Mar 13, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox first basemanMike Napoli
(12) connects for a base hit during a game against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
It’s the heart of fantasy baseball draft season: a time to gather with friends and swill beer, down plates of wings, leave pizza boxes strewn all over the living room and, oh yeah, assemble a team capable of achieving fantasy greatness.
Or maybe just auto-draft.
Either way, I’m coming off two drafts this past weekend and have a little wisdom to share in anticipation of the 2014 fantasy baseball season. Let’s look at some corner infielders – first and third basemen:
Previously: second base and shortstop
The classic case of a great talent who isn’t as valuable to your fantasy team. Votto’s walk rate rose every year of his career to 2102, when he walked in 19.8% of plate appearances. He then worked a career-high 135 base on balls last year. Good for WAR – bad for fantasy. His RBIs took a hit and his homers were his lowest in a healthy season since his rookie campaign. He’s going to hit over .300, but a first round play on Votto? It happened at both of my drafts. While the walks are OK in a points league, Votto’s not going to lead you to victory in a 5 x 5.
Managers are bullish on Fielder with his switch to a hitter’s ballpark in Arlington. He’ll be 30 in May; can he return to the guy who clubbed 50 homers in 2007 and blasted another 46 in 2009? It’s a bit of a mystery as he struggled mightily down the stretch in ’13. The ceiling is high, but you might want to spend your first round pick elsewhere.
Napoli’s 23 homers and 92 RBI line last year makes for a great mid-to-late round value. Just remember the hometown hero is a .259 career hitter who piles up the K’s. The former isn’t very helpful in a 5 x 5 format; the latter can be lethal in points leagues that punish you for strikeouts, particularly when Napoli hits a patented monster slump.
The A’s third baseman figured it all out in 2013 at age 27. Can he do it again? If he does, you’re getting Votto-like value (.301, 24 homers, 92 RBI and 89 runs scored last year) in the fourth or fifth round. He’s a disciplined hitter on a good team. I wouldn’t hesitate to swing away with Donaldson.
When’s Lawrie going to make the Alex Gordon-like leap of the hyped prospect/regional hero who finally makes good? Through 1,045 Major League at-bats, Lawrie’s 162-game averages stand at .269/18/70 and 17 steals. Not awe-inspiring, but the speed is nice on the corner, and he just turned 24. This will likely be a make-or-break year in the eyes of fantasy managers, particularly the guy who picked him in the eighth round.
Would you pick the Kung Fu Panda in the fourth round? Somebody did. At his best, he’s a threat for .300 and 25 home runs. But he’s prone to statistical fluctuations almost as wild as those with his weight. He’s apparently shed 30 pounds in the offseason; I’m not sure he isn’t more comfortable just carrying the heft.