Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
At this year's fantasy baseball draft, you can expect a few owners to go crazy bidding for the likes of Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and C.C. Sabathia.
And while the likelihood that these superstar pitchers will perform up to expectations is very good, none will be a "bargain" because of the high price to retain their services. The high cost also precludes a fantasy owner from cornering the market and creating a super rotation.
On the other hand, every season, without fail, there are pitchers who come from seemingly nowhere to produce results almost as good as the aforementioned superstars.
Last year, James Shields had a Yahoo ADP (Average Draft Position) of 210 and finished as the sixth-best starter in baseball, going 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 225 strikeouts. The production from an 18th-round selection was better than Sabathia, Cole Hamels, David Price and Tim Lincecum, who were all drafted in the first five rounds.
Another 2011 bargain came in the form of Ian Kennedy (ADP 192), who finally realized the potential that made him a first-round selection of the New York Yankees in 2006. Kennedy posted a 21-4 record with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 198 strikeouts while pitching in hitter-friendly Chase Field.
The difficultly, of course, lies in correctly forecasting which pitchers will jump out of the pack to become this year's fantasy sleeper. That's why they pay the experts the "big dollars."
Below you will find our choices for pitchers who are ready to explode onto the scene. Each selection will likely go in the ninth round or later - some much later.
Yu Darvish, Texas (ADP 87) - This is not your normal rookie. At 25 years old, he has pitched for the Nippon Ham Fighters since 2007 and in his five seasons posted a 76-28 record with a lights-out 1.72 ERA, a 0.890 WHIP and a career average of 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Last year, he was simply untouchable, going 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA, a 0.828 WHIP and 276 Ks in 232 innings. He has a mid-90s fastball and two different breaking balls which vary in speed from 65 to 80 mph. While he's not likely to put up the gaudy statistics he posted in the Japanese Pacific League while pitching in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, he might be the best-ever pitcher to come from the Pacific Rim. As a eighth-round pick, he should be a steal.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis (ADP 101) - Out of sight, out of mind. Wainwright missed all of 2011 after having Tommy John surgery and is being overlooked this spring. When we last saw him, however, he was an All-Star, finished second in the NL Cy Young and posted a 20-11 record, with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. He just pitched three shutout innings on three days rest and it appears he will be the Cardinals' Opening Day starter.
Brandon Morrow, Toronto (ADP 141) - Morrow has "ace" potential, but didn't show it in 2011, going just 11-11 with a high ERA of 4.72 and a mediocre WHIP of 1.29. It's possible he got the message as he's been excellent this spring, pitching five scoreless innings, yielding two hits and no walks. As a 12th-round selection, he has a huge upside and little downside.
Corey Luebke, San Diego (ADP 142) - It's never a bad gamble to select a pitcher who throws half his games in cavernous PETCO Park. Luebke was solid last season with a 3.29 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 154 Ks in 139 2/3 innings, but fantasy owners see his low win total and shy away from him. Don't you be that guy.
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles (ADP 172) - He'll be a much better selection for those in keeper leagues, but Jansen should grab the closer's role from Javy Guerra at some time during the 2012 season. A 16.1 Ks/9IP says it all and you can steal him in the 15th round.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay (ADP 183) - Price, Shields and rookie Matt Moore are getting all the preseason attention, but Hellickson might be the best bargain on the Rays staff. In his first full season last year, he was solid, going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. If he improves his strikeout rate, he'll be a great selection in the 16th round.
Vance Worley, Philadelphia (ADP 258) - Like Hellickson, Worley garners no attention from the media and fantasy owners because of the guys in front of him in the rotation. He's going in the 22nd round, which is simply crazy based on his performance to date. In his rookie season, he went a stunning 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Worley just finished off the best outing of any pitcher this spring, going four perfect innings and striking out eight of 12 Pittsburgh Pirates batters. Simply sitting next to, listening to and watching Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hamels throw every day should help Worley improve on last year's numbers in 2012.
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco (ADP 294) - Perhaps it's because he's 34 and we've seen him for so many years coming out of the bullpen that we can't adjust to his success as a starter. Vogelsong also has had some back trouble this spring. But the Giants righty was 13-7 last year with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. It's a small gamble at that point in the draft with a possibility of a great return on your investment.
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