March 16, 2009

March Madness is upon us -- you can feel the excitement. Oh, I don't mean that crazy NCAA basketball tournament. I'm talking about fantasy baseball drafts, with millions of die-hard baseball fans preparing for draft day -- better known as Christmas Day for fantasy players.

On draft day we get to open all of our presents in front of our friends, one by one, round by round. They may not all be the presents we were expecting, but we'll live with them nonetheless and try to build championship teams around them. We'll love them for the time being, and if we need to ship them out for new toys, so be it. You can't fall in love with bad presents for a full season, that's for sure, so be prepared to get active during the trading season and on the free agent wires.

I've already competed in almost a dozen auctions and drafts this year, and our National Fantasy Baseball Championship has already hosted 25-plus pay leagues, so I've seen a lot of trends lately. Here is just my view of 10 of the most undervalued players in 2009 drafts and 10 potential overvalued players:

1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: This one gets put on this list with a caveat: He also could be on your list of most overrvalued players. A-Rod's Average Draft Position (ADP) before his hip surgery was fourth, which means he was the consensus fourth overall pick in the draft. I've seen him go 26th in a recent pay draft, but I've also seen him go 11th. He will likely fall between the end of the first round and into the late second round. Heck, in the recent USA Today LABR draft, he went for a mere $22 after having a pre-injury value of $40. He's undervalued at that price, if you can withstand the pain of his absence for a month or more.

I don't buy that A-Rod will just come off the DL and play 130 games and be his old self. He's not going to steal 18 bases again with a bad hip, he's not going to play in 130 straight games, and he's not going to be razor sharp after missing all of spring training. I'm shying away from him in every draft going forward, but if he falls too far like he did in LABR he could be very undervalued.

2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: His ADP was 19 in '08, but one year after having a wrist injury he's fallen to an ADP of 54. In LABR, he went for $22, which was just $2 more than Mike Jacobs. Yes, his '08 numbers were awful (.264-23-89), and yes, nobody wants to lock up their Utility position in the fourth or fifth round, but Ortiz is going to bounce back this year and will be a bargain in '09. Just watch and see.

3. Bobby Abreu, Angels: The Yankees wanted no part of this 35-year old and neither did anyone else as the free agent had to "settle" for a $5 million guaranteed contract from the Angels that was filled with incentives. Abreu doesn't have a lot to prove, but he now has plenty of reasons to put up big numbers and hit the free agent market again next year. His ADP is now just 67th overall and he went for a mere $21 in LABR, a bargain for someone who hit .296-20-100 with 22 SBs and 100 runs. He's now hitting near the top of a potent offense and will top last year's numbers at a bargain price on draft day.

4. Coco Crisp, Royals: The Royals look like a new team this spring with Crisp at the top of this lineup. He brings good plate patience, speed and excitement to the top of this lineup and he comes at a bargain. His ADP is 199 because he was limited to just 361 at-bats in Boston last year, hitting just .283-7-41-20. But forget about those numbers because if he stays healthy he will easily top 500 at-bats in Kansas City and could finish with 30 stolen bases and close to 100 runs. He's going to surprise some folks this year, as will the Royals.

5. Ben Francisco, Indians: The Indians' 27-year-old corner outfielder isn't getting much love this spring from fantasy owners as his ADP is a mere 366. But he's having a good spring and is situated in the heart of Cleveland's potent lineup, ready for a bustout season. In just 121 games last year, he hit .266-15-54 with 65 runs. He has a good eye at the plate, he has a great line-drive swing and he will top 20 homers and 80 RBIs in '09.

6. Fred Lewis, Giants: If you're looking for some cheap steals later in the draft, Lewis is the one to turn to. In 133 games with the Giants last year, the 28-year old quietly hit .282 with 21 SBs in 28 attempts, while scoring 81 runs. He's back at the top of the Giants' lineup again this year and 25-plus SBs and 90-plus runs is possible. With an ADP of 216, you can do a lot worse in the lower rounds than this solid left fielder.

7. Andre Ethier, Dodgers: Manny Ramirez was the key to the Dodgers' turnaround last season, but Ethier played a role in that, too. He hit .335 after the All-Star break and .462-2-18 during September. He hit .326 against right-handed pitchers and hit better than .300 at home and on the road. What's not to like? Just 26, Ethier's ADP is 104 as he's not even a Top 30 outfielder in mixed leagues, but his value will be higher than that by season's end.

8. J.J. Hardy, Brewers: Hardy is a Top 10 shortstop whose ADP is 94, so he obviously is highly valued by fantasy owners. But when projecting his '09 stats, realize that last year's numbers were skewed by his reluctance to hit just before the pitcher. Once the Brewers moved him into the No. 2 spot -- where he will hit this year -- his numbers improved greatly. In 350 at-bats there, he hit .294-21-54 with 56 runs and he should continue that pace all year in '09 as he hits just before Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Now he seems undervalued, doesn't he?

9. Jason Giambi, Athletics: Giambi's return to Oakland after seven soap opera-type years in New York seems like a perfect fit -- for Giambi, for the A's and for their fans. His ADP is a mere 228 as fantasy owners are scared away from his weak average over the past three seasons: .247, .236, .253. But he did hit 32 homers with 96 RBIs last year and he is hungry this spring. He's ranked 28th among all first basemen in mixed leagues, so grab him as your corner infielder and hope he becomes one of the best bargains of '09.

