Fantasy baseball sleepers - NL

by Nicholas Minnix and Tim Heaney on March 29, 2010 @ 16:00:00 PDT


AL: Fantasy baseball sleepers | undervalued | busts | overvalued | saves | stolen bases

NL: Fantasy baseball sleepers | undervalued | busts | overvalued | saves | stolen bases

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.


Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies

His improving batting eye, flyball rate and homer-per-flyball rate make him a late-round boom candidate. Ruiz's contact rate has been high throughout his brief career.

In the bottom half of starting catchers, he looks exponentially attractive among a pile of uninspiring playing time eaters and risky youngsters. Ruiz's surrounding lineup and home park are now accessories to his growth, instead of strict determinants of his value. He's an ideal No. 2 mixed backstop that has potential to crack shallow starting lineups.

Eric Hinske, 1B/3B, Atlanta Braves

Let's face it: Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus aren't going to win any awards for durability. Both players make for potential value picks, but even so, it doesn't change their pasts.

As Hinske showed us in 2008 (20 homers in 381 at-bats), he can make an impact if his club is forced to play him. There are no signs that the 32-year-old's power is diminishing, so a late, low-dollar NL bid could pay attractive dividends.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

We hear ya. But in a quarter of 2009, Rickie provided evidence that he might not end up being just Jemile Weeks' older brother. Rickie Weeks was well on his way to delivering the 20-plus jacks we were expecting to accompany 20-plus steals. Then he suffered a wrist injury - again, this time the left.

Last year his BB/K slid, but it was never very good. Instead, Weeks attacked earlier in the count. He was re-establishing productive line-drive and flyball rates and playing good defense. Health is likely his only obstacle, but he is reportedly 100 percent after surgery last May. If you're in position, take a shot, pounce early.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres

Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce
Bruce ready to bust out?

You don't expect to see significant power growth in San Diego. Headley's notable and steady improvement in BB/K, to a rate that more closely resembled the figures he put up in the minors, was a clear sign that he grew. He also made more contact. His rate of groundballs increased, a disturbing sign but also uncharacteristic.

Headley's flyball rate remained healthy, and he slugged well over .500 in the minors. He'll play his natural position this year, increasing his comfort level. He also stole 10 bases last year; the Friars are finally recognizing the importance of speed. That's a bonus. Headley is a polished switch-hitter exhibiting encouraging signs that he'll increase his production significantly enough to be a top-100 NL-only performer.

Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

Attention: the 2010 NL version of Elvis Andrus. The Brew Crew is considering batting him ninth so that he becomes a second leadoff hitter. It would also take some pressure off him. He should be more aggressive; Escobar stole 42 bases at Triple-A Nashville but just four upon his call-up to Milwaukee.

He needs to hit to get on base; his walk rate is terrible and isn't expected to improve dramatically. The right-handed hitter posted high BABIPs in the minors and, at least, shouldn't damage your BA. In a full season he can steal 25 bases, minimum. The upside might cost a lot more in NL leagues, though.

Ian Desmond, SS, Washington Nationals

Deep and late, you need upside. That's Desmond, a 24-year-old whose combo of slugging percentage growth and speed made it hard for the Nats to keep him on the bench or in the minors. Though the Nats will mix in Cristian Guzman, Desmond willl start at shortstop.

Desmond still strikes out a bit too much but has an enticing power-speed combo that's fit for late-round deep mixed profit for a middle infielder spot. Pay a little bit extra.

NEW - David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

His batting eye ratio and flyball rate are shaky, casting a hint of doubt, but the Cards' expected starter at the hot corner showed his power potential at Triple-A Memphis: 26 homers in '08 and 10 in 225 at-bats in '09. He's enjoying a fine spring with a .311-1-10 line in his first 61 at-bats.

Freese, 27 in April, has opposite-field ability that will ease the transition into his first full big-league season. You can reach a round or two early for him in the last few stanzas of deep mixed leagues, giving you a potential CI-worthy player. NL-only owners should do the same.

