We’re two-thirds of the way through our Players to Avoid feature, with the American League East, West and Central and National League East checked off the list. It’s now time to look at the NL Central.
Remember, just because we’re using the word “avoid” doesn’t necessarily mean these players are undraftable. It just means that they might not wind up being worth the price they’re currently going for.
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Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Everyone loves power, and Alvarez has got it in spades. The hulking third baseman tied for the National League lead in home runs last season, slugging a career-high 36. He also reached 100 RBI, as he was one of only 10 players in the game to get to 30 bombs and 100 ribbies. So, that means he was an extremely valuable fantasy commodity, right? Well, not really. An ugly .233 average and ho-hum runs total of 70 (as well as just two stolen bases) pushed Alvarez back to being just the 111th-most valuable player in fantasy (according to ESPN’s Player Rater), sandwiched in between Nate McLouth and Norichika Aoki. He was the ninth-most valuable third baseman. Does anyone think Alvarez’s numbers will improve in 2014? I doubt it, at least not notably, which is why it doesn’t make much sense that he’s being taken around pick No. 80 in early fantasy drafts.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds
Hamilton is undoubtedly one of the more exciting prospects to come around in a while. Universally considered as the fastest player in the game, Hamilton set a professional record with 155 stolen bases in 2012, and he swiped 13 bags last September for the Reds even though he started just three games. However, there are legitimate concerns about the 23-year-old’s bat. Hamilton was often overpowered at the Triple-A level last season, batting just .256/.308/.343 across 547 plate appearances. The Reds currently plan to have him in the leadoff spot, but will that last if his on-base percentage is hovering around .300 (or lower) for the first couple months? It wouldn’t be shocking if they eventually sent Hamilton down for more seasoning if he begins the year in a funk at the plate. The speedster is being taken around rounds 5-6 in early drafts. That’s too early for my taste for guy that is only bankable in one category, especially when there are viable speed options at the tail-end of your draft.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers
Rickie Weeks has often frustrated the Brewers with his inconsistent play and tendency to get injured, and Gennett gave the club the perfect opportunity to push Weeks aside with his play in the second half last season. The former 16th- round pick batted .351/.381/.509 with five home runs over 52 contests after the All-Star break, becoming the everyday second baseman when Weeks had hamstring surgery in early August. Weeks is healthy now, but the Brews have said the second base job is Gennett’s to lose. While he was impressive in his abbreviated rookie season, Gennett is due to fall back in his sophomore campaign. The 23-year-old hit an underwhelming .280/.327/.371 with three homers over 79 Triple-A games last year before being called up, and he’s never hit double-digit bombs or stolen more than 14 bases in a minor league season. He also hit a woeful .154/.175/.154 against lefties last year, so a platoon situation is in order. I wouldn’t be surprised if Weeks got his job back before the end of May.
Nate Schierholtz, OF, Cubs
Schierholtz finally got a chance at regular playing time last year with the Cubs, and he made it count with a breakout season that saw him bat .251/.301/.470 with career highs in home runs (21), RBI (68) and runs scored (56). I do think Schierholtz can be a useful platoon player, as he slugged .499 against right-handers last year and has slugged .438 against them in his career. He could also see a batting average uptick after a .270 BABIP last season. However, his HR/FB% of 14.2% last year was much higher than his career percentage (8.5%), so topping 20 dingers again seems unlikely. He’s also not going to play against left-handers and is a prime July trade candidate who wouldn’t necessarily receive regular at-bats with his new club. Schierholtz is currently being selected ahead of guys like A.J. Pollock and Corey Dickerson, both of whom I’d rather take a chance on at the end of my draft.
Matt Garza, SP, Brewers
Even though he had no draft pick compensation tied to his signing, it took until late January for Garza to finally ink a deal with the Brewers. Why did it take so long? Well, the Masahiro Tanaka negotiations could have been partly to blame, but the main culprit appeared to be teams being worried about Garza’s health. The right-hander’s pitching elbow has a screw in it due to an old injury and the elbow is responsible for 109 of the 169 days the hurler has spent on the disabled list in his career. He has been limited to just 42 starts over the last two years due to elbow and lat issues. Even if Garza manages to stay healthy in 2014, Miller Park isn’t an ideal environment. The righty allowed 12 homers and had a 4.38 ERA in his 13 starts for Texas last season, and Miller Park has been a top-five stadium for home runs each of the last two years.
Joe Kelly, SP, Cardinals
Kelly began last season as a little-used long reliever, but by the end of the year he was one of the Cardinals’ most important pieces in their rotation. The 25-year-old posted a 2.28 ERA over his 15 starts, though it came along with a 1.33 WHIP and an ugly 46/34 K/BB ratio over 87 frames. Kelly can touch the high-90s even as a starter, but his game is getting ground balls, which he does well at 51.4 percent for his career. With Jaime Garcia’s shoulder hurting again, Kelly is the favorite to open the year as the Cards’ No. 5 starter. He’s plenty good enough to post a sub-4.00 ERA, especially with St. Louis’ improved defense. However, Kelly just doesn’t get strikeouts for a guy that throws really hard, and he has solid but not great control. The right-hander is a good bet to be drafted in your mixed league because of last year’s 2.69 ERA, but I’d pass.
Jose Veras, RP, Cubs
The Astros got exactly what they wanted out of Veras after signing him to a modest deal last winter, as he held a 2.93 ERA, struck out a batter per inning and was 19-for-22 in his save chances before being dealt for prospects in July. The Cubs could have the same plan for him after inking the reliever to a $4 million deal in December. Veras has always had pretty good stuff but has been held back by poor control. However, in 2013 he posted a solid 3.2 BB/9 rate, which was easily the best of his eight-year career. The odds of the 33-year-old maintaining that walk rate after seven years of wildness aren’t good. And, as mentioned above, there’s a good chance he’ll be dealt in July to be used as a setup man, especially with the intriguing Pedro Strop breathing down his neck. Veras is among the poorest bets to keep his closer job all season.