Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2015: 25 Names to Know

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2015

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2015: 25 Names to Know

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    Shin-Soo Choo suffered through a bad, injury-riddled 2014, his first with the Texas Rangers.
    Shin-Soo Choo suffered through a bad, injury-riddled 2014, his first with the Texas Rangers.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    In case you haven't yet opened your eyes to the upcoming—and fast-approaching—fantasy baseball season, it's time to stop hitting the snooze button on your internal alarm clock, wake up and start sleepering.

    Yep, you read that right. "Sleepering" might not be an actual, you know, word—at least, not according to the Oxford dictionary—but if it were, surely the definition would be as follows: "The act and art of identifying potential fantasy sleepers."

    Most draft-day sleepers fall into one (or more) of the following categories:

    • Bounce-Back Vet: A longtime major leaguer who had a miserable 2014.
    • Injury-Returnee: A player who missed much, most or all of 2014 on the disabled list.
    • Lesser-Known: A player who isn't getting much, if any, real-life publicity or fantasy love.
    • New Role: A player who is taking on a different position or new opportunity. 
    • Post-Hyper: A once-promising player whose career has stalled and disappointed to date.
    • Top Prospect: A highly rated youngster who remains rookie-eligible heading into this year.
    • Youngster on the Rise: A player who's ready to rise after a first taste of the majors in 2014.

    The players to follow come with at least one of the above sleeper labels.

    The other qualification required to be eligible? The players must fall outside the top 150—that's the first 12-15 rounds for 10- and 12-team leagues—based on average draft position (ADP) from Fantasy Pros.

    Here, then, are 25 fantasy sleepers, listed in order of ADP, to keep in mind over the next few weeks' worth of prep work.

    This list considers three factors:

    First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).

    Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

    And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2014 or be in line to start there in 2015.

Garrett Richards, SP, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 152.0)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee

    Face it: Garrett Richards wouldn't be on this list if not for tearing up his left knee last August, an injury that cut short a truly remarkable breakout season and required surgery that likely will cost him a week or three of April.

    Otherwise, the 26-year-old fireballer with wicked movement on his stuff would be ranked among the top 20 starting pitchers—and have an ADP about half as high—after putting up a 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8.8 K/9.

    While pitching is crazy-deep and there's always a chance that Richards could take a little longer than expected to return, his recovery is going well so far, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. Richards will be worth the wait and back as a genuine SP2 before the All-Star break—and you can get him in the middle rounds!

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 152.3)

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    Gregory Polanco's first shot at the majors didn't go all that well. After an 11-game hitting streak out of the gate upon debuting in mid-June, the 23-year-old struggled so much he was demoted back to Triple-A at the end of August before returning once rosters expanded in September.

    Despite the initial failure, the former top prospect is way too talented to overlook in fantasy drafts, which is what is on the verge of happening given his ADP.

    Now that the Pirates have traded away Travis Snider, Polanco has right field all to himself and a chance to make good on his fantasy-friendly skill set that could produce a 20-20 campaign.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins (ADP: 152.7)

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    H. RUMPH JR/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    Overshadowed by the more powerful Giancarlo Stanton and even the more well-rounded Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna deserves a little more love, no?

    Still just 24 and possessing plenty of upside, Ozuna's power showed up quite nicely with 23 homers and 85 RBI in 2014, his first full big league campaign, by the way.

    Taken on average in the 16th round in a 10-team league (and the 13th in a 12-teamer), Ozuna is being drafted like a fourth or fifth outfielder when he's more of an OF3 with the potential for settling in a tick higher if everything clicks.

Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 159.7)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    Fantasy owners are hoping that the Kolten Wong from last October—the one who racked up seven extra-base hits, including three homers, in eight games—can show up for all of 2015.

    Thing is, if Wong just shows the slightest improvements on what he did last year in his first full regular season (.249 BA, 52 R, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 21 SB), then he will be a no-doubt starting second baseman in fantasy.

