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We all do it. As part of our draft preparation, we make our own version of ”the list.” This is the sacred document that you live by on draft day. It is your list of players you HAVE to have. These are players you justify reaching for with your own insane logic and often receive ridicule for jumping the gun. But who cares? Now obviously the planets don’t align perfectly and it is rare for an owner to grab every player he/she desired. If you can walk away satisfied, then it will all be worth it.
My 2009 preparation was no different. I had my list out and ready to go for each one of my leagues. Sadly, I did not make a clean sweep of the players I wanted, but I was happy with what I got. The following is just a small sample of my targets, but these were the ones I wanted above all else.
Without further delay, the players I targeted for the 2009 season…
Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks: Although ranked below the likes of Roy Halladay and Jake Peavy, I was willing to take Haren even if those two were still on the board. Haren had 23 quality starts last season that produced a 16-8 record and 3.33 ERA. Although his ERA jumped in the 2nd half last season (2.85 to 3.85), his K/9 went up from 7.8 to 9.4. Still only 28 years old, we still have yet to see his best.
Chad Billingsley, L.A. Dodgers: Billinglsley’s move to a full time starter yielded the best numbers of his young career. What was really encouraging was how much he improved after the break. Billingsley posted a 9-3 record and 2.92 ERA in the 2nd half. On the year, he averaged just over one strikeout per inning and only allowed 14 HR. My only gripe is the 1.34 WHIP, but he is still young and he can only improve.
James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays: Shields won’t rack up as many K’s as Billingsley or Haren, but his control (4.0 K/BB ratio) is worth ignoring his 6.70 K/9 (which isn’t bad at all). Shields is becoming as reliable as any top tier pitcher. His ’08 ERA improved from ’07 and that great Tampa Bay offense should support Shields for at least 14 wins. Just be wary of his home and road splits from last season (2.59 at home, 4.82 on the road).
Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins: Ordinarily, a player returning from Tommy John surgery is an automatic red flag. Johnson returned last July and proceeded to go 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA. Don’t forget, before the surgery, he had a great rookie season in 2006 when he posted a 3.10 ERA and 12-7 record. He is a great, young source of K’s and is a bargain in late rounds.
Javier Vazquez, Atlanta Braves: Vazquez has posted back-to-back 200-strikeout seasons and is now moving to where pitchers flourish: the National League. Even better, he is now going to call the pitcher-friendly Turner Field his new home which should alleviate his HR total. Playing the past three seasons in Chicago was hurting his ERA and now with a new home in the NL, a sub 4.00 ERA and 200+ K’s are in the cards.
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies: This may seem like an obvious target, but keep in mind, his status for opening day was still up in the air a few weeks ago. In my 2B rankings, I had Ian Kinsler ranked just above Utley but only if Utley would not play opening day (Utley is confirmed to start opening day). I took Utley in the first round of one of my drafts and I know it was a good choice. Four straight 100+ RBI seasons and 28+ HR in three of the past four is the embodiment of the ideal 2B. Utley over Kinsler all the way baby!
Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers: One year after his incredible 20-20-20-20 season, Granderson missed most of April due to injury. He picked up right where he left off with a .280 avg, 112 R, and 22 HR. Most encouraging was his sudden spike in walks (52 in ’07 to 71 in ’08). This new found love for free passes could increase his runs and SB production. Not to mention, the benefit of a full season will help too.
Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles: This is one of my big man crushes in fantasy baseball. 2008 saw Markakis improve in runs, average, doubles, OBP, and SLG. The substantial increase in walks is inspiring (61 to 99) and even better was his improvement against left-handed pitching (.274 to .297). We know this kid has a 30-HR season in him down the road so maybe some of those 48 doubles can clear the fence in Baltimore.
Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers: On the positive side, Hart is almost a lock for 20-20 and his 40+ double potential boosts his SLG. Now what I hate is the utter inability to walk. Hart compiled only 27 walks last season and an abysmal .300 OBP. At age 27, he is entering the breakout year and what is inspiring are his stellar Spring stats: .362/.387/.797 with 7 HR, 17 RBI, and 3 SB.
Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers: Ethier’s full-time gig resulted in improvement in every major statistical category with a .305 avg, 20 HR, and 77 RBI. What really helped was Manny Ramirez coming to L.A. and hitting behind Ethier. This resulted in better pitches for Ethier to hit and simply awesome totals in the 2nd half (.335/.409/.583). He belted out 9 HR with 36 RBI during that time. Just imagine what a full season of hitting in front of Manny will do for him.