Fantasy baseball sleepers boast the potential to break out of their uninspiring draft or auction value and give a season-changing performance to your fantasy team. During fantasy baseball drafts, you must look for risers. Sometimes you have to pay a little more, but their impact on your fantasy baseball team is typically worth the extra dollars.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
Hard to call him a true sleeper, but in the sense of what he can offer at his draft spot, it's true. After his slow performance most of the season, he unleashed his aggressiveness but also learned to walk as he grew during the final month; improving control of the strike zone typically projects a big push.
Many probably feel burned that they jumped the gun last season, but Wieters carries a profit opportunity that might even surpass that of the top backstop tier.
Kelly Shoppach, C,
Tampa Bay Rays
For a No. 2 catcher, you don't necessarily need a full-timer. As you move that
low on the backstop totem pole, pointing out an option with one or several stable
skills could be more helpful than taking a random stab at playing time.
Shoppach, for as shaky as his batting eye is, can feed your squad 20 homers
in part-time duty. He might become the main man in Tampa Bay if they sour on
his erratic platoonmate Dioner Navarro. The likes
of Gerald Laird and Ramon
Hernandez are going ahead of Shoppach, who would be more useful. Don't settle.
Think big. The replacement-level value means you can take a chance.
Alex Avila, C, Detroit Tigers
Early indications point to Avila making the Tigs as the backup backstop out of camp, but it isn't definite. The 23-year-old has ascended quickly since he finished his college ball with Alabama and had a cup of coffee last season. His sample size is limited, but Avila has shown intriguing power that would be gold at a No. 2 roto catcher slot. He strikes out a lot, but he also showed patience in his brief big-league tour.
In two-catcher leagues, part-time backstops with better offensive skills help more than playing time eaters that don't help you in any category. The Tigers' No. 1, Gerald Laird, is a prime example of the latter. Avila's bat won't be used everyday, but he's a solid upside pick after the first 20 or so mixed catchers are off the board. He has the potential to be a top-10 AL-only fantasy catcher.
Carlos Santana, C,
The supernatural Santana will start the season in Triple-A, but he is not long for the minors; the switch-hitting masher is blocked by the likes of Lou Marson, Chris Gimenez, Wyatt Toregas and Mike Redmond. Santana posted elite farm batting eye ratios and has developing power.
In leagues with two-catcher lineups (both mixed and AL-only), tabbing Santana as a high-reward No. 2 is a sound strategy if you can nab a decent placeholder. The offensive impact Santana would have if (when) he's called up would trump most uninspiring second options. If you can afford to wait him out on your bench or as a dead spot in a mono-league lineup, the profit will be tremendous.
Brayan Pena, C, Kansas City Royals
Like Alex Avila, Pena showed some offensive spunk: .273-6-18 in 165 at-bats last season. No. 1 catcher Jason Kendall has made a career of eating catcher innings, but his skills have declined with age. Pena, on the other hand, would rank among the contact rate leaders if he qualified.
He doesn't hit many flyballs yet, but he's flashed power when he's put air under the ball. In mixed two-backstop starting lineups, Pena is an alluring in-season pickup. He offers more potential than most other No. 2 backstops in AL leagues.
Chris Carter, 1B/OF,
Daric Barton is receiving what could be his last shot to hold Oakland's first base job, and it's safe to bet his leash won't be long considering how he has disappointed with the stick. Carter lurks close by with his 30-homer pop. He jacked up his average, batting eye and stolen bases at Double-A last season.
Oakland needs a boom threat like Carter. AL-only drafters should be keener on picking Carter and waiting for him to arrive in the bigs. Deep mixed drafters probably don't have to worry about him being selected but shouldn't be afraid to take a stab on him in the last few rounds. If he makes it past your draft, he'll be an immediate in-season pickup upon his MLB promotion.
Scott Sizemore, 2B,
Detroit is handing its second base job to Sizemore, 23, who is reportedly no longer feeling effects from offseason surgery to repair a fractured left ankle. Sizemore doesn't boast elite potential in any counting category but can do a little bit of everything - profile for 20 stolen bases, a .300 average and double-digit homers. The collegiate player rose quickly through the minors in the last three seasons and is considered to have a mature plate approach.
He carries a modicum of upside when compared to most of the options he is taken near, which makes him a decent late-rounder for an MI spot in deep mixed leagues and a low-end AL-only starting keystoner.
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Toronto
Forgot about Edwin, didn't you?
A wrist injury and two terrible months drove him into fantasy oblivion. Lest
we forget his flyballs and power exploded in '08. Double E clubbed seven homers
after August ended last year.
Asking for an average above .280 isn't justified given his mediocre batting
eye, and Rogers Centre is neutral for power. But while he'll miss hitting in
Cincinnati, Encarnacion, 27, has a chance to start over with a healthy wrist
on a rebuilding team. Encarnacion is one of the potential prizes hiding in the
dregs of this year's class of hot cornermen.
Brandon Wood, 3B, Los
Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Having abrupt MLB stints has hurt Wood's development. The third base job is
his to lose; he plays defense well enough for the Halos to give him a long leash
while he grows.
