Last week I highlighted some players that when drafted this year in fantasy baseball were expected to put up good or possibly great numbers, but have failed to do it this year. This week, I’m going to look at players that may or may not have been drafted in some leagues but now are worthy of being owned and started. This could be a rookie, a player with a couple years experience having a break out year, or a veteran showing that he still has it.
Kurt Suzuki – C
Actual: .276/11/62 30 doubles and 5 stolen bases.
Coming into the season, Kurt Suzuki was the 20th ranked Catcher in fantasy baseball. Matt Wieters was ranked higher than him and he had not even played 1 inning in the majors. He is currently the 6th rated Catcher in fantasy baseball. Now he will not put up numbers, for those of you in head to head points leagues, like a Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer or Jorge Posada, but he will give you a consistent week for a thin position, in any league. He has surpassed his career highs in home runs, doubles, steals, RBI, and runs. He has done all of this on an offensively poor Oakland Athletics team. While I would not keep him, I would start him if I needed a fill in for injury or a terrible slump. In 2010, Suzuki could put up better numbers, so consider taking him late in next year’s draft.
Kendry Morales – 1B
I don’t know who is more surprised by Morales’ play this year, the Angels or fantasy baseball owners. In his first full year as starting first baseman, Morales has taken fantasy baseball by storm. He is crushing the ball right now, and is becoming a must own & start in any league. No one really knew how the Cuban defector would fare this season. He is currently ranked 6th among first baseman, after being ranked 41st in the preseason. Jason Giambi was ranked higher than him! I think that says it all in how well this kid has played. First base is a deep position in fantasy baseball and Morales’ break out year only makes it deeper. I would not keep him as this is his first full year as a starter, he could be due for a league adjustment next year. He will be going higher in drafts next season due to his breakout performance. If he is available in the mid-to-late rounds I would take him, but I would also prefer to have a suitable replacement if the league catches up to him.
Robinson Cano – 2B
Had to mention two players here because both are having fantastic seasons. One is coming back from severe post concussion syndrome, and the other is coming off a terrible year, which made everyone doubt his ability. I am speaking of Aaron Hill and Robinson Cano of course. While Cano was ranked in the Top 10 of fantasy second basemen, no one really knew which Cano would show up. Was it the one who hit .342 in 2006 or the one who hit .271 in 2008? Turns out it’s the guy who hit .342. He must be owned and started in any and all leagues right now. I would suggest keeping him as next season he will be 27 and most 27-year-old baseball players tend to have good years. Also, as thin as the second base position is, you cannot go wrong with a .300/25/90 to already own for the 2010 season.
Aaron Hill – 2B
Coming in to the season, Aaron Hill was a man to avoid. Missing most of last season following a concussion, the Blue Jays and fantasy owners did not know if he could play everyday or if he could play at all. Well, when you hit 31 home runs, to this point, I think it is safe to say that you can play. Hill has emerged as a top end fantasy second baseman. Most likely a waiver wire pick up, he was for me in my league, Hill is now a must own and start in any league. Providing power at a thin position, Hill is also leading the Blue Jays in home runs and RBI’s. I don’t think I would keep him for next year as he is exceeding his career numbers in home runs and RBI. I think next year you draft him more for his 2007 numbers rather than his 2009 numbers.
Mark Reynolds – 3B
The first, and so far, only man to crack 200 strikeouts in a season. He could do it again this year, but he would have to stop mashing home runs to do so. Reynolds was bad last year. Hitting .239 with 204 strikeouts did not endear him to many fantasy owners for this season. Also, with Chad Tracy returning at the beginning of the 2009 season, many though that Reynolds would lose at-bats to the veteran to start the season, but he didn’t. He also did not get off to slow start as many thought he would. Instead, he started hitting for a decent average and slowly built upon the entire season. He is currently hitting a respectable .280 with 40 bombs and 21 steals! No one could have predicted that the free-swinging Reynolds would have put up such huge numbers. I do not think I would keep him, as this is his first year having a good average while hitting home runs and still striking out a ton. I would confidently draft him as my starting third baseman for 2010 though, but expect the average to go down to at least the .250 range.
