Monday, February 11, 2008

Down on the Farm

With Fantasy drafts coming up and the regular season right behind we are going to start focusing the "Down on the Farm" column in the coming weeks on Spring Training position battles and what rookies look to break camps with respective clubs. Before we get into that focus though this week we are going to take a look at players who can be a sophmore surprise. Players who played enough last year to eliminate their rookie eligibility, but who might not yet be a household name. We're not going to look at the Ryan Braun's and Hunter Pence's because we know that they are already on everyone's draft board. Instead we are going to look at a few players you may have missed last season, but should know as you head into your draft.
  1. Billy Butler- DH/1B Kansas City Royals: No one denies that Billy Butler can hit as thats all he's done at every level since being a 1st round pick in 2004. Butler represents the rare case where his glove holds him back as it keeps him from becoming an everyday player for the Royals and fantasy teams. Butler could very well be destined to become a Utility only player with no other positional eligibility, on the other hand he is still only 22 years old and first base is still a very viable option for him. Regardless of where he plays Butler will be a middle of the order bat on an up and coming team for the forseeable future. Last year in two different stints with the Royals, he hit .292 (AVG)-8 (HR)-52 (RBI) in 329 AB's while adding .291-13-46 in 203 AB's in AAA. This year I would expect big things out of Butler with him moving his average up in to the low .300's with 25-30 HR's and 100 RBI's. He won't bring speed to the table but will still help in a number of offensive categories. Just remember to not let his lack of a position or the fact that he plays for the Royals to affect his draft status.

  2. Justin Upton-OF Arizona Diamondbacks: Its a bit scary when the older Upton brother BJ hits .300-24-82 and steals 22 bases all in the span of 424 at bats, and Justin is considered the better baseball player. Now before we go any further this is not to say you should draft Justin before BJ on draft day as the latter is four years older and should be among the fantasy elite this year. But what I am trying to say is that Justin should be on his older brothers heels this year and maybe ready to pass him up next year as the first Upton off the draft board. Justin in just 140 AB's hit .221-2-11 with 2 SB's this followed up hitting .319-18-70 with 19 SB's in 385 minor league at bats. While Justin didn't exactly take the league by storm I doubt that there is one manager in baseball that wouldn't want to pencil his name into the lineup 162 days this season. The D-backs look ready to do that this year and barring some weird fluke you should be ready to have him in your fantasy roster as well. Justin's average this year might not match his talent level but he will give you legit power and speed, 40 HR's is a real possiblity with at least 25 SB's. Look for big numbers from both of the Upton brothers this year and look for Justin to be the steal of your draft.

  3. Lastings Milledge-OF Washington Nationals: While Milledge has played in roughly a third of the Mets games in each of the last two seasons he has never gotten the chance to be an everyday player until now. With his trade to the Washington Nationals this winter Milledge will finally have the opportunity that has eluded him thus far to reach his true potential. While he will have some competition for the job Milledge should end up as the Nats new centerfielder come opening day in brand new National Park. Milledge won't ever hit 40 homeruns but the move to National Park away from Shea should put Milledge in the 25 HR range, with the potential to add somewhere around 20 steals as well. Milledge is only 23 years old and has a bright future ahead of him and should be a very solid addition to the Nationals lineup.

  4. Phillip Hughes-SP New York Yankees: Phil Hughes may very well be the best known player on this list as he has had top prospect status since the day New York drafted him and was considered the centerpiece in the Yankees-Twins trade talks this winter involving Johan Santana. While the Yankees didn't end up with Santana they still might have an ace in Hughes. Hughes has dominated the Minors at every level he has pitched going 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 42 K's in just 37.2 innings last year before his callup. In the majors Hughes went 5-3 with a 4.48 ERA and 58 K's in 72.2 innings pitched. While those numbers aren't as dominant as some other young pitchers we've seen of late, Hughes has all the makings of a top flight pitcher. He won't turn 22 until the end of June, yet is one of the safer bets among young pitchers to make 30+ starts this year. Also Hughes is pretty much guaranteed to be the Yankees 3rd starter and with that run support behind him anything less than 15 wins should be unacceptable. I would look for Hughes to top that being around 17 wins with 180+ strikeouts and an ERA hovering just around 4.00. As August turns to September look for Hughes to be the Yankees most valuable fantasy pitcher and a member of your rotation as your playoffs begin.

  5. Yovanni Gallardo-SP Milwaukee Brewers: The Milwaukee Brewers look to expand on last year's playoff run that had them in the mix until the last week of the season by taking the NL Central this season. For them to take that next step a lot of it will rely on Yovanni Gallardo's right arm. While some might declare that hyperbole and that the Brewers success will be determined by their hitting. I would say that they need an ace to match up with their big bashers and that Gallardo is that man. Gallardo who was called up in late June after going 8-3 with at 2.90 ERA and 110K's in just 77.2 innings could be one of the majors best kept secrets that will become known on Opening Day. He followed up his Minor League performance by going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA and 101 K's in 110.1 innings, all of this at the age of 21. I think Gallardo is going to continue his success and I don't think its crazy for him to come close to 20 wins and 200 strikeouts this season. Gallardo is not a sleeper but a true fantasy stud, don't pass up the opportunity to add this ace to your rotation.
In all cases these players are must have's in AL/NL only leagues and auctions leagues, as they can cheaply round out your roster. These players all have value and potential in regular mixed leagues as well so make sure they are on your Draft Board. Have a great week everyone and see you next Monday.

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