Wood hit at least 22 homers in each of his three seasons at Triple-A Salt Lake,
where he also made a slight improvement in his batting eye last season. He still
whiffs a ton and has yet to show he can command a major league strike zone,
but deep-league power hunters shouldn't ignore this potential corner infield
Jake Fox, 3B/OF, Oakland Athletics
Though his batting eye remains shaky, Fox successfully translated his farm pop in limited time with the Chicago Cubs last year (11 homers in 216 at-bats). The A's have several bodies to play the corner infield spots, but Fox is out of minor league options, meaning he has a good chance to stay on roster after camp breaks.
Fox has also been receiving work as a catcher this spring; imagine the value he'd have in some leagues if he were to qualify there. Feel free to add a buck or two to Fox's price if you're scouring for power late in drafts. His diamond versatility is stash-worthy in cavernous mixed leagues.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Minnesota
Though he has some shaky indicators, Hardy's Mendoza-esque '09 isn't the norm.
His liner percentage has dipped in each year since entering the bigs. However,
he has been hitting more flyballs as his skills have stabilized. His .217 BABIP
against left-handers goes in line with his weaker contact, but he has taken
measures against that by working on straightening his bat's path to incoming
The best part about this year is you can pay for his streaky 20-homer pop as
your deep-league middle infielder instead of as a middle-round shortstop. Your
draftmates will probably scoff at his '09 stats, but remember to look forward.
Jim Thome, DH, Minnesota
Thome still has power against righties. Avenues aplenty exist for Thome: Justin
Morneau is coming off a stress fracture in his back. Jason
Kubel and Michael Cuddyer each have an injury
history. Delmon Young is a performance risk.
The Twins could easily shuffle the lineup if they
need to add another big lefty bat.
Thome is in the right league now. His batting average is crumbling, but his
late-round homer ability should be on your list of fill-in players. Remember
to work around his lack of positional eligibility.
Delmon Young, OF, Minnesota Twins
Though the Carlos Gomez departure gives Young a chance to play every day, his leash tightened a bit with the arrival of Jim Thome; if Young starts slowly, Minny might not give Young as much time to build on last year's improvements. However, those gains were legit: The 24-year-old jacked up his flyballs and showed he still has power in the second half (.300-9-35). His swing percentage has gradually decreased in each of his MLB seasons, meaning his discipline has grown slightly despite his ugly batting eye.
Young often falls outside the top 300 mixed picks, so the odds of him building on that price make him an alluring mixed bench player. Where he's going, the risk is nil, and you should aim for big returns at that stage.
Austin Jackson, OF,
A-Jax is lined up to be the Tigers' leadoff hitter. This fits the rookie's profile, which relies mainly on his speed, giving him ample opps for runs and stolen bases in a steady lineup. He has a hint of power development in progress, but his batting eye remains his biggest concern; it took a sharp downward turn in the last three years between Double- and Triple-A.
Though this could have a negative effect on his average, his draft position in the late rounds of deep mixed leagues mitigates the impact of Jackson experiencing growing pains or another farm trip. The swipes potential is worth reaching a round or two for in deep mixed (ideally as a No. 5 outfielder) and AL-only leagues (a decent No. 3).
NEW - Andruw Jones, OF, Chicago White Sox
A hot spring and a trimmer frame are bringing back flashes of his old ability. Jones' disastrous '08 wasn't met with much batting average recovery, but his 17 homers in 281 at-bats for the Texas Rangers last year showed he wasn't done.
Expected to see ample DH work, Jones is in another hitter-friendly environment and looks like the cheapest potential 20-homer acquisition in any format this season. He's an AL-only steal as either your starting utility player or a top reserve, possibly with an end-game pick. Even if you have to spend a few bucks, expect a mono return.
Michael Taylor, OF,
Still competing for a roster spot, Taylor probably won't be in the minors for too long even if he starts there. He showed promising growth in strike zone judgment in the higher minor levels in '09 while flashing an enticing 20-20 profile. Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the current starters in the outfield, but they all boast performance risks. Crisp lost most of his '09 to a shoulder injury and has a strained hamstring this spring.
Like Jackson, Taylor boasts boom potential. In mixed leagues, he's rarely drafted. You can take advantage of this in the final few rounds for a mixed bench spot. In AL-only setups, he'll cost a bit more but makes for a tantalizing wait-for-my-arrival No. 5 outfielder.
NEW - Eric Byrnes, OF, Seattle Mariners
A team's fourth outfielder has elevated value in mono leagues. Byrnes backs up an outfield that includes the often-injured Milton Bradley, the aging Ichiro Suzuki and the still-growing Franklin Gutierrez.
Byrnes can play every outfield spot and has a power-speed base that could re-blossom with playing time. He won't steal 50 again, but 20 is possible; his hammies have healed. It won't cost much to see if they can stay that way, either. Byrnes is valuable depth in AL-onlys as a No. 4 or 5 outfielder. He's a deep mixed watch candidate, too, that could be scooped up post-draft.
