2011 MLB Fantasy Fever From WhatIfSports.com image

Waiting on a Rookie

Fantasy Fever Week 1

By Joel Beall - WhatIfSports.com
April 5, 2011

Historically, baseball is not a sport one would call friendly to first-year athletes. The most talented of prospects commonly struggle in "the Show" during their initial go-around.

Yet 2010 proved this sentiment was not a statute, as a multitude of newcomers snagged the spotlight across the league. Buster Posey and Neftali Feliz served integral roles on their respective teams' run to the World Series. Jason Heyward earned an All-Star nod for his first-half performance, Jaime Garcia was fourth in the NL with a 2.70 ERA and Starlin Castro batted .300 in 125 games for the Cubs.

But an assessment over the last decade illustrates that last season was an irregularity, as many greenhorns fail to sustain success in their rookie campaigns. Despite this evidence, an affinity for adolescent ballplayers remains a universal affection among fantasy users. There are several arguments to explain why this empathy exists: a prospect hails from one's alma mater or plays for the hometown team; a raised profile of an athlete thanks to an ungodly amount of attention while in the amateur ranks; or unrealistic expectations of a draftee to fill the void of a departed player.

Or the explanation for this attraction could be as elementary as this: anyone can win with David Price; it takes a certain amount of cojones pull it off with Jeremy Hellickson.

Whatever the reason, don't fall head over heels for Major League neophytes. Baseball tends to promote an excessive amount of hyperbole regarding a prospect's projection, much of which fails to come to fulfillment. Remember when Matt Wieters was forecasted to be Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer all rolled into one? He's just 24, but the early returns on the Baltimore catcher have been middling. How about Alex Gordon? The 2006 Minor League Player of the Year has yet to make waves in the majors. I feel like this is the fourth straight year Ricky Nolasco and his 4.43 career ERA are predicted to take over the NL.

It's a pleasant surprise if Freddie Freeman or Michael Pineda submit superb starting seasons; just make sure not to include any rookies in your fantasy foundation. They might provide great theater on the field, but potential and growing pains do not equate to recognition in rotisserie.

Start 'Em

C: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox. A common concern with the catcher position is platooning. Despite his age (34), Pierzynski will be behind the plate the majority of the time for Chicago in 2011. While not necessarily a power hitter, Pierzynski will hit for average (career .284 AVG) and will be the beneficiary of some extra RBI and runs thanks to a loaded lineup. An upcoming series against Kansas City should prove opportunistic for the White Sox catcher.

1B: Carlos Pena, Cubs. An advent to the Senior Circuit won't revive the Chicago first baseman's putrid batting average (.224 over his last three seasons). However, an anemic NL Central pitching corps coupled with Wrigley Field should translate to solid slugging numbers for Pena, who averaged 36 dingers and 102 RBI in his four-year stint in Tampa. Pena also possesses a higher than expected on-base percentage (career .351 OBP) for someone who was under the Mendoza Line in 2010. Although he's dealing with a jammed-thumb, an upcoming slate against Arizona, Milwaukee and Houston should provide a platform for Pena to jumpstart his 2011 season.

Howie Kendrick Kendrick's long-awaited breakout will come in 2011.

2B: Howie Kendrick, Angels. Highly touted for his hitting in the minors, Kendrick has yet to submit an awe-inspiring year in Anaheim. But after completing his first full season in the majors, 2011 may be the year Kendrick's forecasted fame comes to fruition. The second baseman is off to a smoking start, collecting seven hits, including three home runs, in the Angels' four-game series against Kansas City. With only 10 bombs in 158 games last season, this power surge is not expected to continue; however, batting in the two spot should garner Kendrick owners a fair amount of runs.

SS: Elvis Andrus, Rangers. Just 22-years-old, Andrus is one of baseball's rising stars, proving his merit in the 2010 playoffs hitting .294 with eight runs and eight stolen bases in 16 games. While his power is nonexistent (a meager six jacks in 1,225 plate appearances), batting second in arguably the best lineup in baseball should correlate to multiple run and RBI opportunities for Andrus.

3B: Placido Polanco, Phillies. Health is a major concern for the Philadelphia third baseman, who underwent elbow surgery during the offseason. Yet Polanco has yet to show any signs of stress, hitting .417 to start the season. While he'll get the occasional game off to preserve his condition, Polanco is one of the most consistent hitters at his position and should take advantage of a downtrodden New York pitching staff this week.

OF: Coco Crisp, A's. Those in need of stolen bases should look no further than Crisp, who swiped 32 bags in 2010 in just 75 games. Finally healthy after a few injured-plagued seasons, Crisp could be an unexpected source for average and run support.

SP: James Shields, Rays. After an atrocious 2010 campaign, Shields is ready to prove last year was an aberration after surrendering just two runs while striking out seven in 7.1 innings of work in his season debut. Although the Rays' lack of offense could diminish Shields' win total, the right-hander will be a consistent factor in facilitating strikeouts and relatively low WHIP and ERA figures. (Although as much as I like a bounce-back year from Shields, I refuse to refer to the Tampa Bay pitcher as, "Big Game James." A 2-3 record with a 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP doesn't earn you the same handle as NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy.)

