We're exactly one week away from opening day in Major League Baseball, which of course means that we're also one week away from opening day in fake baseball. (But for the record, sign-ups for free fantasy baseball continue well into April. Get a team. No, get six teams. You'll enjoy the baseball season THIS MUCH MORE if you can root for both your real-life hometown nine and your fantasy squad, Honey Nut Ichiros.)
Our purpose here is to identify five busts and five sure-fire breakout candidates for the 2011 season. Three members of Yahoo!'s panel of experts bring the opinions, you bring the derision in comments.
Five Fantasy Busts for 2011
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers — Weeks did a couple of things that surprised baseball fans, and the fantasy public, in 2010. First and foremost he stayed healthy, playing a full season for the first time ever — his previous high in games played was a modest 129 in 2008. Second, he shut down the running game, stealing just 11 bases, the lowest total of his career if you ignore 2009's injury-wrecked season.
Weeks was a strong three-category stud in 2010 (112 runs, 29 homers, 83 RBIs), but you generally don't want to go near a player off a career year. The price correction is a killer. You're also buying into a significant amount of injury risk if you take Weeks: second base is a rough-and-tumble position, a spot made for collisions, and he's routinely one of the league leaders in the hit-by-pitch department. The building blocks of your fantasy club need to offer security, safety, floor. There's too much risk with a Weeks selection. -Pianowski
Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves — There's little question that McCann is a very good hitter, one of the best at his position. You know exactly what you're getting with McCann, too: 65 runs, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .289 AVG. That's who he is. He does it every year, almost without fail.
But here's the problem: McCann's draft day price tag is insane. Again, his numbers are going to be nice — they always are — but he's getting drafted just outside the top-50 picks in Yahoo! leagues (on average, pick No. 53). Only two catchers over the past 10 years have finished inside the top-50 players in the overall year-end fantasy ranks, and neither of them are Brian McCann. Last season, only one backstop managed to finish inside the top-100 (Mauer, No. 83). This is an injury-prone position, full of risk, and you'll be able to find a player who can deliver a decent McCann impression 70 picks later (Geovany Soto). Or perhaps 100 picks later (Miguel Montero). Don't pay the premium. -Behrens
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Boston Red Sox — Just a handful of seasons removed from river-dancing his way to a World Series title, Papelbon's star has lost some of its luster. The power righty has saved 188 games since 2006, but last year's string of adventurous outings raises some doubt. Excessive walks, fly-balls and an increased use of his very average splitter explain why his ERA jumped from 1.85 in 2009 to 3.90 last year. Papelbon announced earlier this spring he plans to feature his slider more often, a pitch he had marginal success with against right-handed hitters a season ago. Location will be the key to a turnaround. If it remains elusive, super setup-man Daniel Bard will step in. Don't be surprised if that happens by the All-Star break. Roughly the sixth closer off the board in average drafts, he'll be lucky to keep owners in the black this year. -Evans
Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks — Upside is often seductive. Upton, a former No. 1 MLB draft pick, has always had the physical tools to be a Hall of Fame-caliber performer. When he entered pro ball, many scouts compared to him to Ken Griffey Jr. However, after a standout 2009, the power explosion most prognosticators forecast has yet to materialize. Shoulder problems and an overanxious attitude at the dish has deflated the youngster's once enormous value. Until he shows more restraint on off-speed junk, he'll continue to underachieve. Keep in mind, he struck out 30.7 percent of the time a season ago. It's important to remember that Upton is still only 23, four years shy of most players' prime. Turbulence should be expected. Undoubtedly, the outfielder will become the perennial All-Star most scouts projected, but patience is required. He's at least 2-3 years away from his career zenith. Andre Ethier, Hunter Pence and Jay Bruce — all picked after Upton in average drafts — will likely reap more value this year. -Evans
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins — Mauer is a third-round pick in a standard Yahoo! league, a risky play given that you're only asked to start one catcher in our setup. If you must have a designer catcher, you'll get a much better value from Buster Posey or Victor Martinez, and there are interesting options in the second and third tiers if you want to wait longer.
