10 Players We Love More than You

With the 2012 fantasy baseball season fast approaching, the Yahoo! Sports fantasy baseball experts have been asked to open their little black books and reveal the players of their affection and obsession. For Dee Gordon, Michael Cuddyer and a few others (listed multiple times below), this could get a little awkward.

 Brandon Funston: In the spirit of   Chase Utley-obsessed Mac from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, here are the top 10 players on my speed dial …

Starlin Castro – I’m not going to fixate on Castro’s mere 10 home runs in ’11. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on the ridiculous growth potential of a 21-year-old who has hit .300 since the day he arrived in Chicago two seasons ago. And with eight home runs in his final 64 games of ’11 and a middle-of-the-order spot, the power production may take a significant leap forward in ’12.

Jason Kipnis – Seriously, from a fantasy standpoint, what does Dustin Ackley have that Kipnis doesn’t, other than a better publicist? A middle infielder with legit 20/20 potential going outside the top 150? That gets my motor running.

Howie Kendrick – Old man-crushes die hard, especially when Albert Pujols moves into their neighborhood. Hitting in front of the greatest hitter on the planet, Kendrick is primed to make that batting title run that I’ve long been waiting for. Of course it doesn’t count, but it’s nice to see that he’s absolutely locked in this spring.

Brett Lawrie – Hot corners with 25/25 upside don’t come around too often. The pedigree is too strong to take a “prove it” stance with him on draft day. This is one player that you just need to bite the bullet and pay the expectant price.

Adam Jones – Only 26, Jones is coming off a season in which he netted career highs in home runs (25 – 19 at Camden Yards), doubles (26) and stolen bases (12). He’s heading into his prime with all arrows pointing up.

Jason Heyward – When you’re getting compared to Ken Griffey Jr. as a prospect and posting a .849 OPS as a 20-year-old rookie, you simply have to give a Mulligan for a follow-up campaign that was sabotaged by a shoulder injury.

Brandon Belt – The Giants can’t keep this baby in the corner any longer. He’s a hitting machine that blazed a trail from college to San Francisco in less than two seasons. And he’s forcing the Giants to take notice once again this spring. San Francisco’s going to have to do the right thing and make him a regular.

Cory Luebke – Among those with 120 IP, Luebke was top 20 in K/BB ratio, K/9 ratio and WHIP in ’11. And he pitches in the friendliest confines (Petco Park) a pitcher could hope for. He’s the 36th starter taken on average in Yahoo! drafts, thus far, which is at least 10 spots too late, in my opinion.

Derek Holland – I don’t want to hear about the rigors of pitching in Texas. Four Rangers starters delivered an ERA under 4.00 last season including Holland, who delivered a 3.06 ERA and nearly a K per IP after the ’11 break. The 25-year-old sure looked like he turned a corner, and the price of investment here is extremely reasonable.

Jonny Venters – For me, Venters represents all that is good about the middle class … of relievers. I can never get enough of the high volume, K-per-IP, ratio suppressing set-up guys. Venters, Tyler Clippard, Mike Adams, Sean Marshall, et al, you guys can ride with me any time.

 Andy Behrens: After Lloyd Moseby, I swore I’d never love a Jay again, but …

Brett Lawrie – You will not out-bid me on Lawrie, so please don’t try. This is a hitter with an all-category skill set, a potential 25/25 (or 30/30) player this season if he can just stay healthy.

Dee Gordon – If things go well, you get 50-plus steals, a .285-ish average and a pile of runs. Gordon goes 100 picks later than Elvis Andrus, but the forecast is similar.

Yu Darvish – I won’t mind drafting him as a No. 1 starter. He’ll be a nightmare matchup for hitters on his first trip through the league, plus the run support should be there all year.

Jason Heyward – At 22, he’s still younger than many prospects. Heyward has terrific power/speed potential, and he’s already given us one useful fantasy season. Take the post-injury discount and enjoy the profit.

Huston Street – My first closer is generally a middle-tier name, un-hyped and without buzz. No one’s going to fight me for Huston Street, but he has job security and a friendly home pitching environment.

Kenley Jansen – With a K-rate like his, you shouldn’t care whether he closes or not. Jansen’s 65-80 innings will be of the highest quality; he’s a great add in any rotisserie league with an IP cap.

Bryan LaHair – First base is actually a tricky fill in the NL, and LaHair is coming off a spectacular Triple-A campaign. He’ll get a long look in Chicago, because the Cubs have absolutely no reason to rush Rizzo.

Mat Gamel – Another stealth play at first base for the NL-only crowd. Like LaHair, he’s coming off a great year at Triple-A, and he now gets a full-time opportunity in the bigs.

Michael Cuddyer – He massively upgraded his hitting environment, and he offers great fantasy utility, because he’s eligible at multiple spots.

Jose Altuve – Didn’t think I loved him, but the mocks tell a different story. He hits in a lousy lineup, true, but there’s an impressive minor league history here. Decent speed, plus surprising pop for a wee person.

