Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2012: Biggest Draft Steals at Every Position

Tim Karan@timkaranContributor IIMarch 15, 2012

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2012: Biggest Draft Steals at Every Position

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    It's time for a fantasy reality check.

    Although you might've spent weeks poring through positional rankings and daydreaming about your ideal fantasy baseball lineup, most of your plans will go out the window once the clock starts ticking and you've got 90 seconds staring you in the face.

    Then 89 seconds.

    As you routinely fill your player queue only to watch your league-mates callously empty it, you make a terrifying discovery: All of the best second basemen are gone. Or maybe it's the catchers.

    Should you scramble and haphazardly take Aaron Hill. Or, even worse, A.J. Pierzynski?

    No. No you should not.

    Instead, take a look at these players who will likely still be available late into your draft. There's a good chance one of them might actually turn out to be the key to your playoff run.

    And better yet, you won't have to deal with Pierzynski.

First Base: Ike Davis (NYM)

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    If last season had been just 36 games long, Ike Davis could have been MVP.

    Following up his 19-home run and 78-RBI rookie year, the slugging sophomore jumped out of the gate in 2011 with seven dingers, eight doubles, 25 RBI and a .307 average through 36 magical games.

    Then, one fateful May day, he and David Wright ran into each other in pursuit of an infield pop-up and Davis' season was promptly halted with a nasty ankle injury.

    But things are looking up (pun very definitely intended).

    The lefty Davis looks to bat cleanup for the Mets between righties Wright and Jason Bay, and the extreme home makeover at Citi Field is practically custom-designed for him.

    He's currently being drafted around the 23rd round in 10-team leagues, behind fellow first basemen like Carlos Pena and Nick Swisher. But as long as he and Wright have worked on their interpersonal space issues, Davis could far outperform those other guys.

Second Base: Neil Walker (PIT)

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    There's a lot not to like about Neil Walker.

    In his first full season as a starter, his batting, on-base and slugging numbers all dropped, and he provides little of the speed you hope for in a middle infielder.

    Oh, and he plays for the Pirates.

    But all of those factors mean Walker will be available on the clearance rack. He was fourth among second basemen in RBI last year with 83, and he looks to be a permanent fixture in the heart of the Buccos' burgeoning lineup.

    He'll probably still be available in your draft when the 17th round starts, and that's right around when owners will be settling for strikeout machine Kelly Johnson and largely unproven Dustin Ackley.

    Walker might be one of your more mundane picks, but he could prove to be one of your most valuable.

Third Base: David Freese (STL)

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    Luckily, the World Series was five months ago. If fantasy baseball drafts took place in November, there's no way you would be able to get David Freese at his current price.

    Although he missed most of the regular season with one of his seemingly eternal injuries, he sprung to life during the Cardinals' postseason, batting .397 with five homers and 21 RBI in 18 games.

    World Series MVPs typically don't fall to fantasy owners in the 22nd round. But that's not the case with Freese.

    While there are certainly risks involved in calling his name, his immediate upside is better than that of guys like Chase Headley and Sean Rodriguez—both of whom are in his present draft tier.

    If he can stay off the Busch Stadium trainer's table, Freese could help partially compensate for the hole Albert Pujols left in the lineup (and in the hearts of Cardinals fans).

Shortstop: Emilio Bonifacio (MIA)

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    Some owners will avoid him because he's being bumped out of the leadoff spot by Jose Reyes, others will ignore him because his .296 average last season appears to be a fluke.

    And others will ignore him because of his weird, celebratory hand gesture.

    But Emilio Bonifacio could be one of the biggest surprises in this year's draft. Yes, he's out of the leadoff spot, but now he's wedged between Reyes and Hanley Ramirez (with Mike Stanton after that). Considering he managed 78 runs and 40 stolen bases last season with an inferior supporting cast, there's reason to take advantage of his 20th-round ranking.

    What's that? You already took a shortstop? No worries. He's also eligible at third base and outfield.

    Even Tulowitzki can't say that.

