5 Boston Red Sox Fantasy Baseball Sleepers to Watch in 2014
Two weeks have passed in most fantasy baseball leagues and, like most owners, you are probably starting to wonder just how your team will pan out after the start to the MLB 2014 season.
Taking stock of their success last year, the Boston Red Sox would have been a likely target for fantasy talent in any owner's draft for this season.
After all, the Red Sox offense ranked second in the American League with a team .277 batting average and boasted a respectable 3.79 team ERA.
Following their 2013 World Series, Boston would offer a number of hot commodities sought after on draft day. Stars like designated hitter David Ortiz, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and upstart phenom infielder Xander Bogaerts were probably around on your big board somewhere.
Yet the Red Sox have not exactly gotten off to a hot start in 2014—a 5-9 record as of April 15.
Sure, the overall team record is not a primary concern with fantasy owners, but it does reflect on some of the problems Boston players have endured this early in the season.
Regardless, there is plenty of talent to be had here with the Red Sox.
While most of the big names are likely on active rosters at this point, let us shift the focus to some sleepers that may help get your fantasy team over the top.
In this slideshow, we will evaluate five Red Sox sleepers and determine their eventual fantasy impact in 2014 and beyond.
We shall stay away from the big names like Ortiz, Pedroia and Jon Lester, given the fact that they are hardly considered sleepers. We will also ignore prospects—like third baseman Garin Cecchini—who have long-term potential but minimal, if any, fantasy value in 2014.
Instead, let us focus on players that may have either slipped into the deep rounds on draft day or perhaps missed being drafted at all.
In addition, each fantasy league is different and is provided by a variety of affiliates. For the purposes of clarity and consistency, we shall utilize CBS Sports as a primary source of relevant fantasy point value, owned/started value and scoring system.
Here we go.
Edward Mujica, Relief Pitcher
Edward Mujica, RP
Owned/Started Percentage: 29/19
As far as fantasy baseball goes, owners rarely put a lot of stock in relief pitchers, especially those who are not guaranteed a closer's role.
So why take a look at one of Boston's offseason acquisitions, relief pitcher Edward Mujica?
Well, there are a number of reasons why Mujica makes this list of sleeper picks to keep an eye on in 2014.
First, let us establish the context. Owners with closers who are on shaky ground may want to consider a change at some point during the season. In addition, if an available closer winds up on a hot streak, owners may also want to nab him with a midseason free-agent pickup.
"But Mujica isn't the Red Sox closer," you say.
True, but Boston's incumbent closer Koji Uehara is 39 years old and has already dealt with injury concerns this season, per Anna Fogel of NESN.com. With this in mind, is Uehara capable of handling the rigors of closing over the course of a full season?
Perhaps, but the Red Sox made efforts to add insurance to this position during the offseason.
Mujica has closing experience—37 saves for the Cardinals last season before performance struggles cost him the job.
While his 2014 10.80 ERA is a red flag, the Red Sox have already relied on him once to notch a save in Uehara's stead. This leads us to believe that if Uehara is unavailable for any significant length of time, manager John Farrell will likely turn to Mujica.
This increases Mujica's fantasy value considerably. While closers are not typically a hot fantasy commodity, they are worth watching if a team has the need.
Thus, if your team is faced with a dilemma at closer, Mujica may want to be a guy you keep an eye on. Unless you have no other options, it is probably not worth wasting a roster spot keeping Mujica reserved at this point.
But, as we have established, the possibility of Uehara going down for a lengthy absence is real, so owners with their eyes on Mujica should monitor this situation closely.
As far as keeper value is concerned, Mujica has almost zero value. Instead, he is more of a stop-gap option for teams needing a closer at this point.
Owned by a mere 29 percent of CBS Sports fantasy leagues, Mujica is likely available and should stay that way, barring setbacks in the back end of Boston's bullpen.
Still, this is worth keeping an eye on.
Will Middlebrooks, Third Base
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Owned/Started Percentage: 73/4
In spite of a disastrous sophomore season in 2013, this author is not quite ready to give up on Boston's third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
At the start of the season, it appeared as if the Red Sox were feeling the same way as the team elected to give Middlebrooks the starting job on Opening Day.
A hot spring training, that saw Middlebrooks hit .353, was a hopeful indication of the type of season he would have in 2014.
The situation was relatively clear. The Red Sox are closely eyeballing the situation with Middlebrooks and the up-and-coming Garin Cecchini, who may eventually take over the position at third base down the road.
As such, 2014 looked more like a make-or-break year in terms of Middlebrooks' future with Boston.
