Fantasy baseball: Undervalued infielders to draft late

Fantasy baseball: Undervalued infielders to draft late
March 1, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Whether you’re doing an auction draft or a regular snake, finding undervalued assets late in the draft is often the key to going deep in the fantasy baseball season.

Aaron Hill, for example, wasn’t in the second base plans of many on draft day last season. He proceeded to put up Robinson Cano-like numbers.

If you believed in Chris Sale you got yourself a hell of a pitcher on the cheap.

There will always be fantasy studs you didn’t see coming, like Fernando Rodney in 2012. Rodney had a record-breaking 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 48 saves in 50 chances. This from a guy who wasn’t even on anyone’s radar until Kyle Farnsworth got hurt.

Sometimes, though, there are signs beneath the perceived mediocrity that suggest a player can bounce back or return to peak form.

Take Hill as an example. He hit .246/.299/.356 in 2011 – by all accounts a terrible offensive season. But he raked after a midseason trade sent him to hitter-friendly Arizona, and there were signs even before then that he was getting quite unlucky. Hill had a .268 batting average on balls in play in 2011 and a .196 BABIP the year before. League-average hovers around .300, and Hill for his career is at .290.

The hits just weren’t falling in 2010 or 2011, despite Hill posting the second-highest line drive rate of his career in ’11. Regression was inevitable, and in 2012 Hill’s numbers over-corrected. His BABIP was .317.

Who are some Hill-like players to target this season? Let’s take a look at the infield, with outfielders and pitchers coming next:

Eric Hosmer – 1B, Royals

Hosmer followed a .293/.334/.365 rookie season with a .232/.304/.359 line in 2012. Despite having nearly identical batted ball splits Hosmer’s BABIP was .255 last year, seventh-lowest in the majors. The year before, it was .314.

Hosmer was a .312 hitter in the minors and proved in his rookie year that he belongs in the middle of a major-league team’s order. Last season was a blip on the radar.

Wait and take Hosmer over: Mark Teixeira, Freddie Freeman, Nick Swisher, Chris Davis

Rickie Weeks – 2B, Brewers

Weeks had a horrendous start to the season, hitting .162 with a .584 OPS and 76 strikeouts through his first 60 games. From that point forward, he hit .269 with a .812 OPS, which is the type of production we’ve come to expect from the 30-year-old.

Even with that terrible stretch up to June 15, Weeks still had the 11th-highest OPS (.728) among second basemen. Throw a couple extra hits in there and he’d be approaching Ian Kinsler’s .749.

Weeks will always walk and he’ll always give you 20-25 homers when healthy. He's also stolen 15 or more bases in five of the last eight years. Second base isn’t a deep position, so if you can bid on Weeks for $1-2 late or spend a 17th-round pick on him, go for it.

Wait and take Weeks over: Dan Uggla, Howie Kendrick, Marco Scutaro

Michael Young – 3B, Phillies

Last year was the first since 2003 that Young had fewer than 170 hits, hit worse than .284 and slugged lower than .402. From 2003-11, he hit .311 with an .819 OPS.

So why is everyone so sure he’s washed up?

Young is in line for a 2011 Derek Jeter-like return to form. Jeter in 2010 hit .270/.340/.370, numbers very similar to Young’s last season, then bounced back to hit .308 the next two years. Young and Jeter have eerily similar career averages, giving the comparison merit.

Have a look ...

Young: .301 BA, .444 SLG, 37 doubles, 16 homers, 102 K

Jeter: .313 BA, .448 SLG, 33 doubles, 16 homers, 109 K

Young will come very, very cheap this fantasy season and he has positional eligibility at first, second and third base. He’s definitely worth a late-round flier.

Take Young over: Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Chris Johnson

Yunel Escobar – SS, TB

He’s projected to bat second for the Rays, right between Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. It’s a good spot for a player who for five years has been on the brink of breaking out.

Escobar has hit .288 or better in four of six seasons. His eye has always been solid, evidenced by his 295 career walks and 365 strikeouts. He’s not going to give you much power, but his other skills make up for it at a thin fantasy position like shortstop. Take his high batting average and OBP, the potential for plenty of runs scored in a more potent Tampa Bay lineup and get your power from your corner infielders and outfielders.

Wait and take Escobar over: Starlin Castro, Jhonny Peralta