Outfield: Carl Crawford (BOS)

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    True, nobody's going to forget about Carl Crawford. But after a disastrous 2011 and subsequent wrist surgery, this recent first-rounder has fallen unceremoniously to around the 70th pick overall.

    Yes, he failed to live up to his massive contract and, yes, the 18 stolen bases were about 40 less than expected. On top of that, he's questionable for Opening Day.

    But it's a long season.

    Even if Crawford misses the first month, he still has the raw talent to emerge as his former self.

    Ask yourself this: Do you really feel all that secure about Drew Stubbs, Jayson Werth or Shin-Soo Choo? Because those are the guys you could be deciding between when Crawford moves to the top of the remaining outfielder pool.

Catcher: Geovany Soto (CHC)

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    Remember when Geovany Soto was among the top catchers taken in 2009 drafts? It might as well have been 1908.

    Hopes were high not only in Chicago, but in the minds of fantasy owners everywhere after Soto smacked 23 home runs and 86 RBI in 2008. But it's been a roller coaster ride ever since.

    His average during the next three seasons fluctuated from .218 to .280 to .228, and he's been a frequent face in fantasy free agency thanks to his affinity for free-swinging.

    However, Soto has managed to hit 17 homers in each of the past two seasons, and that's just about the ground floor for him. It wouldn't be all that shocking to see him back in the 25/80 range, and that's about what everyone's expecting out of No. 6 catcher Matt Wieters.

    By no means should you rely on him as your top backstop, but there's a solid chance he'll be around when you make your final pick—or, in shallow leagues, he won't be drafted at all. If he plays like he's capable, he'll be the definition of a steal. 

Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn (CHW)

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    You're right: He does somehow bear an unsettling resemblance to both of the stars of Step Brothers. And maybe that weird dichotomy is a perfect representation of Adam Dunn.

    On one hand, he's been one of the safest bets to hit 40 home runs every season for the past decade. On the other, he's absolutely the safest bet to strike out 200 times.

    Throw in the fact that he would have broken the record for the worst single-season batting average (if he had qualified with enough at-bats last year), and you've got one of the most polarizing players in modern history.

    Still, Dunn's value will never be lower than it is right this minute.

    He does still play at slugger-loving U.S. Cellular Field, and it's hard to imagine him not managing at least 25 home runs—if not 30—and that's probably better than your average 24th-rounder (and certainly more attractive than drafting Manny Ramirez).

Starting Pitcher: Jhoulys Chacin (COL)

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    You may not be able to pronounce his name, but luckily most drafts nowadays aren't done in person.

    Nothing should stop you from drafting Jhoulys Chacin—likely the Rockies' No. 1 or No. 2 starter this season.

    He was outright amazing in his first full season before the All-Star break last season, registering a 3.16 ERA and 101 K over 116 innings. Of course, he did sputter down the stretch, going 3-7 with a 4.31 ERA.

    And that—along with the lack of name recognition (or proper pronunciation)—is the reason he's about a 25th-round pick right now instead of, say, a 16th-round one.

    But when you're struggling to fill those pitcher spots with guys not named Bronson Arroyo, Chacin could wind up among the top 30 pitchers at season's end.

Relief Pitcher: Ryan Madson (CIN)

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    It takes a certain type of person to be an effective major league closer. You need overpowering stuff, an intimidating persona and, perhaps, an untapped streak of insanity.

    For years, baseball insiders thought Ryan Madson was a little too unreliable for the role (or just too sane).

    But after Brad Lidge went down with elbow issues last season, the Phillies gave the keys to Madson and he went on to snag 32 saves in 34 chances (only two closers had a higher conversion percentage). Now, he's the clear-cut closer in Cincinnati where declining Francisco Cordero (now of the Blue Jays) saved 37 last year.

    Madson is ranked just outside the top 10 relievers right now, but many owners must still be skeptical about his ninth-inning abilities as he sometimes plummets in drafts below sexier name-brand closers like Huston Street and Andrew Bailey.

    But with an intriguing staff of starters including Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, and the occasionally exciting Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, Madson could be one of the five best closers come September—and that's far more important than being one of the five best closers now.

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