Fantasy Baseball 2011: Carlos Santana, Brandon Webb and Other Potential Sleepers

Jason LempertCorrespondent INovember 19, 2010

Fantasy Baseball 2011: Carlos Santana, Brandon Webb and Other Potential Sleepers

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    Brandon Webb has thrown a total of four innings since the end of the 2008 season.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The 2010 baseball season has come and gone.  To those who won your fantasy leagues, congratulations.  And to those who did not win, well, there's always next year, right?

    If you are part of that latter group, you may want to pay close attention here.  The following slides should give you a leg up on the rest of the competition.  

    Sleeper picks are always handy to have in your back pocket because you can pull them out at just about any time in your draft, leaving the rest of the league thinking "Aw man, I forgot about him!"  Sleeper picks can be comprised of players who were injured for the majority of the previous season, or just had an off year and will likely fall down the ranks of many fantasy leagues while looking for a bounce-back season.

    So here are my 2011 Fantasy Baseball sleeper picks.

Daniel Bard

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    Bard's chance to close may come sooner than laterOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Boston's Daniel Bard has all the makings of an All-Star closer.  He can throw 100 mph, and has some deadly breaking stuff.  But right now, he is blocked by Jonathan Papelbon, an actual All-Star closer.  

    However, there have been several reports indicating that the Red Sox may look to move either Bard or Papelbon (perhaps in a deal for Justin Upton?).  Should either of them be traded, look for Bard to get the keys to the ninth inning for which ever club he is pitching for, at least to start off 2011.

    He was named the Red Sox Rookie of the Year in 2009, and was a Baseball America Minor League All-Star in 2008.  So far for Boston, the 25-year old has recorded 139 strikeouts in 124 innings over his first two Major League seasons.

    In the past, Bard has slipped down the ranks in Fantasy Baseball, mainly because he's been viewed mainly as a middle reliever/set-up man.  This is the time for astute owners to take advantage of their counterparts and draft Bard in 2011, as he could be a nice cheap source of saves and strikeouts.

Scott Cousins

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    With Cameron Maybin dealt to San Diego, the door opens up for Cousins to be the Marlins' center fielderDoug Benc/Getty Images

    Last weekend, the Florida Marlins dealt budding outfielder Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres for a pair of relievers.  It appears the Fish are ready to hand center field off to Scott Cousins, who will turn 26 in January. 

    Cousins had a brief cup of coffee with the Marlins in 2010, appearing in 27 games, and gaining 11 hits.  But his Minor League resume is fairly impressive.  He offers a nice combination of speed (73 career Minor League steals), and pop (55 home runs). 

    He may not necessarily warrant a draft pick in 2011, but owners should keep tabs on Cousins during Spring Training and early in the regular season, and be prepared to scoop him up.  If the Marlins are confident enough in his abilities to trade away Maybin (for whom they traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis), then fantasy owners should be as well.

Jermaine Dye

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    Jermaine Dye sat out all of 2010Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Remember Jermaine Dye?  You know, the guy that has 325 career home runs, and finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1996.  Yeah, him.

    Well he sat out all of the 2010 season as a free agent with seemingly no team interested in his service.  Teams are interested now.  The slugger is being eyed by teams like the Rockies and the Mariners, and though he will be 36 in January, he could still provide a nice thump in a line up.

    Dye has four seasons of 30+ home runs (including one 44-homer season) under his belt.  He can hit.  He smacked 27 bombs for the White Sox in 2009.  So just imagine what he could do if he plays half of his 2011 season in the thin air of Coors Field.

    Some fantasy owners might have completely dropped Dye from their MLB radars.  But he is soon to resurface and could be a nice source of power for deep fantasy teams in 2011.

Justin Maxwell

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    Maxwell may finally get is chance in the Nation's capital in 2011Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    After several years of biding his time in the Minor Leagues, speedster Justin Maxwell may finally have his time to shine in 2011.

    Unless the Nationals make some kind of move during the off-season, Maxwell is slated to be one of their starting outfielders next season.  There's no question he has been chomping at the bits since being drafted by the Nats in 2005, and now he'll have a chance to show the world what he's got.

    After three brief stints with the big club in '07, '09, and '10, Maxwell has less than stellar numbers (.201/9/26/11 in 219 career at bats). But he has torn up the base paths with his speed in the minors, and with regular playing time, there's no reason not to expect 20-30 steals from 27-year old.  