    Considering Wong is only 24 and has little reason to worry about being sent back to Triple-A—like he was, somewhat prematurely, last April—there's room for growth in all of those numbers.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Texas Rangers (ADP: 166.0)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Bounce-Back Vet; Injury-Returnee

    Wow, did just about everything go wrong for Shin-Soo Choo—and his teammates—in his first year with what should have been a high-powered Texas Rangers offense.

    Choo suffered through ankle and elbow injuries that hampered him much of the season and ultimately led to his being shut down for the final six weeks. That also explains why the perennial 20-20 flirt was so bad even in the 123 games when he was on the field (.242 BA, 58 R, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 3 SB).

    Although Choo is getting up there at 32 and still has problems against same-side pitchers, he simply has to be better in 2015. Hitting atop Texas' lineup is a good place to be, and there's no way the injury bug can deck Choo and Co. quite as hard again. This is a proven OF2 who can be had...in Round 17.

Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets (ADP: 179.3)

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    If you stopped paying close attention in the second half of last season, then you missed out on Travis d'Arnaud's semi-breakout.

    After a rough first half as a rookie, during which he was banished to the minors to straighten things out, the soon-to-be 26-year-old batted .265 with 30 runs, seven homers and 22 RBI in just 53 games.

    That's not knock-your-socks-off great or anything, but it's a sign that d'Arnaud—if he can stay healthy—could be in line for a sneaky-good season now that he's figured some things out.

Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 180.0)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    Jose Quintana is the sleeper. Owners tend to ignore him because he doesn't throw all that hard, still hasn't registered a double-digit win season and isn't anywhere close to as sexy a name as rotation-mate and fellow lefty Chris Sale. But dude can pitch.

    Quintana, just 26, has had two very similar years, posting ERAs of 3.51 then 3.32, WHIPs of 1.22 then 1.24 and K/9s of 7.4 and 8.0.

    He's not going to kill it at the front of your fantasy rotation, but every owner needs that steady, reliable fourth or fifth starter. That's why you should grab Quintana, especially since he's likely to be slept on—again—and available for one of your final five or six picks.

Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 186.3)

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    While you're at it, grabbing Jose Quintana late, you might as well double up and snatch Chris Archer too. Hey, nothing like piecing together a better-than-should-be-allowed pitching staff at the tail end of your draft.

    Archer, 26, has sick stuff and an ever-improving understanding of how to harness it. Now that he has a near-200-inning season under his belt (194.2), the reins should come off, and Archer could take a leap toward becoming a borderline top-25 fantasy starting pitcher a la Jeff Samardzija in 2014.

Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 189.0)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: New Role; Youngster on the Rise

    As poor as Xander Bogaerts played for about three months in the middle of his rookie season, he's almost equally as promising for what he could do entering year two.

    The 22-year-old's advanced approach should lead to a solid .280-plus batting average, and he has enough pop to approach 20 home runs. Plus, hitting amid Boston's loaded lineup is only going to help.

    Oh, and Bogaerts is eligible at both third base and shortstop, which is a nice little bonus. Even without any stolen-base ability to speak of, if he's not a top-10 fantasy shortstop by season's end, it will be a surprising disappointment.

Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 190.0)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee

    We'll let Cliff Lee—who missed most of 2014 with arm troubles but is expected to be ready to go for spring training, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com—act as a gateway to remind you about two other sleeper starters in Homer Bailey (200.0 ADP) and Matt Cain (231.7).

    All three were productive, durable fantasy pitchers for years before injuries and inconsistency hampered them throughout last year. Do. Not. Forget. About. Them.

    This is a case where you should take a flier on one (or more) of this trio, maybe even a round or two earlier than they're expected to come off the board. Because if they're healthy and right, they can be SP2/3-caliber at SP5/6 prices.

