Fantasy Baseball Guys To Watch – And Guys To Avoid, Part I

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Warning: this is a 2009 piece.  If you’re interested in this season, then come back to the site at the end of the month for my 2010 version!

These days, everyone fancies themselves an expert on just about anything.  And the Internet has helped that thinking along, giving pretty much anyone an opportunity to spout off on a wide variety of things, many of which they have absolutely no clue about.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and not that I don’t realize I’m one of that same group myself.

That said, while I’ve spouted off here on a number of different subjects I couldn’t consider myself anything close to an expert in, one thing I’d like to think I do know a good bit about is fantasy baseball.  As a number of you visiting the site are well aware, I am the founding father of a fantasy baseball league that is headed into its 17th season, and I’d wager it’s a pretty tough league, competition-wise, compared to most of the Yahoo/ESPN/CBS leagues that are out there, as well as many local leagues found around the country.  I’d certainly say with all conviction and no hesitation that we have the best/toughest league in the Gulf South area.  Many of the guys in our group have been playing fantasy sports for nearly two decades with great levels of success (one of our owners even worked with Michael Smith from ESPN many years ago, and in 2007 played in a fantasy football league with Smith and a number of other experts — and crushed all of them).

In this extremely tough setting, I’ve had my own share of success — and I’m coming off of arguably my best season ever, winning my 5th league title in 2008.   So as I try to go back-to-back in 2009 — and to win any of the other three serious leagues I’m in, along with the four ESPN leagues I’m playing — who am I looking at to lead the way?  Since all my drafts save one is done (and I’m pretty sure the members of that one league don’t even know I write this blog), I feel comfortable in giving you some of the guys who’ve caught my interest this spring.  This isn’t a complete list of everyone I like or don’t, and I’m not bothering to talk about the obvious studs here, since anyone can tell you to draft Albert Pujols or Johan Santana if you want to win.  Rather, this is just one man’s opinion on a handful of guys who I suspect will be a part of a number of winning fantasy teams this year — and those who will be the bane of many a fantasy owner’s existence in 2009.

Part One today deals with players I see improving dramatically or taking their game to the next level in 2009, and those players who I believe won’t be anywhere near their 2008 levels of performance.  Part Two tomorrow will have my sleepers for the upcoming year — and those other players who won’t be worth putting your team’s chances riding on.  For more in-depth fantasy information, I highly recommend one of the websites I frequent, RotoJunkie — which is now affiliated with Fanball.com.  There’s plenty of outstanding analysis there from a number of sources that can help you prepare for the upcoming fantasy season.

Players Taking A Step Up In 2009

— Joey Votto — Cincinnati — 1B

Brewers Reds BaseballThis was probably the #1 guy on my target lists this spring — and why not, when you look at his season last year and his huge potential to join the elite NL hitters?  Votto got off to a somewhat slow start last season (due in no small part, to his manager Dusty Baker’s unwillingness to commit fully to him in April), but he was absolutely golden in the second half of the year, hitting .321 with 11 HR and 14 doubles in only 218 at-bats.  Even more impressive was his walk/strikeout rate (26/38) in that same period of time, evidence of a young hitter who’s already developed some patience at the big-league level.  Votto has some speed as well, and he could steal double digit bags to go with the impressive power numbers.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Votto as the number #2 ranked first baseman this year, behind only Pujols.

— Jay Bruce — Cincinnati — OF

Votto’s teammate Bruce was even more hyped than Votto was last season, and by mid-year, even the inept Baker had no choice but to bench the equally inept Corey Patterson to allow Bruce a chance at an everyday job.  While Bruce didn’t show near the batting eye of his teammate (striking out a somewhat-scary 110 times in only 413 at-bats), he did flash his outstanding power stroke, mashing 21 HR in that time.  Bruce’s tools are as good as any young player’s in the majors, and he has five-tool upside (though he’ll have to steal bases at better than a 40% clip like he did in Cincinnati in order to get the green light).  He may not be as polished as Votto is, but Bruce represents tremendous potential — and this is probably the last chance you’ll get to acquire him somewhat on the cheap.

— Rickie Weeks — Milwaukee — 2B

rickie-weeksI’ve owned Rickie Weeks a number of times before, with various levels of success, and it’s definitely true that he’s an extremely frustrating player to own.  After entering the majors with a huge amount of promise, Weeks has always been a disappointment, a leadoff hitter who hasn’t hit for the average he flashed in college (he won a NCAA batting title, but he’s hit under .250 three times as a  major leaguer) and who has nearly lost his job on several occasions due to his defensive struggles.  Still, his OBP has been solid despite the low average due to his ability to draw the walk, and if he could just cut down on the strikeouts and have a few more of his hard-hit balls find the hole, he’ll have a chance to be something special — particularly with his power (14 HR) and speed (19 SB) combination at a weak position.  My gut tells me that this is the year everything clicks for him.

