Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Names to Know

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2014

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Names to Know

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    In case you haven't yet opened your eyes to the upcoming—and fast-approaching—fantasy baseball season, it's time to stop hitting the snooze button on your internal alarm clock, wake up and start sleepering.

    Yep, you read that right. "Sleepering" might not be an actual, you know, word—at least, not according to the Oxford dictionary—but if it were, surely the definition would be as follows: "The act and art of identifying potential fantasy sleepers."

    Having marked some players who could regress this coming season after big 2013 campaigns, the focus now shifts to sleepering.

    Most draft- and auction-day sleepers fall into one (or more) of the following categories:

    • Post-Hyper: A once promising player whose career has stalled and disappointed to date.
    • Injury-Returnee: A player who missed much, most or all of 2013 on the disabled list.
    • Lesser-Known: A player that isn't getting much, if any, real life publicity or fantasy love.
    • New Role: A player who is taking on a different position or new opportunity. 
    • Youngster on the Rise: A player who's ready to rise after a first taste of the majors in 2013.
    • Top Prospect: A highly rated youngster who remains rookie-eligible heading into this year.

    The players on the following slides sport a sleeper status and fall into at least one of the above categories.

    The other qualification required to be eligible? The players must fall outside the top 150—that's the first 12-15 rounds for 10- and 12-team leagues—based on average draft positions (ADP) from Mock Draft Central.

    Here, then, are 25 fantasy sleepers, listed in order of ADP, to keep in mind over the next few weeks' worth of prep work.


Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 153)

1 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Post-Hyper; Injury-Returnee

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .254 BA, 41 R, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 9 SB (442 PA)


    Ever since making a strong first impression over the final two months of 2011 (.953 OPS), Brett Lawrie has been busy disappointing owners everywhere. In the 232 games since, he's sporting a .721 OPS and has made three extended trips to the disabled list.

    The production hasn't been pretty, but Lawrie is still only 24 years old and has plenty of upside to be a top-10 fantasy third baseman thanks to an intriguing blend of pop and speed that isn't often found at the hot corner.

    Don't rely on him as a starter, but if Lawrie can just stay healthy enough to play 140 games, he could approach a 20-20 season. 

Danny Farquhar, RHP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 154)

2 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 0 W, 4.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 16 SV (55.2 IP)


    You remember this guy, right? He showed up in the Mariners' bullpen in late May with the funny-sounding last name on his jersey then proceeded to seize the closer role abdicated by the crumbling remains of Tom Wilhelmsen in the second half.

    Well, if you were still paying attention late in the game, Danny Farquhar, 26, was hard to forget. From late Julyjust before he recorded his first career saveto the end of the 2013 season, here are his stats: 1.69 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a 44-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with 16 saves.

    He won't be quite that fantastic over a full season, of course, but Farquhar has the makings of being a legitimate third closer on a fantasy roster, with the upside for more.


Jim Henderson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 175)

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    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 28 SV (60.0 IP)


    A lot of what applies to Farquhar also goes for Jim Henderson, another 2013 preseason no-name reliever who worked his way into the ninth-inning role by replacing a struggling stopper.

    Given that he's already 31, Henderson is more of a journeyman, but that doesn't mean he can't hold the closer job, notch 30-plus saves and post strong peripherals in a Brewers bullpen that doesn't present much competition.

    Consider Henderson a third closer on most rosters.


George Springer, OF, Houston Astros (ADP: 175)

4 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .303 BA, 106 R, 37 HR, 108 RBI, 45 SB (590 PA) in Double-A and Triple-A


    George Springer is ready for his closeup.

    The 24-year-old 2011 first-round pick had an outrageous year across the two highest levels of the minor leagues in 2013, coming close to the first 40-40 season in modern minor-league history. No wonder he's the only player on this list who has yet to actually make his MLB debut.

    The hype already has begun on Springer, which is why he's fairly high on this ADP-based list for a guy who still could start 2014 back at Triple-A. The primary reason for that, though, would be so the Astros can avoid starting his service-time clock.

