MLB Preview 2011: Each Team's Biggest Fantasy Sleeper To Watch This Spring
Before reading this article, it is important to know defines a ‘fantasy baseball sleeper’. For me, a sleeper is someone who can outproduce their draft spot.
That could be a rookie who has never sniffed the major leagues like Mike Moustakas, or a seasoned veteran whose draft stock has lowered because of a down year like Russell Martin.
This slide show presents one fantasy sleeper from each team who has the potential to outproduce their current draft grade.
Although some of them are young stars who have the potential to become elite, some are also veterans whose draft grades simply don’t give them the credit that they deserve.
This article can be found on MLB Fantasy Guru.
San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt, OF
Although chances are Belt will not have a starting gig with the Giants until later in the season, Belt has the potential to make an immediate impact from Day One.
He posted an AVG of .352 in his first professional campaign, and his patience and prowess at the plate are reminding Giant fans of another top prospect, Buster Posey.
He has shown 20/20 potential in his only season in the minors and has shown that he can compete for batting titles for years to come.
Brian Sabean, the GM from the Giants, said that when Belt reaches the majors, he will play every day.
With that said, when Belt eventually makes it to the big leagues, he will make an immediate impact for the San Francisco Giants.
With his .455 career OBS, Belt can prove to be one of the top pickups at the end of the fantasy season.
Colorado Rockies, Chris Iannetta, C
It seems that every season, Iannetta is one of the top sleeper catchers in fantasy baseball. Once again, and for good reason, Iannetta is back up on my board as one of the top sleepers for the Colorado Rockies.
Although you can view 2010 for Chris a disappointment, he never got a chance to claim that starting role for the Rockies.
With Miguel Olivo leaving the team due to free agency, Iannetta finally has a chance to flash his potential as the full-time catcher.
The one statistic that sticks out for Iannetta is his power numbers. In 2008 and 2009, he hit 18 and 16 home runs, respectively, despite limited playing time throughout the year.
You can’t draft him expecting a high batting average, but his respectable career OBP over .350 can more than make up for his mishaps.
Draft Iannetta as one of your catchers and expect him to put up some of the top power numbers in the league.
Los Angeles Dodgers, Juan Uribe, 2B
There aren’t very many players who proved to be more important for the Giants than Uribe last season. Nearly every one of his home runs in 2010 seemed to tie the game or give the Giants the lead.
Uribe cashed in on his success for the Giants and signed a three-year deal as the starting second basemen for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The reason I consider Uribe a sleeper is because of where he is currently drafted. In standard H2H leagues, he is drafted around the 20th round, which does not justify his impact on the field.
Uribe is also one of the most versatile players in the league. With 2B, SS and 3B eligibility this season, Uribe could prove to be invaluable to players who value flexibility in the lineup.
His .256 career batting average doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but he will be a very cheap power source for the thinner positions in this year’s fantasy draft.
San Diego Padres, Cameron Maybin, OF
Once considered to be one of the top prospects in the league, Maybin has fallen off the draft boards and has become an afterthought on every fantasy roster.
Despite all the talent in the world, Maybin hasn’t been able to utilize his tools and was shipped to the Padres at a discounted rate.
Playing in spacious Petco Park may work to his advantage, as he can hit the ball into the gaps and utilize his speed around the bases.
However, his power numbers will most likely decline, and you shouldn’t expect much more than 10 home runs.
However, undrafted in nearly every league, Maybin could be a cheap source of stolen bases as the season progresses.
As a late-round draft pick, Maybin is your ideal low-risk/high-reward fantasy player candidate.
Arizona Diamondbacks, Daniel Hudson, SP
Hudson seemed to come out of nowhere to put up some of the best numbers out of any starting pitcher last season.
With a stat line of 7 W, 1 L, 1.69 ERA, .841 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, Hudson has pitched himself into the conversation of one of the game’s elite.
Hudson is currently drafted at the 150th overall pick, anywhere from the early to late teens. Considering the numbers he put up as a member of the Diamondbacks, Hudson should be drafted even earlier.
Although it is unsure how many wins he can produce this season for the lowly Diamondbacks, his elite WHIP and ERA can more than make up for it, especially in roto leagues.
