Last year, Carlos Gonzalez could have been selected in the 10th round in standard leagues. In many cases, he could have been had after Round 10. He rewarded his owners with a phenomenal season, and in many leagues was the most valuable fantasy commodity in baseball. He had flashed those five tools we always hear about, but not even his strongest advocates thought he was capable of his 2010 numbers, at least not this soon.
For those reasons, Gonzalez was 2010’s Most Valuable Player. I’ll argue this with anyone. Not only were his numbers incredible, but he could be had 100 picks after Albert Pujols. A first-round pick could be used on an established stud, and then a short while later, you could take first round production in Round 11.
Finding these fantasy gems is not easy. They also don’t come along all that often. Sure, you have a guy who will hit 40 home runs or steal 30 bases out of nowhere, but for someone to be that productive across several categories is very rare. In looking at draft trends this season, there are several guys going after Pick 100 with incredible potential. To be clear, we’re defining “middle-round gem” as someone who fits that criteria and has that potential across three or more categories.
Here are my leading candidates for 2011:
Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay
Zobrist had a subpar season in 2010, and it’s being reflected in owners’ reluctance to take him. Last year, he was a Top 50 guy. This year, he’s going right around Pick 100, and he’s an incredible value there. His average should rebound and he’ll have enough power and speed to reward his owners. And hitting in front of Evan Longoria and Manny Ramirez probably won’t hurt either.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona
Johnson was fantastic last year, hitting .284 with 26 home runs and 13 steals. That kind of production, especially from a second baseman, is usually enough to vault someone into the 70s or 80s pick-wise. For some reason, fantasy owners aren’t believing. He’s a decent starting second baseman, but a fantastic middle infielder if you’re looking in the middle rounds.
Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angeles
Hunter is two things that fantasy owners love: productive and consistent. He’s going to hit .280. He’s going to hit 20-plus home runs. He’s going to drive in 90 runs. He’ll run a bit. He’s also going to be available when you’re picking in the 12th round.
Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox
Would anyone be surprised if Beckham put it all together this year? Not me. He’s primed to make a leap, and he’s a second baseman with some pop and an improved lineup around him. Not saying it’s a sure thing, but don’t be surprised if he is a Top 5 second baseman at season’s end.
Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore
Take a look at Jones’ stat line for last year – .284 average, 76 runs scored, 19 home runs, 69 runs batted in, seven stolen bases. Now look at Jay Bruce’s – .281 average, 80 runs scored, 25 home runs, 70 runs batted in, five stolen bases. You can take Jones 60 picks later. Jones has a better supporting cast this year and he’s a freak of an athlete.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Abreu is the guy no one wants to take every year. But at some point, someone almost has to grab him. At the end of the year, he ends up with around run and runs batted in totals around 80 apiece, 20 home runs and 20 steals. That’s pretty useful as a fourth outfielder.
Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Baltimore
Guerrero had a bounce back campaign in 2010. Playing in a loaded lineup in Texas, he put together a stat line featuring a .300 average, 29 home runs and 115 runs batted in. I realize that Baltimore isn’t as talented, but surely he warrants better than 16th round consideration.
Bay, OF, New York Mets
Last year, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near Bay. He was a Top 50 guy, or at least that’s where he was being drafted. After an off year, he’s being taken around Pick 165, and he’s easily worth that. He’ll rebound with a healthier lineup around him.
Manny Ramirez, OF, Tampa Bay
Ramirez, more than anyone in baseball, was put on this earth to hit a baseball. He can still do it, and being back in the American League East he’ll be looking to prove it when he plays against Boston and New York. He’ll hit around .300 (again), hit another 20 home runs and be productive enough to justify selecting him in the 18th round.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland
Cabrera was high on lists last year before breaking his arm. He’s now back to full health, and I feel like owners are forgetting about his considerable skill set. Don’t look at last year’s performance without considering all the factors. I see Cabrera hitting .285, and reaching double digits in both home runs and stolen bases. He’s staying on the board well past Pick 200, so there’s no risk involved if he can’t get back to form. If he’s your middle infielder at the end of the day, you’re set.