New Atlanta Braves outfielder B.J. Upton finished the 2012 season as the No. 14 outfielder on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, but I'm guessing most people wouldn't even think of selecting him among the top 14 outfielders in a draft. After all, the guy hasn't hit as well as .250 for an entire season since 2008 and it's tough to make a good case, looking at his trends in strikeout/walk rates, that he's a reasonable candidate to suddenly do so in the future.
However, instead of focusing on what Upton did not do well the past four seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays, let's focus on the good, because there's plenty of it for fantasy owners. This fellow possesses a valuable and unique combination of power and speed, and it's time fantasy owners realize how undervalued that can be. Last season Upton slipped to late in the eighth round of ESPN standard league drafts, which was odd for someone who is durable and raising his home run total each season (since 2008). He's run a bit less the past two seasons, but he's only 28, in his prime and frankly, moving to the NL should be in the discussion for top-50 overall in 2013.
Sure, you might need to draft Joe Mauer or Matt Holliday to offset the batting average, but for all the love annually thrown at Michael Bourn, the guy he replaces in center field for Atlanta, they produced similar fantasy value in 2012. Mike Trout and Ryan Braun were the only others to join Upton in the 25-homer, 25-steal club, as Upton hit a career-best 28 home runs and stole 31 bases, and he really should raise each of those numbers in future seasons. The batting average is a drag, but you know this guy will hit for power, you know he'll run, and unlike a number of potential first-rounders, we know he'll be out there for more than 140 games.
Don't expect Upton's core fantasy statistics to drastically change with the Braves, but since he's leaving a tough home run park for hitters and possesses a fly ball rate annually better than 40 percent, and he's an excellent base stealer, a 30/30 campaign certainly seems within reach, if not likely. Don't worry about the strikeouts. This isn't someone contending for a batting title anyway. Yes, the sub-.300 on-base percentage boggles the mind, and if he's on base more he can, in theory, run more, but the new extra-aggressive Upton comes off his best fantasy season since 2007. In 2008 he hit .273 with 44 steals, but with only 9 home runs. I'll take the 2012 version. It makes a bigger impact when league-wide home runs drop each season.
Ultimately, this is a good move for the Braves, even considering the real-life financial implications, though Upton really is a poor fit to lead off. Still, no matter where he hits in the lineup, he will produce important counting numbers in home runs and stolen bases, he'll score runs and yes, he'll drain your batting average. Look past that in the fifth or sixth round and enjoy his first 30/30 season.
Other recent moves
• Another American League center fielder switched teams this week, as Denard Span was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Washington Nationals. This adds even more stolen bases to the NL pool, making those that run a lot in the AL (Trout, Brett Gardner, Ben Revere) stand out more in AL-only formats. In the NL, speed is certainly more abundant. Span will presumably lead off for the Nationals, is capable of swiping 30 bases and with the talent behind him in the lineup could reach his first 100-run season. This was a wise move for Washington. Early rumor is that ever-patient Jayson Werth will hit second, with future MVP Bryce Harper dropping to the cleanup spot after Ryan Zimmerman. Span was last a top-50 outfielder in 2009, but he could get back there in 2013 when he hits .290 and runs, and certainly becomes draft-worthy late in standard formats. Harper, by the way, is good enough to hit 30 home runs as soon as 2013, and if he wants to steal 25 or 30 bases, he certainly can. It's also a good thing he moves to right field permanently.
• A few days ago Ryan Madson was looking for work and Ernesto Frieri was the closer for the Los Angeles Angels. Now, that first part has definitely changed, and it's likely the second part will. Madson again settles for a one-year deal, as he did in 2012 for the Cincinnati Reds, a team he never pitched for due to Tommy John surgery. The Angels really needed bullpen depth, and now they have a reasonable closing option for when Frieri inevitably takes a major step backward. Reliever performance is fickle from year to year, but Madson was consistent. While Frieri misses a lot of bats, quite a few of the bats that hit him drove the baseball a really long way, as his home rate shows. Let's call Madson a sleeper and Frieri the potential bust, and neither close to the top 10 relievers on draft day.
• As for the Reds, who lost Madson but ended up enjoying the No. 3 closer in fantasy (after Fernando Rodney and Craig Kimbrel), their decision-making this week was a mixed bag. Applaud the intent of moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. There's no question that 200 good innings always beat 70 awesome closing ones. Chapman is capable of making Cincy's April rotation and having a Stephen Strasburg-type campaign, with the monster strikeout totals and innings limit. Of course, knowing the Reds, one sore elbow or disappointing radar gun outing and Chapman's closing by tax day, but let's give them the early benefit of the doubt. Signing Jonathan Broxton to a foolish three-year contract doesn't negate the Chapman move, but it should make us call lefty reliever Sean Marshall a draft-day sleeper. Don't trust Broxton for performance or health. He won't be near my top 10 closers for 2013 drafts. Chapman, meanwhile, is among my top 20 starting pitchers.