Before I move on to my hitter portion of the under-the-radar fantasy baseball discussion, I have one question. Am I the only one who wants some team to just make Micah Owings a third baseman already? Owings is about to sign with the Padres to join their bullpen, but his mound performance has been generally uninspiring and he owns a .507 slugging percentage in 217 career plate appearances. Could he possibly be baseball's most underutilized power bat? Pardon me if I just want to see what he could do given 400 at bats as a corner infielder or something.
Anyway, the other day I talked about some solid pitchers that you may not be too familiar with. Now here's a list of lesser-known position players that might be hidden treasures this season. These are some personal favorites, players I think have a rewarding year or two in the near future. However, most of them are stuck on crappy teams or are just unknown because they're either young or not on TV a lot, or both. If one or more of these guys breaks out this year, you'll know who to send ten percent of your fantasy winnings to.
1. Chris Heisey
Heisey is awesome, but damned if Reds manager Dusty Baker can figure that out. Heisey started life as a speedy outfielder in the minors, but upon arrival in the major leagues, he started bashing home runs all over the place. Heisey hit 18 home runs in 279 plate appearances last season, but his manager for some reason felt the need to give a good chunk of the left field playing time to the borderline-worthless Jonny Gomes. Given the chance as the everyday left fielder in September, Heisey rolled with the opportunity, slugging .613 for the month.
Look, Heisey's not some star prospect just waiting to be set free to reign terror on National League pitchers. Even though he was unfairly squashed behind Gomes and Fred Lewis last season, Heisey is a flawed hitter who has trouble with contact and probably won't hit for much average. However, the power is real, and it's enhanced by homer-friendly Great American Ballpark. Given regular playing time, he's a dark horse 30-homer guy. Think Craig Wilson's 2004.
Espinosa has a huge swing that generates a lot of power and a massive amount of whiffs. Espinosa is exactly the kind of player who, one of these years, is going to ride a flukishly elevated HR/FB percentage to 35 home runs. And wouldn't you know it, this guy is one of Espinosa's top player comps. Click that link and ask yourself which of those seasons is not like the rest.
Espinosa showed quite a bit of promise across the board in his rookie season. He showed off the aforementioned power, but also drew a decent number of walks and stole seventeen bases. The power potential will have him shooting up second base rankings in no time, but the strikeouts are killer. If he can control the K's, he should be in the top 10 at his position in no time. If not, he'll become Mark Bellhorn.
3. Jason Kipnis
Another intriguing young second baseman, Kipnis got a chance in the spotlight when the Indians traded away the execrable Orlando Cabrera (to my Giants, no less), and he opened plenty of eyes over the season's final months. After taking over as Cleveland's regular second baseman in July, Kipnis slugged an impressive .507 (in an admittedly small sample size) and paired with Asdrubal Cabrera to form a pretty formidable middle infield. This after showing good pop and plate discipline in the minors. Some scouts have him projected as a 20/20 guy in the major leagues, and he'll enter 2012 as the Indians' starting second baseman. He's one of the top sleeper picks of the preseason.
4. Lucas Duda
After the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants (for Zach Wheeler, without giving up any draft pick compensation...kill me now), Duda became the everyday right fielder for Gotham's National League franchise and absolutely tore the crap out of the ball. Duda's second half OPS was .957 and he could easily have been mistaken for a star. Seriously. He exhibited good contact skills to go along with a good batting eye and power, and only the best hitters are able to combine those talents.
With Beltran long gone, Duda is the Mets' right fielder to start 2012. There are some questions about his defense, but the Mets will hold their noses and hope he isn't a train wreck out there. If he's even average, his bat should make him an asset. Given his minor league mashing record and the awesomeness he showed last year, he should continue to pound NL pitching all the Duda day.
5. Jose Altuve
Everybody's favorite baseball-playing gnat, Altuve showed shocking power in the minors for a guy who is just 5'5" (and that's being generous, apparently). Put him in a ballpark with a ridiculously short left field porch, like the one in Houston, and you could have late-round fireworks. Altuve was awful in 2011, but he was only 21, so don't be afraid to disregard his rookie struggles. Scouts pooh-pooh him because of his diminutive stature, but he's done nothing but hit since his debut in the pros. In the minors, he hit for average, showed solid pop, and demonstrated the ability to steal bases.
Fellow managers might accuse you of going for the freak vote by drafting him, but there's a reasonably-sized (heh) reward here since the nothing-to-lose Astros are going to give him every chance to prove the scouting community wrong in 2012. If nothing else, the Eddie Gaedel comparisons should provide for a never-ending parade of jokes at the barstool.
Jesus Guzman. Guzman can't play defense worth a damn and he's probably the worst fielder I've ever seen in my life, but he can sure hit. After the Padres officially punted the season, they made Guzman their starting first baseman and he finished with a .312/.369/.478 line. The arrival of Yonder Alonso in the Mat Latos trade unfortunately fuzzies up Guzman's role with the team in 2012.
Hank Conger. His 2011 season fell victim to Mike Scioscia's ongoing love affair with Jeff Mathis. Hey, if you love somebody set them free, and Mathis has flown to Toronto to be Canada's historically awful problem. Conger unfortunately is still blocked by the arrival of Chris Ianetta, but if the latter bombs out, Conger will hit. Think an A.J. Pierzynski-type who can actually take a walk.
Daniel Murphy. I love this guy, because he can hit and he plays four positions horribly, giving him positional eligibility all across the diamond, making him an asset on a fantasy team. He won't hit for too much power, but he's a high-average, decent-OPS guy, and he's a terrific pickup in case of an emergency.