Fantasy Baseball 2010 draft primer

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Five on the rise

• Jon Lester, Red SoxAt No. 21 overall in my rankings, Lester hardly qualifies as a sleeper; but he also has the capacity to make a wire-to-wire run for the American League Cy Young -- just like Zack Greinke in 2009.

• Josh Johnson, Marlins In real-life baseball, Johnson's the indomitable ace of a club that's primed for a legitimate wild-card run. In fantasyland, he's a lock for 200-plus strikeouts, 16 wins and elite-level numbers in WHIP and ERA.

• Yovani Gallardo, BrewersFantasy owners have had to wait out the learning curve of Gallardo, the Brewers' purported ace for nearly three years (CC Sabathia interlude notwithstanding). Finally, all the pieces are in place for 15-plus wins and 200-plus strikeouts.

• Clayton Kershaw, DodgersThe 21-year-old Kershaw might surpass Johnson and Gallardo in strikeouts and ERA -- just don't expect more than 14 victories while playing for the volatile Dodgers this season.

• Adam Wainwright, CardinalsFantasy drafters, enjoy your last season of corralling Wainwright in Round 4 or 5 in mixed leagues. This ace is a lock for 18-plus wins and the National League Cy Young.

Five in decline

• Johan Santana, MetsGo ahead and celebrate snaring Santana in Round 5 or later in mixed-league drafts -- he's still viable in fantasyland. Just don't expect 200-plus strikeouts, 17 wins or a microscopic WHIP. Sadly, those days are gone.

• Cole Hamels, Phillies The enigmatic Hamels is still good for 6-7 games of 10-plus strikeouts and 2 or fewer runs surrendered. The problem lies with his head-scratching numbers in the other 26 starts.

• Roy Oswalt, AstrosThe optimist in me says Oswalt -- just like Santana and Hamels -- remains a productive pitcher. The pessimist, however, says to wave bye-bye to 12 wins, 160 strikeouts and 1.15 WHIP.

• Carlos Zambrano, CubsBig Z deserves plenty of credit for reshaping his body in the offseason. But a new physique likely won't put a dent in his scary-high WHIP totals from years past ... or preclude him from a few meltdowns this season.

• Erik Bedard, MarinersWhen fully healthy, Bedard should be treated like a top-30 pitcher. But he seldom operates at 100 percent.


• Matt Garza, RaysThe Rays might have the best starting quintet of pitchers in baseball (which doesn't even include über-prospect Jeremy Hellickson), but who's going to emerge as the undisputed ace this season? My money's on Garza.

• Chad Billingsley, DodgersDon't let the sluggish second half fool you -- Billingsley has all the physical tools to rival Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers' ace and serve as a fantasy dynamo. But he'll come at a cheaper fantasy price.

• Scott Baker, Twins Just like Garza with Tampa Bay, Minnesota desperately needs someone to become the anchor of the pitching staff, and Baker still has great upside in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. Consider him a great consolation prize for not landing Kevin Slowey on draft day.

• Randy Wells, CubsWells may go undrafted in some mixed leagues, but he's still an intriguing choice in three categories -- victories, ERA and WHIP. In fact, by season's end, Wells might have better numbers than Carlos Zambrano and/or Randy Wolf.

• Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red SoxI normally steer clear of pitchers with a porous track record in WHIP. But amid reports of Dice-K's improved conditioning and stronger shoulder, he could be an excellent value pick (unlike last year). It's amazing what rest can do for a pitcher sometimes, huh?

• For more on starting pitchers, read Jay Clemons' position rankings

Five on the rise

• Rafael Soriano, RaysThere's great value in whichever Tampa Bay reliever wins the closer role, and Soriano has the inside track to the job. Consider him to be a rock-solid consolation prize for fantasy owners who didn't have the patience to wait for Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes.

• Neftali Feliz, RangersIf he had been definitively tabbed for the Rangers' starting rotation or bullpen, Feliz would be one of the most sought-after rookies in fantasy drafts. Instead, some lucky owner will reap the benefits of Feliz's tweenerism.

• Ryan Franklin, Cardinals It's quite possible that Franklin (38 saves, 1.20 WHIP and 1.92 ERA in 2009) is just scratching the surface of his closing potential. But then again, Jason Motte could arguably post similar numbers if the roles were reversed in the Cards' bullpen. Better get both, just to be safe.

