Plan B part 1,
Marc Foster does a great job of ranking the best players at each position. If you go into a draft or auction with only his rankings in front of you, chances are you will put together a pretty good core of a team. If you are in a league larger than 12 teams, however, odds are you will not be able to land a top 10, or even top 15 player at every position. At some point in the mid to late rounds, perhaps after you draft your #2 closer, you will take a deep breath and look at what you have assembled. Uh oh. You have not drafted a 2B yet? How will you fill that spot from the players that are still on the board?
We all know that the first 10 to 12 rounds are crucial to building a foundation that will carry you for the next 6 months. Anyone who has won a league or two also knows that the last 12-15 rounds can make or break your season, especially in a larger league. The second half of a draft separates the men from the boys. Some play it safe, drafting known regulars who put up predictable but unspectacular stats, but have no apparent upside. Those owners probably never finish last in their league, but chances are they seldom win it either. Winning a fantasy league is a marathon that requires qualities such as patience, vigilance, resourcefulness, and good player evaluation. I wager that it also requires a healthy dose of risk-taking if one is to glean some value on draft day. This is true of both snake drafts and auctions, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll speak as if this were a 15 team snake draft for a Roto league.
I’ll start with second base because, chances are, it’s one of the positions that most easily fall through the cracks on draft day. It is also a position Marc has already discussed in his rankings. After discussing the player pool we will all fish from in 2013, I’ll highlight an example or two from the 2012 season to drive home my theory. Well, c’mon, I’m not going to give away my end game targets for 2013, but I will list some of the candidates. It is up to you to figure out the ones that will outperform their current rankings. Next time we can talk about shortstops.
You missed the top five 2Bs putting together a power offense and 2 Ace pitching staff (Gone are Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia, Zobrist and Phillips). You missed the next tier getting caught up in a mid round closer run (Gone: Hill & Kipnis). Perhaps you don’t trust old, flawed, injury prone, or inconsistent infielders, so you pass on Utley, Weeks, & Uggla. Now what’s left? If you are lucky, you’ll snag Danny Espinosa or Jose Altuve right about now. Altuve managed to hit .290, with 80 runs and 33 SBs. Espinosa strikes out more often than Ryan Howard, but is entering his age 26 season. In that lineup he could be good for 20/20, even with the low BA. I think we are all savvy enough to realize those two are no longer sleepers, though both come with some risk. If you’ve been drafting the best overall player available the last few rounds, someone may have snagged these two from your queue, leaving you still without a 2B in the 15th round.
Marc suggests making a safe play at this point; drafting a player who will not kill your batting average, but may not help you anywhere else. That can be very tempting, especially if the rest of your roster has some BA issues. It may be boring to watch these guys go one for four or two for five every day with few counting stats. Hey, at least they’re not sinking the BA ship, and they are going to get their 500 ABs. I’m talking about Howie Kendrick, Marco Scutaro, Daniel Murphy, Omar Infante, Darwin Barney, and Mark Ellis. even Jamie Carroll hits .270-.290 at the ripe old age of 39. Maybe you are short on power and go the opposite way. Pick up Kelly Johnson and pencil in a poor man’s Uggla for 20 HR or so? Sure, but doesn’t this negate the gains you made by drafting the best players available in the prior rounds? We have already seen the best that every one of those players can offer.
Why not consider taking a chance instead? The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work, and you have to pick up one of the aforementioned starters, who will surely be sitting there on the wire if you need them. Three examples from the 2012 season stand out as poster boys for this strategy. Few knew of Altuve before 2012, unless one is a Houston fan or student of the Minor Leagues. Kipnis was a bit more known, but only had 136 MLBABs on his resume. We know now what they accomplished in 2012. The third player is no rookie, but an old favorite of mine. He had quite a bit of success in the past, scoring double digit steals and displaying huge power for a 2bman. He was, however, coming off two miserable seasons, in which he hit in the .205 to .240 range, and sported an OBP of less than .300 (not to mention only 8 HR in 2011). He was traded to the NL late in 2011, and played his butt off to move his average up to .246 from the Mendoza line. In 2012, I picked him up for $5 in an auction league, and drafted him in the 21st round of a Roto league I eventually won. Aaron Hill had a lot to do with that 2012 victory. I could have drafted Howard Kendrick a couple of rounds earlier, and some guys snickered when I didn’t.
So, who’ll be the 2013 Aaron Hill? Jason Kipnis or Jose Altuve? Here are a few possibilities that may fall to the late rounds based on 2012 results or injuries. Coming into 2013 as a 27-year-old, and off an injury plagued 2012 is Neil Walker. He has shown us some power and run producing abilities in the past, and is reportedly healthy now. Will the improved Pirate lineup and Walker’s age combine to make him the 2013 Aaron Hill? A pair of post hype sleepers may finally put it all together at the magic ages of 26-27. Gordon Beckham is a former #1 draft pick who has aggravated many a fantasy owner for the last 3 years, me included. Then there is former #2 pick Dustin Ackley, who came with big time minor league hype and teased us with a .273 average in 2011. That fell to .226 with over 600 agonizingly impatient Sophomore AB’s in 2012. Maybe some patience and the Safeco fences moving in will help him put it all together. Both may have a Ben Zobrist hiding inside them, but time is running out for them to show it. Maybe you liked what you saw of Josh Rutledge in the second half last season. He may win the 2B job out in Colorado, but won’t start the season with 2B eligibility. He sported a career .320 BA in the minors and could produce a 20/20 season. Finally, there is Rickie Weeks’ little brother, Jemile. Like Ackley, he teased us in 2011, hitting over .300 with 22 SB. The BA dropped to .205 and the SB fell, as well as a lower OBP. Sophomore slump? Maybe, but this guy could log you 40-45 SB if he can hit his weight and get on base before the A’s give up on him. Finally, there are two rookie SS who may get a look at 2B in 2013. Highly rated Milwaukee’s Jean Segura, and Texas rookie Jurikson Profar may find more at bats in 2013 if they can man the Keystone.
An argument can be made that Marco Scutaro and Daniel Murphy both had better seasons than any of the guys mentioned in the last paragraph. I’d still take one of those sleepers over either of them. I’m just not sure which one yet.