Sophomores poised to recapture promise of rookie potential
Eric Young could steal 50 bases for Rockies with full-time starting job
Despite uninspiring rookie stats, Jason Heyward still has elite-level talent
Brian Matusz went 7-3 with a 3.63 ERA in the second half last season
Practice makes perfect, but experience makes a professional. With that in mind, let's take you to the next way to collect the most talented professionals as possible for your fantasy baseball team.
Everything seems to come more naturally the second time around, and this is where Part V of our six-part series on unearthing players who can outperform their draft position comes in: Overlooked sophomores.
There is a notion, for many of these players, that they did not live up to what they were supposed to do as rookies. Now, though, they can be looked at from a position of value.
It is the bike assembly phenomenon. Follow the instructions to put it together out of the box -- or don't -- it should be quite simple. It isn't, so it tends to wind up looking like abstract art. Now take it apart and do it all over again. Much easier. Heck, little Johnny can even ride the thing without breaking his neck.
This is what second-year players do: They learn from their mistakes and make adjustments. This tends to make them more productive for their teams and fantasy owners.
Take David Price, for instance. As a rookie, he hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer: 10-7, 4.46, 1.351 WHIP. He came with loads of hype, justifiably, but he didn't quite make good on his promise for those who drafted him. Heck, he didn't even make the majors until right before June 1.
But he slipped in drafts last year, going much lower than the year prior, despite having a rotation spot out of spring training and two-thirds of a season under his belt.
Cy Young contender: (19-6)-2.72-1.196 and 188 strikeouts in 208 2/3 innings.
It's pure genius.
Not only did he outperform his draft position, he outperformed just about all of baseball and fantasy, leading teams to championships.
We owe him one.
This is what elite talents can do. Vince Lombardi famously said success is the culmination of preparation and opportunity. Toss in experience, and you whip right past success to superstardom.
The following are the top sophomores who exhausted their rookie eligibility in 2010 either due to at-bats, innings or service time. They are broken out by position, with a top overlooked sophomore highlighted and the other candidates mentioned. There are varying degrees of fantasy potential here, but if there is a top sophomore talent who is getting undervalued in your league, he has great potential to outperform his draft position.
Highlight or mark these sophomores with an "S" on your cheat sheets and target them throughout the depths of your drafts.
Catcher is a tricky position to overlook, because there are so few quality options. NL ROY Buster Posey will likely go in the top four at his position, if not in the top two with Joe Mauer. But after Mauer, Posey, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann, you should wait a long, long time on a backstop for your team. There just isn't much to choose between Nos. 5 and 12. Santana is in that mix, and if we finally get a full season out of him, we could see a 20-homer, 80-RBI campaign that would put him in the top five for sure next season.
Other sophomore catchers -- Alex Avila, DET; John Jaso, TB; Jonathan Lucroy, MIL; Adam Moore, SEA; Buster Posey, SF; Santana, CLE; Josh Thole, NYM.
Smoak should have been superior to the Mets' Ike Davis and Marlins' Gaby Sanchez. Instead, he was so unimpressive, he was dealt off to the Great Northwest. If that sounds like baseball purgatory, it basically is. Davis, Sanchez and Smoak might not get picked in standard leagues, but any one of them could perform like a fantasy-worthy starter. Smoak has the highest ceiling of the trio, and the worst numbers from a year ago. He could break through for a .290-25-90 campaign -- maybe even .300-30-100 if Seattle wasn't such a pitcher's park -- and provide great value as a late-round pick.
Other sophomore first basemen -- Davis, NYM; Kila Ka'aihue, KC; Mitch Moreland, TEX; Sanchez, FLA; Smoak, SEA; Brett Wallace, HOU.
Young isn't the most talented of prospects, but he does have one specific skill you can't teach: Speed. Speed of the mind-numbing variety. He will have a fight on his hands for a starting job, but he could play second or center and leadoff for a potent Rockies lineup in the rare air of Coors Field. He might not hit .260, but he could be a steal for steals -- perhaps even 50-plus if he plays every day and hits with a modicum of capability.
Other sophomore second basemen -- Reid Brignac, TB; Will Rhymes, DET; Scott Sizemore, DET; Neil Walker, PIT; Young, COL.
