With the 2012 MLB season right around the corner, predictions about the coming year are about to paramount folks. This year’s offseason was a busy one that shook the cores of many teams (sorry Cardinals’ fans) while at the same time seemingly turning others into contenders ala the Los Angeles Angels and the newly formed Miami Marlins. Today I want to take a look around the entire world of baseball in the hopes of establishing what I will henceforth call “The MLB All-Sleeper Team.” The guidelines being I’ll name you the player that gives the most value at his position with regards to how much you’ll have to give up to get them (based on their Pre-Draft Ranking) versus the return I expect them to give you (their projected stats for the upcoming season). Some of these names you may know and others may surprise you, but rest assured fantasy owners, once the season rolls along all these names will become very familiar.
*Numbers in parenthesis represent players ranking by position heading into the 2012 season according to ESPN.com
Mike Stanton, Miami Marlins (8): The young power hitter had a big year last season for the Marlins en route to 34 home runs & 87 RBI. Although he is on people’s radar I look for Stanton to raise those totals into the elite category of 40 HR and at least 110 RBI, thus surpassing most people’s expectations. Drafting him in the 2nd or 3rd round could be a big steal down the road.
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (15): Although picking anybody on the Royals is a risk in itself, take a shot on Alex Gordon. Gordon had a breakthrough season last year for his team and I look for him to build on that this season. Most analysts don’t think he can repeat a .300 batting average (BA), 100 runs scored, 25 HR and 90 RBI type season…I think he can. Getting him in the 5th or 6th round could make him a gem in the draft.
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (29): The always solid Ichiro had a rough year in 2011, but don’t count him out yet. After hitting a modest .272 last year, most draft boards are saying his best years are behind him…pounce on this opportunity. Ichiro is the epitome of what an athlete should be as he combines tremendous skill, focus and effort into his well-crafted game. I look for him to get his batting average back to above .300 and to steal 40-50 bases paired with a possibility of scoring 100 runs. Getting Ichiro in the 4th or 5th round could be your best pick of the entire draft; he’s truly the sleeper of sleeper picks.
Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (21): I have to pick this guy, I mean believe it or not we played in the same league growing up (Inwood Little League of Manhattan) and Pedro was a stud from day one. Although he disappointed last year in his rookie season due to a combination of injuries and lack of opportunity, don’t give up on the 25 year-old. Alvarez was known for his power in college when he played at Vanderbilt University and was so sought after that Pittsburgh used the #2 pick overall in the 2008 draft to get him. I look for him to breakout this year and get at least 15-20 home runs. If he’s able to reach 80 RBI as well he’ll be a hell of a contributor as you can probably grab him very late. Take a shot on Alvarez as his upside is enormous.
Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins (3): It’s hard to call a guy ranked #3 overall at his position a sleeper, especially when that man is Jose Reyes. The reason I pick him is that I think he’s going to have a really big year because of his team, much bigger than forecasted. Reyes is now in a lineup that features Hanley Ramirez and young stars Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, all players that will drive runs in. Reyes has a knack for getting on base (he won the batting title last year with a .337 BA) and he can steal bases once he’s on (he’s won the stolen base crown three times in his career). Although Reyes is known for catching the injury bug, don’t be surprised if he puts up huge numbers this season. A 110 Run, 50 Steal, .320 BA type of year is well within range and would make Reyes one of the top fantasy players in the whole league. Consider drafting him with your first pick; he’s a high-risk high-reward player. If you like gambling, Reyes is a great pick with a huge upside.
Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (9): Kendrick is a guy who just hasn’t lived up to the hype. I for one believe it has a bit to do with the team in place around him, and that’s about to change. Whenever you add a talent like Albert Pujols to a team you improve the stats of every hitter who bats even close to him in the lineup; and that’s the case here. Kendrick should be an immediate beneficiary from this trade and I look for him to have a career year. If he can contribute 20 HR and 80 RBI “Howie” will be a big steal in the draft. Pick him as you see a lot of the top second basemen falling off the board, but don’t panic as I see him as a viable option if you can’t get an elite second basemen like Ian Kinsler or Robinson Cano.
Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers (1, 5): I feel like I have to point out these two behemoths because of the years I think they are poised for. It’s scary to think how awesome Detroit could be if they hadn’t lost Victor Martinez, but nevertheless they added Prince Fielder. I firmly believe that Cabrera/Fielder will put up enormous numbers this season and they will only help each other by competing with each other. Both players going for 40 HR and 120+ RBI wouldn’t surprise me one bit, selecting either of them with your first pick is warranted. If you can get Cabrera, I give him a slight edge because of his ability to hit for power and average. However word has it that Cabrera will bat ahead of Fielder which could mean more RBI opportunities for the Prince. Don’t be worried as choosing either guy will reap huge dividends for your squad.
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (7): Coming off a lost year due to a vicious collision at home plate, Posey is not a hot commodity heading into this year. I believe he is still one of the best young catching prospects out there and I look for him to return to form. Posey going for 20 HR and a .300 BA would be awesome and would make him a great option at catcher; a position which is very slim in terms of fantasy value.
Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners (3): As a New York native I hated to see the Yankees give up on a young talent (again). Montero showed the tools to be both a power and average hitter, and he may be just that for the Mariners this year. If Ichiro can return to form Montero will have opportunities to drive him in should it be through a home run or through a simple base hit. I like for Montero to have a coming out party this season and his possibility of playing catcher only makes him more attractive to fantasy owners. If he ends up playing catcher, Montero could make you look like a genius for selecting him as he could easily be the top fantasy catcher this season…that’s right, this season!
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (26): Strasburg suffered through Tommy John surgery last season and it was truly disheartening for everyone who was following the Nationals’ phenom. This season I look for Strasburg to come out with a vengeance and to be a dark horse for the NL Cy Young as well as a favorite for the NL Strikeout Crown. Strasburg is definitely a risky pick as his mechanics are questionable and Tommy John surgery is Tommy John surgery, so be careful here. If you’re not a risk taker stay far away from this guy, but if you’re willing, Strasburg has the stuff to be a top pitcher.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (3): Kershaw is the Cy Young favorite in my mind and the best pitcher on the board. He throws three (some say four) pitches effectively and is great at striking guys out. His 248 strikeouts last year was tops in the NL and I look for him to only improve this year. Kershaw as of now is the best pitcher in baseball and should be chosen accordingly, don’t make the mistake of not getting him as he is well worth a coveted early round pick.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians (41): Pitching for Cleveland won’t help the hard throwing righty stack up victories but it also won’t hurt his ability (and willingness) to strike batters out. Ubaldo sports a 100+ MPH fastball and his success with Colorado in the past makes me believe he can be a top pitcher still for the Indians. His low ranking at his position and concerns about his velocity dropping should be given weight but are not reasons to write this guy off. Cleveland is known for playing in a pitchers ballpark and Jimenez is a crafty pitcher, picking him in the middle rounds of your draft will be a smart move in the long term.
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (31): Although he hasn’t thrown a single inning in the Majors, I’m sold on Darvish. I’ve watched enough film to see that his stuff is filthy, he just has to believe in his game and he will succeed. If Darvish pitches at a level similar to that which he was known for in the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball – Japan’s top level) he will be deadly on hitters. Darvish is my dark horse to win the AL Cy Young, don’t be surprised if that becomes a reality; draft wisely!
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers (21): A familiar face is moving to a new team. Nathan is a former All-Star that is not getting the respect he deserves in this year’s rankings. Nathan has easily been one of the top 5 closers in baseball for the past decade and I don’t think he’s done yet. The Rangers will ultimately use him as closer as they hope to convert prospect Neftali Feliz into a starter. Because of this, and the fact that the Rangers are a good team, I look for Nathan to get 30-40 saves this year. Getting Nathan late in the draft could mean that you got the best closer in the league with one of your last picks…any complaints about that?
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds (30): The man out of Cuba has shown one thing so far that is not debatable….he has a rocket arm. Last season he clocked a 106 MPH fastball which I believe still stands as the world record. Chapman might get a chance to start, but as of now he is one of the best strike out guys coming out of the pen. Picking him up as a reliever could get you about 3-4 strikeouts a night from a guy who will only go 1 or 2 innings. If he can keep his ERA down, his contribution could be very nice for your squad. He’s still not worthy of an early pick but scooping him up late will be a great move for your team.
Don’t Think These Guys Are Good? Who’s Your Fantasy Sleeper Pick? Let Me Know!