Fantasy Baseball 2011: Top Not-Obvious Sleepers By Position
If you are a fantasy baseball avid, over the next few weeks leading up to your draft you will likely read more "Top Ten Sleepers for 2011" or "Under the Radar Players to Watch Out For This Year" articles than ‘Useful Financial Advice’ or ‘Finance for Dummies’ articles Brian Cashman or Al Davis will read. Although, on that note, everyone in America would be well-served to read some of those articles. Anyway…sleepers. What are they? What does the term sleeper mean? How young or inexperienced does a player have to be to be considered a sleeper? Well, let me answer those questions:
My unofficial, purely opinionated, but still useful definition of sleeper eligibility: If 30 percent or fewer of your league has this player on their sleeper radar, he can be considered a sleeper. If any more have him on their lists, he’s immediately ineligible.
To sum it up, Matt LaPorta is not a sleeper this year…neither is Andrew McCutchen…If LaPorta is on your list of sleepers, you probably don’t look deep enough into rosters to find real sleepers. If Miguel Cabrera is on your list of sleepers, this would be a good time for you to save yourself some frustration in 2011 by quitting your league.
Some people will contend that anyone can be a sleeper. For example, let’s take Dustin Pedroia. Everyone knows him and everyone knows he will be good. However, you think he’ll be the top hitter overall in 2011. (This is a hypothetical situation, but if you are reading this paragraph and thinking to yourself: “Oh hey, here’s someone else who thinks Pedroia will be the best hitter in 2011”, see my advice above for people with Miguel Cabrera on their sleeper lists.) Some people will say that this makes Pedroia a sleeper in your mind. In other words, they believe a sleeper to be someone who they think will exceed the general public’s projection. Well, those players are more accurately called "underrated players." They are well known, thus they are not players that will slip passed anyone’s radar and fall into your lap.
Now that we have established the definition of sleeper eligibility (If not, that was probably a waste of four paragraphs), let’s examine what flags to look for when choosing your sleepers. First, and most importantly, is potential. You can have all the playing time, surrounding hitters, etc., but if you don’t have potential you’ll just end up like Skip Schumaker. (In fairness to Skip, he was a useful second baseman in many 30 team NL only leagues).
Second flag: playing time. There is nothing more frustrating than a player dripping with potential held back by playing time…on second thought, there are actually a lot of things more frustrating. Regardless, playing time is key. Playing time can come in many ways; through injury, trades, or simply earning a starting spot.
Third flag: surrounding players. You have to feel bad for Rajai Davis; he scored merely 66 runs despite hitting .284 and stealing 50 bases. (He can thank his "power hitters" who were supposed to drive him in. That’s you Jack Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff. On second thought, blame whoever believed those two would drive anyone in and refused to trade for somebody who could drive in runs). There are other flags to look for, however these are the three major flags to be aware of. Now, let’s move on to the sleepers at last.
(Drum roll, suspenseful music, anything else that would stimulate a dramatic aura)
Catcher: Hank Conger
Catcher: Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels
There are not many catching prospects with as much talent as Conger. I’d list Jesus Montero here, although I’m sure everyone already knows about Montero.
For the past four years, Conger has hit double-digit home runs while hitting at least .289 in the minors. Keep in mind that he has only had about 300-to-400 at-bats per season. Conger was selected to play in this year’s Futures Games and won the MVP.
The only concern with Conger entering 2011 is his playing time. While Mike Napoli will probably DH, Conger still has to get by Jeff Mathis and maybe Bobby Wilson. I wouldn’t advise drafting Conger, although keep your eye on him because if he gets playing time in the second half, he could help you down the final stretch of the season.
First Baseman: Kila Ka'aihue
First Base: Kila Ka’aihue, Kansas City Royals
Ka’aihue is my No. 1 sleeper for 2011. Earlier, I wrote an article in depth about Ka’aihue. To read it, click here.
To summarize, Ka’aihue is in an offense that is desperate for a power hitter. The Royals ranked second best in batting average and eighth best in stolen bases. Ka’aihue will be able to thrive, with 30/100 potential. And his batting average in the minors was impressive as well at .322 in 2010.
The option is yours: draft Ka’aihue in 2011 and receive a potential top 10 first baseman or let your opponents pick him up.
Second Baseman: Sean Rodriguez
Second Base: Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays
Rodriguez, my No. 2 sleeper for 2011, is another player who will be starting from the get go in 2011 due to the departure of Jason Bartlett.