• Luke Gregerson, PadresThe San Diego reliever wins my preseason vote for the 2010 Set-Up Man Of The Year, courtesy of the following stat (Fanball): 12.8 K/9 ratio in his last 28 appearances. Think of him as Heath Bell, circa 2007.

• Leo Nunez, MarlinsThe Marlins will make the 2010 playoffs as a wild-card team. Hence, someone has to reap the rewards of a 90-plus-win season. Enter Nunez and 28-plus saves.

Five in decline

• Francisco Rodriguez, Mets He'll never live up to that 62-save dream season of 2008. His ERA and WHIP have taken sustainable punishment since then.

• Brad Lidge, PhilliesOnly the saves-obsessed fantasy owner should even think of murmuring his name on draft day.

• Bobby Jenks, White SoxPerhaps the slimmed-down version of Jenks can hold off the challengers in Chicago's bullpen -- namely J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton.

• J.P. Howell, RaysHowell is still a solid pitcher in real-world baseball, but his draft-day value takes a serious hit if/when Soriano is named the Rays' full-time closer.

• Dan Wheeler, RaysDitto for Wheeler, who likely missed his chance to be Tampa Bay's go-to bullpen stud last season.


• Carlos Marmol, CubsMarmol's wild ways will cripple the faint-of-heart fantasy owner but eventually there will be a payoff for those who believe in his rocket arm and imposing demeanor on the mound.

• Matt Lindstrom, Astros Brandon Lyon has the better numbers, but Lindstrom likely gets first crack at the Astros' closer role. If Lindstrom can keep the elbow healthy and the head free of distractions (big IF), he'll likely be a late-round value.

• Drew Storen, NationalsStephen Strasburg wasn't Washington's only jewel from the 2009 entry draft. If Matt Capps should falter as the Nationals' closer sooner than later, expect Storen to step right in and flourish -- even with limited save chances.

• Joey Devine, Athletics Last year's draft wunderkind is this season's forgotten gem. Chalk it up to a season-ending injury ... and the out-of-nowhere emergence of Andrew Bailey (and to a lesser extent, Michael Wuertz).

• Sergio Romo, GiantsRomo has two things in his favor: He's a future star in the making and only has Brian Wilson standing in his path to the Giants' closer role for the next 5-7 years.

• Jay Clemons' Relief Pitcher rankings

Five on the rise

• Adam Jones, OriolesAs if Jones wasn't regarded highly enough, he's just a monster spring training away from cracking Round 2 of AL-only leagues. Thankfully for us, he should have no trouble justifying the hype -- hopefully, with a 20/25 season.

• Shin-Soo Choo, Indians Wow! If Matt LaPorta is anything close to what the so-called experts are saying about his potential, the Indians might have the American League's best outfield -- at least north of the Florida state line ... and west of the Baltimore harbor. Choo also feeds the fantasy bulldog, perhaps to the tune of 18 HRs, 89 RBIs, 96 runs, 23 steals, .308 average.

• Andrew McCutchen, PiratesMeet the Adam Jones of the National League -- just oozing with 5-tool expertise. In other words, enjoy your last year of plucking McCutchen from the icy depths of Round 8.

• Carlos Gonzalez, RockiesSo, that's why the Rockies were happy to ship free agent-to-be Matt Holliday to Oakland last winter (sorry, Huston Street). Gonzo already has established himself as a 20-20 threat for the Rockies.

• Kyle Blanks, PadresPETCO Park be damned, Blanks is still a reasonable threat for 25 homers. Draftniks be damned, I plan on stealing him in Round 13.

Five in decline

• Alfonso Soriano, CubsSoriano was once a must-have component to mixed-league drafts. But now, he's nothing more than a later-round flier -- at least for the fantasy few who haven't been burned by him the past two seasons.

• Josh Hamilton, Rangers Truth be told, I would dance a happy jig to garner Hamilton sometime around Round 7 in mixed-league drafts. But there's also no denying his precipitous fall from the top 10, dating back to last year. That's what happens with the perpetually injured. Out of sight, out of mind.

• Carlos Beltran, MetsBeltran's teeth-gnashing decline down the draft boards was self-induced. He could've had knee surgery last October, instead of waiting until February. As a result, fantasy owners won't enjoy his projected goodness until May 1 or so.