Terry Evans, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Evans is battling a few other candidates for the backup outfield job. He clubbed 26 homers and stole 28 bags at Triple-A Salt Lake in '09. The Pacific Coast League sometimes exaggerates power, but Evans, 28, had shown similar pop along with 20-steal potential in other levels of his development.
The Angels' outfield is old: Bobby Abreu is 36, Juan Rivera turns 32 this year and Torii Hunter, 35 this season, is injury prone. Evans has a "Quad-A" profile. However, he's out of options and shows more intriguing skills than the one-dimensional Reggie Willits and the boring Michael Ryan. Evans is an AL-only stab in the end game.
Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins
Hardy to pass up late
His slider and velocity weren't right last season, but reportedly he righted
those wrongs during winter ball. Liriano officially is in a competition for
the final starting gig, but it'll be hard for Minnesota to hold him back if
his stuff has returned.
Expect his price to increase a bit during the offseason, but most drafters are already accounting for risk; he typically goes around the point where you should start adding value onto your targets.
Ben Sheets, SP, Oakland
A 14-month layoff should keep him fresh, right? Seriously, he's a walking injury
risk, but when he's on ... he's on. His old velocity has reportedly returned
in early workouts.
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum has vast foul territory in its pitcher-friendly
design. Sheets feeds off command in his fastball-changeup approach but doesn't
shy away from K's. Wins should be your lowest category expectation here, but
his raw skills make him a boom-or-bust selection. This time, though, a bust
wouldn't hurt nearly as much as it would've in the past.
Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore
Matusz showed increased control in his last two starts. Sure, it's a small
sample size, but Matusz, a polished 23, has been a control maven throughout
his farm time. Flyballs might set him back a bit in Camden Yards.
The lefty has four pitches in his arsenal and the poise to build on his MLB
stint. Instead of drafting an uninspiring veteran just to fill out a deep roster,
it's more productive to go after a promising arm. You won't need to reach for
him in most leagues, but bold him for the late rounds.
Justin Masterson, SP, Cleveland Indians
Masterson has been more successful as a reliever than as a starter, but he's all but assured a spot in the Tribe's 2010 rotation. His dominance increased overall last year regardless of role, and Masterson remains a groundball-friendly arm.
The groundball-K combination makes him more attractive. He still needs to work on his approach against lefties, but his work to develop a changeup should help that. His strand rate was below league average, as well, so a rebound there and in his control would help his growth. Masterson is an end-gamer in AL-only setups and could be a late flier in deep mixed.
Shaun Marcum, SP,
Toronto Blue Jays
Marcum, the Jays' Opening Day starter, missed all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In '08, he had a breakout season by sustaining his acceptable K/9 performance, increasing his groundball frequency and throwing more cutters. He looks to be at full strength this spring.
It's hard to bank on this growth continuing after a season on the shelf, yet Marcum's development was significant and is worth revisiting as you search for a No. 6 or 7 mixed starter. The Jays have a decent defense behind him, which typically helps a grounder-friendly pitcher. Count Marcum as a No. 4 AL-only starter, as well.
Luke Hochevar, SP,
Kansas City Royals
The No. 1 pick in the 2006 entry draft produced an ugly '09 stat line in his
second extensive MLB season. His flyballs and gopheritis swelled as the season
went on. Why should you buy at the end of deep, deep drafts? His post-April
command speaks of a maturing arm.
He developed a splitter, which sparked much of his growth. His groundball rate
remained high for most of the season. Hochevar's strand rate, for as bad as
it has been in his young career, should go up with groundball correction and
a full season with his splitter. Drop this knowledge on your draftmates after
you take an educated flier.
SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Rzepczynski looks like he's close to locking down one of the Jays' backend rotation spots. "Spellcheck" lives off grounders, having established this profile in excess on the farm. His 2009 BABIP and strand rate weren't all that outlandish for a contact-oriented pitcher, either.
His dominance comes from deception, not power pitching. Remember that if his
location is off, he'd probably lose some dominance and worm-killing ability.
Either way, his late-round deep mixed and AL-only prices give him good odds
to make you a profit.
NEW - Kyle Farnsworth, SP, Kansas City Royals
You know Farnsie's rep as a wild arm? His command improvements last year were halted by a groin injury. He also worked to rein in a bit of his heat, which can hit triple digits, and throw more two-seamers.
He might earn a rotation spot immediately with Gil Meche (shoulder) looking iffy for Opening Day. That might not last when Meche returns, but given how shaky the Royals' rotation is, it doesn't hurt for AL owners to take a late-round, low-risk profit chance with Farnsworth's big K-friendly arm.
NEW - David Huff, SP, Cleveland Indians
Despite an 11-win 2009, Huff's peripherals were ugly ... until September. To close out the year, Huff posted a 2.00 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP and a .214 opponents' clip while stopping a monthly K/9 slide. His MLB dominance hasn't arrived yet, but Huff boasts above-average control.
Likely inflated September BABIP and strand rate aside, the 25-year-old showed acceptable K/9 on the farm and is battling for the fifth starter's job. He didn't have a big innings jump last year, so his schedule isn't a concern. As an end-game pitcher in ALs, you can pay a bargain price for a developing arm that made improvements at the end of last season.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.