Take advantage of his draft spot, because Hudson can be one of the top fantasy pitchers in 2011 and, quite possibly, the top sleeper pick in this year’s draft.
New York Mets, Angel Pagan, OF
It seems that people aren’t buying into Angel Pagan's breakthrough year, largely because Pagan is currently the 38th outfielder taken in this year’s fantasy draft.
Pagan has 5-tool potential and flashed some of his skills in 2010. He batted .290 with 80 runs and 37 stolen bases.
Although he did tail off at the end of last season (.263 AVG), he is one of the few players that can help your fantasy team in many different ways.
Be sure to target Angel Pagan in this year’s draft. Worst case scenario, he will give you a high amount of stolen bases and runs sandwiched in the heart of the Mets lineup.
Philadelphia Phillies, Shane Victorino, OF
It may be weird to consider Victorino a ‘sleeper’ because he has been in the league for so long, but he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Currently drafted in the sixth or seventh round, Victorino has proven to be one of the most consistent fantasy producers over the past few years.
Victorino’s batting average dipped last season, but it seemed like the entire Phillies lineup was derailed by injuries at one point or another—consider his low BA more of an aberration than a reality.
Although Victorino may have already shown his ‘upside,’ you won’t find a more consistent producer batting in the heart of one of the most potent offenses in the National League.
Even though Victorino is drafted in the sixth or seventh round, he is a lock to give you the production of an earlier pick.
Washington Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann, SP
People tend to forget that before Stephen Strasburg mania hit Washington, D.C., Zimmermann was the next big pitching prospect for the Nationals.
Unfortunately for Zimmermann, he fell victim to the dreaded Tommy John surgery in 2009 but made a quick recovery and was able to finish the season with the Nationals at the end of 2010.
Zimmermann possesses an upside that very few pitchers are able to replicate. With a minor league K/9 ratio of 9.4, he has shown the ability to strike people out at the professional level.
With a young, up-and-coming offense, Zimmermann can be the ace the Nationals need who can rack up the wins as the season progresses.
On draft day, consider Jordan’s injury woes a thing of the past, and consider him to be one of the top pitching sleepers in this year’s draft.
Atlanta Braves, Mike Minor, SP
Mike Minor shot up the minor league system after getting drafted seventh overall in the 2009 amateur draft. He struck out opposing batters at an alarming rate (10.9 K/9) and showed why he was deserving of such a high draft pick.
Minor is currently slated to start the season as the fifth starter on an up-and-coming Braves rotation. With some of the best pure stuff on the pitching staff, Minor has the potential to be a winner straight out of the gate.
Since Minor is currently going undrafted in many fantasy drafts, Minor’s value couldn’t be higher. Draft the southpaw as a late-round flier with the upside that few are able to match.
Florida Marlins, Mike Stanton, OF
The Marlins sure drafted a gem when they grabbed Stanton in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft.
He went though the minor league system very quickly while demonstrating his amazing power potential at all levels of the minor leagues.
As a member of the Marlins, he hit 22 home runs in just 100 games and seems primed to make a run at the home run crown in 2011.
Unfortunately, Stanton also has a knack for striking out, but many fantasy owners would be willing to bite the bullet if they could receive the upside of a perennial home run hitter.
It seems that Stanton already has many fans among fantasy baseball owners. He is currently drafted in the sixth or seventh round, which makes him a little bit of a gamble.
However, with his immense power potential, the risk is certainly worth the reward.
Milwaukee Brewers, Shaun Marcum, SP
Although it wasn’t highly publicized, the Shawn Marcum acquisition was one of the bigger trades this offseason.
Marcum brings a highly reliable arm who put up great fantasy numbers while pitching in the powerhouse AL East division.
He managed to put up a 1.147 WHIP paired with a 3.64 ERA in his return from Tommy John surgery, while showing the uncanny ability to throw pitches within the strike zone.
Now entering the weaker NL Central division, Marcum automatically becomes a solid No. 3 starter on the revamped Brewers rotation.
You can expect more wins in 2011 paired with the potential to post career highs in nearly every statistical category.
Currently drafted in the early teens, Marcum could be a big sleeper in this year’s draft.
Although he may not be a marquee name, Marcum could become a great producer for the Brewers and for your fantasy baseball team.
