When it comes to sleepers and busts, it's all about value.
The best sleepers are those lower-ranked players who come through and outperform their draft-day value. Meanwhile, the busts are those players who play significantly below their draft-day value. In many cases, finding the right sleepers and avoiding the appropriate busts at the draft can go a long way toward winning a title.
The baseline for draft-day value in this case is our ESPN Fantasy rankings. We arrive at these rankings via a consensus of our writers and editors (as you might have seen in some of our rankings summit videos like this one). But that doesn't mean we're all in agreement with the final rankings. Thus our experts provided their own sleepers and busts, in relation to those rankings.
We've asked our experts to provide one sleeper and one bust for each of the following positions: catcher, corner infielder (either first base or third base), middle infielder (second base or shortstop), outfield, starting pitcher and relief pitcher. There's also analysis on many of these picks. In most cases, we're discussing draft strategy/rankings for ESPN's standard leagues (10-team mixed league, 22-man active roster, including one starting catcher and one utility player, plus a three-man bench). The analysis is mostly applicable in deeper leagues, though.
Some names might seem like obvious choices (for either a sleeper or a bust); others could surprise you. Either way, it's just more food for thought as you enter your fantasy draft.
Our panel of experts: Pierre Becquey, Stephania Bell, Matthew Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinksi, Jason Grey, Christopher Harris, Dave Hunter, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, AJ Mass, James Quintong, Nate Ravitz and Brendan Roberts. The analysis of the players (below the table) are ordered by their preseason ranking.
ESPN Fantasy Staff Sleeper Picks
Mike Napoli (from Matthew Berry): Questions about playing time and his batting average will keep his draft stock low, but despite always splitting time, Napoli has more home runs over the past three years than any other catcher. With Michael Young on the trade block, Mitch Moreland unproven, Adrian Beltre and others an injury risk, he'll get at least 400 at-bats. He got unlucky last year with the average (.279 BABIP last year, career .293) and should hit closer to the .273 he averaged in '08 and '09.
Matt Wieters (from Brendan Roberts): Not only does he not make our top 100, he doesn't even make our top 200. But what a great midround risk/reward pick. Wieters has the potential and tools to be a top-five catcher, and I think he'll approach that level this season while hitting in a much better lineup (the O's finished 27th in runs scored in 2010).
Kurt Suzuki (from Christopher Harris): If you don't draft Joe Mauer in the third or fourth round (which is where you'll have to take him), don't select a catcher until very late. Just don't. I know there are some intriguing young names out there, but the difference in upside and risk factor between them and the Suzukis of the world isn't worth reaching for. Suzuki had a tough year last season, and you have to wonder whether '09 or '10 is the true outlier. But for fantasy, he's just fine.
Jorge Posada (from Shawn Cwalinski): There are five good catchers this season, then the rest. If I miss out on those five -- which I most likely will -- then I am waiting until the last round to take my catcher. Posada will qualify at catcher while being a DH this season in a potent Yankees lineup. He will also be available very late in drafts. I would rather take Posada's 18 homers with a solid average than John Buck's 18 homers with a bad average late in the draft.
J.P. Arencibia (from Jason Grey): Arencibia hit .301 with 32 homers and a .986 OPS in 412 Triple-A at-bats last season. Granted, he played his home games in a hitter-friendly park -- and a hitter-friendly league -- but Arencibia has always had plus power. His on-base percentage is likely never going to be high in the big leagues and the strikeout totals will be big, but he has the starting job, and with it the chance for good power numbers.
Carlos Ruiz (from James Quintong): He's one of the rare catchers who gets better in the second half, as seen with his .316 average after the break last year. No, he's not on the level of the elite catchers, but for a cheap price in the final rounds, Ruiz will give you a solid average and not hurt you in the other categories.
Yadier Molina (from Stephania Bell): Molina may not be a rock star at the offensive side of the position, but he is going to play often, which is one way to accumulate stats. He was shut down just prior to the end of the 2010 season due to inflammation in his knee, but he looks to be healthy heading into spring. He'll cost you a lot less than a big name, and he'll still get you some runs.
Ryan Howard (from Dave Hunter): It's important to realize that Howard is no youngster; he has been in the league for seven seasons now, five of them with 500 at-bats or more. Howard is still worth a third-round selection with the overall numbers that he provides. Just be prepared to absorb some K's with his long swing.
Aramis Ramirez (from Keith Lipscomb): Injury issues the past two seasons have hurt his draft stock, but I still feel Ramirez has plenty left in the tank. Many are forgetting how solid he has been on a per-game basis since joining the Chicago Cubs. Last year's .249 BABIP (42 points below his career mark) further underscores that it just wasn't his season, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Ramirez put up .290-30-100 and return to the top five at the hot corner in fantasy.
Casey McGehee (from Matthew Berry): June 1, 2009, is about when McGehee became a full-time starter. From that date through the entire 2010 season, only Alex Rodriguez has more RBIs among third basemen. McGehee hit .293 over that time, is sixth in homers and ninth in runs. Here are his totals from that date: 927 at-bats, 123 runs, 39 home runs, 167 RBIs, .293 average. Here's Evan Longoria over that same time frame: 959 at-bats, 158 runs, 42 home runs, 162 RBIs, .279 average. Just saying.
