Maybe the label fantasy baseball sleepers isn’t the best to categorize the players I am about to share with you. If you’ve been following me recently, then you know I actually don’t believe in sleepers anymore; not with the amount of fantasy baseball coverage we see these days. The players I’m talking about today are the guys I believe you should be targeting in the later rounds of your draft. Some of them are fairly low-profile which, I suppose could categorize them as fantasy baseball sleepers, but others are simply good players who I have seen slip to bottom of draft boards despite possessing great fantasy value and/or tremendous upside. I’m gathering this information form the 20-odd mock drafts and half dozen real drafts I have already done.
Obviously, the expectations of players from each position are different, so you have to look at where they’re going in drafts in relative terms. A first baseman who is sliding down the depth charts of people’s draft boards is still going to post a better value than a shortstop doing the same. The first baseman could be a steal at the 16th round while that shortstop is probably more like a 21st rounder. However, a low-end sleeper second baseman might still go higher than the first baseman because of the lack of depth at the position. I assume you know that already, but just in case…
So let’s go position by position and see where the killer values should be. Next to each player’s name you’ll see two numbers, both ADP values. The first is the player’s ADP in NFBC drafts and the second is from Mock Draft Central. Keep in mind that NFBC drafts are for 15-team, two-catcher leagues while on Mock Draft Central, anything goes. For the most part, on MDC, you’re probably looking at 12-team leagues as those seem to be the most common, but rosters can vary in several different ways. If you want to see what round we’re talking about, just divide the ADP numbers by the number of teams in your league and that should give you a rough estimate.
Alex Avila, DET (227.10/230.64) — I’m actually surprised as to how far he is falling right now. In two-catcher leagues he’s been one of the first to go, but as a second catcher. His season last year wasn’t exactly stellar when compared to his previous year, but he still posted a fantastic 14.1% walk rate and maintained a .352 OBP. The power drop was bothersome, but his fly-ball rate was unusually low. With an increase in fly-ball rate and some help in the BABIP department, Avila should see a decent increase in both power numbers and batting average.
Welington Castillo, CHC (335.76/250.82) — In truth, there’s nothing exciting about Castillo’s numbers, whether you’re looking at his minor league history or his projections. But you are looking at the starter for the Cubs and you’re looking at double-digit home run potential. Should you want to go super cheap on a position that is unusually deep this year, then Castillo, forgotten in most drafts of fewer than 15 teams, makes for a great option. Apparently Dioner Navarro won the back-up job this spring which actually secures Castillo’s playing time even more.
Lance Berkman, TEX (260.28/219.21) — If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know how much it hurts to recommend Berkman. But even I can’t deny how good a position he is in acting as the DH for the Rangers. The ballpark is a home run haven and eliminating the need to play the field obviously cuts down on the potential injuries. The fact that he is such an afterthought also means that you can (and should) draft someone else for your first base slot and use a pick on Berkman to fill your corner infield position. With his power potential, you don’t even have to go for one of the top first basemen out there. You can go with a less proven guy with upside like Eric Hosmer and use Berkman’s power to supplement. You might even come out ahead should Hosmer live up to expectations.
Yonder Alonso, SD (263.92/258.50) — Every time I’ve snagged this guy late in drafts, someone inevitably chimes in with a “nice pick, forgot about him.” And while that and $2 will get me a ride on a city bus, it does mean that the name is still a recognizable one as a once highly touted prospect who hasn’t reached his potential. But Alonso is just entering his prime at 26-years of age and that, plus the fences moving in at Petco, could just be a reason to pick him up late as a corner infield option. After a slow start to the spring, he’s turned up the power as of late, going 4-for-11 with two home runs and five RBI over his last four games. His ceiling probably isn’t much higher than a .290 average with 20 home runs, but who wouldn’t want those numbers with a late-round pick?
