First, the bouncebacks. These are players who might make you say, “Remember back when he was good?” Some may have won your league for you two or three years ago, then for whatever reason were giant letdowns last year. The key is in knowing whether their recent letdowns were the exception or the rule; getting off to a bad start can really psychologically wear down a player and lead to a lost season. Likewise, injury history should play a major role in determining whether to pursue a player on draft day; a pitcher with a long history of arm injuries is less likely to suddenly find the fountain of youth than a hitter who is coming off a freak injury. Thus, I will avoid the glass-armed Rich Harden and fragile Erik Bedard, who have combined for 12.5 seasons and yet never reached 200 IP, while targeting a guy like Conor Jackson, who had a solid career take a one year detour due to Valley Fever. The bottom line: these guys have resumes showing what they can do when all is well, you have to decide upon whom to bet your lower-round picks. If it works out, you could have a high caliber player at a bargain-basement price.
Carmona is a guy primed for a huge year. In 2007, he came in 4th in Cy Young race, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Then in 2008, he lost control, with his BB/9 doubling from 2.6 to 5.2. The problems continued last year, as he showed up to camp about 50 lbs overweight and ended up spending the middle of the season in the minors. He did finish on a high note, allowing 3 earned runs in his final 13 innings with 11 K and only 3 BB, then this spring showed up in shape and throwing like it was 2007. Recently, another Indians pitcher went from minor league banishment to the Cy Young award: Cliff Lee in 2008. Carmona is definitely worth the pick.
Matt Lindstrom, RP HOU
Another guy due for a bounceback is Astros pitcher Matt Lindstrom. Lindstrom has always thrown exceptionally hard (100 mph+ when he first came up, still in 98 mph range). He put together two solid seasons in the Marlins pen, and was expected to ascend to the closer role last year, even earning an invitation to pitch for USA in the WBC. That’s where the trouble started, however, as an intended knockdown pitch led to a shoulder injury that hounded Lindstrom all year. He came back this spring after rehabbing in the offseason and looks better than ever. As his only competition for the Astros closer chair is Brandon Lyon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he runs with the job and ends up having a great year. I’d take him over guys like Dotel and Mike Gonzalez and wouldn’t be shocked if he puts up better numbers than Qualls, Franklin, or Fuentes.
Chris Young, OF ARI
Chris Young is the type of guy to whom you may have a complete aversion: BA blackhole even when all is going right. His rookie year in 2007, he actually went for 32 homers and 27 steals, while only managing a .237 average. However, if you’re up for the BA suck, it’s that power/speed potential that makes Young a potential low round (ADP 211) steal. After a slight down year in 2008 (10 less HR and 13 less steals, but improved BB rate and RBI totals), he just couldn’t perform last year and was actually sent to AAA Reno in August. That seemed to provide just the wake-up call he needed, as he hit .370 in AAA and .263 with 8 HR in the final month. When drafting, know you won’t ever get BA from Young but you can expect the other 4 categories to be more than respectable (.240 BA-22 HR-75 R-75 RBI-20 SB)
Glaus is an example of a former All Star who averaged 30+ HR a year during his prime and has fallen victim to injury in recent years. As a power hitter, it is concerning that he has had multiple shoulder surgeries during his career, the most recent of which wiped out his 2009 for STL. That said, Glaus has always come back from injury stronger than before (may or may not be due to his inclusion in 2007’s Mitchell Report) and in 2009 he came back so strong that he was included on the Cards’ postseason roster. This year, he steps into a world of opportunity as the Braves’ cleanup hitter. He should see plenty of RBI opportunities in ATL’s stacked lineup and his risk of shoulder injury will decrease with the move to 1B. Bottom line: the opportunity to pick up a contender’s cleanup hitter after pick 200 is too much to resist. Even if Glaus gets regular rest he should still hit 25+ HR with 90+ RBI.