St. Louis Cardinals, Allen Craig, OF
Allen Craig has nothing left to prove in the minors. He has dominated opposing pitchers in the minor leagues since getting drafted in 2006 and seems ready to get the starting gig in the Cardinals outfield.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there is an opening, with Holliday, Rasmus and Berkman in the outfield.
However, Berkman has been dealing with various nagging injuries in the beginning weeks of spring training, so look for Craig to jump right into the fold if someone goes down.
With consistent at-bats at the major league level, Craig could prove to be very valuable in 2011.
Keep an eye on the injury situation for the Cardinals. Craig might sneak into the Opening Day lineup if there is a setback to the aging Lance Berkman.
Houston Astros, J.A. Happ, SP
Happ hasn’t been the same pitcher since he was deemed ‘untouchable’ by the Philly organization in 2009.
He has suffered from control problems this past year, and pitching behind the poor Astros lineup shouldn’t excite any fantasy players, either.
However, there is some saving grace. After returning from injuries, Happ was able to post the best strikeout ratio of his career (7.6 K/9) and was still able put up the lowest hit ratio (7.5 H/9) for the Astros last season.
If Happ is somehow able to keep the ball in the strike zone, he can quite possibly return to his 2009 form when he got second place in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Entering his third season as a full-time starter, Happ seems primed and ready to take the next step in his career.
Chicago Cubs, Carlos Zambrano, SP
With all of the off-the-field drama surrounding Zambrano this past offseason, people tend to forget that Zambrano actually had a really good year.
He finished the year with a 1.41 ERA, which lowered his season average a 3.33 ERA. Didn’t see that coming?
Some may say that his 3.33 ERA is an aberration due to his high 1.45 WHIP, but a late-round draft pick seems worth the risk to find out.
He could return back to his former elite self with the fire and passion that we once saw from him.
With Zambrano currently drafted after the 200th overall pick, Zambrano seems to be a great value pick in this year’s fantasy draft.
If he reverts to his unpredictable self, who cares? You only wasted a 20th-rounder on him.
Cincinnati Reds, Drew Stubbs, OF
Although it may be difficult to consider Stubbs a ‘sleeper’ because he did so well last season, I still consider Stubbs to be one of the top value picks in this year’s draft.
He put up some of the best power/speed numbers as a member of the Reds and showed why he is considered to be a 5-tool talent.
However, like many other young stars, Stubbs has a problem with striking out. One would hope that with time and experience, the strikeouts would die down.
If Stubbs somehow got his strikeouts down and his average back up to par, he would be an elite starting outfielder in this year’s draft.
As the leadoff man for the Cincinnati Reds next season, Stubbs could quite possibly reach 100 runs paired with 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
Not many players can replicate those numbers, which is exactly why he is one of the top value/sleeper picks in this year’s draft.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Pedro Alvarez, 3B
Pedro Alvarez is another of the many rising young talents who have had a problem with striking out. He struck out 119 times in limited playing time and showed why he is still a student of the game.
However, Alvarez really showed signs of turning things around. In the second half of the season, he posted a .270 batting average paired with 13 home runs, a huge upgrade from his first-half numbers.
It doesn’t hurt that Alvarez is 3B-eligible, one of the thinnest positions in this year’s draft.
Look for Alvarez to add to those numbers and prove why he was drafted so high by the Pirates a few short years ago.
Drafted in the early double digits, Alvarez can be one of this year’s big sleepers at the third base position.
Seattle Mariners, Justin Smoak, 1B
Drafted in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft, Smoak emerged as one of the top hitting prospects in the minors. He was compared to another switch-hitting first basemen, Mark Teixeira, and appeared to be on the fast track to the majors.
After a lackluster few months with the Texas Rangers, he was shipped to Seattle, where he was given the opportunity to become a full-time starter at first base.
Smoak really struggled as a member of the Mariners and was eventually sent down to the minors, where he refined his swing in preparation for another stint with Seattle.
Fortunately, Smoak really finished the season on a strong note, batting .340 after getting recalled by the Mariners.
Keep an eye on Justin Smoak’s progress in spring training. Currently undrafted in standard fantasy leagues, Smoak has the ability to hit for power and average in his first full year with the Mariners.
