Undervalued hitters for 2008

I'm a company man.

Some readers pointed out that when I was doing some average draft position analysis in recent articles, the method that was used to generate the rankings (as detailed in this blog from Eric Karabell)
wasn't as effective as just taking a look at one person's rankings, such as my own, and examining it that way. Because our Top 340 was a combination of the rankings of the fantasy writers and editors, the differences weren't as sharp, as the process by nature winds up smoothing out some of the bigger ones.

But like I said, I'm a company man, even though there were a few rankings that I had differences with.

As Karabell pointed out, we all have different opinions and the rankings were one way of assembling all those different opinions.

To further assist you, we did a set of mock drafts that are available in the jam-packed draft kit, and some of my player preferences will be readily apparent.

Besides sharing the love of Corey Hart with the TMR, here are 15 hitters that I happen to like a bit more than our rankings this season.

I'm not saying all of these players are going to be superstars, or that some of these players will go cheaply in your draft, but that they are guys that I think the conventional wisdom may be short-changing a bit, and therefore should provide a good return on your investment.

Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins: I've been talking about Hermida since he was in Double-A ball, and he illustrated why I have been so high on him with his second half last season; he hit .340 with 10 homers and a .555 slugging percentage after the All-Star break. He even has the ability to add double-digit steals to his game.

Consider the following stats from last season:

Hermida: 429 AB: .296-18-63-3
Player X: 642 AB: .293-19-105-5

Player X is Jeff Francoeur. Yet in the ESPN live draft results, Francoeur is being selected eighth among right fielders, Hermida 18th. I'm sorry, that's just too much of a disparity. I'm not taking Kosuke Fukudome, Jose Guillen or Rick Ankiel over Hermida, as many are doing.

The only thing that will stop Hermida is the disabled list, as he's battled injuries the past two seasons. For now, I don't see that as being anything chronic, just some bad luck.

Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: It's not that others don't like Victorino this season, but it's that people either a) undervalue his contributions, or b) think there's a little too much "one-year wonder" vibe about him and expect a bit of regression. He stole 37 bags last season despite a leg problem, has the center field job all to himself, and could see 75-100 more at-bats this year. He should even hit double-digit homers again. He's being sorely undervalued in many leagues. Victorino was a $20 player in mixed leagues last season, and he should be again.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: Let's see, we have a 23-year-old third baseman that has provided solid production over his first two seasons, hasn't hit his peak yet, is moving into a park that will be better for hitters and has his value slightly depressed by an offseason wrist injury that shouldn't be a factor when the season starts. I'm not hesitating to put him on my roster.

Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: If you look at Young's peripherals, he should have hit closer to .270 last season than .237. Add that to the fact that he was the first major league rookie to hit 30 homers and steal 25 bases last year, which is easy to see why I like Young more than most. The doubters will point to the regression expected in his numbers and be worried about the batting average. I'm expecting a bit of regression as well. Still, 20/20 or 25/25 seasons are very reasonable, as is a batting average better than .250. It seems many people aren't even giving him credit for that.

Chris Snyder, C, Diamondbacks: It was a tale of two seasons for Snyder in 2007. The D-backs fired hitting coach Kevin Seitzer at the midway point and brought in Rick Schu, who Snyder was very comfortable with. Snyder had been hitting the ball hard for much of the first half, but was constantly finding gloves. Schu tinkered with Snyder's swing a bit to help him stay back on the ball, his batted balls found a few more holes and he took off in the second half, hitting .292 with six homers and a .503 slugging percentage after the break. Some rankings I have seen don't have him in the Top 20 at the position. Not mine. This could be his breakout season.

Mike Napoli, C, Angels: Napoli played only 75 games last season due to various leg injuries and has already missed time this spring due to more leg issues. Jeff Mathis is also in line for some playing time. Napoli hasn't shown he can hit for average at the major league level yet. Are you excited yet? Hold on. What makes Napoli an intriguing play is his price-to-performance ratio. He has great power potential, and all those factors are going to keep his acquisition price low on draft day. With a scarce catching pool this season, he should be firmly on your radar screen later in the draft.

Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels: No, it is not true that I have a poster of Kendrick in my bedroom ... it's more like an 8x10. The popular picks in the second-tier of second sackers this season are Rickie Weeks and Ian Kinsler, but I don't mind having Kendrick if I don't get one of the other top guys, and I think his bang for the buck will be better than Robinson Cano, who is going $6-$7 higher in many AL auctions. You will find multiple articles that have Kendrick's name and the phrase "batting title" in the same sentence. It illustrates his ability with the bat. I've thought of Kendrick as a future batting champion ever since I saw him in the Arizona Fall League. He also can provide double-digit homers and steals. His injuries last year were of the fluke variety, and I don't see that as being a concern going forward.

Yunel Escobar, 2B/3B/SS, Braves: There are a lot of things to like about Escobar this season: He has a lock on a starting job, multiple-position eligibility and he bulked up a bit this offseason to try to add some more power to his game. He hit a little bit above his head last year, but he could challenge .300 with double-digit homers and a few steals. He's very intriguing, because many are looking at his minor league numbers and shortchanging him a bit, but if you watch him play, you see how his line-drive swing can put up some nice offensive numbers.

Julio Lugo, SS, Red Sox: Lugo's price this season is being depressed by a .197 batting average in the first half of 2007, which was partially due to one of the poorest hit rates in baseball. For the season, Lugo's .265 average on balls in play was the eighth worst in the majors, and he was particularly unlucky for a ground-ball hitter with speed. He rebounded to bat .280 in the second half and still brought 33 stolen bases with a good success rate overall. On top of all of that, according to the Boston Herald, part of his first-half woes may have been due to a stomach parasite that caused him to report to camp well under his playing weight. He should be a safe source of speed on draft day, capable of earning $20 in single-league play and $15 in mixed.

Bill Hall, OF, Brewers: It's obvious why everyone is down on Hall this season. When you go from 35 homers to 14, and you stopped stealing double-digit bases two seasons ago, you tend to lose a little bit of your luster. That said, I think people are going too far in the other direction. He still has the potential for 20 homers with a decent batting average, even though the speed is likely never to return. You'll also get bonus third base eligibility in the month of April.

Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: I want to be a Cust owner this season. I know the batting average is very iffy, but from what I have seen in drafts thus far, this is an opportunity to get a lot of power at a value price. Pick up a slap-hitting infielder that can hit .300 like Placido Polanco if you're that worried about carrying Cust's batting average and just enjoy the stats in the power categories. He put on some more muscle in the offseason and has a safe spot in the lineup.

Jerry Owens, OF, White Sox: As I've alluded to in my spring training reports, many fantasy owners are giving Carlos Quentin an everyday job at Owens' expense, and that may not wind up being the case. You can do a lot worse late in the draft than trying to pick up some speed from a guy who can get on base and it looks like he might actually get some at-bats, at least in a de facto platoon with Quentin. He was off to a good start this spring and manager Ozzie Guillen likes what he brings to the leadoff spot. He's fighting a groin injury right now, which could complicate things, but he's still a name to keep an eye on.

Corey Patterson, OF, Reds: I thought the Reds were just fine with the multiple options they already had for their center field job, but they brought Patterson in. We all know what Patterson isn't, so here are three things that Patterson is: 1) an excellent defensive center fielder, 2) a player with 30+ stolen base potential 3) a favorite of manager Dusty Baker. Add those three things together and you could see Patterson getting some significant playing time for Cincy. Now that he has hooked on with a club, Patterson joins Owens, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Eugenio Velez and Joey Gathright as some of the sleeper stolen base players this season.

Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore: Jones is going to be a five-category fantasy producer, it's just a question of when. There will undoubtedly be a slight adjustment period as he gets his first full-time duty at the major league level, but considering his potential I think he's going for too low a price in drafts. Fifteen homers and 10 stolen bases is a reasonable baseline expectation, but it's that potential for more that makes him an interesting play this season.

Finally, a question:

What if I told you that a certain player had averaged the following numbers over the past six seasons?

155 G, .291 AVG, 14 HR, 69 RBIs, 19 SB, 86 Runs

What if I told you that he had reached double-digits in homers and steals in each of those seasons, and never failed to earn at least $10 in mixed-league play?

You would want him on your roster, right?

Yet it is amazing how many people completely ignore Randy Winn, especially in mixed leagues. I get e-mails every year telling me I'm crazy. He's not even owned in more than 33 percent of the mixed leagues that have drafted thus far. Every year I have to defend him, but the numbers do the job for me.

Could he suffer a decline this season at age 33? Absolutely, but we're talking about a guy that you're using a late-round pick on. There's not a ton of downside. It's hard to argue with that track record, and we can give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise.

Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.