Pedro Alvarez (from James Quintong): What's striking is how similar his stat line looks to fellow top prospect Mike Stanton in almost every category, except that Stanton hit six more homers (22-16). Stanton is ranked far higher than Alvarez, but should that be the case? In a third-base position begging for another big name, Alvarez has the potential to join the elites sooner than later, and you can get him at a discount.
Derrek Lee (from Christopher Harris): There's risk because of his bad back, but I think Lee's move to Camden Yards is going to work out great. Right-handed hitters get a 21 percent boost over the league-average park in homers, so while I don't think he'll touch 35 dingers again, I put the high 20s back in play. Last year's .260 average was injury-related and completely out of keeping with his usual .290 to .300 stuff. I say we're five-plus rounds late on Lee.
Mark Reynolds (from AJ Mass): He wasn't a product of his ballpark; for his career, he has hit just about half of his home runs on the road. Besides, Camden Yards is a bit more homer-friendly than Chase Field anyway. Plus, that batting average simply has to bounce back to the .250 neighborhood, doesn't it?
Mitch Moreland (from Jason Grey): Moreland should receive at least 450 at-bats, and can do some damage to the tune of 20-plus homers with a solid batting average to go with it. The bat is for real, and he has the potential to be a top-20 first baseman.
Lance Berkman (from Eric Karabell): Assuming his new team plays its cards right, Berkman should be protected against left-handed pitching, while being given chances to produce runs from a good lineup spot against right-handers, whom he can still hit. Berkman gets on base and retains 20-homer power, and the looming outfield eligibility is a positive.
Freddie Freeman (from Stephania Bell): He has played but a few innings in the big leagues, but it was enough to remove any rookie jitters. Solid while he was in the minors and with youth and health on his side, Freeman could rise rapidly in this category.
Daniel Murphy (from Shawn Cwalinski): Murphy has the inside track to starting at second base for the New York Mets this season. He is nothing special, but I will gladly take 15 homers, a few steals and a solid batting average in the last round when those numbers come with first base and, after 10 games, second base eligibility.
Ben Zobrist (from Nate Ravitz): It's entirely possible that Zorilla's 2009 will represent a career year, never to be repeated. By the same token, 2010 might have been a worst-case scenario. And for all the talk about upside, it's downside that's undervalued in fantasy. By that, I mean players with what I like to call "high downside." Barring injury, Zobrist is a mortal lock for 600 plate appearances on a team that will still have one of the better offenses in baseball. That also makes him close to a lock for 70 runs and 70 RBIs, with 15-20 steals and double-digit homers. And that's his downside. Much better numbers are not only possible, they're likely. And you won't have to pay a ton for them this year.
Aaron Hill (from Keith Lipscomb): Any talk about the unluckiest hitters in baseball last season starts here. His .197 BABIP in 2010 was more than 100 points below his career mark entering the season, and he batted just .125 against lefties, which was nearly 180 points below his career numbers. That's just silly, so I'm officially pretending last season didn't happen and drafting him with confidence as a tremendous value at second base.
Gordon Beckham (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): He was unspeakably bad the first half of 2010, which ruined his full-year stats, but look at those .310/.380/.497 second-half rates, fully supported by a 20.0 percent line-drive rate during that span. Beckham is still just 24 years old, with superstar potential ahead of him; I want him before he fully arrives and his price soars.
Ian Desmond (from Dave Hunter): Where does the better value lie? Is it with Desmond as a double-digit rounder (13th or 14th round, most likely) or with Derek Jeter, who will go in the sixth or seventh round? Desmond's numbers were almost identical to Jeter's in 2010. Snag Desmond late if you get shut out of top shortstop options.
Alcides Escobar (from James Quintong): He's probably one of the best upside plays at a position lacking them. Hopefully, the Kansas City Royals will use his speed better than the Milwaukee Brewers did, making a 30-steal season with an improved batting average very attainable.
Brian Roberts (from Eric Karabell): He claims his back woes are behind him, and his stolen-base numbers the final two months of 2010 indicate as much. Roberts doesn't need to match his fine 2009 statistics to bring value, since he's going at a major discount. Expect 12 home runs and 30-plus steals, but this time 100 draft spots lower than he was taken last year.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka (from Shawn Cwalinski): He would be a lot more attractive if he ended up at shortstop. Regardless of position, he is a guy who will hit for average, steal 20 bases and score runs, which is what I want from my middle infielder. I don't see much difference between Nishioka and Starlin Castro. If I need a middle infielder in the 16th round, I will not hesitate to take Nishioka.
J.J. Hardy (from Christopher Harris): He's coming off consecutive nightmare seasons, but I chalk up last year to a wrist problem that's since been fixed. Camden Yards is far more conducive to right-handed homers than Target Field, and we've seen Hardy hit 24 and 26 homers previously. He's a fairly good contact hitter whose usual batting average is in the .270 range. This is the kind of guy you gamble on: If he reverts to form in new surroundings, you have a starting-shortstop-quality middle infielder. If not, you dump him.
Ryan Theriot (from Brendan Roberts): He's a Tony La Russa player if I've ever seen one, a David Eckstein type, but with more speed. If he nails down a top-two spot in that Cards lineup (in front of Pujols, Holliday, Rasmus, Berkman), we're looking at a 90-run, 25-steal late-round pick.
Danny Espinosa (from Jason Grey): A middle infielder with some pop, some speed and a starting job. That's a good start. He has the potential to be a top-20 second baseman who likely won't get drafted as such, and his performance in the other categories can help compensate for a lower batting average.