Hector Rondon, RP, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 193.3)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    One gets the sense that some fantasy folks don't even know who Hector Rondon is, let alone that he's actually a really good reliever who closed for the Cubs in 2014. Maybe it's that whole "for the Cubs" part?

    After all, Chicago hasn't been any good for the past handful of seasons, so why bother with its ninth-inning man, right? Well, because saves are saves, and Rondon registered 29 of 'em while also posting a 2.42 ERA and 1.06 WHIP and striking out a batter per inning over his 63.1 frames.

    Better than you thought, right?

    And now that the Cubs actually have some talent, the soon-to-be 27-year-old should see more than the 33 save opportunities he garnered last year.

Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres (ADP: 195.3)

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Injury-Returnee; New Role; Post-Hyper

    Between Wil Myers' former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and his current one, the San Diego Padres, one club is going to be very right about him and the other very wrong.

    While his sophomore season was all-around ugly—he hit just .222/.294/.320 and missed nearly three months with a wrist injury—we'll take the side of the Padres for now.

    For fantasy purposes, it's better to gamble on the high-upside former Rookie of the Year bat who could provide OF3 numbers, even in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, rather than let one of your competing owners be the beneficiary.

Drew Smyly, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 196.0)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known; New Role

    Hey, Drew Smyly looked like a downright stud after being traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the David Price package at the trade deadline. In fact, the 25-year-old southpaw sported a ridiculous 1.70 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 in 47.2 innings. Yahtzee!

    Not to undercut one of our own sleepers, but don't expect that kind of production to continue. It was, after all, only seven starts. Smyly just isn't SP1 material; he's more like a solid SP4 at best.

    That said, he's lasting until right around Round 20, which makes him an extremely good value pick. Just don't be the guy who reaches for Smyly too soon because of what he did in his initial outings as a Ray. Let him come to you.

Jhonny Peralta, SS, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 198.3)

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    It's OK, you can admit it without hurting his feelings: You don't want to draft Jhonny Peralta. He's a 32-year-old shortstop who has been around forever (fine, 12 years), which is why nobody has gone into a draft—ever—thinking, "Man, I need to get me some Jhonny!"

    And yet owning Peralta actually is rather worthwhile. Not only is he durable—at least 141 games nine of the past 10 years, and the one year he fell short was because of the 50-game Biogenesis suspension—but Peralta also hits for power, which is rare for a shortstop.

    To wit, Peralta knocked 21 home runs in his first year with the St. Louis Cardinals, marking the fifth time he's topped 20 in a single season. Among all active shortstops, only (no-longer-a-shortstop) Alex Rodriguez with eight and Troy Tulowitzki with six have more 20-homer campaigns.

    The position is shallow and unsteady from top to bottom, so even though you might not want Peralta, you'll damn well take him if he falls to you this late.

Andrew Miller, RP, New York Yankees (ADP: 200.0)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: New Role

    Sure, Dellin Betances might have the inside track to take over as New York Yankees closer right now. But his ADP is a much costlier 102.3, and Andrew Miller was just about as nasty as Betances in 2014.

    If the 29-year-old lefty can maintain the sort of stuff he showed last year (2.02 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 14.9 K/9), it wouldn't be surprising at all if he were to be worth owning—even if he doesn't win the closer's gig in spring.

    Any reliever who could strike out 100-plus batters and post a decent ERA and WHIP is roster-able. And chances are, Miller will get at least a handful of saves by default—and possibly way more than that.

    If you select Betances, do the smart thing and grab Miller a handful of rounds later too. Think of it like a handcuff situation, to borrow a term from fantasy football. You won't regret it, but you might if someone else snatches him up first. 

Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 216.7)

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    There are plenty of other youngsters on this list, but Joc Pederson is the first true rookie-eligible player to crack it.

    (By the way: If you're wondering where Chicago Cubs power-hitting rookie third baseman Kris Bryant is right about now, his 119.0 ADP was too lofty to qualify.)

