Championships aren't won in the first few rounds of fantasy baseball drafts. Winning selections come in the middle and late stanzas, when fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued players pop up.
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Andele, andele, Avila, Avila!
A broken right hand cut short a magical May that probably would've pushed him to a campaign of 15-plus homers. That .299, seven-homer second half says he recovered just fine. He bolstered his clip versus righty pitchers in a significant sample size, meaning even if his torrid numbers versus southpaws taper off, his sound plate control will give him some margin for error. Evidence of budding power: He cut his infield-fly rate from 2011 in half.
In his age-27 season, he'll settle into the heart of a stout order. Lucroy boasts top-five backstop upside this year for mixed leaguers. -TH
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
They won't put him behind the plate much, if at all, following his absence from the entire 2012 campaign. Will that lack of games played affect his eligibility in your league? It's more of a pain to carry him with a utility-only qualification, and his thump is on the way down.
But for his opportunity at full-time at-bats from DH with a run-producing lineup and spot and skills reflective of a .300 clip, there's a distinct advantage in placing him in a catcher spot near the back end. -TH
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
It's a Detroit double dip behind the dish. Avila hit five homers over his first 22 games last year, but he basically cratered after knee tendonitis forced him to miss some games in May. Jim Leyland also thinks his top receiver wasn't being aggressive enough, something they hope to remedy this year. Sure, he was fortunate on in-play connections last year, and his value relies on pop, but they're not rushing to give Victor Martinez or Brayan Pena extra time.
Restoring his 2011 peripherals would still boast a walk-friendly bat that, despite strikeouts, should approach 20 taters, even if he continues to underwhelm versus southpaws. For about the price at which he went before his breakout year, you can wax nostalgic all the way to the bank. -TH
John Jaso, Oakland Athletics
The A's plan to go with a platoon behind the dish. The left-handed-hitting Jaso, 29, is on the favored side of that scenario, and he specializes in a skill that the club was sorely lacking last season: getting on base (lifetime .359 OBP, .394 OBP in 2012). Derek Norris, 24, has plenty of power. The catching prospect is a liability in that area if he hits poorly, though, and his plate discipline is a work-in-progress.
Jaso is unlikely to rip double-digit homers again, as he did last season with the Seattle Mariners, in Oakland. However, the prospect of 400-plus plate appearances, some of them possibly coming near the top of the order, qualifies him as solid No. 2 catcher material in deep mixed leagues. -NM
Fantasy baseball sleepers, undervalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
Fantasy baseball busts, overvalued: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
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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