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March 28, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Twenty Endgame Targets in Various Formats

by Bret Sayre

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With just a few days left until spring training, it’s time for one of my favorite columns of the year to write. And this year, I’m expanding it from 10 names to 20.

More often than not, the endgame targets you select at your draft are going to be the biggest difference makers in your quest for a championship. Your early-round selections are obviously important, but for downside, not upside. If you miss on your first-round pick or get $10 in value from your $35 player, you’re in a hole from which it can be difficult to climb out. The middle rounds are a mix of finding solid contributors and mixing in upside with players who could accrue high-end talent value (like Eric Hosmer or Carl Crawford). But the endgame where you make your money. If you’ve played golf even a couple of times in your life, you’ve probably heard the adage, “drive for show, putt for dough”—and it’s the same concept. Closing out your draft well is a must if you want to win your league.

To that end, the following players are ones that I am personally targeting in leagues of various sizes. All of them have a current ADP of 250 or higher, according to the latest NFBC data. And I’ve also excluded some names which, in my experience, are no longer going in this range in most leagues, despite what the data says. So, while Alex Cobb (256) and Shelby Miller (259) technically qualify for this list, they are both unlikely to make it to the endgame of even a 12-team mixed league. The rest of these players should.

Without any further ado, here are my 20 favorite 2013 endgame targets, sorted by ADP and broken down into the types of leagues for which they could be relevant:

12-Team Mixed Leagues

Edwin Jackson, SP, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 273)

When owners think of Jackson, there’s too much focus on the fact that he’s never taken that step forward to match his former prospect status, and not enough on what he’s become—a very solid starter who is getting better. It hasn’t been a straight line, but E-Jax has moved his strikeout rate in the right direction ever since hitting the big leagues, with his 21.3 percent mark in 2012 setting a career high. He also has not posted either a FIP or an xFIP of 4.00 or higher since 2009. He may never “break out,” but he doesn’t need to in order to return value at this price.

Jeff Keppinger, 3B, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 286)

Keppinger’s utility is based on his two most useful skills: batting average and eligibility. He may be the White Sox’ starting third baseman, but it’s his second-base eligibility in fantasy leagues (along with first base and third base) that makes him a great endgame target. He’s the classic last-starter/first-guy-off-the-bench type that you can use to cover different positions and know that your overall numbers won’t suffer.

Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 299)

It’s not easy to find a player this late in drafts that has as much home run and RBI potential as Lind does. The sailing hasn’t exactly been smooth for him since his breakout 2009 season, when he hit .305/.370/.562 with 35 homers and 114 RBI; however, he has still averaged more than 27 homers per 150 games over the last four seasons. He’s hitting the ball well this spring, but he almost always does. The key is that after a 16.8 percent strikeout rate in 2009, that number ballooned to 23.5 percent and 19.7 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively. If he continues to hold closer to the 17.3 percent number he posted in 2012, things could be looking up. And if you are in a daily league where you can sit him against lefties, all the better.

Chris Tillman, SP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 318)

It’s still amazing to me that a former top prospect that had a 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and  19 percent strikeout rate in his age-24 season isn’t getting more attention, but here we are. Tillman hadn’t been very good for the previous three seasons, but thanks in part to a 2.9 mph jump in fastball velocity, he was the Orioles’ best pitcher in the second half. There’s likely some regression coming from his 2012 performance, but he has the potential to move the needle on his underlying stats to avoid some of that backslide and be a top-50 pitcher in 2013.

Jaime Garcia, SP, St Louis Cardinals (ADP: 321)

With Garcia, it’s a combination of his uncertain health situation and his underwhelming fantasy-relevant numbers from 2012. Seven wins, a 3.92 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP, and a balky shoulder won’t exactly send people running in your direction. But, Garcia has the holy trinity of pitching skills I like to see: above-average strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates. His FIP has also improved in each of the past three seasons, to a career low 2.97 in 2012. And, as far as the shoulder goes, in 12-14 team mixed leagues, it’s really not that big of a deal. If he gets hurt, there will always be pitching on the wire.

Andy Dirks, OF, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 325)

There’s really no reason that Dirks should be going 75 picks later than David Murphy; they’re basically the same guy. Dirks has more upside in speed than he showed last year due to a lingering ankle injury, but prior to 2012, he had never stolen fewer than 17 bases in a single professional season. PECOTA projects him to hit .277 with 13 homers and 13 steals, and that seems attainable for the 27-year-old, who should also get plenty of opportunities for counting stats in one of the best lineups in the American League.

Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 328)

With the way he’s pitching this spring, Teheran is likely going to get snagged by someone before this point, but he still falls into the endgame range. It’s almost a shame that he’s pitching so well, because he is a perfect post-hype prospect candidate—a player who has lost some luster on prospect lists, but still is very young and full of upside. I wouldn’t expect him to strike out 37 percent of the batters he faces during the regular season (like he has this spring), but 12 wins, a 3.75 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and around a 7.0 K/9 is possible.

16-Team Mixed Leagues

Erasmo Ramirez, SP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 361)

Ramirez is sort of the opposite of Teheran, in that his lack of a rotation spot and unimpressive numbers this spring will likely cause him to fall further than this ADP suggests. Then again, with Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer the most likely candidates for the last two spots in Seattle’s rotation, Ramirez will get his chance in time. And I think he’ll succeed given that chance, as his home park, 20 percent strikeout rate, and 4.0 K:BB rate portend good things. He’s worth using a bench spot on, unless you get three or fewer in your league.

