Many of you will be drafting as early as this weekend. Before you dig in, let’s do an exercise.
Place your right hand over the left side of your ribcage. Feel that beautifully sophisticated organ beating? Excellent. Good start.
If you’re a Cubs fan, that blood factory likely slams a little harder against your ribs when you think about Anthony Rizzo. So much upside. Gotta be worth a fourth-round flyer, right?
Sox fan, you say? I bet that iron-rich life juice really flows when I bring up Addison Reed, eh? Poised to take over as a premier closer, definitely gonna make him one of the first stoppers to come off the board, yes. Cards fans? Stop yourselves. Allen Craig is not a dark horse for MVP (although I wish he was, for the sake of my NL-Only keeper team).
It’s a slippery slope, following your heart. If you’re serious about this fantasy stuff, might I recommend you follow the trail of jellybeans you pushed into the kitty, rather than the beat of your heartdrum.
If you’re thinking, “But I’m a die-hard. I know these players better than anyone else,” you’re probably wrong. For consistency’s sake, during these columns, let’s assume you play in a 10-team mixed league with a league primarily comprised of Illinoisans who have Windy City/St. Louis baseball knowledge comparable to yours.
There’s nothing better than the fantasy-reality double-whammy. I experienced one last season, trading Giants slugger Padlo Sandoval for Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo 2 weeks before the Panda came off the DL and rode the shaggy wonder to a share of the league title.
The reality is, barring a trade like that one, it’ll be tough for guys like Starlin Castro, Paul Konerko or Yadier Molina to factor into your title-worthy mix. One of your buddies is going to reach. But here are some guys on your favorite team who can, giving oodles of return on (in a few cases very little) investment:
Alex Rios, White Sox OF: It’s time to make everyone silly for being superstitious. It’s well documented that, if Rios is superman in even seasons (see: .304/.516/.850 splits in ’12), he’s Clark Kent in the odds (.227/.265/.613 in ’11). But the guy’s a proven fantasy Snuggie. He covers every category, averaging 20.6 stolen bases per season. Folks might be spooked by his .176/.333/.510 OPS for Puerto Rico during the WBC. Don’t be one of them. He shouldn’t be available later than the sixth round. Projection: .296/.505/.827, 89 R, 23 HR, 80 RBI
Dayan Viciedo, White Sox OF: While we’re scoffing at superstitions, forget the sophomore slump malarkey and enlist “The Tank” if he’s still available in Round 15. He has real power, as long promised and finally realized last season. You don’t run into 25 dingers in the AL. He’s never going to win a batting title, although I do see him improving on last year’s .255 clip. That starts with pitch selection. Bold prediction: he leads the Sox in home runs this season, Donkey included. Projection: .264/.336/.785, 72 R, 32 HR, 88 RBI
Carlos Marmol, Cubs RP: Yup. Here’s the flipside of competing against fellow Cubs fans: With all the pain Marmol has caused them, they’re not gonna wanna touch him. When he’s still sitting on the board in the 20th round and your buddies are refusing to draft him on principle alone and chiding, “Who’s gonna take Marmol?”, I challenge you to be that guy. There’s more to gain than lose, and wouldn’t you like to have the last laugh? Projection: 4-4, 22 Svs, 3.39 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
Alfonso Soriano, Cubs OF: Case in point. The guy has hit at least 20 homers for 11 straight seasons, that low-water mark coming in 2009. In March of 2010, I braved the wisecracks and took ol’ Sori in the last round. Twenty-four bombs and 79 ribbies later, I was puffing my chest. The next, he hit two more round-trippers, six more last year. It’s no mystery he’s now 37 and regression is inevitable. But that’s what everyone is thinking. Take a chance in the waning rounds. Projection: .260/.318/.805, 66 R, 26 HR, 96 RBI
Jon Jay, Cardinals OF: Here’s one for the last couple of rounds, which is where I like to make my hay. After hitting .297 in 2011, Jay struggled with injuries early in ’12 before hitting .324 in August and September. A speedster, he’s finally learned the craft of base-stealing, evidenced by 19 swipes in 117 MLB games after eight total in his first 264 over his first two seasons in the bigs. That value makes him an everyday starter in both fantasy and reality. Projection: .307/.380/.782, 78 R, 8 HR, 43 RBI, 26 SB
Lance Lynn, Cardinals SP: Another steal waiting for your grubby mitts, although you’ll need to swipe him much earlier. Think Round 10 or so. Managers often have selective memory, and you can take advantage if others choose to dwell on Lynn’s August implosion (0-1 in 5 stars, 6.66 ERA – double yikes). He came back with a masterful September (5-2, 8 G, 4 starts, 2.76 ERA), one of three sub-3.00 ERA months. One can expect a first-year full-time starter to hit the wall. Lynn rebounding within the same season is remarkable. Projection: 17-8, 185 Ks, 3.62 ERA, 1.27 WHIP