In 2008, many teams seemed to rise from the ashes of their previous losing seasons as they awoke to fantastic campaigns.
The Milwaukee Brewers brought a young squad into the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were able to reach the NL Championship Series.
The Tampa Bay Rays had their first winning season to date as they rode along the path to the World Series.
Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies would defeat all odds as they became champions of the world.
That is the beauty of the sport. Teams and players both can rise to the occasion at any point in time and steal the thunder from an unnoticed opponent.
Now in 2009, the quest to be called “champions” begins again, and teams must start revving their engines beginning in Spring Training.
This also applies to the players themselves.
Going into the upcoming season, many players are expected to put up decent numbers, giving fantasy baseball owners a good idea of exactly where to take them in their upcoming drafts.
Some players, however, sit on the board, waiting for their name to be picked, but instead, they hit the free agent list. Today we are going to glance at these players and see who could be a sleeping giant.
We will first look at the hitters. Below are 12 players who could break out in the upcoming season. So who could be a sleeper in 2009?
Adam Jones (OF) (BAL)
We begin our list with the Baltimore Orioles’ 23-year-old center fielder Adam Jones. In his first full season in the majors, Jones hit for a .270 batting average, with nine home runs, 57 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases.
Coming into 2009, Jones hopes to have his best year ever. He has already added on 25 pounds of sheer muscle to his '6"2 frame. This bodes well for fantasy owners.
Due to his below-average offensive performance in 2008, many people will fail to notice him on Draft Day. This is a huge mistake.
With all of that extra muscle, Jones should also be able to tack on more home runs.
Before he even came to the Orioles in the 2008 offseason, he was projected as being a future 20+ home run threat. Don’t be surprised if he comes out and shows it off this season.
If you are looking for an outfielder in the later rounds of your draft, take a peek and see if he’s still available. You might just get a bargain out of him.
Jed Lowrie (SS) (BOS)
When you think of top shortstops, what names come to mind? Hanley Ramirez? Derek Jeter? Jose Reyes? How about Jed Lowrie? That’s right, you read it correctly.
Obviously, unless you’re a Red Sox fan, Lowrie is not one of the first names that comes to mind. Last season, he hit for a .258 average, with two homeruns, 46 RBI, 34 runs scored, and one stolen base.
Lowrie has more “pop” in his bat than most shortstops, giving him a slight edge over the competition.
This youngster also didn’t have the chance to start everyday for the Sox in 2008; however, he now has the golden opportunity.
It seems as though he will be the No. 1 shortstop for Boston come Opening Day, greatly upping his fantasy value. With the depth at shortstop being so slim in fantasy baseball, Lowrie may have more worth than first believed.
Because many owners may decide to grab their middle-infielders early, Lowrie could end up sitting on the board later than people think.
Now starting everyday, look for his power numbers to begin to show, and his RBI total to increase drastically. If you need a shortstop late in the draft, Lowrie is your guy.
Kelly Shoppach (C) (CLE)
With Victor Martinez being projected as the starting catcher for the Indians in 2009, many fantasy owners may be weary to grab backup Kelly Shoppach. If you plan to draft him, don’t even pay attention to the depth chart.
In ‘08, Shoppach hit for a .261 average, with 21 homeruns, 55 RBI, and 67 runs scored. Not bad for a part-time player. Coming into this season, the starter, Martinez, won’t be catching as much as some people think.
I’m sure we will see him splitting time at catcher, designated hitter, and first base, giving Shoppach plenty of opportunities to grab at-bats.
Obviously, he has power. Now with more chances to come to the plate, he also has more chances to hit the ball out of the park. Look for his homerun totals to reach anywhere from 25-30, maybe more with a quick start.
He shouldn’t be grabbed in the first five rounds, giving you plenty of time to make a move. This could be Shoppach’s breakout season. If you can grab him at the right time, pull the trigger. He could be your starting catcher from week one ‘til the end.
Pablo Sandoval (3B) (SF)
We may just have a true sleeping “Giant” on our hands. Last season, Sandoval burst onto the scene, wreaking havoc on opposing pitchers. In only 145 at-bats, Pablo hit for a .345 average, with three homeruns, 24 RBI, and 24 runs scored.
Now, the Giants have awarded him with the starting third baseman job in 2009. His power numbers should be able to carry him throughout the season, giving the youngster a great deal of fantasy value.
This 23-year old has tremendous upside going into Spring Training, and he should be noticed on Draft Day.
That’s the thing, though. He hasn’t gotten much (if any) attention. Be wise, but if you wish, you can take him late in the draft. In the end, he may just give you plenty more than you had bargained for.
Nelson Cruz (OF) (TEX)
That Rangers’ outfield never ceases to amaze me. First, they grabbed Josh Hamilton and watched him shine.
Next, we saw as David Murphy took over the starting left field job and hit a solid 15 homers and 75 RBI. Now they have this guy. Nelson Cruz left the ‘08 campaign with a .330 average, seven homeruns, 26 RBI, 19 runs scored, and three stolen bases. Now, he enters into the ‘09 season as the starting right fielder.
If you follow baseball thoroughly, you may have noticed that fourth outfielder Marlon Byrd was signed to a one-year deal this offseason. Don’t sweat it, because it should have little to no effect on Cruz’s at-bats.
With more at-bats comes more opportunities to show off his skills at the plate. Playing in a good hitters’ ballpark, Cruz should have no trouble transferring his ‘08 numbers into 2009.
He should still be around in the later rounds on Draft Day, so waiting for him shouldn’t hurt. Picking him up, though, could bring you a solid amount of points during the year.
