Brandon Belt is a sleeper to grab in drafts this season.
Life is full of pleasant surprises and brutal letdowns, and fantasy baseball is not exempt from this reality.
Nothing ever goes 100 percent to plan. Sports would be pretty boring if it did.
Mike Napoli, Tim Lincecum, Brett Lawrie and Rickie Weeks, among countless others broke the hearts of fantasy owners across the world last season.
But Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey, Jim Johnson and Mike Trout drew smiles from many of those same people.
Several big names are going to deflate many fantasy seasons while a helping of lesser-known talent delivers huge rewards in the later rounds. Deciphering who falls under each column is a major key to success in this silly little game of ours.
These few sleepers will outperform their draft slot with the potential to break out in a major way. Look to snag them in the middle to late rounds in hopes of hitting the jackpot.
As for the other occupants of this list, don't get lured into their webs after career years. Those who draft one of these guys are setting themselves up for a massive disappointment.
Belt is now San Francisco's starting first baseman.
This could finally be the year.
Over the past two seasons, the San Francisco Giants shunned youngster Brandon Belt for dwindling veteran Aubrey Huff. But everyday playing time at first base belongs to Belt now.
The 24-year-old produced a .275/.360/.421 slash line in 411 at-bats. Although his seven home runs fell short of expectations for a hitter at his position, Belt also stole 12 bases.
While Belt hit just seven homers, he picked up 27 doubles and six triples. A handful of those extra-base hits could start clearing the fences.
He also showed much more power prowess during his rookie season, notching nine homers in 187 at-bats.
With a frequent source of plate appearances coming his way, it’s not out of the picture to project 15-20 round-trippers for Belt, who could accompany that with a .280 average and 15 steals.
Seems more like numbers owners seek from middle infielders, and first base consists of several options who will deliver more in the power department.
He may not be worth your time in a standard 10-team mixed league, but owners in deeper formats can definitely make use of the lefty this season.
Don't trust Chase Headley to hit 31 homers again.
Drafting a guy following a career year rarely pans out well.
Chase Headley certainly had a remarkable season, hitting .286 with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs and 17 steals.
Prior to 2012, Headley tallied 12 homers during his paramount power season. In 2011, he hit four home runs. Four.
Can Headley sustain this power surge? Not likely. He posted a 21.4 percent HR/FB ratio, so more than one out of every five fly-balls he hit exited the park.
His previous best rate stands at 10.7 percent.
According to ESPN’s home run tracker, 11 of Headley’s round-trippers classified as “just enough” shots, meaning they barely cleared the warning track.
Maybe it’d be possible to rally behind Headley if another squad freed him from San Diego, but no trade appears imminent. He has slugged .366 in Petco Park throughout his five-year tenure with the Padres.
Even while crediting the 28-year-old for adjusting and improving his craft as a hitter, it’s still probable that he never touches 31 homers again. If he hits 20 (which is a reasonable projection), he’ll still top his second-highest tally by 75 percent.
If Headley can be obtained at a juncture of a draft worth picking a 20/15 third baseman hitting around .280, then go nuts. But chances are someone else will reach too soon in hopes of an encore.
Shortstop Josh Rutledge can hit for power and speed.
Josh Rutledge quietly set up the groundwork to enter 2013 drafts as the top shortstop sleeper.
In 73 games, Rutledge hit .274 with eight homers and seven steals during his introduction to the majors.
Now equipped with a full season to inflict damage, Rutledge could post numbers akin to Alexei Ramirez before his power deteriorated. Calling Coors Field home will certainly help the 23-year-old’s cause.
With Troy Tulowitzki reclaiming his territory at shortstop, Rutledge will slide over to second base. So that means he’ll earn eligibility at both middle infield slots.
At either position, a 15/15 hitter warrants consideration, but he’d ideally play in the middle infield position in leagues with 10 or 12 managers.
Rutledge could be in danger of garnering too much fanfare by March. Drafters who stopped paying attention late in the season after falling out of contention will begin their studies and ask “who is this Josh Rutledge guy?”
Or they’ll read several other sleeper articles singing his praises.
