Hopefully every one of our readers have checked out ep’s Five players to avoid post. As usual, ep offers some sound advice (although I will soon be semi-debating his inclusion of rookie catching phenom Matt Wieters, but that is for another day) and good research.
In light of his column, it seemed appropriate to hit upon some sleeper picks in the upcoming fantasy baseball drafts. While these guys won’t single-handedly win you a championship, usually the most successful owners are able to snag at least one or two solid sleeper players either in the draft or via the waiver wire.
My sleepers for 2009 include:
Ricky Nolasco, SP, Marlins. In 212 innings pitched last year, Nolasco earned 15 wins while striking out 186 for a Marlins squad that wasn’t always providing a ton of run support. In fact, looking at games after the all-star break, Nolasco was fourth in the league in strikeouts with an unheard of 98-to-12 strikeout to walk ratio. In most leagues, Nolasco is slipping past numerous questionable pitchers with much less of a ceiling (including Carlos Zambrano, one of ep’s players to avoid.) Some feel that Nolasco could have top-10 numbers this season. He’s definitely someone you can feel confident in drafting this season in most every draft, especially in the 10th to 16th rounds, where he is averaging right now.
Brett Butler, 1B/DH, Royals: The Royals have been MLB’s doormat lately not because they don’t have the talent, but because the talent they have doesn’t mature as expected. Many people look at Butler’s ultra-talented, and yet similarly disappointing teammate Alex Gordon as a sneaky sleeper pick, but not many experts have given Butler much love. There is little doubt that the talented young player had an emotional roller coaster of a year in 2008. He entered the season with much fanfare from fantasy experts, and the bar was set mighty high. After flopping both defensively and at the plate, Butler was demoted to the minors mid-way through the season to refind himself. Butler returned to the majors and saw marked improvement at the plate, however he continued to struggle defensively. This year, Butler will strictly be the Royals designated hitter, and many feel that not having to worry about fielding the ball and more time to focus on his swing will greatly help Butler. While he may have disappointed last year, he is too talented to not see at least a moderate stat reversal.
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals: Successful fantasy managers know that players who can contribute in multiple categories are the bread and butter of the sport. Dukes, who had just as many stolen bases as home runs last season, has the potential to be one of those players. His shaky past, including emotional issues, are well documented, and will definitely affect his fantasy stock on draft day. However, he’s only 25 years old and has enough talent and youth to turn things around, a la Josh Hamilton’s amazing comeback last year. On Wednesday, Dukes hit his first homer of the spring. Rotoworld quickly pointed out the following: “This might be the first season Dukes has had a legitimate chance to fully capitalize on his talent, and consequently it could be the last season you have a chance to get him cheaply.”
Jose Arredondo, relief pitcher, Angels: For years, the closer staple in fantasy circles was Francisco Rodriguez, of the Angels. Now that K-Rod has bolted for the Mets, the closer role will, undoubtedly, fall to Arredondo. Statistically, sophomore major leaguer held his own in relief opportunities last year. In 61 innings pitched, he recorded 55 strikeouts and a 1.36 ERA. Solid fantasy closers aren’t always historically those on the best teams in the majors — but moreso on teams that win often, but not by a huge margin. The Angels are a team that know how to win, play in a soft division, and after losing Mark Teixeira in the offseason, will still win games, but not by a ton of runs. Many felt that K-Rod, while definitely talented, was helped by the situation he pitched in for the Angels. Arredondo will now be the main beneficiary of that situation. It does bear mentioning that Arredondo will not be pitching in the WBC due to a strained hip flexor, which may help make him an even better value in your upcoming draft.
Khalil Greene, SS, Cardinals: I’ve always considered Greene the ultimate fantasy tease. He’s a guy that historically never gets drafted in fantasy baseball circles, goes on a hitting tear here and there throughout the season, at which time I usually pick him up and try to ride the wave (it helps that he plays at a fairly shallow position), and then he winds up on the DL or cooling off. There is no doubt Greene has talent, but consistency has always been an issue. Looking at the numbers closely, however, paints an encouraging picture. When he played at Petco, the home stadium for his previous team, the Padres, Greene struggled with a .228 batting average anda .374 slugging percentage. However, away from Petco, he became a .266, .476 player. Now with a vastly improved Cardinals lineup around him and a much friendlier hitting park, Greene should see himself move up people’s rankings as the season progresses. In fact, as sacriligious as it feels to type this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Greene equal or even surpass the stats of Derek Jeter this year, and can be had a good 10 rounds later than Jeter in most fantasy drafts.
Who are your fantasy sleepers this year? Have some beef with my selections? We’d love to hear about it!