Around this time every year, fantasy baseball experts are scrambling to put together their list of “breakout stars” or “impact rookies,” in hopes that they are the ones that find the next big thing. The problem is, every year the hype gets more out of control and more and more unproven young players are thrown into the discussion. The chances of finding the next Mike Trout in an overpopulated group of 20somethings are slim to none. However, there is another group of players that can make a big impact on your fantasy team, and we have a more accurate understanding of what we’re going to get out of them because they’ve been in the league for a while already. They’re called veterans, and they deserve some love too.
At some point in recent history, it became mandatory to try and draft the best young team that you could put together in fantasy baseball. Younger players shot up draft boards because of their great potential to make you look like the smartest guy in the room. I am admittedly not immune to this problem, as I too find myself optimistically expecting my younger players to carry my team. But the forgotten veterans of the league, the ones that are no longer young enough to be considered rising stars but still more than able to contribute to your team, are the guys I want you to rediscover. They won’t get you any “oohs” or “aahs” from your league mates when you draft them, but they have just as good a chance of helping you form a championship caliber team.
C- Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
Wieters is a few years removed from being on everyone’s “breakout stars” list. Guess what? He’s only 27 years old. And yet, the allure that once surrounded drafting him is no longer there because apparently, three straight 22+ home run seasons is not enough when his average hovers around .250 rather than the .285 expected from him. He’s still a young catcher with the tools to put it all together and generate a great season, maybe it was just a longer waiting period than scouts expected.
1B- Albert Pujols, Los Angles Angels of Anaheim
Oh how the mighty have fallen. A top five pick without hesitation just two years ago, Pujols is coming off of an injury riddled 2013 that saw him end up with the worst statistical output of his career. His numbers were declining even before last year, but this drop off has successfully had his supporters abandon ship. This year, Pujols is the 9th or 10th rated first baseman, and can be had for a pick around the 5th or 6th round. But what if he’s healthy now? Say he puts up numbers like he did in his first season with the Angels, and ends up hitting around .285 with 30 homers and 100 RBI. Those numbers aren’t too farfetched for the Machine, right? That would put him just a stone’s throw away from first and second round picks like Prince Fielder and Edwin Encarnacion. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a safe bet that a healthy Albert Pujols will perform closer to that level than what we saw him do last year.
2B- Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Statistically, Aaron Hill is consistently on pace to easily be a top five second baseman every year. The problem is, he always ends up missing a month or so with a nagging injury. If he manages to avoid the injury bug, you’re looking at a 20+ homer, .290 batting average from a second baseman that you’re getting after the 10th round. That kind of power/average combo doesn’t exist in second basemen beyond Robinson Cano at the top of the board, so as far as risk/reward veterans go, Hill could be one of the most valuable if everything goes according to plan.
3B- Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Old faithful. About as guaranteed of a statistical output as you can get from a player. And at age 35, I see no reason why he can’t do it again this year. Since his first full year as a Chicago Cub waaaaay back in 2004, Aramis Ramirez has hit above .300 six times and only twice has had an average below .288, including last year’s .283 average through an injury riddled season. He has also had at least 25 homers in every season he has played more than 125 games, which is all but two of the last 10 years. I don’t care how old he is, he is an above average contributor in batting average, homers and RBIs, and for the discounted price of an 8th round pick, he could be yours simply because his age starts with a three instead of a two.
SS- Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
There’s no escaping it, shortstop is not the most glamorous position in fantasy baseball if you don’t get one of the top six guys. But if you don’t get one of the studs, there are options you can wait on until MUCH later and not be too disappointed. Asdrubal Cabrera had a season to forget in 2013, but he’s only 28 and that season, much like 2011 when he hit for big power numbers, is an outlier in his otherwise consistently acceptable resume. You can expect his numbers to bounce back to approaching 20 homers with a .275ish average, something to be thankful for when the shortstop supply dries up late in the draft.
OF- Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox
In his first season playing in the shadow of the Green Monster, Victorino had the highest batting average in his career and would have likely had the most doubles and homers too had he played a full season. He had a few lingering injuries throughout the year, but still managed 15 homers and 20 steals with an average that approached .300. For a 10th round pick, you can get a guy that could very possibly go 20/30 with an average that doesn’t kill you (cough… BJ Upton). With an outfield class that is full of uncertainty, Victorino offers solid numbers across the board without hurting you too much in any category.
OF- Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles
Someone has to explain this one to me. Cruz is a baseball-mashing beast of a power hitter that finds himself in the heart of a lineup that produced the fifth most runs in baseball last year. He has lineup protection with Crush Davis and Adam Jones, plenty of good RBI opportunities ahead of him, and he is a yearly threat to hit 30+ homers. Yes, he was suspended for 50 games last year for the Biogenesis scandal. But unless we’re ranking him lower for being morally questionable, I don’t understand how he has been ranked as a 15th round pick. His average isn’t painfully low, especially not compared to the boost in power numbers he contributes. Based on where you can draft him, he could be your fourth or fifth rostered outfielder and perform like your second or third.
SP- Doug Fister, Washington Nationals
In the last three seasons, Fister has posted ERAs of 2.83, 3.45, and 3.67 in the American League. On a team with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez last year, he was the forgotten pitcher that just kept delivering quality starts (24 of his 32 starts) and giving his team a chance to win. This year, in a rotation behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann, he finds himself in the Naitonal League with no DH and a weak-hitting division to pitch to. And once again, he’ll square off against the back end of opponents’ rotations. Sounds like a recipe for success to me, and with only a 10th round price tag he’s a bargain.
SP- Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Last year, in only 11 starts, Johnny Cueto had a 2.82 ERA and a WHIP barely above 1.00. I would chalk that up to just having a hot stretch of starts, but because of his injuries he pitched on and off all year, getting at most three starts in a row. Not only that, but his injury shortened 2013 was the third straight year that he had a sub-3 ERA. Yes, Cueto missed a lot of time with his lat injury last year, and there are questions as to whether he is fully healthy now, but if he’s got that figured out and is good to go at the start of 2014, he’ll be a steal in the back end of the draft.