Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Everybody in your fantasy draft knows the names Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton as well as you do, and when to draft them. It's after the big names are gone that the "real fun" begins and championships are determined.
And while the middle rounds are important in getting the right guys for your team, it's late in the draft where you find your best bargains.
Paul Konerko was one of those late-round guys who panned out and gave his Chicago White Sox and fantasy owners a big boost in 2010. With his ADP (Average Draft Position) of 267, Konerko wasn't selected until the final three rounds in most leagues, but performed like a top draft pick, hitting 39 homers, knocking in 111 runs and batting .312
Sometimes they aren't even selected on Draft Day but are picked up through free agency, as Jose Bautista (ADP 323) was. Bautista, as we all know, surprised the world by nearly doubling his career total for home runs, slamming 54 last season to go with 124 RBI. He had 59 homers in his previous six seasons combined.
But guys like Bautista and Konerko are very hard to predict. I'm going to suggest that you go in a different direction. Instead of trying to predict which journeymen will post a career year, I suggest you look younger and take a flier on highly thought of rookies and rookies-to-be.
Rookies who had immediate impact in 2010 included Jason Heyward and Neftali Feliz.
"Rookies-to-be," a.k.a. June call-ups, can also be a huge source for a fantasy owner. Last year, the following June call-ups made a big impact on fantasy rosters: Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton, Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez and Carlos Santana.
As a fantasy owner, it's sometimes hard to find a list of future stars, but check out last year's MLB.com "Top-50 Prospects" and the seven guys above were all listed in the top dozen selections.
They just released their 2011 top-50, which could be a valuable tool for fantasy owners.
The key is to peruse the list to see which players should have the best opportunity to show their talent. For example, if you find a St.Louis Cardinals minor league first baseman on the list, he's simply not going to get a chance to show his stuff. On the other hand, a quality shortstop might get a good amount of spring training playing time and convince Tony LaRussa to keep him on the roster.
The No.1 pick was Angels outfielder Mike Trout. But Trout, who batted a combined .341 for Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga, hasn't progressed to Double-A yet, so likely won't see "The Show" in 2011.
Number two on the list would be an excellent choice to stash on your team - Jeremy Hellickson. He's already made four starts at the major league level and went 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 2010. He'll likely be in the Tampa Bay starting rotation, but because he has only a few major league starts, won't be targeted by your competitors. That shouldn't stop you from putting him on your roster.
Fourth on the MLB.com list is outfielder Domonic Brown of Philadelphia. He made his major league debut last season, but got just 62 at-bats after a mid- season call up. The left-handed hitter is likely in a platoon situation in right field along with Ben Francisco, but if he plays like the team thinks, he could win the job outright.
Fifth is future Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley, the No.2 pick of the 2009 Amateur Draft. Heading into the offseason there were two players standing in his way -- Jose Lopez and Chone Figgins. However, the Mariners traded Lopez to Colorado and rumors have Figgins on the block as well. That could leave the job for Ackley, who posted a .776 OPS at Triple-A Tacoma last season.
Kansas City Royals minor league third baseman Mike "Moose" Moustakas batted a combined .322 with 36 home runs between Double- and Triple-A last season. That's a mighty tempting weapon for a Royals team that struggled to find power in 2010. He may not start the season in the big leagues, but it's highly likely that he'll be there by late May or early June. He's definitely worth a late-round flier.
Yankees catcher Jesus Montero might be their Opening Day catcher if he shows he can handle a pitching staff in spring training. They already know he's a solid hitter after he batted .289 with 21 homers with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It will be worth following the Yankees in March, and if the starters are comfortable with his pitch selection, he could be a nice late-round draft choice because Jorge Posada probably won't make more than 40-50 starts behind the plate and Russell Martin hasn't hit well for about the last two years.
The Rays have a second player on the list in outfielder Desmond Jennings. He's the heir-apparent to Carl Crawford after stealing 37 bases at Triple-A Durham last year. He won't garner much attention, but could certainly help you with his speed.
These are all low-risk, high-reward, late-round selections and are a much better option than picking another .250 batting journeyman with little or no upside.
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