Jed Lowrie (from AJ Mass): He'll not only step in for Marco Scutaro at shortstop, but also find at-bats all over the Boston Red Sox's infield. Even with only around 300 at-bats, he should be able to get you 15 home runs. And if any of the regulars gets hurt, he will get a full-time job.
Jay Bruce (from Keith Lipscomb): After making big strides against left-handed pitching in his third season, I expect Bruce to improve with runners in scoring position this season, as he continues his maturation process. He has batted .233 with RISP in his young career, and improvement in that area will be what takes him from the ordinary 70 RBIs he had last season to what I expect will be 90-plus for many years to come. He hasn't contributed in steals like some thought he would, but his power numbers will grow and make him a top-20 outfielder this season.
Colby Rasmus (from Dave Hunter): Rasmus is in a for a huge breakout season, whether he commits to being a power guy or not. I like how his numbers have increased as a whole over the past two seasons in a similar number of at-bats. There's a positive push-up everywhere you look with Rasmus.
Drew Stubbs (from Eric Karabell): Hitting 22 homers with 30 stolen bases in your first full season is quite the feat. A few years ago, those numbers got Grady Sizemore pegged as a top-five outfielder. Stubbs will come at a much larger discount. Like Sizemore, he doesn't help in batting average, but as a 10th-round pick, you can overcome that.
Carlos Quentin (from Nate Ravitz): Ordinarily I avoid players with the kind of long track record of injuries that Quentin has. I probably wouldn't pay the going rate for him in an AL-only auction. But in mixed leagues, he'll be drafted as a low-end No. 3 or high-end No. 4 outfielder, and there aren't many of those with the power potential of Quentin. If he has a 40-homer season in him, it's going to come in the next two or three years. Could 2011 be that year? For the price of a 10th- or 11th-round pick, it's worth finding out.
Nick Swisher (from Shawn Cwalinski): There is something to be said about dependability. There is more to be said about quality dependability. Swisher hit 29 homers in 2009, he hit 29 homers in 2010. He drove in 82 runs in 2009, 89 in 2010. Those 29 homers, along with 80-plus RBIs and runs scored, make Swisher much better than a 17th- or 18th-round pick overall and an outfielder outside the top 40. Swisher looks like a 14th-round pick to me.
Angel Pagan (from AJ Mass): It's not like Pagan won't be in the lineup if Carlos Beltran is healthy; there's a big hole in right field. He hit .312 in the second spot of the order in 2010, and batting between Jose Reyes and either David Wright or Beltran should help him at the very least match that output.
Jason Bay (from James Quintong): Sure, his first season in Queens was a disaster, but if he's healthy, he still has the talent to produce for your fantasy team, even in Citi Field. It's still best to take him late, which is quite possible given how the bottom fell out last year.
Manny Ramirez (from Brendan Roberts): Yes, the Manny Ramirez, the Rays' regular DH, the outfield qualifier, the enigmatic one. When he's motivated and healthy, he can still rake. And he's motivated now back in the AL East, and being a DH will help him stay healthy.
Ryan Raburn (from Christopher Harris): You're probably not getting a massive breakout season from the 29-year-old Raburn. However, he looks like the Detroit Tigers' starting left fielder, and his power is legit: He hit 13 of his 15 homers last year after the break, when playing time became plentiful. His contact rate makes an average in the .260s likelier than last year's .280, but I think 25 homers are possible. Take a chance on him in the final few rounds of your draft.
Logan Morrison (from Jason Grey): Morrison already handles the strike zone like a seasoned veteran. Two homers in just 244 big league at-bats last season will keep his ranking and draft position down, but there is definitely more power here, and it's coming sooner rather than later.
Alex Gordon (from Pierre Becquey): The former can't-miss prospect has, well, "missed" with pretty much every opportunity he has been given in the majors, but there's still hope for him as a hitter. Witness his .315/.442/.577 line in 260 Triple-A at-bats. Granted, it was at age 26 and in the hitter-friendly PCL, but that's still enough to warrant sleeper status. He wouldn't be the first player to need multiple tries at the majors before finally sticking.
Magglio Ordonez (from Stephania Bell): He's no youngster to be sure, but Ordonez should give his owners more this year than last. Sidelined in late July with a broken ankle that required surgery, Ordonez is ready to start the season. He can still give you power at good value.
Shaun Marcum (from Shawn Cwalinski): It is tough to say Marcum is way underrated in our rankings at first glance. But last season, he ranked No. 101 on the Player Rater for the season despite pitching in the AL East. This season he gets to go to the NL Central. Pitchers going from the AL to NL generally see an improvement in their K rate and ratios. I would actually take Marcum over fellow Brewer Yovani Gallardo if both were available to me in the ninth round.
Matt Garza (from Nate Ravitz): For reasons I don't quite grasp, Garza isn't being granted the usual AL-to-NL benefit of the doubt that most high-skill pitchers get. This isn't Jake Westbrook. This is a guy who has posted a sub-4.00 ERA for four consecutive years in the AL East. By way of comparison, Josh Beckett has accomplished that feat in only two of his five seasons in the division. I see Garza jumping back to the 7.5 K/9 range or better and carving up the National League for a career-best WHIP in sub-1.20 territory.
Brett Anderson (from Dave Hunter): Injuries are a concern with Anderson, but I like him to keep it together enough that he really moves forward this season. There's no doubting Anderson's stuff, as his return from injury last season gives owners major hope.
