To kick off the 2014 MLB season, we will be going around the diamond to find out who are the best under-the-radar players to look out for while you’re planning for your fantasy drafts. For the first edition of the series, we’ll start with the cornerstones of your team, the first and third basemen, or the corner infielders.
My initial thought, in terms of draft strategy for this year, was to funnel a lot of money into the best players while disregarding positional scarcity, because the top talent this year seems to be annually underappreciated (I’m looking at you, Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion). However, the more I look at the 1B list, the more talented sleepers I find, leaving more money/high draft picks to be saved for the 2B and SS of the world.
1) Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu, recently rescued from Cuba for the price of $68 million over four years, is teeming with power potential. Labeled as possibly the best player in the world by some of his old Cuban teammates and MLB sensation Yasiel Puig, Abreu remains low key because Puig has already claimed the title “the Great Cuban Hope.” Although the thought that Adam Dunn might be mentoring Abreu is scary, he should at least have the power to smack 30-35 home runs, a valuable commodity in rotisserie leagues. A player with this kind of potential who is valued as the 19th best 1B in the ESPN rankings is well worth taking a flier on.
2) Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
The Yankees first baseman is coming off a season where he received 53 at-bats, with a whopping eight hits out of those at bats. However, even as he was working off the rust from a major injury, he still managed to homer in three of those eight at bats. If you extrapolate those numbers over the course of a full season (assuming he stays healthy for a full season), that’s about 30-35 home runs for a guy who strikes out under 120 times a season. Considering he’s hitting in the heart of a revamped, OBP-centric lineup and playing his first full season in that new sandbox we call Yankee Stadium, let’s just say I like his odds.
3) Justin Morneau, Colorado Rockies
If, for some reason, you get tricked into drafting Hee-Siop Choi, forget he hasn’t been in baseball for 8 years, and only have a dollar or a late round pick to spend on an actual first baseman, don’t worry, because former MVP Justin Morneau will be available. And this should make you ecstatic, because who is talking about Justin Morneau these days? The 29th-ranked first baseman lost relevance lollygagging in the Twins’ organization before getting a very slight boost after a post-deadline trade to the Pirates last year. However, he made no headlines when he signed with the Rockies this winter. But I’ll take a guy who takes his 17 homers, .323 OBP, and 77 RBI with two mediocre hitting teams in spacious parks to one of the most potent lineups in baseball at the best hitting ballpark in recent memory.
Third base just never gets any better. You have the perennial guys at the top in Cabrera, Beltre, Longoria and Wright, but you’re left hoping a second half breakout Chase Headley happens if you miss out on those guys. Luckily, we can add one more name to the top 4 in Matt Carpenter. But, with a typical five more teams in a league in need of a third baseman, let’s look at some of the other options you’ll have if you miss out on these five.
1) Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox
Middlebrooks has received a lot of draft hype, and most of it, deservedly so. His draft prospects are a little inflated because of the dearth of quality at this corner spot, but there are things to like about the Greenville, Texas product. He was a revelation in 2012, and started off hot in 2013, but all of a sudden, his production fell off a cliff. Fortunately for him and his fans, he picked it up with an impressive 881 OPS in August, and followed that up with a very respectable 747 OPS in September. Good late season showings are a very good indicator of future success and if Middlebrooks, who is still very young, can sustain this and improve on his skills, he can definitely finish in the top 5 of third basemen at season’s end, when Longoria eventually injures himself for the rest of the year.
2) Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Middlebrooks is the only real third baseman sleeper I have for this year. No one else is really going to outdo their production from this crop of 3Bs, though I do have some hope for Moustakas. However, this is mostly predicated on my sixth sense of “this guy has to break out at SOME point, right?” Moustakas was a high draft pick and a top prospect for a minor league system that was littered with good players. Some guys just develop slowly. Even though I have no concrete reason why, this could be the year Moustakas takes off.
3) The Matts: Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox and Matt Dominguez, Houston Astros
Although both Davidson and Dominguez are a couple years too early from breaking out into 10-team, mixed league fantasy relevance, there’s no one with better potential than the Matts. Davidson will be a rookie this year, but with a 20-25 home run potential and hitting in shallow U.S. Cellular Field with a pretty decent White Sox lineup around him, he could put up decent numbers if he’s not overpowered by major league pitching. Dominguez was one of the lone bright spots for the lowly Astros last year, but proved that he can hit in the big leagues. He, too, is about a year away from taking the next big step and possibly becoming a major player at the third base spot, though there’s no reason why can’t take that step this year. The problem is that there’s also no reason why he would take it this year.
Daniel Scheiner is a sophomore majoring in music industry. His fantasy baseball picks run Sundays.