Everybody and their brother compiles a fantasy baseball sleeper list this time of the year. In year’s past, we have been inundated with the like’s of Tommy Hanson, Brandon Belt and Mike Trout. Of all the sleepers we’ve been given lately, more likely than not, the majority have put us to sleep with their production.
With that in mind, I want to diversify the concept of sleeper. UrbanDictionary.com has some interesting definitions for sleeper (definition no. 20 is unique, to say the least), but for a more authentic definition, I will use the Oxford Dictionary:
sleeper (noun): 3. a film, book, play, etc. that eventually achieves unexpected success after initially attracting very little attention.
Instead of a film, book or play, we are discussing fantasy baseball sleepers. I recently read an article that listed Jon Lester and Ryan Howard as sleepers. Pardon me, but they do not qualify. I am pretty sure they belong in the bin full of bounce-back candidates in 2013 (if that is what you believe).
Also, any slugger or pitcher who is expected to be drafted in the first 10 rounds no longer qualifies as a sleeper by this measure of qualification. Rather, they must be players with an average draft position (ADP) of 10.1 or later (preferably 13.1 or later, though). Regardless, let’s get to the list of sleepers and a brief summary of why they are worth your time.
OF Starling Marte — Pittsburgh Pirates
Expected to be the face of left field for some time, Marte is still countering the prospect of whether or not he will platoon in 2013. While this makes many of us scratch our heads, there is no doubt that Marte will end up being the full-time starter in left field for the Bucs (Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones and Jerry Sands can fight for right field). Who could forget his debut last season when he crushed a homer in his first big league at-bat? While Marte would not provide the sustained production we thought he would, neither did Trout in his initial call up.
Marte built off of his up-and-down debut in 2012 with a tremendous performance in the Dominican Winter League. While playing with club Escogido in the DWL playoff finals, Marte earned the playoff MVP after hitting .422 in 11 postseason games, according to MLB.com. As we approach draft season, sit back and let your near-sighted league mates bite on Drew Stubbs, Ben Revere and Hunter Pence, while you stash talent and find a valuable resource like Marte extremely late in the draft.
SS Ruben Tejada – New York Mets
The shortstop position is known to be atrocious for fantasy purposes. It’s a top-heavy position riddled with players who have long and enduring histories of injury concerns. Enter Tejada. Not known for anything special but for failing to live up to the standards set by predecessor Jose Reyes, Tejada will likely turn the corner in 2013.
While he does not provide much pop, he is expected to bat close to .300 and steal nearly 30 bases. Long an afterthought in drafts, Tejada is a positive insurance grab late to those who miss out on tier-one and tier-two shortstops early on. At the end of the day, don’t be surprised if Tejada turns out to be a top-15 player at his position.
RHP Marco Estrada – Milwaukee Brewers
Last season, Estrada averaged a little more than one strikeout per inning, while only amassing five wins in 138.1 innings pitched. Needless to say, his high upside depends on his ability to get batters to swing and miss. The wins will come but by no stretch of the imagination will he be a Cy Young candidate. What he will become, though, is something similar to a poor man’s Yovani Gallardo.
When the other guys are dodging bullets by drafting Lance Lynn and similar pitchers, you could snag Estrada somewhere near the 20th round of your draft. What is more evident about his upside and your ability to find great value with Estrada late is the fact he is in good company with his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio – only Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis were better in 2012.
RHP Alex Cobb – Tampa Bay Rays
Despite projections from some of the more renowned fantasy experts ranging anywhere from similar to Hiroki Kuroda to Kyle Kendrick, the simple fact is Cobb has double-digit win potential. Aside from that, his ability for strikeouts should improve from his K/9 of 7.00 in 2012.
The biggest reason why Cobb appears to be sliding on draft day is he has other fine prospects in Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi breathing down his neck. Do not fret, though, because those guys are unlikely to see time in the big league unless the Rays rotation suffers some serious injury setbacks. Simply put, drafting Cobb with confidence late will provide immediate results in 2013.
RHP Casey Janssen – Toronto Blue Jays
With the news of Janssen being named the full-time closer for the promising Toronto Blue Jays comes a rise in value. Despite the spike that we should witness come draft day, Janssen is still an afterthought due to several factors – the lack of trust in placing too much value in a closer on draft day, much more “credible” closers valued ahead of him and the fact that Sergio Santos is still in a Blue Jay uniform.
Janssen finished last year with 22 saves and a left-on-base percentage of 83.0. The fact the highly talented Santos is awaiting another shot to close in Toronto is a bit disheartening but Janssen did recently receive two thumbs up from manager John Gibbons.
C Alex Avila – Detroit Tigers
No one burst onto the scene better than Avila in 2011. Coming out of nowhere, Avila crushed 19 HR and 84 RBI. Last season, things turned for the worse. Avila struggled mightily, hitting .243 with 9 HR and a measly 48 RBI. One thing Avila’s stat line doesn’t tell you though is that he battled a nagging knee injury throughout 2012, which obviously zapped his bat.
The question concerning Avila’s lower extremities remain, but it appears he will be given a clean bill of health to start 2013. While his 2011 production is not expected to return, one can find middle ground between that and his 2012 injury-plagued production. If so, Avila would return as a top 12 catcher in a year where catchers are being drafted much earlier than they probably should.
LHP Cory Luebke – San Diego Padres
Fresh off of Tommy Johnsurgery, no one is more forgotten than Luebke. After averaging more than nine strikeouts per nine innings in his first two seasons in the big leagues, Luebke threw out his elbow in his fifth start of 2012 after beginning 3-1 with an ERA of 2.61.
The downside to Luebke is that he will not be ready to pitch until May or June. The upside is that he pitches at PETCO Park and has the potential to maintain a high strikeout rate and pitch throughout the rest of the season while potentially being on an innings cap. Snagging Luebke late in your draft and stashing him while exercising patience is likely to reap high dividends in 2013.
OF Darin Mastroianni – Minnesota Twins
In 2012, Mastroianni appeared in 77 games and stole 21 bases. He wasn’t very productive elsewhere with the bat, though. With Denard Span and Revere out of the Twin Cities, the club is likely to lean on Mastroianni as their everyday starting centerfielder.
With a full slate of at-bats, it is more than feasible to expect Mastroianni to approach 40 stolen bases in 2013. With more experience at the plate, he could improve on his .256 average from last season, although not by a ton. Don’t get carried away by his lack of hitting prowess as Mastroianni is not the next Shane Victorino. Instead, he is a late-round steal for those who want to accumulate stolen bases at a much cheaper price than they will pay by drafting Michael Bourn, Revere or Coco Crisp.