NEW - Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs

The speedy 20-year-old made significant batting eye gains at Double-A last season. His power won't be much in 2010 but should develop as he fills out. Castro will start the year at Triple-A Iowa, but Cubs skipper Lou Piniella hinted that Castro's road to the bigs isn't long. Managers are often forced to make room for talent in their lineup, regardless of age.

Given his 40-steal potential in a full season, Castro is a stash commodity in deep NL drafts; throwing a few well-timed bucks on Castro is the type of chance pick that could win your league. Deep mixed managers should have his name on their pre-emptive inseason pickup list, too; you'll have to act fast if his hype increases.

Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Baseball America's 2007 Minor League POY has 40-homer power and can steal double-digit bases. His flyball rate and rate of dingers per loft confirm the former. He's completely recovered from the wrist injury he suffered last year; September gives us assurance.

The 23-year-old (to start the season) also rid himself of excess movement in his swing. A high average on balls in play was the norm on the farm, and his batting eye and contact rate are improving. That BA will rise. This looks like a breakout season. Mixed top-50 potential outside the top 100 is worth a reach.

Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Florida Marlins SP Ricky Nolasco
Nolasco? More like Tabasco

An hiatal hernia disrupted his growth as he lost weight and power. Reports say former hitting coach Hal McRae also stalled his development. Rasmus' second-half walk rate, however, means a batting average improvement might be on the horizon.

Overcoming southpaws will take some time, but it's a safe bet they'll let him fight that battle with regular playing time. If you count batting average out of his helpful tools, you won't be disappointed; double-digit homers and steals as a late-round baseline infused with talented youth isn't a bad mix.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies

Fowler, a switch-hitter, struggled a little against right-handers last season, but he handled hurlers from both sides quite well in the minors. He put up that .266 BA and 27 steals at 22, without ever playing above Double-A ball. He did it with a couple of nagging ailments.

Fowler probably won't develop much in the power department this year, but his liner and flyball rates are growing. He dropped a few pounds to gain quickness, too. This offseason, he received tutelage from an All-American sprinter on ways to improve his jump and speed.

Fowler's PT isn't guaranteed, but he's ensuring that it's not in jeopardy. Considering his ceiling, he's a bargain.

Chris B. Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

At the end of your mixed fantasy baseball draft, you can land a player who can hit 20-plus homers and steal 20-plus bases. He might be a drag on your batting average, but the potential in the counting cats offsets that. Would you take him? Without thinking twice, right?

This offseason Young committed to honing facets of his game that he had never even explored. It's a sign of maturity - that and his escalated walk rate. The dip in contact rate is alarming, but September's results suggest his demotion served as a wakeup call. Potentially terrible BA makes him a PT risk, but what kind of risk is a sixth or seventh outfielder? One with a possible huge payoff.

Kyle Blanks, OF, San Diego Padres

This 6-foot-6, 285-pound slugger walloped 10 jacks in 148 at-bats (21.3 percent HR/FB); the figures may seem lofty, especially at PETCO Park. It's not for Blanks: the average distance of his homers was about 415 feet, and he hit six of them there.

If Blanks improves his contact rate, his average won't be a problem. In the minors he posted high BABIPs and made steady progress in BB/K. Spring numbers don't count for much, but BB/K and slugging percentage are more apt to indicate future success. The man who will hit behind Adrian Gonzalez has impressed in both categories.

Consider Blanks one of several late-round mixed outfielders worth a reach. He could easily hit 30 bombs, and you pay that price for others who can do so much sooner.

Ben Francisco, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

In very deep mixed and NL leagues, you speculate on playing time. What better place to speculate than Philly? Raul Ibanez, 38 in June, missed extensive time last year. Jayson Werth has a medical chart a mile long. Shane Victorino missed about 30 games in 2007 and a few in 2008.

Francisco was an afterthought in the trade that brought Cliff Lee to the Phils, but he's still around. He hit 15 homers in each of the past two seasons and stole double-digit bases last year. The Cleveland Indians' Progressive Field depresses offense. Can you imagine what Francisco could do with the aggressive NL pennant winners if he had the PT?

