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Friday, February 11, 2011

Boston Red Sox 2011: Fantasy Preview

The Boston Red Sox watched the playoffs from their couch last season as their fans agonized over what might have been. Injuries cost the trio of Dustin Pedroia Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury 291 games combined.  Injuries to both Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez decimated the catching position so bad that there was a Kevin Cash sighting in The Fens.  The Red Sox limped into contention and were still alive going into the final week of the season when the Yankees finally put them out of their misery. 89 wins, a dip in television ratings and talk of a bridge year from Theo Epstein forced the Sox into an aggressive off season as the Red Sox reloaded with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford . The Red Sox who lacked star power last season now boast five of the top forty fantasy players in all of baseball. Gonzalez should be better than ever with more lineup protection than he has ever had in his career and a ballpark that seems to be custom made for his swing. Crawford is just starting to reach his potential as a hitter and many feel he can be a consistent 25 HR a season guy. Where Crawford will hit in the lineup is still up for debate but regardless Crawford should have potential to score a lot of runs and have many more RBI opportunities than he had in Tampa. Stolen bases could be another story. It will be interesting to see just how much Crawford's game will change now that he is playing in Fenway Park and for a manager and an organization that doesn't subscribe to running wild on the base paths. The additions of Gonzalez and Crawford to go along with Jon Lester and a healthy Pedroia and Youkilis give the Red Sox a star studded fantasy team. The Red Sox also have a few guys who are flying under the radar and have the potential to make a big difference for your fantasy team in 2011.  Below are a few of those names.

Jed Lowrie - SS/2B (171 AB, .287/.381/.526, 9 HR, 24 RBI)  
Lowrie was a first round supplemental pick by the Red Sox in 2005 and tabbed as their shortstop of the future as the 2008 season approached. Coming off a World Series championship in 2007, Red Sox Nation was giddy with the idea that Lowrie and Pedroia would give the Sox a Pac-10 double play combination that would collect pennants for seasons to come. Injuries and illness however sidetracked Lowrie to the point that Red Sox fans had all but forgotten about Jed until he appeared in late July of last season to help fill in for the injury riddled Red Sox.  Lowrie went on to play in 55 games and hit like the scouts said he would hit when healthy. A switch hitter with a great eye and some power is how Lowrie has always been described.  He is exactly the kind of player Theo Epstein covets and is why many felt he would be the Red Sox shortstop for years to come, finally replacing Nomar Garciaparra and putting an end to the revolving shortstop door at Fenway. Ironically, Lowrie was a compensation draft pick awarded to the Red Sox when they decided to let Orlando Cabrera walk at the end of the 2004 championship season. The Stanford alum comes into the 2011 season without a starting position. There were rumors that the Red Sox were trying to deal Marco Scutaro to open up a spot for Jed. However, an injury proned player is tough to rely on and with Scutaro and Lowrie the Red Sox have some insurance. Scutaro battled his own injuries last year and there are some serious questions as to how effective he will be defensively at shortstop this season.
For fantasy purposes Lowrie is projected as the 18th shortstop taken and has only been drafted 13% of the time in mock drafts.  Lowrie would be a great late round draft pick.  He will be eligible at SS and 2B to start the season and will more than likely see time at 3B as well. If Lowrie can stay healthy he will be getting a ton of at bats this season.  There is still a chance Scutaro could be dealt, there is also a chance Scutaro will be spending some time on the DL throughout the season.   If Scutaro does stay healthy and the Red Sox keep him, then Lowrie becomes a valuable utility guy who absolutely kills left handed pitching.  The one glaring issue with the Red Sox is that they may struggle against lefties, Lowrie could be the answer by playing third base on days when the Sox face a lefty, moving Youkilis to the DH spot and David Ortiz next to Francona. I would be shocked if Lowrie is not in the lineup on an everyday basis when the Red Sox are facing left handed pitching. Drafting Jed Lowrie gives your fantasy team depth and flexibility and if things fall right for him he could end up having a real break out season that could be the key to getting your fantasy team over the top in 2011

