February 24, 2012

Last week, we looked at the best bets at each position for when you eventually have to go dumpster diving. This week, let's examine the opposite end of the spectrum: High-priced players at each position you'll want to avoid.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins -- We can all agree now that Mauer's power spike in 2008 was a total fluke, and he has about as much chance of repeating it as the Astros do of winning the World Series this year, right? OK, good. I'll grant you that it's safe to project his batting average to climb back above .300 with an OBP that borders on or surpasses .400. Still, I'm not paying a Top-80 draft price for a catcher who has hit 12 homers in his last 917 at-bats, positional scarcity be damned. Remember, he has little offensive support around him even if Justin Morneau is healthy this season.

First base: Paul Konerko, White Sox -- Look, I like Konerko a great deal. He's essentially a lock for 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI. All things being equal, he's the first baseman I'd want if I missed out on the Big Six (Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira). Unfortunately, not all things are equal. As reliable as Konerko is, I'd prefer to take my chances on getting Michael Morse, Freddie Freeman or Paul Goldschmidt at a much cheaper price. Konerko isn't a bad pick in the mid-40s where he's currently going, but I'd be confident that I could grab someone at a cheaper rate who could match, or at least approach, his numbers.

Second base: Brandon Phillips, Reds -- Phillips is a phenomenal real-life player, and a solid fantasy option, as well. But if I have to invest a top-60 pick in him, I'm moving on down the line. After hitting 30 homers and posting a 15.9 percent HR/FB rate in 2007, those numbers have since fallen consistently, bottoming out at 18 and 9.7 percent, respectively, last season. Once a reliable source of steals, Phillips swiped just 14 bags last year after thieving only 16 the year before. I believe in last year's batting average spike, as Phillips hit more line drives last season than at any other point in his career, but it's not enough to make him worthy of his current draft price. If I'm drafting a guy I love to watch play the game, Phillips is a first rounder. If I'm trying to get the best return on investment I can at each position, I'm letting someone else take the plunge here.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers -- Andrus is, without a doubt (in my mind, at least), the most overrated player at draft tables this season. Check out his yearly stats in each of his three seasons in the majors. Oh wait, I'll just do it for you:

2009: 145 games, .267/.329/.373, 17 doubles, eight triples, six homers, 33 steals, 40 walks, 77 strikeouts 2010: 148 games, .265/.342/.301, 15 doubles, three triples, zero homers, 32 steals, 64 walks, 96 strikeouts 2011: 150 games, .279/.347/.361, 27 doubles, three triples, five homers, 37 steals, 56 walks, 74 strikeouts

Yes, there has been some modest improvement from '09 to the present. Yes, he is just 23 years old, meaning there is room for him to grow. But we've seen three years with basically flat statistical growth playing a full complement of games. It's pretty safe to project Andrus to match those totals again this year. Though shortstop remains one of the most shallow positions in the league, those numbers don't come anywhere near justifying his 43.88 average draft position. Why do that instead of taking a chance on getting J.J. Hardy's power or Dee Gordon's elite speed much later? Avoid Andrus at all costs.

Third base: Nobody -- Seriously, nobody. The third-base market looks like the most stable of all in the draft. Cabrera (who will gain eligibility shortly into the season) and Evan Longoria are elite. David Wright, Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman are very strong third-round picks. Brett Lawrie and Alex Rodriguez are at the same spot of the hill, though going in different directions, and both deserve their current top-60 ranking. Aramis Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval bounced back in '11, the former hitting 26 homers with a .306/.361/.510 slash, and the latter blasting 23 bombs in just 117 games to go with his .315/.357/.552 line. Kevin Youkilis is a Last Year's Bums all-star. After that, guys like Mark Reynolds, David Freese, Ryan Roberts and Mike Moustakas are what they are. Cheap, viable options. You should be able to find yourself a good third baseman this season, no matter when you take him.

Outfielders: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox and Josh Hamilton, Rangers -- We talked about both of these guys at great length a few weeks ago, so I won't repeat everything here. If you want to read the full story on why I think both are overvalued. To sum up the argument, outfield is as deep as it has ever been. Ellsbury had a monster year last year, and while he very may well duplicate it this season, I'm unwilling to use my first pick on him betting that he goes 30/30/100/100 again. For Hamilton, his health is simply too great a question to take him at his current ADP of 31.61 given the depth in the outfield pool.

Starting pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants -- This was a tough one because I like Lincecum a lot, and I don't necessarily think he's overrated. In fact, if you want him, you're going to have to take him in the second or third round, and that's probably where he should be going. My issue is less with Lincecum specifically, and more with grabbing a starting pitcher that early. If I'm going to do that, then the pitcher has to be capable of giving me unique numbers. Clayton Kershaw may get to 300 strikeouts this year. Roy Halladay has posted sub-3.00 ERAs each of the last four seasons, a WHIP south of 1.1 in three of those seasons, while topping 200 strikeouts each of those years. Justin Verlander is coming off one of the best seasons for a starting pitcher we've seen in some time. Lincecum has a lot of those abilities in him, and he's as a reliable fantasy ace as they come, but I don't see the mix of stats here that would have me take a starting pitcher that early in the draft.

Relief pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Braves -- This has little to do with Kimbrel's '11 stats, projected '12 stats, ability, or anything else that he controls. It has to do with the insane price tag fantasy owners apply to top closers. Right now, Kimbrel is the 57th player off the board in an average draft, ahead of guys like Buster Posey, A-Rod, Stephen Strasburg and B.J. Upton. That is a absolute joke. Remember our discussion on closers a few weeks ago. Of the 10 closers with the most saves last season, eight had an ADP outside the top 150, and four of them weren't taken in the first 200 picks of an average draft. The only situation in which I could see using the 57th pick of the draft on a closer is if I were in a saves-only league.

Chat with me on Twitter, @MBeller.

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