However, be aware of caveats that could hinder his transformation to fantasy phenom. He drew just nine walks through 277 at-bats last year while striking out 54 times, so his success is far from a sure bet.
Yadier Molina's power surge came from nowhere.
Yadier Molina used to be an incredibly average hitter, right? Am I imagining this?
Molina torched former career bests by registering a .315 average, 22 home runs and 12 stolen bases.
Jumping to a six-homer hitter to 14 is one thing, but then leaping to 22 the following season?
ESPN's home run tracker counted eight “just enough” dingers for Molina, so those played a huge role in his previously unforeseen power production.
His 12 steals also represent a career high that’s hard to see a 30-year-old catcher duplicating. Now that pitchers are actually aware that Molina could take off, they should prevent him from reaching double-digits again.
Molina used to serve as a last resort for owners who wanted a catcher that would not harm their batting average. He offered little value elsewhere, but he didn’t hurt them anywhere.
Now he’s looked at as a top five catcher, which puts the pressure on Molina to deliver another 20/10 campaign. In a recent CBS Sports mock draft, Molina was taken in the fifth round.
Since most leagues require one starting catcher, there’s too much talent at the position this year to overpay for Molina. Wait for a guy like Salvador Perez, who went in the 10th round of that CBS draft.
Cameron Maybin stole 40 bases in 2011.
Following a highly-anticipated breakout campaign, Cameron Maybin disappointed his owners in 2012.
Hopefully everyone who eyed him in previous seasons didn’t throw away that sleeper label. Rather than calling 2011 the outlier, last season should be viewed as a fluke.
Nobody was thrilled that he only stole 26 bases, but the real letdown resulted from his .243 average. While Maybin’s not a .300 hitter, he’s not that bad either.
A career-low .293 BABIP hampered his cause and offset improvements made by the 25-year-old. Strikeouts plagued Maybin early in his career, but he dropped his rate down to 19.6 percent while slightly raising his walk rate to 7.8 percent.
If Maybin can continue to cut down on strikeouts, he should return to hitting around .260 or higher. Those extra hits will put him on base more, which provides him with more opportunities to swipe some bags.
Don’t expect a colossal resurgence, but Maybin can register a 10/30 season while only costing a late-round selection. And it’s not out of the question for him to veer closer to his 40 steals from two seasons ago.
Don't buy into the Dexter Fowler hype.
We’ve waited for Dexter Fowler to put his name on the map for years now.
Now that he finally came forth with something of a breakout season, I'm not impressed.
Fowler always flashed the tools of a future fantasy star, but the 2012 season showcased little of what figured to make him a special talent.
Speed always prompted Fowler to sleeper status come Spring Training. After stealing 27 games during his rookie campaign, everyone thought that he was just scratching the surface.
Fowler looked poised to deliver a 10/40 season one of these years. Instead, we’ll have to settle for 13/12, which is what the 26-year-old accumulated last season.
His .300 average propelled him to relevancy, but it’s not happening again. Fowler, a career .271 hitter who ended 24.2 percent of his plate appearances by striking out, needed a league-high .390 BABIP to reach the .300 milestone.
After his promising arrival in 2009, Fowler has yet to exceed 13 steals. And his 13 homers more than doubled his previous best of six.
Essentially, Fowler will not do anything at an above-average rate. Don’t waste a pick on a .270 hitter who will maybe attain 10 homers and 15 steals.
A change of scenery will do wonders for Josh Beckett's career.
A down season isn’t anything new for Josh Beckett.
In 2006, he joined the Boston Red Sox, fresh off a season where he netted a 3.37 ERA and 8.36 K/9 ratio. So of course he debuted in Boston with a 5.01 ERA and 6.95 K/9 rate.
Beckett paved the road for smoother travels the following three years, but then it all fell apart during a disastrous 2010 in which he accrued a 5.78 ERA. Then everything worked out fine in 2011.
So even after Beckett procured unflattering numbers in 2012, let’s not panic too much.