    Pederson, 22, didn't show much of anything in his short debut stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers last September, but he did accomplish something that hadn't been done in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League since 1934—a 30-30 season.

    That's the kind of prospect profile that gets fantasy owners drooling, so expect Pederson to climb up draft ranks as spring approaches. He's not guaranteed to break camp with the Dodgers, but the trade of Matt Kemp certainly helped clear the way.

    Treat Pederson like an OF4/5 on draft day, but with the hope that he could pay off as more than that.

Jake Odorizzi, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 230.3)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    The name Jake Odorizzi doesn't get many fantasy owners all that excited, but it should.

    After all, the 24-year-old right-hander sported a 9.3 strikeouts-per-nine rate that ranked—get this—ninth-best in all of baseball in 2014.

    Following a slow start (5.31 ERA through 12 outings), Odorizzi morphed into something of a mid-rotation fantasy starter, thanks to a 3.51 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 103 strikeouts over 110.1 frames across his final 19 starts.

    If he can come close to those numbers over 30 turns, then Odorizzi is going to excite quite a few owners.

Aaron Sanchez, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 242.7)

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Sleeper Status: New Role; Top Prospect

    To draft Aaron Sanchez is to take a leap of faith based on talent. At the moment, his role—starter? reliever? closer?—is up in the air, and there's even a possibility (albeit a small one) that he could start the season in the minors.

    But the 22-year-old Sanchez was undeniably filthy in his first pass at the bigs, allowing only four earned runs on all of 14 hits in 33 innings to go with a 27-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 appearances out of the pen.

    A starting pitching prospect, Sanchez took so warmly to relief that he may wind up being the Toronto Blue Jays closer. As talented as he is, and as short-sighted as it might be to limit him to that role when he could be starting, the ninth-inning job actually might be the one that boosts Sanchez's value the most from a fantasy perspective.

    As a side note: If Sanchez doesn't get the stopper spot, it could go to underrated lefty Brett Cecil, who has struck out 11.5 per nine the last two years—and whose ADP is 327.0.

Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 243.3)

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    Even considering all other second-year starters, like Jacob deGrom and Yordano Ventura, the one with the best combination of stuff and opportunity to make the leap to ace-dom just might be Kevin Gausman.

    What's really fun about that is how late the 24-year-old with the upper-90s heater and put-away changeup is being selected in drafts. Like, last-round late.

    Although Gausman's 2014 numbers were more good than eye-popping (3.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.0 K/9), the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft has the frame, velocity and pitchability to turn into an SP3—or even an SP2—by season's end.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 249.7)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Youngster on the Rise

    One of the best right-handed pitching prospects in baseball this time last year, Taijuan Walker missed qualifying as a prospect again by a mere three innings.

    Of course, that isn't necessarily a good thing, because the 22-year-old was in line to make the Seattle Mariners rotation out of spring, until a shoulder injury slowed his roll.

    Oddly, Walker could be on the outside looking in again entering 2015, as Greg Johns of MLB.com writes:

    Manager Lloyd McClendon has indicated four starting spots are solid in his mind. And while he declined to name names, it's pretty clear that Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and James Paxton will open the year in the rotation if things go as planned this spring.

    That leaves Walker competing with Roenis Elias, who went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts last year as a rookie, and Erasmo Ramirez, who allowed just one earned run in 30 innings (0.30 ERA) in the Venezuelan Winter League after a tough 2014 with the Mariners.

    It really would be a shame if the M's don't award a five-man spot to Walker if he earns it in March, but that also is part of why his ADP is this low. Bank on the talent coming through, though, as well as the fact that there's a good chance either the injury-prone Paxton—another sleeper, with an ADP of 216.0—will spend some time on the disabled list or J.A. Happ will, well, pitch like J.A. Happ.

Carlos Martinez, SP/RP, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 256.0)

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: New Role; Post-Hyper

    Carlos Martinez pitched well enough to win a rotation spot last spring, but the St. Louis Cardinals ultimately decided to keep him in the bullpen again.