    The guess here is that Springer proves he's too good to leave off the 25-man roster coming out of spring training. Because he does struggle with strikeouts (27 percent strikeout rate in 2013), Springer might not hit above .250 as a rookie, but he could crack 20 homers and steals, which would make him a third or fourth fantasy outfielder.


Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 201)

5 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.82 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 0 SV (60.2 IP)


    Given his status as one of the best starters in baseball since 2010, there's not much to say about Johnny Cueto that isn't already well known.

    The 27-year-old is only on this list of sleepers because it's easy to forget about a guy who hit the DL three separate times for the same injury (strained lat muscle), and thus managed only 11 starts last season.

    The health issues are a concern, but don't be the owner who overlooks Cueto as a potential mid-round bargain this year.


Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 208)

6 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise; New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 7 W, 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 0 SV (104.2 IP)


    It's fitting that Tony Cingrani follows Cueto here, since the 24-year-old was the veteran's rotation replacement throughout 2013.

    The deceptively hard-throwing left-hander filled in rather nicely, too, with even better numbers as a starter than as a reliever (2.77 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). The departure of longtimer Bronson Arroyo means a rotation spot is there for the taking in Cincy.

    While Cingrani isn't going to dominate to the extent he did in his first real taste of the Bigs, he should be more than capable of piling up whiffs and settling in as a No. 4 or No. 5 fantasy starter.


Sonny Gray, RHP, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 216)

7 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 5 W, 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 0 SV (64.0 IP)


    Even before he burst onto the national scene by dominating the Tigers in Game 2 of an extremely competitive Division Series last October (video evidence above), Sonny Gray got his major-league career off to quite a beginning.

    The 24-year-old 2011 first-rounder came into his own while striking out a batter per inning at Triple-A over the first three months of 2013. Gray then carried that success up to the Bigs, where he struck out 61 batters in 60 innings with a 2.85 ERA over 10 starts upon entering the A's five-man rotation in early August.

    Once considered more of a back-of-the-rotation arm, Gray's stuff ticked up last year, and he could be a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy starter in his first full season, especially in pitcher-friendly Coliseum.


Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 222)

8 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 0 SV (52.0 IP)


    Caution: If you're in your office, you may not want to watch the above video, because Danny Salazar's stuff is straight-up NSFW.

    With an electric upper-90s heater, wicked slider and pull-the-string changeup, this 24-year-old made major-league batters look like guys who just wanted to stand in the box for a first-hand look at Salazar's repertoire.

    In his first 10 MLB starts, Salazar sent 65 hitters walking back to the dugout in 52 frames, and there's plenty more where that came from in 2014provided he can stay healthy, which has been a problem in the past.

    Because of that, the innings and wins may be limited some, but Salazar is the kind of pitcher who could strike out 180-plus in 150 innings. On some nights, he'll look like a No. 2 fantasy starter.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees (ADP: 222)

9 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .270 BA, 5 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB (63 PA)


    Much like Cueto, listing Mark Teixeira here is merely about reminding owners that as recently as a year ago, this 33-year-old was considered a borderline top-10 first baseman who was capable of 30 homers and 100 RBI.

    A wrist injury that eventually required surgery resulted in a lost 2013 for Teixeira, and his production was on the decline even prior to that. Now that he's expected to be ready for camp, would it really be so surprising if he returned to fantasy relevance (i.e. starting corner infielder or utility player) amid a revamped Yankees lineup?


Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS/3B, Texas Rangers (ADP: 223)

10 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Post-Hyper; New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .234 BA, 30 R, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB (286 PA)


    OK, so Jurickson Profar's rookie season didn't exactly go as planned—or even remotely close, frankly.

    However, this is still a 20-year-old former consensus top prospect in baseball who had to deal with irregular playing time and being shifted all over the diamond last year. In some ways, that actually will make Profar more valuable in 2014, as eligibility at three infield positions could make him a Swiss Army knife-like option.

    Now that incumbent Ian Kinsler is out of the picture, Profar will be the starter at second base, which means he shouldn't have a problem reaching double digits in homers and steals while posting a fantasy-friendly batting average, too.

Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas Rangers (ADP: 228)

11 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 0 W, 0.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 0 SV (4.2 IP)


    After missing most of 2012 following Tommy John surgery, Neftali Feliz only made it back for six appearances late last year.

    There are always risks with pitchers returning from major reconstructive surgery, but Feliz is still very young (25) and going on two years removed from the procedure. Plus, there are reports that he's back to hitting the high-90s with his power fastball.

    Feliz enters spring training with what appears to be the inside track to replace the departed Joe Nathan and regain the closer role in which he once thrived. He'll battle fellow former closer Joakim Soria, also back from TJ surgery, and hard-throwing Tanner Scheppers.

    If Feliz wins the gig, he could be a top-10 fantasy closer again.

Nate Jones, RHP, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 231)

12 of 25

    Sleeper Status: New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 4.15 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 0 SV (78.0 IP)


    Despite never having saved a single big-league game in his career, Nate Jones could be the man in the ninth inning for the White Sox, who traded closer Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks over the offseason.

    The 28-year-old Jones' lack of experience in the role and that rather unsightly 4.15 ERA would seem to hurt his chances of succeeding, but he actually pitched to a spiffy 2.64 FIP in 2013, per FanGraphs, and certainly has the stuff to get the final three outs.

    If he holds off Matt Lindstrom—his primary competition—with a solid spring, Jones could post 30 saves and lots of strikeouts. That's second closer material in fantasy. 

Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 244)

13 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Post-Hyper; Injury-Returnee

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .252 BA, 40 R, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 5 SB (277 PA)


    An elbow injury at the tail end of spring training turned Adam Eaton from a preseason Rookie of the Year favorite in the NL to playing a role on a whole new franchise merely nine months later.

    The 25-year-old would not have topped what was a banner class of first-year stars in the Senior Circuit, but now that he's in better position to play every day after being traded to the White Sox, Eaton's 2013 potential simply shifts to 2014.

    A good first impression in spring games will go a long way, but Eaton could land the leadoff job, which would allow him to score plenty of runs, steal 20-plus bases and hit .270-.280 with enough pop to push 10 homers.

    Draft him as a bench bat who could turn into a third or fourth outfielder if it all clicks.


Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 245)

14 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .250 BA, 7 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB (50 PA)


    While Byron Buxton is considered the No. 1 overall prospect in the game, Xander Bogaerts is in position to be the most impactful one in 2014.

    After hitting .297/.388/.477 between Double-A and Triple-A last year, the 21-year-old ascended to the majors in August and is a consensus top-three prospect heading into the season.

    There will be growing pains along the way in his first full year, but Bogaerts showed a strong approach and incredible plate discipline while helping the Red Sox win the World Series. He's ready right now, and the only scenario that could muck things up is if Boston re-signs Stephen Drew to platoon at shortstop.

    If he's the unquestioned starter, Bogaerts should be a top-10 starting shortstop in fantasy—maybe even top five.


Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 245)

15 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 31 R, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 3 SB (256 PA)


    Known as "mini-Miggy" when he was with the Tigers due to a resemblance to two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, Avisail Garcia will spend 2014—his first full major-league season—trying to make a name for himself.

    To help that cause, the 22-year-old has a new organization and a projected starting job after joining the White Sox as part of the Jake Peavy deal last July.

    Garcia has his flawslike plate discipline (3.5 percent walk rate)but he's an intriguing hitter with plug-and-play upside as a backup outfielder in mixed leagues, and he can be had for dirt cheap on draft day.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 245)

16 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .251 BA, 34 R, 14 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB (378 PA)


    In limited action as a rookie, Oswaldo Arcia showed he has plenty of pop. The 22-year-old could top 20 homers if he gets regular run in right field in 2014.

    Unless he improves on his 31 percent strikeout rate, though, Arcia could be a batting-average drag. But he's got the goods to make adjustments and get better. Plus, it's not like the Twins have much else to prevent Arcia from having lots of time to learn on the job.

