SP. John Garland (SD): Over the past few years, at one point or another Garland has spent a stint on my team. He pitched well after being traded to the Dodgers from Arizona for the final stretch of last season, and it earned him a spot in the Padre’s rotation. John Garland is never a sexy pick, but in 33 starts last season for both teams there were only 5 times that he pitched less than 6 innings, that may sound like a lot but it is the same as C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Not saying that Garland is anywhere near that that level, but Garland is a quality start machine. Garland is a fly ball pitcher that is moving to stadium that will allow him to get those outs, and be forgiving if he makes some mistakes. He won’t get you many strike outs, and many wins with a paltry San Diego offense behind him, but in the last round in (very) deep leagues, Garland will be able to eat up some innings and get you a bucket of quality starts.
1B. Paul Konerko (CWS): Like Garland, Konerko always seems to find himself as a benchwarmer on my team for a couple weeks of the fantasy season, jumping in and belting a few homeruns. Konerko rebounded nicely last season after missing time in 2008 with injury. He is the incumbent first basemen on the South side, and in the middle of a line-up that has as many sleepers and promising rookies as any in baseball. If Quentin recovers, Beckham lives up to the hype, Rios rebounds and Pierre continues what he did filling in for Manny, Konerko will have a lot of opportunities to drive in some runs and see some good pitches. It’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and his 30 homeruns days may be behind him, but if all goes according to plan, he may be able to squeeze out one more one top of a palatable batting average and solid peripherals for where he is getting drafted. First base is a deep position, if you get to the last round and are looking for some pop, Konerko is worth a look.
OF/1B. Nick Swisher (NYY): Swisher hit 29 homeruns for a team that he was never considered a starter for. Although this season the Yankees are continuing to platoon him in right field, Swisher is a cut above the rest of the other player vying for play time in the Yankee outfield, and should increase his number of at bats. Swisher’s batting average hurts a bit, but he is a dual position eligible player batting in a hitter’s stadium in baseball’s best run scoring line-up. In the last round Swisher will provide some protection for the outfield and at first base with 30 homerun potential.
SS. Alcides Escobar (MIL): A lot of hype is surrounding Elvis Andrus running wild in Texas, but all things considered Milwaukie may have the best young short stop in the game. Through AA and AAA ball Alcides had more steals, with a substantially higher batting average (hovering about the .300 mark). With the rise of Julio Burbon, Andrus will be hitting at the tail end of the line-up, while Escobar is slotted to bat second in front of Braun and Fielders. A lot can be said about Elvis’ learning curve with a full season under his belt, but if Escobar adjusts quickly he could be one of the best fantasy short stops this season, giving major boosts in runs, steals and average. Escobar’s ADP is about the 230th pick, going behind a lot of incumbent yet poor performing short stops. If you have the space towards the end of the draft and miss out on one of the elite short stops, or have just ignore the position until the end, Escobar is a great late draft rookie pick.
OF/1B. Garrett Jones (PIT): Jones hit 21 homeruns in just 82 games at the end of last season. Now slated as the #3 hitter, he may be the best fantasy option to come out of Pittsburgh this season. The line-up around him isn’t great, but Pitt, like every year, has a slew of young batters that will get substantial playing time and will improve as the season progresses. Regardless of the line-up around him Jones has power and with consistent playing time 30 home runs is not out of the question. Combine this with a solid average and 20 steal potential, Jones can make a splash this fantasy season. With dual position eligibility (OF/1B) and an average draft position past the 20th round, Jones is worth a look in the later rounds.
UTL. Brandon Wood (LAA): A uber-prospect for years, at 25 Wood will finally get a chance to start for the rebuilding Angels at third base. The polar opposite of former LAA third Chone Figgins, who was known for getting on base and running, Wood will not hit for a very high average but will provide significant pop. Like Alcides Escobar, Wood doesn’t have much experience under his belt, but the Angel’s line-up is laden with veteran players who know how to hit, and they should help shorten the learning curve for Wood, and he will grow as the season progresses. Wood didn’t play any position more than 10 times last season, so he will start the season with eligibility only at the utility position. This combined with inconstant performance at the major league level has him going undrafted in most leagues. In deeper leagues he may be worth grabbing onto in the last round and holding him until he comes into his own. If not he is a player to keep on the watch list.
SP. Tim Hudson (ATL): Didn’t play much last season because of an injury, all signs to him being in perfect health once the season starts. The fact that Atlanta didn’t opt out of the final two seasons of his contract is a good sign that his injury is one that he can come back from and be a solid contributor. Never a huge strikeout pitcher, Hudson is a workhouse who will pitch a lot of innings and get a lot of quality starts. The upside isn’t huge, but if you need a solid pitcher to provide some consistency to your rotation, Hudson is work a look in the last round.
UTL. Travis Hafner (CLE): It has been said every year since he first went down with a shoulder injury, but this season he feels good and could finally be rounding back into form. With a few years and about forty million still on his contract, Cleveland really hopes that it is. No position eligibility, injury uncertainty, a unclear play time because of the curious Russel Branyan signing are all question marks surrounding Hafner, but if his shoulder holds up and he gets back in rhythm, Paul Konerko like numbers are not out of the question (about 28 HRs, .280 AVE). Definitely a guy to keep on your watch list as the season progresses.
SP. Shaun Marcum (TOR): Marcum, despite not throwing a pitch last season because of Tommy John surgery, is still projected to be the number one starter on a rotation that no longer features Halladay. Although he has never pitched a full season, he has improved every year he has been in the majors until getting derailed last year due to injury. So far this spring he has pitched 2 scoreless innings against the Yankees without discomfort, not much to go by, but it’s a good sign. While not getting drafted in most leagues, if he continues to progress he can be a consistent back of the rotation start on any team.