Six players gaining fantasy value, late in draft season

This past weekend, many of you no doubt completed your final draft or auction of the 2011 baseball season. Must be a nice feeling. Some of us still have a few more fake rosters to construct. (And just so you know, sign-ups are still open, still free, still encouraged). The objective today is to identify a few late-rounders — fantasy assets available in the $1-$3 auction bin — who've become a bit more interesting in the final days of spring training.

No, we can't guarantee that these dudes aren't simply the 2011 Terrmel Sledge All-Stars — buzzy picks, applauded in draft chat, yet fast-tracked for irrelevance. But each of the six players below will open the year in a friendly situation, with an opportunity to assist the fantasy community. Let's review…

Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians — The 23-year-old is finishing off a productive spring (.278 AVG, 3 SB), and he'll begin the season as the Tribe's lead-off hitter, an everyday player with high-end speed. Brantley swiped 46 bases at Triple-A in 2009, and he's demonstrated solid on-base skills throughout his minor league career (.303 AVG, .388 OBP). Think of him as a $1 alternative to, say, Rajai Davis or Michael Bourn.

Mark Trumbo, 1B, Los Angeles Angels — While Kendrys Morales continues to rest and rehab his faulty left foot, Trumbo will handle first base duties. The 25-year-old has been fantastic during exhibition play (6 HR, 20 RBIs, .309 AVG, .706 SLG), and he's coming off a dominant season in the PCL (103 R, 36 HR, 122 RBIs, .301/.368/.577). If nothing else, he can serve as a short-term power boost, perhaps emerging as a fantasy trade chip before Morales returns.

Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Washington Nationals — It's possible that Morse's major league career peaked when Brad featured him in the Sleeper Sleuth series. But Morse is having an obscene spring (9 HR, 53 TB, 1.266 OPS), and his name sits atop the Nats' depth chart in left field. He hit 15 homers in only 266 at-bats for Washington last season, so the power appears to be real.

Brandon Beachy, SP, Atlanta Braves — Most of us assumed that Mike Minor would earn the fifth starter role in Atlanta's rotation — and, in fact, Minor actually had a nice enough spring. But the 24-year-old Beachy was simply ridiculous in his four appearances: 16.0 IP, 16 Ks, 4 BB, 7 H, 1.13 ERA. Beachy isn't really a flamethrower (low-90s fastball), yet he piled up Ks at an absurd rate in the high minors last season (148 in 119.1 IP), then fanned another 15 batters in 15.0 major league innings. He's clearly worth a shot in larger mixed formats; at the moment he's just 7 percent owned.

Jose Contreras, RP, Philadelphia Phillies — By now, you're probably aware of the Brad Lidge situation (shoulder hurting, poor spring, DL-bound). Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki believes that Contreras will get the interim closing role, and he supports the opinion with a few choice quotes from Philadelphia pitching coach Rich Dubee:

I asked Dubee yesterday if he thought Madson was better prepared to close this season than previous seasons.

"I don't think so," he said. "Ryan Madson is Ryan Madson. What did he do? Take a crash course in how to close? We're in Spring Training here. … I think the game speeds up on him sometimes. He doesn't get to the same comfort level. There's a little anxiety there. The ninth inning is a little different than the eighth."

So he's unusually candid. Probably not someone that Madson should ever call upon for a letter of recommendation.

Will Venable, OF, San Diego Padres — OK, maybe Venable made the leap in value last month, when coaches began discussing the possibility that he'd steal 40 bases. Just know that he's leading off for the Pads, and coming off a 13-homer, 29-steal season. This is potentially a very useful player (with potentially a very sad batting average), and he's only rostered in 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues.


Photos via AP Images