It’s the middle of January, and the bitter cold of winter has set in. Even more depressing, it’s been nearly three months since a meaningful baseball game has been played. As we wait for that glorious day when pitchers and catchers report again, fantasy players across the land are searching high and low, trying to uncover the best “sleepers” for the upcoming season.
I’ve heard many different definitions on what exactly qualifies someone as a sleeper. Some say it’s simply a player whose statistics for 2011 are projected to be significantly better than his previous season. Others argue that a sleeper is merely someone whose expected value is far superior to his average draft position (ADP). Another camp may believe that it’s a player who will make a strong fantasy impact, but isn’t considered to be a relevant option or targeted in drafts.
These sleepers can come in all shapes and sizes. Promising rookies looking to make an immediate impact in their debut. Veterans attempting to come back from various injuries and ailments that may have derailed their previous season. Some players have found an expanded role with their club, increased playing time or even a better lineup slot. All of these factors can lead to a player being severely undervalued on draft day, and therefore a sleeper in my book.
Listed below are a few of these players at each position. These are their stories.
J.P. Arencibia (Mock Draft Central ADP: 313): With John Buck’s departure, he’s had the starting gig in Toronto virtually gift wrapped for him. He has tremendous power upside as evidenced by his .301/.359/.626 line with 32 home runs at Las Vegas last season. Though he may potentially drain your batting average, he’s a great flyer as your seocond catcher.
Russell Martin (ADP: 333): How quickly we forget that Russell Martin had been considered a top-five catcher as recently as last season. The move to the powerful Yankee lineup should increase his run and RBI numbers. Plus, he still has 15/15 potential, which represents huge upside for a second catcher.
Chris Ianetta (ADP: 344): I believe it’s much better to gamble on someone with power potential than someone who’s “meh” across the board. Again this year, Ianetta’s being counted on to be the full-time backstop, but this year he doesn’t have Miguel Olivo to steal at-bats away. His HR/FB and FB percenages remain steady, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Ianetta blast 25-30 home runs in that thin mountain air this season.
Ike Davis (ADP: 197): Davis displayed solid power potential in his first year in the Big Apple. While his low contact percentage will keep his average down, 25HR/90+ RBI plays very well around pick No. 200 as a corner infielder.
Juan Miranda (ADP: 428): Everyone loves 28-year-old minor league veterans getting their first real shot at full time at-bats, right? So long as Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers are committed to giving Miranda 500 at-bats, there’s a cheap .280/20+HR to be found here.
Aaron Hill (ADP: 174): Did I mention that I love players with power potential? I know that Hill disappointed last season, but he’s as good a candidate as anyone for a big rebound. His .196 average on balls in play was among the unluckiest in all of baseball. Though he won’t approach his monster ’09 numbers, 25+ HR from a middle infielder are still nothing to sneeze at.
Danny Espinosa (ADP: 355): Has shown 20/20 potential and has been penciled in as the starting second basemen in Washington. They let Ian Desmond learn on the fly last year and believe enough in Espinosa’s upside to do the same with him. Again, may be a batting average risk, but gamble on the upside.
It’s hard to find much of anything here, as this is the weakest position in the fantasy game this season. If you can’t pay the premium for one of the stars, you could try…
Jhonny Peralta (ADP: 261): Average will never wow anyone, but should have 15 HR with 75+ runs and RBI. No real upside, but late in the draft you at least know what you’re getting.
Chris Johnson (ADP: 273): Very impressive .308/.337/.481 in half season at Houston. xBA and contact percentage point to the average not being sustainable, but Johnson possesses 20+ HR power. He’s another solid late-round flyer as corner infielder or bench depth.
Edwin Encarnacion (ADP: 332): Former top prospect who may be on his last chance. xBA shows upside, though he’ll never hit higher than .275. Has more than enough power, though, and will hit 25+ HR if he can stay healthy for the entire season.
Hunter Pence (ADP: 84): Extremely consistent through his first four years, and now entering his age-27 season. .280/85/25/85/15 should be considered his floor, which in my mind makes him at least a top-15 outfielder.
Chris B. Young (ADP: 166): Another highly-rated prospect who struggled for years to put it all together, Young nearly went 30/30 last season. Still only 27, there’s a great chance we haven’t yet seen his ceiling. For him to be the 41st outfielder off the board is just plain ridiculous.
Ryan Raburn (ADP: 328): Did anyone outside of Detroit realize that this guy went .315/.366/.534 with 13 HRs in the second half last season? He’s been very impressive when given the opportunity for full-time at-bats and will be the opening day left fielder. A .280 average, 20+ HR and solid counting stats would be a terrific bargain for a 4th or 5th outfielder in mixed leagues.
These players represent just a few of the better value plays that can be found in the later rounds on draft day. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated, and be sure to check back next week as I explore pitchers in a similar fashion!