In putting these down, my goal is not to repeat names found on common lists. Those players are no longer sleepers. While my binky might be Nolan Reimold, he is fast appearing on more and more lists. Razzball.com has called him out along with Julio Borbon and several others. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jay Bruce, and Brett Anderson are already making the rounds as well. Not one of these players will be discussed in the space below.
Sleeper here will be viewed as a player that is expected to produce at an above-average level for his position but that is usually 1) not drafted or 2) being drafted far too low. That as a parameter, here are a few players to keep in mind.
Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins
Ross is a player who is continually under appreciated based on what he can bring to the table for fantasy owners. He will be 29 this season, and is coming off a 2009 where he hit very well but was missed by many. Ross had 24 home runs and 90 RBI to go with a .270 average. This came on the heels of a 2008 that saw him hit .260 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI.
Ross owners will certainly be satisfied with a line very similar to last year from a player largely missing from draft boards in mixed leagues.
Projection: .270 AVG., 26 HR, 93 RBI
Ben Sheets, SP, Oakland Athletics
Right now, he is a sleeper out of the Chris Carpenter mold. I wrote as much in this piece on FantasyPros911.com (sub required). Sheets and Carpenter have incredible similarities in their career paths prior to last season and statistically to that point. Both generate strikeouts and have solid power numbers. Sheets has not produced at the same rate, but it is not to say that he does not have the ability. The Brewers, after all, did not have the same success rate in terms of wins.
Pitching in Oakland is going to help his value in the same way it made everyone question the hitting ability of Matt Holliday last year. It is a ballpark made for pitchers because of the size of the foul territory and the general shape of the facility. The A's may not have a robust offense, and that could hold down his win total, but Sheets should be able to bring strikeouts to owners later in drafts.
Projection: 15W, 170K, 185 IP, 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers
For one reason or another, his ability seems to be overlooked because of players like Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton. Murphy, though, held his own much of last season filling in for these two. Over the last two seasons, he has proven effective even when he has this limited role.
There is no arguing luck in his statistics either. Murphy has a BABIP of .319 in around 300 career games, and has topped .300 in each of the last two. He has been a fourth outfielder in Texas, and that is not likely to change in 2010. That said, Julio Borbon is young, and if he struggles the Rangers know what Murphy can do. There also is the potential for injury that we saw last year.
For standard leagues, Murphy is an extra outfielder. For 14-team leagues or AL-only owners, Murphy has decided potential to provide a boost. All leagues need to keep him in mind for matchup plays. Remember, after all, that Cruz was largely benched against lefties last season.
Projection: 115 games, 17 HR, .275 AVG., 70 runs, 70 RBI
Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
For all the fuss that is made about the lack of depth in the middle infield, there is some surprising talent to be found in the deeper realms at shortstop. Escobar is one of those players that can make a fantasy impact, but is currently being drafted far too low. In fact, it was his ability that allowed the Brewers the flexibility to trade J.J. Hardy to Minnesota.
Escobar has plenty of speed. In 147 games last season between Triple-A and Milwaukee, he stole 46 bases. In 2008, he had 34 in 131 games in Triple-A. Speed is no good if a player cannot get on base, but Escobar does that very well. He has had a BABIP over .330 every season since 2003 at every level that has given him an overall average near .300 in each season. He does need to work on patience and drawing walks, but that should come in time.
He does not provide much power, but that can be obtained at other spots in the draft. Escobar is not a replacement for a Hanley Ramirez, but he is a decent backup shortstop or starter in leagues that require a middle infield spot. If his winter league numbers are any indication (.393/.440/.491 with 16 SBs), he will not remain a sleeper for long.
Projection: .295 AVG., 40 SB, 85 runs, 50 RBI
Clayton Richard, SP, San Diego Padres
Much of the buzz in San Diego has focused on Kevin Correia and newly-signed Jon Garland. Richard, though, was a pleasant surprise over the final two months of the season, going 5-2 down the stretch. If you back out one rough start against the Giants, Richard had a 3.45 ERA over his final 60 innings of work and averaged nearly seven K/9.
Pitching in San Diego is a good thing for most pitchers. Richard is no exception, as he was 4-0 in his final six home starts. He is already penciled in as the No. 3 starter for the Pads, and he will have enough innings under him to take a big step forward this season.
Projection: 12W, 170IP, 140K, 1.35 WHIP, 3.80 ERA
Travis Snider , OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Last year, Snider was the hot name coming out of camp and ended up spending more of his season on the bench and in the minors. Unfortunately, Snider is also already showing up on many of these lists. Still, though, he is the exception to make in this case. Owners are still unsure what he is capable of, and he is virtually assured of a starting spot in Toronto.
It would be unfair of anyone to project Adam Lind-type numbers out of Snider to start his career. We hold too many players to those levels just to watch them falter. Just in the last two years that has been done to the rookie campaigns of both Bruce and Matt Wieters. Even Bill James is expecting 26 home runs out of Snider this season. Hold back on that. He should still be viewed as an extra outfielder in most formats.
Projection: .265 AVG., 20 HR, 75 RBI