Help Is On The Way

I read somewhere that almost a third of the final overall value in any fantasy baseball season is acquired after the draft.  That means at the end of the year that almost a third of the best production on both sides of the plate went undrafted that year.  Pitching surprises like Esteban Loaiza comprise a large portion of the value, but some of those profits come from hitters like Jeff DaVanon and Scott Podesednik last year.  They turn a $1 FAAB into a tidy profit and a few league championships. 

It has often been said that the young players who get sent down last, right before the season begins, are often the first ones called back up, especially if they get off to a hot start.  These are quite often the same players who end up turning the big profits off the waiver wire.  So here are a couple of my picks to do just that this year (MLE stats courtesy of Mat Olkin's Baseball Examiner).  By the way, buy Mat's book; there aren't any baseball books available that are more informative and entertaining for less money.  Anyway...

Grady Sizemore
It's not that Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar are bad; they aren't.  They're both solid outfielders.  But neither is as good as Grady Sizemore.  Now that Milton Bradley is no longer in the Indians' outfield mix, Sizemore has a legitimate chance to force his way into the Cleveland outfield picture before the end of the year.  Compare what they did this spring when they were battling for an outfield spot.

BATTERS           BA  SLG  OBA    G  AB  R  H TB 2B 3B HR  RBI BB SO SB CS E
Sizemore '04    .409 .773 .500   12  22  7  9 17  4  2  0   4   4  2  2  0 0
Escobar '04     .338 .441 .392   24  68 10 23 30  5  1  0   6   5  6  0  1 1
Crisp '04       .338 .514 .366   27  74 13 25 38  6  2  1  16   5  8  5  3 1

Then compare what they did last year.

Batter                 AVG  G   AB  R  H   2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   SLG   OBP   OPS
Actual Sizemore '03   .304 128 496 96 151  26 11 13 78   46  73  .480  .373  .853
MLE Sizemore '03      .285 128 482 81 137  24  8 11 66   39  79  .439  .338  .777
MLE Crisp '03         .293 155 634 93 186  33 10  4 49   47  77  .396  .342  .738
MLE Escobar '03       .246 146 532 73 131  22  1 27 85   29 176  .447  .285  .732

Even if he doesn't force his way with a strong initial showing in the minors, there's a good chance that the Indians will trade Matt Lawton to a contender by the trade deadline to get his salary off the books, opening another opportunity for Sizemore.  He does everything well , so once he's up, he's up for good.  There shouldn't be any demotions to work on defense or plate discipline or whatever other reason player's get sent down.  He has good power, decent speed and has the skills to excel anywhere in the line-up.

David DeJesus
I'm not quite sold on the Royals as a playoff contender, even with their offseason additions.  So it would not surprise me if/when they do fall out of contention, that they trade Carlos Beltran and replace him with David DeJesus.  He doesn't combine the raw tools that Beltran does, but he's still a very capable outfielder.  Here are his numbers from this spring, followed by what he did in AAA and AA last year, plus his 2003 MLE.

BATTERS             AVG   G  AB   R  H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SO SB CS  SLG  OBA 
DeJesus '04        .316  24  57  13 18   3  1  1  12   6  7  1  1 .456 .400
DeJesus '03 AAA    .298  59 215  49 64  16  3  5  23  34 30  8  4 .470 .412
DeJesus '03 AA     .338  17  71  14 24   4  0  2  10   9  8  8  1 .479 .422
MLE DeJesus        .281  88 282  50 79  18  3  6  26  35 42 15  6 .425 .361

DeJesus has a very different road for playing time than Sizemore, but it is no less open for opportunity.  Even if the Royals do not fall out of contention, DeJesus could have a number of chances to play.  Juan Gonzales has not accumulated more than 350 at bats in a season since 2001 and has had only four seasons in the last nine in which he's accumulated as many as 500 at bats.  If Gonzales goes down with injury for any extended time, it is likely that DeJesus will be the primary beneficiary. 

Aaron Guiel has a .236 average against lefties the last 2 years in the bigs, and only .268 against right-handers.  His career .259 average in 598 at bats with 43 doubles, 19 homers and 91 RBI looks pretty good.  However, he's walked just 46 times, resulting in a .325 on base.  And the 125 strikeouts and 4 stolen bases in 14 attempts don't exactly build a compelling argument that his job is secure for 2004.  If he slumps, DeJesus would get the call.

Similar to Sizemore, DeJesus does everything well and can contribute in a number of ways in the line-up.

There are a couple of other guys that I feel compelled to mention even though they are currently on big league rosters.  In many leagues they are probably either on waivers or someone's reserve, yet could turn out to be among the most productive players on their team by season's end.

Abraham Nunez
I don't care who the Marlins have in the outfield; if Abraham Nunez is healthy, he should be playing everyday for them.  He was a top prospect when the Diamondbacks traded him, along with Brad Penny and Vladimir Nunez for Matt Mantei in 2000.  He's struggled with injuries for much of the last four years, but this spring he looks completely healthy and ready to have a big season.  The power he's had on display this spring is real, although some of those homers will be reduced to doubles in Pro-Player Stadium.  But the discipline at the plate is not that new.  He's had a good command of the strikezone in every year in the minors except for 2001 and 2002.  This is what he's done this spring, followed by his numbers in AAA last year.

BATTERS         AVG   G  AB  R  H  2B 3B  HR RBI  BB  SO SB CS    SLG   OBA
Nunez '04      .417  26  60 18 25   5  0  10  21  12  11  2  2  1.000  .500
Nunez '03      .311  59 212 35 66  13  2  11  38  32  56  9  4   .547  .398
Nunez '03 MLE  .272  59 200 25 54  11  2   7  27  24  61  8  5   .451  .350

Currently Jeff Conine and Wil Cordero are the obstacles for playing time, but if injuries beset the Marlins' outfield or they fall out of contention due to their fairly unimpressive bullpen, Nunez will be the primary beneficiary.  Even if neither of those happen, Nunez has a shot to force the issue if he gets any playing time.  His physical tools and new maturity are too obvious to ignore and waste on the bench much longer.

Michael Cuddyer
He's not a sleeper anymore, especially with him getting time at second base in the first two games of the season, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Michael Cuddyer ended up with better overall numbers by the end of this season than any other Twins' hitter.  He's struggled the last two times he's had major league exposure, but part of that was due to the sporadic way he was used, as well as the usual first time jitters.  This year, he will get fairly steady playing time spelling Luis Rivas at second, Corey Koskie at third in addition to his turns in the outfield and DH.  He's not a good defender anywhere on the field, but he's at least respectable with the glove and his bat should warrant the playing time.  He was torrid this spring, and even though he struggled in the bigs last year, his 2003 season should be viewed with optimism based on his performance in AAA.

BATTERS             AVG  SLG  OBA  G  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB CS
Cuddyer '04        .443 .820 .477 24  61  11  27   6  1  5  18   3   9  1  0
Cuddyer '03 AAA    .306 .446 .381 53 186  25  57  17  0  3  34  25  49  5  4
Cuddyer '03 MLE    .277 .433 .356 88 285  37  79  18  3  7  39  35  72  6  5

While the power doesn't look that impressive from last year, he hit 24 homers split between two levels in 2002, and 30 homers to go along with 36 doubles in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League in 2001.  So the power he put on display this spring is more in line with his level of talent than the mystery power outage of 2003. 

As the season progresses, I'll be combing the upper minors for more breakout candidates.  But for now, see if you can steal these guys in trade or off the waiver wire before their value becomes obvious.