Dan Uggla, ATL (178.95/214.07) — One season of struggles does not end a career. Just ask Adam Dunn. While Uggla’s number were down last season, few people seem willing to understand the injuries that affected him throughout the season. He was hit with a pitch on the ankle of his plant foot and opted to play through the injury which hindered his ability to hit for more power at the plate and he was also hit in the head with a pitch later on which just furthered his struggles. But as he started to heal, things got much better as he plugged five home runs in August (four of them in the second half of the month) and then batted a season-high .282 with another two homers over the final month. With a full offseason to recover, he should return to his old power-hitting ways again this year.
Donovan Solano, MIA (421.97/NL) — So far down the ranks that he’s not even listed on the ADP charts of Mock Draft Central? Love it. We’re not talking about any real power or very much in the way of speed, but while everyone is struggling for a middle infielder towards the end of your draft, you can wait on Solano, Miami’s starting second baseman, and get some batting average help. Strong contact rates and a solid BABIP should keep his average up and his spring numbers — .415/.432/.463 — say just that. He’s also slated to hit sixth in the lineup, so if the guys in front actually get on base, he could see some decent RBI opportunities.
Michael Young, PHI (235.96/225.51) — The last two seasons were a nightmare for Young. He felt betrayed by the Rangers organization as he was continually asked to change positions and give way to other players, whether they were young up and comers or free agents acquired in the offseason. He was outspoken against management and demanded a trade, only to be denied. Now I’m sorry of this goes against the whole numbers trend, but I have to believe that the anger and frustration had a negative impact on his game. I believe that a happier Young, playing in a hitter’s park like Citizens Bank, for a team who clearly wants him as their starting third baseman could put up numbers closer to his 2010 totals than his numbers from the last two seasons. With the motivation to stick it to the Rangers with a strong year,I could see a .290ish season with 15 or so home runs.
Nolan Arenado, COL (448.19/NL) — Depending on what happens over the next week, this could be the sneakiest pick of them all. Arendao currently leads the Rockies in home runs this spring and while the numbers at this time are taken with a grain of salt, he is still out-producing both Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco, the other two vying for at-bats at the hot corner. There is a good chance, if he maintains his performance, that he edges them both out for the job. He was a fairly well-touted prospect two seasons ago, but a down year at Double-A in 2012 seems to have cooled many people’s expectations. Should he win the job, he could be a huge late-round steal as few people have him on their radar, but even if he doesn’t, he could find himself with a call-up sooner than later with a strong showing at Triple-A.
Derek Jeter, NYY (151.76/185.63) — Yeah, yeah, players don’t get much more high-profile than Jeter, but that also seems to be working against him as there are so many haters out there that opt to pass on him because of personal feelings. Morons, I say. If Jeter is falling in your draft, then good. Let him….and then snatch him up with a late pick. Whether you like him or not, Jeter still has the capability of producing a 15-15 season with a .300 average and with a clean bill of health this year, could very well live up to those expectations. I don’t care who your favorite team is or which players you hate on a personal level. If Jeter is available late, you need to grab him.
Jean Segura, MIL (245.05/245.76) — Now that outfield, Ryan Ludwick, is getting all the attention as the Braves leadoff hitter, people are forgetting about Segura who may actually have the better skill set. The problem for him, in most people’s eyes is that he’s hitting further down in the lineup. However, should he improve his on-base work (something he has been doing this spring — .368 OBP), he could find himself moved up at some point. We’re not looking at a 50-steal guy here, but 25-30 with a .270ish average (even from the 8-hole) is definitely a strong possibility.
