Like many baseball fans, I sat around last weekend watching my NCAA tournament brackets bomb like a first-time standup comic while preparing for my upcoming fantasy baseball drafts. With Norfolk St. solidly reminding me that I should stick to baseball (thanks Missouri!), I thought this to be an appropriate time to preview this upcoming season from a fantasy perspective. Last season my predictions were mixed, as I missed wildly on Brian Matusz and Travis Snider, but I correctly predicted breakout seasons for Michael Morse, Jay Bruce, and Jhoulys Chacin. With that being said, here are my fantasy predictions for the upcoming season.
2012 Breakout Players:
Dustin Ackley 2B Seattle – One of the best young collegiate hitters in the past decade, Ackley has tremendous talent and could find himself batting at the top of an improved Seattle lineup in 2012. Safely count on a .290 batting average with 12 home runs and 15 steals while secretly hoping this is the year that he produces a 20/20 season.
Brandon Belt 1B San Francisco – The Giants are financially tied to Aubrey Huff and are enamored with Nate Schierholtz which could force Belt back to Triple-A to begin the season, but make no mistake, he is a pure hitter with a career minor league batting line of .343/.457/.596. Belt simply needs opportunity and at-bats to breakout in 2012.
Colby Rasmus OF Toronto – Rasmus, a charter member of this list one year ago after producing a .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs at the age of 23, struggled to get along with manager Tony LaRussa and was shipped to Toronto in a surprising midseason trade. Still only 25 years old, Rasmus has the talent to be a .280 hitter with 25 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases and could flourish with the change of scenery and hitting in the impressive Blue Jays lineup.
Neil Walker 2B Pittsburgh – This is my type of sleeper, an unsexy player on a small market team not expected to make the playoffs, now entering his age-26 season and poised to bat cleanup. I am confidently predicting a .275-80-15-85-10 season for Walker, with potential for more, which compares nicely with my Brandon Phillips projection (.280-90-17-75-12) and Phillips gets taken, on average, 100+ picks earlier in drafts. Take Walker later in your drafts and make yourself look very smart against your fellow league-mates this season.
Players I Like More Than Most:
Freddy Freeman 1B Atlanta Braves – Like that friend of yours that somehow always stays under the radar, Freeman had an outstanding rookie season last year as a 22 year old for Atlanta, and yet, has garnered little attention from fantasy players entering this year. With a full season from Michael Bourn and bounce back seasons from Jason Heyward and Martin Prado, the Braves lineup could be better than people think this year. Freeman produced a .282/21/76 batting mark last season, and I see little reason he will not improve to a .290/25/90 season in his sophomore campaign, making him a tremendous value pick in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
Jose Valverde RP Detroit Tigers – Inevitably every fantasy draft I have done for the past 5 years has found Jose Valverde on my roster, as he is remarkably consistent and typically exceeds his draft position year after year. Valverde has strong job security in an overall solid Detroit bullpen, and barring injury, he should produce another season of 3 Wins, 30-40 Saves, a 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Being undeservedly selected outside the top 10 closers, once again there is little chance I will leave my drafts without Valverde as a member of my squad.
Jayson Werth OF Washington – Overwhelmed by the expectations placed on him after signing a 7-year $126 million dollar free agent contract, Werth struggled and finished with a .232/20HR/58RBI/19SB season last year. However, I expect a big comeback season from Werth for one reason: I believe Werth is better suited to being a Max Weinberg/Clarence Clemons type player rather than being Bruce Springsteen, as in, an outstanding supporting member of the band but not the superstar. With Ryan Zimmerman’s contract this winter, a full season from Stephen Strasburg, and the arrival of Bryce Harper, he will shrug off much of the attention he received last year and rebound to produce a typical .275, 24 HR, 90 RBI, and 15 SB Jayson Werth-type season. Being drafted outside of the top 100 this spring, draft him with confidence anytime outside the top 70 or so and he will provide excellent value to your fantasy team.
