Last Wednesday, my colleague Derek Ambrosino went looking for some early sleeper picks that are likely to be drafted after pick 100. Today the focus will turn to the deep sleepers, using a standard 12-team auction league as the measuring bar. The players spotlighted here should be available for less than $3 and certainly less than $5. Seeing as these are players that most fantasy owners will turn a blind eye to, there is considerable risk in expected performance. Thankfully, since we’re talking about an insignificant portion of the auction budget, the opportunity cost of taking a draft-and-see approach on any of these guys is fairly low.
It’s always wise to start a sleeper search with small market clubs. Constrained budgets seem to lead inexorably to surprise performances. Let’s begin today’s search in a small market pitchers haven before moving to the outfields of Toronto and Detroit.
The Padres have employed an indomitable bullpen over the past few seasons. With a glutted free agent market for closers, the Friars aren’t likely to be properly enticed into trading Heath Bell. That leaves a pair of high impact relief aces, Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson awaiting your last dollar to invest. As it stands, Adams and Gregerson could close for most clubs. Both would be a nice bonbon to conclude a draft, yet there’s one Padre who has $15 potential in a $2 package.
Tim Stauffer: The former fourth overall pick of the 2003 draft, Stauffer is as post-hype as they come. He first reached the big leagues in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2009 when he first experienced success on the big stage. Still his solid 3.58 ERA in 14 starts was backed by poor control, 6.53 strike outs per nine and 4.19 walks per nine, causing the Padres to relegate him to the bullpen for 2010. Stauffer sparkled in the new role. As a reliever, he increased his strike out rate to 7.89 per nine while limiting the free passes to 2.70 per nine. This led to a 1.87 ERA from the pen although his 2.89 FIP and 3.62 xFIP hint at potential regression. Stauffer’s dominance earned him seven spins in the rotation where he maintained the low walk rate (2.52 walks per nine) in 39.1 innings but lost significant ground with the strike outs (5.26 strike outs per nine). His 1.81 ERA as a starting pitcher is balanced by a 3.15 FIP and 3.87 xFIP.
Thanks to the dominant 1.85 ERA in 2010, Padres GM Jed Hoyer has Stauffer penciled into the starting rotation. Stauffer could prove easy to overlook in fantasy leagues, thanks to a spotty—and short—track record. Regression is inevitable, as his .265 BABIP, 84.1 LOB%, and 4.2% HR/FB are likely to slide toward league norms. Nevertheless, Stauffer does benefit from the Padres elite defense, cavernous environs, a strikeout to walk ratio around three and some newfound worm-burning ways (54.5% ground ball rate). Keeping those factors in mind, Stauffer could continue to outperform his FIP/xFIP. As a fantasy player he should provide strong two category production in ERA and WHIP. His strikeout production may hurt a little and he’ll probably neither help nor hurt in the Wins column.
Travis Snider – Way back in 2008, Travis Snider briefly burst into the spotlight by putting together a nifty .301/.338/.466 line in 80 plate appearances as a 20-year-old. He subsequently made the all-hype sleeper team of ’09 before putting together a disappointing .241/.328/.419 triple slash that included a mid-season demotion. He did manage to rock the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a 1.094 OPS in 204 plate appearances before being recalled.
Prior to 2010 draft season, Snider was once again considered a potential sleeper. He responded with another clunker, an unspectacular .255/.304/.463 line coupled with a wrist injury that lingered through late summer.
Now entering his age 23 season, Snider once again appears to be a good late-round sleeper candidate. Albert Einstein is credited with defining ‘insanity’ as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Indeed, promoting Snider for a third straight season may be a bit insane. Thankfully this is something we can take advantage of since “sane” owners should be passing on him.
There are several reasons to like Snider in 2011. From a pure scouting perspective, the kid is strong. His isolated power should easily eclipse the .200 mark. It also appears as though he has a stable niche on the roster, putting him in line for about 140 starts. Taken together, 25-30 home runs along with a fairly strong contribution to RBI seems very plausible. Depending on where he bats in the order, he could be in line for a decent amount of runs scored, thanks to Toronto’s power-centric approach. His batting average might hurt a little, but then again it could bounce back. As noted previously, Snider hits the ball hard. In 2010, he managed a ridiculous 24.1% line drive rate. Further, if he can increase his fly ball rate above last year’s 34.9%, a true power outburst might be in the offing. Ironically, “the next Jose Bautista” could very well be a fellow Jaybird.
You shouldn’t count on Snider as a starter in a three-outfielder format, but you could do a lot worse with a $1-4 flier.
Ryan Raburn – Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski has indicated that Raburn will be considered for a corner outfield spot next spring. With Brennan Boesch‘s epic journey from horse drawn carriage to mouldering pumpkin in 2010, Raburn certainly should top the internal depth charts if the Tigers fail to bring in a better alternative.
Raburn is most famous around fantasy quarters for putting together a torrid streak in August and September worthy of Luke Scott‘s name on the way to a .280/.340/.474 batting line. That line’s probably a fair representation of expectations in 2011—along with as many as 20 home runs, perhaps half a handful of steals, and R/RBI totals in the 70-85 range. For a fantasy outfielder that probably sounds exactly like a $1 investment, with the hope that you can catch a month like his eight home run August or .358 AVG September.
However, it’s not as a general outfielder that we’re considering Raburn. Thanks to the Tigers’ scrambling at second base, Raburn will carry the greatly valued “2B” designation. This substantially increases his value, as he should provide mid-tier, $10 value at the keystone if he starts 150 games. Raburn also qualifies as a center fielder in leagues that have a five-games-played cutoff. Positional flexibility, solid numbers and robust playing time should conspire to make Raburn an excellent $1-3 selection.
Be warned, keep an eye on the Tigers’ manipulations in the Hot Stove. Adding an impact outfielder could push Raburn right off this value list and back onto the Tigers bench. If he’s still in line for starting reps come draft day, don’t hesitate to add Raburn as your back-up second baseman/outfielder.
Join us next time when we preview a pair of ace-quality flame throwing prospects along with a player to be named later.