Felix Doubront, SP, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 369)

There were only 13 pitchers in baseball last season that had more strikeouts than innings pitched in at least 160 innings, and Doubront was one of them. If you’ve built a nice ratio base to your pitching staff, Doubront is one of the last strikeout pitchers available in drafts. Admittedly, you’re just fishing at this point, but if you’re going to take an endgame flier on a pitcher, why not do it on someone who also underperformed his xFIP by more than a run (4.86 ERA, 3.81 xFIP).

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 391)

I’ve written a lot about Josh Donaldson this offseason, and now that he looks to have locked up the starting third-base job in Oakland (as expected), I’ve only been taking him more and more in drafts. I went into Donaldson in more detail back in mid-February here, but essentially, I think he can carry forward the adjustments he made in his third stint in the majors last year, when he hit .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 RBI, 29 runs scored and three steals in just 194 plate appearances. Don’t be surprised if Donaldson is this year’s Todd Frazier.

Joe Blanton, SP, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 400)

I know, it’s Joe Blanton, but he’s going to a better park with a great outfield defense, and his underlying skills are solid. You could do a lot worse around the 400th pick.

Single-League Formats

Ted Lilly, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 426)

People seem to have forgotten about Lilly, but you shouldn’t. While he’s 37 years old and coming off shoulder surgery (I know, this sounds bad), he’s worth the risk at this point in drafts. First of all, it’s not his first rodeo: Lilly had shoulder surgery after the 2009 season and bounced back to be very productive in 2010 and 2011. Also, his dip in strikeout rate (5.7 K/9) from last season appears to be a fluke, given that his velocity and swinging-strike rate both stayed constant from the 2011 season, when he had a 7.4 K/9. He’s clearly a risk, but he’s one of the best ones worth taking toward the end of an NL-only draft.

Derek Norris, C, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 450)

I’ve been buying Norris is almost all two-catcher leagues this entire spring, even before he started tearing it up in Arizona. I just don’t believe that the A’s are going to put up with John Jaso’s defense behind the plate, especially when he could be their most productive designated hitter against right-handed pitching. Norris has the potential to hit 20+ homers and steal 10+ bases if he’s given 450 at-bats, and while he’s not likely to get that many, he should get enough to be plenty valuable as a second catcher.

Patrick Corbin, SP/RP, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 468)

Corbin, who has outgunned Tyler Skaggs for the fifth starter job in the desert, is solid from a skills perspective. Last season, he had a 3.4 K:BB, mostly as a starting pitcher, but gave up a few too many hits and home runs, en route to a 4.54 ERA. However, a 4.00 ERA and seven strikeouts per nine innings are possible with Corbin, if he’s given the opportunity. And even if he ends up in the bullpen down the road, he could be a strong ratios play; last season, Corbin had a 1.54 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 12 strikeouts in 11 2/3 relief innings (small sample, I know).

AL-Only Format, Reserve Picks

Zach Britton, SP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 584)

Britton may start the season in Triple-A, but any time a pitcher can post a ground-ball rate above 60 percent and a strikeout rate close to 20 percent, I’m very interested in taking a flier. I’ve always been a strong advocate for Britton, and while he clearly needs to work on his control (10 percent career walk rate), he has the talent to take a step forward in 2013.

Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers (ADP: 614)

Perez is essentially Teheran without the hype and 300 players deeper in ADP. A former top prospect that has lost some of his luster, Perez came into spring as the leader in the clubhouse for the Rangers’ fifth starter job, but a fractured forearm from a batted ball will cause him to start the season on the disabled list. I still like his chances of finding a spot in the Rangers rotation by June, and although there are plenty of knocks against him, he still possesses the stuff to succeed in that role.

Cody Allen, RP, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 855)

A deep, deep endgame pick, Allen is (at best) third in line for saves in Cleveland, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could sneak into the role at some point this year. Regardless, he’s a guy to keep an eye on, as he could return some value just from potential strikeouts and ERA.

NL-Only Format, Reserve Picks

Mark Rogers, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 522)

This pick got a little muddled by the signing of Kyle Lohse, but even with that, behind Yovani Gallardo and Lohse, the Brewers rotation is a mix of potential injuries and disasters. Rogers is probably seventh on the depth chart right now, behind Wily Peralta, but keep in mind that this isn’t another Michael Fiers: Rogers was the fifth-overall pick in the 2004 draft and has been delayed by a slew of injuries. He also had a 41-to-14 K:BB in 39 innings last season.

Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants (ADP: 669)

He’s nowhere near the prospect, or stolen-base threat, that Billy Hamilton is, but an extra 400 picks later, you can grab another potential mid-season call up who could steal 20-25 bases in relatively limited time. Brown has seen his prospect stock dwindle recently, but jhe hit .315/.356/.452 from June 12 to the end of the minor-league season at Double-A (cherry pick alert) and only has Gregor Blanco in front of him.

Jeff Locke, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 683)

With Locke having officially been announced as the Pirates’ fifth starter, his ADP is likely to go up a touch, but the point still stands. He’s not a high-upside pitcher, but being a southpaw who gets to pitch half his games in PNC Park has its advantages. With 34 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 34 1/3 innings last season, he has shown the ability to succeed at the major-league level, and at this stage of drafts, we’re really just looking for a pulse with a job.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Tier Rankings:... (03/28)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Exp... (03/27)
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