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How To Handle Jason Heyward In Your Fantasy Baseball Draft

MLB: Braves vs Astros MAR 06There’s always one highly-touted MLB prospect that rocks the fantasy baseball world during draft season. Sure, there are pitchers too, but they are typically the victims of overhype because we all get to see them audition against Major League hitting during the stretch of the previous season (Joba Chamberlain and David Price, anyone?).

Hitting prospects who get a taste of Major League action typically blossom the following offseason and during Spring Training. In 2008, this was the case with Rays 3B Evan Longoria. In 2009, ditto with Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. While these young players are typically sent back down to the minors for contractual reasons, 2010′s youngest, highest talented, and highest touted prospect is making the  Opening Day roster.

So, with that knowledge at hand, and your draft likely to fall sometime this week… it’s time to figure out how the hell you should handle Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves in your 2010 fantasy draft.

Before we assess his fantasy baseball draft value, the first thing we need to do is figure out what fantasy owners can expect from Heyward (barring injury) in 2010. Based on a projection of 455 at-bats, CBS Sports pegs Heyward to finish 2010 with a .279 average, 16 homers, 72 RBI, 60 runs and 12 steals. There is obviously going to be a reduction in production when comparing his minor league numbers to big league numbers. However, it would seem to me that those projections are modest given his power production this past fall in 49 Arizona League games (10 HRs in 189 ABs).

If Heyward’s projections are to be believed, then he can probably be avoided on draft day in most 10-team mixed leagues. Perhaps in 12-team mixed leagues or larger, he should be drafted late. Outfield is a crowded position, and players who hit under 20 homers and steal more than 10 bases with an average around .280 are readily available in the outfield.

According to ESPN’s fantasy draft data, Heyward has an average draft position of no. 150 overall and 100% league ownership. Based on those numbers, I’m guessing most of you don’t believe the projections. This draft slot places him in the later part of 10-team fantasy drafts, and the middle rounds of 12-team or larger mixed league drafts.

I don’t anticipate Heyward entering the league and immediately producing a 20-20 season. I do expect his power numbers to eclipse 16 dingers, however, and that power production does make him draftable late in any mixed league. Like all fantasy baseball draft picks with hype, however, don’t REACH for Heyward. Remember that he has yet to face MLB-caliber pitching outside of Spring Training.

Right now, his projection doesn’t seem worth a round 15 pick (or earlier) if you play in a non-keeper mixed league. To get Heyward at a value slot, you would need to take him late, likely as an OF3 or bench hitter.

He may have a great rookie campaign. In draft season, however, it’s more important to get return on investment than take a player that is still an unproven commodity. If your risk is low on Heyward, grab him. But if you’re judging between a player who’s projection looks nice and an MLB veteran that you know is going to produce comparable power and steals – leave the risk for someone else.

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