Mauer's a safe play for three categories, but don't pay for the 28 home runs he posted in his 2009 MVP season — it's the only time he's shown significant power in his career. His homer count fell off to nine last season, in part due to his new home park, Target Field. Here's the bottom line: Joe Mauer is a much better real-life player than he is in fantasy, and you shouldn't pay the sticker price. -Pianowski
OK, that's enough negativity…
Five Fantasy Breakouts for 2011
Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds — Outstanding pedigree? Check. Triple-digit heat? Check. Ripe situation? Triple check.
This is the year the much-hyped flamethrower becomes a megastar. Though Chapman is slated to begin the season in an unenviable fantasy position, middle-relief, he's just one Francisco Cordero implosion away from overtaking ninth-inning duties for the Reds. Until that occurs, probably by mid-season, he'll be a viable source of strikeouts while assisting his owners in ERA and WHIP. Recall that in limited action last season, he whiffed 12.8 batters per nine, clocking an average fastball speed that would blow the 'stache off any state trooper (99.6 mph). Sporadic control problems have plagued him, but if the southpaw is more composed in 2011, he's destined to be this year's Neftali Feliz. A potential top-10 closer by year's end, he's an insane bargain late in fantasy drafts. -Brad Evans
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets — It's unusual to see a 24-year-old New York-based future star who's actually a bargain at the draft table, but that's the case with Davis. Under normal circumstances, you'd have to pay a big market tax on a player like this. Perhaps the fact that he plays a talent-rich position keeps the price down. Whatever the reason, I'll happily take Ike in Round 22; that's where he's going in an average Yahoo! draft. At that cost, he's a filthy steal. There's obvious power potential for the left-handed slugger, and he figures to bat in a run-producing spot in the Mets' lineup. Davis isn't nearly as hyped as other MLB sophomores — think Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward — but he's a clear 25-30 homer threat, and he'll drive in plenty of runs. He handled left-handed pitching much better than anyone expected in rookie campaign, too. Draft and enjoy. -Andy Behrens
Shaun Marcum, SP, Milwaukee Brewers — One could argue that Marcum has already broken out — he's posted an ERA in the mid-threes for two seasons running, along with a strong WHIP. But now that he's moving to the National League — and liberated from the AL East — we might see him climb another level, becoming a household name and perhaps an All-Star. Marcum could push 180-190 strikeouts in his new address, but he's still somewhat undervalued in fantasy, perhaps screened by the bigger names in the Milwaukee rotation (Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo). You'll make an easy profit on Marcum in most leagues. -Scott Pianowski
Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Colorado Rockies — When taking a flier on a late-round pitcher in fantasy, I'm typically looking for an NL starter with an excellent strikeout-rate and obvious growth potential. Chacin, a 23-year-old righty, fits that description perfectly. He fanned 138 batters in 137.1 innings last season while delivering an ERA of 3.28 and a WHIP of 1.27. Sign me up for the encore, please. Chacin struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings at Triple-A, so that K-rate is real. In Yahoo! drafts, he somehow falls outside the top-200 picks. -Behrens
Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs — Shortstop is really a brutal position to fill in fantasy drafts, no matter your format. If you don't pick early enough to land one of the Big Two — Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki — then you're not going to like the price-tag on any of the brand-name veteran players at this position. Think of Castro as a low-risk/high-reward mid-draft alternative. He's merely the 11th shortstop taken in a typical draft, yet he's one of only players in recent history, regardless of position, to hit .300 or better in his age-20 season. (Starlin turns 21 on March 24, by the way. So happy birthday. Please celebrate responsibly). Castro has ridiculous contact skills at the plate, almost freakish, and the speed to swipe 30 bags. He stole 28 across two minor league levels in '09.
I won't try to tell you that this is a young Hanley, necessarily, but we could be talking about a young Tony Fernandez here, and that would be a useful fantasy asset. Oh, and Starlin is hitting .367 this spring with four homers and two steals, if exhibition stats mean anything to you. -Behrens
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