There was an article posted today at Fanball called 2011 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers. First off, I have a huge problem with the term “sleeper.” It’s so ingrained in our minds that when it is left out of a draft guide or preseason preview we get tons of emails asking how we could be so stupid as to not including such an article in our coverage.
Honestly though, what good is a “sleeper” article? In 1994 there was a point to it, but that time has long passed. In the “old days” before the internet blew up, data was hard to come by. Only those that really attempted to ferret it out were able to find it. However, information is everyone at this point. You can get it online for free – just like you do here at BaseballGuys – and you can find information everyone on the internet if you want to pay a few bucks. There are also shows on television dealing only with fantasy baseball, and I host a daily radio on Sirius/XM Radio where we talk about fantasy sports three hours a day (5-8 PM, EDT). The point is, with the data available in virtually every medium you could think of, there really are no true “sleepers” anymore. By draft day every player has been analyzed and worked over, so much so in many instances that a guy who was a sleeper in early January ends up being drafted in the 10th round in your mixed league draft in late March.
I think the best we can do is to put forward a list of players who are likely to be undervalued on draft day, though again, that value is completely arbitrary and will be determined totally based upon how those in your league value the players (if you buy Daric Barton in New York he might cost $7, but try purchasing him for less than $10 if you live in California).
Here are the names that were on the “sleeper” list I refered to at the top of the piece. In what follows I give my own thoughts on each (each writer took one player and gave his reasons why that guy should be a draft day target in the original piece).
Pedro Alvarez: He hit a combined 29 homers last season between Triple-A and the majors, but he also struck out a shameful 187 times. With such a poor approach at the dish, Alvarez is much more Adam Dunn than he is Ryan Zimmerman. Still, he has a shot to be a top-10 third basemen.
Mike Aviles: In his two healthy seasons he has hit better than .300. Do you know how many .300 seasons that Chase Utley has? Try two. Aviles seems capable of going 10/10 as well, and though his run producing is suspect, only nine players hit .300 with 10 homers and 10 steals in 2010.
Homer Bailey: He still needs to work on his secondary stuff, but Bailey pitched really well over his last 10 starts with a 3.55 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 59 Ks in 58.1 innings. He seems locked into a starting role with the Reds, and despite seeming like he has been around forever, Homer is just 24 years old.
Jay Bruce: He is a huge breakout candidate after his dynamic finish (.338-15-29 over his last 43 games) in 2010. However, that finish will have Bruce on everyone’s list of breakout candidates in 2011. There is no disputing that the youngster could be a huge run producer, and he has seen his walk rate improve each year, but the strikeouts are a concern.
Lorenzo Cain: He hit for average and flashed speed in 43 games after hitting .317 with 26 thefts in 84 games in the minors. Cain has hit .291 in the minors in his career, but it’s hard to envision him continuing to hit so well in a full season of work. The Royals believe in him as he was part of the package of players they received for Zack Greinke.
Starlin Castro: He was awful on the base paths with a 56 percent stolen base rate, and he closed out the year on a down note hitting .232 over his last 23 games. Someone will likely pay top dollar for a guy who might be merely solid in 2011 though he did hit .300 last year while not being able to legally pull back on a bottle of Jack.
Chris Coghlan: While his production was down in year two you can take solace in the fact he closed strong hitting .312 over his last 42 games. As a result, he is slated to start the year as the Marlins leadoff hitter. The knee he injured in a post game celebration should be fine for the start of games, but I worry about his ability to handle center field, the position he is currently slated to play.
Aaron Hill: This is the player in the review I referenced. Here is what I wrote.
“Let me construct this rather obvious case in three steps. (1) Even though he ‘struggled’ in 2010, Hill was tied for fourth amongst second basemen in homers with 26. He has 62 homers in the last two seasons, second most at the position (Dan Uggla has 64). (2) Hill has 176 RBI over the past two years, third most at second base. Clearly he is an elite power option. (3) From 2006-09, Hill hit at least .286 three times and he possesses a career .270 average. However, he hit just .205 in 2010. What in the hell happened? Hill owns a career line drive rate of 18.5 percent, slightly below the big league average (20 percent), but somehow that number dropped to a mere 10.6 percent last year. That’s roughly the equivalent to Adam Dunn hitting about 21 homers. Hill had the absolute worst LD-rate and BABIP (.196) in baseball, and there is about as much chance of that happening again in 2011 as there is of me getting a mid-season call up to the Giants. If he maintains his power from the last two years, he’ll go deep 31 times with 88 RBI, while matching his career .270 average would given him one hell of a season. Hello, Dan Uggla.”
Jonathan Niese: He made 30 starts for the Mets posting a 4.20 ERA. However, that’s somewhat deceiving; Niese had a 3.76 ERA after 28 starts before he was tanked in his last two outings (*12 ER in 8.1 innings). His numbers were sort of Doug Davis-ish with a 1.46 WHIP, 148 Ks and 62 walks in 173.2 innings. If he can locate his pitches, and keep the walks down, his ERA could easily be in the 3′s in 2011.
Jordan Zimmerman: A potential ace who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, Zimmerman is the classic “sleeper” who everyone will talk up to the point that he won’t be drafted like one. He should be 100 percent this season, and with a 8.76 K/9 and a 3.05 K/BB over 122.1 big league innings his future is definitely looking plenty bright.
By Ray Flowers