Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: AL sleepers
Despite our best efforts to confuse fantasy owners with our breakouts (players you were already well aware of, but didn't realize could be elite) and busts (players you thought were solid picks, but come with considerable risk), you're going to really enjoy our team-by-team sleeper candidates. These players are talented yet underrated commodities, so they're positioned to outperform their draft slots.
Everyone loves a sleeper in fantasy, but the key is finding the guys who haven't gained too much steam. After all, a sleeper is only a sleeper if everyone in your draft allows him to slip into the later rounds.
Don't reach for these guys or boldly tout their merits, but if they fall to you, grab them and thank us later.
• Sleeper -- SP Zach Britton (25 years old): Britton exemplifies how young pitching is great ... three years from now. He started his rookie year off like a ball of fire, but regressed in the year and a half after. Now, he's merely competing for a rotation spot. If Britton wins one and pitches up to his potential, he is going to rate as one of the best reserve picks in fantasy this year.
• Honorable mention -- 1B Chris Davis (26): A career-high 33 homers and 85 RBI should elevate his draft status, but inconsistency throughout his young career will keep Davis' draft position modest. The fact that he turns 27 before the season begins should lead fantasy owners to believe last year's breakthrough was more of a coming-of-age than a fluke.
Boston Red Sox:
• Sleeper -- SP Clay Buchholz (28): Buchholz was set up for a breakthrough with the return of pitching guru John Farrell as manager and the progress Buchholz showed after the first month and a half, when his ERA was more than 8.00. This stands to be the first season Buchholz surpasses 200 innings, and he should prove more consistent than he was a year ago. We will see the good Buchholz this year, so he'll bring value as a late-round pick.
• Honorable mention -- SS Stephen Drew (29): Fenway has turned far less talented infielders like Bill Mueller, Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles into useful fantasy players, and Drew is more talented than any of them going in. He's turning 30 this year, and the hint of the player who went .291/21 in 2008 is still there ... somewhere. Fenway Park might just be the perfect change of scenery.
New York Yankees:
• Sleeper -- OF Brett Gardner (29): When healthy, Gardner can steal 50 bases and score 100 runs. He's coming off an injury-plagued year, and the Yankees sorely need some youth and athleticism in their lineup. He is going to be a pleasant surprise relative to his draft position in many leagues.
• Honorable mention -- SP Phil Hughes (26): Hughes hasn't quite been the ace the Yankees had hoped, but he may enjoy a breakthrough as he reaches 200 innings for the first time this season. He's a good bet for a career year as he turns 27 this season.
Tampa Bay Rays:
• Sleeper -- OF Wil Myers (22): The news that Myers will open the year in Triple-A is good for fantasy owners. That makes him more of a late-round sleeper than a mid-round risk. We learned last year that starting in the minors can still lead to a Rookie of the Year campaign: see Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Myers won't take long to prove worthy of a call-up after he hit a combined .314/37/109/98/6/.387/.600 in 522 at-bats between Double- and Triple-A. He stands to be a huge midseason shot in the arm and is a must-draft in all leagues with reserves.
• Honorable mention -- SP Matt Moore (23) or SP Jeremy Hellickson (25): These are two of the best young arms in baseball, but the hype has exceeded the production thus far. Each could be a breakout and each could slip on draft day because the numbers haven't matched the talent yet. Both of these pitchers could fall out of the top 30 but go on to perform like a top-15 ace.
Toronto Blue Jays:
• Sleeper -- C J.P. Arencibia (27): If fantasy revolved around only one category, Arencibia would be a star for his power potential. At age 27 this season, he has the potential to lead the position in homers, and if gets his average up to .260, fantasy owners will have a catching star.
• Honorable mention -- SP Ricky Romero (28): He's a sleeper coming off a disappointing year. The Blue Jays added three starters ahead of him in the rotation this winter, which can take the pressure off a pitcher who was a burgeoning ace. He's still in his prime and healthy, presumably, so a rebound year is entirely possible.
Chicago White Sox:
• Sleeper -- 2B Gordon Beckham (26): Instead of becoming the next Dustin Pedroia, Beckham became the next Kelly Johnson -- a second baseman with some pop who is brought down by an awful batting average. Beckham is just now entering his prime years of production, so he's a good bet to post career bests across the fantasy board. If you look somewhere between his career bests of .271/17/61/63/8 and those early career projections of .300/25/80/90/15, fantasy owners can find quite a late-round steal.
• Honorable mention -- OF Dayan Viciedo (24): He strikes out a lot and doesn't bother with walks, but his power potential makes him a possible breakthrough outfielder. Last year's stats only scratched the surface on this well-regarded slugging Cuban defector.
• Sleeper -- 1B Mark Reynolds (29): Reynolds is arguably one of the most powerful hitters in baseball -- a potential 40-homer, 110-RBI slugger at first base or DH. Fantasy players have to assume a ton of strikeouts and an awful batting average, but the move to Cleveland can reignite him as a sought-after run producer in fantasy.
• Honorable mention -- 1B/OF Nick Swisher (32): No longer in the spotlight of New York, Swisher figures to fall a bit under the fantasy radar. He'll still be a solid source for power, and now he won't go off the board until the later rounds, unless you play in a Cleveland-based fantasy league.
• Sleeper -- C Alex Avila (26): Avila's regression last season coupled with the return of Victor Martinez will scare off owners; therefore Avila should be available in the late rounds at the notoriously thin catcher position. His prime years of production are only coming now, so a return to his 2011 form is entirely possible.
