Byrnes sits atop D-backs' fantasy ranks
Outfielder's improved plate discipline cause for big 2007
Many fantasy fans prefer to stock their rosters full of players from their favorite team, as opposed to players who make a living playing for a feared rival. Wouldn't you rather go through the season checking Eric Byrnes' stats every night, instead of a player from another National League West team?If competing for a title feels empty without having a bunch of D-backs on your team, here are 10 guys to focus on come draft day:
1. Eric Byrnes | OF | $25
Byrnes was known mainly for being somewhat off the wall and making breakneck diving catches throughout most of his career, but he became a legitimate fantasy force in 2007. Naturally, that begs the question of whether he can remain at that level. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has turned in similar homer and RBI totals over the last two seasons, so the power looks like it's here to stay. Byrnes' average jumped nearly 20 points a year ago, but his walks also increased, so his improved plate selection might help him sustain those gains. And although his steals might correct to around 35-40, the all-around package still puts Byrnes just outside the elite.
2. Brandon Webb | SP | $23
Many pitchers regress the year after a Cy Young Award-winning campaign, but not Webb. If anything, he kicked things up a notch in 2007, establishing career highs in wins, innings and strikeouts. The Snakes' ace tied for second among qualifying starters in ERA and turned in a staggering 42-inning scoreless streak. The key ingredient to Webb's success is his outstanding sinker. As long as he has that going for him -- which should be a long time, considering he's just 28 -- he'll be one of the top fantasy starters out there.
3. Chris Young | OF | $23
Nobody's going to argue that Young belongs in the same fantasy class as Alfonso Soriano, but consider the numbers: Last year, Young delivered nearly identical homer and RBI totals while stealing eight more bases than the Cubs left fielder. There was obviously a huge difference in the batting average department, but Young is likely to make up some ground in his second full season, which should enable him to score more runs. If the 24-year-old boosts his average to at least .260 while flashing similar power and speed as he did in 2007, you're looking at early-round value from a player sure to get drafted much later.
4. Dan Haren | SP | $21
Some may be concerned about Haren's second-half numbers from last year (4.38 ERA, 1.51 WHIP), but not to worry. The 27-year-old posted steady walk and strikeout rates throughout the season, while an inflated opponents' BABIP after the All-Star break led to a few extra hits. There are sure to be more questions about how he'll handle the move to hitter-friendly Chase Field, but those effects will be neutralized by the absence of the DH in the NL. The bottom line is that Haren is here to stay as a top starting pitcher.
5. Justin Upton | OF | $14
When Upton was brought up to the big leagues last August at age 19, expectations were probably a little too high. He certainly hit some bumps, but he showed glimpses of his tremendous talent. Although he won't turn 21 until August, Arizona's right-field job is his from the get-go in 2008. Don't be surprised if the former No. 1 overall pick starts figuring things out. When he clicks, he can do everything well on a baseball field, with power and speed to spare. There might be some ups and downs, but they'll be worth riding out in any league.
6. Conor Jackson | 1B | $14
It's easy to overlook guys like Jackson at a position dominated by enormous power hitters. But Jackson possesses strike-zone judgment beyond his 25 years, a quick bat and a Minor League record that suggests he's a stud in the making. And given his success during the second half of '07 (.308 AVG, .555 SLG) and the departure of Tony Clark, 2008 could be Co-Jack's breakthrough year. Catch him on the upswing, as he has the skills to contend for the batting title some day.
7. Orlando Hudson | 2B | $12
Hudson's 2007 season ended when he suffered a torn thumb ligament in early September, but that didn't stop him from recording career highs in batting average, walks and stolen bases. Once known primarily for his slick glove, Hudson has improved at the plate in recent years, thanks in part to the offensive-friendly environment of Chase Field. Expected to be at full strength by the start of Spring Training, and still in his prime at 30, Hudson should once again deliver solid contributions across the board.
8. Stephen Drew | SS | $12
Drew struggled through a miserable 2007 regular season that owners would just as soon forget, but he's an intriguing shortstop to keep in mind for '08. Consider that he was dealt some bad luck, finishing with a .271 batting average on balls in play that ranked him near the bottom of the qualifying pack. And despite his year-long struggles, Drew showed improved patience by drawing 60 walks. The 24-year-old remains a player with the potential to turn in solid contributions in all five major categories. Considering last year's disappointing numbers, mark him a prime candidate for bargain production.
9. Mark Reynolds | 3B | $8
Reynolds was a revelation for the D-backs in 2007, making the jump from Double-A to provide solid power and run production. However, his alarming strikeout rate -- only two players with as many at-bats fanned more frequently -- made him prone to lengthy slumps, underscored by a combined .178 average in June and July. A healthy return by Chad Tracy would leave Reynolds little margin for error if he experiences another extended skid, but his power is for real. If he makes enough contact to stay in the lineup, Reynolds could approach 30 homers.
10. Randy Johnson | SP | $6
Returning to Arizona brought out the Big Unit of old early last season, as Johnson was especially dominant with a 41/2 K/BB ratio in May. A herniated disc derailed his comeback in June, however, limiting him to his lowest innings total since 1988. Clearly, you can't ignore the injury risk here. That said, the 44-year-old remains an excellent source of Ks when healthy. Monitor Johnson in Spring Training; if he can get through exhibition play in one piece, bump him up accordingly.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.