NEW - Angel Pagan, OF, New York Mets

The switch-hitter is the likely starter in center field for as long as Carlos Beltran (knee) is sidelined, which should be into May. Pagan received ample playing time last season and performed admirably, displaying a useful batting average and runs total atop the Mets' lineup. He also proved aggressive on the bases, stealing 14 bags in 21 chances.

Pagan will approach double-digit homers in a full season and will help NL drafters as a fourth outfielder for as long as he's starting; he'll be a decent deep NL bench player when Beltran returns. Pagan's newfound stolen base aggression, which the Mets value, could make Pagan an inseason addition in mixed leagues with rosters that approach 30 players.

NEW - Fernando Martinez, OF, New York Mets

Angel Pagan is the short-term answer to replace Carlos Beltran (knee). However, Martinez's hot spring (.300-3-11 through 45 at-bats) is at least re-entering his name into the center field discussion with Beltran sidelined. Martinez's contact rate and declining strikeout rate offer promising trends.

Martinez, 21, had a disappointing MLB stint last year and will start off at Triple-A, but it isn't like Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. are sure things. F-Mart broke in his MLB uni last year, so the Mets might be more inclined to give him another chance. He's an NL-only end-game lottery ticket.


Ricky Nolasco, SP, Florida Marlins

Few saw Nolasco as a sleeper in 2008. Everyone saw Nolasco as nearly an ace in 2009. Probably just a flash in the pan, right? The righty was fortunate, similarly to the way Cole Hamels was, that something more serious didn't occur because of a workload increase of more than 150 frames.

You see: 5.06 ERA, slight decline in control. We see: K/9 spike, repeated 4.43 K/BB, terribly unfortunate strand rate and average against on balls in play, continued reduction in flyballs allowed, creeping velocity increase, steady improvement after demotion and regroup period. Buy to enjoy something much closer to 2008 than 2009.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds

Blame winter ball and the World Baseball Classic for packing onto Cueto's workload before the '09 season. A strong start to the campaign quickly went downhill, but he recovered in September after a DL stint.

He was fatigued. He'll be fresh for 2010. He knocked his homer problems down slightly last year, too. A profit opportunity comes in a pitcher who improved control despite workload issues.

Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds SP Johnny Cueto
Heavy '09 workload hurt Cueto

After the hype, he's a sleeper type. Last year, Bailey finally showed us that mid-90s velocity he possesses - mostly, apparently, in the minors. What's more important, though is the decent 3.44 BB/9 while ratcheting up his dominance as the season closed. Final nine starts, one more time: 58 1/3 IP, 6-1 record, 1.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 53 K's.

Bailey developed a rather effective splitter after his demotion, and the results in the bigs were encouraging. He got by on natural talent alone for a while, but now he sees the value of preparation. He'd be a minor health risk based on his workload increase ... if he didn't fall outside the mixed top 250.

Mat Latos, SP, San Diego Padres

The Friars have handled the talented right-hander with kid gloves - because of his workload and his attitude. That approach is paying off. It's time for the fireballer (10.53 K/9 in 184 2/3 innings) to break the century mark in the big league frames. We already know that PETCO Park is a pitcher's paradise.

Latos, 22, has nasty stuff and, although he didn't display great command consistently, he demonstrated poise in tough situations and the fearlessness of a future ace. He also stranded a low percentage of runners, particularly for someone with his K ability. Expect his dominance to rise and other numbers to fall in line, creating huge profit potential for a relatively low investment.

Brad Penny, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

The right-hander bought into new pitching coach (and savior) Dave Duncan's philosophy before he heard it. Penny never really fit in with the Boston Red Sox and the AL East. His heat, however, regained some juice, and he took from them a valuable program to maintain the health of his shoulder.