Rodriguez has shown 20/20 potential all through his minor league and short major league career. In 2009, Rodriguez hit 30 home runs in the minors, stole nine bases and hit .294. By the way, that was in only 385 at-bats. In a 600 at-bat season, that would translate to 46.7 home runs. Between 2005-2007, Rodriguez stole an aggregate of 57 bases. That speed translated in the majors last season, as he stole 13 bases in only 343 at-bats, a pace of 25 bases per season. Also in those 343 at-bats, Rodriguez hit nine home runs, a pace of 16 home runs per season. Any player that posts those numbers in his first season of 200 or more at-bats in the majors should be watched.
Just for comparison’s sake, Rodriguez’s .318 ISO in the minors in 2009 was significantly higher than Pujols’ .284 ISO last season. Of course, the minors and majors are two totally different worlds, but you must admit that that is impressive.
Keep an eye on Rodriguez. In fact, I would advise drafting him and starting him from Day 1.
Third Baseman: Mat Gamel
Third Base: Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers
Gamel is similar to Conger in that his 2011 potential is limited in the amount of playing time. However, with Rickie Weeks just waiting to be injured, Gamel should see a decent amount of playing time.
Gamel has been switching between minor leagues and the majors all the time, however, he has consistently been hitting 15 to 20 home runs in 350-500 at-bats since 2008. He has also been a threat with his batting average; in 2010 he hit .309 in 359 plate appearances (AAA). In 2009, he hit .278 in 320 plate appearances (AAA), and in 2008, he hit .329 in 572 plate appearances (AA). Gamel has displayed a very strong 27.7-percent line-drive rate in his short stints in the majors.
At age 25, Gamel should start to come around and begin to approach his full potential.
Shortstop: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Shortstop: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Minnesota Twins
With the loss of Nick Punto, JJ Hardy, and Orlando Hudson, the Twins are desperate for a strong shortstop.
Nishioka, a 26-year-old Japanese rookie, has displayed very encouraging stats in Japan. With the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010, Nishioka hit .346 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He has career highs of 14 home runs and 41 stolen bases.
In an offense with Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, Nishioka should be a top 10 shortstop in 2011 as a rookie.
Outfield 1: Lucas Duda
Outfield: Lucas Duda, New York Mets
Duda appears to be the Mets No. 4 outfielder, and with Carlos Beltran being such an injury-prone player, Duda should see plenty of at-bats in 2011.
Duda was very impressive in 2010 in the minors. He hit .304 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs in only 115 games. Duda may be in a weak lineup and a pitcher’s park, however, he definitely has value in 2011, and he is virtually unknown by the majority of fantasy owners.
Outfield 2: Jon Jay
Outfield: Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals
I have Jay as my fourth best sleeper for 2011 with good reason. He is not a power hitter or a huge base stealer; he is an all-around guy who does just about everything you can ask for.
His 2010 stat line in the minors, consisting of only 165 at-bats, was .321 4/32/13/31. Over a 600 at-bat season, that would translate to .321 14.5/116.5/47.2/112.7. Those are very good stats, even in the minors. Furthermore, in a short stint in the majors in 2010, Jay hit .300 with four home runs and two stolen bases.
If you look at the Cardinals' outfield, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus both appear to have starting spots locked up; however, given Lance Berkman's inability to stay healthy, Jay might be able to profit from Berkman's misfortune.
Outfield 3: Tyler Colvin
Outfield: Tyler Colvin, Chicago Cubs
You have probably heard of Colvin, so I hesitated to put him on this list. However, I couldn’t resist. Colvin was only owned in 8.1 percent of ESPN standard leagues at the end of 2010, so it is very conceivable that he could fall to you at the end of your 2011 draft.
In 2010, Colvin displayed phenomenal power (20 home runs in 358 at-bats) and acceptable speed (6 SB). In a full season, Colvin has the potential to hit 30-plus home runs and steal 10 bases, a rare talent. Many people are turned off because of Colvin’s .254 batting average he posted last season. Based on Colvin’s minor league stats, it is unlikely Colvin will develop into a .300 hitter, or even .290, however I’ll take 30/10 any day of the week.
He has to earn a starting spot, though injury-prone Alfonso Soriano might just give it to him.
Starting Pitcher: Michael Pineda
Pineda is just 21 years old, however, he has shown outstanding promise in his three years in the minors. Combined with Seattle’s lack of starting pitching and Erik Bedard’s pending annual injury, Pineda should get a decent amount of starts in 2011.
In 2010 (AA), Pineda had a 2.16 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching on ERA scale). As he moved to AAA, his FIP rose to a still respectable 3.60. His HR/9 rose from .12 to 1.30 during the transition. However, that was expected due to the more experienced hitters he was facing. On the positive side, Pineda’s K/9 rose in AAA to an incredible 10.97 in 12 starts.
Given the opportunity to start in the big leagues, Pineda should have an ERA around 4.00, though he should dominate in the strikeout category.