    That turned out to be a blah call all around, as Martinez wasn't exactly dominant as a setup man (3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.9 K/9), and he lost a year of development as a starter, to boot.

    There should be no such debate this time, though, as the Cardinals no longer have fellow right-handers Shelby Miller or Joe Kelly after trading both away. Thus, the door is open for Martinez to fire an upper-90s fastball through.

    The 23-year-old will need to show better command and control and learn to pitch more efficiently as a starter in the majors, but Martinez is the kind of arm who could be a late-round gem if it all comes together.

Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals (ADP: 262.7)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: Lesser-Known

    Nobody seems to want to recognize just how great Danny Duffy was a year ago. At least, that's what his last-round ADP indicates.

    And yet, the 26-year-old hard-throwing lefty, who joined the Kansas City Royals rotation full time at the beginning of May, notched a top-notch 2.55 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, along with a respectable 6.5 K/9, in 141 innings over his 24 starts.

    A late-season shoulder scare could be causing folks to look past Duffy, but he pitched in the postseason and has had the past four months to rest up. Sure, between that and the .240 batting average on balls in play there's some risk here, but at such a late stage of drafting, upside should be the focus. And Duffy has that.

Tyler Clippard, RP, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 272.3)

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Sleeper Status: New Role

    The slight tear in Sean Doolittle's left rotator cuff is going to keep him out early on, which opens up the door to the ninth inning to Tyler Clippard, recently acquired from the Washington Nationals. In fact, Clippard appears to be the front-runner for the Oakland Athletics, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Although he has been primarily a setup man in his career—and one of the best in baseball at that—Clippard does have some closing experience on his resume, including a 32-save season in 2012.

    This is one of those situations where owners need to consider the possibility that either A) Doolittle doesn't return as quickly as expected, allowing Clippard to rack up 10-15 saves over the first two months; or B) Clippard is so darn good that he maintains at least some sort of share of the closer role even when Doolittle gets back.

    Another reliever in a similar situation? Brad Boxberger of the Tampa Bay Rays, who could be the guy to cover while Jake McGee is recovering from surgery. With an ADP of 284.0 and coming off a 104-strikeout 2014—yes, really—Boxberger presents a nice value grab. 

Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Mets (ADP: 281.3)

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Sleeper Status: Top Prospect

    While the expectation was that Noah Syndergaard would be on the same midseason debut path in 2014 that brought Matt Harvey (2012) and Zack Wheeler (2013) to the majors in the two years prior, the New York Mets instead chose to hold back the big right-hander until 2015.

    But there's very little stopping the man known as "Thor" now, especially considering he's one of the five best starting pitchers on the Mets roster already.

    Of course, whether the club will see it that way or prefer to keep him in the minors for a month or two depends on a few things, including how much Syndergaard forces the team's hand with a big spring and whether New York can move one or both of Dillon Gee and/or Bartolo Colon to open a rotation spot.

    Regardless, the 22-year-old Syndergaard—who whiffed 145 in 133 innings at Triple-A last year—is the most big league-ready top pitching prospect in baseball. If you like to draft based on talent more than opportunity, then you'll want him.

Pedro Alvarez, 1B/3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 288.3)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Sleeper Status: Bounce-Back Vet; New Role

    Hey, remember this guy? You know, 2013 NL home run champion Pedro Alvarez?

    A year after smashing 36 homers and notching 100 RBI, just about everything went wrong for the soon-to-be 28-year-old, whose long-ball total plummeted to 18 while he played only 122 games—and just one after Aug. 26—due to a left foot injury.

    Oh, and a terrible case of the yips forced him to switch from third base to first, which is where he'll start in 2015.

    But because Alvarez's power didn't just vanish and he'll still have that "3B" next to his name for eligibility purposes, he's a good late-round talent to gamble on. He might not hit north of .240, but 30 home runs will play, regardless.

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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