J.D. Drew OF (478 AB .255/.341/.452, 22 HR  68 RBI)  
Drew undervalued? Yes he is, at least for fantasy purposes and definitely for the upcoming 2011 season. J.D. Drew is the most polarizing player among Red Sox fans. The message board arguments are legendary.  There is the group who think he is the most overpaid outfielder in the history of baseball and then there is the group who say his grand slam against the Indians in the 2007 ALCS has made every dollar spent on him a great investment. The Drew supporters point to his great career .387 OBA, his raw power, and all the physical tools you would want in a right fielder. Drew's critics point to the fact he has only driven in 100 runs one time in his career, that he has only played in 145 games or more in a season twice in a 13 year career and that he plays the game of baseball with the demeanor of someone who is headed to a dentist appointment. Both sides have valid points but for the 2011 season your fantasy team might find tremendous value in J.D late in the draft. The former Florida State Seminole is in the final year of his contract. He has had two other contract seasons in his career, 2004 with the Braves and 2006 with the Dodgers. In both those seasons Drew played over 145 games, the only two seasons he has done that. Drew drove in 100 runs in 2006 with the Dodgers, the only time he has done that in his career and in 2004 with the Braves he posted a .436 on base percentage, the highest of his career. Drew seems to have a knack for being healthier and more productive when his contract is about to run out. Scott Boras would love to get one more big contract for his client and J.D. is set up to have a very productive year as he will bat in a loaded lineup, get great pitches to hit, have a ton of RBI opportunities and should score a bunch of runs. According to Mock Draft Central, Drew's average draft position is 61 among outfielders and is only being drafted 46% of the time. Undervalued? You better believe it.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia C (24 AB .167/.333/.292, 0 HR 2 RBI)    
Salty was a first round draft pick by the Braves in 2003 and was immediately billed as a can't miss prospect. He was then traded by the Braves to the Rangers in 2007 as part of a massive package of prospects which landed the Braves Mark Teixeira at the deadline. At the time there was debate that the Braves traded away the wrong young catcher and should have dealt Brian McCann instead. Saltalamacchia remained highly regarded around baseball during his first two seasons in Texas. Theo Epstein of the Red Sox was reportedly close to trading Clay Buchholz for him before the 2009 season. The Florida native then began to struggle culminating in an awful 2010 season that saw him play the majority of his season in the minor leagues working on throwing issues that got so bad he was struggling to successfully throw the ball back to the pitcher. The Rangers decided to give up on him and Theo Epstein came calling, however this time Buchholz was not part of the discussion. The Red Sox acquired the switch hitting catcher just before the trade deadline last season for a few lower tier prospects. Saltalamacchia only got 19 at bats with the Red Sox and didn't produce much in those limited number of chances. Behind the plate he only threw out one runner in six attempts. The Red Sox said they were happy with his progress though and they proved it wasn't just lip service when they did not re-sign catcher Victor Martinez. The Sox also did not acquire any additional catchers in the off season.  The only move they made was to bring back their captain,Jason Varitek with a one year contract. Varitek has accepted the role as mentor but there is still some question as to who will be the regular catcher. The prevailing thought is that Varitek will get the majority of the starts when the Sox face left handed pitching. The veteran catcher was impressive at the plate in limited action last year before he was injured. Tek is a much better hitter from the right side of the plate and could help to balance the Red Sox left handed heavy lineup. The issue will be how well Salty handles the pitching staff and if there are issues Francona may be forced to play Varitek more than he wants to which would drastically limit Salty's opportunity. Saltalamacchia has an average mock draft position of 27 among catchers, a very thin position.  The once can't miss prospect might very well continue his slide towards being a bust and out of baseball in a couple of years.The Red Sox feel he still has huge upside and it appears that they ready to give him every opportunity to find out if he can be an every day catcher in the majors. He might be a long shot but if he is ever going to turn it around and find his potential this could be the year. He will be on a great team, with a deep lineup and a veteran catcher to mentor him. If he can't get it done now, he never will. Salty just might be worth taking a chance on late in your draft.    

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