It doesn’t take much skill to draft the top players every year. Any monkey can draft Albert Pujols or Tim Lincecum.
It takes true dedication to sniff out the sleepers ready to make an impact on your fantasy team.
What makes a player a sleeper? Well, I’ll give you my personal definition. A sleeper is a player that is not expected to make any type of big impact in fantasy leagues only to surprise everyone...well, everyone except for you, the loyal reader here at Fantasy Knuckleheads!
These sleepers are guys who will be available to you much later in drafts (Round 15-plus), and they will give you stats you’d expect from guys being drafted in the first 10 rounds. Let me indulge you:
Edwin Jackson, SP, ARI
Edwin Jackson has the stuff to be a complete fantasy stud, but the problem is that he’s never put it together for one complete season. Last season was definitely a breakout year for him, but he has such a higher ceiling than that.
Now that he’s moved to Arizona, he will be pitching with top-shelf names like Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. He will feed off their success and find his own. I expect an ERA closer to 3.20 for him, with 200 strikeouts, 60 walks and a 1.24 WHIP.
He is going insanely late in drafts this year considering he has the second highest velocity on his heater. Only Justin Verlander threw his fastball faster on average than Jackson last year.
Jay Bruce, OF, CIN
It might have taken a little longer than people expected, but Jay Bruce is going to finally live up to the hype this season.
It was only a few years ago when people were looking at Justin Morneau as somewhat of a bust, and look what he turned into!
Bruce is a natural talent, and it is only time before that talent surfaces. At Bruce’s price tag this year, don’t you think it’s well worth it to take a chance on him?
Geovany Soto, C, ChC
I’m very bullish on Soto this season. Last year, he was the reigning Rookie of the Year, and his success seemed to get to his head a little. He came to camp overweight and never found success all season.
He is 40 pounds lighter this season and already mashing the ball in spring training. He’s a steal in the 13th round when you consider Brian McCann and Matt Wieters are going almost 10 rounds sooner. Expect a return to form with a .280 average, 20 homers and 80-90 RBI.
Stephen Drew, SS, ARI
Stephen Drew is about to retake his spot in the top 10 shortstops this season. He’s obviously talented enough to belong there, but something derailed his season last year, and he never quite got his swing back.
We already know he has the talent to hit 20-plus homers, but what astonishes me is that he hit 12 triples last season despite being in a down year. With that kind of speed, don’t be surprised if he actually steals 15-plus bases. It’s now or never for Drew, and I’m banking on now.
Corey Hart, OF, MIL
Corey Hart practically dropped off the face of the earth last season. He only played 115 games, but I’m willing to bet he wasn’t close to 100 percent for a lot of those games. It's obvious that he’s healthy at spring training this year. He already has two home runs in nine at-bats.
Drew Stubbs, OF, CIN
A lot of people are comparing Drew Stubbs to Grady Sizemore. Stubbs is the type of leadoff hitter who’d like to hit a home run rather than take a walk. This creates a little trouble for his batting average, but I have a feeling fantasy owners won’t mind considering he has power and speed.
Stubbs is a five-tool player and is looking to play every day for Cincinnati. His eight home runs and 10 stolen bases in only 180 at-bats in 2009 make me salivate!
Projected over 520 at-bats (a modest amount for someone leading off for a high-powered offense and playing every day), Stubbs has the potential to hit 23 homers while stealing 28 bases. SWOON!
Garrett Jones, 1B/OF, PIT
I’m convinced all the non-believers of Garrett Jones are the ones who didn’t own him last year. Jones single-handedly carried my whole fantasy team last season in the month of July.
After pitchers made an adjustment to him, he quickly made his own adjustments and continued to produce the rest of the season. He has trouble against lefties, but so does Ryan Howard.
Don’t be afraid to draft this masher as your starting 1B or third OF in 12-plus team mixed leagues. As an added bonus, he might lead the league in stolen bases for 1B-eligible players.
Tim Hudson, SP, ATL
Hudson came back from major elbow surgery last year, and I have have to admit, I was skeptical that he’d return to form quickly.
Boy did he prove me wrong. His strikeout rate actually went up from his career average. I feel like Hudson will put up John Lackey-type numbers, but you can get Hudson a lot later in your drafts.
The fact that Atlanta offered him a three-year, $28 million contract tells me they are completely satisfied in his return from injury.
Brian Matusz, SP, BAL
It may be too late to consider Brian Matusz a sleeper after all the recent hype I’ve seen him receive. In his last four starts in 2009, he went 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, which tells me he started to figure things out.
It’s not like you need more convincing that this kid has great stuff, but so far in spring training, Matusz leads the league in strikeouts with 10. He is going to bring the heat this year, the only question is will it be for you or someone else in your league?
Carlos Zambrano, SP, ChC
It doesn’t feel like Zambrano is only 29-years-old. He’s entering his 10th season in the majors, for crying out loud!
Zambrano has always been a fantasy cornerstone, but for the past three years, he hasn’t quite been an ace. This year I expect Zambrano to return to his 200-strikeout form. He has entered camp in great physical shape, and I think he knows the Cubs are depending on him to anchor their staff now that Rich Harden is out of town.
Zambrano is a great pitcher to watch on TV because of his emotion, and he’s going to be a great pitcher to own this year.
Homer Bailey, SP, CIN
“Homer” might be the absolute worst name for a pitcher (Josh Outman takes the cake for best pitching name), but this year, he’s ready to show why he was once considered to be a great prospect.
His fastball tops out around 97 mph, which shows you the utter strength in his arm. Last year, he had trouble with the command of his fastball along with using secondary pitches to fool hitters.
He took some time to develop a slider near the end of the season, though. And take a look at his last nine starts: 53K, 1.70 ERA, 6 W, 1 L. The only question is if Bailey can keep his red-hot finish going into the 2010 season. Considering he’s going undrafted in many leagues, I’m willing to take the risk and draft him.