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Ranking the Reds, Fantasy Island Edition

Keying off the Red Reporter Spring Training roster posted last week, I took a look at the likely members of the Opening Day 25 through the fantasy lens - which players have the highest potential value over a full season in conventional rotisserie stats and which might be worth putting on your "watch list" for possible savvy pick-up at some point after the draft. Some of these players beyond the Top 5 probably wouldn't merit much consideration during the draft, unless you're playing in a deep (>12 teams or so) or NL-only league.

There's nothing wrong with assembling a Reds-heavy roster, though you should be careful about letting sentimental ties get in the way of competitiveness. We all love Sam LeCure, but he's not going to bring you life-giving saves. And if he is, we're all in a heap of trouble.

Top 5

  1. Joey Votto (Yahoo! Composite Ranking @ 1B: #3): Votto is routinely being ranked within the Top 5 overall by fantasy fundits. The only reservation about taking him in the mid-to-late first round is whether you're skeptical enough to think his power will dip again (RotoChamp, Bill James, fFans and PECOTA have him at 30-32 HRs) or that Cozart and Stubbs will struggle to get on base and create RBI opportunities in front of him.
  2. Jay Bruce (OF #15): The Boss's average tumbled to .256 last year, but he did set career highs in HRs (32) and SBs (8). Entering his Age 25 season after posting an ISO only a few clicks away from Votto's last season, Bruce is a good bet to lead the team in home runs (projection systems give him the edge over Joey). His wildly fluctuating season-to-season BABIP could decide to settle higher than his career average, while his potential for a monster season as he approaches his prime could blow past his projections. That and his MMA-style offseason workouts give him the nod at #2 over BP. I've taken him too high the last two seasons (3rd or 4th round), but a stopped watch is eventually right, provided it's powered by unlimited potential and kinetic bat energy.
  3. Brandon Phillips (2B #6): BP's average draft position at Mock Draft Central is 60, which puts him around the late 5th-early 6th rounds. He might be undervalued at that position, making him a potential top tier arbitrage if taken in the 4th or 5th rounds. You'd just have to hope that, after a fluky-looking season (with a BABIP 30 points over his career average) he's not going to be bitten too much by age or regression. I'm pretty confident his HRs and SBs can hover around 20 for a few more seasons, even if he can't sustain the batted ball success that got him to an even .300 average last year. He's increased his OBP in each of the last four seasons, so there's reason to think that better pitch selection could continue to help his average and power numbers.
  4. Mat Latos (SP #28): Fake Teams echoes the optimism we've had here in the face of post-PETCO questions: "The potential of GABP to affect his stats is overreported as people all too willingly overlook the positives (2 fastballs and a slider that rate above average, a high K-rate supported by his swinging strikeout numbers, a low walk rate, and his age, which is still only 24). He's slipping down draft boards, which means you could find yourself a nice little bargain in the 6th or 7th round."
  5. Johnny Cueto (SP #40): The peripherals put red flags all over Cueto's injury-plagued 2011, which is why the projections generally have him back around the mid-3.00s (PECOTA is especially pessimistic at 4.33). While there's plenty of reason to question the sustainability of last season's tiny ERA, both the projections and peripherals may ignore the extent to which Cueto has adjusted his approach to become a ground ball pitcher. As another Red hitting his prime years - and one who has improved every single year in the majors - continuing to pitch smarter and get better outcomes is just as reasonable an expectation as a +1.00 ERA regression.

Honorable mention: Ryan Madson (RP #12)

Undervalued in the draft

Mike Leake: Though there are obligatory questions about whether his innings will catch up with him again, you can do a lot worse if you're filling out your rotation and groping around for a pitcher good for Wins and a sub-4.00 ERA.

Drew Stubbs: He'll be snatched up whenever there's a run on speed, but I wouldn't have any qualms about drafting him a little earlier as a 4th OF. Even if he doesn't find the power he had in 2010, he's good for runs too.

Probably undrafted sleepers, unless your playing with a bunch of myopic Reds fans

Homer Bailey - I've drafted him two years in a row in a 12 team league. I would think he'd go undrafted in an all-MLB league with a regular roster size. But maybe not.

Scott Rolen - Pick-up him up on the waiver wire after his second first half injury, but before his first second-half DL stint.

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