Clay Buchholz (from Pierre Becquey): The knock on him as a fantasy pitcher is that he doesn't strike out enough hitters, but this isn't the second coming of Jon Garland we're talking about. Buchholz struck out 10.8 batters per nine in his minor league career, and had 89 strikeouts in 99 innings as recently as 2009 in Triple-A Pawtucket. This is no junkballer; he has the fastball, curveball and changeup to miss bats. Expect him to add a K per inning this season, with 8-per-9 upside, and suddenly Buchholz jumps into the conversation as a top-20 starter.
Jeremy Hellickson (from Brendan Roberts): His stuff is AL East-proof, meaning only he can keep him from reaching his immense potential this season. With a starting spot all his own, the sky's the limit.
Brandon Morrow (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): Among pitchers with 140-plus innings in 2010, Morrow finished first in K's per nine (10.95), fourth in contact rate on all swings (74.9 percent) and 11th in swing-and-miss percentage (11.0). This guy misses a slew of bats, he shaved his walk rate by more than 1½ per nine and the kid gloves should come off to a degree, at least to the point where he should hang in there the full season. We might be looking at our AL strikeout king.
Brian Matusz (from Jason Grey): Over his final 11 starts, Matusz posted a 2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 62 innings facing just one team with a record under .500 in that stretch, the 80-82 Angels. Some will look at Matusz's pedestrian overall numbers (4.30 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and not give him the attention he deserves.
Josh Beckett (from Keith Lipscomb): How quickly he's fallen, huh? An ERA near 6.00 will do that to a player in fantasy. But when you consider that he's going to be drafted as a No. 5 starter in many fantasy leagues, there's no risk and plenty of reward to be had here. Remember, Beckett averaged 16 wins, 181 strikeouts and a 1.20 WHIP in his first four seasons in Boston, which includes an ugly 2006, easily his worst season until last year.
James McDonald (from Stephania Bell): No one in your league will be rushing to scoop up members of the Pirates' pitching staff, but they might be missing out. McDonald might have found his groove in Pittsburgh, and now that he's established, he could deliver solid results for a moderate price.
Javier Vazquez (from Eric Karabell): His 2010 campaign in the Bronx was a nightmare, but two years ago, Vazquez got Cy Young votes. He's back in the National League, in a pitchers' park, and probably not being drafted in most leagues. All we need is 12 wins, a sub-4.00 ERA and 175 strikeouts, numbers reachable even in decline, and he's a top-50 starter.
Gio Gonzalez (from Matthew Berry): Not a new name here, but his ranking here among starting pitchers is nuts. He went 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.23 WHIP post All-Star break, though he definitely got a little lucky. (His xERA in the second half was 3.58.) However, he's still a good bet thanks to his 7.7 K/9 of 7.7, plus he's still just 25 and pitches in Oakland.
Carl Pavano (from AJ Mass): Sure, strikeouts might not be his thing. But even if he doesn't match his incredibly impressive 1.66 ground ball/fly ball rate, it hardly matters. Target Field was far and away the toughest park in which to hit a home run last season, so a few extra warning-track outs are hardly going to raise Pavano's ERA.
Chris Perez (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): The only reason you don't think of Perez as a top-shelf fantasy closer is because his team stinks, and that makes you wary that he won't creep much past 30 saves. But why can't he? Look how efficient he was the second half of last season: 16 saves in 17 chances, 0.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, decently balanced splits. I'm tempted to declare him top 10 right now.
Drew Storen (from Dave Hunter): Storen is about as underrated as you can get as a closing option this season and there's no denying his overall abilities. I'd like to see a slight improvement on his K-BB rate, but it's nothing to get too worked up over. Storen will get plenty of chances to close out games this season.
Joe Nathan (from Eric Karabell): Arguably the top fantasy closer from 2004 to '09, Nathan returns from Tommy John surgery and should get his old role back immediately. Nathan is a strikeout pitcher for a good team that presents him with many save opportunities. Remember, fantasy's top closer last year was Billy Wagner, who also underwent the surgery. He showed no ill effects from missing time.
Matt Thornton (from Christopher Harris): I'm not buying the noise that Jesse Crain, Chris Sale or Tony Pena is suddenly going to leap out of the crowd to take the White Sox's closer job. It's Thornton's to lose, and I don't think he'll lose it. He's a lefty and he's 34, so let's not paint him as some phenom closer, but the guy has 245 strikeouts and 59 walks in 200 1/3 innings the past three years, terrific ground ball rates and very little bias versus left-handed hitters. Without the "uncertainty" over his job, he'd be a borderline top-five closer, and I say there is no uncertainty.
Leo Nunez (from Nate Ravitz): Among closers, Francisco Cordero has long been the poster child for the "mediocre skills, great job security" closer. Nunez could be the new version of that model, but with far better skills. A 9.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 are a devastating combination, and even if Nunez falls off a bit from those marks, he should do well enough to save 35 games and hold on to his job for the entire season.
Hong-Chih Kuo (from Pierre Becquey): Kuo might well be the best closer in the Dodgers' bullpen, but he's also ultravaluable as a left-handed setup man. With Jonathan Broxton far from a sure thing as the closer, and Kuo having proved he can do the job last season, it wouldn't take much for him to rack up double-digit saves again this season.
