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Super Early Draft Day Values

With 2014 fantasy baseball draft season just about a month away, now’s a great time to take a look at some early draft values and start getting an idea of who the fantasy community as a whole is overlooking this year.  At this early juncture we don’t have reliable ADP data to look at, so I’ll mostly be using Yahoo’s top-250 rankings that were released about a week ago (a composite ranking of 5 different experts’ individual ranks).

As with any ranking this long before the season starts, ranks and values are subject to change as we gather more information as spring training and the exhibition season moves along.  However, now is as good a time as any to look at players whose ranks have not been adjusted enough based on past performance, and hopefully we can start identifying some mid and late-round draft targets that will help win you your league this year.

This list of values is based mainly on a 12-team, Rotisserie style setup, but should prove valuable for H2H leagues as well.  I play mainly in 6x6 roto leagues, with the standard 5x5 categories plus OPS and CG.  For anyone wanting to add OPS to their 5x5 league but unable to come up with another category for pitchers, I highly recommend trying a CG league.  It may not be the most accurate to reality scoring category, as CGs are even more valuable to us than they are in real life, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Justin Masterson (CLE – SP) – Masterson made some fairly significant strides value-wise last year, which seem to be going mostly unnoticed among the fantasy community.  In addition to setting a new career high in Wins with 14, he shaved over half a run off his career ERA, put up the lowest WHIP of his career (a fully acceptable 1.20), and made a massive leap in K/9 (from around 7 career to over 9), all while maintaining that excellent GB% that has had fantasy owners salivating over his potential since he entered the league.  His struggles against lefties and on the road are well-documented, but he improved in both areas last year, and the fact that his splits are so well known make it easy to avoid trouble spots with him.  Road start against a lefty-heavy lineup?  Leave him on the bench.  At his current price (#188 on Y!) you don’t need to throw him out there for every start anyway, but his strong K/9 and solid peripherals make him a quality #3 or 4 for anyone’s fantasy rotation.  And if you play in CG leagues (like I do), he’s one of the very few starters out there all but guaranteed to finish what he started at least 3-4 times each year.

Ernesto Frieri (LAA – RP) – Frieri appears to be the last guy in a larger than usual tier of elite-K closers (ranked #152 on Y!), which makes him a solid target for those who pass on closers early in the drafts.  With a K/9 over 13 the past 2 seasons, he can single-handedly make up for a sub-7 K/9 SP (hello Jordan Zimmermann) and keep you in the running in Ks in IP-capped roto leagues.  While BBs have always been an issue for him, last year’s slight uptick in ratios was due to an increased hit rate brought on by lingering injury-related ineffectiveness.  Assuming full health this year, he should return to sub-3.00 ERA/1.15 WHIP levels, while maintaining that delicious K rate.  The job is his to lose in Anaheim and the Angels are unlikely to be worse than last year, when Frieri managed 37 saves pitching through the aforementioned lingering injuries.  He currently ranks behind Steve Cishek, Danny Farquhar, Jim Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon and Addison Reed, all of whom I would prefer the Angel to.  And watch out if he shows any growth in BB/9 this year, as he could quickly join the ranks of the truly elite at the closer position.

Brandon Belt (SF – 1B) – After finally settling into the everyday 1B job in SF, Belt really started tapping into his potential down the stretch last season.  He hit .345 in August and September, with 34 R, 7 HR, 28 RBI, and 17 doubles.  That’s a full-season pace of about 100-20-85-.345 and, for a still-improving gap hitter with ideal size in an expansive home ballpark, there’s still room for growth.  Look for some of those doubles to turn into HRs this year in his age-26 season, and for him to flirt with 100-25-100-.300 while hitting closer to the middle of the order than last year (when he hit mostly 7th).  He can be had after the 10th round of most drafts, and will be a valuable and consistent producer as many teams’ 1B2, IF, CI, or UTIL.

Brian McCann (NYY – C) – McCann has been a known commodity at a premium position for awhile now, but this year his surroundings change for the first time and it’s a change for the better.  The short porch in right at Yankee Stadium is tailor made for McCann’s flyball swing.  More importantly, the move to the AL and the ability to DH gives him a chance at his first 500 AB season since 2008, when he hit .301 with 23 HR and 87 RBI.  With the added ABs, his vision problems in the rear view mirror, and the extra motivation from leaving a team for which he was a clubhouse leader, McCann is in for a career year.  Currently ranked #125 according to Y!, he should significantly out-produce tier-mates Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters.  Available after the 10th round, he’s one of the surest bets for 20+ HR from the C position out there.

