- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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You have spoken.
But what the heck did you say?
The majority of fantasy baseball drafts have been held, thousands upon thousands of leagues dot the ESPN.com universe, and looking at the amalgamated data I see well, I see honestly, I see mistakes.
Some mistakes can't be helped. Nobody knew John Lackey would be down for six weeks when they took him among the top 10 starting pitchers. Kelvim Escobar still looked like a sneaky sleeper even when he was supposed to miss only a month; now that it seems he's out for the year, he just looks like a wasted draft pick. When you took Juan Pierre in early March, how could you have known his 60 steals would become 20 faster than you could say "Andre Ethier"?
Other mistakes, however, hurt to look at. After all, we here at ESPN have been wearing down our keyboards slamming out advice column after advice column, begging you to take certain players, begging you to stay away from others. The problem, one supposes, is that we've got a lot of independent voices on our site, and we often wind up giving very different advice. Nevertheless, there are some shockingly under-drafted fantasy baseball players out there.
And it's not too late to take advantage. Many of the players I'm about to discuss are still available, even in shallow leagues. And others were drafted so late that it's possible their owners don't value them as highly as they should. It'll be worth exploring possible trades for some of these guys. Heck, with slow starts, one or two might even wind up on your waiver wire, at which point it might be smart to go out and grab 'em. So without further ado, I give you my
Top 10 undervalued players of 2008 fantasy drafts
(OK, a little further ado to discuss my methodology. These 10 players have the greatest disparity between where I have them ranked in my personal rankings, and where they rank in average draft position. In other words, I've ordered every draftee on ESPN.com and ranked his ADP, then compared that number to my own rankings. Hitters and pitchers were considered separately.)
1. Billy Butler, DH, Royals
My Rank (among hitters): 93. ADP: 223.0. ADP rank (among hitters): 167
Butler's a bit of a positional bummer because he's only eligible in utility slots. But I don't care. He's only 21. But I don't care. The kid can rake. Baseball America had Butler has the Royals' third-best prospect behind Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar last year, and Butler didn't disappoint in the majors: .292 average, .347 on-base percentage and 96 hits in 329 at-bats. At his peak, he'll have 25-homer power, but right now, he's ready to hit around .300 with 15 homers and 90 RBIs. He deserved to be better than a $10 player in mixed auctions this year, and he's owned in fewer than half of ESPN.com leagues right now. I'm not dropping David Ortiz to pick him up, but a team that's got an available bench slot or a questionable utility situation could do a lot worse.
2. Zack Greinke, SP, Royals
My Rank (among pitchers): 47. ADP: 226.7. ADP rank (among pitchers): 106
On average, Greinke was drafted after a huge injury risk like Randy Johnson as well as a huge control risk like Jon Lester. This 24-year-old broke through in the second half of '07; he always had good control, but his strikeout rate went from a career 6.19 K/9 through last season's All-Star break to 8.13 in the second half. The former first-rounder has nasty stuff, and when he's on, 10-strikeout games aren't going to be uncommon. I expect to see his ERA dangle around 4.00, his WHIP get around 1.25 and he could win between 12 and 14. He's owned in only 54.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
3. Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals
My Rank (among hitters): 108. ADP: 222.5. ADP rank (among hitters): 160
This is a bet on the new Nats ballpark. Kearns was affected as much as anyone by RFK, losing 137 points of OPS at home versus on the road in '07, slugging 100 points higher away from home and hitting a woeful .228 at RFK. Kearns turns 28 at the end of May, so his prime is here, he gives you tons of at-bats and back in the good ol' days at the launching pad in Cincinnati, he featured much better homer rates. This isn't to imply that Nationals Park is a bandbox. But even if it plays fair, I think Kearns hits .270/20/80. What in the world is he doing getting drafted 18 spots behind Dmitri Young?
4. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
My Rank (among hitters): 109. ADP: 221.2. ADP rank (among hitters): 158
This is risky, but having seen him hit a few times this spring, I'm a believer in Jones. Yes, he's just 22, and he's traded off contact for power during his transformation into an elite prospect. Jones hit only .246 in a 65-at-bat call-up with Seattle, and the road could get intermittently rocky for his batting average, but Camden Yards is an underrated power park. I'm forecasting as many as 24 homers to go with 100-plus strikeouts. The key will be his average, and I think Jones can keep it north of .270; he was a devastating .314 hitter with excellent power at Triple-A last year while whiffing beyond the century mark. Add in 10 or so steals, and Jones didn't get enough respect in drafts -- and should, at least as a member of shallow-league benches. He's owned in only 60.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
5. Ian Snell, SP, Pirates
My Rank (among pitchers): 26. ADP: 168.3. ADP rank (among pitchers): 61
Snell is owned in all leagues, but he wasn't drafted to be the star that he can be, which means you might be able to pry him away on the cheap. Like Greinke, Snell suffers because his team won't be very good, but chasing wins with starting pitching is a losing game. Instead, chase strikeouts and ratios; in Snell's case, his projections make him the 24th man on my preseason starter list. He has 200 K upside right now, yet he was drafted after an injury-prone guy like Ben Sheets and a strikeout-challenged hurler like Chien-Ming Wang. I think Snell's ERA will be under 4.00 and his WHIP will be around 1.20.
6. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres
My Rank (among hitters): 79. ADP: 183.0. ADP rank (among hitters): 114
Third base is an elite fantasy position, but if you don't have one of the studs, you can do worse than fill in with a guy like Kouzmanoff. He was awful in the first half of '07 but he turned it completely around, hitting .317 with an .890 OPS in 252 post-break at-bats. Even playing his home games at Petco he managed 18 dingers last year (five home, 13 away), and I believe he'll be around 25 in '08 to go with 100-ish RBIs. Alex Gordon has the sexier capacity for steals (and had a very sexy Opening Day), but honestly, I'd rather have Kouzmanoff, a.k.a. "The Crushin' Russian," this season.
7. Gil Meche, SP, Royals
My Rank (among pitchers): 71. ADP: 226.6. ADP rank (among pitchers): 105
Meche didn't look great against the Tigers on Monday, allowing eight hits and four walks in six innings, but he did strike out five and allowed only three runs. And that is one spooky lineup in the Motor City. For me, Meche overcame his biggest question mark last year, when he threw 216 innings. I wondered if he had an equine year in him (horse-like), but he stayed healthy and made 34 starts. Opening Day notwithstanding, Meche is a good control pitcher now (62 walks compared with 156 strikeouts in '07), and his ERA in the tough AL Central was a surprising 3.67. It's not unreasonable to say he hovers around 4.00 with a 1.30 WHIP in '08, which I believe will make him a far sight better than Dontrelle Willis or Mark Buehrle, each of whom was taken well ahead of Meche this March. Meche isn't a fantasy franchise savior, but he's a solid innings-eater and he's owned in only 34.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
8. Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers
My Rank (among hitters): 96. ADP: 209.6. ADP rank (among hitters): 130
I know. We've all been burned by Hammerin' Hank before. But hear me out. The surgery he had to remove a rib last summer was the kind of drastic medical measure he needed to rid himself of mid-body issues that have plagued him. Of course, what wasn't surgically removed was his tendency to make outs, which he did with abandon in 2005 and 2006. Things were much better out from under Buck Showalter's micromanaging thumb in '07, but the sample size was probably too small to draw real conclusions. All I know is he was impressive enough this spring to earn the Rangers' cleanup role, and Ron Washington claims he'll stick there against lefties as well as righties. If that's true, 100 RBIs is a possibility in the middle of that lineup. He's not belting you more than 20 homers, but those numbers with a .280 average make him a bounce-back candidate.
9. Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox
My Rank (among hitters): 44. ADP: 113.1. ADP rank (among hitters): 77
Like Snell, Dye is owned in all leagues but, also like Snell, he was given a multiround diss on draft day. People think Dye had a terrible 2007, but the fact is, only his first half was terrible; after the All-Star Break, he hit .298 (compared to .214 pre-Break) with a .947 OPS (.673 pre-Break). His homer rates came back near his career averages from July forward, and remember, this guy is two years removed from 44 dingers and 120 RBIs. Repeating those numbers is probably beyond his reach, but I expect Dye to be back around 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in '08. Perhaps he fell in drafts because younger players have less "known" ceilings. But hey, you might know what Dye's ceiling is, but it's a pretty good one.
10. Greg Maddux, SP, Padres
My Rank (among pitchers): 68. ADP: 225.2. ADP rank (among pitchers): 100
Mad Dog doesn't strike anyone out anymore (104 in 198 innings in '07), but his innings are still extremely productive from a fantasy perspective. He continues to be a ground-ball maven, and he walked his fewest number of batters in '07 (just 25) since 1997. He's given you right around 200 innings for 20 straight seasons, and at age 42, I don't expect that to suddenly change. Maddux doesn't go deep into games any longer, so the 14 wins he got you last year are probably his max. But any time you can add 200-ish innings of a 1.20-ish WHIP into your totals, you have to smile. Maddux is owned in only 46.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.
Christopher Harris highlights 10 players he thinks were taken too late in draft this preseason.