As baseball season approaches, it is time when people start to thing of the important season ahead. And by important season, we mean the upcoming fantasy baseball season – a time when money and bragging rights are on the line. So, to help provide a bit of an edge, here is a list of sleepers – one at each position – to help you on your way.
Catcher – Yes, there are a top six, but the difference between catcher 7 and catcher 20 is not that great. So, the key is to find upside, as that can be found with Wilson Ramos. In 435 plate appearances last year, he had 15 home runs, 52 RBI, and a .267 batting average. Now that Pudge Rodriguez is no longer there to steal at bats, Ramos will have a full season of being the true main catcher in Washington. As a late round catcher, he is capable of bringing 20+ home runs, 70+ RBI, and a batting average over .280. Pretty solid production from a guy that will be considered an afterthought in most drafts.
First Base – Sometimes, a player can tear up AAA pitching, but cannot hit in the majors. However, sometimes players do not get enough of a chance to see what they are capable of. With Mat Gamel, he has never been great defensively, and he has only had 194 mostly forgettable plate appearances. This year, he has been moved from third base to first base, where his iron glove may not be as much of a factor, and will be given the opportunity to produce. He hit for power in the minors, and projects to 20+ home run hitter in his rookie year with a full season of at bats.
Second Base – Dustin Ackley may have had all of the acclaim coming up through the minors, but there was another second baseman on the same track. In fact, Jason Kipnis may be better for fantasy league purposes than Ackley. In under half the at bats, Kipnis had the same amount of home runs, and one fewer stolen base. He will likely be a 15 home run – 15 stolen base player, with upside for more. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a 20-20 player, maybe as soon as this year. A player that can fill all five categories in the middle of the draft? Jump on him.
Third Base – Patterns are amazing things, as they can show likely outcomes. With Mike Moustakas, he has traditionally struggled in his first 150 to 200 at bats, then puts everything together. True to form, he was awful for his first 200 major league at bats as he adjusted, but he began to hit for power shortly thereafter. He also has the bonus of being on the Royals, which traditionally is a two to three round penalty. Ignore the overall stats, and look at his slash line from September, when he went .352/.380/.580 with four home runs.
Shortstop -Zack Cozart was called up for a brief period of time in August, when he promptly got hurt, requiring Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow.He did manage to hit .324, albeit in 37 at bats, but he did have two home runs in that time period. In the minors, he displayed solid power, and a bit of speed, making him a potential double digit threat in both categories. Cozart is expected to be ready by Opening Day, and will fall late in drafts due to his injury and lack of playing time. Regardless, he is a potential double digit player in steals and homers, in a very shallow position.
Outfield – Colby Rasmus was considered a ‘Can’t Miss’ player going into 2011, but promptly ended up on Tony LaRussa’s bad side and was sent to Toronto. All in all, it was a miserable year for a guy that hit .276 with 23 home runs and 12 steals in 2010. This year, he is the classic buy-low player coming off a bad season. Toronto is a launching pad, and Rasmus will be allowed to be himself. The wrist injury he struggled with last season is a thing of the past, and his power stroke will return. Target him as a mid draft player; all the signs point to a huge rebound season.
Starting Pitcher – If a rookie can put together a 5:1 K/BB ratio as a starter, he is worth paying attention to. Last season, Henderson Alvarez did exactly that in his ten starts. Over 63.2 innings, he struck out 40 batters, only walked 8, and produced a 3.53 ERA. Even though he pitches in a launching pad in Toronto, those concerns are lessened given his extreme ground ball tendencies, as 53.5% of his outs came on the ground ball. Yes, he is only 22, and there will be growing pains, but he will dramatically out-perform his draft position this year. As a backup starter, he is a diamond in the rough.
Relief Pitcher – Chris Perez, the closer in Cleveland, is really not that good. His strikeouts have plummeted, and he got very lucky on his batting average on balls in play against him last year. He has also been hurt this preseason, and may not be ready in time for Opening Day. Add all these considerations together, and the signs point to Vinnie Pestano as the closer for the Indians by the end of the year. Pestano had the sixth best K/9 rate of any reliever last season, and got hitters to swing and miss against him 40% of the time. Pestano was far superior to Perez in almost every stat last year, and may have been the closer regardless. With the injury, however, this opens the door for Pestano to be a dominant closer all year.