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Fantasy Baseball 2011: Power Ranking the 15 Best Pitching Sleepers

Shaun McPartlinCorrespondent IIIMarch 25, 2011

Fantasy Baseball 2011: Power Ranking the 15 Best Pitching Sleepers

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Sleepers, sleepers, sleepers. Everyone has their own list of just who they think can come out of nowhere and carry your fantasy team to a championship.

    All fantasy enthusiasts have their own definition of what a sleeper is. To me, a sleeper is someone who falls in drafts—not necessarily someone who is an unheard of player. Those no-names who become stars are few and far between. Players who will give you early round value, but are selected later in drafts, are the real key to success.

    Finding these type of players is key to a successful fantasy season. There is an abundance of these players, and it is my job to bring these names front and center.

15. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Kennedy has been announced as the opening day starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After his performance last season—3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 32 starts—he deserves this honor.

    Kennedy came back from an aneurysm in his throwing shoulder in 2009 that left him wondering if he could pitch again. He battled back and impressed last season, and is looking to rekindle his success.

    He has been roughed up a bit this spring, and currently holds a 7.72 ERA. Don't let this fool you. Actually, this is a blessing in disguise. Now he will drop further off draft boards, cementing his sleeper candidacy.

    Kennedy was impressive in his short stint with the Yankees, and was living up to his first-round hype before his near career-ending injury brought his career to a stand-still.

    2010 was not a fluke. Expect big things once again for Kennedy.

14. Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Brandon Morrow has received most of the hype as the Blue Jay pitcher to own this season, but Cecil is no slouch.

    Currently slated to hold the third slot in the Jays' rotation, Cecil has shown some promise this spring. He might be 0-2 with a 5.30 ERA through five starts so far, but with some coaching from new manager John Farrell, he will be ready when his name is called.

    Cecil's 2010 numbers were impressive. He went 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA. The 24-year-old is ready to show his success was not a fluke. John Farrell was able to work wonders for the Red Sox's rotation during his stint as their pitching coach, and I would expect him to guide Cecil to another impressive season.

13. Brian Duensing, Minnesota Twins

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    Brian Duensing made a name for himself during the end of 2010. In 13 starts, he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA. With such an impressive season, why is he currently going undrafted?

    He is once again proving his manager right for sticking with him in the rotation by having an incredible spring. Through five starts, his ERA is a miniscule 1.59.

    Duensing could be the steal of this year's draft. He pitches in the confines of Target Field, he plays on a team that is a proven winner and he is in his prime at only 28 years old. He was far from a fluke in 2010, as he has carried his dominance on the mound over from last season.

12. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves

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    Beachy came up in 2010 with the Braves and made some noise during his three starts at the big league level. He might have not picked up a win, going 0-2, but he did post a 3.00 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.

    The Braves have some big name prospects trying to break camp this season, and Beachy falls by the way side. Freddie Freeman has lit up camp this year, and Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are each making their case to be the teams future closer. Beachy, on the other hand, is still vying for a starting job.

    Even if he begins the year in AAA, it won't be long until he breaks the big league roster.

    This spring, through 10 innings, Beachy boasts a 1.80 ERA. He was just as dominant last season in AA and AAA, posting a 1.73 ERA and 3.00 ERA respectively.

    Stashing Beachy would be a smart decision, especially in deeper leagues. His impact might not be immediate, but when he does take the rubber for the Braves, he will be lights-out.

11. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

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    Out of all of the Baltimore Orioles pitchers, Zach Britton has been the most dominant this spring. He has only given up one run thus far, and that one run came at the hands of a potent Yankee lineup. His ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is ridiculous, which is what coaches love to see, since being a fly ball pitcher can be dangerous in Camden Yards.

    For financial reasons, sadly, Britton will begin the year in AAA even though his performance warrants him a spot in the O's rotation.

    Brain Matusz was all the hype last season in Baltimore, but 2011 belongs to Britton.

    14 scoreless innings is something to take note of. Britton has showcased his abilities this spring and could be the prize of your 2011 draft.

10. James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pirates are a team filled with young talent. James McDonald could finally be what the team needs to get over the hump and become relevant once again.

    A recent side injury has sidelined him for most of the spring training, but when the Opening Day rolls around, the 26-year-old will be ready.

    After coming over from the Dodgers, McDonald went 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA. He is more than capable of replicating his success, and will likely improve.

    He will most likely be the Pirates best and most consistent starter this season. But, for some reason, he is not being drafted in most mixed leagues. Don't make the same mistake.

9. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs

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    Zambrano is a low-risk, high-reward kind of guy. You know what he is capable of, but the fact that he can, at times, be a cancer to his team makes him a possible cancer to your fantasy roster.

    When he is on, he's on, as he hasn't had a losing season or an ERA over four. He has early round stuff that you can get in the later rounds. 

    He has carried over his stellar play from the end of 2010 into spring training, which only pleads his case. No one was as effective as Big Z was during the culmination of last season. Over his last 11 stars in 2010, he went 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA.

    Before his last spring start against the Reds, where he was hit hard for six runs over 4.2 innings, his ERA was a ridiculous 1.38.

    Zambrano has all of the potential in the world, and if he keeps his head on straight, he will be an effective late-round steal in drafts.

8. Tim Stauffer, San Diego Padres

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    In 32 games last season, Stauffer put together an impressive 1.85 ERA coupled with a 1.08 WHIP. A young arm with vast potential ahead of him, Stauffer could turn some heads this season. 

