Fantasy Baseball: Top 12 National League Sleepers Who Can Make a Big Impact

Dan MoriCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Top 12 National League Sleepers Who Can Make a Big Impact

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    A year ago at this time I wrote a similar article focusing on potential fantasy baseball stars in the National League. Several of the players listed last year made huge impacts to their teams and also for their fantasy baseball owners.

    Some of these players included Joel Hanrahan, Jason Motte, Michael Morse, Jonny Venters, Neil Walker, Drew Storen and Jose Tabata. All were under the radar at the start of the season and could have been purchased at attractive bargain prices by their fantasy owners.

    I specialize in the NL and will list a dozen players that could be some of the big surprises of this year for their fantasy owners. I will base the pricing on the standard $265 rotisserie style budget.

12) Zack Cozart

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    The Cincinnati Reds are going with Zack Cozart as their everyday shortstop. At the age of 26, Cozart will be entering his sixth season of professional baseball.

    Cozart has developed steadily, up through the Reds' minor league organization. In 2011, Cozart got a "cup of coffee" at the big league level, hitting .324 with two home runs and three RBI in only 37 at-bats. This is obviously a very small sample size, but his minor league productivity bears out his ability as a hitter.

    In 2010, at Louisville, the Reds' Triple-A affiliate, Cozart batted .255 with 17 home runs, 67 RBI and 30 stolen bases, in 553 at-bats. He followed that up hitting .312, with seven home runs and 32 RBI in 323 at-bats. His OPS of .825 was outstanding, especially for a shortstop.

    I project Cozart to hit around .270 with 13-16 home runs and 55-60 RBI. These numbers could increase depending on where manager Dusty Baker bats him in the lineup.

    Cozart looks ready to emerge as a solid player for the Reds in 2012. He would be an ideal middle infielder on your NL fantasy squad. You should be able to pick him up for less than $12 in an NL only league and probably in the $5-$6 range in mixed leagues.

11) Allen Craig

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    Allen Craig was one of the World Series heroes for the St. Louis Cardinals this past season. He has always been able to hit and can play multiple positions.

    With the Cardinals featuring Lance Berkman at first base and Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday in the outfield, there is a lot of age on this team. This means there should be plenty of at-bats available for Craig.

    Craig is coming off knee surgery in the winter and could miss the first couple weeks of the season. This should actually make him more attractive to fantasy owners, as you should be able to acquire him at a lower price and stash him away, until he returns.

    Craig has experience playing either corner outfield position as well as first and third base. In 2011, he hit .315 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI, in only 200 at-bats. His OBP was a solid .362 and his OPS of .917 was off the charts.

    Look for Craig to get somewhere closer to 300-350 at-bats in 2012. At the age of 27, Craig is entering the prime years of his career. I fully expect Craig's numbers to exceed his solid production from 2011.

    Because of his injury status, you should be able to purchase Craig for under $10 in an NL only league. For mixed leagues, he should be less than $5.

10) Mat Gamel

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    The Milwaukee Brewers are counting on a big season from Mat Gamel. With the departure of slugger Prince Fielder, Gamel has been handed the first base job. He has spent small parts of the past four years with the Brewers and now is his big chance.

    Gamel has always produced in the minors. In 2011, with Nashville, Gamel hit .310 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI. His .372 OBP and .912 OPS were tremendous.

    Playing half his games in Milwaukee, with a very favorable hitters' park, will also help Gamel. He is 26 years old and has paid his dues in the minors, while waiting for this opportunity. I expect him to now capitalize on it.

    I project Gamel to hit around .260, but with over 20 home runs and 70 RBI. You should be able to buy him for under $15 in NL only leagues and between $6-7 in mixed leagues.

9) Kenley Jansen

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    Kenley Jansen overcame some bouts of wildness in 2011 and was an extremely effective pitcher in the last couple months of the season. Jansen has an explosive fastball and his ratios are off the charts.

    In 2011, Jansen pitched 53.2 innings and allowed only 30 hits. He struck out an amazing 96 batters, compiled an ERA of 2.85 and WHIP of 1.043.

