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Roto Arcade

Sleepers and Busts: The Corner Infielders

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

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Josh Donaldson - the man, the myth, the mullet. (Getty)

For the past month, the Yahoo fantasy crew has offered up its player rankings for the upcoming 2014 fantasy baseball campaign. Now, with the season only a couple weeks away, we felt it was time to take a deeper dive into the rationale behind those rankings, specifically where each expert has most drastically veered from the group-think (Yahoo ADP) path. Below, each expert explains his dissenting opinion on a couple players he likes more than the Yahoo ADP and a couple players he likes less than the ADP. For this exercise, we'll call them our sleepers and busts at the corner infield positions. In case you missed them, you can find our outfield sleepers and busts here.

THE SLEEPERS

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

Brandon Belt, SF - Belt got off to a sluggish start in '13 but, if you throw out his first 18 games, he finished as a top 75 fantasy commodity the rest of the way. Here's a guy with an impressive pedigree coming off a season in which he showed prolonged success. And he is just entering his prime as he'll turn 26 in April. He's also expected to hit third in the lineup, in front of Buster Posey. Last season Belt hit .320 in 181 ABs as the No. 3 hitter. His current ADP is right around 143 overall, but I like him at least two rounds earlier than that. (Brandon Funston)

Kyle Seager, Sea - With an ADP of 143.7, Seager is being drafted in the same neighborhood as Belt. That's strangely low for a 26-year-old that finished No. 109 in the Yahoo! game last season - especially when you consider that he'll be hitting ahead of new M's addition Robinson Cano. There's a good chance that Seager will finish with career highs in every fantasy stat, with the possible exception of steals. But even if he only repeats last season's success, he'll still be a nice value based on his current market rate. (Funston)

Chris Johnson, Atl - A lot of skeptics will center on last year's .394 BABIP, a number we can't expect to repeat. That said, let's accept what Johnson has established for his career: a .361 hit rate, driven by a robust 24.9 percent line-drive clip. He's making a lot of his own luck. If you land Johnson as your utility corner, you've done well. In deeper pools, I always have a spot for a .295-72-14-70 type of line. (Scott Pianowski)

Josh Donaldson, Oak - The balance of his breakout year is what impressed me the most. Donaldson somehow managed a .293/.367/.520 slash in Oakland's roomy ballpark, and although he preferred left-handed pitching, he was fine against the northpaws (.813 OPS). He also posted an OPS of .822 or better in five of six months. Donaldson's approach at the plate was also improving - he swung at less pitches out of the strike zone, and made better contact when he did swing. Often times a surprise breakout player is a value the following year, as there's a silent worry about being stuck with the fluke player. Just about everything about Donaldson looks legitimate to me. (Pianowski)

Matt Adams, StL – He posted a .284-46-17-51 line over just 296 at bats last season, and the Cardinals have an uncanny ability of usually getting the most out of their players. There’s some risk Adams sits against lefties, but he has a career .318/.364/.563 line in the minors and is currently being drafted outside the top-150 picks. (Dalton Del Don)

Chase Headley, SD – He’s coming off an extremely disappointing season and is currently dealing with a calf injury. But Headley is one year removed from a .286-95-31-115-17 campaign (when he ranked as the No. 12 fantasy player), and after PETCO Park moved its fences in last season, it increased HRs for LHB by 30 percent, which is to say it suddenly became Coors Field when it comes to benefiting power for lefty hitters (albeit in a small sample). (DDD)

Mike Napoli, Bos - With an ADP outside the top 150, Napoli is weirdly disrespected by the fantasy community. He's an excellent power bat, a guy with a career slugging percentage of .502, and he does his hitting in the heart of one of the game's best lineups. Napoli delivered 23 homers and 92 RBIs last season, despite playing just 139 games. He's feeling great at the moment, and has to be considered a strong candidate for an 80-25-90 campaign. (Andy Behrens)

