The NL West is certainly a division more known for it’s pitching, but there is plenty of value on the offensive end. So, it’s fitting that two of the three guys we’re looking at today are hitters.
You probably know who these guys are, but they’re still underrated fantasy baseball players. Actually, in a weird twist, a few of these guys are underrated because you know who they are.
1. Justin Morneau — Colorado Rockies
When I think about Justin Morneau, I can’t help but be reminded of Alfonso Soriano. He was once a great player who’s clearly not as good as he once was. So, rather than focusing on what he can still do, the focus is all about what can’t do anymore.
So, what has Morneau done lately? Well, 19 homers in 2012 for the Minnesota Twins, and 17 more in 2013. Not bad, but he only got to hit 16 of those 38 homers at home. Playing in a pitcher-friendly park will do that to you. Well, I’d like to meet the man who’d call Coors Field a pitcher-friendly park. He flirted with 20 bombs with little help from his home park, I’m guessing that he can get to the 22-25 range in Denver.
Like Soriano, you’ll have to take some hits with a batting average that will likely come in at below .270, but he should at least be at .250, so I don’t think you’ll have to work too hard to offset those struggles.
I won’t sit here and say that you should pass on someone like Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis, Joey Votto, or Prince Fielder with Morneau in mind. But if you get into your draft and realize that those guys are gone, don’t reach for a guy like Adrian Gonzalez without seriously comparing him to Justin Morneau and weighing their pros/cons against their draft value. Gonzalez is the better player, of course, but when you consider where you’ll have to take him and what you’ll have to give up to get him, Morneau brings better value.
2. Andrew Cashner — San Diego Padres
Realistically, Andrew Cashner had to be close to Cy Young consideration in 2013. His numbers compare pretty favorably to Francisco Liriano, who finished tied for ninth place with Madison Bumgarner in voting.
What’s the difference between Cashner and Liriano? Well, by the end of the year, Liriano had basically no availability in fantasy leagues, while Cashner was still roughly a half/half kind of guy.
You have to take some hits with Cashner, mostly from the fact that he won’t strike many guys out, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on fantasy teams everywhere. His WHIP is just phenomenal and when you throw strikes, that carries over from season-to-season.
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking Cashner because of his team’s relative obscurity. Petco Park is still a great place to pitch and when he ventures on the road, Cashner’s splits suggest that he’s more than capable of missing bats and relying less on the defense.
Stars like Clayton Kershaw will go early. If you can’t get them, draft someone like Cashner later and pair him with a guy like Tim Lincecum or Jeff Samardzija. You can build around them and have a start to a decent pitching rotation.
3. Angel Pagan — San Francisco Giants
This last spot was a battle in my mind between Angel Pagan and Carl Crawford of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’re both decent across the board contributors and I have no problem calling both underrated, even if they are both well known.
But Crawford is on a team with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Ethier is likely the odd-man out in that equation, but he’s a little better than your typical fourth outfielder. The fourth outfielder on the Giants? Gregor Blanco, and he may even get some quality playing time depending on how well Mike Morse can stay healthy and play the outfield. Pagan’s not losing any playing time.
Now, what can Pagan do? Well, the Giants lineup isn’t lethal, but he’s batting first in front of Marco Scutaro, a guy who can move him along and put him in scoring position for Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. So, he’ll have a chance to score a lot of runs.
Pagan’s also a career .275 career hitter at AT&T Park. That’s not a bad average, and it’s been even better over the last two years as a Giant. That, combined with the fact that he’s had a line drive of better than 22 percent in each of the last two years gives me the confidence that Pagan will be somewhere in the .280-.290 range, which should give him plenty of time to get on base for at least 20-25 steals.
Now, even if you’re an eternal optimist, you’ll have a hard time projecting Pagan at more than about 10 homers and 50 RBI, but he shouldn’t be below the 8/40 range. Coming off of an injury, Pagan won’t be a trendy pick this year, but he’s a pretty safe bet to return to his 2012 form, which isn’t bad at all.