There are some nice late-round options at this position, and you're better off going with young guy than a banged-up veteran such as Chipper Jones. Alvarez is one of those options. He was labeled the top hitter of his draft class and he showed plenty of power in his first two-thirds of a season. His first full season could produce 25-plus homers and 100 RBI. David Freese is a close, close second as the Cardinals' likely everyday third baseman but his bat isn't as powerful.
Third basemen -- Alvarez, PIT; Jason Donald, CLE; Freese, STL; Chris Johnson, HOU; Danny Valencia, MIN.
When you think of Castro, you have to think future batting champion. The only shortstops to win batting titles in the past 50 years are Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. That is some company. Even Derek Jeter hasn't done it. What makes Castro a bit overlooked is how raw he is at 20 years of age. But he has already hit .300 and the power and steals should follow. He is going to be drafted after the top 10 fantasy shortstops in many leagues, but he could go .300-10-65-100-25 as he matures.
Shortstops -- Brignac, TB; Castro, CHC; Ian Desmond, WAS; Donald, CLE; Alcides Escobar, KC.
Heyward personifies an overlooked sophomore. As a rookie, he was the talk of spring training, smashing cars in parking lots (legally, with batting practice homers) and slamming Carlos Zambrano on Opening Day. But when you take his full-season numbers at age 20-21, they just don't look so elite: .277-18-72-83-11. That's late-round outfielder production. Heyward ain't no late-round talent. The residual hype will still warrant him being drafted among the top 20 outfielders on draft day and he could go .300-30-100-100 as a 21-year-old. If he does that, look out. He will be a fantasy first-rounder for the next decade.
An honorable mention: Michael Stanton, Florida Marlins
Stanton is another 21-year-old outfielder without a ceiling, having hit 22 homers with 59 RBI in two-thirds of a season. Since he won't project to hit for a high average because of a poorer strikeout-to-walk rate and fewer steals, he will go 10 picks after Heyward. His production of 35-plus homers and 100-plus RBI could be just as impressive, though.
Other sophomore outfielders -- Roger Bernadina, WAS; Brennan Boesch, DET; Michael Brantley, CLE; Tyler Colvin, CHC; Chris Heisey, CIN; Heyward, ATL; Austin Jackson, DET; Jon Jay, STL; Ryan Kalish, BOS; Logan Morrison, FLA; Stanton, FLA; Jose Tabata, PIT.
Matusz is our pick to lead a large class of overlooked sophomore starting pitchers. Pitchers, in general, tend to get overlooked because there are so many of them to pick from and fantasy owners tend to rotate them through like disposable heroes. The Giants' Madison Bumgarner, the Cardinals' Jaime Garcia and Reds' Mike Leake were big-time contributors for fantasy owners last year in stretches -- even ace-like ones. Well, Matusz was hardly useful for most of the first half of the season, going 3-9 with a 4.77 ERA at the break. It was such a disappointing start, you likely missed his second-half surge of 7-3 with a 3.63 ERA and an ace-like .228 batting-average against (6-1, 2.25 after Aug. 1). That is the makings of a 15-game winner in Year 2, all for the value of a late-round pick in a standard league.
Starting pitchers -- Jake Arrieta, BAL; Madison Bumgarner, SF; Jhoulys Chacin, COL; Wade Davis, TB; Barry Enright, ARI; Jaime Garcia, STL; Daniel Hudson, ARI; Mike Leake, CIN; Brad Lincoln, PIT; Matusz, BAL; Jon Niese, NYM; Alex Sanabia, FLA; Stephen Strasburg (out for the season), WAS; Mitch Talbot, CLE; Travis Wood, CIN.
The Brewers' struggles last year were related to pitching, but it was another rookie that took the closing reins from Trevor Hoffman: John Axford. Axford came out of nowhere to be a fantasy gem as a waiver pick-up. Now he enters spring training as the closer of choice, but the flame-throwing Braddock remains the closer-in-waiting. If Axford falters -- he wasn't highly regarded coming into last season -- Braddock could pick up the pieces and take off for what should be a contender in Milwaukee. Braddock will go undrafted in many leagues, too. He is this year's Axford.
Relief pitchers -- Axford, MIL; Zach Braddock, MIL; Andrew Cashner, CHC; Neftali Feliz, TEX; Jenrry Mejia, NYM; Sergio Santos, CHW; Hisanori Takahashi, LAA; Brad Thomas, DET; Jonny Venters, ATL.
Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.
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