"Super Sleeper" Estrada struck out 106 batters over 99.1 IP over his last 17 starts in 2012.
Each year around this time, I’m asked about fantasy baseball sleepers at least five times per day. I reply with a question of my own: How deep of a sleeper are you looking for?
For example, a guy like Aaron Hill would’ve been considered a sleeper heading into 2012 even though he was being ranked just outside the top 10 at his position in most cases. That’s because no one thought he’d end up being the second-most productive second baseman in baseball. Sleeper? You better believe it.
Another example from 2012 would’ve been Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada, although that’s on an entire different level of “sleeper”. We could’ve categorized him as a “Super Sleeper.” He actually pitched pretty well in 2011 (4.08 ERA, 92.2 IP, 83 H, 29 BB, 88 K), but it was hard to take notice because all but seven of his 43 appearances were out of the bullpen, and most of those were low-leverage situations.
Estrada wasn’t on anyone’s radar last offseason. And if you held on to him until late June, your patience was rewarded because that’s when he turned into a quality start/strikeout machine.
So who will be the Aaron Hill of 2013? Who will be this year’s version of Marco Estrada? Keep reading to find out...
Ryan Doumit, MIN
Notable 2012 stats: .275 BA, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 34 2B, 56 R in 134 games
In his first American League season, Doumit (pictured) posted career highs in homers, runs batted in and games played. His defensive versatility (C, 1B, LF, RF) and ability to stay in the lineup when he’s not on the field (48 starts at DH in 2012) make him a good bet to repeat those numbers while hitting behind Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau in the Twins lineup.
Jason Castro, HOU
Notable 2012 stats: .257 BA, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 15 2B, 31 BB in 87 games
The 25-year-old missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL and then played sparingly last season as he worked his way back from offseason foot surgery. He even spent a little over a month on the disabled list with knee soreness. When he returned, though, he hit .261 with a .343 on-base percentage in 88 at-bats the rest of the way, including four homers in his last seven games.
Eric Hosmer, KC
Notable 2012 stats: .232 BA, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 56 BB, 22 2B, 16 SB in 152 games
After suffering through a terrible sophomore slump last season, most agree that Hosmer should be better in 2013. The question is how much better? Even a modest improvement and the 23-year-old could accomplish the rare feat of becoming a first baseman with 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. Unless the scouts were just completely wrong about him, I’d expect the talent to take over, and we’ll see Hosmer become an All-Star-caliber player very quickly.
Justin Smoak, SEA
Notable 2012 stats: .217 BA, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 14 2B, 49 BB in 132 games
The offseason acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse appeared to be the end of the Justin Smoak (pictured) era in Seattle, or at least put it on hold for another season. But manager Eric Wedge said that wasn’t the case, and he expected big things from the 26-year-old switch-hitter in 2013. Smoak’s impressive spring (9-for-25, 2 HR, 3 2B) is making Wedge look pretty smart so far.
Neil Walker, PIT
Notable 2012 stats: .280 BA, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 27 2B, 62 R, 47 BB, 7 SB in 129 games
The second base class is deep with talent, and the 27-year-old Walker (pictured) currently falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. He does a little bit of everything and could have a career year (think 18 HR, 80 RBI, 80 R, 35 2B, 12 SB) in the middle of an improving young lineup that includes Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
Matt Carpenter, STL
Notable 2012 stats: .294 BA, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 22 2B, 5 3B, 34 BB in 114 games
The Cardinals’ second baseman of the near future, Kolten Wong, is waiting in the wings, so Carpenter might not have more than a half-season to show he can stick as a major league regular and not the utility man he was in 2012. He’s being given the opportunity to play second base, a position he’s only played a few times in his career, because of his bat. If he can handle the position defensively, his projected starts per week could go from three-to-four to at least five.
Matheny agrees that Matt Carpenter can now be called a second baseman, proven this spring he's ready to start at 2B this season. #stlcards— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) March 9, 2013
Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE
Notable 2012 stats: .268 BA, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 6 2B, 2 SB in 43 games
A highly touted prospect a couple years back, Chisenhall (pictured) was quietly putting together a solid 2012 season when a fractured forearm knocked him out of action for over two months. He returned late in the season and once again showed signs of being a quality hitter. He’ll hit near the bottom of a much-improved lineup, where he’ll play regularly against right-handed starters (.848 OPS vs. RHP in 104 at-bats last season).
