- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
OK, boys and girls, it's time to sit down and listen to a tale from yesteryear.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well, Cleveland), an outfielder named Grady Sizemore was one of fantasy's most spectacular players, a superstar across all the relevant categories and a top-10 (overall) option. Then his knees and other body parts (back, elbow) began to betray him and -- poof! -- he was no longer held in, well, much of any regard at all. It was a shame, too. The guy was terrific. But now Mr. Sizemore is back in baseball, and it's starting to sound like he could be the actual starting center fielder for the defending champion Boston Red Sox. Yes, kids, dreams really do come true if you wish hard enough!
It's close to mid-March, and Sizemore, who hasn't gotten a regular-season big league at-bat since 2011 and last mattered in fantasy in 2009, is playing in baseball games on consecutive days. Hey, baby steps, right? He spent the past two seasons recovering from microfracture surgery on both of his knees, so even the most optimistic among us would have to be realistic about expectations. This is not a durable player. But the Red Sox certainly appear open to giving the sweet-swinging Sizemore the chance to earn a starting role, and that's something. Don't look at the statistics, though a .308 batting average (in brief time) is fine; the Red Sox are impressed with Sizemore's swing, his athletic ability, his movement in center field this could really happen.
Of course, to many of you, all that matters is whether Sizemore is worth drafting in your league. In a 10- or 12-team mixed format, I can't recommend doing so yet. After all, we cannot simply expect 33 home runs, 90 RBI s and 38 stolen bases, which is what he delivered in 2008 before everything went awry. I'd argue the numbers in brief playing time from 2010-11 tell us nothing. He was really hurt. Perhaps he will be again. But this is about opportunity, and this is a pretty smart, winning franchise extending that opportunity. The Sox have rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. ready to handle center field, and could always shift Shane Victorino over there now that Jacoby Ellsbury is gone. A month ago, who even thought we'd be discussing Sizemore?
On Tuesday, Sizemore, now 31, told a gaggle of reporters that he feels good, not great, and his timing is a bit off. "It feels a little rusty, but I don't feel like it's been two or three years. I feel like I can fine-tune some things." Perhaps that's the important thing that fantasy owners should disregard and keep an open mind about. It matters little how long it's been since he was statistically relevant; often stats come in the oddest of places. One would presume that no matter how well Sizemore is running so far in March, the stolen base aspect of his game has likely regressed beyond repair. The power side, however, intrigues me. On Wednesday's Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, Tristan H. Cockcroft predictably chose the under on reasonable playing time/expectations for Sizemore. I mean, 100 games might seem like a lot for Sizemore, but I'm taking the over. I could see him hitting high-teens homers, too.
For now, Sizemore is not sniffing my top 60 outfielders for standard 10-team mixed formats, but then again, some of the guys in that range aren't exactly brimming with upside, such as Sizemore's former teammate Michael Brantley. He's certainly safer, but career highs in home runs (10) and stolen bases (17) came in 2013, at age 26. From outfielders that missed the ESPN Fantasy top 60 outfielders, I would still choose Oscar Taveras (even if he's in the minors in April), George Springer (same thing), Eric Young Jr., Avisail Garcia, Kole Calhoun, Dexter Fowler, Justin Ruggiano and yeah, even Marlon Byrd. But compare Sizemore's power upside to Matt Joyce or Michael Morse in San Francisco. What does Nick Markakis do well anymore for our purposes? Or Melky Cabrera? Sure, I'll take a chance on Sizemore among my top 75 outfielders to see what happens.
Here are some other brief thoughts about the Red Sox offense.
• I think we have to view the potential Sizemore ascension as an indictment on Bradley, no? Bradley can handle the defensive aspect of playing regularly and take a walk at the plate, but will he hit enough? Will he run? Maybe this is no big deal and he'll get 500 at-bats in center field and hit .280 with 20 steals. Could happen.
• I continue to recommend the left side of the infield to anyone asking. There's still no sign of free agent Stephen Drew re-joining this or any team, meaning Xander Bogaerts handles shortstop, and Will Middlebrooks handles third base. And each is hitting. For now, each is third base-only; I'd take Bogaerts, who is sure to add shortstop eligibility quickly once the regular season gets under way, over Middlebrooks, somewhere around the 12th or 13th round, with Middlebrooks soon after.
• For now, it appears right fielder Victorino and left fielder Daniel Nava will handle the top of the order, followed by awesome second baseman Dustin Pedroia, ageless designated hitter David Ortiz and underrated first baseman Mike Napoli. Victorino and Nava are listed as switch hitters, but it appears Victorino is going to hit solely right-handed. We saw this in 2013, and it actually worked out well. Victorino hit .300 with power -- and got hit by a ton of pitches -- as a right-handed hitter versus right-handed pitchers. He showed little plate discipline, but it's only 115 plate appearances. Give credit to Victorino for altering his personal strategy here, as he saw a weakness, couldn't correct it with advancing age, and should gain statistically. Victorino is going in the 12th round, on average, in ESPN standard drafts. That seems about right to me, but I don't think he's durable, and I doubt he'll ever steal 30 bases again, so be careful.
• Ryan Lavarnway, likely a former catcher at this point (but still eligible!), has looked strong at the plate, seeing time at first base and designated hitter. I'd spend a dollar on him in an AL-only league because there is power potential here.
• ESPN colleague Keith Law blogged recently about the top minor league prospect hitters who are blocked, and I admit to being surprised that Red Sox second baseman Mookie Betts led the list. It prompted me to select Betts in a dynasty format when I might otherwise have chosen otherwise. Clearly Betts isn't pushing Pedroia aside anytime soon, but often these situations work out, through trade, injury or a new position. Anyway, Law is the best at identifying that stuff, so keep the name Mookie Betts on your future radar.