10. Rajai Davis, Athletics: Davis isn't even on the radar in some smaller leagues, but in AL-only or 15-team leagues he's finding a spot on rosters. His ADP is 496, which means he's not being picked in every league, but he's starting in CF for Oakland and he has the speed to top 30 stolen bases even on a team that doesn't run much. Last year in 101 games with the A's, he hit .260 with 25 SBs in 31 attempts. He's a great reserve pick who could fill in nicely at times if you need some SBs.

1. Chris Davis, Rangers: The one thing you have to realize about all of these players on this list is that they are all good players. I just think some are going earlier than expected on draft day. Take Davis, for example. After starting last season at Double-A, he's now a Top 50 fantasy pick. His ADP is 49 and he's even gone in the third round in some NFBC pay leagues. Yes, he hit .285 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in only 80 games with Texas last year, but the 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats scare me a bit. He's going to have a good year in that hitter's park, but be careful about getting him too early.

2. Mike Jacobs, Royals: Jacobs could actually be a choice for the Undervalued list as he's now hitting cleanup in this much-improved Royals lineup, but he seems to be going higher than expected in many pre-season drafts. His ADP is 180 and he went for $20 in the recently completed LABR AL auction, on par with Carlos Pena. Jacobs still hit .247 last year and hit just .218 against left-handers, so be careful where you grab him.

3. Nelson Cruz, Rangers: His value has been on a steady rise all off-season and he's now a Top 40 outfielder in mixed leagues with an AL value of $18. The former Brewers' farmhand hit .342 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in 103 games at Triple-A Oklahoma last year before hitting .330-7-26 in 31 games for Texas. He will start in right field this year, but remember that he also hit .235 in '07 and that powerful swing still has some holes in it. He will have a solid '09 season, but there's no guarantee here.

4. Ian Stewart, Rockies: The Rockies want to find a starting job for this former first-round pick, but right now he looks like a platoon player heading into '09. He was slowed by a biceps strain this spring and will likely back up Garret Atkins at third base and maybe play some at second base. He hit just .259 last year in 81 games, but his ADP is still 274 and he went for $12 in the recent LABR NL Auction League. He's being bid up like a starter, but I don't see a starting role in his future unless Atkins gets traded.

5. Brandon Wood, Angels: Wood is in a similar position as Stewart, but to a lesser extent. His ADP is only 350 and he went for only $6 in LABR, but folks still think he's going to finally emerge this year. I don't see it unless something happens to Chone Figgins. Wood isn't the defensive third baseman that Figgins is and he certainly doesn't jump-start this offense like Figgins does. He's also hit .191 in the majors the last two years and just can't get it going past Triple-A. I think he's going to be a good player eventually, but I don't see it happening in '09.

6. Milton Bradley, Cubs: Last year was almost as good as it gets for Bradley, who led the AL with a .436 on-base percentage and hit .321-22-77 in 126 games. He still missed 36 games to injury and he's played more than that just once in the last nine years. Still, his ADP is 164 and he's valued at $17 in AL-only leagues. He's already struggled with an injury this spring, so expect more of the same in '09 with the Cubs.

7. Elijah Dukes, Nationals: Potential, potential, potential. Nobody will deny that this 6-foot-1, 240-pounder has that. Just 25 and on a team just waiting for a star to emerge, Dukes has wasted his potential thus far as he's hit just .235 in two partial MLB seasons. The believers are lining up for him, however, this season as his ADP is 214 and he even went for $21 in the LABR NL auction. The potential is 20-plus HR and 20-plus SB, but I'll believe it when I see it.

8. Willy Taveras, Reds: I don't like to chase one-category wonders, although I realize that when you're in the middle rounds and you're badly in need of stolen bases, a guy such as Taveras just jumps out at you. Last year with Colorado, he led the NL with 68 stolen bases in 75 attempts (91 percent), but he also hit just .251-1-26 and his .308 on-base percentage was pathetic for a leadoff hitter. I understand the need for stolen bases, but with an ADP of 124 and an NL value of $17 he brings too little to the table for my liking.

9. Nick Swisher, Yankees: Swisher's value has been on a steady downfall this off-season and now he looks like he will be begging for at-bats in New York. I don't really understand why the Yankees traded for him, but I guess he can now fill in at center when needed, at first if Mark Teixeira needs a day off or at DH if needed. But it's hard to see where this .244 career hitter is going to get meaningful playing time. If he gets less than 350 ABs, he won't generate enough power to offset that horrendous .219 average he posted last year. Stay away.

10. Edgar Renteria, Giants: Now heading into his 14th season, Renteria seemed to hit the wall last year and everyone saw it except the Giants. They gave him a two-year, $18.5 million contract this off-season, but astute fantasy players aren't buying it. They saw him hit .270 with a weak .317 on-base percentage, 10 homers, 55 RBIs and just 6 SBs. He's aging fast and hitting in AT&T Park will just lessen those weak numbers. Stay away.

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