Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 Roto Sleepers and Busts

A quick note before we get started. We'll likely be offline for the next couple of weeks because we'll be going on a two-week before-the-season-starts getaway to the other side of the world.

I'm not sure if they have baseball fields in Bali, but I guess we're about to find out.

LaPorta's got Power
Yesterday afternoon, I printed out the ESPN Mixed Positional Cheat Sheet so that I could look for sleepers and busts while riding the subway.

At the risk of losing some competitive advantage in fantasy leagues this year, here's what I'm thinking at the end of February.

First Basemen
Sleeper: Matt LaPorta
The prize from the C.C. Sabathia trade may be a late bloomer, but he's going to get more and more opportunities. Now, this isn't really relevant, and it may not even reflect how important LaPorta is to the Indians, but I thought it interesting enough to see that last season the Indians went 49-61 in games LaPorta played. In the 49 wins, LaPorta had 201 Plate Appearances, a .378 On Base Percentage, and .557 Slugging. In the 61 losses, LaPorta stepped up to the plate 224 times, accruing an anemic .241 OBP and .193 SLG.
Other sleepers: Kila Ka'aihue and Ike Davis

Bust: Ryan Howard, Phillies
There is a good chance that taking Ryan Howard will help your team win a title this year. He always hits lots of homers and should drive in plenty of RBI's. The issue is that he is an overrated, one-sided player, who struggles versus lefties.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he improved against southpaws in 2010, but for his career his triple slash line versus lefties is a paltry .232/.314/.452. (.303/.401/.636 vs righties).

Second Basemen
Sleeper: Neil Walker
Neil Walker can hit.
We got turned onto Walker's game late last season, much after his debut. At first, we thought he was just another replacement, or worse, level player the Pirates called up to play out the string of games in their 18th consecutive losing season.

Upon further review, Neil Walker looks like a real player. He produced a 118 OPS+ last year, which is very good for a rookie, a second baseman, or a Pirate.
Other sleepers: Bill Hall, Sean Rodriguez, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Bust: Brian Roberts
Okay, so maybe Brian Roberts has been a bust the last couple of years because of injuries and possible deterioration from steroid use. The reason he made this list is because I feel that roto players are still hoping for a bounceback season. Maybe it'll come, but I'd be wary that the steroid use was real and the back and neck injurie Roberts seems to battle aren't going anywhere.

Should we go on a longer limb with our bust caution? I also thought about Chase Utley. He has battled injuries the last couple of years, but still performed very well whenever possible. It could help that Ryne Sandberg is now coaching the Phillies triple-A squad and giving Utley pointers on how to excel at the keystone position in his mid 30's. Still, father time is undefeated and one of these years, Chase Utley's production is going to plummet. When that happens, I'd much rather own the next Neil Walker.

Third Basemen
Sleeper: Scott Rolen
We gave up on Rolen
a few years too soon.
I'm probably a year late here, as Rolen went undrafted in most leagues but performed at near All-Star levels. He made our list because he's going undrafted again, and I don't see why he can't, like Jake Taylor in Major League, have one more good year in the sun. He's in a wonderful hitter's park, has a manager who embraces veterans, and is a fantastic athlete and walking, talking Hall of Famer.

Bust: Michael Young
First of all, we do not know how a player who's played the infield for 10 years will perform when asked to essentially pinch hit four or five times a game. The transition to DH can be daunting for a lumbering outfielder, let alone a player who has played 2nd, 3rd, and short. Young carries an additional risk of being traded. He has requested a trade, and we do not know if that will be good or bad for his future playing time. It is conceivable to see him get sent somewhere to play 4 or 5 games per week, which won't help many fantasy owners.

Shortstops
Sleeper: J.J. Hardy
Hardy is always the SS I think should get more love from fantasy owner, and although he never really proves me right, I still think he has a career year hidden somewhere in his bat. No, I don't think we'll get mid-90's Garciaparra numbers, but he could produce decent ratios with 80+ runs/rbi's and 20+ HR's. He's on the Orioles now, and they have what looks to be a halfway decent lineup.

Bust: Derek Jeter
Okay, okay, I hear you. It's too easy to dump on the man after his worst season in baseball, when he's on the wrong side of 35. I'm not enojying this, Yankee fans, but the point remains that Jeter is widely considered the 4th best Shortstop, when he could very well finish ranked somewhere in the 8 to 12 range. At least, if he's healthy, he'll probably score more Runs than anyone other than Hanley and Tulo, due to the lineup he's in. If Elvis Andrus leads off or if J-Ro stays healthy in Philly, they would probably score more than the Captain, too.