Jason Bartlett – SS
While Bartlett hit over .300 once his career, he has never hit for much power. Everyone was shocked when he started hitting bombs this year, until he got hurt and went on the DL for about a month. He came back and maintained his high average and has hit 5 home runs since his return. Not bad for the thin shortstop position. He also set a new career high in stolen bases with 24 so far this year. Bartlett is a perfect example of a guy having a great year, due for a terrible one next year. I would not draft him as my starting SS next year or even keep him. He will be 30 years old next season, and given his track record should not produce these numbers again. Then again, he could be the new Ryan Ludwick. Start him for the rest of this year, but do not keep him.
Justin Upton – OF
Since he was drafted number 1 overall in 2005, the numbers Justin Upton is putting up shouldn’t surprise me. But I am regardless, because he is only 21 years old. He started last year red hot and slowed down as the season wore on. This year, he started off slow in April and has gotten better almost every month. He his hitting for more power and stealing bases. He most likely would have better stats if he did not miss a couple weeks of games due to injury. He is only going to get better and is a player you can build a team around. Keep him in all leagues. He should be starting too; if he’s not then you’re not keeping up with your team.
Jacoby Ellsbury – OF
Projected: .286/10/31 and 49 stolen bases
Actual: .300/6/46 and 55 stolen bases
With all due respect to Carl Crawford, I think Jacoby Ellsbury might be the best base stealer in baseball. If only he could draw walks this kid would be one of the best players in baseball. With 50 steals last year and 55, so far this year, Ellsbury is an elite option for stolen bases in Rotisserie leagues. While in most head to head points leagues stolen bases are not scored as heavily as home runs, he is still valuable. He will get his points by getting on base with infield hits, then steal second, maybe third and then score a run. He was ranked as the 21st best outfielder in the preseason, and now he is up to 3rd. No one could have imagined that a speed guy would be the 3rd best outfielder in fantasy baseball. Some might say that Carl Crawford is the number 1 overall fantasy outfielder and is a speedster so I shouldn’t be surprised. Here’s the difference, Crawford has more power than Ellsbury. So he has a chance to drive himself and others in more times than Ellsbury does. I expect Ellsbury to continue to excel in the majors and be a threat in fantasy baseball. If I were in a keeper Rotisserie league I would keep Ellsbury, but in a head to head points league I would not. There should be some other more powerful outfielders available.
Nelson Cruz – OF
Actual: .266/29/65 and 17 steals.
Finally, Cruz is living up to the potential that saw him traded with Carlos Lee to the Texas Rangers. He was ranked as the 63rd outfielder in fantasy baseball and is now sitting at 24th. He has emerged a consistent power threat with some speed. While his average is a little low and may hurt some teams in Rotisserie leagues, Cruz is a great option in head to head point leagues. He is someone to consider keeping in that kind of league. However, you have to temper your expectations because this is his first full year in the majors and he has been known to get injured and miss significant time. If your team is lacking in home runs, I would keep him for next year. If it is not, then I would let him back into the player pool and try to get a better option average-wise.
Zach Greinke – SP
After battling social anxiety disorder and depression, Greinke is living up the hype that saw him start in the majors when he was just 20 years old. He has thrown a 1 hitter this year, struck out 13 in another game, and started off the season on a 24-inning shutout streak. Those are very impressive numbers for any pitcher in any league around the world, and that doesn’t even include his actual stats on the year! He is a keeper in any kind of league. Expect good things from him for many years to come.
Josh Johnson – SP
Johnson missed almost all of 2007 and most of 2008 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. In his return to the mound in 2008, Johnson started 14 games winning half of those starts and not really showing any command problems associated with pitchers returning from Tommy John. This year he has dominated and returned to the level he was pitching at in 2006, his breakout year. I drafted him in the 13th round in the keeper league I am in this year. I did not know what to expect from him in his first full year back from injury. He has done better than I could have expected. He is a young pitcher on a decent team. He was supposed to team with Ricky Nolasco this year and provide the Marlins with a potent 1-2 at the top of their rotation. Sadly, Nolasco has struggled all year long while Johnson has flourished. I will most likely be keeping him until he proves no longer worthy. I suggest you do the same thing if you are in a keeper league as well. He will go earlier in drafts next year as he can be deemed a “Fantasy Ace”, the guy you build your staff around.