In a trial of 41 2/3 frames (six starts) with the San Francisco Giants, Penny was 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The command rate was just above 2.00, but his dominance should begin to rebound. Back to more grounders and with more K's? Price: easily less than double-digit bucks in NL games. Reward: as much as double that.

Jason Hammel, SP, Colorado Rockies

In an under-the-radar, breakthrough candidate, look for: steadily improving K/BB - advancement in control and spiking K/9 - and a low flyball rate. The latter mark was even lower at Coors Field, but the former top-10 prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays seemed unable to solve the hitter's paradise. Hammel was the victim on an unusually high percentage of flyballs surrendered there, though.

Hammel fits the Rockies Way: Keep the ball down. Late last year he sharpened his grounder skills by ditching a splitter in favor of his four-seamer, which he throws with much more accuracy. He can be more than a platoon starter, but most folks aren't attuned to that fact.

Todd Wellemeyer, SP, San Francisco Giants

This one won't thrill you, but Wellemeyer is all but a lock for the Giants' fifth rotation spot. Madison Bumgarner has underwhelmed, while the right-hander has performed well. Wellemeyer says that he has the pop back in his fastball and feels as good as he did in 2008, when he won 13 games as a starter for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Your deep NL end-game bid or reserve round pick would be based on some faith, but the reviews from others in camp are positive, too. One would like to see a better K/BB this spring from someone who is letting it loose again, but Wellemeyer pitches to contact well. He could earn you a few bucks for virtually nothing.

Jenrry Mejia, RP, New York Mets

It looks like the Metropolitans' top prospect is going to break camp with the big club. The fireballer mixes speeds well and challenges hitters, frequently winning: He gave up a mere six homers in 210 minor league innings. Reportedly, he remains calm on the mound, no matter the situation.

Of course, he's 20, and he'll pitch out of the bullpen. Manager Jerry Manuel said he could see the youngster growing into the setup role, but that seems farfetched. However, he provides electric strikeout ability (8.79 K/9 in the minors - as a starter) and a possible efficiency boost in your ratios. An end-game bid, or something close to that, in NL setups is all it should take.

Kris Medlen, RP, Atlanta Braves

Tommy Hanson's arrival overshadowed Medlen's, which came just a couple of weeks prior. Medlen is about one year older and, like Hanson, was untouchable in his short time at Triple-A Gwinnett, and he had been a pro starter for only a year or so. In Atlanta's bullpen, once he settled in, he was back to dominating.

Check out the post-break performance: 2.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 39 K's in 35 1/3 innings as a reliever. This isn't unusual. Medlen, 5-foot-10, was one of Atlanta's top prospects, too. We know the importance of efficient middle relievers. In very deep mixed leagues and NL games, this righty is a gem.

NEW - Jaime Garcia, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards will hand Garcia the No. 5 rotation gig. Cards arms coach Dave Duncan encourages pitching to contact; that should not be a problem for the grounder-friendly Garcia, who also has regained his dominance in a small sample size since coming back from 2008 Tommy John surgery.

Garcia's exciting peripherals deserve a few extra dollars to round out your NL-only rotation, and he's worth a flier in the last round or two in deep mixed leagues when the pitching pool becomes boring.

NEW - Antonio Bastardo, P, Philadelphia Phillies

Don't let the 6.46 ERA from his first MLB stint last year fool you; there's ample growth potential here. Bastardo isn't overpowering but is deceptive enough for you to be confident in his dominance. Flyballs have been an issue for him in recent seasons - not a good peripheral for Citizens Bank Park. Less use of his fastball in the bigs would lead to less predictability.

The lefty will probably begin the season in the Phillies' bullpen, but with the risk presented in the dirt-old Jamie Moyer and the shaky Kyle Kendrick, Bastardo has a decent road to the No. 5 rotation job. He's a deep mixed league watch-list candidate and useful NL-only end-game reliever that can help you without a rotation gig.

AL: Fantasy baseball sleepers | undervalued | busts | overvalued | saves | stolen bases

NL: Fantasy baseball sleepers | undervalued | busts | overvalued | saves | stolen bases

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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