Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Spring training is still a month away and Opening Day 10 weeks from now, but my thoughts are already into baseball. Below are some of my initial impressions on who will make huge gains in 2011.
Prince Fielder - In the case of Fielder, its as simple as looking at a calendar. In even-numbered seasons, Fielder averages .269 with 87 runs scored, 31 HRs and 88 RBIs. In odd years, his statistics make a drastic jump to .292, 106 runs, 48 HRs and 130 RBIs. Add to this that Fielder is in the final year of his contract. Early drafts have him being selected near the end of the second round (ADP 19.6). Make sure you pick him up at the start of the round or even the end of the first round - he'll be worth every penny.
Chase Utley - Utley has had two mediocre (for him) seasons in a row, both due to injury. He had a hip problem in 2009 and a thumb injury last year. The result is that he is no longer the No.1 player at second base (that's Robinson Cano) but he's dropping to the end of the second round/start of the third round and that's too far if he just stays healthy. There is a shortage of quality second basemen and assuming he is finally able to play 150 games should be a bargain in his later draft slot.
Matt Kemp - Kemp had to be one of the most disappointing players in 2010 despite hitting 28 homers and knocking in 89 runs. That's because his 2009 season showed so much promise and so much was expected of him. But a low batting average (.249) combined with lapses on the base path (CS - 15 times) and in the field left him out of favor with coaches and fans. The team resisted all attempts to trade him and if he comes back ready to play should return to form. He's currently being drafted in the fourth round, way below his talent level.
Pablo Sandoval - If the "experts" are correct and Sandoval's waistline was the cause of his hitting ills in 2010, then news that he's 17 pounds lighter as of the middle of January could be great news to "Kung Fu Panda's" fantasy owners. He was a huge bargain in 2009 (.330, 25 HR, 90 RBI) and just as big a disappointment in 2010 with a .268 batting average and a nearly 50% drop in home runs. With Brian Sabean claiming if he doesn't get his act together he could start 2011 in the minors as a backdrop, Sandoval's ADP is around 180 which means you can pick him up for as little as a 15th-round pick. That's a selection that would have little downside and a huge upside worthy of a flier.
Tommy Hanson - Hanson went 11-4 after being called up in June of 2009 and was just 10-11 last season. On the surface it looks like he didn't pitch well last year, but that would be far from the truth. Hanson's ERA was a solid 3.33 and his WHIP was actually slightly better last season than in 2009. With an improving Braves lineup that struggled to score in 2010, even a repeat of his 3.33 ERA could see a marked improvement in his won-loss record.