This next group of players highlights the risk inherent in drafting any rookie/prospect: even with the tools and past performance that make for a promising player, the adjustment curve to the Major League level is different for every player, with top talents like Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, Kendry Morales, Jayson Werth, Derrek Lee, Adam Lind, and Nelson Cruz all requiring years to become the early round picks they are today. The post-hype sleeper offers a tremendous value: guys who have the skills to put up top numbers who just haven’t put it all together yet
Matt LaPorta, 1B-OF CLE
it was less than two years ago that LaPorta was the centerpiece of the deadline deal sending Sabathia to the Brewers for the stretch run. I’ll admit, when he was first called up last year I sniped him off the waiver wire, only to watch him struggle, be sent back to the minors, and then come back for September, hitting .254 with 7 HR in 181 AB along the way. While his numbers weren’t killer, projecting them to 550 Abs would have meant 21 HR. Regular at-bats, along with increased development, should bring those totals to around 25 HR this year with around a .270 BA this year, with further development in the power department in the coming years. As an added bonus, LaPorta should qualify at both 1B and OF, which never hurts.
Snider just turned 22 but has already endured his share of ups and downs since being drafted in the 1st round in 2006. Last year he entered the season as one of baseball’s top 10 prospects, only to disappoint in his first season in the bigs, hitting .241 with only 9 HR in 241 ABs and earning a ticket to AAA. Like LaPorta, even in his first ML exposure, he managed to show the power that made him a blue-chipper. Also like LaPorta, he dominated when sent to AAA, showing he has nothing left to prove at that level. While the Blue Jays attempted scare tactics in telling Snider he was fighting with Joey Gathright for a roster spot this spring, he rose to the challenge and has earned a starting spot in the Jays’ OF. While he may sit against tough lefties, he should mirror LaPorta with around a .270 BA and 25 HR, all coming around pick 225.
Homer Bailey, SP CIN
Homer Bailey has been on the top of prospect charts since his selection 7th overall in the 2004 draft. A big Texan with the classic power pitcher’s build, Bailey has had poor results in his brief ML showing (5.45 ERA, 1.61 WHIP in parts of last years). In the minors he always showed the skills that made him the pick he was, but it was not until his final 9 ML starts of 2009 where he delivered on his promise at the higher level, going 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA and 53 K in 58.1 IP. How did he pick up his performance? His first few chances in the Majors, Bailey didn’t show the mid-90s velocity that made him such a blue-chipper. But in 2009, he added both velocity (average 94.5 MPH) and FB movement. That velocity, by the way, would have placed behind only Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Verlander, and Josh Johnson if he played a full season. He walks too many to have a great WHIP, but 180 Ks in around 200 IP with a 1.3 WHIP and 4 ERA wouldn’t be bad for a guy who’s not getting drafted right now.
Ian Kennedy, SP ARI
Kennedy is a guy who was a top prospect after his sophomore season (2005) at USC, averaging 12.2 K/IP. However, he regressed the following spring, causing him to drop to the Yankees at 21st overall in the 2006 draft. He is not a power pitcher, but relies on command for success. He cruised through the minors and had a great debut in 2007 for the Yanks. When he started the 2008 season as NY’s #5 starter though, he struggled mightily, increasing BB rates and decreasing K rates while getting extremely unlucky with BABIP (.347). The only physical problem behind Kennedy’s struggles was a slight decline in FB velocity, from 90.4 to 89.1 MPH, which doesn’t sound like much but is tough to survive in the AL East. Following his demotion in 2008, he righted the ship, with a 2.35 ERA and 72:17 K:BB in 69 IP. However, 2009 was a complete loss for Kennedy, who had an aneurysm in his right arm. He was included in the Granderson trade this offseason and is penciled in as the D-Backs’ #3 starter, where he should bounce back hard away from the AL East. Look for a 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 150 K in 180 IP.
Brandon Wood, 3B LAA
If you are looking for cheap power at 3B from a guy with a guaranteed job, this is the year to go for Brandon Wood. He was a 1st rounder in 2003 (see a trend on this list?) who has struggled in his first 3 ML exposures (total .192-7-19 in 226 AB from 07-09) while hitting 76 HR in AAA over the same time frame (1 HR every 16 AB). Out of options this year, Wood has earned the 3B job with the departure of Chone Figgins. He won’t hit for average (expect .250-.260) but with a regular spot in the lineup 25 HR is not a reach. Grab him late and see if this is the year.