Fantasy Baseball Player Profiles: Carl Crawford, Brandon Belt

Ralph Freso

Today we look at two players on opposite ends of the career spectrum. What value can Brandon Belt and Carl Crawford add to your fantasy baseball team?

Fake Teams will be hosting a Game of the Week thread on Sunday nights this season, and in the week leading up to that game, we'll be profiling players from the two featured teams. This week's teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Come back Friday for a look at the two probable pitchers for Sunday's game.

Carl Crawford

Carl Crawford appeared on many "Avoid" lists this offseason, and the reason is clear: Though he still has the name recognition, he's no longer the guy that steals 50 bags a season. Throw in a paltry 6 HR, 62 R, and 31 RBI over 116 games last season, and it's easy to make the case that not only is he on the downside of his career, but that he may never be a viable fantasy option again.

Now that drafts are over, Crawford has gone from "potentially overdrafted" to "post-prime sleeper," at least in my mind. He still stole 15 bases last season, even as he battled back and hamstring issues. I'm not ready to say that he should eclipse last year's games played total - nobody should be that crazy! - but there's little reason to believe that Crawford's swipes should decline in 2014. He will apparently continue to bat leadoff, having done so during the Dodgers' two stateside games so far (Crawford missed the Australia trip for the birth of his child). Hitting behind the pitcher will continue to result in low RBI totals, but he will reportedly have the green light to steal once again. ("I think he wants to run, and we want him to run. But he's got to be healthy enough to run." - Don Mattingly, via ESPN)

Certainly a player capable of stealing 20 bases is worthy of a look on the waiver wire, and Crawford is owned in 77% of Yahoo! leagues. But what else can he provide? He won't hurt in the batting average department, having hit .282 and .283 in the last two years. The major preseason projection systems have him in the high-.260s up to .290. I think it's reasonable to expect a bit more power as well. His contact percentage has gone steadily up over the last few years, especially on balls outside the strike zone, and he squared the ball up to the tune of a 23% line drive rate in 2013. His HR/FB% (5.4) should bounce back as well.

I'm not advocating for a total career renaissance here, but the tendency for a lot of fantasy players is to label a player "done" and never give him a second look. Carl Crawford can still provide solid production on the back end of a fantasy outfield, especially in leagues with 5 OF spots.

Brandon Belt

I mentioned Brandon Belt on Monday, but not in-depth, and no other Giants player really grabbed my attention over the last two days, so here we are. Belt had a bit of helium coming into 2014 drafts, thanks to a stellar second half, but his stock may not have risen enough. He was taken 16th among first basemen in drafts, according to Mock Draft Central, and he's still available in 12% of Yahoo! leagues. I'm betting that he'll be much closer to 100% ownership by the end of the season (and his two home runs already may have already prompted a mini-rush to the waiver wire). First, let's look at why people were believing in him in the first place:

That's a pretty healthy improvement, thanks in part to a 27.7% line drive, which produced a fairly sustainable .392 BABIP. It looks like (in a tiny sample size) that Belt has started to figure out the major leagues a bit. There are some caveats: He's always going to be limited a bit by his home park, in which he hit only 6 of his 17 home runs last year (and 13 of 35 for his career). His L-R splits are not extreme, but significant enough that Bruce Bochy hit him 2nd against RHP Brandon McCarthy Monday and 6th against LHP Wade Miley the next day. If you're in a daily league and in a position where platooning first basemen or corner infielders makes sense, it may be wise to find a stopgap for those occasions when he's facing a lefty at AT&T Park.

Even with those limitations, Belt is a first baseman that's not going to kill you in the power department, while also providing solid production in the other three major categories. He's also got a bit more speed than the average guy at his position, so an extra steal or two from that spot is a nice bonus. If you're in the 12% of leagues where Brandon Belt is sitting on the waiver wire, there's no reason to wait any longer. Even if you're set at the corners, a young player on the rise who hits two home runs in the first two games is going to be fantastic trade bait.

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