It was 2005, I was in some random draft with a bunch of strangers, and it happened. Some guy goes off on me for taking a player ranked lower than a guy that was still on the board. It’s a common occurence, the peanut gallery yelling “too early” or “reach”. In this particular example, I chose David Wright over Hank Blalock. Blalock was a former…well nevermind, the point is, it’s ok to pick an underrated guy a little early. Here are three underrated fantasy baseball players that you should feel comfortable drafting a round before their average draft position.
#1: Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals
Wacha, Wacha! *Fozzie Bear voiceover* Michael Wacha was drafted with the compensation pick that came over when Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. So the Cards were able to avoid a horrible contract with their aging franchise player and then parlayed that into drafting the future franchise player. Well played.
Wacha dominated in his first taste of pro ball in 2012 posting ridiculous K/9 numbers at three different levels in the minors. His Spring Training performance last season drew high praise from skip Mike Matheny. As a result, the Cards limited his innings in the minors last year to keep him fresh for the stretch run of the big league team.
When Wacha got his call he did not disappoint. He pitched a total of 64.2 innings, had a K/9 of 9.05, had an ERA of 2.78, and a WHIP of 1.10. That’s silly. He will get plenty of offensive support, and his home park is fairly forgiving to aide his off days.
Wacha is a stud. He might not be allowed to go to deep in games to preserve his young arm for later in the season. Even if he only pitches 180 innings, I think he still cracks the top 20 of SP this year, on his way to top 10 status in 2015. So don’t be afraid of people telling you that you picked him too early, that would either be stupidity or jealousy talking.
#2: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
At this time last year, Starlin Castro was widely accepted as a top five option at SS heading into 2013. Unfortunately, Castro had a rough year. He experienced significant regression in every major statistical category, including HRs, SBs, and AVG.
Despite the setback, there are still many reasons to be bullish on Castro including ending his miserable year hitting .279 in September. Additionally, Castro will start the season as a 24 year-old, so his best years are likely still to come.
Then consider new manager Rick Renteria, who speaks Spanish, played SS, and comes from a San Diego Padres team that was aggressive on the base paths. Don’t think the manager matters? Look at Bobby Valentine, now look at John Farrell, now back to Valentine, now back to Farrell…I’m on a horse.
Finally, do yourself a favor and compare Castro with the other players at his position. Right now you will find the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and Jed Lowrie ahead of Castro. I’m pretty sure all four of those guys have been approached by LifeCall to come in and read their catchphrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.
You are better off taking more reliable players at other positions while the fragile shortstops fall off the board. Then grab Castro late and take comfort in knowing he has averaged over 160 games played over the past three seasons and has the potential to hit 15 HRs and steal 30 bags.
#3: Wily Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
Where is the love for Wily Peralta? Peralta’s rookie season with the Brewers as a whole was mediocre. But his 2nd half showed a lot more promise. After the break, he posted a sub 4.0 ERA, with a respectable K/9 of 7.59.
According to Fangraphs, Peralta’s fastball averaged 94.6 MPH in 2103. That helps explain why Peralta’s K/9 was over 8.0 at stops in A, AA, and AAA ball. Given that type of heat and that track record, a K/9 landing around 8 in 2014 is not that much of a stretch.
Another reason to like Peralta is that close to 50% of the balls opponents put in play came way of the ground ball. Considering how easily fly balls leave Miller, I think he can avoid damage that fly balls pitchers are accustomed to in Milwaukee (Algonquin for the good land).
You currently will not find Peralta in too many top 100 rankings for SP. So you can target him in the last round in most leagues. If he can decrease the amount of free passes he allows, I think he could end up a top 75 SP in 2014. That might not be good enough for you in some leagues, but in deeper leagues he will prove useful.