By JASON BARTOLONE
You are driving down a dark highway at night in a strange town. Your gas gauge is plunging toward “E,” your stomach is rumbling, and you’ve got a mean craving for beef jerky and Mountain Dew.
Up ahead you see two gas stations. One is a 7-Eleven. The other is a weird looking mom-and-pop shop you’ve never heard of before. Which do you choose?
Chances are, you’re pulling into 7-Eleven (or depending on where you live, Sheetz or WaWa or Circle K — fill in your favorite). It’s only natural; we tend to be drawn toward familiar names and places that bring us comfort.
Fantasy baseball is no different. When you’re deep into the third hour of your draft, you’ll just grasp for any recognizable name to fill out your roster and get it over with before your eyes glaze over. But instead of mindlessly picking old standbys like Tim Wakefield or Scott Rolen just because you recognize the name, why not take a chance on somebody new? Picking a nobody and watching him blossom into a somebody is often a route to fantasy success.
Here are some names you might not know, but should:
n OF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians: He was one of the hottest hitters in the majors in the final weeks of last season, hitting 10 homers after mid-August and finishing the year with a .309 average and a .946 OPS. He’s got a prime spot hitting third in a pretty good Cleveland batting order, and though he hasn’t shown it in the majors yet he’s also got some speed – he once stole 40 bases in a season in the minors.
n SP Ricky Nolasco, Florida Marlins: A 2008 breakout season (15-8, 3.52 ERA, 186 Ks and 42 walks in 212 innings) could be a harbinger of good things to come for the 26-year-old righty. He’s got the potential to be a fantasy No. 2 but isn’t getting treated that way on draft day, lasting well after the 10th round in many leagues.
n 1B/3B Chris Davis, Texas Rangers: He clocked 17 home runs in just 80 big-league games as a rookie, a feat that went largely unnoticed outside Arlington last summer. While his strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 4-to-1 (88 Ks, 20 BBs) doesn’t bode well for consistent success, there’s no reason Davis can’t put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs this year with a decent enough batting average, which makes him a poor man’s Evan Longoria. He’ll play first for Texas but maintains third base eligibility in most leagues.
n C Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: The O’s 2007 first-round draft pick is probably major league-ready, although he’ll begin the year in Triple-A. That doesn’t mean he won’t finish the year as a top-10 catcher – the scouts agree he’s a complete player and future fantasy fixture.
n RP Matt Lindstrom, Florida Marlins: From the position that made fantasy studs out of Joe Borowski and Kevin Gregg, we bring you 2009 Marlins closer Lindstrom, who comes with as many negatives (recent inflammation in shoulder, not enough strikeouts) as positives (fastball that reaches 100 mph, success as a closer at the end of last year). But somebody’s got to collect the saves for Florida, and a healthy Lindstrom would be the prime candidate.
n RP Jose Arredondo, Los Angeles Angels: The young right-hander has the makeup of a major league closer and enjoyed a great season last year as the Halos’ set-up man (10-2, 1.62 ERA, 55 Ks in 61 innings). The Francisco Rodriguez clone should have value as the bridge to new Angels closer Brian Fuentes, but that value will triple if Fuentes should falter.
n 3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants: Maybe his .345 batting average in 41 games as a rookie catcher/first baseman/third baseman last season was a bit of a fluke. But the kid’s hitting better than .400 and is among the league leaders in hits this spring. He hasn’t displayed a ton of power, but he also rarely strikes out. He’s a worthy late-round pick as a corner infielder and even more so if he’s eligible at catcher in your league.
Jason Bartolone, can be reached at 745-7016.