Take it to the top

As the temperature hovers around single digits today, knowing that pitchers and catchers report in four days—and that spring training is just around the corner—makes it a little easier to deal with. Every baseball fan, fantasy enthusiast or otherwise, exudes optimism every spring. Every team is 0-0 and has dreams and aspirations of greatness.

Every fantasy manager LOVES his team after the draft. He can’t wait to tell everyone about all of the great values he found in the later rounds and how he executed his strategy masterfully. Then most, after a couple months of the season pass, realize that maybe it wasn’t quite as amazing as initially thought.

I’m here to pass on useful nuggets of information and draft strategies in an effort to help your team look as great at the end of the season as you thought it did on draft day.

Last week in my article on position battles, I mentioned one very important rule to follow when building your offense. This rule mainly applies to deeper 14- or 15-team mixed leagues that start 14 offensive players. If you’re playing in an 8-12 team league, you’ll probably end up with a full-time player in each roster spot. However, in those deeper leagues, the ones that separate the men from the boys, you need to take this mantra seriously:

MAXIMIZE YOUR AT-BATS!

Don’t let yourself settle for players who are in platoon situations. I don’t want to hear, “But Garrett Jones was great in 2009 and provides much-needed power to my team!” Sure, but Matt Diaz is going to steal all of the at-bats against left-handed pitching.

In addition to making sure your players are locked into full-time jobs, there is another area you should focus on as well. While there will be fluid situations during the season, try to draft players who are hitting at or near the top of the batting order.

Again, this seems very simple, yet every year I watch as people overlook this aspect. The difference between someone hitting first or second in the order compared to another player hitting eighth or ninth could be 150-plus at-bats over the course of the season. This is especially useful when trying to select between two similar players.

For example, let’s say you’re looking for a fourth outfielder around pick 270. Your team is lacking in speed, and Coco Crisp and Julio Borbon are still on the board. As of now, these two players have very similar values and ADP. However, Crisp is expected to lead off in Oakland, while Borbon is slated to hit ninth in Texas. An additional 150 at-bats makes a ridiculous difference and would make this choice a no brainer to me.

Here are a few players whose value you may need to reconsider based on their premium slot in the lineup.

Lorenzo Cain (MockDraftCentral Average Draft Position: 359): If the season started today, it appears that Cain is most likely to lead off for the Royals. Given 600-plus plate appearances and Cain’s elite speed, you could be looking at 40 or more steals at an insane bargain price.

Chris Coghlan (ADP 340): Coghlan had an extremely disappointing sophomore campaign after his 2009 ROY. Still, however, he will bat leadoff for the Marlins this coming season. Given the extra at-bats and hitting ahead of Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, Coghlan could approach 100 runs scored. This would push his value above Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes and several other outfielders who are being selected in the same tier currently.

Daric Barton (ADP: 333): I find Barton to be a very interesting player. Sure, he doesn’t offer the power that most desire from a corner infielder, but I still believe that he can be useful in mixed leagues.

As it stands, he’s going to be hitting second in the A’s much-improved lineup. Barton has always been an on-base machine and could score 90 or more runs. In addition, he’s still going to be only 25 years old, which means we could still see a small uptick in his power potential. This year I expect Barton to approach .280/90 R/15 HR/60 RBI/6 SB, which makes him a steal at this point of the draft.

Neil Walker (ADP: 254): As it stands, it appears that Clint Hurdle will slot Walker in the three hole in his Opening Day lineup. If he can build off his very productive rookie season, Walker could be a beast of a second baseman in 2011. A potential .285/70 R/16 HR/80RBI/5 SB season could be attainable, which would provide solid numbers from a second baseman or middle infielder.

Now, I’m not saying that a player’s spot in the lineup is the be-all and end-all; it’s just another tool that you should pay close attention to as spring training progresses. When comparing similar options to draft, the added bonus of having a top-of-the-order hitter should play a pivotal role. Hopefully, if this was something you weren’t already focusing on, it helps to make your teams even stronger and more complete.