Players I Like Less Than Most:
Heath Bell RP Miami Marlins – Bell had another solid season as a closer in San Diego last season, but a closer look at the numbers indicates he was rather lucky, as his strikeout ratio decreased to 7.32 per 9 innings, down from a career 9.22 per 9, and his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was .261, well below his career .301 average. These warning signs, plus the move from spacious Petco Park to the new Marlins stadium have me fearing a terrible regression for Bell, and makes Juan Carlos Oviedo, aka the artist formerly known as Leo Nunez, a must handcuff (fantasy nerd term for drafting the reliever next in line to close) for Bell in 2012. Currently the 5th or 6th closer being selected, ahead of more reliable options such as Brian Wilson and Drew Storen, I will be staying far away from Heath Bell this year.
Brian McCann Catcher Atlanta Braves – This is less a knock on McCann than an acknowledgement that catcher is rather deep this season, and while McCann is as consistent as they come (.270-.290 BA, 18-24 HRs, and 75-90 RBI) there are plenty of comparable options going much later. Alex Avila comes with less of a track record but is likely to produce a .280/15-18HRs/75-85RBI type season and is being drafted 4 rounds later. Even Wilson Ramos and Yadier Molina could produce similar numbers to McCann this year, and they are available 100-150 picks later. Wait on catching this season, as there is considerable depth that can allow you to fill other positions before drafting your catcher.
Adam Wainwright SP St. Louis Cardinals – Wainwright is an outstanding pitcher who had Tommy John surgery a year ago in February, and although the track record of success is extremely high for this surgery, it should be expected he will not throw 200+ innings this season, and typically pitchers struggle with command their first season back from this injury. I think Wainwright will be solid this year, but to draft him inside the top 100 picks, ahead of other starting pitchers like Mat Latos, Ricky Romero, and Matt Garza, makes little sense to me. Let Wainwright be someone else’s concern in 2012 and try to draft him on the cheap in 2013 when he is two years removed from the injury.
My Deeper Sleepers:
Adam Dunn 1B Chicago White Sox – Last season’s results are nearly impossible to explain (.159 batting average, 11 home runs, and 42 runs batted in) but Dunn is only one season removed from a .260/38HR/103RBI season. I believe he shrugs off last season and bounces back with a more typical .250/30/95 season in the hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Chone Figgins 3B Seattle Mariners – Scheduled to bat leadoff for the Mariners this season, Figgins was dreadful last year, batting .188 with 11 stolen bases; however, he is only two seasons removed from a .298 batting average, 42 steals, and 114 runs scored. Currently going undrafted in most leagues, I think Figgins has a bounce back season and produces a .270 batting average with 20+ steals and 80+ runs for Seattle.
Mat Gamel 1B Milwaukee Brewers – A bit forgotten as he has languished at Triple-A the past three seasons, Gamel will replace Prince Fielder as Milwaukee’s first baseman in 2012. No one has ever questioned his bat, as he is a career .304/.376/.498 minor league hitter, and this former top prospect has a chance to hit 20+ home runs this season while helping your team’s batting average.
Jake Peavy SP Chicago White Sox – Going undrafted in many fantasy leagues, Peavy is the ultimate “boom or bust” pick, but he has considerable talent and posted 95 strikeouts in 111.2 innings last season in his return from career-threatening shoulder surgery. Draft Peavy in the last round and I think he will return strong value for your squad this year.
Vinnie Pestano RP Cleveland Indians – The Indians current closer, Chris Perez, has been battling an oblique injury all spring and regardless Pestano is the better pitcher, producing a 2.32 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, and 84 strikeouts in 62 innings in 2011. Whether it is this injury or another sometime during the season, I believe Pestano seizes Cleveland’s closer job from Perez and produces 20+ saves along with excellent strikeout numbers, making him my favorite sleeper reliever this season.
I encourage you to share your predictions (or comment on my picks) in the comments section below. Good luck this season everyone, except to those competing in my fantasy leagues.
Today’s “Tip of the Fedora” goes out to my Mother who celebrated her Birthday this week… Thank you for all that you do and I hope you had a wonderful day.
I encourage you to follow me on Twitter @NatsGMdotcom, “Like” me on Facebook search NatsGM, and email me at NationalsGM@Gmail.com – Thank you for reading!