Brett Lawrie, Tor - I might just be the last of the Brett Lawrie believers. But let's remember that Lawrie is still just 24, he does his hitting in a friendly environment, and he's already reached double-digit power/speed totals. If he can just give us, say, 140-145 games — and clearly that's a colossal if — then he's capable of a 20/20 season. The positional utility helps, too. I'm buying Lawrie, at least for one more year. (Behrens)

THE BUSTS

Albert Pujols, LAA - Pujols is 34 years old, but if you didn't know that and you had to guess his age just by watching him play over the past couple seasons, you'd probably come in a few years higher than 34. Put simply, he's showing a lot of wear and tear. And his decline was evident in the numbers even before last year's collapse. After eight seasons with an OBP of at least .414, he's finished at .366, .343 and .330, respectively, over the past three seasons. In fact, most all of Pujols' key offensive metrics have been in a three-year slide. Couple that with the injury risk that he now represents, there's no way you'll convince me to draft him inside the top four rounds. (Funston)

Josh Donaldson, Oak - With a line of .301/24/93/89/5, Donaldson was a surprise as the 31st most valuable fantasy performer in '13. Finishing a little more than 100 spots below Donaldson (No. 134) was Cleveland's Carlos Santana, with a line of .268/20/74/75/3. I use Santana as a comparison here because, Santana's '13 numbers are a more realistic expectation for Donaldson in '14 than a repeat of last year. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling him a fluke - there's legit skills here. But given his inflated BABIP, HR/FB rate (despite hitting an increased percentage of ground balls), and the expectation that his significant improvement in K rate will regress a little, you'd be wise to let someone else use the top 90 pick required for Donaldson's services on draft day. (Funston)

Aramis Ramirez, Mil - He's missed a major chunk of time in three of the last five seasons, a trend that's unlikely to flip as Ramirez approaches his 36th birthday. And when Ramirez was on the field last year, nothing special was going on - 12 homers in 92 games, modest .461 slugging percentage. Give me someone younger and with upside, please.(Pianowski)

Jose Abreu, CHW - I have two primary Abreu concerns, both of them raised from my friend Gene McCaffrey. First and foremost, can Abreu stay healthy? He was hit by pitches at an alarming rate in Cuba. And how will Abreu adjust to the early-season weather in Chicago? This wasn't an issue for Yoenis Cespedes (Oakland) and Yasiel Puig (LA). I tend to avoid the shiny new toy players anyway, which means I probably won't have Abreu on any teams. (Pianowski)

Brett Lawrie, Tor – He’s just 24 years old, so there’s room for growth, but after an impressive rookie campaign, Lawrie has averaged just 11 home runs and 47 RBI over the past two seasons (he’s admittedly missed time over this span, although his lack of durability doesn’t exactly counter my point). He’s also sported an ugly 62.9 SB success rate over that stretch, so he may be discouraged to run moving forward. Lawrie has upside (but realize he’s been a pretty extreme ground-ball hitter to date), but his ADP (112.0) suggests most are still buying into his potential. (DDD)

Martin Prado, Ari – I just don’t know what to make of Prado. He hit less than .220 in two months last year (and less than .260 in another) while batting better than .310 in the other three. Of course, it all counts the same in the end, but he also stopped running, going just 3-for-8 on the base paths after swiping 17 bags the prior year. (DDD)

Anthony Rizzo, ChC - While I appreciate the fact that Rizzo showed year-to-year improvement in non-trivial areas (including walk-rate), and I further accept that his BABIP was unusually low, that doesn't necessarily mean that he's poised to deliver a stellar fantasy campaign. I don't think you can reasonably expect a batting average north of .255 here, because we're talking about a slow-footed runner who can't touch left-handed pitching. And it's not like the Cubs' lineup is loaded, so we can't really expect huge run and RBI totals. I'm not expecting much more than a 70-26-85-.250 line, assuming good health.(Behrens)

Anthony Rendon, Was - It's not always true that youth equals fantasy upside. Rendon doesn't offer significant power or speed, and he'll hit near the bottom of an N.L. lineup. In mixed leagues, he's not much more than a last-resort MI for me. (Behrens)

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