• Adam Dunn, Nationals Dunn remains a reasonable hope for 35 homers ... but there's just no buzz surrounding a guy who has little talent surrounding him in Washington.

• Manny Ramirez, DodgersSpeaking of self-inflicted downfalls ... Manny has no fantasy leg to stand on here. For some inexplicable reason, his power's been sapped (oh wait, one reason does come to mind). And for whatever reason, he doesn't want to be a Dodger in 2011. Should be a fun summer in Mannywood.


• Hunter Pence, AstrosPerhaps it's an anti-Houston bias, but Pence just doesn't get enough fantasy credit, even though he's solid, if not remarkable, in five categories.

• Corey Hart, BrewersThis time last year, Hart was hailed as an automatic for 20/20 greatness; but injuries -- along with fantasy empathy -- have sullied his predraft value a few more slots than expected.

• Denard Span, TwinsYes, the Twins have a crowded outfield, and yes, Span may never sock 10 or more homers in his major league career. But he still has top-30 value for outfielders, which should never go unnoticed.

• Alex Rios, White SoxJust two years ago, Rios was a high Round 2 pick in AL-only leagues; and now, he can be found on the preferred-walkon scrap heap. Bottom line: He's just too good to be this bad. And even if he is, it's not like you spent an arm and a leg for his services.

• Vernon Wells, Blue JaysOh, the irony of Wells migrating with Rios from the penthouse to outhouse in just 48 months. But hey, at least the price is right.

• Jay Clemons' Outfielder rankings

On the rise

• Matt Wieters, OriolesEveryone knows Wieters is the prototypical catcher of the future in fantasyland -- a possible Mike Piazza-in-his-heyday type. But when does his era of dominance begin? Personally, I don't mind arriving to the party early on this one.

In decline

• Bengie Molina, GiantsNo one is disputing Molina's fantasy viability in recent years, but he's doomed for partial failure this season -- once highly touted rookie Buster Posey officially joins the club around June 1 (if not earlier).


• Ryan Doumit, Pirates For those fantasy owners who don't value the catcher spot in NL-only leagues (or mixed leagues with two starting backstops), make sure to grab Doumit in the latter rounds. With 130 games under his belt (an ambitious figure, mind you), Doumit is a reasonable lock for 17 HRs and 75 RBIs.

• Jay Clemons' Catcher rankings

On the rise

• Joey Votto, RedsSometime this decade -- perhaps next year -- Votto will be an extremely high pick in mixed leagues. In the meantime, we'll just have to enjoy his Round 1/2 production for a Round 4/5 draft-day price -- in the neighborhood of 27 HRs, 95 RBIs, .320 average.

In decline

• Chris Davis, Rangers At 24, Davis seemingly has plenty of time to right the ship. But his window of opportunity with the Rangers is closing fast -- thanks to the emergence of stud farmhand Justin Smoak, and the club's jogjam at the infield corner spots.


• Garrett Jones, Pirates If Jones had played 162 games with Pittsburgh last year, he could've amassed 40 homers and 20 steals. And yet, he's nothing more than a flyer pick in mixed-league mock drafts. This is what happens when you play for the sad-sack Pirates -- and had only two career HRs before 2009.

• Jay Clemons' First Base rankings

On the rise

• Ben Zobrist, Rays Choosing a so-called "fast riser" at second base is easier said than done. Given the established stars at the position -- and limited pool of impact rookies -- it was either Zobrist or Colorado's Ian Stewart. Zobrist gets the edge here, thanks to his OF-eligibility.

In decline

• Rickie Weeks, Brewers This characterization of Weeks' fantasy value has little to do with his play and everything to do with his injury-prone ways. And now, he's looking over his shoulder at Casey McGehee, especially if Mat Gamel earns Milwaukee's unabashed trust at third base.


• Scott Sizemore, TigersSizemore is far from the most attractive fantasy candidate in mixed leagues, but he has something other highly touted prospects don't -- a clear shot at an opening-day job. Detroit's executives love this kid!

• Jay Clemons' Second Base rankings

On the rise

• Gordon Beckham, White SoxI've yet to see a mock draft where Beckham has fallen past pick 50 in mixed leagues or pick 24 in AL-onlys. By a long shot, he is the fastest-rising non-rookie this season. Whether or not all this preseason hype becomes justified remains to be seen.