    Javy Guerra will likely begin the season as the Dodgers' closer, but Jansen will also get his chances. It is entirely possible that Jansen will claim the closer job by the All-Star break, but even if he doesn't, his strikeout and WHIP numbers are very helpful to any fantasy owner.

    Jansen should be available for around the $10 mark in NL only leagues. His price in mixed leagues will be closer to $5. If you're playing in a keeper league, Jansen becomes even more valuable as he will become the Dodgers' closer soon enough.

8) Brandon Belt

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    There was a huge amount of hype surrounding Brandon Belt at this time last year. He was expected to be the next young star in the Giants' organization. Unfortunately, Belt struggled at the plate, lost confidence and found himself on the bus between San Francisco and Fresno more times than he would care to remember.

    Belt is 6'5" and has a long, loopy swing. He had major problems hitting the inside fastball and just couldn't get around on the pitch in on his hands. As he cheated to cover that pitch, he then became susceptible to off-speed pitches down and away.

    Belt played winter ball in the Dominican Republic in an effort to regain his stroke. He focused on shortening his swing and becoming quicker to the ball. He had an even 100 at-bats and hit .300, with three home runs and 11 RBI. His consistency improved and he looks ready to have a big year.

    In 2011, Belt hit only .225 with nine home runs and 18 RBI, in 187 at-bats. Belt can play first base and both corner outfield positions. I fully expect Belt to see somewhere closer to 300-350 at-bats in 2012.

    Belt is flying under the radar this year and the lowered expectations should help him. I expect him to hit around .275, with 16-18 home runs and close to 50 RBI. 

    You should be able to get Belt for below $10 in an NL only league. If you're playing in a mixed league, I would consider him as my fifth outfielder only and spend no more than $4 for him.

7) Cory Luebke

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    Cory Luebke emerged as a solid big league pitcher in 2011. However, pitching for the San Diego Padres, a relatively small-market team with little media exposure, many don't know how good Luebke is.

    Luebke threw a career high of 139.2 innings with 154 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.29 and WHIP of 1.067. Pitching in San Diego in a pitchers park also helps Luebke's overall numbers.

    The only drawback for Luebke is that the Padres will struggle to win games. Do not look for Luebke to rack up wins, but his ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers should continue to be very impressive.

    Luebke is a good, low-priced option as a middle of the rotation starter for your fantasy team. You should be able to acquire him for less than $15 in an NL only league. I would be willing to go as high as $9 in a mixed league.

6) Daniel Murphy

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    Daniel Murphy qualifies at several positions and has the potential to be a very productive player. In my league, which requires a player to play 20 games the previous season, or one game in the current season, Murphy qualifies at firs, second and third base.

    Murphy's season was cut short last year due to a knee injury. He missed the 2010 season with an injury to the same knee. Murphy is slated to start at second base this coming year, so it will be important for him to avoid being hit while making the double play pivot.

    In the 2011 season, Murphy hit a career high .320 with six home runs and 49 RBI, in 391 at-bats. His OBP was .362 and OPS of .809. Those ratios are outstanding for a second baseman.

    The Mets also moved in the fences at Citi Field, which will boost his home run numbers.

    Murphy will get regular playing time and is an ideal candidate at the very thin second base position for your fantasy team. As long as Murphy stays healthy, I expect him to hit .300 with 14 home runs and 70 RBI. He is a valuable, low priced option.

    I expect that you can acquire Murphy for less than $14 in NL only leagues and around $7-8 in mixed leagues.

5) Yonder Alonso

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    Yonder Alonso was traded to the San Diego Padres in a deal that also involved Mat Latos and Edinson Volquez. Alonso will finally get a chance to play regularly. In Cincinnati he was behind Joey Votto at first base and his defensive skills made him a liability in the outfield.

    Alonso has always been an excellent hitter and now will get the opportunity to play his natural position of first base. In 2011, Alonso split time between Cincinnati and Louisville.

    While with the Reds, Alonso hit .330 with five home runs and 15 RBI in only 88 at-bats. His OBP was .398 and OPS was an outstanding .943. With Louisville, Alonso hit .296 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI in 358 at-bats.

    Alonso is not a huge power hitter so the expansive dimensions of Petco Park could actually help his batting average. Playing regularly, I expect Alonso to blossom. Look for him to hit .320 with 15 home runs and 70-75 RBI.

