Last time we talked, I gave some advice on which pitchers to avoid in your fantasy drafts and which pitchers you might be able to grab cheap.  Although I absolutely love writing about fantasy baseball for Getting Blanked, I’m also finding it has some drawbacks.  I had a draft early last week after posting my piece on pitchers and the league was full of people I know and most, if not all of them, had read my piece.  Knowing my strategy and which pitchers I was going to go for, they drove up the price on the ones I was looking to add for cheap.  Thankfully, there are a lot of undervalued starting pitchers so I was able to fill my roster with ease.

Luckily, I have now finished drafting in all of the leagues where friends of mine are participating.  Just as it’s important to a major-league front office to keep their strategies a secret, it’s important to not let those fantasy players you’re drafting with know your plan.  If they know who you plan to be aggressive on, they’ll purposely drive up the price and throw your budget askew.

This week, I’ll give some examples of infielders you can draft for cheap that will hopefully give you a lot of bang for your buck going forward.  Then I’ll tell you who to stay away from so that you may avoid the mockery and general douchebaggery of your sore-winner friends.  Then, of course, you can assume the role of gloater.

Alright, so, my super-awesome completely flawless crystal ball will tell you which infielders to grab, and which ones to stay away from.

Carlos Pena

Yes, I know he hit below the Mendoza-line last year and managed just 95 hits in 144 games, but almost half of them were for extra bases including 28 homeruns.  The other thing to consider about Pena’s 2010 season was his remarkably unlucky .222 BABIP which was second-worst in all of baseball.  Pena’s not a guy who’s going to put up huge BABIP numbers since he doesn’t hit for average and he piles on the homeruns, but even still, his career BABIP is .279.

An increased batted-ball average, the move to hitter-friendly Wrigley Field and one of the best and most consistent walk-rates in the game should bring Pena back into the realm of above-average fantasy first basemen.  Because many people in your league will fail to look past his .196 batting average in 2010, you should be able to pick him up for much cheaper than some of his contemporaries at first.

Ryan Howard

Sticking with first basemen, let’s talk about Mr. Howard.  Howard put up the worst season of his career in 2010 and although he still managed solid all-around numbers, some worry that his big-body is catching up with him.  He hasn’t been around long, but is 31-years-old and looks to be showing signs of decline.

It’s not that Howard has no fantasy value; in fact, even at last year’s numbers he was one of the better first basemen around.  The problem is that Howard will command the kind of money reserved for some of the elite in the game such as Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton, and even Albert Pujols.  Stay away from it.  Let someone else overspend on him and concentrate on players in their prime who don’t look to be slowing down like Votto or Miguel Cabrera.

Ben Zobrist

Last year at this time, I was avoiding Zobrist in my drafts like the plague.  In 2009 he had a breakout season and found himself putting up the kind of numbers usually reserved for the game’s elite players.  Going into last season, there was no way I was going to spend $30+ on someone who had almost no hope of replicating his 2009 success.

Well, I was right.  He didn’t replicate it.  Not even close.  Now most fantasy owners are down on him because he didn’t return on their investment.  This is precisely the moment to grab him at a cheap price.  Despite the drop-off, Zobrist was still a 3.1 WAR player in 2010 that continued to show patience at the plate with moderate power and the ability to steal a lot of bases.  His positional versatility also helps since he’s capable of playing just about anywhere and will assuredly see time at second, third, first and the outfield this season.  In most of my leagues, he’s been going for under $8.  At that price, he’s a bargain.

Omar Infante

Something about players who have breakout years at the age of 28 when they’ve spent their whole career as a utility man rubs me the wrong way.  Yes, Infante had a very good season in 2010 with the Braves, but now he’s heading into the year as the everyday second baseman for the Marlins with no real fallback plan.  Two stats pop out of his FanGraphs page; his .355 BABIP last season and his career walk-rate of 6.0%.  Neither stat is encouraging so considering his auction value will skyrocket due to last year, stay the {Getting Blanked} away.

Aaron Hill

I know that BABIP is not a tell all of a player’s luck, but last season Hill had a lower mark than anyone in baseball at just .196!! In fact, no player who has qualified for the batting title since 1913 has had that low of a batted-ball average.  The only player to even come close was Curt Blefary who posted a .198 BABIP in 1968, also known as the real ‘Year of the Pitcher.’

Hill still managed 26 homeruns and posted a marginal career-best walk-rate in 2010.  He’s probably never going to be the player he was in 2009, but he’s definitely not going to be as bad as he was last year.  You might be able to grab Hill for under $5, and if you can, you must draft him, especially considering how thin the pool of good middle-infielders is right now.

Kelly Johnson

Johnson somehow morphed into a 6.0 WAR player last year and the chances of him repeating that are slim-to-none.  His BABIP was high at .339 and most alarmingly, his HR/FB rate shot up six percent higher than the league average at 15.6%.  Some of that has to do with the fact that he plays his home games in Arizona, but there’s still very little chance of that being replicated.  He’ll go for way too much money in just about any auction draft.

Mark Reynolds

Many of the things that apply to Pena apply to Reynolds.  His .198 average was due partly to his .257 BABIP which pales in comparison to his career .323 mark.  Bringing his BABIP even to a league-average .300 will bring his average back to normal which will drag up all of his categories.  Like Pena, Reynolds walks a ton (in fact his walk rate has gone up every year) and those types of players tend to be far more consistent in the long haul.  Expect a rebound and get him on the cheap if you can’t get one of the elite third-baggers like Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman.

Adrian Beltre

An interesting stat for you:

A – .328/.377/.591, 8.6 WAR
B – .264/.318/.435, 3.2 WAR

‘A’ is Beltre’s slash line and average WAR in his two major contract years of 2004 and 2010.  ‘B’ is the same thing for the rest of his career.  He’s in Texas now, which is easily the best hitter’s park he’s ever played in so you shouldn’t expect numbers that are all that close to ‘B’, but to get him you’ll have to spend on him as though he’ll put up numbers closer to ‘A’ and that simply won’t happen.  There are some great third basemen out there.  If you’re going to spend money on that position, spend it elsewhere.

You’ll notice I didn’t put any shortstops in this discussion and there a good reason for that:  There’s Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Stephen Drew, and then everybody else.  If you’re not lucky enough to land one of the top three, then just pick one of the tier-two guys and don’t spend much to get him.  If you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, drafting someone like Starlin Castro would be a good idea, but don’t expect him to play like he did last season; at least not in 2011.

Next week I’ll go over some outfielders and catchers.  After that, the season begins and I’ll switch focus slightly.  Once the games count, I’ll break down a couple players each week that you’ll either want to buy-low (off of waiver wires or through trades) or sell high.