Chris Sale (from AJ Mass): Matt Thornton might win the closer's job this spring, especially if Sale is asked to fill a rotation spot until Jake Peavy is at full health. One way or the other, though, Sale is going to be on the mound racking up the strikeouts, and my guess is he's pitching the ninth come September.
Jake McGee (from Jason Grey): Of the current options the Rays have in their bullpen to compete for the closer role, McGee is the one with the biggest upside. Andrew Bailey, John Axford and Neftali Feliz all established themselves as closers as rookies, and McGee could do the same if given the opportunity. Watch this situation closely this spring.
Aroldis Chapman (from Stephania Bell): Can you still be called a sleeper when everyone knows you're coming? Folks might be aware of Chapman's talent, but some won't pull the trigger since he's not expected to be a regular in the rotation or the closer just yet. Translation: He can be acquired for a discount but could very easily pay off sooner rather than later.
Brandon League (from Brendan Roberts): With incumbent closer David Aardsma recovering from hip surgery, League will get the first shot to close for the Seattle Mariners, and I think he doesn't give it back.
Frank Francisco (from Shawn Cwalinski): Francisco is going to close for the Blue Jays and be an effective closer this season. I would call him the most underrated player in our rankings.
Jonny Venters (from James Quintong): While Craig Kimbrel is ranked higher as the projected closer, there's also a chance that the two could share the job depending on matchups, which is what the Braves tried to do a few years ago with Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. If that's the case, Venters would be a great bargain, at least compared with Kimbrel's current rank. He would still bolster the ERA and WHIP even without saves.
Kenley Jansen (from Matthew Berry): He might find himself in the closer mix depending on Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, but I'm listing him here regardless of role, he'll have value this year, especially in deeper leagues. He had 41 strikeouts in just 27 innings last year (along with a 0.67 ERA and 1.00 WHIP) after being recalled. And oh yeah, he pitches his home games at Dodger Stadium.
ESPN Fantasy Staff Bust Picks
Brian McCann (from AJ Mass): We all know the Buster Posey hype will cause him to go at least two rounds too early, and McCann will be reluctantly dragged along for that ride. I'm not spending that high a pick on a guy who will hit 20 homers and bat .275 when I can wait 10 rounds and get the same thing.
Carlos Santana (from Dave Hunter): I love Santana and the skills that he brings to the table, but I'm just not convinced he's ready to outperform the likes of Geovany Soto, Matt Wieters or even Miguel Montero. Don't reach too early for Santana, especially given the other failed promises at catcher over the past few years.
Geovany Soto (from Christopher Harris): I don't feel strongly about Soto having a bad year. I just feel strongly that he's exactly the kind of guy you don't need to draft. He'll go in the 12th or 13th round, and he won't provide much more upside or less risk than the catchers who go in the 22nd. Plus, in his case, there are real concerns about his durability. The guy you get at a different position in the round you'd have to take Soto will almost certainly provide bigger numbers.
Miguel Montero (from Keith Lipscomb): It's hard for me to pick a bust at catcher, because the position is so thin that picking a top-10 player to struggle was tough. I chose Montero, only because I've seen him go four or five rounds before Matt Wieters, so I'd prefer to wait a bit longer before grabbing a catcher who will provide very similar production.
Mike Napoli (from Stephania Bell): Napoli's workload went up when the Angels lost Morales to a broken ankle last season. The good? Eligibility at another position. The bad? Not all his stats improved. Now he's with a new team in an uncertain role, but he certainly won't see as much playing time. The price he'll likely command might not be warranted.
Kurt Suzuki (from Brendan Roberts): Suzuki gave us indications in 2010 that he'll be this year's Russell Martin (if he's not already). After being heavily worked in 2008 and 2009, his numbers fell across the board last year, when he posted career lows in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. Plus, he saw his first DL stint. The "safety factor" is gone.
Jorge Posada (from Jason Grey): I just don't see Posada as a top-10 backstop anymore, given how slow his bat looked by the end of the season. At age 39, all that mileage behind the plate might have finally caught up with him, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a significant drop-off in his production this season.
Chris Iannetta (from Eric Karabell): We're aware he can hit minor league pitching, but in the majors he has hit .234. The power is nice, but a batting average like 2010's .197 can really hurt a fantasy team. Plus, the Rockies always seem to find other options, and Coors Field doesn't play like it used to.
David Wright (from Stephania Bell): At what point do you succumb to the weight of the world being on your shoulders? Wright's talent and work ethic have made him a consistent bright spot where the theme has otherwise been inconsistency. Now issues outside the locker room threaten to be a bigger distraction, something even Wright has acknowledged.
Kevin Youkilis (from Nate Ravitz): I'm a big fan of his skills. But since when do we invest second- or third-round picks on guys who have missed 17, 26 and 60 games the past three seasons?
Kendry Morales (from AJ Mass): So many people are jumping on the Morales bandwagon as a sleeper pick, but I fear said wagon might break like the first baseman's leg did in 2010. I don't necessarily think 30 home runs are out of the question, but he's going to be so hyped, the price will be way too high.
Justin Morneau (from Jason Grey): Strictly for health reasons. As of early February, his recovery from post-concussion syndrome was still being termed "a work in progress" by his general manager. At what point do we start being concerned about taking Morneau among the first dozen first basemen, especially when the position is so deep? I may be overreacting, but I want to err on the side of caution here. If that means I won't own Morneau in any leagues, I'm OK with that.