  Brad Evans: Like my love for late-night Cinemax programming, robust beers and anything associated with keeping my children occupied, here are 10 players I heart more than you …

Paul Goldschmidt – Blessed with superhuman power. Will play half his games in a great hitter’s environment. Mike Stanton-lite. Cheap on draft day. Yep, I’m in love.

Matt Moore – News of no innings cap is music to The Noise’s ears. Out of this world stuff. Strong K/9 record at every stop in pro career. Steal around pick 100.

Dee Gordon – Speed kills, especially when it carries SS eligibility. Should build on standout September. Could challenge Jose Reyes’ SB record of 21st century (70).

Nelson Cruz – Even if a beaver gnawed off one of his appendages, Cruz would still make this list. Lower body allegedly stronger. At 32, might be last shot at 40 HRs.

Michael Cuddyer – Eligible at 1B, 2B and OF in Y! – the Cuddster is flexy sexy. Friendly thin air of Coors Field could elevate game back to 2009 levels.

Brandon Beachy – Rodney Dangerfield of starters ranked a Round 5 value in 12-teamers on a per game basis last year. Terrific fastball. Destined for K/9 greatness.

Dayan Viciedo – Plus raw power should unlock now with three full seasons of pro experience. Throw in everyday gig in right and 23-26 HRs very achievable.

Yu Darvish – No doubt he will be the greatest Japanese pitching import to hit MLB. Will make Hideo Nomo look like Hideki Irabu. Big fan of extensive repertoire. Top-20 starter, easy.

Jordan Walden – Without question the most underrated closer in this year’s draft (175.3 ADP). Huge fastball. Quality slider. Closing for a contender. This year’s J.J. Putz.

Lucas Duda – Slug back a White Russian for “The Dude.” Fences have been moved in at Citi. Will log 500-plus at-bats. Very capable of a .280-25-90 campaign. And eligible at 1B/OF.

 Scott Pianowski: A late lunch in an empty restaurant, used bookstores, The White Shadow. These are a few things I probably love more than you. What, you want ballplayers? Okay, gamer, meet me on the sandlot. Away we go …

Dee Gordon – I know he’s not a power guy and he’s still learning the strike zone, but I can’t get September out of my head (when Gordon hit .372 with 21 runs and 12 steals). He’ll be learning from the best stolen-base mentor there is: LA first base coach Davey Lopes. You’ll have to find the pop elsewhere, but for 60 steals, why quibble?

Brandon Phillips – I realize that last year’s .300 average might be over his head, and the stolen-base percentage (30-for-51 the last two years) is a concern as well. But at the end of the day I’ll target Phillips for two reasons: he’s an across-the-board contributor, and the middle infield is not a rich area, especially in NL-only leagues. Versatile performers are often underrated commodities, and in the case of Phillips it’s netting us a nice value (he’s a sixth-round pick, on average, in Yahoo! standard drafts).

Curtis Granderson – I understand that no one wants to pay for a career year, but remember the Granderson revival started when Kevin Long tweaked his batting approach in the middle of 2010. Said another way, Granderson has been humming along at this elite level for a year and a half now. He’s a first-round talent that’s routinely available in the second round. Take value where it shows.

Madison Bumgarner – Big lefty, big park, nasty stuff. Bumgarner’s second half from 2011 leaps off the page (2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 99 strikeouts against 19 walks over 100 innings) and he’s been untouchable this spring (13 whiffs, one walk). It would not surprise me at all if he’s San Francisco’s best pitcher this year.

Brennan Boesch – He was headed towards a breakout year in 2011 before an August thumb injury wrecked the story (well, first it wrecked his stats a little, then it pushed Boesch to the DL). I’ll gladly double down this year, enjoying the fact that Boesch will be hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Jason Motte – Tony LaRussa never wanted to give this guy a leash – he wouldn’t even call Motte a closer during the playoff run. Tony LaRussa is now gone. Enjoy the new world order, kid.

Adam Wainwright – Tommy John surgery is almost a routine assignment these days, and Wainwright’s in outstanding shape otherwise. I’ll be surprised if he’s not one of the 15 best pitchers in the National League, and if it all clicks quickly, he’ll be in the Cy Young discussion.

Adam Dunn – For seven years, he was arguably the most consistent slugger in the game. Then the 2011 crash landing came, starting with a spring appendectomy. Stay open minded here, extend Dunn a Mulligan. He’s looking good in early spring results (two homers, six walks, just one strikeout), and this could be the cheapest 30 homers on the board for 2012. In my first mixer auction, Dunn went for a buck, the minimum. Don’t be afraid of Alex Rios, either.

Ubaldo Jimenez – Take everything from his 2011 season and toss it in the shredder. He was hurt; the groin problem never went away. Give Jimenez a full season of health with the Indians and you’ll get a 3.35 ERA and 200 strikeouts back. Major profit potential here.

Javy Guerra – Possession is 90 percent of the law as we’re chasing saves. I know all the dazzling things about Kenley Jansen, but let’s also remember Guerra converted 21-of-23 saves last year for the same manager and he’s already been named first chair for 2012. It’s not hard to succeed as a closer if you’re only asked to work the ninth, seldom working with runners on base. Guerra can keep the job.