October marks a time of reflection for the fantasy baseball manager. We reflect on championships won or lament over championships lost. Whichever category you find yourself in, no doubt there were certain players that caught your fancy in 2011.
I find that October is a month where I really start identifying players that I like for 2012. Once identified, I’ll spend the rest of the off-season contriving a strategy to accumulate as many of them as possible. Over the next several weeks I will be identifying these players for your enjoyment, and hopefully they will carve a spot in your heart like they have in mine. This first installment will be all rookies and second-year players.
Stephen Strasburg SP WAS - Strasburg will be at the top of my draft day wish list, and not because I think he’s going to be the best pitcher in baseball. My love for Strasburg stems directly from the excitement he’ll give my fantasy roster. Just like teams will bring in high-profile names to get the fans excited, I like to roster exciting players to keep me that much more interested.
I know this will sound silly, but you build a relationship with your fantasy baseball team. I want guys on my team that are fun to watch and have enormous upsides. I don’t think there’s anybody more perfect for that role in 2012 than Strasburg.
To tease us, the Nationals brought back Strasburg for a five-start stretch that saw him post a 9.0 strikeout-per-nine rate and two walks. That’s two walks, period! His FIP in this vacuum was an unbelievable 1.28. To go along with those ridiculous stats, he was also the best pitcher in the game from the moment he made start number one to the end of the 2011 season.
Here’s the catch. Strasburg will be sought after by every other manager in your league. He now also has a very significant injury to go along with the daily pressure of being the greatest prospect ever to toe a major league rubber.
Lastly, you must assume that there will be an innings limit on Strasburg for next season. Some reports have him maxing out at 160 innings pitched. For obvious reasons, an innings limit will reduce his value, but if that dissuades other owners from pursuing him, then more power to them. Me, myself, and I will be overpaying for Strasburg.
Kenley Jansen RP LAD - In 53 innings this past season, Jansen racked up almost 100 strikeouts en route to a Dodgers record-setting 16.1 K/9. Over the last 30 days of the 2011 season, he was pitching at a 20.86 K/9 and -0.59 FIP. I didn’t even know it was possible to get a negative FIP until looking over Kenley’s stats. You can also guarantee yourself there wasn’t anybody else anywhere close to those numbers.
Jansen hasn’t yet cemented himself into the closer role in Los Angeles, but most, myself included, do not believe that Javy Guerra has the skill set to keep him away. Just think about a closer that could theoretically give you 150 Ks. That’s worth owning, loving, and telling your girlfriend about. Jansen should be cheap come draft day and is the premier non-closer reliever to own.
Brandon Beachy SP ATL - I don’t know if I’m quite ready to talk about Beachy. He faded in September and had a hand in the demise of my beloved Braves. Furthermore, September caused me to question his control. As his strikeouts increased, his walks did as well. I understand the effects of a playoff race on a young pitcher, but part of me wonders if he fatigued down the stretch, as this was his first full season in the majors.
However, there’s still a lot to love about Beachy. He had the best K/9 of all pitchers in the game (min. 130 IP). That’s sexy. His control wasn’t elite, but it wasn’t bad, either. After seeing him pitch all season, I don’t think there’s any disputing that he is the Atlanta Braves pitcher to own in 2012. His stuff is electric, and he’s still growing into his skill set.
Health permitting, I could see Beachy building on his 2011 performance with a 200-plus strikeout season in 2012. This will be the last year to get him at any sort of discount.
Jesus Montero C NYY - What do we like more than young catchers that can absolutely rake? That’s right, young catcher-eligible players that don’t actually have to catch on a nightly basis. Welcome to Jesus Montero’s role with the Yanks for 2012.
In his small September role as a DH, Montero did more than enough to lock up that job moving forward. To go along with his .328 AVG, Montero smacked four home runs in just 69 plate appearances. Granted, this was a very small sample size, but Montero’s career minor league numbers point to something close to 20 HR and a .285-plus batting average.
With Montero’s youth and pedigree and fortunate playing situation, he could have a very bright 2012, and I want to be a part of it.
It’s very logical to assume he’ll be in the bottom tier of starting fantasy catchers in a 12-team league. I understand the risk associated with young catchers, but 2012 could very well be the deepest season for value at the catcher position we may have ever seen. Emergences of Ryan Lavarnway, Devin Mesoraco, Travis d’ArnaudWilin Rosario will most likely deepen the position greatly.
Of all the rookie catchers, I will stick with Montero, but I could totally understand handcuffing him with Mesoraco, Lavarnway, or Rosario just to minimize the risk.
Matt Downs 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF HOU - I know it’s ridiculous seeing all those positions listed next to Downs’ name, but he made at least one start at all those spots in 2011. Depending on your particular league’s position eligibility requirements, Downs could prove quite the valuable fantasy asset. According to ESPN, he’ll only be eligible at second base and third base. In Yahoo leagues, he should have eligibility at first base, second base, and third base.
Innately, Downs’ value is directly tied to his positional eligibility, but Downs showed some great power gains in 2011. The Astros/Giants always viewed Downs as a utility man with power. It was nice to see him put that on display at the major league level. He was able to amass 10 HR in 109 plate appearances. That’s an incredible display for a middle infielder, and something that should have caught the eye of all fantasy owners.
There is a Downside. His strikeout rate skyrocketed at the major league level (21.2 percent). His .316 BABIP was a little high, but not too outrageous to think he was incredibly lucky to attain his .274 AVG. He also has no speed despite stealing 24 bases in 2008. He’s also a little old at 27.
I think Downs projects 20-HR potential, and he’s a middle infielder with crazy position eligibility (at least 2B/3B). I don’t know what his batting average will look like in 2012, and that’s where the risk will come in to play. I’m targeting Downs as a MI in standard leagues and a utility bench player in 10-team leagues.
Kansas City’s corner infielders Eric Hosmer 1B and Mike Moustakas 3B – Anybody who has spent five minutes reading my fantasy ramblings has realized at least one thing about me. I absolutely love pedigree and upside. Kansas City reminds me of the Cincinnati Reds a couple of years ago when they had Joey Votto and Jay Bruce come up around the same time.
There was constant debate over who would be the best of the twosome. Bruce was the greater prospect according to scouts, but Votto had that “it” factor where every time he laced his cleats for the Reds, he performed at a high level.
I feel like that there will be that same debate as to who is going to be better, Hosmer or Moustakas. They have differing skill sets, but both have a lot to offer a fantasy team in search of some cheap upside.
Hosmer had pretty much all of the 2011 season to mature, and he definitely finished the year strong, hitting for a .360 BA with seven HR over the last thirty days. He could make that next step in development, and we could very well see a .300 AVG/30 HR/ 20 SB line as soon as 2012. I’m all-in on Hosmer.
My affection for Moustakas is no secret. He brings power in a day where everybody is hitting 30 HR or fewer. He brings excitement to a position (third base) that is losing offensive production every season. Moose struggled to adjust to major league pitching as he did he first season in the minors, but he improved greatly in the month of September. After struggling through July and August, Moustakas popped four homers and blazed to a .352 AVG in the final month.
I will be watching both of these guys through Spring Training and hopefully will be penciling them in as contributors to my 2012 ballclub.
Look for my next wish list in two weeks, where we’ll dive into starting pitchers.