Paul Konerko (from Dave Hunter): I have a hard time committing to Konerko as a guy who will hit 35 homers with 100 RBIs and a .300 average, similar numbers to what he put up last season. I'm buying his previous three-year averages over last season. I would rather take my chances on Kendry Morales or Billy Butler.
Billy Butler (from Shawn Cwalinski): Butler is not a bad player at all, but he keeps getting valued as if he is going to hit 30 homers. Butler will hit for average, but he won't hit 25 homers or drive in 100 runs. He is a rich man's James Loney, and not a top-100 fantasy player yet.
Aubrey Huff (from Eric Karabell): Huff was the No. 6 first baseman on the 2010 Player Rater, but it's been awhile since he delivered consecutive strong seasons. Just think about how surprising Huff was in 2010. The Giants still don't feature a strong lineup or hitter-friendly home ballpark. Plus, a struggling Huff could be pushed aside by prospect Brandon Belt.
Pablo Sandoval (from Christopher Harris): Here's a case where a guy's PR outstrips his ability. I know, I know, he's Kung Fu Panda, he's eating better, yadda yadda. Hey, the 62-point drop in batting average from '09 to '10 was disappointing enough, but how about halving his homers? The power from '09 now looks like a HR/FB aberration, so what you're likely getting now is .290 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs. You can do way better than that, even in the 11th or 12th round. I'd take Casey McGehee over Sandoval any day.
Ian Stewart (from James Quintong): Sure, he could still get better, but I also fear that we've seen the best of him, and it isn't all that earth-shattering (20-ish homers, mediocre batting average). More of a concern is the fact that the Rockies have brought in a couple veteran infielders who could cut into Stewart's playing time if he struggles.
Derrek Lee (from Matthew Berry): Quick quiz: What number seems out of place to you? 22, 20, 35, 19? Those are Lee's home run totals the past four years. His strikeouts increased last year (while his average dropped more than 20 points) and at age 35, with a bad back, he's no sure thing. Basically, he's a 20-homer guy and if you're looking for a 20-homer first baseman, I'd much rather have the upside of Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez.
Placido Polanco (from Keith Lipscomb): Losing second-base eligibility was a huge hit on Polanco's fantasy value. I simply prefer more power out of my corner guys, and even though Polanco could hit .300, he's reached double digits in homers just once in the past six seasons. So when I look to fill my CI slot late in the draft, I'm not very likely to look his way.
Jose Reyes (from Keith Lipscomb): If he can return to his 50-steal ways, then he won't belong in the "bust" category, but if he's merely in the 30-40 range, he doesn't do enough elsewhere to justify his likely draft slot, since the shortstop position is so thin.
Ian Kinsler (from Matthew Berry): It's always something with Kinsler. The health concerns are always there -- he has played more than 121 games only twice in five years -- and last year the power went away. The year before it was his average. He's more risky than Brandon Phillips, and yet he'll cost a lot more in the draft. Someone will reach for Kinsler based on name. Make sure it's not you.
Derek Jeter (from Shawn Cwalinski): Ignore the name and look at the stats. Last year, Jeter had 10 homers, 18 steals, 67 RBIs and a .270 average. He struck out more, walked less, ran less and got caught stealing just as much as he did in 2009. Jeter is a Hall of Famer, but he is not close to good enough to earn his ranking this season, no matter how weak the shortstop class is.
Rickie Weeks (from Dave Hunter): Weeks finally had a season to remember, one where he was able to pile up more than 500 at-bats, a rarity for the oft-injured second baseman. Why take a chance on Weeks when you've got a consistent and reliable option like Brandon Phillips available to draft?
Jimmy Rollins (from Eric Karabell): Some will naturally overrate the fact it's a contract year for Rollins, but pay closer attention to the .248 batting average the past two seasons. Rollins still has a tantalizing power-speed arsenal, but durability and batting average are big problems. In the 10th round, he's worth it. In the sixth or seventh, he's not.
Elvis Andrus (from Christopher Harris): Andrus isn't a guy I'd mind owning, but for where I have to take him? No thanks. Heck, 40 steals might be in play, and that's great, but I haven't seen anything else from the kid to indicate he's more than a one-category player, and you don't need to be taking one-category players in the eighth or ninth round. There's no power here, and nothing to indicate a high batting average is coming. If he's basically Rafael Furcal with less pop, well, I'll take Furcal six rounds later.
Aaron Hill (from Brendan Roberts): I think it's irresponsible to assume his low BABIP and struggles versus lefties in 2010 will improve enough to make him worth the price you'd have to pay to get him.
Chone Figgins (from Stephania Bell): Unless you're specifically looking to rack up steals, you might want to look elsewhere. Even those might be hard to count on as Figgins, 33, inches up in age. Lackluster offensive production amidst a less than stellar offensive lineup won't earn your fantasy team a chance at a championship.
Ian Desmond (from AJ Mass): Too many strikeouts and a sad OBP are just some of the flaws in Desmond's offensive game, and his 34 errors offer little in the way of defense either. Are you looking for a warm body to fill a middle-infield slot, or do you want someone with actual upside?
Rafael Furcal (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): It's a bit of selection bias, yes, but I choose to regard his sluggish start and finish to 2010, not the crazy hot streak between injuries midseason that was entirely out of character with his recent seasons and served to make his full season look better than it was. This troubles me: After an August back injury, he finished with .237/.310/.329 numbers in 21 games.
