Andy LaRoche: David Kohl/AP
Every year you see players who just have a hard time adjusting to life the Major Leagues and their numbers suffer in their first real action in the show. It's happened to the best of them. Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt batted .196 in 367 at bats as a rookie. Mickey Mantle slugged just .443. Reggie Jackson hit .178. All were highly touted and all fell on their faces, yet all bounced back in their sophomore seasons. Here are five players who fell well short of their billing in 2008, but have spent the entire offseason waiting for a chance to make amends in 2009.
1. Andy LaRoche, Pirates: Pittsburgh obtained Adam's little brother midway through the season and the third baseman proceeded to hit .152 in 183 plate appearances for his new club. LaRoche has dealt with injuries the last few seasons in the minors but playing everyday for the Pirates he'll have a chance to get back to the .300 hitter with 20-home run power that he was during most of his minor league career.
2. Wladimir Balentien, Mariners: Balentin has long been considered the best power prospect in Seattle's system but especially coming off a .202/.250/.342 season looked out of luck for a regular job once Ken Griffey Jr. was signed as a free agent. However he's been smoking hot in spring training and with Jeff Clement likely being sent to the minors and Griffey serving as DH, Balentein will see lots of at bats.
3. Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks: A 3.05 ERA wasn't bad at all for the fireballing righthander, but going winless in 16 starts, including seven starts was not exactly what anyone was looking for. After a bout of wildness, Scherzer has settled into the fifth spot in Arizona's rotation and should be a solid fantasy contributor, especially in strikeout leagues.
4. Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs: A member of the two-time World Baseball Classic champion Japanese team, Fukudome was hitting his customary .300 as late as June 21, but went into a tailspin the rest of the season, batting just .181 with two home runs from Aug. 1 through the end of the postseason. He underwent an intense core training program and extra hitting in the offseason to ensure that he doesn't run out of gas again.
5. Daric Barton, Athletics: The highly-touted first baseman endured a season-long slump as a rookie, batting under .200 in May, July and August (and he heven batted .194 in a short stint with Triple A Sacramento). That was a far cry from his stellar minor league numbers, that saw him post a .299 career average and .410 on-base percentage. Even with Jason Giambi and Jack Cust in the lineup, Barton will be a fantasy contributor at some point during the season.
Every fantasy team is going to have to endure injuries and having players with multi-position eligibility is invaluable. Here are the best utility-men you can have on your teams (eligibility based on 20 games last year or starting projection this season):
Mark DeRosa, Indians: His versatility showcased at the WBC, Cleveland's new starting third baseman also qualifies at second and the outfield.
Ty Wigginton, Orioles: The former second and third baseman will get a bulk of his playing time in leftfield, but also qualifies at third and could add second and first to his résumé in leagues with one or five game in-season eligibility rules.
Ryan Freel, Orioles: Coming off a torn tendon in his right hamstring that cost him the second half of 2008, the speedy Freel, 32, looks to be fully healed and will team with Wigginton giving Baltimore manager Dave Tremblay myriad lineup options at second, third and in the outfield.
Jerry Hairston Jr., Reds: A Dusty Baker favorite, the former second baseman still has speed (15 steals) and is one of the rare backup players with offensive skills and shortstop eligibility.
Carlos Guillen, Tigers: Guillen already qualifies at both corners from last season's mid-year swap of positions with Miguel Cabrera. This year he'll play everyday in left giving his owners lots of flexibility as to where to use his .290-hitting bat in their lineup.
Branch Rickey believed that it was better to get rid of a player one year too early than one year too late. These fantasy league mainstays come with tremendous credentials, but do they have anything left in the tank for the upcoming fantasy season? Here are five longtime favorites to give one last chance to and five more to let fade into the sunset.
Play 'Em Again
Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners: A return to Seattle should coax one more 20 home run season out of Junior.
Randy Johnson, Giants: The Unit has a new team laden with Cy Young Award winners and claims to feel better than he has in years.
Troy Percival, Rays: After missing the '08 postseason, he'll be ready on opening day to be the closer for the defending AL Champs.
John Smoltz, Red Sox: He won't be ready until June the earliest making him a perfect low-cost candidate to stash on your DL for a late season payoff.
Gary Sheffield, Tigers: Sheff posted his lowest slugging percentage in 15 years but like the rest of his powerful teammates is expecting a big rebound after one of the most disappointing seasons in recent AL history.
Jamie Moyer, Phillies: A hometown World series hero, at 46, Moyer will be very hard-pressed to duplicate his 16-7, 3.71 season.
Tom Glavine, Braves: Likely headed for the Hall of Fame, the soon-to-be 43-year old lefty is suffering from shoulder soreness, a problem best left for someone else to deal with.
Mike Sweeney, Mariners: With Griffey now and Jeff Clement later claiming at bats at DH, there'll be little chance that Sweeney will even get 200 at bats as a right-handed hitting DH.
Eddie Guardado, Rangers: Everyday Eddie's days as a viable fantasy players are numbered at best, especially since he stands little chance of regaining a closers job.
Cliff Floyd, Padres: In limited action last season in Tampa Bay, Floyd had credible numbers (.268, 11, 39), but even with a weak offensive team in San Diego, he won't get more than token pinch hit at bats.