John Baker (C) (FLA)
I thought that the Rangers had their share of young studs, but the Marlins seem to pour them out of the farm system as well.
Baker, currently slotted as the starting catcher for Florida in 2009, hit for a .299 average, with five homeruns, 32 RBI, and 32 runs scored in 197 at-bats in the 2008 season.
With a lineup featuring Cameron Maybin, Jorge Cantu, Hanley Ramirez, Cory Ross, and Dan Uggla, Baker should have no problem getting protection.
As of now, look at Baker as a No. 2 fantasy catcher with plenty of upside.
If he can continue to hit with power, he may find himself as one of the better young catchers in the game in 2009.
Who knows? He may come out and have a better year than we all expect.
Ryan Spilborghs (OF) (COL)
With the departure of Willy Taveras, the Colorado Rockies are now searching for their new starting center fielder. That man could very well be Ryan Spilborghs.
Last season, he hit for a .313 average, with six homeruns, 36 RBI, 38 runs scored, and seven stolen bases. For now, Spilborghs seems like the front-runner to win the starting job in center for the Rockies. If he has a solid Spring Training, the job is his.
Ryan is a threat both at the plate and on the base-paths, as he proved last season with a solid batting average and an average amount of stolen bases.
As a fantasy player, Spilborghs could end up having a solid year if he gets the chance to start everyday, so drafting him as a fourth outfielder may not be such a bad thought.
Before you know it, you might just have him starting as one of the better outfielders on your squad.
Mike Fontenot (2B) (CHC)
Next man up! At least that’s what the Cubs had in mind when they dealt former starting second baseman Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians. Now, it is Mike Fontenot’s job to man the position.
In 2008, the former Louisiana State product finished with a .305 average, nine homeruns, 40 RBI, 42 runs scored, and two stolen bases in only 243 at-bats.
Now the starter, Fontenot has the opportunity to play everyday and rack up the plate appearances. As always, the second base position in fantasy baseball is relatively slim, upping Fontenot’s value.
Add in his power numbers and the ability to hit for a .300 average and you have yourself one heck of a pickup later on in a draft.
If you wish, you can wait until the sixth or seventh round and see if he’s still on the board. If you need a solid second baseman, take him. Expect those nine home runs from last season to make a jump from anywhere to 15-25. Not too bad for a second baseman.
Matt Joyce (OF) (TB)
Earlier this offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for outfield prospect Matt Joyce. So what exactly did the Rays get in return with Joyce? Let’s see:
They got another youngster to add to the fifty million of them already dressed in blue and yellow, they received a power hitter who is capable of 20+ homeruns, and a guy who made my sleepers list.
In 2008 with the Tigers, Joyce hit for a .252 average, with 12 homeruns, 33 RBI, and 40 runs scored in only 242 at-bats.
Last season, he played in a platoon role in the Detroit outfield. Now, he has a shot at being the official starter in Tampa.
At the moment, the toughest competition that he has to battle against for the starting spot is veteran Gabe Gross. That can’t be too hard to overcome. If, or when, he ends up winning the starting job, Joyce will become one of the better young outfielders in the game today.
As previously stated, the kid can hit for power, as I am expecting him to at least hit 20 homers in 2009. For fantasy, Joyce will most likely be drafted as a number five or six outfielder, some place that he shouldn’t stay for very long.
Look for him to make the jump from bench player to starting outfielder in your fantasy league this season.
Elijah Dukes (OF) (WSH)
This pick is one that I am slightly afraid of, but most analysts know of his potential. In 2008, Dukes hit for a .264 batting average, with 13 homeruns, 44 RBI, 48 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases.
Being the current starting right fielder in D.C., Dukes has nothing to worry about when it comes to losing his job on the field.
It’s what happens off the field that scares me. Dukes has been caught up in many legal troubles over the past few seasons, threatening him from playing everyday in the majors. If he can stay on the field, Elijah is a 30+ homerun threat, not to mention he can steal bases with ease.
On Draft Day, Dukes should still be on the board in the later rounds, so if you’d like, go ahead and snatch him. He could end up having a breakout year for the Nationals in 2009.
Chase Headley (OF) (SD)
Another outfielder to add to the list. Headley enters the 2009 season as the starting left fielder in San Diego, something that he did not have the chance to do last season.
Now that he has the full-time job, he can take his numbers from last season (.269 average, nine homeruns, 38 RBI, 34 runs scored, and four stolen bases) and move into the upcoming year with a fresh start.
His main problem from last season was his patience at the plate, as he struck out more times than he should have.
If this future star can calm down at the plate, then the 2009 season seems bright.
Headley is a power threat, and with a good season, he could very well reach the 20 home run mark before season’s end. For now, draft him in the later rounds as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
He could very well be in your starting lineup before mid-season.
Gerald Laird (C) (DET)
Finally, a place all to my own! That’s what Laird should have said after he found out that he would be playing in Detroit in 2009.
In ‘08, he had to share time behind the plate with youngsters Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden in Texas.
That gave Laird a limited number of at-bats, and his final stat line looked as follows: .276 average, six homeruns, 41 RBI, 54 runs scored, and two stolen bases in 344 at-bats.
Now that Laird has the backstop all to himself, he needs to take full advantage of it.
In the lineup around him, he has hitters Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco, and Gary Sheffield to provide protection. Personally, I ranked him lower than many would’ve thought in my catchers’ rankings.
He needs to show up this season to change my mind. Prove me wrong, Gerald!
As far as fantasy goes, if he’s available in the later rounds, take him. He should be able to produce solid numbers during the 2009 campaign, giving your squad a solid catcher that can be placed into the starting lineup at any time.
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