Brian Roberts (from Jason Grey): Missing almost two-thirds of the season with back troubles, Roberts wasn't hitting the ball with much authority when he returned, and I have concerns as to how much pop we can expect this season. You aren't drafting Roberts for his power, but if he's not lining the ball to the gaps consistently, it will affect his batting average. Hip and knee injuries cropped up as well. There are enough concerns about his health now that he won't be among the first dozen second basemen off my draft board. Bad backs don't all of a sudden just stay healthy. Ask Joe Crede and Eric Chavez.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka (from Pierre Becquey): Never pay for a career season. Doing it in the majors is different from doing it in any other league in the world. Put those two rules together and you have two good reasons to let somebody else gamble with a player coming off his first injury-free, Japanese MVP-caliber campaign. Just have a look at how Kosuke Fukudome and Kazuo Matsui failed to live up to expectations in their first go-around in the majors and ask yourself why Nishioka should be drafted before proven major leaguers such as Yunel Escobar or Asdrubal Cabrera.
Nelson Cruz (from Brendan Roberts): Not that I don't respect what he's done, but I think he strikes out too much and has too much of a fly-ball swing to continue his .300 ways (the power is real). Plus, either he'll run less to protect his nagging leg injuries, or he'll miss time because of them.
Shin-Soo Choo (from Pierre Becquey): There's nothing wrong with Choo. Any major league or fantasy team would be glad to have him ... at the right price. The third round is not that price. For all his consistency the past two years, this is still a player who has never hit more than 22 home runs at any level, nor has exceeded 90 RBIs or 87 runs scored. As a legitimate .300 hitter with 20-steals speed, he's a solid fourth-rounder and spectacular fifth-round choice, but what upside does he really offer other than "he won't be the reason you lose your league?"
Justin Upton (from Christopher Harris): He was my "bust" in this space last year, too, and I feel pretty good about that. We all know he has 30/30 tippity-top upside, but if he doesn't reach it this season, you'll have vastly overpaid by taking him in the third or fourth round. I told you last year he's a .270 hitter at this point in his career, and he probably should've been worse than that in '10. He has too many contact problems and at least one too many health questions (the shoulder could still be an issue) to be the No. 1 outfielder on your team.
Ichiro Suzuki (from Shawn Cwalinski): Ichiro will hit for average and steal bases, there is no disputing that. My issue with him is the lack of power and horrible RBI numbers. Ichiro has had fewer than 50 RBIs the past three seasons and four of the past five. He also has not scored more than 100 runs in a year since 2008. He is just too much of a detriment in homers and RBIs to be a top-50 player.
Mike Stanton (from Dave Hunter): Stanton's power potential gives him game-breaking ability, but there are still too many holes in his swing. His contact issues overall (123 strikeouts in only 359 big league at-bats last season) leave a ton to worry about. I wouldn't draft Stanton, not when players like Shane Victorino and Corey Hart are still on the board.
Chris Young (from Nate Ravitz): Rumors that his rebound season in 2010 was due to a refined approach at the plate are not well supported by the data. I just don't see him approaching 90 runs or 90 RBIs again.
Delmon Young (from Eric Karabell): On the surface, it appears Young took major strides in his fourth full season, but he still has a miserable walk rate, doesn't steal bases, and it's not like 21 home runs is special for an outfielder. A healthy Justin Morneau could cut into Young's 112 RBIs, and if that figure drops near his three-year average of 80, he's ordinary.
Brett Gardner (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): I firmly believe he's a one-category contributor, and maybe two with runs scored added if he claims one of the top two lineup spots on an everyday basis, not the batting average whiz he appeared to be the first few months of 2010. Gardner's batting average dropped to .232 after the All-Star break, and he whiffed more than a quarter of the time. Beware.
Juan Pierre (from Keith Lipscomb): I'm not big on drafting one-dimensional steals guys, and I can't help but worry that Pierre drops back down into the upper-30s/low-40s in the stolen base category. If that happens, he's just not good enough in any other category that I'd want to take him as early as he's going to go in most drafts. I'll get my steals elsewhere, hopefully in a package that provides more all-around potential.
Bobby Abreu (from Jason Grey): He'll turn 37 this spring and is coming off the worst batting average of his career since becoming a regular in 1998. I don't expect a huge bounce back, as he has opened up his swing more, and there's some obvious skills decline. I'm also betting that this is the year his string of 20-theft seasons gets snapped. He still possesses a good batting eye, and getting more DH time this season might help him stave off the aging process a bit better, but I don't want to pay the prevailing rate for his services.
Vernon Wells (from Stephania Bell): There has to be some concern when a player's numbers go up dramatically and a team deals him. At 32, Wells is not exactly in his prime, and he certainly has had injury concerns in the past. If Wells can repeat his 2010 numbers, and if he can stay healthy, fantasy owners and Angels fans would be relieved. But those are two big "ifs."
Grady Sizemore (from Matthew Berry): I know he's a trendy sleeper for a lot of folks, but I'm not buying. Forget the health, which is still a huge question mark. It's everything else. Part of his appeal back in the day was his power/speed combo, but there are more of those types of players around these days. His batting average the past five seasons (.290, .277, .268, .248, .211) does not give me high hope even if he can stay healthy.
Adam Wainwright (from Jason Grey): The elbow stiffness that sidelined him late last season is enough of an issue for me to not take him among the first half-dozen starters. Given many scouts have long had concerns about his arm action, and the fact he has pitched with a partial tear in the ligament for some time, I will be overly cautious. If that means he won't ever be on my roster, so be it. I think there's a more elevated injury risk here than most think.