    Right now, he's more of an AL-only play, but keep tabs on him in deeper mixed formats.


Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 247)

17 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 9 W, 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 0 SV (128.2 IP)


    In his first extended exposure to the majors, Chris Archer started to prove he can, in fact, do the job as a starting pitcher rather than having to settle for a relief role.

    That's especially good for the Rays, who need Archer more than ever now that Jeremy Hellickson is expected to miss up to two months following surgery to clean up his elbow.

    Archer, 25, has always had command and control issues, so don't expect his ERA, or especially his WHIP, to be as low as they were last year. He should, however, rack up strikeouts and occasionally own opposing lineups with his mid-90s fastball and put-away slider.

    Consider Archer a spot-starter in fantasy who could be a No. 4 or No. 5 option when he's going well and has a good matchup.


Rex Brothers, LHP, Colorado Rockies (ADP: 252)

18 of 25

    Sleeper Status: New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 2 W, 1.74 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 19 SV (67.1 IP)


    The numbers all look nice, but Rex Brothers comes in with a low ADP mainly because the Rockies decided to muddle up the ninth-inning role for 2014 by bringing in 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who filled in at closer late last year for the Mets.

    Brothers, 26, did the same for Colorado after the incumbent Rafael Betancourt was on-and-off the DL before his season ended early. To be fair, the hard-throwing southpaw did have a FIP nearly twice as high as his ERA (3.36), per FanGraphs, mainly because he still walks too many (4.8 per nine).

    Let's be honest, though: Brothers is the Rockies' best end-game option, so even if he doesn't start the season as the closer, he should snatch the role sooner rather than later, making him a fine late-round selection as a third or fourth fantasy reliever.


Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 254)

19 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 1 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 0 SV (15.0 IP)


    Following a much better all-around showing in the high minors last year than in 2012 (2.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.2 K/9), Taijuan Walker made a three-start cameo in Seattle and looked ready to roll.

    Only 21 years old, Walker has the kind of stuff to go with a strong, athletic frame that front-of-the-rotation starters are made of. At this point, a rotation spot is his to lose entering camp.

    Given his readiness after a brief big-league call-up last season, as well as his first-round pedigree and pitcher-friendly home park, Walker just might be the closest thing to the 2014 version of Shelby Miller among this year's batch of rookie starters.

    At worst, he's a spot-starter in fantasy; at best, he's a No. 2 option when he's on.


Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals (ADP: 267)

20 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Post-Hyper

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .265 BA, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB (394 PA)


    As a 23-year-old former No. 6 overall draft pick (2011), Anthony Rendon could also qualify for the "Youngster on the Rise" sleeper status, but given that he performed only so-so in his first half-season with Washington, the "Post-Hyper" category felt more appropriate.

    Plus, Rendon ripped through the minors in 2013, triple-slashing .307/.452/.575 in only his second pro season. So, when he got the call to replace Danny Espinosa at second base, there were expectations.

    By comparison, many of his stats with the Nats were decidedly ordinary. And yet, Rendon wasn't all that bad, either, especially when you remember that he more or less performed at a league-average level (99 OPS+), thanks to 23 doubles and seven homers in not even 100 games. More importantly, he stayed healthy for the first time in a few years.

    That, in fact, is the biggest concern with Rendon, who has endured many serious injuries, including three to his ankles. If he can stay on the field, though, there's a chance Rendon, who may be eligible at both second and third base (depending on your league's qualifications), could be a back-of-the-top-10 option at either position. At worst, he should be a quality bench bat who could pitch in during his second season.


Alex Wood, LHP, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 271)

21 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise; New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 3 W, 3.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 0 SV (77.2 IP)


    At 22, Alex Wood made his major-league debut last May, less than a year after being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, and the lefty with the funky delivery proved he could be a useful arm in the majors.

    The Braves initially used Wood out of the bullpen, but he also made 11 starts in his 31 appearances. Mainly due to one disaster start, he was better in relief (2.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) than going every five days (3.54, 1.45), but he piled up whiffs regardless.

