Fantasy Articles
As I pointed out in a recent column, Jose Reyes, in my opinion, is the most overrated player in fantasy baseball. Interestingly enough, Reyes hit the DL shortly after my article was posted, sidelined by a lingering calf injury.

In keeping with the theme, I find it fitting that I share with you the most underrated player in fantasy baseball. To clarify, this award goes to the player who is performing at an exceedingly high level not only this season, but also in recent years (sorry Zach Greinke; you too, Aaron Hill), and whose services are continually undervalued on draft day. A case could certainly be made for dozens of players, but to me, the talent-snub discrepancy is greatest for San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a huge boost for fantasy players smart enough to draft him this year.
Photo by SD Dirk, used under creative commons license.
I won’t lie. Gonzalez was on my “Do Not Draft” list last year. Although he was coming off a 2007 campaign in which he belted 30 homers and had 100 RBI -- which, by the way, were upgrades from 24 and 82 in 2006 -- I remained skeptical. Gonzalez plays in Petco Park, one of the least hitter-friendly fields in all of baseball, and his lineup protection isn’t exactly, well, existent. So what did Gonzalez do in 2008, the year I refused to draft him? He played in all 162 games, hit a serviceable .279 and had career highs in homers (36), RBI (119) and runs scored (103).

This season, Gonzalez, only 27, is on pace to surpass those marks. He is leading the majors in home runs (20), has a .287 average and is tops on his team in RBI (40) runs (37) and OPS (1.035). His 20 bombs by June 1 are the most in franchise history, and he is on pace to break the 60-homer barrier.

What is most impressive about Gonzalez is not what he is doing; rather, it is where he’s doing it. He is producing at a phenomenal rate despite playing half of his games at Petco. Look at Gonzalez’ home/away splits over the last few seasons.

Home (79 games): .266 average, 10 homers, 36 RBI, 44 runs
Away (82 games): .295 average, 20 homers, 64 RBI, 57 runs

Home (81 games): .247 average, 14 homers, 49 RBI, 40 runs
Away (81 games): .308 average, 22 homers, 70 RBI, 63 runs

2009 (through play on May 31)
Home (23 games): .259 average, 5 homers, 12 RBI, 12 runs
Away (26 games): .304 average, 14 homers, 25 RBI, 24 runs

If you take Gonzalez’ away stats and extrapolate them to a full season, you’re talking about a guy hitting around .300 with 40-45 home runs, 125-135 RBI and 110-120 runs scored. In other words, you’re talking about a first-round pick. And if Gonzalez, who is currently sandwiched between guys like David Eckstein, Chase Headley and Brian Giles (with a side of Kevin Kouzmanoff), ever finds himself in a lineup resembling any sort of potency, watch out. You’re looking at one of the premier fantasy producers in all of baseball.

I was able to grab Gonzalez, who was likely a fourth-round pick in most drafts, toward the end of round five and considered myself lucky. Next year, I won’t be so fortunate. Even with the Petco woes and the lack of legitimate big-league talent surrounding him, Gonzalez still has a legitimate shot at .280/50/120/100. If you were fortunate enough to grab Gonzo anytime after round three, savor the flavor, because this classy Padre has late-first round written all over him in 2010.