He acknowledged the situation via Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com:
Whatever happens, happens. I still have to come here and do my job. Whether they sign five third basemen, I still have to come in and compete for a job. I'll just put my head down and work hard.
Unfortunately, an early season injury has already thwarted his chances to getting off to a hot start in 2014.
The injury—described in further detail by Ricky Doyle of NESN.com—has limited Middlebrooks to a mere 15 plate appearances this season, where he is hitting .231 with one home run and one RBI.
Those numbers are far too small a sample size to worry about his long-term future in Boston. However, they do influence what his current fantasy value is.
Red Sox fans know the story with Middlebrooks. When he is on his game, Middlebrooks can be a strong offensive force—suggested by the numbers he put up in his 2012 rookie season. Yet when he struggles, the numbers dropped considerable, with exception of the strikeouts, of course.
At this point in the season, the 73 percent of CBS Sports fantasy owners have probably scrambled to find themselves a replacement for Middlebrooks in their lineup. That is, even if they were starting him at all to start the year.
As it stands entering Week 3, only 4 percent of owners are starting the Red Sox's injured third baseman. We will not go into why.
This means that Middlebrooks' trade value is extremely low, and it should not take much for owners to acquire him.
Once he returns, we should expect manager John Farrell to put him back in the lineup on a regular basis. With his CBS Sports profile listing his return around the end of April, there is time to either monitor this situation, or make the move as a potential long-term investment.
When activated, Middlebrooks probably will not carry your fantasy team on his own. Yet fans can recall that he hit 15 home runs in 2012 and that his 2013 season was thwarted in large part due to injury.
The added motivation of being on the proverbial "hot seat" also lends credence to the fact that Middlebrooks wants to perform well in 2014.
Those eventual stats could help boost any fantasy team in need of a third baseman towards the end of April.
A.J. Pierzynski, Catcher
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Owned/Started Percentage: 49/33
If you are one of those owners who waited into the later rounds to draft your starting catcher, it is almost guaranteed that the best options were off the table.
Offensive catching studs like Buster Posey and Matt Wieters are long gone, and probably most of the mid-level targets had been picked up as well.
Then there is a player like Boston's A.J. Pierzynski.
Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, the 37-year-old Pierzynski has showed very few signs of slowing down offensively. While there are always concerns surrounding an aging backstop—let alone one with a bad reputation—Pierzynski has shown the capability of remaining as an offensive force.
This offensive force is prudent, especially at a relatively thin fantasy position.
Coming to Boston was also something worth keeping an eye on.
Remember, Pierzynski owned a lifetime .300 batting average at Fenway Park entering the 2014 season. In addition, his overall lifetime batting average is .283. Those numbers alone suggest that owners would have a good fantasy option at a relatively cheap draft-day price.
Pierzynski got off to a slow start in 2014, yet an aggressive approach at the plate has helped him boost his season totals. Just over two weeks into the regular season, he is now batting .297 with one home run and four RBIs—numbers boosted by his 18 fantasy-point performance in Week 2.
This approach, where Pierzynski is more aggressive, means owners will not see the veteran catcher walk very much—an aspect described further by Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.
Still, the overall production that owners can expect out of Pierzynski this season is far too good to overlook.
Combine all of that with the fact that he is currently owned in less than half of all CBS Sports fantasy leagues, which suggests that he may be readily available in your own league.
If you are in need of a catcher and Pierzynski is available, make the deal happen.
The only setbacks to be concerned with are the Red Sox's catching tandem of Pierzynski and No. 2 backstop David Ross, as well as Pierzynski's age. Ross will undeniably take away some at-bats from Pierzynski this season, perhaps more so than other fantasy catchers.
Yet if Pierzynski's numbers are good enough, this impact should be minimal.
In terms of keeper value, Pierzynski is not your best bet. The Red Sox probably do not consider the aging veteran as a long-term option, with prospects like Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez developing in the minors.
But for a one-year option, Pierzynski could be that final piece that makes a fantasy team go from good to great.
Grady Sizemore, Outfield
Grady Sizemore, OF
Owned/Started Percentage: 82/54
Grady Sizemore's return to baseball in 2014 may very well be the feel-good story of the season.
We shall skip over the majority of that tale as we try to keep it relevant, but it is worth mentioning that Sizemore was once touted by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe as being Jacoby Ellsbury before Ellsbury was Ellsbury.
After a slew of injuries took their toll, Sizemore was relegated to the backwaters of fantasy thought. Yet the three-time All-Star found his comeback after missing all of 2012 and 2013.
