Fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued - MLB

by Nicholas Minnix and Tim Heaney on March 29, 2011 @ 20:13:13 PDT




Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies

Iannetta played his way out of reps last year as Miguel Olivo took over. Olivo is gone, and it's Iannetta's job to lose, for better or worse. Youngsters hover, but not for 2011.

Few late-round backstops boast his power upside. Hints of productive plate skills here: BB/K and increasing contact rate, mainly. We'll at least address his spring noise: He's aiming to eliminate his toe tap and shorten his swing. Plus, it doesn't hurt to take a flier on a Colorado backstop, right? -Heaney

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox

But ... he's always a sleeper! The former top prospect has been plagued by DL furloughs and a case of the Rube Bakers. Plenty of rough spots here - including plate discipline - and he'll share time with perennial Red Sox captain Jason Varitek.

But Salty, who turns 26 in May, remains in a favorable park and lineup and is on the favorable side of a platoon route. He makes hard contact and is getting a clean slate in post-post-post-post-hype status. Don't dig for mediocre options; the Salty mines hold a better potential payoff. -Heaney


Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics

Last season was tough on Suzuki: In the first quarter of it, he missed more than three weeks with an intercostals muscle strain in his ribcage. In the second, his grandfather, to whom he was very close, passed. In 3Q, he received a four-year contract extension. (Bear with us.) To wrap, he endured a miserable slump.

This isn't a plea for sympathy. Suzuki's downticks in production occurred around those times, when you add the expectations that came with his new money. Some folks who considered this skill set reliable have turned their backs on it.

The 27-year-old plays more often than most backstops, so fatigue is a long-term concern. But Suzuki is healthy, the lineup around him has improved, and he gets more ABs than just about any other receiver. The signs point to a BA rebound and another 12 to 15 homers. Sold. -Minnix

Corner infielders


Kila Ka'aihue, Kansas City Royals

Eric Hosmer is knocking, but he's staying at the farm doorstep. Ka'aihue finally has at least a foot in the PT door. Hawaiian Punch refreshed our memories of his talent by hitting .241-8-24 in 145 at-bats following his mid-August MLB return.

Ka'aihue will turn 27 before the season starts; he reaches base frequently (bump him up in OBP leagues) and - more importantly - Billy Butler envies his pop. The pre-Hosmer window should be enough time to give the Kila monster a trial. If you're looking for power depth, you could do worse as your draft winds down. -Heaney


Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs

A-Ram's 2010 descent (.241-25-83 in 465 AB) is disturbing. (Strap on the vomit bag for a look at his, roughly, first two months: .168-5-22 in 179 AB.) His strikeout percentage jumped more than five percentage points because of, so they say, struggles with timing. His hit rate was awful. Injuries - particularly a thumb sprain - once again played a part.

The timing argument holds weight, though, because Ramirez missed so much time with a shoulder injury. The good news: that problem seems to be in the rearview. And when he finally figured it out, he looked like the same old A-Ram: When he returned from the DL, from June 25 on, he hit .287 with 20 homers and 61 ribbies in 286 at-bats.

Ramirez looked like a 42-year-old at the beginning of 2010, but he's only 32. Don't ignore his track record. It includes some injury woes, but there's a bigger payoff waiting this year. -Minnix

Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays

Jays GM Alex Anthopolous already proclaimed Lind an everyday player. Although he's not deft defensively, the former fly catcher has reportedly given the organization reason to be optimistic about this transition. If he can't handle it, would Toronto leave Edwin Encarnacion's name in ink at DH?

GM speak aside, if Lind's failures against southpaws continue, new skipper John Farrell may have no choice. Lind hit a mere .117, with a 0.10 BB/K and 12.8 liner rate, against his handedness. But in every season before last, the 27-year-old improved against them as his PT grew (.194 in 2007, .253 in 2008 and .275 in 2009). He used to pelt lefties. So where did it go?

Lind has chalked it up to focus. Believe in him because of his second half (.267/.309/.498). He's easily the club's most attractive choice at first and one of fantasy's most attractive bounce-back men. He shouldn't be UTIL-only for long, either. -Minnix

Kansas City Royals OF Kila Ka'aihue
How about a nice Hawaaian Punch?

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

There's no shortage of positive reports on the Kung Fu man's efforts to improve his fitness. You can't believe every offseason workout story, but in this case, the evidence is hard to ignore: Sandoval heard Giants GM Brian Sabean's message loud and clear.

