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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: 2014 Sleepers at Pitcher to Target Late

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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: 2014 Sleepers at Pitcher to Target Late
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The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks got a head start on MLB spring training and are already busy in the desert. The two National League West foes will clash Down Under on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, as baseball will usher in a new season with another early international series.

With pitchers and catchers reporting for duty around the league in the coming days and full squad workouts set for next week, that also means it's time to start doing your homework for fantasy baseball.

Drafting sleepers can be a crucial part to building a championship contender, especially when it comes to pitching. It can be nearly impossible to keep track of all the starters around the league, and you don't want to let any valuable starters slip through the cracks in the late rounds.

Here's a look at some of starting pitchers who will be available late in most drafts, but still have the potential to make solid contributions.

 

RHP Ryan Vogelsong, Giants

It's easy to look at Ryan Vogelsong's stat line from 2013 and question his inclusion on this list, but there were a lot of factors that suggest it was an aberration he can bounce back from.

First of all, he had a very short offseason following the 2012 campaign when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. It was made even shorter when he chose to represent the United States in the World Baseball Classic, something he admitted may have been to blame for his early-season struggles.

To start the 2013 season, Vogelsong was statistically one of the worst starters in baseball. And while he was in the middle of his best start of the year on May 20, he was hit by a pitch in his throwing hand while batting, sidelining him until August. Up until his injury, though, Vogelsong had an unsightly 7.19 ERA.

He would come back for the stretch run of the season and would improve, but his season was essentially a lost cause. It was a big blow for the Giants, who received huge contributions from Vogelsong during the 2011-12 campaigns after the veteran righty was out of MLB for four full seasons.

Here's a look at this numbers from the past three years.

Ryan Vogelsong Pitching Stats
Year GS IP W L ERA ERA+ WHIP BB/9 K/9
2011 28 179.2 13 7 2.71 129 1.25 3.1 7.0
2012 31 189.2 14 9 3.37 105 1.23 2.9 7.5
2013 19 103.2 4 6 5.73 58 1.56 3.3 5.8

Baseball-Reference.com

As bad as last year was, Alex Pavolic of the San Jose Mercury News relayed Vogelsong isn't erasing the memories of his 2013 struggles.

"I don't want it to be (forgotten)," Vogelsong told Pavlovic. "I want it to be there."

Even though he's 36 years old and will have to earn the fifth rotation spot out of spring training, I suspect Vogelsong will have a bounce-back year by the Bay and revert to his previous form.

 

LHP Martin Perez, Rangers

By the end of 2013, Martin Perez established himself as one of the top rookie pitchers in all of baseball. Perez turns 23 during the opening week of the season, and finished up his rookie year 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.34 WHIP and a 6.1 K/9 ratio.

Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com gave some perspective on Perez's season.

Perez was a nice surprise for the Rangers in 2013. They need him to be a consistent performer for the entire 2014 season. Last year earned him a permanent spot in the rotation and a long-term contract. 

Perez showed he could pitch with more consistent command, dropping his walk total to 37 in 124 1/3 innings. Last year, he walked 15 in just 38 big league innings. He pitched with confidence and kept his team in games. 

Given his success last year, expected development and an improved lineup supporting him, it wouldn't be surprising to see Perez turn into a 15-game winner this year. If so, grabbing him late in your draft would be a steal.

While he doesn't offer much of a high ceiling in terms of power numbers and his WHIP might be too high for some fantasy owners' tastes, he showed a lot of potential. Now that Derek Holland will have to sit out the start of the season, Perez is slated to be the team's No. 3 starter behind Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison.

 

RHP Yordano Ventura, Royals

The little man can deal.

Listed at 5'11", 180 pounds, Yordano Ventura doesn't have the prototypical build of a power pitcher. But that doesn't mean he can't bring the heat.

Ventura made quite the impression during his September call-up, and it sounds like he has the inside track to earn the No. 5 rotation spot with the Kansas City Royals behind James Shields, Jason Vargas, Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie. 

Royals general manager Dayton Moore certainly gave that indication in a recent interview with Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star:

Yordano Ventura, 22, whose much-anticipated major-league debut last season featured mesmerizing flashes and the fastest pitch, 102.8 mph, recorded in the majors in 2013.

If it wasn’t dominance by the Dominican-born Ventura, exactly, it was enough to suggest he’s not just on the verge of ready but, in fact, is ready.

“We’re going to give him a chance to win a spot right out of spring training, and of our young pitchers we feel like he’s most capable at this point in time to give us 190-200 innings,” Moore said. “So we’re going to give him an opportunity right out of camp to win a spot.”

While Ventura's calling card is his fastball, he also possesses a nasty curveball that can make hitters look foolish. Ventura has had command issues at the top levels of minor league baseball, but his stuff and career 9.9 K/9 rate make him worth a flier, especially in a league that puts a lot of value on strikeouts.
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