Clayton Kershaw (from Nate Ravitz): Maybe he will move into the truly elite class this year, maybe he won't. But if you pay based on the assumption he will -- and that's what will happen based on our rankings -- you price yourself out of any true value on your selection. In essence, you remove the upside on your investment, and put yourself in a situation where your best-case scenario is to break even. That's not how you win fantasy leagues.
Mat Latos (from Matthew Berry): Don't get me wrong. I love the guy; he was a sleeper for me last year. But that offense in San Diego is going to be awful, and he has seen a massive increase in innings (184 2/3 last year, 123 in '09 majors & minors combined). He seemed to wear down toward the end (6.21 ERA in six September starts) and while I think he'll be good, he won't be in the top 15, where we have him ranked.
Cole Hamels (from AJ Mass): They can't all win 20, and I'm not buying the argument that Hamels will win more because he's "an ace" facing No. 4 pitchers. When his curveball gets over, he's unhittable, but those magical days are few and far between, and the reason he has been a .500 pitcher over the past two seasons.
Josh Johnson (from Dave Hunter): Injury issues are the key with Johnson. Back and shoulder problems push him down the draft board.
Matt Garza (from Christopher Harris): The story is supposed to be sweet, leaving the AL East for the National League. But with Garza all I see is a guy with a pretty extreme fly ball rate going to a significantly worse pitchers' park, riding the coattails of a 15-win season on a great Rays team (do you really think any Cub is winning 15 this year?) to a 12th-round ranking. A full 45 percent of batted balls against him last year were fly balls, putting him in the majors' top 10. He has never posted an expected ERA below 4.00, isn't a strikeout guy and almost certainly loses four or five wins in Chicago. No thanks.
Wandy Rodriguez (from Brendan Roberts): Scrapping here because there's nobody above Way-Rod I truly consider a bust. But Way-Rod's streakiness makes him tough to own, and we can't count on a second-half miracle every season.
Tim Hudson (from Eric Karabell): Fantasy owners should never draft based on a prior win total, and Hudson doesn't possess the strikeout potential to make up for less luck. He's an extreme ground ball producer, but at 35, you're drafting someone who has reached his ceiling. When his ERA rises a run, he'll remain ownable, but as more of a No. 4 fantasy starter.
Jonathan Sanchez (from Tristan H. Cockcroft): I look at his 2009 and 2010, and the only difference I see is a little more luck, especially after the All-Star break. Look at those second-half numbers: .236 BABIP, 87.9 percent strand rate, 15.0 percent line-drive rate. Those are simply unsustainable, but his surface numbers and postseason performance might make him look the part of the 2011 breakout star.
Clay Buchholz (from Shawn Cwalinski): I am sure this pick will garner positive comments in the Conversation section. Buchholz is not a bad pitcher, but I just do not see the allure of a starter who strikes out fewer than seven batters per inning and has not managed even a 2-to-1 K-BB ratio the past three seasons.
Brandon Morrow (from Keith Lipscomb): Sure, he's a strikeout machine, was a different pitcher after May last season and he kept the ball in the park, too. That's great, and he's still improving, but his inability to throw strikes consistently will push him further down my draft board than most others in my league. I won't dispute that there are many reasons to like Morrow's potential, but at least for another season, I'll let someone else draft the man who sports a 1.41 career WHIP as a starter.
Any closer in the first six rounds (from Matthew Berry): I may have mentioned this before but don't pay for saves in 10-team mixed leagues.
Brian Wilson (from AJ Mass): Because saves are so unpredictable, the projected No. 1 closer is always the greatest risk of being a bust. In Wilson's case, he would need to be almost perfect to strand as many runners as he did in 2010. Don't pay for saves, and don't be lured in by ugly beards either.
Jonathan Papelbon (from Eric Karabell): His statistics are trending in the wrong direction, and the Red Sox have ample options ready to replace him, with Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks. It's assumed that Papelbon could be trade bait, and would close for his new team, but if he struggles or gets hurt, risking a top-10 closer selection is too much risk.
Jonathan Broxton (from Jason Grey): I don't agree with ranking Broxton among the top-10 closers, not with the way he completely collapsed in the second half last year and with the team having other good options to turn to. Was there an injury we don't know about? Did a heavy relief workload at a young age catch up to him? Why did he lose a couple mph off his fastball? Why did he have a sudden inability to throw strikes? Too many questions for that high a ranking.
Francisco Cordero (from Christopher Harris): The Reds putting Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen couldn't be worse news for Cordero, who hasn't displayed closer-worthy skills for three years. Yes, the saves have been there for Cordero, but look at his strikeout and control rates the past three seasons, then look at his luck stats in the second half last year, and you see a 35-year-old pitcher who could fall off a cliff. And the Reds have a natural, unbelievably dominant kid just sitting there waiting to inherit the job.
J.J. Putz (from Dave Hunter): Putz is overrated, even as the main closing option in Arizona this season. I don't normally put much stock into closers anyway, especially ones who haven't closed out games since 2008. Putz is far too risky for me to roster in the middle rounds.
Ryan Franklin (from Shawn Cwalinski): I needed to name someone here. Franklin will be 38 when the season starts. His ERA and home runs allowed went up last season, his already low K rate declined. Best case with Franklin is he is worth taking where he is ranked. I like more "upside" late in the draft.