The Panda's defense is his drawback. The hitting skills remain, despite the 60-point sink in his average and an apparent desertion of power. The 24-year-old remains a line-drive hitter with a history of a high average on balls in play, above-average contact rate and solid BB/K. He worked with Barry Bonds - not worked OUT with, just WORKED with - to improve his plate discipline, too.

The missing link from Sandoval's game was dedication, and he seems to have found it. The average is a safe bet to come back, and 20-homer power may not be far behind. This top-75 draft pick from a year ago is too young and talented to have lost it already. -Minnix

Middle infielders


Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox

Flashback to last year's first half: .216-3-22, with talks of a return to the minors. Second half, after a few plate adjustments: contact with more authority on a .310-6-27 run ... until he was hit on the hand by a pitch. He added some muscle, and he'll hit second in a strong lineup that just added Adam Dunn to one of the league's better hitter's digs.

Beckham might not wow in one particular category, but outside of stolen bases, there's upside across the board: .280-ish clip, near 20 homers and 80 RBIs, and helpful plate crossings at the two-hole. That profile is ideal for an MI spot or for deep leaguers who remain patient with the keystone class. -Heaney

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles

Chicago Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez
Don't sleep on A-Ram

Hardy's list of mild maladies is longer then Jon Rauch. He has been on the big league DL twice. He has missed the large majority of a campaign two times, in 2006 (majors) and in 2004 (minors). But note that last season, spent with the Minnesota Twins, was the first in four years in which he missed significant time because of an injury; his absence could have been reduced if he hadn't returned much too early on a couple of occasions.

The wrist ailment no doubt affected his power output. And Target Field didn't just kill home runs; that park took their souls. Hardy jacked five of his six on the road. Camden Yards is a hitter's harbor, especially for the right-handed. Everything else for Hardy, 28, looked fine.

Hardy might have a tough time explaining his 2009 struggles, but 2010's have a scapegoat. Most folks have passed him by because of that stretch. The power isn't gone; he's still capable of bopping 20-plus homers. He won't win a batting title, but his BA components were back to "normal." He'll hit free agency for the first time in his career after 2011. -Minnix

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

The switch hitter smells like a streaky stick, thanks to his long swing. His whiffs mean a .220 or worse clip - and a possible trip back to Triple-A - hover over him. Leading off won't help the latest Long Beach State prodigy, but the Nats are unlikely to burden him with that responsibility; Jim Riggleman is leaning toward hitting him seventh.

But the low tiers of middle infielders smell of something fouler this year. Espinosa's combination of projectable power and serviceable speed - hinted at during his MLB stint and at his impact Class AAA showing - makes him more attractive. How many among the late-round middies can at least offer to sniff that? When the consequences are minimal, would you rather settle or go for broke? -Heaney


Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays

His keystone-outfield eligibility alone should at least remind you of his value. Sure, he was lucky in '09 - HR/FB, BABIP included - and rough corrections were made in 2010. His clip is in the most danger.

There's a bright side: The switch hitter will see plenty of AB, regardless of position, likely hitting in the middle of the order or at the leadoff spot; he's one of Joe Maddon's favorite toys. Zobrist's batting eye and improving ability on the base paths complement a HR/FB that should rebound a little - he isn't '09 good, but he isn't 2010 bad. His 20-20 profile remains. -Heaney

Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers

Peralta hit nine dingers after the All-Star break - eight after leaving Cleveland and moving back to shortstop from third base. Plus, the three-time 20-homer masher posted his career-best contact and fly-ball rates. It's hard to bet on RBIs for late-round talent, but he has driven in at least 81 runs in each of the last three years.

It's easy to forget this once potent bat will be 29 in May; he has been around for a while. If your team can forgive his BA, which probably won't help without some good fortune, his proven run production could cover you as a backup corner and middle infielder; he's valued more at the latter. Remember: Boring picks sometimes win, too. -Heaney

Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres

Bartlett failed to repeat his '09 power spike. Banish him forever - or remember that he can still swipe a notable numbers of bags. The Fathers enjoy running. This lineup pales in comparison to his former Tampa mates, but at least he'll still be somewhere near the top.

He generally posts high in-play clips: .299, his 2010 figure, is about league average but still might improve with his profile. Bartlett has generally "mashed" lefties in his career. It isn't exciting, but grabbing a profile for a non-hurtful clip in the late rounds can serve as a middle infielder buttress - especially if you have other, riskier options. -Heaney

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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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