    Mat Latos put on a show in 2010, but Stauffer is the one to own this season. PETCO Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks that the MLB has to offer, and Stauffer will be benefit greatly from that.

    After having a bit of a scare this spring—Stauffer suffered hip flexor injury—he has been able to return and was impressive in his last outing. He limited the Reds to six hits and two runs across six innings, which brought his ERA down to a respectable 3.66.

    At 28 years old, Stauffer is just hitting his prime and will be looking to put up Latos-like number this year for the Padres.

7. Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays

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    It boggles my mind to see Romero going in the late teen, early twenties rounds in most drafts. Was his 2010 campaign completely overlooked? Were fans of AL East teams the only ones who saw what this guy could do?

    Romero will be the Jays' Opening Day starter, and rightfully so. He went 14-9 last season with a 3.73 ERA. He has a nasty changeup and a fastball that dances across the plate. 

    No one had a better start to 2010 then Romero, who went 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Those were not throw-away games either. He went up against some stiff competition in the likes of eventual AL pennant winners in the Rangers, a resurgent A's squad and a powerful White Sox lineup.

    Romero bypassed his sophomore slump and impressed last season. There is no reason that this south-paw should get past you on draft day.

6. Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Call me nuts, but I have faith in this guy this season. Sure, he hasn't started more than 18 games since 2007, but let's not forget just how dominant he was then. In 182 innings, he struck out 221 batters. He also went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA pitching for a team who won a grand total of 69 games.

    Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the Mariners don't win more than 70 games this season. But with a healthy Bedard, King Felix and a young-stud who will be mentioned on our next slide, this team could give the Rangers and A's a scare.

    This spring, Bedard has an ERA of 1.69, and appears to finally be healthy. There is little to no risk in drafting Bedard in the late rounds of your draft. If he does end up on the DL like he has previously, you won't be too surprised. If he returns to anything close to his prior form, you will be pleasantly surprised.

5. Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners

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    As previously mentioned, Michael Pineda is that young stud that the Mariners have looming in the ranks. He is vying for the fifth spot in their rotation, and even though he will most likely be on some sort of an innings limit, he will be worth a late round draft choice.

    The 22-year-old has been able to hang with the big boys this spring, and has posted a 2.57 ERA across seven innings of work. In a tune-up minor league start this week, he threw five innings of one-run ball. 

    He is a gifted young hurler who is looking to following in Felix Hernandez's footsteps. 

    Pineda won't give you too much help in the W's department, but his skill set will keep his ERA in the mid-threes and his WHIP at a respectable number.

4. Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Even though manger Joe Madden is hedging his bets on a closer-by-committee, McGee is the man you want to own. Let's be honest, can you really rely on Kyle Farnsworth to get the job done with the game on the line?

    In a short eight-game stint in the majors last season, McGee teased us with his 1.80 ERA and a stellar 9 K:BB ratio. He has a plus-fastball and nasty slider. Those two pitches make him a lights-out closer.

    The Rays are, once again, a young team looking to keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. When a game is on the line, Madden will soon realize that the only pitcher he can rely on is McGee. And when that day comes, the dam will be broken and the saves will flow in.

3. Gio Gonzalez, Oakland A's

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Gonzalez is every fantasy enthusiasts' sleeper this season, and rightfully so. He finished 2010 as one of the hottest pitchers on the market. During the last month of the season, Gonzalez only had one hiccup—a seven run, two inning outing against the lowly Royals. But other than that, he didn't give up more than two runs in a start during September.

    He has carried his success from last year into this spring. His ERA is 2.14 and he has 25 strikeouts over 21 innings. At times, his command gets the best of him, but with that under control, he will be an elite pitcher in 2011.

    He is being drafted in the later rounds, but will bring to the table early round production. 

2. Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies

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    How can a pitcher, who in his rookie campaign struck out a batter per inning, go virtually unnoticed?

    Chacin has been drafted after players like Johan Santana, who will be out for the majority of the 2011 season. Do we really believe that Javier Vazquez will fair that much better back in the National League that we are willing to draft him before this 23-year-old? 

    Chacin might have only won nine games last season, but his ERA was 3.28 and—even though I take what he says with a grain of salt—Matthew Berry was dead on in his praises for this young right-hander last season. 

    His ERA this spring is 2.50, and he's looking to open the season as the Rockies' No. 3 starter. 

    Ubaldo Jimenez might be the ace of the Rockie rotation, but Chacin is no slouch, and you won't have to burn an early round pick to obtain him.

1. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals

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    Zimmermann is my favorite sleeper coming into the 2011 season. Jon Heyman of SI.com has been told by a scout that Zimmermann "is back." What "back" means, is the that he is throwing in the mid-90s and has regained the feel for his lethal slider. With that being said, watch out world, here comes Jordan Zimmermann.

    With Strasburg out, Zimmermann is thrust into the spotlight, and he will not disappoint. Coming off 2009 TJ surgery is sometimes a mixed blessing. As much as the surgery sets a player back, it can also put them ahead of where they were before the injury.

    During his return to the majors—only 11 months after his operation—Zimmermann was shaky, but showed flashes of brilliance, including a one-hit nine strikeout outing against the Marlins. 

    He pitched 11 scoreless innings before being roughed up by the Cards in his last outing, yielding six runs across four innings. 

    Keep Zimmermann on your radar. He will be a hot commodity this season, and will not fail to reach the hype.

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