Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2013: 7 Undrafted Players Primed for a Breakout Season
Finding a bunch of players on the verge of a "breakout" season isn't necessarily all that hard. Finding a bunch of almost universally-undrafted players who are on the verge of a "breakout" season? That's a little tougher.
Anyone can make a case for the Rays' Matt Moore, the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo or the Mets' Matt Harvey, all young promising players ready to take the step from good to great as breakout candidates in 2013. But each of them were selected in every draft out there, often in the middle rounds.
The seven players to follow, however, also may be primed for their own breakouts this season—and still may be available in the free-agent pool. So if you need some help rounding out your roster, or if you're looking for the next who-knew pick-up, dive in. Or at least update your watch list.
Only players with an average draft position (ADP) of 260-plus on ESPN Fantasy Baseball's Live Draft Results were considered.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners
If one were to put a fantasy label on Justin Smoak (well, aside from "bust"), it would have to be something like post-post-post-hype sleeper.
Now 26, the former first-rounder has been more than a minor disappointment in both fantasy and real life, as he sports a .224 career average over his first three campaigns.
But if you squint hard through the rosiest of rose-colored spectacles, you might be able to make out a few signs that Smoak isn't as bad as he looks at first blush.
For one thing, the switch-hitter has always shown solid power, averaging 21 homers, 24 doubles and 70 RBI over a full slate of 162 games. That's actually not too bad, right?
For another, Smoak's solid 10.6 percent career walk rate proves he at least has an idea of the strike zone.
And last, it's not a reach to say he's been a tad unlucky, as his below-average .257 career BABIP indicates.
After a boffo spring (.407, five homers, eight doubles), the fences moving in at Safeco and the Mariners upgrading their lineup (at least, in theory), it's either going to happen for Smoak in 2013 or it'll never happen at all.
Chris Carter, 1B/OF/DH, Houston Astros
Chris Carter is strictly a power play.
The 26-year-old righty slugger has always mashed in the minors, as his 182 homers over eight minor league seasons proves, but he's swung and missed with the best of 'em, too: 23 percent strikeout rate in the minors and 32 percent in the majors.
That whiff-tastic approach is what held Carter back until 2012, when he bashed 16 homers in just 67 games for the A's. After being traded to the Astros, he's in a better ballpark and on a club that can afford to give him 500 at-bats without worrying about the consequences.
Carter might hit .230 and strike out close to 200 times, but he also might hit 30 bombs.
Justin Maxwell, OF, Houston Astros
Apparently, if you want to find undrafted breakout candidates, the Astros' roster is a good place to look.
Like Chris Carter (previous slide), Justin Maxwell is in line to get regular at-bats for the first time in his major league career, simply because Houston doesn't have anyone better to put out there.
Also like Carter, the 29-year-old Maxwell has a long history of non-contact, so he will hurt in the batting average department. But Maxwell's legitimate combination of power and speed—he went for 18 homers and nine steals in just 315 at-bats in 2012—could bring on a 20-20 season.
Wade Davis, SP, Kansas City Royals
A starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-again, Wade Davis is in a make-or-break season.
The 27-year-old righty proved last year he could be a weapon in the pen, but this once-top starting pitching prospect in the Rays' system has the arsenal to work in the rotation.
Back in 2010 and 2011, Davis posted decent numbers working every fifth day for Tampa (4.27 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), but his 5.6 K/9 left a lot to be desired, especially when that figure jumped to 11.1 as a reliever in 2012.
Perhaps a year spent dominating hitters in that role will give Davis the confidence to make good on his pedigree. Don't expect a miracle, but double-digit wins, an ERA in the high-3.00s and a WHIP around 1.30 would make Davis a useable starter. And if the strikeout rate starts matching up with his stuff, there's room for more.
Trevor Rosenthal, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
First, take a minute to watch that video of Trevor Rosenthal embarrassing hitters in his first taste of the majors last year.
Okay, now do you really need any more reasons to see why this 22-year-old flame-throwing right-hander could break out in his rookie season?
If you do, then consider this: With Cardinals closer Jason Motte on the DL with forearm trouble to start the year, Rosenthal's late-inning role is that much more important, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him seize ninth-inning duties at some point, in which case his fantasy value would explode like one of his 100-mph heaters.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Baltimore Orioles
It's hard to believe that a 27-year-old with a career 5.33 ERA could be a breakout candidate, but Jake Arrieta just might be.
The sturdy right-hander has shown flashes in his first three big league seasons, but the overall numbers are icky. The underlying ones? Not nearly as bad.
For instance, while Arrieta's ERA was an ungodly 6.20 last year, his FIP—an advanced statistic based on strikeouts, walks and home runs, the three aspects a pitcher controls—was a much prettier 4.20. That's because, despite posting career-bests in K/9 (8.6) and BB/9 (2.8), Arrieta's BABIP was 10th-worst in the majors (.320) and his left on-base percentage (57.3%) was the worst in baseball.
If Arrieta can avoid being tortured by the fickle luck gods again, we could see a much-improved pitcher, one that is actually useful in fantasy.
Dillon Gee, SP, New York Mets
Dillon Gee probably wouldn't qualify for this column if not for a scary season-ending blood clot in his throwing shoulder last season.
The 26-year-old right-hander was on his way to a breakout year (4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.0 K/9) when he had to be shut down in early July to have a procedure to break up the clot.
It seems, though, fantasy owners forgot about Gee, who's been left idling on many a waiver wire this spring. Consider this a reminder, as Gee is now healthy, solidly in the Mets' five-man rotation and could pick up where he left off.
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