The 2013 Major League Baseball season is just getting underway, and at this early juncture, there is plenty of time to pick out fantasy sleepers that will produce for your team throughout the year.
Several talented American League youngsters stand out thanks to their upside and flashes of promise from their previous campaigns. All three have short track records in the big leagues but have shown signs that they can get the job done in their brief careers.
Here is a breakdown of a trio of 20-somethings that should become staples in fantasy lineups at solid value.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
Although he hit just .233 after the All-Star break in 2012, the 26-year-old is now flanked by several talented bats in the heart of the Cleveland order.
With Michael Bourn in the leadoff spot and Nick Swisher batting cleanup, there should be ample opportunities for Kipnis to score a lot of runs and also drive in many of his own.
Kipnis went hitless in the first two games for the Indians but socked two doubles against the Toronto Blue Jays, one of which was off of Mark Buehrle. That should be more of a sign of things to come for him, as he sports underrated power and the ability to hit to the opposite field effectively.
Another intriguing element that Kipnis brings to the table from a fantasy standpoint is his base-stealing prowess. He has successfully stolen 36 bases to date while only being caught seven times.
This is only his second full season in Cleveland, and he is a prime candidate to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases while also potentially knocking 30 doubles. That's outstanding prospective production from the second base position.
Jesus Montero, C, Seattle Mariners
Catchers aren't typically known for their ability to hit, but Montero is an exception to that trend. At 6'3" and 228 pounds, the 23-year-old is an imposing presence behind the plate and at the dish.
Montero split time as catcher and designated hitter in 2012 for the Mariners, and now he is ready to catch on an everyday basis.
The downside is that Montero only walked 29 times in 515 plate appearances in his maiden full-time campaign but should settle in with a more stable, prominent role in 2013. His eye will only get better as the year progresses, and there will not be a lot of pressure on him if he continues to bat in the No. 7 slot.
If Montero is able to give Seattle some pop at the bottom of the order, the chance to move up in the order is a definite possibility. The true meat of the Mariners lineup lies with Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez, who is currently batting fifth.
Such an order should allow Montero frequent at-bats with runners in scoring position, which is ideal for a relatively impatient hitter.
As his adjustment to baseball's highest level continues, Montero's exceptional .308 average from his minor league days should begin to surface (h/t baseball-reference.com). It may even result in a surprising 30-homer showing as early as this year.
Montero will, in all likelihood, evolve into a hot commodity given the high ceiling he has offensively as a catcher, so it would be best to jump on him now while his stock is relatively low.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
At just 20 years old, Machado is brimming with potential and is already batting second in the Orioles lineup in the early going.
In just 191 at-bats in his first taste of MLB action, Machado socked seven homers, eight doubles and three triples in 2012.
That many extra-base hits in such a small sample size is hard to ignore. He became the youngest player in major league history to have a multi-homer game within his first two games against the Kansas City Royals last season.
Especially with regard to keeper leagues, there is no question that Machado should be invested in.
His versatility allows him to play at the hot corner or even at shortstop, and there is untapped potential in terms of what he could bring on the basepaths.
With dangerous hitters such as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, the recently hot Chris Davis and Matt Wieters sitting behind him, there should be plenty of chances for Machado to get hot even as he continues to adapt to life as an everyday starter.
The precocious Machado has limitless upside and has flashed the power and speed combination that could eventually morph him into a perennial All-Star. Given the talent around him, his development has a chance to accelerate more quickly than anticipated.
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