Dissenting Opinions: Bullish on Upton, Escobar, Sanchez

Andy Behrens
February 15, 2010
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By now, you should be familiar with the rules of this feature. We're reviewing the Yahoo! preseason position ranks, looking for cases where experts are unusually enthusiastic or pessimistic about specific players. When outliers are identified, analysts are asked to analyze. We begin with six very bullish spins. On Tuesday, we'll go negative.

B.J. Upton(notes) – Behrens OF rank 12, Yahoo! composite 19

Despite having recently lost his arbitration battle – if we can accurately describe any $3 million payday as a "loss" – Upton remains one of the more intriguing talents in both real and imaginary baseball. Of course he's also one of the more frustrating talents. If you were burned by Upton last year, then I suppose I can understand the reluctance to reenlist.

But realize that Upton is just entering his age-25 season, and he already has a 20-homer campaign and back-to-back 40-steal efforts to his credit. There simply aren't many names in the player pool with clear 20/40 potential. Upton's BABIP took a nosedive last year and his batting average went with it, but don't expect him to settle into the .240-.260 range. He's far enough removed from left shoulder surgery that we can reasonably forecast a modest power bump, too. It's much too early in Upton's career arc to assume that we've already seen his best. Right now, with an ADP that's barely in the top-60, the upside is worth the risk. -AB

Alcides Escobar(notes) – Evans SS rank 11, Y! composite 18

Cradle-robbing is a common practice in fantasy drafts. Every year owners sever tendons for hyped rookies in the hope of tapping into their supposedly limitless potential. Though numerous rookies don’t deserve such accolades, Escobar definitely does.

Comparable in style and substance to Elvis Andrus(notes), the sure-handed Brewers shortstop will be a prime three-cat contributor in deeper mixed leagues. His tremendous speed upside – he swiped 42 bags in 109 Triple-A games last year – and high contact rates suggest he will likely yield a batting average near .285 with a minimum of 35 steals. It’s unknown exactly where he will bat in Ken Macha’s order. Publications have him slotted anywhere from leadoff to No. 9. At this point in his career, the 23-year-old is allergic to walks, but due to his slap-hitting nature he projects as a No. 2 hitter long-term. At some point this season, you can bet he’ll cement a prime table-setting position. Overall, he’s still a good 3-4 years from reaching his Jose Reyes-like ceiling, but Escobar is certainly a more desirable commodity at his position than aging stiffs Rafael Furcal(notes) and Miguel Tejada(notes), both of whom ranked ahead of the youngster in our composite rankings. -Noise

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Jonathan Sanchez(notes) – Pianowski SP rank 46, Y! composite 68

It's easy to find false promises with segmented stats; you can support almost any theory by selecting the right patch of data. That established, why aren't more people excited about what Sanchez did in the second half of 2009? You'll get mileage out of a 3.83 ERA and 1.24 ERA, the 98 strikeouts in 84.2 innings are juicy, the league hit just .206 against him. Forget that he won just five of 15 games - that's as much a flag on his teammates as it is against Sanchez. The Giants scored a piddly 40 runs over his final 14 starts. For a guy who threw a no-hitter in 2009 (and that was in the first half), Sanchez remains somewhat of a screened commodity.

I'll grant you there are many red flags on Sanchez - he's got a long-running control problem (though it did improve after the break), he has trouble working deep in games, he struggles with men on base (and holding runners to begin with). That said, starters who strike out more than a batter per inning don't grow on trees, Sanchez's home park will hide a lot of mistakes, and perhaps he's ready for another push forward in his Age 27 season as he learns to trust his stuff more. The second part of your draft is supposed to be about upside, especially on the mound; with that in mind, Sanchez is a great risk/reward name for the back end of your staff. -Pianow

Victor Martinez(notes) – Funston 1B rank 7, Y! composite 11

V-Mart is my seventh ranked first basemen, but I’m obviously not playing him there if I were to land him in a draft. My colleagues and I agree he’s the No. 2 catcher available, but we seem to disagree with where the overall value of Beantown’s multi-position eligible cleanup hitter should land. In 56 games with the Red Sox in ’09, V-Mart posted a career-best .912 OPS. He’s a career .300 hitter who’s averaged more than 20 home runs and 100 RBI in his past five full seasons. And, at 31, he’s still riding the tail-end of his prime years wave.

Hitting in the No. 4 spot for an offense that has ranked in the top four in the majors in runs the past three years is about as lucrative a post as any hitter could hope for. His current value in average live drafts on MockDraftCentral, I think, adequately represents the value of V-Mart and his situation – he sits at No. 23 overall. My colleagues would rather you consider him a round later. Feel free to follow that advice if you have no intention of owning V-Mart this season. If you want a backstop capable of giving Mauer a run for his money, you’ll have to take a more aggressive draft-day approach. -BFun

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Ben Zobrist(notes) – Funston OF rank 12, Y! composite 18

Like my V-Mart argument, this is a case of ranking Zobrist so high at one position (OF) because of the value he’ll bring elsewhere on the fantasy diamond (2B, SS). Zobrist’s three-position eligibility, two of the spots coming at the more depth-challenged middle infield positions, is a major factor in my valuation. As is the power he offers up the middle … I think we can safely assume the 20-plus HR power is legitimate – 39 home runs in his past 684 major league at bats makes a pretty emphatic case for that.

Really, there’s no reason to think that Zobrist can’t put up numbers at least close to last year’s breakout campaign. At 28, he’s in the heart of his prime. He has excellent plate discipline, ranking 17th in the league in both BB and K/BB ratio in ’09. He’s been a consistent 15-plus SB threat throughout his professional career. And he’s expected to hit fifth in what was the No. 7 offense in the league last season. Tale a look at what the SS position has to offer after Derek Jeter(notes) comes off the board and tell me you don’t understand the rationale for extending yourself for what Zobrist brings to the table. -BFun

Julio Borbon(notes) – Behrens OF rank 35, Y! composite 45

If you're determined to select Michael Bourn(notes) anywhere near his current Mock Draft Central ADP (75.1), you'll get no fight from me. I'll just take Julio Borbon at his absurdly cheap price (ADP 197.7). He's expected to hit lead-off for the Rangers in 2010 after swiping 19 bags and batting .312 in 46 games in '09. Prior to his call-up, Borbon was hitting .307 at Triple-A with 25 stolen bases. (For the math-impaired, that's 44 steals between MLB and the PCL). In '08, he stole 53 bases and hit .321 across two minor league levels. He's well-positioned to be a solid three-category fantasy asset. Underrate him at your own peril. -AB

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