In decline

• Chone Figgins, MarinersFiggins must pay a draft-day price for his move to the power-sapped Mariners. More specifically, expect a noticeable downturn in runs and steals.


• Casey McGehee, BrewersSimply put, McGehee has the capacity for 25 HRs and .300 batting average. So, why would you not invest a late-round pick on a potential stud with multi-positional versatility?

• Jay Clemons' Third Base rankings

On the rise

• Yunel Escobar, BravesThe obvious answer here should either be Jason Bartlett or ElvisAndrus, but I'm making an adopted-hometown pick with Escobar. I have him earmarked for 15 HRs, 82 RBIs, 85 runs, 7 steals, .294 average; but realistically, he might exceed that in three categories.

In decline

• Rafael Furcal, DodgersThe days of 25-plus steals and .330 batting average have subsided for Furcal, who suddenly seems like a dinosaur among this crowd of dynamic twentysomethings.


• Alcides Escboar, BrewersI could have gone several ways with this sub-category, but Escobar beats out Everth Cabrera for two reasons: 1) Collectively, the Brewers will score more runs than the Padres; and 2) Escobar has zero competition at the 6-spot, thanks to J.J. Hardy's departure. (By the way, Hardy makes for an excellent sleeper, too.)

• Jay Clemons' Shortstop rankings

On the rise

• Adam Lind, Blue JaysYes, Lind already ranks No. 1 among his positional peers and has outfield eligibility, to boot ... and yes, he has nowhere to go but down in my rankings. That aside, I cannot emphasize how much better he is compared to the other DH cavemen.

In decline

• Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers Vladdie gets a relative free pass in my rankings on reputation alone. He also gets preferential treatment now that he's joined forces with the prodigious Rangers. But let's face it: His days of fantasy domination are long gone.


• Pat Burrell, Rays(Cue P.A. announcer's voice) And with the last pick in the 2010 & Friends fantasy league ... Count Chocula's Henchmen take a gamble on a forgotten masher with 30-HR potential.

•Jay Clemons' DH rankings

• Austin Jackson, TigersAh, the Tigers, where opportunity + great physical tools = fantasy goodness. Detroit has A-Jax penciled in as its Opening Day center fielder and -- more important -- leadoff hitter. And even if Jackson should fail right off the bat, the club will likely turn to rookies Wilkin Ramirez or Casper Wells.

• Scott Sizemore, Tigers(See Sizemore's fawning description in the second base category.)

• Drew Storen, NationalsFor what it's worth, the first impact stud of the 2009 entry-draft class.

• Netfali Feliz, RangersOur man-crush for Feliz knows no bounds. Let's just hope the Rangers exhibit more decisiveness with Feliz than the Yankees have for Joba Chamberlain, or the Mariners had for Brandon Morrow.

• Brian Matusz, Orioles A can't-miss stud for the next decade; but for this year, fantasy owners will just have to settle for 12 wins and sub-1.30 WHIP -- respectable numbers for a rookie.

• Stephen Strasburg, NationalsThe greatest prospect in MLB history -- or so we're told -- will likely make his major league debut sometime after June 1, and yet it's entirely possible he'll lead the Nationals in wins this season. Impressive.

• Jason Heyward, BravesYes, Heyward looks like the next Ryan Howard when coming off the Braves' team bus. But let's not project him for 40 HRs, 140 RBIS and 20 steals just yet. That aside, he's the perfect prospect for keeper leagues.

• Brett Wallace, Blue JaysThe book on Wallace is rather short: Average fielder, sublime hitter. Luckily for him (and us), defensive stats don't count in fantasy, and the Blue Jays won't be a pennant contender after Memorial Day.

• Buster Posey, GiantsNo offense to Bengie Molina or Bob Brenly, but Posey has to be the Giants' most-lauded catching prospect in 40 years. Even better, San Francisco has essentially tapped him as the starter upon his belated, but much-ballyhooed arrival.

• Desmond Jennings, RaysIf the Rays should pursue a starting outfield of Jennings, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, the oddsmakers in Vegas should lay a new over/under bet: How many ground balls/line drives against Tampa Bay pitching will touch the outfield wall? That aside, Jennings could steal 50 bases with only 125 games.