Fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued - NL

by Tim Heaney and Nicholas Minnix on March 29, 2011 @ 10:17:28 PDT


Corner infielders


Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

Headley earns consideration as a mixed option for this category, but his impact on the NL class is much stronger. He'll hit in the middle of the order, even if it's one of the league's weaker offenses. Though Adrian Gonzalez won't be there to protect him, Headley hit .290-plus at cleanup and No. 5. Maybe hitting lower in the order will let him develop at his own pace.

Reasons he's being exiled: his lack of homers (32 in 1,502 MLB at-bats), struggles against lefties, high grounder percentages, home park (eight of his 11 homers came on the road) and Jorge Cantu's platoon presence. Well, luckily, Headley plays 81 games on the road, he's turning 27, and Cantu can sub in for first baseman Brad Hawpe, too. Plus, he steals a little. The Fathers thieve a bunch.

Would you rather take the chance, for example, on Scott Rolen doubling his 2010 first half? He couldn't last year. You'll have to pay more, and that isn't as likely to happen as Headley finally adding some pop to a line with some promise. His isn't an ideal hot corner contribution, but when you reach that depth among the NL slate, his steals, even if they don't equal 2010's, are a tangible donation to go along with his still developing makeup. -Heaney

Brad Hawpe, San Diego Padres

The signs of a fall-off really began in 2009, and the dip arrived in 2010. But don't blame Hawpe's .245-9-44 line in 298 at-bats entirely on diminished ability. Thigh and oblique strains affected him, which was probably most evident in his hit rate (.308), which is far below this line-drive hitter's standards. He was also going to cost Colorado a lot of money if he stuck around after 2010; with fresh alternatives, the club had less incentive to play him and eventually released him.

San Diego Padres 3B Chase Headley
Headley is looking for more

Hawpe should be a good defender at first, the position he grew up playing. The Pads brought him in to man the fort until Anthony Rizzo (minor leaguer part of the Adrian Gonzalez haul) or Kyle Blanks (elbow surgery recovery), neither of which will be any time soon. Hawpe is on the winning side of a platoon with Jorge Cantu.

PETCO Park strikes down balls of (more than) home run distance to right-center. Hawpe isn't getting back to 25 homers in SD. But he can hit 15 and bat .270. He still goes back up the middle and oppo quite well. This isn't about the distance between him and A-Gon; it's about the distance between him and the rest of the NL's legit options at first base. There should be a lot less, because he isn't toast yet. -Minnix

Melvin Mora, Arizona Diamondbacks

OK, look past his age (39) and at his positives. Start with the lack of other quality options Arizona has at third base, which include Geoff Blum and Tony Abreu. Mora has the inside track for the majority of playing time unless they do something unexpected like trade for Michael Young.

Mora remains in a homer-friendly park; he produced in Coors Field last season and clubbed seven homers in 198 at-bats after June. His second half benefited from some BABIP fortunate (his liner rate is on its way down), but if he gets at-bats, he usually pays off, even as recently as 2008 (.285-23-104 with the Baltimore Orioles).

He's also versatile, having played every position besides pitcher and catcher in his career and heading into this season eligible at first base and third base (plus second base in some formats). When you're scraping the bottom of Senior Circuit hot corners, don't forget the positives Mora offers. -Heaney



Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals

Bernadina had an 11-homer, 16-steal season in 2010 but is being ignored, probably because he's headed to the farm. Sure, Mike Morse looks like a lock and is getting some sleeper love. If you're betting on starting center fielder Rick Ankiel to stay healthy and ... you know, make contact consistently throughout the year, good luck. How much can the Jerry Hairston Jr. platoon plan give them in a full season?

Following a fatigue-riddled September, Bernadina spent the offseason adding some muscle. Maybe it's a Best Shape of his Life tale. More realistically, it's improved dedication from a 26-year-old power-speed threat that has hinted at an explosion, including his nearly 90 percent bag-swiping success.

His batting average is tenuous, thanks to questionable line-drive and contact ability in 2010. But he was solid on the farm, and in his first extensive big-league action, there was plenty to like. He still boasts some intrigue if you're filling a deep outfield. -Heaney

Scott Cousins, Florida Marlins

The Fish are resting their hopeful opening day lineup on Emilio Bonifacio or Donnie Murphy, but perhaps Matt Dominguez later on, at third base, plus Chris Coghlan's ability to roam center field. Dominguez's glove is rumored to work like flypaper, but the stick isn't ready for the bigs. Coghlan was adequate in left and has never played a position that will require him to cover much more ground - especially with sub-par fielder Logan Morrison playing out of position in left. Boni is speed-first, everything else second, and Murphy has flashed some offense but has spotty MLB history to rely on.

