It's almost the time of year when you start making a list of fantasy players that you covet, hate, and hope nobody else has ever heard of (so you can steal them in the last couple rounds of your draft). Unless you're brand new to watching television, going on the internet, or communicating with other humans, you already know all about Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay, so I'll look beyond the sure-fire fantasy stars and dig deeper.
What I am going to do is let you in on the studs and duds come fantasy season, moving division-by-division. I will also inform you on the "ugly duckling" players that won't catch your eye on draft day, but may be late-round steals and be the difference between competing for a championship or accepting that you have made your annual donation to your buddies' vacation funds. Keeping the division by division tour moving, I move from the AL East and focus on the AL Central.
Good: Jason Kubel - OF/DH, Minnesota Twins
Not one of the Minnesota stars you were thinking of, huh? Let me toss a nice stat at you, Kubel had a .907 OPS in 2009 which was higher than beloved fantasy stars, 2B Chase Utley and 3B Evan Longoria. Last year was the year it finally came together for Kubel, the highly touted Twins' prospect who finally shook off nagging injuries and compiled a solid season. Jason who turned 27 last season and was just entering his prime, absolutely raked for the Twins hitting .300 AVG, 28 HR, 103 RBI, 73 R, .369 OBP, and a .907 OPS. Keep in mind that he did a bulk of this without the bat of 1B Justin Morneau in the lineup and having documented struggles against lefties namely a .644 OPS vs. a 1.013 against righties. One cause for concern could be that the Twins are moving outside for their home games in cold weather, but I'm not too concerned with it. Entering his third season of 500 at-bats and the chance to hit in front of C Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Kubel WILL be posting numbers similar to: .310 AVG, 32 HR, 113 RBI, 80 R, 160 H, .375 OBP, .912 OPS for 2010.
Honorable Mention: 1B Miguel Cabrera DET, OF Grady Sizemore CLE, SS Alexei Ramirez CWS
Bad: Zack Greinke - SP, Kansas City Royals
American League Cy Young winner to fantasy "dud", you heard it here first. The Kansas City ace had a breakout season last year, posting 16 wins, 2.16 ERA, 242 strikeouts, and a 1.07 WHIP. It all finally came together for the kid who just a couple seasons back was clinically depressed and considering leaving baseball. Being thrust into the limelight due to his terrific 2009 season, we could see Zack going as high as the second or third rounds, and maybe first in AL-only leagues. So why am I calling the KC Kid a bust? Improved lineups in the AL Central coupled with Major League hitters having two full seasons of facing him under their belts, adjustments will come and I do not see Greinke making the necessary changes to maintain his 2009 numbers again. With no offensive help in sight, run support will also be hard to come by. Zack has managed to stay relatively healthy in his pro career so he will still give you a solid amount of strikeouts and a nice WHIP. While he will be a nice pitcher, he will not be close to his Cy Young form hurting a lot of teams who waste high picks, or spend a bulk of their pitching funds on him. Greinke should post a 2010 stat-line of 12 W, 3.78 ERA, 201 K, and a 1.24 WHIP
Honorable Mention: 3B Alex Gordon KC, 1B/DH Russell Branyan CLE, RP Jose Valverde DET
"Ugly Duckling": Matt LaPorta - OF, Cleveland Indians
The crown jewel of the trade that sent P CC Sabathia to the Brew Crew is ready for his first whole big league season. The 24 year-old LaPorta is viewed as one of the elite power hitting prospects during the past few seasons. With the Indians in complete rebuilding mode, Mr. LaPorta should be an everyday player for the Tribe seeing about 400 at-bats. In 93 games, LaPorta hammered Triple-A pitching to the tune of 17 HR and a .917 OPS. It gets better for Indian fans and LaPorta owners, after struggling during his initial call-up in May, he was recalled during the month of August and went on to mash 6 HR, .489 SLG with a .805 OPS the rest of the way. The only note of concern with LaPorta are the two off-season surgeries he required, but he's expected to be ready for opening day. Matt should see between 130-140 starts in 2010, so he should have real value in AL-only leagues and keeper leagues. Whereas in mixed leagues he could be a nice steal toward the end of your draft that could nicely fill a bench spot, or even take over a starting job on teams lacking power. As I gaze into my crystal ball, I see a 2010 stat-line for LaPorta resembling, .264 AVG, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 40 R, 123 H, .340 OBP, and a .798 OPS.
Honorable Mention: OF Austin Jackson DET, SP Justin Masterson CLE, 1B Billy Butler KC