As always, questions and comments are welcomed and appreciated!

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Comments

  1. glp said...

    “If the season started today, it appears that Cain is most likely to lead off for the Royals.”

    Actually, if the season started today, it appears that Cain is most likely to lead off for the Omaha Storm Chasers.

    As a Royals fan, it makes me cringe to think that they would put Melky Cabrera in CF, but it appears that’s what is going to happen.  I’m really hoping Melky will just magically disappear.  Maybe he has a horrible spring, Cain looks great, and they decide to just release Melky at the point where they only have to pay him 1/4?  Ah, wishful thinking.

    At any rate, the quiet buzz from those within the Royals organization is that Cain only has 122 plate appearances at the AAA level and that he would benefit from a few more.  Don’t bank on him in KC on Opening Day.

  2. Will Hatheway said...

    I’m big on Walker. Another very late pick (I’m going to be in a 15-team, 23 + 5 bench, so I need to know depth) I like doesn’t, unfortunately fit with your idea (in fact, perhaps the opposite) in Danny Valencia. Still, a playing-time adjusted Marcel has this 3B (335 adp) @ 63 R, 15 HR, 72RBI, 7SB, .295. Do you like him?

  3. Brad Johnson said...

    One thing to take note of with Walker – he’s very popular with fantasy analysts, especially analytically inclined ones. As such, don’t be surprised if his cost starts significantly increasing over the coming weeks. By most mid-March draft days, I’m not expecting Walker to be a value pick in competitive leagues.

  4. Dave Shovein said...

    @glp: Given the investment they made to acquire Cain, I have a very hard time believing that he will not be the opening day center-fielder, when his only competition is Melky Cabrera. Even with Cain’s limited experience, I believe he’s already a superior hitter and defender to Melky. His role seems best suited as a 4th OF, occasional DH.

  5. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Will: Danny Valencia is a guy that I’m having a difficult time in trying to gauge his true value. His minor league track record seems to suggest that his 300 at-bat sample last season could be repeatable. Personally, I look for more power out of my 3B and CI options, but as a late round flyer Valencia could be worth a look. His run and RBI totals will take a hit with him hitting 8th or 9th, and he doesn’t run much either. I expect around .280/65/14/60/3.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    Those numbers for Valencia look about right. Strangely, he’s not the kind of player I’d want on my bench. However (and here’s the strange part), I wouldn’t be adverse to starting him. I’m thinking of a scenario where I forgo spending on 3b in favor of 3 elite 1b for the 1b/CI/UTIL slots.

  7. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Brad: Not a terrible idea. Even in that strategy though, I may rather have a guy like Chase Headley or David Freese who are drafted around the same range currently

  8. Brad Johnson said...

    Well to be fair, that’s not a strategy I’ve ever employed. I imagine my aim would be to combine a player with low end breakout ability like Edwin Encarnacion with a super platooner like Omar Infante. Valencia would like be Plan G but I wouldn’t hate my team if I had to use it.

  9. Will Hatheway said...

    I could see Freese, but I’m not really sure Headley’s extra few SBs and runs outweighs any slight power deficit and certainly average. But, really, they’re all of the same sort. I was actually thinking of the same elite 1B idea, with maybe two and a masher like utley @ 2nd, really bringing the power from those three and smoothing out the edges later on…

  10. glp said...

    Dave, I agree with you 100% about Cain, but I live in KC, am a longtime Royals fan and I swear to you, this is what is coming out of the organization in addressing the season ahead.  When they talk about who will be playing outfield, it’s Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy they say will be playing.  I hate it, and I’m really really hoping it doesn’t turn out that way, but wanted to alert you to the very distinct possibility.

    (FWIW, in my mind if they knew they were getting Cain they wouldn’t have signed Melky in a million years.  That’s why I’m hoping the contract is one that allows them to release him before Opening Day and not pay him 100%. – and that they have the guts to do it.)

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