worth pursuing as a keeper piece, but don’t expect him to produce at an elite level right away in 2012.  It could happen, but it would be an upset.

Ike Davis (NYM, 24) – I might have had Davis a little higher, but I would like to see him return from injury first.  He was off to an excellent start this year after a nice debut last year, but a 17% HR/FB suggests that his 30+ home run pace (prior to his DL stint) was unlikely to hold and probably would have evened out somewhere in the low-to-mid 20s.  Even still, at his cost he is definitely someone to acquire.

Mitch Moreland (TEX, 25) – An oddity in Moreland’s stat line this year is his meager RBI total (20) compared to what has otherwise been a strong season.  Part of the problem is that 55% of his at-bats have come with the bases empty and during that time he has hit seven of his eight home runs (he had a grand slam wiped out by a rainout earlier this year, too) and another part is that only 22% of his at-bats have come with runners in scoring position and he has sucked in just about all of them with a .196 AVG and .587 OPS.  But RBIs are team-dependent so I focus more on his dual-eligibility at first and the sneaky-thin outfield as well as his 20-25 home run power.  He isn’t a great player, but he’s probably $1 in a lot of leagues which makes him pretty valuable.

Brandon Belt (SF, 23) – This is tentative because we have to see him do something first.  Plus, in some leagues he was in the auction as opposed to the minor league draft and that drove his value up a lot.  For example he is $17 in one of my NL-Only leagues which is way too high of a price to consider him a keeper.

Anthony Rizzo (SD, 21) – Another tentative one as he has just eight games under his belt so far.  He and Belt are pretty close in my eyes so it’s a personal preference thing.  I lean toward Belt because I have seen more of him and believe in his skills, but Rizzo is almost certain to be cheaper in most leagues because he is probably on a rookie level contract (which is usually $5) so make your judgment based on your league.  Like I said, in that league where Belt is $17 I’m not interested, but he’s probably $5 in some leagues and that’s where I would give him the edge over Rizzo.

A lot of young first base has emerged and if you can get some of it for your core you can still supplement it with a big first base bat in next year’s auction or draft.  Power has been drying up a bit the last two years so don’t feel that just because you have one of these guys that you are set at the position.  Look at it as a beginning to your power base.

Thursday: 06.16.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Catcher

The cliché is that hope springs eternal in baseball and that is no doubt especially so in fantasy baseball wherein you get to remake most, if not all, of your team each year.  Keeper leagues allow you to build a core and hopefully keep a winning tradition around for several years.  Of course, we know it doesn’t always work out that way.

Looking at the keeper lists in one of my leagues I saw one team as especially strong heading into auction day with Buster Posey, Jason Heyward and Madison Bumgarner at $5 apiece, Colby Rasmus for $10 and Matt Cain at $21.  This is an NL-Only league so he had a strong hitting base, an ace and second tier arm for $46.  Plus a $1 Omar Infante that offered flexibility and solid if entirely unspectacular production with the bat.

I never declare anyone the winner before auction, after auction, in May, etc… but I definitely pegged this team as a chief competitor.  Well we know how this plays out.  The two foundational hitters flopped with the former out for the year and the latter sidelined and being called out to get his butt back in the game.  How about his big auction buys?  Hanley Ramirez, Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum.  Lincecum was dominant until a recent skid while Ramirez and Jimenez are trying to dig out of massive holes.

It just hasn’t worked out for this team and as such he decided to pack it in and begin selling off pieces to rebuild his core and give it a go again in 2012.  You may be faced with a similar scenario in your league.  You have made the decision to play for the future, but now you are wondering: who do I get for this supposed magical core of greatness?  I am so glad you asked.  Over the next few days I will be going position-by-position outlining the best core talents in the fantasy game*.

(*in my opinion)

This won’t just be a listing of the first rounds of this year’s average draft position.  Albert Pujols is no longer a cheap contract unless your league has weird rules, neither is Hanley.  Same goes for Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, David Wright, Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and you get the point.  Older stars who have been great for several years are now the $30+ guys year in and year out.  So I will be identifying the next wave of $30+ players who are still really cheap* with at least another year of low-dollar cost.