• Honorable mention -- RP Bruce Rondon (25): The 6-foot-3, 265-pound fire-baller can hit triple digits and be an instant success for one of the top contenders in baseball. He just needs to prove he's healthy and able to throw strikes early in his first big-league season. If he wins the closer's job for the Tigers this spring, look out.
Kansas City Royals:
• Sleeper -- 3B Mike Moustakas (24): Moustakas wore down after the All-Star break last season, going just .211/5/26/28/2/.261/.325. He was borderline elite in the first half (.268/15/47/41/3/.327/.490), though, and there is considerable room to grow here. He can be a .280/30/95/80 slugging third-sacker as soon as this season.
• Honorable mention -- OF Lorenzo Cain (26): Cain would be considered one of the better young outfielders in fantasy by now, if not for injury woes. He is a legit injury-risk sleeper. The Royals are going to let him play every day and prove to be the 20/20 caliber talent he was projected to be.
• Sleeper -- 1B Justin Morneau (31): Morneau is the rare injury-risk sleeper who's been disappointing for multiple seasons. He hasn't been the same since suffering from post-concussion syndrome in 2010, but started hitting more like his old self in the second half last year (.289). He is feeling better than he has in years and rebounding with a .290/25/90 season is possible.
• Honorable mention -- 3B Trevor Plouffe (26): Last season's power surge was surprising, until you consider that he is just now entering his physical peak. Plouffe turns 27 this season and still has plenty of things to work on, but if he posts a higher batting average, he is going to be a good bargain as a fallback third baseman in drafts.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
• Sleeper -- C Chris Iannetta (29): A fractured wrist ruined Iannetta's 2012 -- the latest among the myriad reasons he hasn't lived up to his once-intriguing potential. There's pop in his bat, though, and a full healthy season can make him a great value in the late rounds at the thin catcher position.
• Honorable mention -- SP Tommy Hanson (26): Shoulder woes and a few mediocre seasons have dulled Hanson's luster as a future fantasy ace, but this is a blessing in disguise if you follow the L.I.M.A. (low-investment mound aces) in fantasy. He offers outstanding fantasy potential relative to his draft position, especially because he will be backed by a great offense in Anaheim. So few people are expecting him to become that front-line starter he was billed to be years ago; if it happens, he'll be a steal.
• Sleeper -- SP Jordan Lyles (22): No one will look at Lyles' numbers through 40 career starts (7-20, 5.21 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) and think future fantasy ace, but he's just 22 years old and squarely in the category of a third-year starting pitcher. He could break through and capitalize on the talent that once made him a highly regarded prospect; he might even prove to be the ace of the Astros' makeshift pitching staff this year. Lyles won't be draftable in most standard mixed leagues, but this is a crucial year for a breakthrough for him.
• Honorable mention -- C Jason Castro (25): It has taken him years to get through knee issues and to look like a viable big-leaguer, much less a fantasy prospect, but something started clicking for him after June 1 last year. He now is a viable regular, and fantasy owners can do a lot worse than this young talent who is only now entering his prime.
• Sleeper -- RP Ryan Cook (25): Grant Balfour needed knee surgery in spring training, which might affect his availability for the start of the season. That's great news for Cook, a burgeoning star among fantasy relievers. With the closer's job, Cook could rise to being one of the 10 best relief pitchers in fantasy. He will come at a bargain in drafts because Balfour was the likely choice to close before needing the knee procedure. Even if Balfour does start the season as closer, Cook will likely outperform him eventually and take the closer's job full time.
• Honorable mention -- OF Chris Young (29): This 29-year-old has always been disappointing, but a change of scenery to Oakland can only do him good. He might not project to hit for a great average, but he is still a potential star in the counting categories, namely steals and homers. A true renaissance can see him finish among the top 25 outfielders in fantasy.
• Sleeper -- 2B Dustin Ackley (25): Ackley is roughly an overlooked sophomore. We saw him in his first full season, but we didn't quite like what we saw. It takes some of the luster off him as a prospect, but he will be just 25 this season and poised to break through as he enters his prime. He is a late-round steal as a potential 20/20 player, particularly with the fences moving in at Safeco Field in Seattle.
• Honorable mention -- SP Hisashi Iwakuma (31): He started his rookie year in the bullpen, but he proved to be a potential fantasy gem as a starter from midseason on. He is now the Mariners' No. 2 to King Felix Hernandez, and Seattle's Safeco Field is a nice place to pitch half of all games. Strikeouts are Iwakuma's best asset and those are rarely on the board as late as he will be this spring.
• Sleeper -- SP Matt Harrison (27): It's rare to see a young arm coming off an 18-win season get overlooked on draft day, especially if fantasy owners consider just how steady Harrison's ERA and WHIP have been the past two years. Chasing wins in fantasy has never been a trustworthy strategy, so Harrison is falling in drafts. Ignore his modest average draft position -- this is a top-25 ace who shouldn't be one the board past the top 40.
• Honorable mention -- SS Jurickson Profar (20): Profar will start the year back in the minors, but he is arguably the best long-term prospect in baseball as a future 30/30 candidate. If and when he gets the call -- it could happen early -- he can be one of those rare instant successes. The Rangers need to find a place for him before he's drafted as anything more than an early season stash.