Fantasy baseball owners are no different than anyone else. Whether you are looking to buy a car, invest in a stock, pick up a CD of your favorite band or draft a player for your fantasy roster, everyone is searching for a deal. In fantasy sports, deals come in the form of players who are under-valued by your fellow fantasy owners at the draft table. These players are called fantasy baseball sleepers and can help you get the edge and possibly win your league. Most of these players have a good reason to be under-valued: they may be coming off an injury-riddled season; perhaps they have experienced a recent downturn in statistical production; maybe they have switched teams and have an undefined role with a new club. Whatever the reason, your competition at the fantasy draft may let these players slip down in their respective rankings. It’s your job to grab these fantasy sleepers at a place in the draft where they can produce better numbers than the players they will be drafted alongside.
Here is a list of fantasy baseball sleepers, one at every position, who may be expected to provide a value to your roster and who may exceed the expectations of your fellow fantasy opponents.
Catcher – Nick Hundley (SD)
Sure, he plays in a terrible hitter’s park and has struggled mightily with injuries the past 4 seasons. However, if the definition of a fantasy baseball sleeper is a player who will slip down the list to a position where he can be drafted for value, then Hundley fits the bill. Nobody knows this guy and if he stays healthy he could challenge the 20 HR plateau.
First Base – Adam Lind (TOR)
After putting up a monster season in 2009, Lind was suddenly on everyone’s radar. However, back-to-back years of mediocre overall numbers have caused many fantasy baseball owners to shy away from the Blue Jays’ DH/1B. If the Jays land a big free agent bat in the off season, Lind may have some of the pressure taken off of him and he may respond. He had an amazing first half in 2011. He could easily do it again over a full season.
Second Base – Aaron Hill (ARI)
Talk about a fall from grace. After setting franchise records for HR at second base, Hill went from hero to goat to finding himself traded to the National League West within a 2 season span. His BABIP in 2010 was .196 and .268 in 2011. You have to believe that number simply has to increase. Coupled with his invigorated approach at the plate in Arizona, Hill may just pay dividends in 2012.
Third Base – Mark Reynolds (BAL)
Everyone’s favorite whipping boy switched positions in 2011 and saw an improvement in his offensive statistics as a result. Perhaps the pressure of playing the hot corner affected his play at the plate. His slash line as a third baseman: .210/.315/.451. After the move to first base: .250/.345/.566. The Orioles expect to play him at 1B in 2012 but fear not, he will still qualify at 3B in fantasy leagues.
Short Stop – Dee Gordon (LAD)
A frightening lack of patience at the plate is the only thing holding Gordon back from stealing 80 bases. He walked a mere 7 times in 233 plate appearances in 2011. If he can find a way to add walks to his .305 batting average, he may steal his way into fantasy conversations next season. In the meantime, consider him sleeper material.
Outfield – Shin-Shoo Choo (CLE)
Injuries and a DUI led to a horrific season for Choo. A bona fide top 50 fantasy pick heading into 2011, he may have fallen off the radar for many not willing to overlook last year’s fiasco. A return to the 20/20, .300 average seasons of 2009-2010 is very likely. He shouldn’t fall too far in most drafts but he may be a deal.
Designated Hitter – Adam Dunn (CHW)
The most consistent offensive player in major league baseball fell flat on his face in a historic way last season. Players of this consistency and talent level don’t come along very often. What did we learn in 2011? That Dun is a human being, not a robot. That’s all. Expect him to regroup and return to form with 35+ HR and 100 RBI.
Starting Pitcher – Adam Wainwright (STL)
Pitchers can not only return from Tommy John surgery, they can thrive afterward. See Tim Hudson, Billy Wagner and Josh Johnson for recent proof of this. Heading into 2011, Wainwright was a top 5 pitcher. Entering 2012, he won’t be on many top 30 lists. Let him slip and grab him just after the middle tier hurlers start to go (think Doug Fister and Max Scherzer for comparisons).
Relief Pitcher – Sergio Santos (TOR)
No one expected Santos to land the closers role in Chicago. However, in 2011 he did exactly that. With less competition in Toronto’s bullpen and playing for a team that may very well contend in 2012, Santos could be a draft day steal.
There are no sure things in baseball. This is especially true in fantasy baseball. However, if you take a chance or two on a few sleepers in your draft, you may just get the edge on your opponents. After all, having the edge is what it takes to win in fantasy baseball. Good luck in 2012!
* Nick Hundley photo by SD Dirk on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Mark Reynolds photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Mark Reynolds") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Adam Dunn photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Adam Dunn") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons