Youth has always dominated the sports landscape, and it’s only getting more prominent. With more and more press being given to the prospects around baseball, it’s becoming even more fun to dream on a player’s potential in hopes of a bright future. Fantasy baseball is no exception to this. In your various drafts, you will always have people who fall in love with a specific name and put them on their team expecting the upside to be hit. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is an important part of anyone’s draft. If you’re going to win your league, you need to take some chances on the upside plays and hope they provide value relative to where they were drafted or what you bid on them. With that being said, you can’t have a roster full of those guys. Balance is an important thing, and sprinkling in some relatively sure things with the potentially great youngsters is important. The problem, of course, is that after the very top-tier, most of these sure things come in the form of aging veterans, guys who you never know when the decline will actually start. The following group of players won’t be the sexiest pickups for your team, but are a good bet for solid production to surround your young, potentially great players.
Note that these write-ups are for 2015 only. Obviously things change significantly for those of you in dynasty and keeper leagues.
The Cardinals outfielder is just about as steady and productive as they come. He’s not going to put up Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton numbers, obviously, but he’s a solid OF2/OF3 who will almost certainly not come back to bite you for picking him up. The main problem with Holliday is the fact that he is about to play in his age-35 season, so decline should be on the way. He’s yet to put forth a truly unproductive season, though, so I’ll believe he can actually fall off a cliff when I see it. Now, he did fall off a bit last year, but I’m confident he can get back to his former levels. Despite having his line drive rate and batted ball distance actually improve a bit from 2013, and his strikeout rate stay around 15 percent, his average fell to a career-low .272. This can be attributed mostly to his first sub-.300 BABIP, something I would expect to correct itself in 2015. There is still every reason to project for his typical season around .300, 20 homers, 95 RBI, and 80-plus R. Given where they’re likely to go relative to Holliday, I’d take the Cardinal over guys like Kole Calhoun, George Springer, Michael Brantley, Matt Kemp, and Nelson Cruz, especially considering the latter two’s new home parks.
Though he’s only 31, the Red Sox second baseman has shown some real signs of decline, mostly in the power department. He’s almost certainly never going to reach the 20 home run plateau again, and it’s entirely possible we’ve seen his last double-digit dinger campaign. However, he should be able to contribute in AVG, SB and R again, with a decent RBI total for a 2B. He’s even more of a boon in OBP leagues. In 2014, Pedroia had a career-best line drive rate, which leads me to believe his AVG should get back to his more typical .290-.300 range. Boston completely revamped their lineup from last year, and with his on-base skills, Pedroia should have no problem crossing the plate 85-plus times. He’s not a top-flight second baseman anymore, but he’s a safe bet for solid production, and you can afford to go early on other positions and wait on second baseman while others take riskier players like Dee Gordon, Jason Kipnis, and Kolten Wong.
Rollins is a little different than Holliday and Pedroia, in that he’s more of a play for those in deeper leagues, or possibly if you decide to scrape the bottom of the SS barrel. Still, if you’re going to wait a while for a SS, you could do a lot worse than Rollins. The longtime Phillie won’t be a big help in AVG, but he can contribute in other areas, especially if we assume this trade to Los Angeles is eventually going to become official. Hitting ahead of guys like Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez will lead to more runs scored, and a bottom of the lineup that features Juan Uribe and Joc Pederson should lead to higher RBI totals than a typical leadoff hitter would provide. Though the move to LA will hurt his power, he’s still a good bet for double-digit homers at a position with very little production there. He’s a safer bet than guys like Jean Segura and Javier Baez, especially considering where the latter will be drafted.
Besides the classic #LackeyFaces, this may be one of the most boring pitchers in baseball. He puts up good ERAs, but nothing so special to make waves. He gets a decent amount of strikeouts, but not so much that he’s a headliner, and not little enough to make people curious about how he’s successful. You won’t be building your staff around Lackey, but he’s a solid SP4 and a possible SP3. More likely than not, the 36-year-old is good for an ERA in the mid-3s, something around 160 Ks, and a mid-range WHIP. There’s also no reason to believe the Cardinals won’t be good enough to get him close to the 15 win-range. There are a lot of risky pitchers who could be had a little earlier than Lackey, but it would be wise to go for another position and wait on him rather than take a guy like Carlos Carrasco or Kevin Gausman.