Pete Kozma, STL (558.42/NL) — With news that Rafael Furcal is already lost for the year, Kozma has a little bit more than just the inside track for the starting shortstop gig in St. Louis. True, they do have Ronny Cedeno in camp and they could shift over Daniel Descalso and they do have prospect Ryan Jackson, but none of those choice make sense right now with the way Kozma has been playing. Besides, Cedeno is terrible and Descalso has no stick. Jackson’s a glove guy too and could stand another year of seasoning at the plate in Triple-A. Kozma looks good this spring with a .341 average and two home runs. His contact rates look strong and while yes, it’s the spring, he should still be able to find his way this year.Michhael Saunders, Carlos Quentin,
Ryan Ludwick, CIN (240.52/158.38) — He’s certainly getting a lot more love over at MDC than he is from the NFBC folk. Could it be that the masses know something the experts don’t? Ludwick often gets overlooked ever since failing to duplicate his career-best 37-homer season back in 2008. But now that he’s settled in Cincinnati, a hitter’s paradise, and will play full-time in left field, we could easily see, at least, a repeat of last year’s 26-home run campaign.
Michael Saunders, SEA (249.29/183.18) — How many 20-20 players do you see falling this far in your draft? Ok, maybe Saunders was one home run for the elite club, but he also only appeared in 139 games and still managed 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He also did it with a rather low fly-ball rate. Should he start swinging for the fences….which have been moved in at Safeco for this year…a little more, he could easily see an increase in power production. Couple that with full-time at-bats in right field and you’ve got some nice late-round potential brewing.
Carlos Quentin, SD (257.38/229.74) — Yes, he is an injury-prone guy. Absolutely. But when healthy, this guy can rip the cover off the ball. He should be good for 20-25 home runs in a full year, and who knows what kind of added bonus power we could see with a move of the fences in San Diego. When it’s late in your draft and you’re looking to fill that fifth outfielder’s spot, unless you’re in need of steals, Quentin should be right there on your list.
Domonic Brown, PHI (363.62/224.65) — Between the hamate bone injury and the lack of real opportunity afforded to him over the last couple of seasons, the once highly-touted prospect has become an afterthought to most. But with the Phillies changing some things around, it looks like Brown will be a fixture out in left field this season. The five spring home runs are certainly putting him on people’s watch-lists, but they still seem to forget he’s there once they get into the draft room.
Jeremy Hellickson, TB (211.51/228.61) — Third-year starters are my favorites, especially ones who see an increase in K-rate, a decrease in walk rate, and an increase in ground ball rate each year. Hellickson is primed to take his game to the next level and should slot in very nicely as the Rays number two starter this year. Wish there was more I could say, but this should certainly be enough. Draft with confidence.
Michael Fiers, MIL (244.45/230.57) — While the world has been alerted to the sleeper formerly known as Marco Estrada, people seem to be bypassing Fiers at a rapid rate. He moved quickly through the Brewers system and did a solid job in his first year with a 9.52 K/9 and a 3.09 FIP. He may hit a few bumps in the road here in his sophomore campaign, but his strikeouts are going to be nearly impossible to pass up.
Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA (277.31/214.61) — He did a fantastic job once he was removed from the bullpen and thrown into the rotation, posting a 2.65 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP and a 20% strikeout rate. His 52% ground ball rate indicates that the fences coming in are of little or no concern and he should do a great job of stabilizing your ratios throughout the season. You probably won’t see killer strikeouts, but for the middle to back-end of your rotation, he’s looking pretty strong.
Alex Cobb, TB (280.48/241.47) — He had a strong rookie season last year with a 2.65 K/BB and a 3.74 FIP. He’s a heavy-duty ground-ball pitcher and should continue to develop nicely this season. The K/9 was at 7.00 last season which seems a little low based on his minor league track record, but so far this spring he’s got a 2.33 ERA and 23 strikeouts over 19.1 innings. He’s the number four starter in a young but deep Rays rotation and should thrive in an environment that really supports young talented arms.
Danny Duffy, KC — Forget about his ADP; it doesn’t matter here. This is just one to keep on your watch list. While everyone is drafting Corey Luebke and Brandon Beachy, two hurlers coming back from Tommy John surgery, keep tabs on Duffy, whose strong recovery has given the Royals a mid to late June target date for his return. Pitching coach Dave Eiland has done great things helping the younger Royals pitchers with their command, and Duffy already has greta strikeout potential. He could be a great second-half sleeper this season.