If there’s one word that makes fantasy owners' ears perk up like Tiger Woods at a sex convention, its sleeper.
Everyone thinks they have a few gems, but usually keep their names under tighter wraps than Al Capone’s vault. Most would rather lose a limb than divulge such top secret information to even their closest of confidants.
Why such secrecy? Because the fact remains that there’s no sweeter pleasure for a fantasy owner than the “I told you so” moment of watching a player who he/she had been eyeing months before the season began (and probably reached for a few rounds too early in the draft) tear it up, to everyone’s envious surprise.
Do I fall into this category? Certainly.
Everyone wants to be the one to find the next Albert Pujols. It gives you that false sense of entitlement that makes you honestly believe you can be an MLB GM.
But I’ll spare you the old song and dance, because if you don’t already think Billy Butler, Jay Bruce, Andrew McCutcheon, Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Jonny Cueto are primed for breakout seasons, then you’re clearly not paying attention.
Here are your deep sleepers. The sleepers you watch throughout spring training to see if you can catch an early glimpse of greatness. The late-round gems who, ultimately, will win you your league.
My favorite sleeper entering 2010, only because it’s always such a crapshoot when trying to draft the right catcher.
Aside from the Mauers and McCanns of the world, it’s generally a weak position, and they’re production tends to be the most susceptible to deviation from year-to-year.
Plus there’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing you won’t be reaching for a catcher early, or reluctantly drafting an A.J Pierzynski-type in the later rounds when you absent-mindedly realize your catcher position is still empty.
In 12-plus team leagues, you can most likely snag Ruiz in the latter rounds, considering the influx of young catcher talent will have many overly ambitious owners reaching for the Buster Posey’s/J.R. Towles’/Matt Weiters’ too early and often.
RotoWorld rates him as the 25th ranked catcher.
Reasons I disagree:
-His walk rate has increased every year since ‘05.
-He’s figured out lefties (.293 in ’09, compared to .212 in ’08).
-He’s the perfect age.
Baseball Forecaster’s Ed Spaulding writes (and I’m paraphrasing here) :
"Many catchers – particularly second line catchers have their best seasons late in their careers…catchers often get to the big leagues for their defense, their offensive skills often take longer to develop...heavy emphasis on learning the catching/defense/pitching side of the game often detracts from their time to learn the ins and outs of hitting...time spent behind the plate impacts their ability to recognize, and eventually hit, all kinds of pitches."
Ruiz is 31, and had the pleasure of catching Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee last season. He has an excellent eye for a catcher, which means upper tier BA and power may be in store for 2010.
If you were too busy solidifying you middle infield or pitching rotation and you miss out on the big 1B bats, Murphy is a relative unknown with 20-25 homer pop whom you can target in the latter rounds, and who has the upside to produce like a mid-round pick.
Reasons to be excited for 2010:
Second half stats: .283/.478/.796. 7 HR, 39 RBI.
He saw a massive power spike in the second half, and a very promising uptick in fly ball ratio. And despite playing in a “pitcher’s park,” Citi Field’s shortest perch is the right field fence at 330 ft., which will certainly benefit the left-handed Murphy.
His relatively high fly ball rate means the power is there, and his elevated line drive rate in the second half may indicate his batting average may hover around .270-.280, rather than the .242 he hit during the first half.
With Carlos Delgado (hip surgery) on the shelf for out for at least four months, he’ll have first base all to himself, with only the underachieving Nick Evans behind him to take minimal at-bats.
This may be the 25 year-old’s time to shine, and I can hear the sleeper zzz’s from a mile away.
Willingham is a forgotten commodity in fantasy baseball.
People wrote him off after an injury-plagued ’08 season in which he completed a three-year decline from his stellar rookie season in Florida.
He even spent some time in the minors.
Injuries slowed him down, and low BA earned him a ticket out of sunny Florida to the not quite as luminous Nationals.
Reasons to snag him late:
-He finally solved lefties in ’09 (.218 in ’07, .242 in ’08, .300 in ‘09).
-He sported the highest OPS of career (.849).
-His consistently high hr/fb rate means the power is there; he’s simply been unlucky.
Just because he plays for the Nationals and isn’t named Zimmerman or Dunn doesn’t necessarily mean he’s free agent fodder. He’s slated to hit fifth in the Nats lineup, in front of OBS freaks Nyjer Morgan, Christian Guzman, and the aforementioned Ryan Zimmerman.
So, any runs that Adam Dunn doesn’t drive in from the cleanup spot will be Willingham’s for the taking, meaning he should improve upon his paltry 61 RBI from ’09.
At worst, a repeat of ’06 (.277, 26 HR, 74 RBI) is in the cards.
Check out my predictions for the Three Late Round Bargains: Pitchers here!