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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.

Matt Wieters

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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.

Desmond Jennings

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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.

Brett Lawrie

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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.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Pitchers

Here are ten pitchers you should consider putting on your radar for Draft Day, if you haven’t already.

By “sleeper,” I am referring to those pitchers whom I believe will significantly outperform their draft rank / dollar cost on Draft Day.  This does not mean that these pitchers will all have huge seasons, just that they should each produce more bang for your buck than your competitors might expect.

Also, some of these pitchers have already enjoyed very successful seasons, but are perceived to have had a “down” year last year (some of whom actually did.)  There is no reason to believe, however, that any of these pitchers won’t improve at least modestly, if not significantly, in 2012.

In no particular order, then, here they are:

English: Beachy, ready to pounce

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1)  Brandon Beachy:  By this time next year, Beachy could realistically be the #2 starter in the Braves rotation.  Beachy struck out 169 batters in just 141 innings last season, while walking just 46.  He will probably be pushed up around 190 innings, resulting in a little over 200 K’s, an ERA probably in the 3.50 range, a nice WHIP, and double-digit wins.  A solid mid-round pick.

2)  Madison Bumgarner:  A terrible April resulted in Bumgarner being dropped in several fantasy leagues last year, but those who scooped him up in May enjoyed a fine final five months from this young stud.  Still just 22-years old, he gives the Giants three young aces that rival the Phillies rotation.

Bumgarner’s ERA, K’s and WHIP might not trend further down in 2012, but his relatively low win total (13) last year and the deep pool of pitchers available could cause Bumgarmer to be overlooked in some leagues.  Oh, and those 13 wins? Consider that number to be his floor, not his ceiling.

3)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Rotation mate Stephen Strasburg will garner all the attention in 2012 (which is why he is does not appear on this list of sleepers), but Zimmerman’s performance will be key to the National’s overall improvement as a team this year.  And there is little reason to expect to be disappointed by what Zimmerman has to offer.

Just 25-years old, Zimmerman posted an impressive ERA of 3.18 last season, with a WHIP of just 1.15, in 161 innings last season, which was his first full season following Tommy John surgery.  It often takes about two years for a pitcher to completely come back from this surgery, so look for Zimmerman’s strikeout rate to improve a bit this year as well;  he averaged a K per inning in 2009.  Also, he should make around 30 starts or so, which means he should just about double his win total (8) from last season.

English: Derek Holland

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4)  Derek Holland:  After a mediocre first half in which he posted an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.40, Holland really matured in the second half last year, posting a 3.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP after the All-Star break.  Holland will be no lower than the Rangers’ second best starter this year, and may become their de facto ace.

While his win total (16) might not improve significantly, his strikeout totals should rise while his peripherals should look more like the second-half of last season than the first half.

5)  Jonathon Niese:  Depending on if you utilize an N.L. only or a mixed-league format, this 25-year old Met’s pitcher might not even be drafted on Draft Day in your league.  His high ERA (4.40), and WHIP (1.41) and, of course, the team he pitches for will scare off many potential bidders.

But Niese averaged nearly 8 K’s per nine innings, and three K’s per walk.  Even with the fences being moved in over at Citi Field, Niese’s peripherals point to a declining ERA and WHIP in ’12, and perhaps, with luck, a few more wins.

You could do worse in the late rounds, and some people will.

6)  Neftali Feliz:  Because he is transitioning into the Ranger’s rotation this year after being their closer the past two seasons, many owners will be skeptical that Feliz will be able to make the transition smoothly.

But Feliz has now pitched a combined 162 innings in the Majors over the past three years, nearly the total of many full-time starters.  Turning just 24-years old this May, Feliz should be young enough and healthy enough to be stretched out to an equivalent amount of innings this year.

While you shouldn’t expect many complete games (if any), you are looking at a pitcher who has averaged just 5.4 hits / 9 innings in his career while averaging a strikeout an inning.

More to the point, there is precedent for a closer transitioning successfully back to the starting rotation. In 2001, Derek Lowe saved 24 games for the Red Sox.  The following season, he posted a 21-8 won-loss record, the best of his career.  In 2004, John Smoltz, in his third year as the Braves’ closer, Smoltz saved 44 games.  Transitioning back to the rotation, he posted a 44-24 record over the next three seasons.

Feliz may actually see a drop in his Draft Day status from a year ago because, no longer a known commodity as an elite closer, the uncertainty some owners will feel about his new role will provide savvy owners like yourself the opportunity to acquire him on the cheap.

Max Scherzer

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7)  Max Scherzer:  Scherzer has the stuff to some day approach 200 K’s in a season.  At age 27, that could happen as early as this year.  Although he posted a reasonable number of wins in 2011 (15), his ERA 4.43 and WHIP (1.35) are higher than one would expect, given his background and potential.

His high strikeout rate ( 8 / 9 innings) and relatively low walk rate (2.6 / 9 innings) point to a pitcher who was somewhat unlucky (despite 15 wins) last year.

Look for his ERA to drop under 4.00 this year, and for his WHIP to drop back under 1.30.  He may not win more than 15 games again this year for the Tigers, but his improvement in his other peripherals should help your team with what some owners will view as a surprisingly successful performance out of Scherzer.

8)  John Danks:  After a dismal 2011: 8-12, 4.33, 1.34, lots of owners will be avoiding John Danks (not to mention many other White Sox players.)  But there is no reason to believe that the soon to be 27-year old Danks won’t bounce back to his performance of the previous two seasons, characterized by an ERA around 3.70, 210 innings pitched, 150-160 K’s, and double-digit wins.