Jenrry Mejia

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    Mejia has a legitimate chance to break into the Mets' rotation in 2011Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    There's no question the New York Mets are in a bit of disarray right now.  Currently, they are without a manager at the helm, and new General Manager Sandy Alderson may have a tough road ahead of him in 2011.

    But Alderson has made it known that he will not be breaking the bank for free agents this off-season.  If he stands by this statement, the Mets may not be making very many enhancements to their current roster, including the rotation.  Therefore, the Mets will have to take a serious look at Jenrry Mejia when it comes to the starting five in 2011.

    Last season, Mejia made the big club out of Spring Training, but as a middle reliever.  It had been determined, however, that Mejia's talents are best used as a starter, and was sent down to Triple-A mid-season to be stretched out.

    He returned on September 4, and made three starts the rest of the way.  And though the numbers weren't all that pretty (0-2, 7.94 ERA as a starter), the potential and the talent are there, as will likely be the opportunity.  He did accumulate 250 strikeouts in 56 career Minor League games, including 49 starts.

    Look for Mejia towards the back end of your draft to provide your 2011 fantasy team with strikeouts and perhaps even as many as 8-10 wins.

Carlos Santana

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    Santana's rookie season ended abruptly after only 46 games due to right knee surgery, thanks to a collision at home plate.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    An absolute tragedy, Indians' blue-chipper Carlos Santana was having a truly remarkable rookie campaign in 2010.  But the campaign lasted only 46 games, after he suffered right knee injury that occurred during a home plate collision with Ryan Kalish.

    Reports are out, though, that his rehab is going very well and he is expected to be ready for Opening Day, when he will be just 25 years of age.  Santana went undrafted in many leagues last year, since he was a mid-season call up by the Tribe.  But in his limited playing time, he 39 hits, including six homers and 13 doubles as the Indians' catcher.

    It appears now that Santana should make the team out of Spring Training.  And it has also been reported that the Indians will work with Santana at first base, to reduce the wear and tear on his surgically repaired knee.  

    In terms of fantasy, owners could not ask for much more.  If in fact he does play regularly at first base for Cleveland, he should have dual-eligibility in most leagues, and with his offensive potential, he should not go undrafted in 2011 leagues.

Max Scherzer

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    Behind Justin Verlander, Scherzer may go a bit under the radar in the Tigers' rotationJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Max Scherzer had an up-and-down type year in 2010.  He had one start in which he gave up 10 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Twins.  But he had another start, against the same Twins, where he gave up one earned run in nine innings.  All-in-all however, Scherzer has had two consecutive impressive seasons.

    Scherzer is slated to pitch behind ace Justin Verlander in the Tigers' rotation in 2011, and he could be poised for his best season yet. In 2009, while pitching for Arizona, Scherzer went 9-11 with 174 strikeouts and a 4.12 ERA.  

    He improved on that fine season with Detroit last season, going 12-11 with 184 Ks and a 3.50 ERA.  I predict Scherzer to eclipse the 200-strikeout mark in 2011 and really have a breakout campaign.And with the Tigers offensive prowess, it can be difficult to argue at least 15 wins for the former first-round draft pick. 

    To the average fantasy owner, Scherzer can get lost behind Verlander, and therefore may go deep into the draft.  But you aren't that type of owner, now are you?

Brandon Webb

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    Webb, coming off right shoulder surgery, could be a very nice sleeper pick in 2011Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Webb is a currently an unsigned free agent, and the market for him is rather particular.  There are a number of teams (at least six reported) that have interest in the former Cy Young award winner.  But there is a sense of reluctant caution, as the tall right-hander is coming off 2009 right shoulder surgery.

    Webb still might have the stuff to anchor a rotation.  Perhaps he no longer has ace-like material, but if he is healthy again, he could be good for about 200 innings and strikeouts.  Remember, he finished the 2008 season with a 22-7 record and 183 Ks...and second place in the Cy Young voting.

    And like many of the Major League teams interested in signing Webb, many fantasy league owners will be weary of Webb - giving him the "Ben Sheets treatment".  If a potential contender, such as the Dodgers, grab Webb for 2011, it would be a good idea for fantasy owners to do the same in their 2011 drafts.