Oakland Athletics, Gio Gonzalez
If you want to see how much Gio Gonzalez improved as a pitcher over the course of last season, just look at his second-half splits. He posted a 2.59 ERA while lowering his opponents’ batting average, walks and home run total.
Gonzalez really showed an improvement on the mound and has the potential to reach 200 strikeouts in 2011. Let’s hope that he can keep his walks to a minimum; it has been his Achilles' heel throughout his major league career.
Be sure to monitor his performance over spring training to see if he can continue his momentum into the 2011 season.
Currently drafted behind the likes of James Shields, Ian Kennedy and Mark Buehrle, Gonzalez can drastically outperform his current draft status and easily become a top 30 fantasy pitcher.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Kendry Morales, 1B
It’s easy to talk about the No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues, Mike Trout, but there is a bigger sleeper who can make an impact from Day One, Morales.
As we all know, Morales’s season was cut short due to his infamous walk-off home run where he hurt his lower left leg while jumping on home plate last season.
At the time, he was well on his way to another successful year as a centerpiece of the Angels organization.
Last year’s injury may scare away some fantasy owners, but considering Morales was a top producer in 2009, he is well worth the risk.
In 2011, Morales is a great buy-low candidate and could be a steal after the elite first basemen are taken off the board.
Morales can return right where he left off, where he can hit for a high average paired with 30 home runs.
Texas Rangers, Brandon Webb, SP
Once a dominant starter in the National League, Webb has been derailed by injuries, making only one start in the past two seasons.
After signing with the Rangers this offseason, Webb seems ready to return to the spotlight as one of the top pitchers in the league.
Webb used to be considered one of the top sinker-ballers in the league. With many Gold Glovers playing behind him on defense, Webb could have an easy transition back into the game.
It doesn’t hurt that he pitches behind one of the top offenses in the American League; Webb may be able to rack up the wins just like he did in his last full season two years ago.
It’s difficult to say how he will fare as a member of the Texas Rangers since he hasn’t pitched in two years, but if Webb slips to the later portions of the draft, he may be worth the risk.
New York Yankees, Russell Martin, C
After three straight declining years as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, it isn’t difficult to realize why he is ranked so low as a starting catcher. However, as a member of the Yankees, Martin has the ability to bounce back as one of the top catchers in the game.
Reports in the Yankees clubhouse state that Martin is in the best shape of his career. That means you can expect an increase in his batting average and an increase in the stolen base department, something he was known for as a member of the Dodgers.
Because Martin is drafted in the late rounds of fantasy drafts, he may be worth a flier. He is surrounded by one of the top offenses in the league; don’t be surprised if he puts up career numbers by the end of the season.
Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP
Over the past two years, Matsuzaka has not been the same pitcher that we saw when he entered the league in 2007.
His H/9 rate has increased while his K/9 rate has steadily decreased since finishing fourth in the Cy Young award votes several seasons ago.
With that said, Dice-K is an intriguing player to watch this spring training.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in the hearts of fantasy owners this spring, posting a 10.80 ERA in two starts so far.
But considering his track record and current low draft status, he should come cheap for your fantasy team.
If he can limit his walk rate for this up-and-coming season, he could return to his former self and show why he was signed to such a hefty contract straight out of Japan.
Even if he doesn’t return to his former self, he still would be worth owning. With the newly revamped Boston offense, any pitcher on the Red Sox staff should rack up the wins in 2011.
Tampa Bay Rays, Jeremy Hellickson, SP
Hellickson’s emergence is one of the reasons the Rays were so willing to give up Matt Garza this past off-season.
He has built up the reputation of a strike thrower so far in his professional career and has also shown the ability to strike batters out, as demonstrated during his debut with the Rays at the end of the 2010 season.
Although Hellickson strained his right hamstring the first week of camp, he should be ready to go come Opening Day. Don’t let this minor injury deter you from drafting this elite prospect on draft day.
Hellickson is currently drafted in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts. He appears to be one of the most polished rookie starters going into the season, so don’t hesitate to grab him if he remains undrafted by the 15th round or so.
Toronto Blue Jays, Rajai Davis, OF
It seems like Davis is one of the more underappreciated players in fantasy baseball. He is one of the premier base stealers in the league but still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
In 2011, Davis finally has an opportunity prove his worth on the dynamic and powerful Blue Jays offense. Penciled in at the leadoff spot for the Blue Jays, he has the ability to set career highs in runs and RBI.
