I assume that many of you are like me, juggling several different fantasy league teams. If so, I'm sure you find as you look across your various rosters that you have players that form a common thread between your teams – your favorite sleepers, prospects and players that you feel are undervalued. Heck, sometimes none of those descriptions apply; you just have a platonic crush on a player and that always seems to steer you his direction on draft day. I've looked over my squads, and here is my lineup of common-thread players, with some attempt to explain why they've found their way to my teams:
Joe Mauer, Min – Typically taken with the 60th pick in average Y! default drafts, I've found myself on a couple occasions taking Mauer in the low-to-mid 40s, although I just landed him this week at No. 66. For Mauer to warrant this elevated draft position, his numbers need to clearly trump those of next-in-line catchers Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez, and Javy Lopez, veterans with .280, 20, 70, 70 capabilities that can be had after the No. 90 pick overall.
Mauer managed just 55 RBIs last season, in large part because Shannon Stewart struggled with injuries and performed below his usual, and the Twins had meager offerings for the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where Nick Punto provided the team's best OPS (at that spot) at a mere .622. Luis Castillo and his career .370 OBP slide into the No. 2 hole this year, combining with a healthier Stewart to offer Mauer two on-base adept table setters. Behind Mauer will be Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau. Both players are enjoying strong springs, especially Morneau, who is trying to forget a '05 season that was riddled with freak ailments. Morneau, who is hitting at a .444 clip in Grapefruit action, looks poised to finally start tapping into his 30-40 HR potential. With solid pieces in place around him, I'm reaching early on Mauer in hopes of .290, 15, 85, 85, 12, with the belief that the soon-to-be 23 year old is capable of even more in '06.
Aubrey Huff, TB – Huff is the 118th pick, on average, in Y! default drafts, but I like him well inside the top 100. And he'd certainly be going in the top 100 if this was the spring of '04 or '05, when his numbers the previous seasons were typically .300, 30, 100, 90. Last season he dipped a bit – .261, 22, 92, 70 – but his power did start coming around to his previous norms in the second half – he hit 17 home runs in the season's final three months. Huff is having a strong spring and should add the bonus of third base eligibility in early April to go with his current first base and outfield designations. With a talented lineup maturing around him, I expect Huff to bounce back in '06 with '04-'05-type numbers.
Rickie Weeks, Mil – Weeks goes 111th on average in Y! drafts, and this one has me confused. Here's a guy that has the kind of makeup that roto owners typically fawn over. He's was the No. 2 pick in the '03 amateur draft; he has exceptional bat speed, as well as leg speed; and, he rocketed through the minors and was playing regularly for the Brewers after just 209 minor league games played. Even if the .239 BA he produced last season left a sour taste in some folks' mouth, his other numbers (13 HR, 15 SB, 56 R, 42 RBI in 96 games played) project to 20 HRs, 24 SBs, 90 Runs and 66 RBIs for a full season. Add to it that a thumb injury takes a good portion of the blame for his sinking BA. I'd easily take Weeks ahead of Brian Roberts, and I've seen myself opt for Weeks instead of Felipe Lopez and Marcus Giles, although I see him and Giles on about the same level, which lands Weeks inside the top 70 in my book.
Jorge Cantu, TB – I probably get more e-mail about my infatuation for Cantu than anyone else. Much of it came after I selected Cantu at No. 34 in the Y! Friends and Family League. Even I'll admit that I went a little overboard on that one, but I'm firmly a Cantu believer – and for me, seeing is believing with this guy. He doesn't have the patience that Manny Ramirez has, but his quick, compact stroke reminds me of a mini-Manny. Cantu goes at No. 60 in Y! drafts, which is a fair placement, and represents that the general populous is also betting on something close to what he did last season – .286, 28 HRs, 117 RBIs. Cantu might be closer to an even 100 RBIs this season, but I think he can break the 30 HR barrier.
Nomar Garciaparra, LA – Garciaparra has missed 157 games combined the past two years because of Achilles and groin injuries. These health issues prompted the Los Angeles Dodgers to sign him to play first base in hopes of better preserving his fragile body, and that means that he'll soon have eligibility at 1B to go with his 3B/SS designations. So, you either believe that Garciaparra's injuries are something he can overcome this season or you don't. I'm banking that Garciaparra can still hit – he's never batted lower than last season's .283 BA, and his nine homers with the Cubs last season projected out to 24 HRs for a full season. And I like the roster flexibility he affords. If he stays healthy, I've landed him at an extremely cheap price. And if he gets hurt, well, there's likely to be a nice crop of young SS free agents to pick from this year (early: Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Ian Kinsler, or late: B.J. Upton, Stephen Drew, Brandon Wood). Hey, it's not a bad sign for Nomar that the Dodgers ditched Hee-Seop Choi, right?
Curtis Granderson, Det – With the exception of one team, I own Granderson across the board in my fantasy leagues. He's been one of my favorite picks of the final couple rounds, but he was nabbed one pick before mine in my latest experts draft at No. 161 overall. I'm glad it was my final draft, because the secret's out on Granderson. What excites me most is the speed he's been flashing this spring. He stole 22 bases with Triple-A Toledo last season, but his minor league numbers show just marginal SB totals overall. He certainly has speed, though, and his seven steals this spring is a good sign that he's ready to start showing his wheels off a bit more in '06. Granderson also packs a punch at the plate, and he's sixth in the league in spring training dingers (5). He's earned the Tigers' starting centerfield job, and after a strong 47-game splash with the team in '05, it's easy to get excited about what I've been able to steal for, what was until recently, a low, low draft-day price.
Ervin Santana, LAA – I'm always adding Santana at the tail end of my draft. I love his stuff, and I love his team. Santana was able to win 12 games in 23 starts in his rookie campaign for the Angels last season. Only Roy Halladay and Jorge Sosa won 12-plus games in fewer starts than Santana. And he's showed an ability to win games throughout his minor league career, going 38-16. Santana has struggled a bit with his ERA this spring (5.02), but he's second in the league in total strikeouts (26) behind C.C. Sabathia. He finished with a 4.65 ERA in '05, but he was stronger in the second half (3.97), and was able to garner some postseason experience as well. Despite being just 23 years old, I think Santana is in line for 15 wins and an ERA in the high 3s or low 4s, with ample strikeouts. That's easily worth a late-round call.
Chris Reitsma, Atl – Atlanta has averaged 95 wins a season in Bobby Cox's 15 full seasons as manager. During that span, the team has averaged 44 saves. So why does Reitsma, currently sitting in the team's No. 1 closer chair, get no love on draft day? Whether you buy into his ability to hold down the job or not, he still merits a higher draft position than his current 197 average draft position in Y! default drafts. He's had a strong spring, he hasn't landed on the disabled list in eight years (although he is currently dealing with a mild hamstring strain), and his competition for the role is light. The fact that Chad Orvella, Joe Borowski and Chris Ray – all equally tenuous in the closer role – typically precede him in drafts is silly.