Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Deep League Sleepers
The definition of a reach is to pay for stats that a player has never been able to put up before. Why pay for Mike Stanton like he’s going to hit 40 home runs? Even if he does hit 40, you received no extra value because that’s what you paid for. It’s not likely he will exceed those expectations, and if he under performs you made a bad investment.
Even if it’s not smart, it’s always fun to reach on a few players. Everyone has their favorite guys, their sleepers. While you probably can’t lose your league by taking a shot on someone late in the draft that doesn’t pan out, you can certainly help win it.
Here is my list of deep sleepers, guys ranked outside of ESPN’s top 300.
Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, KC
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Here is this year's Nelson Cruz, without the stolen bases. Slapped with the same AAA label as Cruz was 3 years ago, I see big things for Ka'aihue in 2011. He crushed AAA pitching in his 323 minor league at-bats in 2010 (.319/67/24/78/1.060).
His 2010 big-league numbers weren't very impressive in 180 at bats (.217/22/8/25/.702), but a .231 BAbip points to a lot of bad luck. Ka'aihue heated up in 92 September/October at bats (.261/15/6/18/.878). Extrapolate that over 550 at bats and you're looking at a very useful line of .261/90/36/108/.878 for somebody that you will be able to get in the last round of most standard mixed-league drafts.
Ka’aihue is hitting .424 with 4 HRs and 10 RBIs thus far in 33 Cactus League at-bats. He is slated to hit cleanup for the Royals, which should mean great counting stats as long as his average is respectable.
Will Venable, OF, SD
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I love power/speed combo guys, and Venable fits that mold. The 28 year old hit 13 home runs and stole 29 bases in 392 at bats in 2010. He is a poor man’s Shane Victorino. Venable is San Diego’s starting right fielder and could approach 600 at bats. Based on last year’s numbers, 600 at bats would give Venable a 20/40 season. He will hurt your batting average, however. His career average is only .252 but you can live with that, even if you get a 15/30 season from him.
Venable is hitting .292 with a home run and 2 stolen bases so far in 24 at-bats this spring. Who knows, maybe he can bring his average up around .275 this year. That would no doubt make him a top-50 roto outfielder.
Mike Morse, OF, WAS
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Morse had an under the radar, breakout 2010. In 288 at bats he homered 15 times and drove in 41 runs while hitting .289 and slugging .519. Morse would be getting a lot more attention if he didn’t play in Washington. He will be hitting in a lineup that is a lot better than it has been. The lineup boasts young hopefuls Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina along with veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Adam LaRoche. If Morse can hit in the middle of that lineup he will be an extremely valuable (and cheap) fantasy asset.
Morse is competing with Roger Bernadina for the team’s LF job this spring, but Jim Riggleman said that if the season ended today the job would be Morse’s. He has 5 home runs with 11 RBIs and a .429 average in 35 at-bats.
Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL
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Sure, Chipper is coming off major knee surgery and is 38 years old, but he is still Atlanta’s 3-hole hitter. Even though his power is mostly gone, he should still score a lot of runs and have a lot of RBI opportunities. He is in the middle of a lineup that includes Martin Prado, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward so he is bound to have some fantasy value as long as his batting average is respectable. We all know his injury history, though, so you should expect no more than 125 games played from Chipper in 2011.
Chipper is doing well so far this spring. He is hitting .375 and slugging .650 so far in 40 at-bats. He has 2 home runs, 5 doubles, and 9 RBIs.
You will likely be mocked if you take Jones, but he’s not a bad guy to have to fill in on Mondays and Thursdays when some teams have the day off. He can also be a nice injury fill-in at a very scarce position.
Mike Minor, SP, ATL
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Minor, the 7th overall pick of the 2009 draft out of Vanderbilt, got out of the gate fast after his August call-up in 2010. In his first 4 starts he went 3-0 with 26 K's in 23 innings, including a 12 strikeout performance against the Cubs. After a strong start, Minor appeared to be pitching on fumes down the stretch. His ERA ballooned up to 5.98 and he finished with a 1.57 WHIP. A ridiculous .396 BAbip played a major factor in his disappointing finish.
Minor flew through the Braves' system, pitching just 21 games between AA and AAA, posting a 3.44 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and 146 Ks in 120.1 innings. Minor is competing with Brandon Beachy for the fifth spot in the Braves' rotation, but he has the pedigree and the upside to win the job. Also in his favor is the fact that the Braves are lacking a southpaw in their rotation and that is something they desperately need.
So far this spring Minor has given up just one run in 10 innings. He has a 1.10 WHIP with 7 strikeouts and is holding hitters to a .189 average. I'll put my money on Minor winning the job.
Jonathon Niese, SP, NYM
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After a rough start, the lefty had a terrific middle of the season. In 10 June/July starts, Niese posted a 2.58 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP with 51 strikeouts in 66.2 innings of work. Niese battled with fatigue down the stretch and the rookie ended up with a 4.20 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9. He said he worked out differently this offseason to help keep his stamina the whole season. Niese pitches in a pitcher's paradise and is only 24 years old so I definitely expect some growth.
It appears Niese is ready to take the next step. In 11.1 Grapefruit league innings, he has 10 Ks with a 1.59 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP so far.
Tim Stauffer, SP/RP, SD
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The ex-reliever had a chance to start for the Padres down the stretch last year, and he certainly didn't disappoint. In seven starts, Stauffer posted a 1.83 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 39.1 innings. His K/9 did drop from 7.9 as a reliever to 5.3 as a starter so that is cause for concern. Stauffer struck out 6.5 per nine in 14 starts in 2009 so maybe that's what we should expect from him in 2011. Strikeout ratio aside, Stauffer will most definitely help out your ratios.
In 13.2 innings so far this spring, Stauffer has a high 3.95 ERA but his WHIP is only 1.10 so his ERA is out of whack. He has struck out 10 batters, a K/9 of 6.6.
Kyle McClellan, SP/RP, STL
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McClellan has been a standout reliever for the Cardinals the last three seasons. The 26 year old had great ratios in 2010 (2.27 ERA / 1.08 WHIP) and is being stretched out to be the team's 5th starter. So far McClellan has taken advantage of this opportunity. In 12 innings this spring, he's only allowed one run and 9 base runners. Tony La Russa has acknowledged McClellan as the team's 5th starter so it seems to be his job to lose.
Assuming he keeps the job throughout the season, McClellan will be a valuable fantasy commodity. Like Stauffer, he won't give you too many strikeouts (around 7 Ks per 9) but he should help your ratios a lot. Unlike Staufer, he should win a fair amount of games pitching for the Cardinals.
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