Folks, we’re not looking at a staff ace here, but slotted into the number four or five spot in your rotation, you should do just fine.

9)  Brandon Morrow:  Weren’t we here last year?  Yes, many writers, including yours truly, predicted Morrow would have a breakout year in 2011.  The only thing that got broken, however, by those who owned him last year, though, were many fantasy owners team ERA’s and WHIP’s.

Still, Morrow struck out 203 batters last year in just 179 innings, averaging a league-best 10.2 K’s / 9 innings.  Clearly, the stuff is there for Morrow to take the next step up to being a fantasy baseball stud.  And after last season’s debacle (11 wins, 4.72 ERA), many owners will be spooked away from him.  Let him drop as far as you reasonably can, but don’t be afraid to grab him if it becomes clear the other owners are avoiding him like the plague.

David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays doing first ...

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10)  David Price:  How does David Price make it onto a sleepers list?  Didn’t he finish 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2010?  Yes, and that’s exactly why he earns the number #10 spot on this list.  The 2011 model of David Price finished the year with a dismal 12-13 record (down from 19-6 in ’10) while pitching for a very good team.  His ERA rose from 2.72 to a more pedestrian 3.49.

Now the good news.  Price actually improved his walk ratio last year from 3.4 down to 2.5 / 9 innings, and his K rate rose slightly from 8.1 to 8.7 / 9 innings as well.  Price should finish the year as one of the top ten pitchers in the Majors, but he might not be drafted as such.  Therefore, if you play your cards right, you could land a #1 level pitcher in a round typically associated with #2 starting pitchers.

Next up in this series, Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012:  The Hitters

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Hitters

Colby Rasmus

Image via Wikipedia

Today and this Wednesday, I will be featuring a brief two-part series on Fantasy Baseball.

Today in Part 1, I will focus on the hitters.  On Wednesday, I will post an article on the pitchers.

The following players qualify as sleepers because I believe their actual value in 2011 will surpass their perceived value on Fantasy / Roto Draft Day.

 

 

Catcher – Mike Napoli – Recently traded from the Angels to the Blue Jays, and then on to the Rangers, Napoli will be playing in one of baseball’s best hitter’s parks.  Moreover, because he is likely to play as much 1B / DH as C, Napoli will receive fewer days off than most regular catchers.  Napoli is at an age when many catchers truly find their power-stroke.  And on Draft Day, he will be available in the later rounds.

 

First Base – Mitch Moreland – Two things I always keep in mind on Draft Day: 1) Draft the Ballpark and 2) Look for the players who will finally receive an opportunity.  Moreland, like Napoli, will be playing half his games in a great hitting environment, with good hitters around him.  On top of that, the first base job is his to lose this year, as Chris Davis seems to have played himself out of the competition.

 

Second Base – Gordon BeckhamBeckham suffered through a mostly miserable season last year for various reasons.  One underappreciated reason is likely his difficult transition to a new defensive position, second base.  People seem to underrate how difficult it can be for a young player to master a new position, especially in the middle infield.  Beckham is simply too talented to play anywhere near as poorly as he did last year.  Finally, the White Sox play in a friendly hitting environment, not to mention the other obvious advantage of facing Cleveland and Kansas City pitching staffsseveral times per year.

 

Third Base – Pedro Alvarez – This young Pirates slugger strikes out a lot, but he wields a very lethal bat.  There will be some growing pains again this year as he enters his first full season, but because he is a Pirate, he should slip down far enough in your draft to produce at least moderate value for you this year.  And, if you are in a keeper league, his future value may be enormous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortstop – Yunel EscobarEscobar wore out his welcome in Atlanta despite his obvious defensive talent and hitting abilities.  Although at 28-years old he is not young enough to qualify as a prospect anymore, Toronto’s hitting environment, and a perhaps looser atmosphere in which to play, could very well provide the opportunity for Yunel to suddenly blossom.  Some in your league will be put off by his allegedly bad attitude.  Just remember that good attitudes don’t win Fantasy Championships, good statistics do.

 

Outfield – Justin Upton Upton experienced the proverbial sophomore slump last year.  But at age 23, this will be your last chance to get him at a discount.  Remember that he was the number #1 overall pick of the 2005 amateur draft.  Consider, too, that he has already slugged 60 career home runs to go along with his 84 doubles and 41 steals.  Also, he plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark.  Draft him as a #2 outfielder, and watch him produce like a #1 outfielder.

Outfield – Colby Rasmus – Manager Tony LaRussa just never seemed to warm up to Rasmus last year.  Whenever Rasmus got hot, LaRussa would find an excuse to play someone else in the outfield for a day or two, never allowing Rasmus to get into a rhythm and sustain it.  Rasmus scored 85 runs last year and swatted 23 home runs in just 464 at bats.  At age 24, he is just beginning to discover his real potential.  Only LaRussa stands in the way of Rasmus reaching stardom in the next year or two.

Outfield – Travis Snider – Finally displayed a modicum of his serious power potential last season, hitting twenty doubles and fourteen homers in what amounted to about half a seasons worth of playing time.  Snider turns 23-years old on February 2nd, so his development as a future star is right about where it should be.  A 25-home run, 35 double, 12 stolen base-seasons is within reach this year, with bigger numbers down the road as his plate discipline improves.

Designated Hitters – Since most leagues allow any position player to fill the role of DH, there just isn’t any reason to search for sleepers at this “position.”  But if you find yourself desperately trying to fill this hole, focus on available first basemen and outfielders.  Those are the positions where you will find the most available sleepers.

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