Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Hitters
A few posts ago, I wrote about sleeper fantasy baseball pitchers you should keep in mind come Draft Day. This post will focus on ten hitters that should also provide above average value relative to their expected Draft Day ranking. I have listed them in no particular order.
1) Ike Davis – First Baseman Ike Davis was enjoying a very productive first six weeks of the season for the Mets before a bone-bruise to his ankle shelved him for the year. Six weeks are a small sample-size, but Davis was on his way to 28 homer, 100 RBI season with about a .290-.300 batting average when he went down. While that pace may have been a bit more than he would have sustained over the course of an entire season, he was also hitting in a more pitcher-friendly park last year than he will be this year.
Considering that first basemen Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will probably be drafted a bit higher than Davis, you should be able to get better or equal stats at a cheaper price / lower round.
2) Matt Wieters – A few years back, Wieters made the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball’s next great catcher. The conventional wisdom is that Wieters, the fifth overall pick by the Orioles in the 2007 draft, has been something of a bust.
The conventional wisdom is wrong. Catchers often take a bit longer than other position players to fully develop their craft, and besides, Wieters, a big kid at 6’5″, 225 pounds, won’t turn 26-years old ’till May. Last year, he won his first Gold Glove and made his first All-Star team. He slugged 50 extra base hits, including 22 homers, 68 RBI, and 72 runs scored.
Fifteen of those homers came in the second half of last season, so it is not out of the question that Wieters could approach 25-30 homers, 80-90 RBI, and a .275 batting average. Other catchers will be drafted higher, but Wieters should provide better overall value.
3) Dexter Fowler – Fowler, a fleet-footed Rockies outfielder, will, like Matt Wieters, turn 26-years old this season. And like Wieters, his track-record to this point has been a bit underwhelming.
But again, like Wieters, there is reason to believe that Fowler’s best days are ahead of him. Although he still strikes out a bit too often (130 last year), he did set career highs in doubles (35), triples (15), runs scored (84), and OPS (.796). It has been reported that Fowler has been working out with Matt Kemp this past off-season, and has gained some muscle.
With the decline in offensive production throughout the Majors, Fowler doesn’t have to improve a lot more to become a serious force among MLB outfielders. And with Coors Field as his home park, you should bet on further improvement.
4) Desmond Jennings – Jennings, another young outfielder, has already made Rays fans forget about Carl Crawford. In his first 63 games in the Majors, Jennings has already produced 64 hits, scored 44 runs, stolen 20 bases, and hit ten home runs. Even with a slump in September, Jennings projects as a top 20-25 outfielder this year, with potentially a much higher ranking next year. If you are in a keeper-league, Jennings is a must-own.
5) Carlos Santana – How much value does a catcher who hit just .239 last season have? If that catcher is Carlos Santana, the answer is, quite a lot.
In his first full season last year, Santana drew 97 walks, slugged 27 homers, added 35 doubles and scored 84 runs. Even with the low batting average, his OPS was a nice .808. Look for significant improvement in that batting average as Santana vaults to the front ranks of the catcher position in this, his age-26 season.
You may never again have an opportunity to draft a .239-hitting catcher with this much obvious talent.
6) Jose Tabata – Things to like about Jose Tabata: 1) Because he plays for the Pirates, no one will even notice him. 2) He is only 23-years old. 3) He has excellent speed and the ability to steal at least 30 bases this year. 4) He hit .290 as a lead-off hitter last year. 5) He could still develop moderate power.
Sometimes, players with Tabata’s skill-set just don’t quite pan out. But sometimes, growth happens more quickly than people expect. Use a late-round pick on this young player with upside while others waste their picks on old-timers on their way out like Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, or Vernon Wells.
7) Michael Morse – Morse is probably the best-hitting 1B / OF in the N.L. that few people outside of Washington, D.C. have ever heard of. But Morse, already 30-years old, is one of those players who once given a chance, provides far more value than anyone expects.
Morse should, at the very least, with an improved Nationals team on the field, come close to equaling last years 31 homers, 95 RBI, .303 batting average. He also posted an excellent OPS of .910. Some fantasy owners in your league will be betting against Morse reaching that same level of production again this year. Most magazines list Carl Crawford, for example, significantly higher than Morse going into 2012. And that’s fine. That’s how you land a very good player in a lower round while others draft a slightly better player (if they’re lucky) in a much higher round.
8) Brett Lawrie – Several fantasy baseball magazines already have Lawrie rated as the 10th-12th best overall third baseman in the Majors. By this time next year, he will be rated in the top five at his position. So don’t wait until next year to discover Lawrie. Draft a top-five player at his position the year before everyone else realizes how good he is. A 20-homer, 20-steal season with a .300 batting average and 90 runs scored is not out of the question for Lawrie in what will be his first full season.
Lawrie, still just 22-years old, will make many All-Star teams in years to come.
9) Mike Trout – Many years ago, back in 1993, in my first season of fantasy league baseball, I drafted a rookie outfielder on the Angels named Tim Salmon. Salmon went on to win A.L. Rookie of the Year honors, and the lesson I learned that year was never be afraid to gamble on solid young talent, if they are given the opportunity to play everyday.
The only caveat, then, I offer regarding Trout (an even more highly rated prospect now than Salmon was back then) is to keep in mind that as of this writing, the Angels outfield is a bit crowded. If their manager is wise, however, he will put his best players on the field. Trout is already better than either the remnants of Bobby Abreu or Vernon Wells.
If 20-year old Mike Trout gets to play everyday, he has the talent to hit 20+ homers, drive in some runs, and even steal some bases. Watch the situation carefully in Spring Training, and draft accordingly. Who knows, you may have the next Tim Salmon on your hands, and, unlike Salmon, Trout doesn’t even have the added burden of having to swim upstream.
10) Lucas Duda – In about half a season’s worth of at bats last year, the Mets’ Lucas Duda hit 10 homers, 21 doubles, drove in 50 runs, hit at least .300 in each of the last three months, posted an impressive .370 on-base percentage, and slugged nearly .500. Already 26-years old, he’s probably not a superstar in the making, but late bloomers are not unheard of, and Duda will benefit (as will all Mets) from the cozier dimensions at Citi Field in 2012.
Expecting a line of .290 / .365 / .490 with 20+ homers, 80-90 RBI, and 30-40 doubles over the course of a full season from a player who also qualifies at two positions (first base and outfield) makes Duda a nice later-round pick in your draft.
- New trio of talented backstops has arrived (mlb.mlb.com)
- Fantasy Baseball Rankings 2012: Up-and-Coming Names Destined for Fantasy Stardom (bleacherreport.com)