Manny Machado is set to take a leap forward in 2013.
It's never too soon to plan for the end of your fantasy baseball draft. After all, fantasy baseball seasons are won in the later rounds.
Think about it—if you brag about drafting Mike Trout this year, you're kidding yourself; you just got lucky enough to have the first pick in the draft.
If you bragged about drafting Trout last year, you're downright insane. The guy was in the minors until late April, for crying out loud. If you picked him before the season, you were either a fortuitous fool or Biff from Back to the Future 2. There is no third option.
The true challenge is finding guys in late rounds who outperform their draft position. We're talking about young guns set to improve, risk-reward fliers and one-tool players who will rack up a particular stat for you.
Those are the guys who make the difference between a good fantasy team and a championship-caliber one. Let's take a look at a sleeper from each position that will carry you to a title.
All average draft positions (ADPs) courtesy of FFToolbox.com.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia will provide power from the catcher position.
With the amount of off-days catchers take, it's beneficial to have a backup bat behind the plate.
However, catcher is historically one of the weakest fantasy positions, so you'll have to settle for racking up stats in a single category.
That's where Jarrod Saltalamacchia comes into play.
In 224 games over two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Saltalamacchia has hit 41 home runs. That's three more than Yadier Molina has smacked, and he's the second catcher coming off the board with an ADP of 33.24.
Sure, Molina has batted over .300 in consecutive seasons, while Saltalamacchia hasn't topped .235 in that time. That's a tradeoff you make at the end of the draft. Saltalamacchia can't do much else, but his power makes him a valuable second stringer.
Morneau can be an All-Star if he stays healthy.
If Justin Morneau stays healthy, he's as good a value pick as you can get.
The 2006 AL MVP has not played up to his career average since he suffered a concussion in 2010. Though he was hampered by injury throughout the 2011 season, he finally returned to full-time play last year, batting .267 with 19 homers and 77 RBIs.
That's decent late-round production as is. If he comes anywhere close to his ceiling, Morneau will far outperform his draft position.
Before his injuries, Morneau consistently threatened a .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. He should only get better with more time removed from his concussions, and he could even reinsert himself in the All-Star conversation in 2013.
Utley was rounding back into form late last season.
When he's healthy, few second basemen can hit like Chase Utley.
He's definitely on the back end of his career. Utley missed the first three months of last season due to cartilage issues in both knees. Even if he stays on the field in 2013, he's not going to be the guy who posted WARs above 8.0 in 2008 and 2009.
That said, Utley showed progress in each successive month of the 2012 season.
Though he batted just .211 with a .736 OPS in July, he got on base more consistently as the season went along. In September, Utley upped his monthly average to .299 and his OPS to .838.
Again, these aren't his superstar numbers of old, but he can still hit well enough to be a starting fantasy second baseman. That's a steal so late in the draft.
Half a season of A-Rod is still valuable.
The farther Alex Rodriguez falls in the draft, the more tantalizing a flyer he becomes, especially if your league has a DL spot or two.
A-Rod will be out until after the All-Star break rehabbing a litany of hip issues. Those injuries rendered him useless at the plate in the 2012 playoffs, but we all know what this guy is capable of when he is anywhere near full strength.
The combination of what we know about A-Rod's ability and what we don't about his health makes him one of the most volatile players in your draft.
In FFToolbox's analyzed drafts, the earliest Rodriguez was selected was 92nd overall, better than Pablo Sandoval's ADP. At the latest, he went undrafted entirely.
If you're willing to stash him at the end of the bench until he returns, A-Rod could give you great returns in the second half. With a potentially healthy hip and renewed power, he'd be a very cost-effective asset for a postseason run.
A talent like Machado should not be drafted so low.
Back when the Baltimore Orioles drafted Manny Machado in 2010, Keith Law told The Baltimore Sun, "if Machado stays at shortstop, you have a potential All-Star offensively who is no worse than average with the glove."
He's a legitimate five-tool player and he's still just 20 years old. Age is not a factor in fantasy, but potential certainly is, and Machado has that in spades.
In his first 191 Major League at-bats, Machado batted .262 with seven home runs and a .739 OPS. Those are mediocre numbers, but for such a young player with boatloads of athletic ability, they represent a very promising start. Expect increases across the board in 2013.
Machado is Baltimore's third baseman now, but he's still eligible at short in fantasy. That vital technicality makes him even more valuable.
Juan Pierre is a nice cheap source of steals.
While risk-reward picks are sexy late in the draft, there's also value in guys like Juan Pierre: Consistent players who produce in scarce stat categories.
We know Pierre is going to get on base. He's a solid slap hitter and he's patient at the plate, allowing him to post on-base percentages over .340 in three of the past four seasons.
That puts Pierre in position to do what you're drafting him to do: Steal bases.
The active leader in career steals is still at it. Pierre stole 37 bases in 2012, and he has finished with fewer than 30 steals just once since he has become a full-time player.
Once you get to this point in the draft, you've likely picked up plenty of power along the way. Already set in the home run category, investing in a steady stolen base threat is a wise option.
Peavy is set for a more successful year in 2013.
Jake Peavy was the victim of bad luck last season.
The 2007 NL Cy Young winner was hampered by injuries from 2009 to 2011 before finally making it through the year again in 2012. However, he posted a disappointing 11-12 record, distracting fantasy players from how good he actually was.
With some more run support (he received just 4.38 runs per game in 2012), Peavy's record would better reflect his impressive performance. That's the type of production fantasy owners should expect with this pick.
Mariano Rivera has never come so cheap.
For the first time in ages, you can get Mariano Rivera without paying for saves.
After suffering a torn ACL in June 2012, Rivera is back for another go at age 43.
For just about any other human being on the planet, such a severe injury on the wrong side of 40 would be more than enough to end any plans to play competitive sports. For Rivera, it's just another chapter in his legendary career.
Considering how scattershot relievers are in fantasy baseball, Rivera is as good a bet as anyone. If he regains his form, he's as reliable as anyone at his position, and you can guarantee that the Yankees will give him the ball in save situations.
At the most unpredictable of all fantasy positions, Rivera is certainly worth the risk. If he pans out, your fantasy team will get a ton of production out of this late pick.