March 29, 2010

Every week from now until September, you can come here to find an in-depth look at fantasy baseball's buy-low and sell-high candidates. We'll spend the next remaining preseason taking a closer look at some of the boom and bust picks. Today, the infielders.

Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Rangers

Yes, Davis has betrayed you. Many an owner took Davis last March with visions of a sleeper (overhyped, according to this columnist at the time) with 40 home runs upside. Then he proceeded to strike out 700 consecutive times to start 2009 (give or take a few) and ended up spending nearly two months in the minors en route to hitting .238 with 21 homers. But here's the good news: with most of the fantasy world feeling snake bitten, Davis has become a great value in this year's drafts.

Is he going to hit .300? No. But with his BABIP track record, he looks an awful lot like a .260-.270 hitter. Then throw in 30-home run potential and eligibility at first and third base in most leagues.

And the Justin Smoak factor? Don't worry about it. After some oblique issues zapped his power in the second half of last year, the Rangers top offensive prospect and first baseman of the future is probably at least half a season away from the bigs, giving Davis ample time to establish himself as a regular. And when Smoak is ready, it would make more sense for him to replace Vladimir Guerrero, who's likely going to be one-and-done in Arlington.

Davis is going around 150 in ESPN leagues, which is still a tad low, but falling out of the top 200 in most Yahoo! leagues and many Sportsline leagues.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Diamondbacks

Johnson is another guy who played himself off of fantasy radars in 2009. A .224-47-8-29 line and falling behind Martin Prado on the depth chart will do that to a guy. But there's reason for optimism in the desert.

Johnson is going from pitcher-friendly Turner Field to hitter-friendly Chase Field, making 20 home runs a very reachable number. And while his line drive rate dropped slightly last season, it wasn't down enough to account for a nearly 100 point drop in his BABIP, indicating a lot of bad luck contributed to his .224 batting average. In reality, he's a .250 hitter at worse, and more likely to hit around .270.

With those kind of numbers, and second base once again a thin position, Johnson should be going in the top 200 of most drafts. It's not happening. In fact, he's going entirely undrafted in a lot of cases. But if you can get him after the top 25 or so second basemen are off the board, you're getting a steal.

Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres

We'll start with the crazy talk on this one: The separation between Cabrera and Elvis Andrus in re-draft leagues should be very little. You're looking at two guys with very identical profiles for 2010. They both have little power (I think Andrus will be a 20-home run threat one day, but not this year). They both have plenty of speed. And neither is likely to hit .300.

Andrus has that top prospect shine that Cabrera lacks, which explains the nearly 100 spot difference in their ADPs. But right now, their most likely lines for 2010 will include somewhere around a .270 average and 35-to-40 steals. Cabrera actually has an edge on Andrus in some respects. While Andrus will hit ninth again for the Rangers, the Padres almost can't afford not to have Cabrera's strong on-base skills at the top of their lineup. He has a legitimate shot at 90 runs this season. While Andrus's upside makes him a top 125 pick, Cabrera really shouldn't lag that far behind.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles

At least right now, I don't see a top 50 pick with more red flags than Roberts. Here's a guy who made his fantasy living on speed but is coming off his lowest stolen base total since 2005 and enters the year at age 32 and with a nagging back injury. These are the things that wasted high picks are made of.

Roberts certainly shouldn't be falling out of the top 75, but he carries too much risk to be going ahead of guys like Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist, as he is in many drafts.

Michael Young, 3B, Rangers

It might be a case of Young's lost shortstop eligibility lingering in owners' heads, but he's an awfully ordinary option in his first year as a third baseman only.

Young's ADP is in the top 100 in both Yahoo! (76th) and ESPN (91st) right now, which would be fine if he was likely to repeat his .322-76-22-68 line of a year ago. But it's not bloody likely.

Young's .351 BABIP was 14 points higher than his career average, not a ridiculous jump, but an unlikely one at age 31. Most likely, his average will hover around .300. Considering he hit a combined 21 home runs between 2007 and '08, his 22 homers of a year ago seems awfully fluky. Expect closer to 15 this year. And that means anyone spending a top 100 pick on Young is going to end up a bit disappointed.

Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers

We touched on Andrus a bit above, but he's worth mentioning again since so many people are drafting Andrus in anticipation of a breakout year at age 21. It's not completely out of the question, but it's unlikely.

Andrus is a definite 40-steal threat, but he has his work cut out for him as he'll be batting ninth for a second straight year. And while he clearly showed growth in the power department last year (his isolated power -- slugging percentage minus batting average -- was up to .106 last year after it was .073 in Double-A in '08), his 31 extra-base hits in 480 at-bats doesn't suggest that he's ready to hit 15-20 homers in 2010. In fact, with his speed, trying to hit for more power this season would likely cost him in the batting average department.

Andrus is definitely an exciting long-term prospect, but his current ADPs (115th in Yahoo!, 95th in ESPN, 122nd in Sportsline) would only be justified by a best-case season. At this point, you're better off avoiding Andrus in re-draft leagues and picking up some cheap speed later.

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