Deep sleepers, round four

In our previous search for sleepers, we looked for players who are expected to auction for less than $5 in a 12-team, deep-roster league. This time around we’ll broaden our horizons with a couple players who recently found new homes, plus a blocked prospect.

Chris Capuano: The former-Brewer, now-Met made his return to the majors last season after missing two seasons due to injury and rehab and picked up right where he left off. Capuano is more or less a prototype, finesse lefty, mixing an 87-miles-per-hour fastball with some decent off-speed stuff. He’s struck out 7.4 batters per nine innings for his career while limiting walks to 2.88 per nine, both rates you can expect Capuano to repeat in 2011.

His position with the Mets is fairly secure to start the season. He should open as one of five starters with Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, and Chris Young. Swingman Dillon Gee and developing prospect Jenrry Mejia represent the only possible spring training competition currently on the roster. A mid-season return from Johan Santana could threaten Capuano’s job security, although Dickey and Young are both just as likely to be on the chopping block.

Capuano is a fairly safe target to eat the occasional fantasy inning. As noted, he should have decent strikeout and walk rates. Oliver agrees, projecting rates of 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.2 walks per nine innings, although both rates appear a little low. Oliver doesn’t expect many innings pitched in 2011 after he missed nearly all of 2008 and 2009, but his expected 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP jive with his career rates.

Most importantly, let us not forget Capuano’s new home, CitiField. Capuano’s greatest foe is a career 1.27 home runs per nine innings rate, a number that should fall in 2011. A lower home run rate means more runners stranded and a lower ERA. It would not be surprising if Capuano put together an ERA closer to 3.70 than his career 4.23.

NL-only leagues should be eager to jump on Capuano, while only the deepest mixed leagues should view him as more than a match-up play. For $1 at the end of a draft, he’s a solid addition while you scour the waiver wire for more valuable talent.

Robinson Chirinos: The Rays acquired Chirinos in the Matt Garza trade. He’s more interesting as a real-life player than as a fantasy asset. The main attraction is the potential for an odd combination of position eligibility.

Chirinos began a transition from middle infield to catcher during the 2008 season. While the Rays will look at him mainly as a catcher, there have been whispers that the occasional appearance at shortstop could happen.

First, though, Chirinos has to make the 25-man roster. Kelly Shoppach and 2010 surprise John Jaso currently have catching duties locked up, although either player could pull a Dioner Navarro and vanish quickly.

The Rays also have plenty of utility infielders between Reid Brignac, Ben Zobrist, and Sean Rodriguez. Chirinos’ easiest path to the majors is to outplay one of the catchers. An injury to a middle infielder could also help the utile catcher find his way onto the roster.

Chirinos shouldn’t be expected to be a world beater at the plate, though he should be well above average offensively as a catcher. He spent the last two seasons in Double-A, where he put up remarkably consistent offensive campaigns.

Oliver’s major league equivalent line for 2010 was a useful .292/.373/.490 with 16 home runs. The previous season was much the same, .294/.361/.517 with 20 home runs. In 2011, he’s projected for a .278/.353/.471 slash with 10 home runs in 277 plate appearances.

As noted, the biggest hurdle for Chirinos will be finding playing time. AL-only owners who miss on the top tier of catchers should take a long look at Chirinos as a backup. Owners in mixed leagues should pay careful attention to the spring training performances of Chirinos, Jaso, and Shoppach before deciding whether he’s worth targeting.

Brandon Belt: Perhaps no prospect experienced a more meteoric rise in 2010 than Giants first base prospect Brandon Belt. In his first pro season as a 22-year-old, Belt dismantled High-A and Double-A pitching before ending the season with a successful 13-game stint at the Triple-A level.

Currently, Belt is blocked at the major league level by Aubrey Huff, although the latter could be asked to move to left field, especially if Bruce Bochy has trouble finding productive at-bats between Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand and Mark DeRosa.

The Giants also have a recent history of using marginally-talented veterans as an excuse to hold back impact offensive talent (see Buster Posey). Combining those two factors makes Belt a risky target in all but the deepest mixed leagues.

So what is it we like about Belt? To put it simply, the potential for extremely cheap offensive production. He has a quick, line-drive-oriented swing that produces enough loft to bop 20 home runs annually. He pairs that with advanced plate discipline, including a walk rate above 15 percent in his three regular season stops (he also walked eight times in 78 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League). He even has enough speed to swipe a handful of bags a year.

Oliver’s major league equivalent line from 2010 was impressive, a .322/.407/.560 slash with 22 home runs, 76 total extra base hits, and 12 steals in 570 at-bats. Oliver is not nearly as bullish for 2011, but a .278/.353/.474 line with 14 home runs and five steals would be a welcome addition to most rosters. Belt certainly has the offensive profile to outperform the projection. The real limiting factor is just how many major league plate appearances he’ll put together.

Ultimately, we can expect Belt to last in the minors until at least mid-May. The Giants just have too much veteran depth to sort through for them to risk a future Super-Two designation in arbitration. By then, Belt will be writing his own destiny. If he picks up where he left off in 2010, no number of Aubrey Huffs, Pat Burrells, or Mark DeRosas will be able to hold him back.

Belt is certainly a must-target in all but the most shallow NL-only leagues. Deep-roster mixed leagues with more than 14 teams should have a bench slot to stash him. Deep-roster leagues with 12 teams might want to acquire him via the waiver route.

Oliver Recap

Back in November, we ran a couple articles covering some players who might end up being nice value picks late in the draft. You can find the originals here and here. Today we’ll take a look at what Oliver thinks of the players from that first article – Tim Stauffer, Travis Snider, and Ryan Raburn.

Tim Stauffer
What was said: The Padres’ elite defense and spacious ballpark, combined with a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) should make Stauffer a good fantasy producer in ERA and WHIP. The Padres’ mediocre offense and a middling strikeout rate will limit his production in Ks and wins.

What Oliver thinks: A 3.97 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 150 innings are solid for an end-of-draft player, but, as previously noted, the strikeout rate (6.0 K/9) isn’t likely to be impressive. Oliver is bearish about Stauffer’s walk rate, expecting three walks per nine.

Travis Snider
What was said: The 23-year-old has the raw power for a real power outburst; he’s definitely the kind of player who could rapidly develop into an everyday fantasy starter. He may fall under the radar due to a couple weak seasons but has a good shot at mid-20s home run numbers with plenty of RBI. Runs will depend on where he bats. Batting average and steals are likely to be lost categories.

What Oliver thinks: While a .256/.321/.454 batting line may not sound incredibly useful, it’s worth noting that the variance in Snider’s expected line is likely to be high given his age and fluctuating performances. The power expectation of 28 home runs is helpful, but it depends on how much playing time he can eek out. Oliver thinks he’ll contribute well in runs (84) and RBI (96) in 696 plate appearances. That seems like a few too many plate appearances, so feel free to adjust those numbers down a tiny bit. Remember, we like Snider because he’s a breakout candidate, not because of his expected performance.

Ryan Raburn
What was said: Multi-position eligibility including second base, solid four-category production, and the potential to snap off hot streaks that could make Luke Scott proud produce a nice late-round target. Playing time concerns are the primary worry.

What Oliver thinks: Raburn is currently projected for 554 plate appearances. If that holds up, he’s an ideal fantasy utility fielder. Oliver also projects a .270/.333/.465 batting line with 21 home runs, 69 runs, 77 RBI, and five steals.

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