Sleeping In: The Guys You Need To Fix Your Fantasy Baseball Team
I play mostly 12-team or larger roto-leagues, so the sleeper lists I see published here on a regular basis aren't really helpful to me. Chris Davis isn't a sleeper, folks. Everyone in every league I play in pretty much expected that guy to hit 30 HRs and get 100 RBI this season, and they drafted accordingly.
I define a sleeper as someone who achieves unexpected success. In the interests of my fellow fantasy owners, I'd like to present a list of REAL sleepers to help your teams rebound from poor starts to your seasons.
Catcher: John Baker
Baker got his first shot at the majors last season, and he responded in solid fashion. Posting a .299 BA, Baker also scored 32 runs, hit five HRs, and knocked in another 32 runs in only 197 at-bats. His OBP was close to .400, and he's not a fluke. His career minor league OBP was around .360, so expect some regression towards that number, but I'll wager that he wasn't in too many minor league batting orders that include the guy he's slapping hands with above. Yeah, that helps. Oh, and Baker is only 11 percent owned in ESPN leagues.
1B: Nick Johnson
Most everyone is in the dark about Nick Johnson, evidenced by his 1.6 percent ownership rate in ESPN leagues. And hey, if we're being real, he DOES play for the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals have a good young core of players, and spent a mint to bring Adam Dunn to town. This could be a big year for Johnson, who has a career OBP of .397. The only question about him is his health, but that's why you can get him for nothing. Take the chance, and bank 20-25 HRs with a good average if he manages to play a full season.
Also, keep a close eye on Travis Ishikawa in San Francisco and the tandem of Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison in Florida's minor-league system.
2B: Chris Getz
Admit it. When you read the name "Chris Getz," your first thought was Joe Pesci.
Just as Pesci almost stole the show from Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Chris Getz could be the missing link this season for the White Sox. He's not considered the long-term solution at 2B—that will almost certainly be Gordon Beckham, or Alexei Ramirez if Beckham stays at SS. Heck, Getz wasn't even supposed to win the job THIS season, but a stellar spring convinced ChiSox manager Ozzie Guillen to bat Getz second ahead of Carlos Quentin, Jim Thome, and Jermaine Dye. Getz won't hit for much power, but he stole bases, got on base at a good clip, and walked more than he struck out every step of the way in the minors. He's 6.5 percent owned in ESPN leagues.
Other options are Aaron Hill, who offers nice power potential now that he appears recovered from post-concussion syndrome, and Mark Teahen, who should be eligible at 2B soon and could be a 15-15 candidate.
3B: Vote for Pedro! (Feliz)
In addition to being one of the better fielding third basemen in baseball, Feliz was a reliable source of power for four years in San Francisco. The Phillies envisioned more of the same when they signed him before the 2008 season, but then Feliz wound up limited due to a sore back that eventually cost him about 30 games.
After off season surgery, expect Feliz to regain the power stroke. He won't give you much in the way of batting average, but with the pitching staff the Phillies have this year they know they need to score a ton of runs, and they've got an awful lot of guys who will be on base in front of Feliz. He's currently 2.4 percent owned in ESPN leagues, but give him a shot...Pedro offers you his protection, and 20+ HRs and 80 RBI are not out of the question.
Other candidates include David Freese in St. Louis and Ramon Vazquez in Pittsburgh.
SS: Erick Aybar
It's possible you guys are not drafting Erick Aybar because you assume it's a rule that if you are an Angels infielder, you must get hurt, miss at least 40 games each season, and never reach your potential. Well, Aybar is about to reach his potential, and only 3.8 percent of all ESPN owners realize it.
In 551 minor league games, Aybar stole 186 bases. He won't hit for much power, but he will hit, and he will run. He's good with the glove, too, so don't expect rock-handed Brandon Wood to take Aybar's job away. Aybar is currently buried in the ninth spot of the Halos' order, but that essentially means he's batting in front of Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick. Man, these guys should be fun to watch.
OF1: Juan Rivera
I'm not the first guy this fantasy season to toss my hat into the mix for Juan Rivera, but I will be the next one to tell you that Juan Rivera should be owned. Right now he's only 6.9 percent owned in ESPN leagues.
Rivera is completely healthy for the first time in years, and the last time he played over 100 games in a season, he hit 23 HRs with 85 RBI. That was 2006, when he played 124 games. Since then, Rivera has had a lot of luck, and it's all been bad. He missed the 2007 season to a badly broken leg, and saw only limited action in 2008. As one of five guys in the mix for three OF positions and one DH spot, Rivera is expected to see regular time at DH.
OF2: Michael Cuddyer
Look at Michael Cuddyer's line from 2006: 102 runs, 24 HRs, 109 RBI. He was healthy all season, and batted fifth most of the year behind eventual AL MVP Justin Morneau. I know I'd take those stats from any of my fantasy outfielders.
He regressed a bit in 2007, hampered by injuries, but still posted solid numbers. In 2008, finger injuries cost him most of the season.
Well, guess what? He's healthy again. He's the Twins starting right-fielder, and he's slated to bat third, between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for most of the year. Flashback to 2006?
He's 3.5 percent owned in ESPN leagues. Don't feel guilty about picking up another Twinkie.
OF3: Colby Rasmus
Colby Rasmus seemed to get the jilted lover treatment from fantasy owners this season. We treated him like he'd dumped us right after we told him we loved him. What happened? This guy was getting drafted in deep leagues last year, and this year he's 4.3 percent owned in ESPN leagues.
Rasmus is a special, special talent, folks. Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, and Ryan Ludwick are not going to be the guys to keep him off the field. He's going to strike out a lot, but he's going to hit HRs and steal bases, and we like guys who do both of those things.
SP: Carl Pavano
The picture typifies what Pavano's time as a Yankee was like. Truth be told, even without all the injuries, Pavano was never as good as the Yankees paid him to be, and he was never cut out for the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Cue Cleveland. Pavano comes to town as the No. 3 starter, a man seeking redemption in a place where he can go about his business almost unnoticed. If he stays healthy, Pavano is capable of 130-140 strikeouts, 12-14 wins, and a sub-4.00 ERA, and a sub-1.30 WHIP. He's 6.5 percent owned in ESPN leagues right now.
And yes, I fully expect to get reamed for putting Pavano on this list. Just know that last year, I was drafting Cliff Lee in the late rounds of my drafts while most of you plucked him off the wire in mid-April.
UPDATE: I wrote this before Pavano gave up nine earned runs in one inning today...but I stand by my assessment. You don't even have to waste a draft pick, folks.
RP: Octavio Dotel and Matt Thornton
There's a reason the White Sox signed Dotel to a two-year contract worth $11 million in January 2008. The reason? Bobby Jenks' steadily declining strikeout numbers.
For his career, Dotel has averaged over 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Even if Jenks doesn't go down this year (and he will), Dotel will give you a ridiculous number of strikeouts in very few innings. Between Dotel and Thornton, I wouldn't be surprised if you wound up with overall numbers close to those of an elite starting pitcher, but in only about 150 total innings pitched.
The Final Roster
Love him or hate him, Coach K wins. He doesn't do it because he gets all the best athletes, he does it because he incessantly prepares and practices. You need to do the same when it comes to your fantasy drafts.
If you draft all the guys in this slide show, you're going to get slaughtered this season. None of these guys are intended to be front line starters for your fantasy teams, but they can all be able backups, and they can be decent temporary starters in case of injury. All of these guys have far more upside than fantasy owners see in them at the moment, so if you get to the late rounds of your draft and see that you forgot a key backup, draft one of these guys. You won't be sorry.