    Because Alonso is not a big power hitter, his price will be lower than many of the other first basemen in the National League. He should go for around the $16 mark in NL only leagues. I would also be comfortable buying him for between $8-10 in mixed leagues.

4) Brandon Beachy

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    The Atlanta Braves are blessed with some excellent pitchers. They have a good mix of veterans and youngsters making up their starting rotation. One of the top up and coming young pitchers in the Braves organization is Brandon Beachy.

    Beachy threw a career high of 141.2 inning last year. He actually would have thrown a lot more, if it weren't for an oblique strain that caused him to miss a few starts.

    Beachy went 7-3, with 169 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.68 and WHIP of 1.207. With health questions surrounding Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, the Braves will be counting on Beachy to get them off to a good start in 2012.

    Anytime a pitcher gives up fewer hits than innings pitched, (only 125 in 141.2 IP), and strikes out more batters than innings pitched, he can be a solid top end of the rotation starter. I see that for Beachy.

    If you can get Beachy for around $17 in an NL only league, that's a good deal. I would also be willing to pay $12 in mixed leagues for him.

3) Alex Presley

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have another good young player in Alex Presley. He is set to be the starting left fielder for the Pirates and should see plenty of action.

    Presley provides a little power, has good speed and is a threat on the bases. In 2011, he began the year in the minors, then moved to Pittsburgh in the middle of the season.

    While in Pittsburgh, Presley hit .298 with four home runs and 20 RBI, in 215 at-bats. As a leadoff hitter, Presley also stole nine bases and scored 27 runs in his 52 big league games. His OBP was .339, along with a very solid OPS of .804.

    At the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, Presley hit .333 with eight home runs, 41 RBI, scored 58 runs and had 22 stolen bases, in 87 games and 342 at-bats. His OBP was .388 and he had an OPS of .874.

    I expect Presley to hit right around .300, score 75 runs and have between 25-30 steals. These are good numbers for a leadoff hitter. He should also add in close to 10 home runs and 50 RBI.

    I believe you can get Presley for around $14 in an NL only league. He should go in the $7 range in mixed leagues.

2) John Mayberry Jr.

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    John Mayberry Jr. will open the season at first base in place of Ryan Howard. When Howard returns, which should be in mid to late April, Mayberry will switch to an outfield spot. The departure of left fielder Raul Ibanez opens up a spot for Mayberry.

    Mayberry is a much more accomplished hitter than Domonic Brown and Laynce Nix. When he moves to the outfield, I expect him to beat out Brown and Nix for the lions share of the playing time in left field.

    Mayberry had a decent 2011 season as he batted .273 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI in only 256 at-bats. If you project this out over 500 at-bats, you can see how productive Mayberry was in 2011. He also had a solid OBP of .341 and OPS .854. 

    I fully expect a breakout season for Mayberry and look for him to have 450-500 at-bats. He should deliver to the tune of 25 home runs and 80 RBI.

    Mayberry's stock is rising because of Howard's injury, so his price will also creep up. If you can get him for $16-$18 in an NL only league, I think he would be a steal. In a mixed league, Mayberry should be priced around $9.

1) Lucas Duda

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    My top sleeper candidate for the year is Lucas Duda. Due to the injury to Ike Davis in 2011, Duda got a chance to play and he did not disappoint.

    With Davis returning this year, Duda will start the season in right field. In 2011, he hit .292 with ten home runs and 50 RBI, in only 301 at-bats. His OBP of .370 and OPS of .852 were excellent numbers.

    For the 2012 season, with the fences shortened at Citi Field, Duda's power number should continue to climb. With a full season, expect Duda to hit around .285, with 24 home runs and 75-80 RBI. At the age of 26, Duda is coming into the prime of his career and his proven success last year bodes well for 2012.

    He should also be reasonably priced at around $15 in NL only leagues and $7 in mixed leagues.

Play Ball!!!

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    I wish you luck in your fantasy baseball league this coming season. This report, focused on National League sleepers should give you great ideas on some under the radar candidates that you can target for your team in the coming year.

    2012 promises to be an exciting season. May your fantasy team and favorite players stay healthy. Opening Day is only a few weeks away. Have a great season everyone!