    With longtime Brave Tim Hudson now gone, Wood is in line to pitch at the back of Atlanta's rotation, which would make him a high-strikeout, if potentially volatile, spot-starter for fantasy. Even if he winds up in the bullpen midseason, he'll be worth owning as a starter-eligible reliever owners can just keep active and enjoy.



Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 301)

22 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect; New Role

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .278 BA, 1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB (18 PA)


    The stats you really want to know for Nick Castellanos aren't the ones above, which came in his very minimal September debut.

    The 21-year-old spent all but that final month of the season at Triple-A, an aggressive assignment, considering he had struggled in his first crack at Double-A over the second half of 2012. Castellanos, though, proved what he could do by hitting .276/.343/.450 and placing in the top three in the International League in homers (18), RBI (76), runs (81) and doubles (37). He also improved both his walk and strikeout rates, which is no small feat for such a young player at such a high level.

    With Miguel Cabrera shifting back to first base after the Tigers' trade of Prince Fielder, the Opening Day third base job is expected to go to Castellanos, who started his pro career at the hot corner prior to being moved to corner outfield so Detroit could fit his bat into their lineup somehow.

    Almost certainly, there will be a transition/adjustment period early on for Castellanos, but he's one of the better pure hitters among all prospects. His production won't be top-10 third base-worthy for fantasy, but Castellanos could be this year's Nolan Arenado, which is rather valuable in AL-only leagues and useful in mixed ones.


Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers (ADP: 313)

23 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 10 W, 3.62 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 0 SV (124.1 IP)


    After spending approximately 12 years on top-prospect lists, Martin Perez finally graduated to the majors in 2013.

    Still only 22 years old, the southpaw put together a string of quality starts after joining the Rangers rotation full-time in late June. He was especially great last August, winning all five of his starts with a 3.06 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

    While he mixes in some sliders, Perez is primarily a fastball-changeup guy, and that last pitch is his best one. It also explains why he's been better against right-handed batters (.718 OPS) than lefties (.759) in his big-league career.

    Because the strikeout rate isn't likely to top 7.0 per nine innings, Perez looks more like an AL-only arm, but he has spot-starter ability in mixed formats.


Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals (ADP: N/A)

24 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    2013 Fantasy Stats: 0 W, 3.52 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 0 SV (15.1 IP)


    Don't let that measly 6.5 strikeout-per-nine rate fool you—Yordano Ventura throws hard. Very hard.

    Despite being all of 5'11", 180 pounds (and that's only if he's holding 10-pound dumbbells in each hand), the 22-year-old fireballer tickles triple digits pretty routinely. In fact, in his debut last September, Ventura recorded a pitch at 101.9 mph—the fastest thrown by a starter in five years.

    Prior to that outing, Ventura had blazed through Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, striking out 155 in 134.2 innings to go along with a 3.14 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.

    The right-hander's control and command are still spotty at times, and many think he'll eventually wind up in the bullpen because of his slight frame. For now, though, Ventura should break camp in the Royals rotation and has the high-strikeout upside to make him a No. 5 fantasy starter as a rookie.

Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: N/A)

25 of 25

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .291 BA, 5 R, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 2 SB (61 PA)


    In this final spot, Chris Owings beats out his fellow Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley, a big, hard-throwing right-hander on the verge of superstardom, for two reasons.

    First, the 22-year-old Owings looks to have a better chance of making Arizona's Opening Day roster as the starting shortstop after hitting .333 with 12 homers and 20 steals and earning MVP honors in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2013.

    Second, Owings doesn't seem to get nearly as much publicity as Bradley does, despite last year's accolades and performance. In other words, Owings better fits the definition of sleeper.

    The trick here is whether Owings can beat out incumbent Didi Gregorius at short. While the latter is better defensively, Owings holds his own in that regard, and unlike Gregorius, Owens actually has a chance to do some damage with the stick.

    Given the shallow state of shortstop in fantasy, Owings will be starter-worthy in NL leagues and should be a middle-infield option in mixed formats.



    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11