The 32-year-old demonstrated his notorious inconsistency with a 4.65 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 6.97 K/9 ratio. While his peripherals don’t indicate any significant poor luck, the change of scenery could uplift the veteran’s outlook for 2013.
As part of the blockbuster deal that saw Boston dump a heap of salary onto the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beckett voyaged from the American League East to the National League West.
The new league, division and ballpark revitalized Beckett during a short sample size. He rediscovered his strikeout touch, fanning 38 batters in 43 innings.
Dodger Stadium is an ideal location for a fly-ball pitcher whose undoing has always been the long ball. More balls should stay in the park, preventing Beckett’s ERA from straying too far out of whack.
A full season with the Dodgers is just what the doctor ordered to restore Beckett’s fantasy value heading into 2013.
The usually underrated Hiroki Kuroda might become overrated.
Upon signing with the New York Yankees, several red flags jumped out to make owners wary of drafting Hiroki Kuroda.
Recall all the arguments made in Beckett’s favor. Now put those in reverse to determine why leaving the Dodgers for the Yankees boded poorly for the veteran.
When a fly-ball pitcher with solid, yet unspectacular strikeout numbers relocates from a spacious NL park to a bandbox in the AL, it behooves owners to look elsewhere.
Kuroda, however, defied logic by earning a 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP during his first year in pinstripes. Since he pitched well in 2012, he likely will enter 2013 drafts as an overvalued commodity.
The fear of losing strikeouts without the aid of pitchers occupying the No. 9 slot came to fruition; his K/9 rate dropped to 6.84. He also surrendered a career-high 25 home runs.
Since he plays for the Yankees and made a name for himself with an impressive postseason showing, Kuroda will shift from draft-day value to a guy that the casual fan rates too highly.
In their preseason rankings, ESPN ranks him as the No. 29 starting pitcher, ahead of Jake Peavy, Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy. The love for Kuroda could go overboard now that he’s a household name.
Ryan Cook will look to regain his closer's role.
The Oakland A’s closer situation is one that fantasy players should closely monitor.
Since the squad revolved different pitchers into the ninth inning role throughout the year, it’s anyone's guess who emerges as the closer in 2013.
But among a talented group of relievers, Ryan Cook could make fantasy owners very happy if he received another crack at Oakland’s closing gig.
In his rookie season, Cook recorded a 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 80 strikeouts through 73.1 innings.
Even as Cook received an All-Star bid, his sensational numbers seemed suspicious due to his susceptibility to walks. Not only did he correct that flaw, but he transformed it into a monumental strength.
After the All-Star break, he allowed six free passes in 35 innings to finish 2012 with a 3.31 BB/9 ratio. Neither his uncontrollable start nor precise finish may reflect Cook’s true persona, but he can make do with the final product.
Grant Balfour or Sean Doolittle could also fill the role as an effective, affordable source of saves if given the role, but Cook has the upside edge over Balfour and the past experience nod over Doolittle to seize the job.
Fernando Rodney will never duplicate his 2012 success.
What just happened?
The relatively small sample sizes accrued by relief pitchers occasionally result in numbers vastly contrary to their usual production. This was taken to an astronomical extreme with Fernando Rodney and his 0.60 ERA.
That bears repeating: Rodney posted a 0.60 ERA last season. Five runs. That's not a typo. He allowed just five earned runs through 74.2 innings.
At his best, Mariano Rivera could never accomplish that. The virtually unhittable Craig Kimbrel registered just a putrid 1.01 ERA.
How did a 35-year-old with a career 3.75 ERA suddenly establish himself as the best closer in baseball?
While Rodney certainly played the best baseball of his career, his historically dominant numbers were aided by an unsustainable .220 BABIP that helped him allow just 43 hits all year.
As for only permitting five earned runs, don’t count on him to strand 89.4 percent of his baserunners again.
Rodney’s ability to remain an upper-echelon closer rests on whether he can maintain his improved control from last year. Usually a certainty to allow more than four free passes per nine innings, he dipped his BB/9 ratio to 1.81.
Among a pack of 10 or more managers, at least one is likely to glance at Rodney's numbers and scoop him off the board far too early.