The mindset that drafts are lost in the early rounds and won in the middle-to-late rounds has rightfully served as overlying draft strategy for many fantasy players. If you target safe, low-floor players like Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Cliff Lee in the early rounds, here are a few high upside targets for the later rounds.
Since the summer months of last season, I knew I'd be targeting Eric Hosmer in my drafts this season. As a 21-year-old Hosmer posted a .293 average with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs in just 128 big league games. Prior to his call up from Class AAA Omaha, the promising lefty hit .439 in 98 at-bats with 16 just strikeouts to 19 walks.
His numbers in 2010 were equally impressive when Hosmer carried a .338 average, hit 20 home runs, and walked 59 times and to only 66 strikeouts over three levels. While his BB:K ratio lagged a little during his rookie season -- nothing out of the ordinary for a 21-year-old getting his first taste of the big leagues -- Hosmer has already shown an advanced approach in the batter's box to compliment his promising skill-set.
Another positive for Hosmer is that the 6-foot-4, 230-pound giant quietly added 11 steals to his final line. Aided by a Royals squad notorious for giving their players the green light, Hosmer should see around 15 steals again this season. Currently selected at pick 74 according to Yahoo! average draft position, don't let Kansas City's small market blind you from the upside Hosmer brings to the table.
Moving to the mound, there are two things a pitcher can control without the aid of defense, ballpark or batted ball luck: strikeouts and walks. As a result it's only natural to target players who display excellence in those departments.
Anibal Sanchez posted a K/9 of 9.26 and a BB/9 of 2.93 over 196 innings last season. The second best prospect in the trade that sent Josh Beckett to Boston is poised for a breakout season in 2012. Perhaps overlooked due to a fluky eight wins last year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the fourth-year pro come close to doubling his win total behind an improved offense this year.
In 2011 Sanchez sported a fastball that averaged just under 92 MPH and an improved change-up that he relied on more heavily than in previous seasons. Sanchez's slider, by far his best pitch in 2010, actually graded out as an average offering last season according to FanGraphs. If Sanchez can reclaim his once devastating slider and continue to be effective with his fastball and change-up, a trip to the All-Star game is not out of the question for the Miami hurler now entering his prime years.
The determination of how early and often saves should be drafted might be the most debatable aspect of our fake game. One train of thought is to target high-upside options later in the draft in hopes that they'll secure the job and run with it.
Those who adapted this strategy with Craig Kimbrel last season might want to take a look at White Sox rookie Addison Reed. Boasting a lethal fastball slider combination, Reed has the talent to be a top-5 closer by the end of this season. Over five minor league stops since 2010 Reed never posted an ERA above 1.80, a K/9 below 11.81, a BB/9 above 2.61 or a FIP above 2.20. It's no surprise that he was named the Minor League Reliever of the Year for 2011.
With Sergio Santos closing games in Toronto and Chris Sale positioning himself for a rotation gig, the closing role is up for grabs in Chicago. Matt Thornton lingers, but the 35-year-old only has 20 career saves and the White Sox always seemed to prefer the lefty in a set-up role.
Jesse Crain is also in the picture but from a pure "stuff" standpoint Addison is the clear choice between the two. Even if Reed doesn't claim the closing job, he should provide peripheral stats and a strikeout rate worthy of mixed league consideration.
A true sleeper to target in the waning hours of a draft is Rays shortstop Sean Rodriguez. Coming off a 2011 campaign where he finished with an unappealing .223 batting average, you likely won't have to pry him from too many leaguemate's fingers.
However, there are positive signs for the young infielder. First and foremost Rodriguez has a path to steady playing time. He and Reid Brignac, who was similarly bad last year, will look to fight for the everyday job during spring training. Another reason for optimism is that Rodriguez cut his K-rate from 25.7% in 2010 to 20% in 2011.
This brings into question why Rodriguez's average dropped from a bearable .251 to a Mark Reynolds-esque 223 last season. His BABIP plummeted 56 points from 2010, but he also hit an alarming number of infield fly balls -- 19.8 percent of his at-bats ended in this manner. Considering only 8.6% of his at-bats ended in an infield fly during the 2010 campaign I think this suggests a correctable mechanical flaw.
While an improved average is likely, what makes Rodriguez worthy of a roster spot is his home run and stolen base contributions. In his 716 at-bats over the past two seasons, Rodriguez hit 17 home runs and stole 24 bags. If Rodriguez secures everyday playing time, his solid contributions in the counting stats should make up for his struggles hitting for average. With second, third and shortstop eligibility, Rodriguez could play a role as your imaginary team's utility man.
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