Domonic Brown (PHI – OF) – Brown finally realized some of his enormous potential last year, going 65-27-83-8 while posting a .272/.324/.494 slash line in only 496 Abs.  However, the growth doesn’t appear to factored into his draft-day price tag this year (ranked #99 on Y!), in large part because he faded in the 2nd half to the tune of only 6 HR after June and a steadily decreasing SLG which bottomed out at .314 for the month of September.  However, he was pretty banged up for the 2nd half of the season, and he also increased his OBP each month of the 2nd half while decreasing his Ks, showing impressive plate discipline that hints at sustained production for 2014.  Still just 27, and a high prospect with great pedigree, Brown is ready to jump a tier or two this year.  If he stays healthy, he’s one of the few players capable of making a Chris Davis-like leap to 1st round value, and he can be had in the 8th round or later of most drafts this year (right around where Davis went last year, incidentally).

Adrian Gonzalez (LAD – 1B) – You know what you’re getting with Gonzalez: his minimums in each category over the last 7 years are 69-18-99-.277/.342/.461 (glossing over SBs, of which you shouldn’t expect more than zero from Gonzalez).  While he may no longer be the 40 HR threat of his heyday (or even 30), you are no longer paying for that upside at the draft table either.  Being taken around the end of the 6th round, he’s the perfect, consistent 1B option for those who passed on the early 1Bs in favor of position scarcity or elite SPs.  He hasn’t played less than 156 games the last 8 years and, in what could be a juggernaut LAD lineup this season, he may well be closer to 120 RBI than the 100 we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing from him.  Feel confident taking him in the 5th round if you addressed other areas early on, and know that 1B isn’t a position you’ll be worrying about this year.

Wil Myers (TB – OF) – In his first 335 MLB ABs, Myers went 50-13-53-5 with a .293/.354/.478 slash line.  If he simply continues that level of production over 600 ABs this year, we’re looking at a 90-23-95-9-.293-.832 line, which already justifies his late 5th (#59 overall on Y!) draft price.  But this is a 23-year old super-prospect that hit the ground running in his first taste of the bigs, so there’s definitely reason to believe there’s room for further growth from him.  He’ll be hitting in the middle of a sneaky TB lineup this year, and he’s one season removed from a 37 HR season in the high minors.  Like Paul Goldschmidt last year, this may be the last time for a while that you won’t have to pay a 1st round price for Myers’ services.  I don’t even mind him as an OF1 this year, but I love him as an OF2, which many teams will be able to pull off at his current price.

Chris Sale (CWS – SP) – Sale may have put up the quietest 226 K/3.07 ERA/1.07 WHIP season in the history of fantasy last year.  While his price tag in drafts has increased some this year, I still think he’s about a tier too low.  He’s a 6’6” lefty sidewinder with a nasty slider and mid-90s gas, and he just had a sub-2.00 BB/9 and almost a 5.00 K/BB ratio in his age-24 season.  This is a stud in the making.  The White Sox were awful last year leading to an 11-14 record for Sale, but some of that was bad luck as 7 of his losses came when he allowed 2 ER or fewer.  Look for that luck to normalize this year as he winds up around 15 Ws, while cruising past 220 Ks and maintaining ratios around last year’s levels.  He’s basically Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez but a round (or more) cheaper.

Ryan Braun (MIL – OF) – I know I said this piece would be about mid and late-round values, but I just can’t resist putting Braun on the list.  I get it if you’re scared off by anything steroid-related, but in Braun’s case, last year’s suspension is serving only to cloud his true value and scare people away from him to much shakier first round options.  What do we know about Braun?  For one, he’s hit (exceptionally) since the minute he set foot on a big league field (91-34-97-15-.324-1.004 in 451 ABs as a rookie is pretty good), and even going back to his college days.  Secondly, his swing makes him kind of the Tim Lincecum of hitters, in that he’s able to generate way more torque because of mechanics than most people his size would be able to from strength alone.  And last year he hit .306 with 9 HR and 35 RBI in April and May before succumbing to injuries and eventually the suspension.  One has to assume he was clean for this stretch since he was just coming off that other PED-scare from the end of the previous season. 

To me, all of these factors indicate that Braun can just flat-out rake, and he doesn’t need PEDs to put up MVP-type numbers.  Before last year’s abbreviated campaign, Braun’s average line over his 6-year career was 102-34-107-21-.314-.946.  He’s still just 30 years old and in the back end of his prime years, and he should be extra motivated to show people he doesn’t need ‘roids to produce, so don’t let the PED panic blind you to the reliably incredible floor Braun has established over his career.  There’s a reason he’s been a top-5 pick for the last few years, and I don’t see the suspension changing that at all.  I’ve got him at #5 on my board (after Trout, Miggy, Goldy, and Cutch), and could even see him overtaking McCutchen for #4 by the time drafts finally come around.

This post was written by Clayton, one of our new bloggers.  Expect to see much more from him this season!