Catchers
Salty is ready for his
career to take off.
Sleeper: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The catcher position is chock full of sleepers. In fact, I wanted to write this as a tie between Salty and the Yankees' Russell Martin. If you really find yourself in a pickle on draft day and need to go deep for the catcher position, why not gamble on these former stud prospects who happen to hit in two of the most revered lineups in Baseball? Unless you play in a 2 catcher format, pickings will probably not be so slim at the end of your draft. In that case, I'd rank another handful of sleeper catchers as: Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli, Chris Iannetta, and J.P. Arencibia. I'm about 90% sure that Iannetta will not be picked in the Top 11 catchers, and he's underrated.

Note: if you see any mention of the Yankees adding Jesus Montero to their 25-man big league roster, see if you can pick him up. If you're in a keeper league, drop whatever you're doing and go get him.

Bust: Joe Mauer
Haters, don't hate. We love Joe Mauer. As the dude would say, we're using the royal we, the editorial we. Let me rephrase, we love Joe Mauer's game. The way he plays and carries himself. We love Joe Mauer and are beside ourselves when thinking about that beautiful swing. We've had Joe Mauer in our keeper league for over three years. Hopefully, he'll have another MVP season, and he really could. I expect him to be an All-Star again, but since he is the #1 catcher, he has the furthest to fall if he busts out. He would be the biggest bust if he did bust, and I don't see why he's any less of an injury risk than Victor Martinez, Brian McCann, or Buster Posey. After that, you get to Carlos Santana, Geovany Soto, and Miguel Montero before the Napoli, Wieters, Posada, Kurt Suzuki, and Carlos Ruiz groups.

Designated Hitter
Adam Lind's luck is gonna change!
Sleeper: Adam Lind
Bust: everyone else
This isn't a position on a normal fantasy team. These are the guys who do not qualify for any position because they play DH in real life. Fantasy players who have someone like Lind, Big Papi, Jim Thome, or Travis Hafner on their team must play them at the Util position, drastically impairing lineup flexibility. The funny thing is, Adam Lind wound up being an enormous bust last year. I expect that less than 4% of teams with Adam Lind won their league championships. He was dreadful, and that was when he still qualified for the Outfield in fantasy. I think he's going to bounce back closer to 2009 levels, plus he's going to spend some time playing 1st base, which means he'll earn eligibility there after a few weeks.

Outfield
Sleeper: Jason Heyward
The question of positional scarcity and depth is extremely vague when talking about Outfielders. I mean, how deep do we have to go to talk about sleepers? Heyward, of course, is not a sleeper in the traditional sense of the word. He was a rookie All Star last season. We showed how his BB% was the 4th highest of anyone who's played over the last 25 years, and that was his rookie season. In addition, we're finding out this spring that he basically played injured all year, last year. Jason Heyward had an all time great rookie year, but I feel as though he's being terribly underrated by the masses. ESPN has him ranked as the 14th best outfielder, but if he played last year with lower leg injuries and a bad thumb, and can stay healthy this year, he'll likely finish in the top 3.

Not your idea of what a sleeper means? That's okay. I like Dexter Fowler, Manny Ramirez, and Logan Morrison, in that order. How about Alex Gordon? This will could be the year Alex Gordon breaks out.

Dexter Fowler is like:
"I'm ready!"
There's a plethora of prospects and guys who could blossom if given enough playing time. It's tough to guess which of these guys will get regular at bats, but these are the one's we'll be keeping tabs on: Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, and Kyle Blanks.

If you're in an OBP league, how about Kosuke Fukudome? Career .368 OBP is not too bad.

Long-term keeper leagues will want to look at guys like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Jason Repko, and Ben Revere.

Bust: Josh Hamilton
Say no to drugs, people. Josh Hamilton is The Natural. Hyperbole aside, he is an amazing talent. Last season, he hit .359 with 32 Home Runs. He turns 30 on May 21st, but years of using and abusing drugs like cocaine, alcohol, crystal meth take a toll. Hamilton is more 30, going on 36.

It's getting pretty late, and I have got to get going to the airport. We'll look at pitchers after coming back from Bali. So, we'll probably be disconnected for a couple of weeks, although we may see a tweet, or a few, from various airports around the globe.

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