You might have noticed that we like to rank things around here. Catchers, kickers, closers, small forwards, left wings … everything. There is no problem that we won't attack with rankings. Basically the only prerequisite for working in the fantasy industry is to memorize all the numbers between 1 and 30, in order. Once you've done that, you're ready to contribute.
So you'd think that after all the practice, we'd have this rankings-thing down cold. However, there are still a few issues.
Those of you who treat the preparation of your pre-draft player rankings far more seriously than, say, the preparation of your tax returns – and that's a significant percentage of fantasy owners – have already identified several of the problems. And by problems, we're not referring to relatively trivial objections you might have to the O-Ranks of various top-200 players. No, we're talking about flagrant misses, players who should be owned in virtually all public leagues, yet for unknowable reasons are buried deep in our pre-draft default rankings.
That's a much bigger deal.
Today we're going to discuss a few players who should be universally owned, yet fall outside the Yahoo! top 300. If you're using standard rankings in a live draft, there's a decent chance you'll never notice these guys. They're hidden beneath a pile of Drews and Molinas.
The six players below are not sleepers, exactly. Most of you know who they are. They just weren't ranked particularly well. It was tempting to put together an entire fantasy roster full of interesting players who were ranked outside the top 300, but that gimmick would have inevitably led to us discussing Carlos Ruiz (badly ranked at No. 849) and Nick Johnson (No. 612) alongside players who are much more that fantasy spot-starters.
If you don't do any other pre-ranking, you should still reposition the players below prior to any 12-team draft. They should be owned by someone, somewhere.
Billy Butler, KC, 1B/OF, ranked No. 301
The 21-year-old Butler isn't having such a bad Spring. He's hitting .371/.436/.600 with two home runs in 35 at bats. He'll likely DH for the Royals in 2008, but he'll qualify at first base and outfield for fantasy purposes. More importantly, Butler will bat somewhere in the middle of the Kansas City lineup, where he won't be able to avoid 95 RBI. In over 1,400 minor league at bats, Butler hit .336/.416/.561. This guy is going to be a starter at UTIL in mixed leagues.
Cameron Maybin, FLA, OF, No. 304
Not such a bad game for the 20-year-old Maybin on Wednesday: 2-for-5, 2 HR, 4 RBI. He then followed with a game-winning homer in the ninth on Thursday. Maybin is now hitting .333 and slugging .792 this Spring, and it's increasingly difficult to imagine how he'd fail to make Florida's Opening Day lineup. Someone should draft him in the final round in every public league. He stole 52 bases in 185 games in the low minors over the past two seasons, and he's demonstrated respectable power. In any league where the free agent pool will be deep, you have to spend a few picks on high-ceiling players like this.
Shaun Marcum, TOR, SP, No. 308
We've got Marcum 58th among all starting pitchers in the Yahoo! experts composite rankings, which should tell you that we consider him draftable in all public leagues. If it weren't for a disastrous, exhausted final month last season – Marcum had a 7.27 ERA and 1.90 WHIP in four starts in September – the 26-year-old right-hander would likely be considered a reasonable pick in Rounds 11-14. Marcum's K/9 (6.91) was well ahead of the rates posted by several starters with higher O-Ranks, including Jered Weaver, Jeremy Guthrie, Andy Pettitte, Fausto Carmona, Roy Halladay, and Joe Blanton.
There's an encouraging note regarding Marcum's conditioning on his player page right now. It sounds like he's prepared to finish strong in September, and to deliver a debilitating step-over toe hold should the need arise.
Lastings Milledge, WAS, OF, No. 313
This year, the 22-year-old Milledge finally enters the regular season with a bit of job security. He'll start in centerfield for the Nats, and he's expected to hit second. Milledge is having an excellent Spring thus far, hitting .359/.444/.538 with nine runs scored, five doubles, eight RBI, and five steals. If you're looking for a breakout candidate who's going undrafted in thousands of leagues, Milledge is it. He's really worth taking ahead of any of the players on this list.
George Sherrill, BAL, RP, No. 353 and Brandon Lyon, ARI, RP, No. 483
We'll lump these two together because they're the only presumptive closers who somehow didn't make the top 300 in our pre-rankings. In six innings so far this Spring, the left-handed Sherrill has six Ks and he hasn't walked anyone. Lyon hasn't been quite as sharp (4 IP, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K). But in a 12-team league, every closer should be drafted. These two are going to slip.