Joel Pineiro – SP
110 slots. That is how far Joel Piniero has climbed since the preseason rankings came out and the season started. If this doesn’t prove that Dave Duncan is one of, if not, the best pitching coaches in baseball, I don’t know what will. Piniero came into the season as the Cardinals 4th or 5th starter. Recent struggles as a closer and starter had dictated that for him. In 2009, he has reemerged as solid option at starting pitcher in most leagues. He doesn’t strike out as many people as he used to, but he will give you a solid outing with not a lot of walks. He is not a keeper in any league, but should at least be starting in most leagues, especially if the match up is in his favor.
J.A. Happ – SP
He started the season in the bullpen, but was forced back into the rotation due to injuries to other Phillies’ starters. In 18 games started, he has won 10 of them and only lost 3. His ERA is below 3.00 and he will reach the 100-strikeout mark this year. He should be in the rotation next year and give the Phil’s a solid 3rd or 4th starter. I would not keep him, but if it is late in a draft and he is available I would take a flyer on him. He doesn’t have a track record of being successful yet, that’s the only reason I would not keep him. He should get some wins and put up solid ERA, WHIP and K numbers. Start him in any league for the remainder of the season as he is on a good team and pitching really well right now.
Randy Wolf – SP
Wolf threw 190 innings, his highest total since 2003. Given his track record, most people would have assumed that he would get hurt this year or just be ineffective. That is the exact opposite of what is happening. Wolf has been a solid pickup for the Dodgers and most fantasy owners. He has 9 wins, which is good, but on a team like the Dodgers, who cruised without Manny Ramirez, he should have more. He has pitched well enough to deserve more. He is a decent strikeout pitcher, gives manager Joe Torre length, and if your league counts Quality Starts, helps you too. He also was ranked 97th in the preseason and is now up to 20th. Pretty good for a guy considered an injury risk. He however, is not a keeper. There should be better options out there, even if you’re in a keeper league. Start him now, especially in a favorable match-up.
Andrew Bailey – RP
Projected: Not Available.
Ranked 414th before the season started and is now the 3rd ranked relief pitcher in fantasy baseball. Bailey was so far down on the list they don’t even give him projected stats for the season or even a comment about him. I even went to CBSSportsline, and they didn’t have any projected stats for him either. He was just a hard throwing reliever to start the season, then closer Brad Zeigler was ineffective and Bailey stepped into the role and has dominated. He is a closer on a bad team and can be used in any league, just don’t expect many save opportunities. Also, if you’re considering keeping a reliever, your team is most likely terrible. Never keep a closer, even if you have a Papelbon, Rivera or Nathan.
Ryan Franklin – RP
After saving 17 games in 2008, Ryan Franklin wasn’t even the front-runner to get the starting closer job for the Cards in 2009. Yet here he is, ranked 5th in fantasy baseball for relief pitchers, and with a fresh new two-year contract extension. Franklin has been absolutely lights out this year. He didn’t allow his first run until his 14th outing of the season. Then he got he ERA all the way down to 0.79 until he let in another two runs. He has only allowed 8 earned runs all season, but doesn’t strikeout as many batters as the more elite closers do, 35 in 52 2/3 innings so far this year. Start him in all leagues, as the Cards are a team that should give him plenty of save opportunities.
Heath Bell – RP
Bell was ranked 16th when the season started, mainly because he was the best option on a talent-poor Padres team. However, he has stepped into the shoes left behind by Trevor Hoffman, and done exceedingly well. I, for one, thought he would put too much pressure on himself to be as good, if not better than Hoffman, and that would lead to him being inconsistent and ineffective. Plus, with the Padres not being a team that will give him many opportunities to close games, I thought the lack of work would factor in as well. He has proven me, and any other doubters, wrong. Bell should be starting in all leagues because he is a solid option when he gets the chance to close out the game.
If you missed it, check out the 2009 Fantasy Baseball All-Bust Team. Thanks for reading!