Nolan Arenado, COL
Notable 2012 stats: .285 BA, 12 HR, 56 RBI, 36 2B, 39 BB in 134 Double-A games
The Rockies were so excited about Arenado’s potential that some felt he could make the jump from Hi-A to the majors last April before his 21st birthday. It didn’t happen that way, as he struggled in spring training and then went on to have a very average Double-A season. With lower expectations this season, he’s doing all he can to put himself back in the mix for a third base vacancy without a very exciting candidate.
scouts are raving about #rockies third-base prospect Nolan Arenado, who's tearing up the cactus league— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) March 7, 2013
Everth Cabrera, SD
Notable 2012 stats: .246 BA, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 19 2B, 49 R, 43 BB, 44 SB
The NL leader in stolen bases last season, Cabrera gets on base just enough and is just consistent enough defensively to hold on to a regular job. If the 26-year-old, who already has six walks in nine spring games, can improve his on-base percentage (.324 OBP in 2012) just slightly, he could give your fantasy team 50-60 stolen bases in 2013.
Jean Segura, MIL
Notable 2012 stats: .304 BA, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 13 2B, 5 3B, 27 BB, 37 SB in 102 Double-A games
Making the jump from Double-A in 2012, Segura (pictured) struggled out of the gate (14-for-70 after call-up to Milwaukee), as would be expected. But he seemed comfortable down the stretch, hitting .309 with four doubles, two triples, nine walks and four stolen bases. He’ll have to show he can make adjustments during his first full season, but the offensive potential is there to help your fantasy team.
Carlos Gomez, MIL
Notable 2012 stats: .260 BA, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 19 2B, 4 3B, 72 R, 37 SB in 137 games
If you were paying attention to the second half of the 2012 season, Gomez is probably already on your radar. When the 27-year-old Gomez finally got a chance to play every day, he hit .278 with 14 homers and 26 stolen bases over the last two-and-a-half months of the season. The lack of plate discipline is scary, but Nyjer Morgan is no longer around to take away at-bats if he struggles. He'll tally up the important fantasy numbers as long as he's in the lineup.
Leonys Martin, TEX
Notable stats: .359 BA, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 18 2B, 24 BB, 10 SB in Triple-A games
Michael Bourn, available on the free-agent market until mid-February, appeared to be a good fit in Texas, but the Rangers opted to give Martin (pictured) a shot to prove he’s worth the $15.5 million major league contract they gave him back in 2011. He’s struggled in a few big league stints, but he’s talented enough to think his gaudy minor league numbers aren’t a fluke.
Andrew Cashner, SD
Notable 2012 stats: 4.27 ERA, 46.1 IP, 42 H, 19 BB, 52 K
There are plenty of concerns surrounding Cashner (pictured), mostly due to his injury history. His latest, a lacerated thumb tendon, has slowed him just enough where he probably can’t win a rotation spot out of spring training. He could end up in a setup role out of the bullpen, but the Padres have enough depth there and can allow the 26-year-old to build up stamina in the minors until he’s ready to claim a rotation spot. No Padres starter has anywhere near the upside of Cashner, so it might be worth the wait.
Chris Archer, TB
Notable 2012 Stats: 3.66 ERA, 128 IP, 99 H, 62 BB, 139 K in 25 Triple-A starts
With Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann front-runners for the fifth starter spot in Tampa Bay, Archer might start the season in Triple-A. But a team hoping to compete in the AL East can’t keep one of its five most-talented starting pitchers in the minors for very long. Archer will be making starts in the big leagues before long, maybe even by the first week of the season with the way he’s throwing this spring (7 IP, 0 R, H, 3 BB, 5 K).
Kelvin Herrera, KC
Notable 2012 stats: 2.35 ERA, 84.1 IP, 79 H, 21 BB, 77 K, 19 holds
Greg Holland certainly deserves to be the Royals closer after an impressive 2012 (67 IP, 58 H, 34 BB, 91 K). But when you have a bullpen-mate like Herrera (pictured), who has the potential to be one of the better relievers in baseball, the pressure to save each game becomes more intense because of who is waiting in the wings. Just ask Hector Santiago (White Sox closer pre-Addison Reed) and Javy Guerra (Dodgers closer pre-Kenley Jansen) about that. Herrera is probably my favorite “Next in Line” closer pick for 2013.
Trevor Rosenthal, STL
Notable 2012 stats: 2.78 ERA, 22.2 IP, 14 H, 7 BB, 25 K, 3 holds
For a guy who might start the season in the Triple-A rotation, Rosenthal has a very good chance to play a big role out of the Cardinals’ big league bullpen in 2013. Armed with a 100 mph fastball, Rosenthal has already been ruled out of the fifth starter competition, meaning his only chance to make the Opening Day squad is as a reliever. He’ll certainly rack up the strikeouts and holds, but could also be the guy to steal an occasional save from Jason Motte or take over in case of injury. In case you didn't know, injuries do occur frequently in baseball.
Trevor Rosenthal hits 100 MPH on the gun, strikes out the side in first relief appearance since moved him back to bullpen. #stlcards— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) March 10, 2013