Initially brought in as competition for Boston's center field prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., Sizemore's impressive spring training performance won him the starting job, and Sizemore did not miss a beat after Opening Day.
Currently, Sizemore is batting .308 with two home runs and 4 RBIs. He has even notched a stolen base—an element of his game he was known for before his reputation for injury.
After two weeks, Sizemore has netted a total of 30 fantasy points.
Perhaps the best reaction to Sizemore's hot start came from Billy Moy of Rant Sports who wrote, "Stop what you are doing, go pick up Grady Sizemore."
His sentiments must have been heard because now Sizemore is owned in 82 percent of CBS Sports leagues.
Still, just over half of these owners are starting the player who is an early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
He may no longer be an option in your individual fantasy leagues, but he is worth activating if you have him on your roster, especially if there are no better options.
We all know the risk with Sizemore. Injuries are always going to be a big concern.
Dustin Hockensmith of Pennlive.com describes this further by writing:
Injuries are the big risk, of course. [Sizemore] has dealt with a multitude of ailments, ranging from nagging to serious, over the last four years that should be viewed with a skeptical eye through the spring and beyond. [He] has competition for the job in Bradley, who is considered the franchise’s future at center field. If the injuries take their toll on his steals output, Sizemore becomes a more ordinary player, even in a best-case scenario where he logs 450+ at-bats.
Yet even Hockensmith's final critique is positive of Sizemore, admitting "why not" when it comes to adding Sizemore to a fantasy roster.
Following the hot start to 2014, the "why not" sentiment is turning into a must have.
Fantasy owners will certainly want to have an insurance policy for Sizemore on their roster. They also will not likely consider him as a viable keeper option, given his track record.
Still, if you can find a way to get this one-time perennial All-Star on your roster, make it happen. Those who have already done so are enjoying the fruits.
Xander Bogaerts, Shortstop
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Owned/Started Percentage: 93/62
To most Red Sox fans, Xander Bogaerts probably does not come off as a sleeper pick.
The No. 2 overall prospect in MLB, according to ESPN's Keith Law (h/t Ricky Doyle of NESN), is one of the main reasons Boston can look forward to a bright future, given their deep pool of young and prospective talent.
Bogaerts gave fantasy fans a glimpse of what to expect last season, especially during the playoffs.
Both of these factors certainly influenced his draft stock heading into the 2014 season. But after a relatively lackluster start, owners must be wondering whether or not Bogaerts is someone worth starting.
Fourteen games into the 2014 season, Bogaerts is hitting .260 with two extra-base hits and zero RBIs—numbers that are not particularly awe-inspiring, considering the depth of the Red Sox lineup.
These statistics have generated a total of 22 fantasy points over his first two weeks.
In all fairness, owners should have expected something like this out of Bogaerts during his rookie season. The adjustment a rookie faces in his first full season can be daunting, yet Bogaerts still appears as if he is a star in the making.
Before the season began, Brad Pinkerton of Sportingnews.com tabbed Bogaerts as a member of his 2014 Fantasy Baseball All-Sleeper Team.
Hopefully Bogaerts' prospect status, combined with the fact that he plays for the Red Sox, did not result in you utilizing a high draft pick on him. Remember, rookies—even phenoms—can slip deep into the draft.
Regardless, Bogaerts' full potential has yet to be reached.
With some experts, like MLB.com's Jim Callis, proclaiming that Bogaerts is the next Manny Machado, there is far too much upside to let Bogaerts' early-season struggles dissuade you from keeping him on your roster.
If Bogaerts holds a roster spot on your team, you may consider sitting him for a couple of weeks until he starts to find his groove. It is hard to fathom Bogaerts not making his adjustments at some point.
But if Bogaerts is employed elsewhere, his stock has likely dipped a bit as a result of his early season struggles. According to CBS Sports, Bogaerts is starting in only 62 percent of leagues entering Week 3.
This may allow fantasy owners to pull off a trade at this point in the season. If such a move presents itself, do not hesitate to pull the trigger.
If you are in one of those leagues where Bogaerts remains a free agent—only seven percent—grab him now or make your waiver claim.
Remember, Bogaerts has value both as a third baseman and at shortstop, which gives owners even more flexibility when it comes to setting lineups each week. This value alone cannot be overrated.
As far as keeper leagues are concerned, Bogaerts could be the most intrinsic and attractive long-term keeper option available on Boston's roster. He is a star in the making, and if owners were able to grab him relatively easy, Bogaerts' investment could pay off huge dividends for years to come.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.