RP: Joel Hanrahan, Pirates. Granted, starting Pittsburgh's closer might not sound appealing, but Hanrahan has already collected three saves in the early going with five strikeouts and a 0.90 WHIP. Hanrahan is forecasted to be the fireman for the rest of the Pirates season, meaning those still searching for relief should inquire on Hanrahan's availability.

Sit 'em:

C: Ryan Hanigan/ Ramon Hernandez, Reds. The two combined for three bombs, seven ribbies and a .750 average in Cincinnati's sweep of Milwaukee. Both had stellar seasons at the plate (Hanigan - .300 AVG/.405 OBP/40 RBI, Hernandez - .297 AVG/.364 OBP/48 RBI) in 2010, but unless owning both backstops, neither is a viable fantasy option due to lack of individual at-bats.

1B: Justin Morneau, Twins. The former MVP is showing no residual effects from a concussion that kept the first basemen on the sidelines for the second half of 2010. Yet Morneau, who sported a stat line of .345 AVG/ .437 OBP/ .618 SLG in 2010 prior to his injury, might be better served on your fantasy bench until the Twins first baseman proves he's become acclimated to playing on a regular basis.

2B: Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks. The second baseman found new life in the desert, having a career season with 26 home runs, 71 RBI and 93 runs. Yet Johnson struck out 148 times in 2010, an absurd number for a hitter in the two spot, and already has two K's through three games in 2011. To his credit, Johnson has historically demonstrated an ability to get on base (career .269 hitter with an OBP of .352), but his next highest home run total was 16 long balls in 2007. Johnson may duplicate the power numbers from last season, but remain skeptical until the Diamondback verifies 2010 wasn't an anomaly.

SS: Jose Reyes, Mets. This isn't so much a condemnation on sitting Reyes; rather, this is a reminder to temper expectations on the shortstop's stat lines. Those pining for Reyes to return to his 110 R/60 SB/70 RBI prime are delusional. However, Reyes can still hit for average (.282 in 563 at-bats in 2010) and will still contribute 25-30 stolen bases, making him a good, although not great, fantasy start.

3B: Michael Young, Rangers. Texas is still deciphering ways to shoehorn Young into the everyday lineup, as offseason acquirement Adrian Beltre is slated to start at third. Young illustrated in 2010 that he still has adequate power, blasting 22 shots into the outfield seats, but his average dropped nearly 40 points and had a career high in strikeouts. Monitor Young's situation carefully, as rotating spots could have a mental effect on Young's performance at the plate.

OF: Adam Jones, Orioles. He's only 25, but Jones had a stagnant 2010 after giving glimpses of greatness in 2009. He boosted his average from .277 to .284 but saw a dip in his OBP, falling from .335 to .325. Jones did display some extra power in spring training, but don't expect a titanic leap for Jones in 2011.

SP: Max Scherzer, Tigers. Scherzer got lit-up in spring training like Ricky Vaughn in Major League II, finishing with a 10.38 ERA. His first start of the season did not alleviate Detroit's concern, allowing six runs off of four homers in five innings. Scherzer finished 2010 with a respectable 3.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but keep the Tiger hurler on the bench until he strings together a few quality starts.

RP: Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers. "The Big Ox" has struggled out of the gate, yielding two round-trippers in three appearances. The homers did not cost Los Angeles the games, and Broxton appears to have the backing of manager Don Mattingly. But with Broxton's 2010 woes still in the minds of many a Dodger fan, rest assured Big #51 has a short leash.

Group Hug

Ben Francisco Francisco is off to a sizzling start.

Waiver Wire Watch: Ben Francisco, Phillies. The departure of Jayson Werth and injury to prospect Domonic Brown has opened the door in right field for Francisco. The former UCLA Bruin took advantage of his new starting role by batting .462 with four RBI in Philly's opening series against Houston. Owned in just 19 percent of fantasy leagues, Francisco should benefit from batting sixth in the Philly lineup, presenting numerous chances to accumulate ribbies.

Rookie Review: Zach Britton, Orioles. In his first major league start, Britton kept the Tampa Bay batters at bay, allowing just a run while striking out six over six innings as the Orioles defeated the Rays 5-1. In 20 innings of spring training work, Britton held a 1.35 ERA with 13 strikeouts. Named a top ten prospect by Baseball America in 2010, Britton is expected to compete for a rotation spot when fellow young gun Brian Matusz returns from injury.

Trade Talk: The worst thing a fantasy manager can do at this juncture of the season is make a panic trade. Allow for three or four weeks of play before instigating a move. If one was trying to actively pursue a swap, parlay a fast start by a rookie or a closer into getting more bang for your buck. However, make sure to keep your corps draft picks intact.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Nelson Cruz, Rangers. His four home runs in four games have the Rangers out to a 4-0 start and almost make you forget Cruz batted .200 in the World Series with five strikeouts. Almost.

Spit Your Tobacco At: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Not a good start for someone who's trying to command a $300 million contract. Pujols is hitless in three of St. Louis' four games and is rocking a measly .176 OBP, correlating to the Cardinals' 1-3 record.

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Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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