Fantasy sleepers: Three players who could produce big in 2009
February 25, 2009
With Feb. 22 marking the mandatory report date for all big leaguers to join their clubs for spring training; it's time get out the syringes, testosterone anabolic steroid, HGH and pre-written apology letter to the fans and organization. America's favorite past-time is already in full swing for the 2009 season.
After the publishing of Joe Torre's tell-all book about the inner workings and dealings of the most storied franchise in sports; as well as the ongoing steroid scandal that has clouded the past four seasons, now implicating the highest paid player in baseball Alex Rodriguez, it's hard to find any good news about baseball that can outshine the 'Death Star' of media attention commanded by the 'Evil Empire' in New York.
However let's all try and get past the recent abominations of America's oldest organized league and look beyond the horizon towards a new season, which will hopefully have more headlines for actions on the field than off.
Stat junkies and fantasy leaguers were probably disappointed with a lot of the production seen last year from guys you've come to know as solid day-to-day players. For fantasy league players, these are the guys you want, sturdy fielders with an eye for making contact at the plate. They're not going to produce a lot of home run bang for the buck like David Ortiz in Boston, or Ryan Howard in Philadelphia, but their steady all around play can produce solid, balanced numbers that will give you steady point totals throughout the season. So here are some guys who I feel are going to have a solid year, and could be a nice addition to any fantasy roster.
It has been 20 years since a baby-faced 19-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. took the field for the Seattle Mariners. He shows a true passion and admiration for the game his father taught him, and possesses (still to this day) one of the sweetest swings ever to whip through the strike zone. "Junior's" a virtual lock for first time ballot induction to Cooperstown; has 10 Gold Gloves, 13 All-Star appearances and is currently fifth on the all time home run list (611). Although he has seen a significant drop in plate appearances and offensive production since the turn of the century, his popularity with the fans has never wavered, particularly in Seattle where he will be returning in 2009 to finish his career and solidify his Major League Baseball legacy.
It's not just his return to Seattle that excites me and makes me believe in an offensive resurgence. It's the way I see him being used by the organization. While I don't see him starting every game in the outfield for the Mariners, "Junior" will see an abundance of work as a designated hitter (DH). This is going to help keep him healthy and give him more at bats during the course of the season than if he were to be the everyday center or right fielder. Griffey's major struggles over the past several years have been health-related issues keeping him out of the line-up. If the Mariners use him wisely by making him their DH and playing him sparingly in the outfield, it is extremely plausible that "Junior" can and will produce bigger numbers in batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and home runs. I am not saying go out and grab him early in your draft but don't pass on him either-this guy can still play.
Ty Wigginton is not your average infielder; at a stocky 6 foot 200 pounds, you would expect to see him crouched behind home plate somewhere rather than being an all around utility fielder like he has proven to be. This is probably the biggest endowment Wiggington brings to whatever line-up he is inserted into. He will play anywhere, proving how un-selfish of a 'team-player' he can be. He has seen time in both leagues over his 7-year career; as he has been bounced around from team to team, always being offered up for trade agreements usually mid-way through the season. In spite of never really being given the opportunity to get settled in as an everyday player for any of the clubs he has played for, Wigginton has always shown to be a workhorse. Coming off of an average 2008 with the Houston Astros, where he batted .285 (career high), with 23 home runs and 58 RBI, Wiggington finds himself moving to Baltimore where hopefully he will become their permanent first baseman.
Why is this going to be a better year for Ty' Simple, he has come to a crossroads in his career as a result of this most recent trade. In this, his eighth pro season, he has to find his footing and prove to be a player worth investing in, if he wants to avoid his fourth trade. By placing him at first base, which I believe Baltimore will, this could turn out to be a Gold Glove year for the North Carolina native. He has only committed two errors at the 'single bag' in 85 appearances at that position. If he can continue to be a productive first baseman, and improve upon his production at the plate there would be no reason for the Orioles not to offer him a contract extension for the 2010 season. Bottom line he needs a good year, and his bulldog like tenacity and work ethic should help him achieve a new standard of play as he returns to the American League.
In the National league you could literally make a whole roster of under achieving players at least five times over. It just always seems the American league has all the star power, money, and fan fare; excluding the "Windy City" where the Cubs are always a big draw. However, with the Phillies coming off a world Championship and returning the Commissioner's Trophy to the National League for only the third time in eight years, maybe we could see a swing in dominance for the NL.
I don't exactly know if "I" would classify this next guy as having a bad 2008, but a lot of baseball analyst have and would disagree with my view. Since 2005 Jeff Francoeur has been an exceptional young prospect for the ever aging Atlanta Braves roster, which they have recently tried to rectify by recruiting young hot talent from their farm clubs, such as catcher Brian McCann along with Francoeur in 2005.
Over the course of Fracoeur's four year career he has produced steady numbers, despite the fact he has a terrible habit of chasing pitches way out of the strike zone. However, he has proven to be quite the hacker especially with runners in scoring position, posting 105 RBIs in 2005. Francoeur avoided arbitration by signing a one year contract extension with the Braves for the 2009 season. I feel that Francoeur is a perfect fit in Atlanta (he is a hometown boy), who will eventually come into his own and be awarded the franchise tag much like Chipper Jones before him. But in order for it to play out this way, Francoeur must improve at the plate, be more patient while at the same time taking walks rather than trying to make contact with bad pitches. Defensively the Braves couldn't ask for a better guy, I don't know anyone who will test Francoeurs arm; a lot of teams had to find out the hard way in the beginning. Now yes, Jeff did see a decline in average, extra base hits, home runs, and RBI's in 2008, but he also saw 50 less at-bats than he did in 2007. The drop off statistically for Francoeur was probably a direct reflection of this decline in plate appearances.
Regardless of how you manage your fantasy roster there is going to be a resurgence of Major League Baseball in America, and I think 2009 will be that year. The Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi days are over, allowing the opportunity for young, energetic players to change the face and fan perception of Baseball. This is what is needed; a renaissance of sorts, for a league that has been plagued with players taking themselves more serious than the game that made them stars. So when you line up on the couch and start your pre-season draft, avoid the 'anabolic stars' of the previous decade, and give the old school veterans and emerging stars of tomorrow a slot in your line-up. They may give you more than you expect, and you just might gain some perspective of the guys who continue to make baseball 'America's Favorite Past-time.'