By Andrew Vigliotti, Fantasy analyst at Fantasy Baseball Maniaxs
With the 2011 Fantasy Baseball season looming, here is a look at position players that will be valuable mid-to-late round picks in your draft.
These are players that most people won't attribute much value to—for one reason or another—but they are sleepers that can have a pleasantly surprising 2011 season.
10. CF Cameron Maybin San Diego Padres
A fresh start and new ballpark could help Maybin reach his full potential. If Maybin utilizes his speed to his advantage and hits for contact, he will be successful. He can stretch singles into doubles and turn doubles into triples.
Maybin played a career-high 82 games for the Florida Marlins in 2010, and recorded eight home runs and 28 RBI while stealing nine bases before getting traded to the Padres in the off-season.
The former first-round selection has struggled in his time at the Major League level but has the talent and tools to be a great player. He is projected to be the starting center fielder for the Padres in 2011 and is worth a draft pick in the late rounds of Fantasy Baseball drafts.
9. SS Ian Desmond Washington Nationals
Desmond had a solid 2010 rookie season for the Washington Nationals, recording a .265 batting average with 10 home runs and 65 RBI. His fielding needs to improve, as Desmond committed 34 errors last season.
However, with another year under his belt and the additions of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche to the lineup, Desmond will see his numbers significantly increase. Young talented shortstops are hard to find, and I can see Desmond falling into the middle rounds of Fantasy Baseball drafts in 2011.
8. SS Starlin Castro Chicago Cubs
Continuing the young shortstop theme, Castro emerged in 2010 as the Cubs' shortstop. The Cubs knew the potential of Castro, but we all realized it when Castro hit a home run in his first career at bat and drove in six runs in his first career game.
Castro hit .300 with three home runs and 41 RBIs in 125 games. Castro remains a sleeper for this upcoming season, but with a similar performance and continued growth of his game this season, he will be a high-end shortstop very soon.
7. 2B Neil Walker Pittsburgh Pirates
If the Pirates want to achieve their first winning season since 1992, they will need Walker to be a factor in his second full season as a major leaguer. In 2010, Walker homered 12 times and drove in 66 runs while hitting .296 in 110 games.
The 2004 first-round selection has great upside. He will be the starting second baseman for the Pirates, and if you didn’t know about him last season, you will learn about him in 2011.
6. CF Nate McLouth Atlanta Braves
McLouth’s best season was in 2008 with career highs in home runs (26), RBI (94), batting average (.274), doubles (46) and hits (175). McLouth’s numbers have dropped substantially since being traded to the Atlanta Braves during the 2009 season. McLouth has registered 26 home runs and 94 RBI the last two seasons combined, equaling his 2008 career high.
McLouth had been dropped from fantasy radars due to an underachieving .190 batting average and a concussion that plagued him most of last summer. McLouth is in a contract year, and this is his opportunity to show the Braves, other teams and Fantasy Owners that 2008 wasn’t a fluke. Most players have successful contract years—McLouth could be no exception.
5. CF Dexter Fowler Colorado Rockies
Brad Hawpe is officially out of the mix in Colorado, and ultimately that signals a full time starting outfield job for Fowler who played in 132 games last season for the Rockies, hitting .260 with six home runs and 36 RBI. Fowler was sent down to the minors for a portion of last season.
Fowler has great speed, as he stole 27 bases in 2009, but he only swiped 13 in 2010. Now that the outfielder will have a starting, full time spot, look for a potential 30 to 40 stolen base campaign, 10 to 15 home runs and an average in the range of .270 to .280. Fowler is only 24 years old (fairly young) and still has plenty of room for development. I expect Fowler to have a breakout season, and he should be considered in drafts.
4. RF Mike Stanton Florida Marlins
Stanton was among one of the top rookies to get the call to the Major Leagues in 2010. In 100 games Stanton hit 22 home runs and had 59 RBI with a .259 average. I highly doubt that Stanton will be a sleeper beyond this season. I consider him to be one this year because he was called up during the middle of the season and is on a team that doesn’t get as much attention as, for example, the New York Yankees.
Stanton will flourish in his first full season in the majors. He is a 30 home run, 100 RBI type of player and needs to be taken in Fantasy Baseball drafts sooner rather than later.
3. CF Drew Stubbs Cincinnati Reds
With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the lineup, it can be easy to overlook a 20 home run, 30 stolen base guy, right?
Stubbs, 26, has tremendous speed and power for a young player. The outfielder stole 30 bases last season while hitting 22 homers and driving in 77 runs. With speed a huge factor in most fantasy leagues, owners can get the best out of Stubbs in both stolen bases and power.
One of the improvements Stubbs will need to focus on is his batting average. Stubbs hit .255 last season in just under 600 plate appearances. With the power that he displays, his average could take a hit. However, if he can improve that by a few points, he will be an even better player. Stubbs is a fantasy must this year.
2. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia Boston Red Sox
I believe Saltalamacchia finally has a home with the Red Sox. A switch hitter who only played 12 games in 2010 with the Texas Rangers and Red Sox, he has not produced big fantasy statistics in his career. I have seen his potential in the Braves and Rangers organizations.
He is penciled in as the starting catcher for the Red Sox for the upcoming season. Since he will bat in the bottom of a stacked lineup and won’t have to be the man, he will get a plethora of RBI opportunities with the players above him on base. Being a switch hitter can help him use the short porch in right and the “Green Monster” in left to improve his average and overall numbers. Saltalamacchia is worth a draft pick very late in the draft or a free agent waiver wire pickup during the season. Look for him to have a solid season.
1. 1B Gaby Sanchez Florida Marlins
Overlooked for the better part of his rookie season, Sanchez will be looking to build on his 19homer, 85 RBI season. With the trade of second baseman Dan Uggla to the rival Braves, Sanchez—along with the aforementioned Stanton—will supply the power.
Sanchez’s batting average (.273) was solid for the power that he supplies. Look for the first baseman to improve on all phases of his game and establish himself as a prominent player and a great option for any fantasy team.