Before Florida traded Cameron Maybin (speedy, see what it takes?) this offseason, their plan involved moving Coghlan back to a comfortable spot for him - third base. Enter Cousins, 26, a plus defender at all three outfield spots and a left-handed hitter. He has been a little up and down on the farm but the makings of a .275 hitter (.297 in 37 at-bats last year) who pops 15 homers and swipes 15 bases.

The Marlins are sounder all around with Cousins and Coghlan in the lineup. The former is a sleeper for playing time, and with it, he would make many an NL-only fantasy manager pleased. -Minnix



James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates

McDonald was sent to the farm by the Los Angeles Dodgers after 2010 spring training to stretch out. He came up in July but was soon traded to the Bucs. McDonald took to his unquestioned status as a starter, producing a 3.52 ERA and 8.58 K/9 in 64 frames, including a torrid - albeit fortunate - September (2.31 ERA, 2.31 K/BB, 85.3 percent left on base). He looked more like the high-profile K arm in his days as a prospect.

He still has bouts with pitch counts and nibbling, and he hasn't yet tapped into his farm grounder rates. But his MLB control improved in Pittsburgh, and stability in his role should help him grow on a steady path, unlike the starts and pauses by the Dodgers that failed to maximize his growth. McDonald remains in a pitcher's park, too. Wins? Don't get your hopes up, but his skills and stuff have value, and they can make McDonald useful in mixed leagues, too. -Heaney

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers

Narveson still is bitten by home runs, but don't ignore his ground-ball increase (31.4 percent to 39.8 percent). While it isn't a sexy level, it's nice to see that significant improvement in conjunction with his combined August and September performance in the rotation: 3.52 ERA, 8.02 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9 in 64 innings.

Though he's more deceptive than powerful, the 29-year-old southpaw had six-plus strikeouts in six of those 11 starts, along with an 8.92 K/9 after August. Plus, his 67.8 percent strand rate should move back up toward the norm, and he's in the lead for Milwaukee's final rotation spot. Narveson's command flies in a single-universe league. -Heaney

Chris Capuano, New York Mets

Do you remember, like, four or five years ago, someone in your mixed league (was it you?) thinking that Cappy was No. 4 starter material? Those days are gone, but the southpaw remains, two Tommy John procedures (seven years apart) and a (non-throwing) shoulder surgery later. He's fighting Chris Young and others for a job until Johan Santana (shoulder) returns.

Capuano, 32, is a front-runner for one of two spots. The soft-tosser (to put it kindly) with a nice slider and changeup has struck out 7.40 batters per nine in his career, all with the Milwaukee Brewers. Walks kept his command rate from teasing 3.00, save in 2006, but in his small sample size of a journey back to near relevance, he kept them in check. He was always wont to give up the long ball (1.27 HR/9 lifetime), but that'll be less of a concern at Citi Field. The Brew Crew let him finish 2010 in their rotation, where he went 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and a 2.27 K/BB, on par with his "glory days." His stuff probably isn't 7.00 K/9 material anymore, but the deception and location remain respectable whiff material.

Capuano was an All-Star five seasons ago. Don't expect him to rediscover that form. Anything approaching his old-school rates, though, and he's giving you gravy for your end-game bid. -Minnix

Ryan Webb, Florida Marlins

The Marlins were so intent on improving their bullpen that they gave up Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres for Edward Mujica and this fella, the real prize.

The 2004 fourth-rounder was an unsuccessful starter (Strike 1) with the Oakland Athletics. He made the full-time transition with them in 2009; later that year, the Friars acquired him in a Scott Hairston deal. He continued to keep the ball down in his new role and improved his grounder rate to 60-plus percent (Strike 2) with the Friars thanks to improved arm angle. His heat sits in the mid-90s, promising for a K/9 increase (Strike 3).

Leo Nunez is unstable, and the baseball gods were a bit kind to Clay Hensley in 2010. Webb, 24, steadily advanced his BB/9 on the farm; in the majors, he dropped it from 3.86 in 2009 to 2.90 last season. He's on the right track to generating more swings and misses, which would have a positive impact on his solid left-on-base rate. The next step is "visible closer candidate," something the Padres had envisioned for him one day soon, too. -Minnix

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MLB Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and undervalued | Busts and overvalued

AL Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and undervalued | Busts and overvalued

NL Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and undervalued | Busts and overvalued

About Tim Heaney

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 the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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