The Tampa Bay Rays have a well-established pipeline of top talent.
On the mound David Price has put up shinier numbers than his peripherals support, but that just means he’s only established himself as a good, not elite, pitcher. Wade Davis has struggled some his first full season but should improve. Jeremy Hellickson has been spectacular in the minors and I think will better adjust to his first full season than either Price of David—Hellboy is a more polished pitcher.
In the field Desmond Jennings is the heir apparent to a departing Carl Crawford and if he stays healthy should hit for a solid average and challenge league leaders in stolen bases—he may even hit a few more home runs than he’s shown this year with an iffy wrist.
But if you are in a deep keeper league, guys such as Hellickson and Jennings are long gone—in my 12-team American League auction league, both were signed in 2009—Jennings was on a roster in 2008 too but was dropped because of injuries and then picked up after a healthy and strong start in 2009.
But even with those players gone there is room for a couple of sleepers I think may surprise in 2011 and both are solid candidates in deeper keeper leagues:
(1) Jacob McGee—Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, McGee is getting a September audition and might even make the postseason roster if the Rays decide he’s a better fit for the bullpen than Jeremy Hellickson. Was all jitters his first appearance but showed his stuff in his second game with an average fastball of 95.5 and a peak of 98.5. Doesn’t have great secondary pitches but with plenty of movement on his fastball, he doesn’t need it. It’s likely he’ll start the year as a LOOGY, but I think he has an outside chance of taking the closer’s role by year’s end. Not only will Soriano be gone but Benoit may too—both will be free agents.
(2) Leslie Anderson—With Carlos Pena almost certain to leave as a free agent and Matt Joyce mediocre again this year, there may be two open spots at first base and right field. Anderson can play both. While he doesn’t have the power of a typical corner player, he has shown moderate power and an insane line drive rate of 39% at Triple-A. Has struggled a bit against lefties but could find himself in the better half of a platoon. He’ll turn 29 next March, so he’s hardly a prospect, but he adjusted well to his first year here and I expect he’ll be a solid hitter.
Both player fit profiles of guys who are often underrated.
McGee was once one of the top five or 10 pitching prospects in baseball, rated more highly than Davis and Hellickson, but he lost his luster with his injury and the predictable struggles upon his return. If it is a truism that fantasy owners over-pay for hyped rookies, it’s also true they often under-estimate the ceiling for players who either struggled or were hurt.
Anderson has two conventional knocks against him: He’s far too old for a prospect and he lacks the power of a prototype first baseman or corner outfielder. While both are true, the former was the product of Cuban citizenship, not a lack of production, and as for the latter, while that may handicap his long-term success, if you’re interested in winning your fantasy league next year, the opportunity may be there for him to get at-bats in a good lineup.