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2007 Fantasy Baseball Breakout Candidates by Position
A year ago, who would have predicted the seasons Ryan Howard, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Webb and Brian McCann would have? Predicting outfielders is one of the most enjoyable aspects for any baseball fan. The excitement builds during November and December when free agents sign and you see pictures of players holding their brand new uniforms and talking about how excited they are to play for their new team. Next thing you know, you’re reading about how this player’s swing will play out on their new home field and then you finally hear from Peter Gammons about how well your sleeper candidate is doing in Florida. At that point you are sold. You think it’s a given that Josh Beckett will win 20 games on his way to his first Cy Young, or that Kerry Wood/Mark Prior will return to the power they showed in 2003. Unfortunately, a month later, your perspective has changed drastically and then you’re left scrambling to find the next Jared Weaver or Justin Verlander. The moral of this sad story is that the best place to find a breakout candidate isn’t browsing the trade pages of your local paper in January, your best bets are usually right under your nose and you’re hiding in the dark because they didn’t make headlines during the offseason.
Have you noticed one thing that Howard, Bonderman, Webb and McCann have in common? They didn’t get much publicity in the offseason before 2006 because they weren’t traded or signed to a big contract. Most drop lists involve players switching teams, but with that comes risk. For every Alfonso Soriano, there’s a Josh Beckett, or a Carl Pavano, or even a Randy Johnson. Nothing is guaranteed in sports – especially expecting someone to raise their level of play by 200% while getting used to a new team, new league, new city, new stadium, etc, etc.
While some breakout seasons are serendipitous — see Brady Anderson (circa 1996), Matt Knox (’87) and Rich Auril/Luis Gonzalez (’01) — many of them are somewhat predictable. An extreme breakout like Ryan Howard’s 2006 campaign is rare and likely won’t be seen again for some time. After all, how many second-year players do you know who hit more than 50 home runs? But players like Garrett Atkins and Brian McCann have shown signs of being primed for a big season at some point in their future in previous years.
Below is a list, by position, of the players poised to make the move in 2007. You may not have heard much about most of these guys, and they almost certainly won’t be in the top 10 rounds this year, but that could change in a season. The analysis below is based more on plate discipline and slugging percentage than HR/RBI or even offseason attention, and you’ll notice that every player listed below will be on the same team in 2007 as they were in 2006.
Catchers – Russell Martin (LAD) is the obvious candidate here. He posted a .352 OBP in his rookie campaign along with a .436 SLG and 10 stolen bases. The fielding percentage isn’t exceptional, but for the 23-year-old catcher, it’s a sign of good things to come. If he continues to run (and he has in the past with 39 career SB in less than 400 games), and also shows normal progression at the plate, he could be a fantasy monster at some point. That won’t happen in 2007, but he will improve, a potential 20/20 guy behind the plate would be a nice steal for the 15th round. (Also under consideration – Mike Napoli – LAA)
1st Base – Lyle Overbay (TOR) is a guy who has been around for a while, so he should fly under the radar on draft day. Most guys are looking for 1st/2nd grade guys. to break out, but Overby doesn’t fall into that category as 2007 will be his 7th season at the big league level. He had 46 doubles and 22 home runs in 2006, and it’s not a stretch to think some of those doubles will turn into home runs in 2007. If that happens, he’ll quickly drop into the 30-home run range and be cheap as a 15th pick. car. (Also considered – Prince Fielder – MIL)
2nd Base – Ian Kinsler (TEKS) was a great prospect coming into 2006, but missed a lot of time early on before putting up very solid rookie numbers and somehow doesn’t get much attention anymore. Kinsler finished the season with a .286/.348/.454 line with 14 home runs and 11 steals in just 120 games. That number prorated over 160 games in a season would result in 19 home runs and 15 steals. This is for a guy who hit 23 home runs and stole 19 bases in AAA as a 23-year-old in 2005, so hindsight is 20/20 in his future and why wouldn’t that happen in 2007. It’s certainly a possibility. With a lack of depth at 2nd base, reach for this guy and draft him a little earlier than you’d like. He is a worthy gamble at a very weak position. (Also under consideration – Howie Kendrick -LAA and Ricky Weeks – MIL)
3rd Base – Ryan Zimmerman is a guy that everyone is overlooking because of the weak lineup that will be around him in 2007. He had a great rookie season – hitting .287/.351/.471 with 20 home runs and 11 stolen bases. It’s possible that his numbers could drop with the loss of Soriano to the Nationals. However, he will be moved to 3rd in the order and should see increased RBI opportunities to go along with a .300/.365/.510 season. (Also considered – none) Shortstop – Stephen Drew (ARI) hopefully won’t spend the first 5 years of his career on these lists like his brother did 5-10 years ago. He burst onto the scene in 2006 with a .316/.359/.517 line in 209 AB. His walk rate will need to improve to join the best players at his position, but he should be good for .300/.340/.480 full-time in 2007, and he had good OBP and discipline. on the plate numbers in the minors. Just don’t expect much velocity here (just 6 career steals in the minor leagues), but he was a career .315/.385/.546 hitter during his time in the minors with a 79/117 BB/K ratio. It will be in the top 30 soon. (Also under consideration – Khalil Greene – SD)
Outfield – Carlos Quentin (ARI) is a highly regarded prospect and is assured of a real job in the outfield after impressing in 2006. His minor league numbers show a potential 2nd round pick – .309/.427/.522 with 160 BB and 173 K – and didn’t disappoint in his 166 AB at the big league level last year, hitting .253/.342/.530. Quentin’s value should appreciate faster than the much-vaunted Delmon Young, and he’s capable of hitting .290/.350/.550 in 2007.
Starting Pitching – Cole Hamels (PHI) showed tremendous potential in 2006 at both the AAA and ML levels. He finished the year with a 9.9 K/9 ratio at the ML level during his rookie season. This is above his career minor league rate of 12.4 K/9 in 201 innings. His problem throughout his minor league life has simply been staying healthy, and if he can do that in 2007, he’s a bona fide Cy Young candidate. I think he strikes out 10 guys in 9 innings and enters the 2008 season as a top 5 pitcher. All pitchers have more risk than hitters, so grab Hamels when you can.
Closer – Devil Rice isn’t even talking about Chad Orwell (TB) as a candidate for the closer position. It’s generally not a good idea to target a pitcher whose own team isn’t considering for the closer position, but Orwell’s minor leaguers are too good to ignore. In nearly 150 innings, he struck out 215 (k/9 of 13) and walked 26 (bb/9 of 1.6). You may not want to draft him now, but watch him if/when McClung struggles.
That’s it. Focusing on these players in the second half of the draft will put you in good shape heading into the 2007 season, so sit back, relax and let’s PLAY!
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