The one issue with Davis has been his low OBP, but with Davis entering a hitter-friendly ballpark and more talent surrounding him than ever before, he should be in better position to improve upon his numbers.
Currently drafted in the mid to late rounds, Davis could be a great steal (no pun intended) for your fantasy team.
Baltimore Orioles, Justin Duchscherer, SP
Although Duchscherer has not been healthy the past few seasons, he has claimed a starting role on the Baltimore Orioles for 2011.
He has not pitched a full season since his successful 2008 campaign but seems ready to return to action this year.
Ever since Duchscherer has become a starter, he has always been effective. Although he is not considered a strikeout pitcher, he has been able to maintain a low WHIP while averaging over 6 IP per start.
Wins may be hard to come by as a member of the lowly Orioles, but he is more than capable of putting up great numbers in his return to the mound.
Going undrafted in all leagues, Duchscherer is a pitcher that you can grab in the late rounds of the draft or even on the waiver wire the next day.
Kansas City Royals, Mike Moustakas, 3B
Moustakas is one of the many Royal prospects predicted to make the big league squad sometime this season. Moustakas sticks out particularly because he plays for the thin third base position this season.
Moustakas had an excellent 2010 campaign in the minors last year, posting some of the top power numbers and slugging percentage in the league. It is only a matter of time before he gets called up to the Royals this year.
Although he most likely won’t play in the majors until halfway through the season, he can contribute right away once he gets the starting nod.
Considering he is third-base eligible, you should definitely keep an eye on his play during spring training and on draft day.
Minnesota Twins, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
Nishioka is a sleeper this year because people don’t really know what to expect from him. As a result, he is the 19th-ranked second baseman and is even going undrafted in some leagues.
Tsuyoshi isn’t going to blow you away with his power numbers, but he can be viewed as a Shin-Soo Choo with less power and more speed.
On the Twins offense, he has the potential to reach 100 runs and 30 SB while batting right around .300. Those numbers would place him in the top 10 for starting second basemen.
You may not want to draft him as your starting second baseman, but he could claim the starting role on your fantasy team if his play even closely mirrors his production in Japan.
Chicago White Sox, Carlos Quentin, OF
Quentin has always been a great hitter but has never able to stay healthy for a whole season. With that said, Quentin is your typical high-risk/high-reward type of player.
In his best season as a member of the White Sox, he ended up with a stat line of .288-36-100-96, good enough to put him in the conversation for the MVP award.
Unfortunately, that season, along with every subsequent one, was cut short due to injury. Even so, you would be hard-pressed to find a player who possesses the upside that Quentin has.
Due to his injury woes, his draft stock has plummeted, and he is currently drafted around the 10th round. If you’re willing to take the risk, you may get the production of a first- or second-rounder.
Detroit Tigers, Max Scherzer, SP
Scherzer is one of the most talented pitchers in the league and seems ready to continue his momentum from last year into the 2011 season.
In the second half of last year, Scherzer posed a 2.47 ERA while striking out batters at a rate of one per inning. He really seemed to turn it around after a poor first half of the season.
Scherzer seems more than capable of adding to his win total from last season. With the acquisition of Victor Martinez, their offense is primed to add to last year’s numbers. That only means more wins for their sleeper, Max Scherzer.
Currently drafted in the ninth or 10th rounds of fantasy drafts, Scherzer has the upside to enter the top 10 for starting pitchers.
Be sure to circle his name on draft day, because you will be getting one of the rising stars in the league.
Cleveland Indians, Justin Masterson, SP
As one of the better sinker ballers in the league, Masterson is a deep sleeper in this year’s draft. He has always had the ability to get ground balls, but a major problem has been his ability to get the ball in the strike zone.
Over the final month of the season, as a reliever and starter, he was able to significantly reduce his walk rate (2 BB in 20 IP) and BAA (.236).
If he can continue this trend into next season, Masterson could become someone worth owning in fantasy leagues. His strikeout potential only adds to the bonus you could get with the starting pitcher.
Masterson is currently undrafted in all leagues and is a real deep sleeper for the 2011 season. Although there are more questions and answers, Masterson could surprise some people next year as a member of the Indians rotation.