(*in most leagues, I can’t know every league so I will be making some assumptions and if a certain guy doesn’t fit the pricing in your league and he’s already a high dollar guy, just skip over him.)

We will start with catchers.

Carlos Santana (CLE, 25 years old) – He is definitely under-performing against expectations so far this year with a meager .216 batting aaverage, but he is still toting a .347 OBP and is on pace for 17 HRs and 63 RBIs, marks that would have put him 5th and 7th among catchers in 2010, along with 70 runs which would have been the 2nd-highest total for backstops a year ago.  The bar is low for catching so he doesn’t need to dominate on the level of a first baseman or outfielder to be worth a lot, alas I am still confident he has a big stretch in his bat this year.  Remember, he is coming off of a devastating leg injury from last year.

Matt Wieters (BAL, 25) – Funny how Santana is viewed as a disappointment while Wieters is thought to be having a strong showing thus far.  He is on pace for 13 more RBIs than Santana, but two fewer home runs and 14 fewer runs scored.  It is because snap judgments are often made by looking at the batting average first.  Wieters has a 59-point advantage in batting average yet he is 16-points back in on-base percentage so I’m still taking Santana.  Wieters hasn’t fulfilled the potential he was said to have coming up from the minors, but he’s improving.

Buster Posey (SF, 24) – Despite the injury, he is still someone worth building around because he is so talented.  He will have a long time to heal and given that there was initially talks of his return late this year, there is no reason to think he won’t be ready for the start of 2012.

Alex Avila (DET, 24) – He was a sleeper pick in AL-Only leagues and deeper mixed leagues especially for those who just go for lottery tickets at catcher opting to spend their money on more bankable positions and he has exceeded even the greatest expectations.  The power production (on pace for 21 HR) isn’t too surprising to me, but the 89 RBI pace and .304 average are huge bonuses.  I wouldn’t bet on the batting average, but he is likely a dollar in many leagues so he doesn’t need to hit better than .300 to have incredible value.  In some leagues he is probably a waiver pickup and leagues vary with their cost for pickups.  If he’s $10 (or more), I wouldn’t be so eager to acquire him.

Miguel Montero (ARI, 27) – This isn’t exactly a new level of production for Montero as he had a similar season in 128 games back in 2009.  Last year he battled injuries and played just 85 games.  In 60 games this year, he has nearly equaled his production from 2010 falling just a home run, nine RBIs and three runs shy while improving his average by 19 points.

JP Arencibia (TOR, 25) – Arencibia is a quick study.  He has learned, in short order, the Toronto philosophy to grip it ‘n’ rip it so despite a meager .232 average and horrendous .286 on-base percentage, he is on pace for 23 home runs and 80 RBIs.  A similar line from John Buck in Toronto last year made him a top 5 catcher (trading some RBIs for batting average which might push Arencibia down a few ranks, but you get the point).  In a two-catcher league, cheap power is a nice asset.

The list is thin, as you might expect, but that’s because quality offensive catchers are tough to come by so if you can find a cheap, productive one then he is worth using as a building block.  Even though we started with catchers, I would rate them last on the hierarchy of positions from which to build.  Though the hierarchy fluctuates based on the talent pool in baseball, catcher is pretty firmly entrenched at or at least down near the bottom.

Outfield would be the leader because of the young talent available and because it isn’t as deep as many assume.  You generally need at least four outfielders if not five plus some people use one for their DH and other owners might take OF-eligible players and put them in positions where they might better fit their team thus drying the pool further.

First base is the deepest talent pool, but it is rich with early round, high priced talent so it ranks second to outfield here.  Then it would be shortstop, second base and third base in that order.  Again, this is based on the current talent pool of cheap, keepable players that skew young.  I will go around the diamond in order of catcher-first base-second base-shortstop-third base-outfield before looking at pitching.  That’s a whole other field worthy of its own deep-dive discussion.