When it comes to fantasy sports, it’s often the decisions made in the later rounds of the draft that make all the difference between playoff contention and a title shot.
Unless you play in a 16-team league, there’s a good chance a handful of quality young bats will be available in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. When the superstars are off the board, selecting the right players becomes a practice of intuition and value.
Let’s take a look at some of the top sleepers who may still be available in the later rounds of the draft. Each are poised to contribute in a big way this season, and stashing one or two away could prove to be the difference between winning and losing this fantasy baseball season.
Lonnie Chisenhall: 3B, Cleveland Indians
Lonnie Chisenhall is one of Cleveland’s top prospects, but he only saw significant time in the majors when the Indians were out of contention in 2011 and 2012.
The 24-year-old third baseman played 43 games with the Indians last year, but he displayed a good deal of potential. Chisenhall got his first at-bat of 2012 last May, and a deep home run into the right field bullpen put the exclamation mark on his arrival.
With Jack Hannahan now a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Chisenhall assumes the role of starting third baseman for the Indians this season. He won’t be fighting for at-bats any longer.
While his 2012 stats weren’t all that impressive (.268 average, five home runs and 16 RBI in 142 at-bats), there’s plenty of reason to believe he can play a significant role for the Indians this summer.
Cleveland hit the free agent market hard this offseason, adding veteran sluggers Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher, as well as speedy center fielder Michael Bourn. With Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera already in the lineup, Chisenhall should have a lot of protection in the batting order.
With his first full season ahead of him, Chisenhall has a chance to be a quality corner infielder and solid bat for the Indians. Expect him to hit .270/20/80 starting at third this year.
Anthony Rizzo: 1B, Chicago Cubs
Anthony Rizzo isn’t flying under the radar, but he isn’t exactly a top draft selection either. With so many good options at first base, the 23-year-old slugger will likely be available beyond the 10th round in most formats.
In 87 games with the Cubs last season, Rizzo hit .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI. Given a full season at the position, there’s a good chance he closes in on 30 home runs and 100 RBI this year.
Offensive production can come from anywhere in fantasy baseball, but there’s still something to be said for loading up on corner-infield power bats. Mark Teixeira will probably be off the board well before Rizzo in most drafts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rizzo has a better all-around year.
For leagues with a utility spot or two, doubling back in the draft for a young corner infielder like Rizzo could make a big difference by the end of the season.
Starling Marte: OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t put together a winning season in 20 years, but this year could finally end the drought.
The Pirates had a busy offseason, and their improved 2013 squad is full of young talent and seasoned veteran leadership. As surprisingly strong at their entire roster has turned out, it’s the Pirates’ outfield that stands to do the most damage from the dish.
Andrew McCutchen has stolen the headlines (and a high fantasy draft position), but don’t expect him to be the only outfielder making a splash in 2013.
Starling Marte is Pittsburgh’s top position prospect, and he’ll start in left field for the Pirates this year. According to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, manager Clint Hurdle plans to start Marte in the leadoff role regularly during spring training.
In 47 big-league games last season, Marte hit just .257 with five home runs and 17 RBI. He did manage to swipe 12 bases, though, and if he can lock down the leadoff role for the regular season, don’t be surprised if Marte challenges for the base-stealing title in 2013.
There are plenty of quality outfielders available this year, but with so many spots to fill in a fantasy lineup, there’s always room for a young outfielder with a ton of upside. If your team is looking a little thin at the position in later rounds, Marte is a smart pick. He has the chance to have a breakout season in 2013.