— Alex Gordon — Kansas City — 3B

Gordon was expected to be a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate two years ago, but he’s never seemed to find his groove in the majors, making him a major disappointment in fantasy circles.  The biggest problem for Gordon has been his complete inability to hit left-handed pitching (a .234 average with only 1 HR in 167 at-bats in 2008).  But we’re still talking about one of the best prospects of recent years, the 2nd pick overall in the 2005 draft, and someone who dominated at AA in 2006 (a 1.015 OPS).  My thought is that he was rushed to the bigs, and this is the year he finally gets comfortable and takes the next step up to a top-level third baseman.  Remember, he’s only 25 years old.

Players Taking A Step Back In 2009

— Ryan Ludwick — St. Louis — OF

ludwick-2Let’s get it right out there:  I’m not a Tony LaRussa fan, at least when it comes to fantasy baseball.  There isn’t a more infuriating manager in the game when it comes to choosing lineups (ask any Chris Duncan owner from the last two years about that).  LaRussa will play the hot hand, and unless you’re a veteran, you’re not going to get much leeway if you’re struggling at the plate.  In St. Louis, there are a lot of outfield options available — youngster Colby Rasmus, Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Joe Mather, even Skip Schumaker (if LaRussa decides to pull him away from second base).  Ludwick burst onto the scene out of nowhere in 2008, he’s 30 years old, and he’d never shown anything in the minors or previous major league time to suggest he’d put up anything close to what he did last season.  He’s exactly the kind of guy someone will overpay for — and regret it when LaRussa’s sitting him in July.

— Carlos Delgado — New York (NL) — 1B

Delgado looked like a player whose career was in decline in 2007 — but last year saw the slugging first baseman put together a rebound season that left him as a fringe NL MVP candidate.  That said, I don’t trust in a repeat from Delgado at all.  He was hitting only .231 at the end of June, and his bat looked slow before he caught fire with a huge month of July.  While I don’t see the wheels falling off entirely, I do think he’ll put up numbers that are closer to his 2007 season (.258-24-87) than last year’s — and Delgado will go too early or for too much money in your draft if that’s the case.  The fact that the new Citi Field is rumored to be a very-friendly pitcher’s park (more so than Shea even was) makes him even more of a player I’ll be avoiding.

— Ryan Dempster — Chicago (NL) — SPaahc206_8x10-2006pitchingactionryan-dempster-posters

There weren’t many bigger surprises that Dempster was last season.  After three so-so seasons as the Cubs closer, Dempster was moved back into rotation as a starter in 2008 — which scared numerous fantasy owners away, considering that the right-handed hadn’t been effective in that role since 2000-2001.  While most people had visions of the Dempster who posted a 6.54 ERA in 20 starts in 2003, the brave few who rostered the starter were rewarded with a Cy-Young caliber season (17 wins, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 206 innings).  But that’s just more reason not to overpay this year.  Dempster’s 2008 numbers scream “fluke” to me, and I won’t be paying for a repeat.

— Jayson Werth — Philadelphia — OF

I like Werth a lot — and I really liked owning him last season, where he was a pleasant, surprise source of both power and speed.  But that represented to me a career year for the right-handed slugger, and expecting anything close to the same numbers is a risky enterprise that I want no part of in 2009.  Werth has always had injury issues that’s kept him from being a full-time player, and not helping matters is his performance against right-handed pitching (where he’s a .251 hitter lifetime), which has the potential to force him into the wrong end of a platoon situation.  Currently, the only left-handed bat the Phillies have is Matt Stairs, but I’d still be wary of spending a chunk of change on someone as high-risk as Werth.  I won’t be stunned if Werth is either playing part-time — or on the DL — by the All-Star Break.

That’s it for Part One — I still want to talk about my own draft day, but that will probably come on Friday instead.  Tomorrow I’ll be back with my look at some sleepers to keep in mind for your drafts — and some guys who you want no part of if you’re trying to win.

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One Response to “Fantasy Baseball Guys To Watch – And Guys To Avoid, Part I”

  1. […] I thought I would look back at some of my predictions and advice going into the season to see how I fared.  As it turns out, there were some I was right […]

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