Photo by Debra Roby
Which player who is currently flying a bit under the radar has a chance to be a top-50 performer this season?
I asked some of the brightest minds in the industry. Here are their thoughts.
Ryan Boyer, Rotoworld.com
Derek Holland, LHP, Rangers
Top-50 might be stretching it a bit, but a guy I really like to take a big step forward this season is Derek Holland. The Rangers’ No. 2 prospect in 2009 in what was at the time an absolutely loaded farm system, Holland dealt with some shoulder inflammation last season, but when he was healthy, he struck out nearly a batter per inning for Texas and was simply dominant at Triple-A (1.87 ERA over 11 starts). The Rangers are looking for someone to pick up the slack with Cliff Lee gone, and I think a likely scenario is Holland being that guy and Neftali Feliz staying in the bullpen. This 24-year-old has the upside to be one of the better lefties in the AL in short order.
Jason Collette, BaseballProspectus.com and Rotowire.com
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Toronto
Encarnacion has a breakout power year in limited playing time in 2010. Despite being in the league for what seems like forever, he is just 28 years old and now can focus mainly on his hitting as he is not going to be asked to do much in the field this year other than play some first base against the tough lefties (okay, maybe the not-so-tough lefties, too) that Adam Lind struggles against. Maybe this is more the fan in me than the analyst, but I like Encarnacion’s chances of hitting 30 home runs in 2011 more than I like Jose Bautista’s chance at 40. I have Edwin pegged as one of the few players to increase their homer totals by 10 or more from this past season as I think his plate skills, playing time, and the end of his defensive butchery at third base all converge into his true breakout season.
Patrick Daugherty, Rotoworld.com
Gio Gonzalez, SP, A’s
Overshadowed by Trevor Cahill’s out-of-nowhere Cy Young run and Dallas Braden’s perfect game last season, it was easy not to notice that Gio Gonzalez notched a SO/9 of over seven and a half while posting improved peripherals across the board. Still just 25 and getting markedly better each year, don’t be surprised if he’s the Athletic that makes a serious run at the Cy Young this season – and ends up anchoring your fantasy pitching staff.
Cory Elfrink, SI.com contributor
Jason Bay, OF, Mets
From 2005-2009, Jason Bay averaged 31 home runs, 103 RBI, 101 runs, and 12 steals while batting .279. His first season hitting in Citi Field, much like David Wright’s first season there, was a disaster. Not only did he appear in just 95 games – largely due to a concussion – but even when he did suit up, he delivered production far below expectations. Heading into 2011, Bay is not exactly being ignored in drafts as his ADP is firmly in the top-150. However, he seems like a fallback option on everyone’s board. I would say there are less than 25 hitters in the game capable of producing what Bay averaged for the five-season stretch heading into last season. A player like Troy Tulowitzki plays a premium position, no doubt. He’s also going in the top-10, if not the top-5, of most drafts. Yet his projections are in line with Bay’s averages from 2005-09. In other words, don’t be surprised if Bay comfortably finishes among the top-50 fantasy players in 2011.
Kyle Elfrink, The Drive, SiriusXM Radio
Gordon Beckham, 2B, White Sox
In the second half of his second season, he posted a .285/.336/.459 slash line which was right in line with his 2009 season. He’s still only 24 and he finally gets to stick at one position (he was drafted as a shortstop, brought up as a third baseman, and handled second base duties last year). He should be charged with nothing but second base this year. His steals could hit double-digits, and if that happens you have a rarity at second base – a .280 hitter with double-digit homers, double-digit steals and an OPS of near .800. He’s a guy that you can get outside the top-175 with a chance at sniffing the top-50.
Ray Flowers, BaseballGuys.com
The Drive, SiriusXM Radio
Cameron Maybin, OF, Padres
A “post hype sleeper,” there was a point a few years ago that Maybin was on everyone’s lips as a “must have,” but those times have faded as his performance in the bigs has been poor to date. Still, Maybin has been highly effective at Triple-A the past two years (he has hit .325-7-62-65-13 in just 115 games at Triple-A), and it looks like he will be given every chance to play on a daily basis for the Padres. Given that opportunity, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could evolve into a Mike Cameron type who could go 20/20, albeit with a mediocre average, as early as this season, and don’t forget that he is only 23 years old.
David Longnecker, KFFL.com
Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles
After Nick Markakis posted a line of .300/23/112 and stole 18 bases in 2007, he appeared to be on the brink of fantasy stardom as a multi-category stud. He’s yet to arrive there, but I expect Markakis to return to his former glory in 2011. He’s simply far too talented to post his best career season at the age of 23. Now 27 and under far less pressure to reproduce his former numbers and to produce due to a revamped lineup, Markakis is primed to be a top-50 fantasy player. It’s not too much to expect Markakis to produce 20 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 12 steals and an average north of .300 in 2011. Even if he falls short of that, he’s going to be a great bargain considering his ADP.
David Rogers, Frozenotes.com
Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles
A personal favorite of mine, Markakis has a pretty quiet season last year swatting just 12 homers while driving in a mere 60 runs. However, though his stats weren’t overwhelming, he still maintained a solid .297 average. This season there’s a lot to get excited about concerning the Baltimore offense. Assuming injuries and current health concerns don’t flare up, the Orioles will feature a formidable lineup, top to bottom. The additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds should give Markakis a boost this season.
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
Plenty of people are talking about Montero this spring, especially after Francisco Cervelli’s injury, but few are expecting much of significance from him. However, Cervelli’s injury all but guarantees Montero will break camp with the major league club, and the Yankees will give their prized prospect playing time no matter where he resides. It also helps that Russell Martin hasn’t produced in two years, and Jorge Posada’s bat speed is precipitously slowing. Consider that Montero already has a full season of Triple-A under his belt, and against much more advanced competition at age 20 he hit .289-21-75 in 453 at-bats last season. The only reason to send Montero down again is to work on his defense, but the Yankees have reportedly been thrilled with his progress after losing a few pounds. Not many catchers produce offensively this early in their careers, but even fewer do what he did at age 20 in the International League. Montero is currently being drafted among the lower tier of second catchers in mixed leagues, but he’s more than capable of being a top five catcher now — or better.
Charlie Wiegert, Godfatheroffantasysports.com
Grady Sizemore, OF Cleveland
After four consecutive 20-20 years, and a 30-30 year in 2008, Sizemore has been curtailed by injuries the last two seasons, making him an easy person to forget. The guy is only 28, and should be going into the prime of his career, which once made him a fantasy top-10 pick. Sizemore is working through his rehab program after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee in June, and it’s unlikely he’ll be ready for the start of the season, more reason most owners will ignore him. He went early in the 8th round of our recent FSTA Experts league draft to Roto Experts, a bit earlier than I expected. I was hoping to get him in the 10-11 round area, which would make his risk vs reward a better option. After 130 picks, he was worth taking in my opinion, but at the 100 pick mark, outfielders like Nick Markakis, Chris Young and Curtis Granderson were still available.
Editors Note: Charlie got his man when he took Grady Sizemore in a recent draft held amongst the former Fanball Crew.