It’s time to start thinking about the tickets you’re going to purchase in this year’s lotto, I mean draft. While the many will likely duke it out over rights to helium-hyped youngsters like Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Oscar Taveras, George Springer, Taijuan Walker, and Archie Bradley, I recommend you join me in poking around the bargain bins for the defective toys that are just as fun to play with. What follows is a list of 5 players who I expect to significantly outperform their ADP’s in 2014:
Alex Wood SP, Braves
Wood has the makings of a classic sleeper. He never appeared on a Top 100 prospect list, has a goofy—to put it mildly— delivery, a sneaky repertoire, and most importantly, opportunity. He throws an above-average fastball with heavy movement that sits in the low 90’s–topping out around 94, a knuckle curve, and what appears to be a very good changeup. He gets above average swinging strikes and groundballs with the change. Whiffs and groundballs are a mighty tandem, especially when you’re a lefty in a pitcher-friendly environment, throwing mostly to right-handed hitters, and your SS is Andrelton “Messiah” Simmons. The primary concern with Wood is his unorthodox delivery. He’s already got one Tommy John to his name, making durability and long-term feasibility as a starter legitimate concerns. However, these are the question marks that will allow you to scoop him up late. With a rotation spot, he’s worth a look in all formats.
Anthony Rendon 2B/3B, Nationals
I’ve had a Rendoner since 2011 when Anthony was still playing college ball at Rice University. People forget that leading up to the 2011 draft– before he suffered a second serious ankle injury– Rendon was seen as the best position player in the draft pool, and a favorite to be taken 1:1—He was taken sixth. Some other names from that draft: Gerrit Cole (No. 1), Dylan Bundy (No. 4), Archie Bradley (No. 7), Francisco Lindor (No. 8), Javier Baez (No. 9), George Springer (No. 11), Jose Fernandez (No. 14), Sonny Gray (No. 18), Kolten Wong (No. 22), Alex Meyer (No. 23). Think about that for a second. If not for injury, Rendon was evaluated as the best talent in a 2011 draft class that may go down in history—right next to 2005– as one of the best ever.
Rendon has a natural ability to put the bat on the ball, and he projects as a perennial .300 hitter, with even higher OBP’s and enough pop to matter (say 20 HR’s). He’s cheap thanks to the lingering injury concerns, non-existent speed game, and tepid debut in 2013 (.265/.329/.396). My question to you is: If he profiles as an above-average regular with all-star potential at 3B, what does that make him at second base?
Oswaldo Arcia OF, Twins
Arcia is an example of a player who is a better prospect for fantasy than real baseball. His sleeper status remains intact thanks to the immense strength of the Twins minor league system. In 2013, he was overshadowed by system-mates Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Kyle Gibson and Alex Meyer. And, although he posted very solid numbers throughout his minor league career (.314/.376/.540), he appeared only once on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list (No. 41 in 2013). This can likely be attributed to his below average walk rates and bat-first profile at a corner outfield position. Unless you’re in an OBP league, neither of those issues concern you. The real cause for pause—oof that’s an ugly rhyme– is the 31% K- rate he posted last year, which needs to come down significantly if he’s going to reach his .290/ 20+ HR ceiling. Entering his age 23 season, said potential could be realized sooner than later.
Martin Perez SP, Rangers
Perez was a roughly league average pitcher this past summer. If you take a look at his 2013 stat line, it doesn’t exactly scream sleeper: mediocre K-rate and an ERA well below his FIP. However, unlike some of the other guys on this list, Perez has been on the prospect radar since 2009, ranging anywhere from Baseball America’s No. 17 to No. 86 prospect. In fact, he’s such a known commodity, many of us probably suffer from Prospect Nausea with Perez. For years he’s flashed plus-velocity and excellent off-speed without putting it together in the form of a statistically dominant season. Perez is the type of guy that if you catch him on the right day, he looks to be one of the better pitchers in baseball. Other days, he looks like he’s in over his head. What’s exciting is that Perez is still young— he’s heading into his age 23 season—and pitched 5+ innings in all but one of his starts last season, pitching with remarkable consistency in said starts. Although it’s an obvious appeal to authority, the fact that a reputable Rangers front office made it priority No. 1 this offseason to lock Perez into a long-term deal makes me think they saw something in him last season and fully expect him to reach the No. 2 ceiling evaluators put on him a few years back. Go and get him before he puts it all together!
Kole Calhoun OF, Angels
Calhoun is a favorite of mine heading into 2014. He’s an older prospect (entering his age-26 season) who before last year was seen as a 4th OF type rather than a starter. However, in 58 games Calhoun slashed .282/.347/.462, surprising many, and impressing the Angels front office enough to trade Peter Bourjos and promise him a starting job. The oft-conservative projection system Oliver is putting a 75 R, 19 HR, 75 RBI, .269/.337/.444 season on him, firmly placing him in the top 25-30 OF conversation. The kicker? With Bourjos out, Calhoun is the obvious candidate to lead off in Anaheim. Tell me you don’t want the guy hitting in front of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton.
The theme here is finding guys with perceived risk who have inherited opportunity. A few years ago Paul Goldschmidt was seen as a “bench-bat” because of his high strikeout profile, and now he’s a first rounder. Here is a list of a few other guys I like who will likely spend time in the minors, but should get a shot in 2014: Marcus Stroman (TOR), Yordano Ventura (KCR), Eddie Butler (COL), and Alex Meyer (MIN).
Spencer Silva will be joining RotobuzzGuy.com for guest posts throughout the 2014 fantasy baseball season, so stay tuned for more. You can also find his musings over at his own site, The Sizzling Eephus.