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Top potential AL sleepers for 2011

It is the buzz word of fantasy baseball: Sleepers.

Jeepers creepers where'd you get those sleepers ... can be music to the ears late this summer.

The problem with projecting a sleeper is once a player is hyped, he won't really be fallen asleep on in your draft, right? It might be like that tree falling in a vacant forest. It makes a noise that can be heard from miles away.

There are often good reasons why a player falls on draft day/ Usually it's because they have yet to show much. So you have to explore the unknown, or unseen, to unearth the players who will get picked late but outperform their draft position.

We already offered a six-part series of rules of thumb to highlight players who can that for you: 27-year-olds, third-year starting pitchers, contract years, injury risks, overlooked sophomores and rookies. Still, there are more players who can be considered potential sleepers, late-round picks that don't fall into one of those categories, perhaps.

The truest of sleepers are those like Jose Bautista; they seemingly come from nowhere. Everyone in your draft has to pass on them many times over.

Before we take a stab at finding this year's top sleepers in the NL, let's take a look at who might be this year's Bautista in the AL, highlighted team-by-team around the league (in predicted order of finish):

Salty has tasted like he sounds to fantasy owners, never making good on loads of offensive potential. He gets that chance in a great lineup and ballpark in Boston and will be well worth the late-round pick.

Honorable mention: Jed Lowrie won't start the year as the Red Sox's shortstop, but the 27-year -old is due for a career year and should finish as someone's starting shortstop. There is 20-homer potential here.

It has been a not-so-thrilling roller-coaster ride in this big man's career to date: Everybody loves Joba; everybody hates Joba; Joba looks like he ate everybody. Well, the talk now is it is worthless middle reliever or Triple-A for the long-awaited next Yankees ace. Sounds to me like a time this schizo fantasy pick becomes a double-digit winner after he rises up to win a rotation spot.

Honorable mention: Russell Martin, a contract-year veteran, is coming off the worst season of his career. What better place to make millions than New York?

This rookie has a legit chance to fill a huge hole in the Rays' bullpen: closer. That could make him this year's Neftali Feliz. The Tommy John surgery survivor is certainly talented enough. Here's to seeing preparation meeting opportunity and becoming success.

Honorable mention: Jeremy Hellickson is a preseason AL ROY favorite, so technically the hype is already there. So let's go with last spring's huge star, Sean Rodriguez. There is legit pop in his bat and it could result in a 20-homer campaign as a full-time starting second baseman now.

Remember when Hardy nearly had 20 homers at the All-Star break? It seems like forever ago. Well, the pop is still there and he could return to being a factor in all fantasy leagues again as a late-round steal.

Honorable mention: Brian Matusz gets all the love because he is more pitcher than thrower, but Chris Tillman is the one with the bazillion-dollar fastball. If Tillman can throw strikes and change speeds, he could be a special front-line starter.

Snider has failed to deliver consistent results, but he is as talented as anyone his age, 23. He could blossom into a 25-plus homer outfield monster for fantasy owners this season, and he won't even get picked in many leagues. This could be this year's Bautista, off the same team, no less.

Honorable mention: Kyle Drabek is going to be an ace in this league, but it will be tough to do it as a Blue Jays pitcher in this division as a rookie. It should make him come cheap on draft day -- if he even gets picked in your league.

Thornton represents the unknown in a couple of ways: 1) We haven't seen him be a closer for a full season; and 2) We cannot be sure he is going to close. Chris Sale could get the job if Jake Peavy proves healthy enough to slot in the rotation out of Spring Training. Thornton could be a great find as a late-round flier for saves.

Honorable mention: Gavin Floyd is coming off a bad year and is far, far down the list from John Danks, the teammate he used to be ranked side-by-side with. Floyd still has one of the best breaking balls in the game, and those types tend to be a bit inconsistent year-to-year. Floyd can be a 15-plus-game winner again.

Who? Exactly. He is as unknown as it gets. He should be somewhere between Kaz Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki among Japanese position-player imports. That should make him a great fallback option in the middle infield, especially if you are looking for stolen bases.

Honorable mention: A healthy Joe Nathan is top five closer in fantasy. Nathan won't be picked among the top 10-15 closers in your draft until it becomes apparent he will be healthy enough to close over Matt Capps.

Porcello looks like a dime-a-dozen pitcher statistically, but he has more career victories than years breathing. Very few pitchers have won 24 games before the age of 22. Porcello is certain to be an underrated late-rounder.

Honorable mention: Phil Coke is going to try his hand at stretching out as a starting pitcher. No one can be convinced he is worth the effort, or capable of handling it. If he does, he will be a useful option for those that use the Pitch-or-Ditch strategy (fantasy owners who cycle through two-start pitchers off the waiver wire).

Masterson has a buggy-whip slider that can be as tough to command as it is to hit. If he throws strikes early in the count, he could be one of those knockout finds of the late rounds -- even if he won't be a big winner with the lowly Indians. Fantasy owners love finding strikeouts on the cheap.

Honorable mention: Remember when Matt LaPorta's name carried weight in fantasy? No? Well, it once did when he was the key piece in a midseason CC Sabathia deal. The slugger has never reached his potential, but he is still too young (26) to give up on completely.

Ka'aihue has been one of those Quadruple-A players: Stars in Triple-A but unfit for the majors. There is legit pop in his bat, and the Royals are finally going to give him a look to show it in the majors. He could be a huge star in stretches as a young, streaky slugger at a deep position.

Honorable mention: Alex Gordon should have been a star by now. This year we should find out if he ever will be.

Everyone hates Kazmir. It might actually be time to like him again. He is only 27 and is pitching for a contract next winter. If anyone can get the best out of Kazmir, it should be Mike Scioscia.

Honorable mention: Brandon Wood blew his chance last season, but the Angels still didn't give up on him -- even if they won't slot him as a starter. Wood could still become a 25-plus homer man. He turns 26 this season.

There are good reasons to hate pitchers with shoulder injuries. Few come back from them. But Webb was never a power arm, getting by more on his heavy sinker. If his fastball can hit the low 90s consistently again, he could be a ground-ball machine behind a potent offense.

Honorable mention: Julio Borbon looked like a potential 50-steals bargain going into last season. He remains a starter, but with far less fanfare in fantasy circles. Here's to seeing him being closer to the player he was supposed to be last season.

It says a lot about a team when we have trouble finding one good sleeper. The pitching staff in Oakland is good, but the lineup lacks punch. Jackson shouldn't have been this big of a bust in his career to date. Maybe he finds his groove in Oakland and helps the A's become a surprise team. He isn't currently slated to start, though.

Honorable mention: Chris Carter has monster power and could have a 30-homer breakthrough this season if he can win the everyday job in left field. Heck, he could come up June 1 and hit 30 homers from then on; he's that powerful.

Last year, Smoak was lost on the radar of rookie first basemen thanks to Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez. But Smoak came with more hype and should be able to close the gap, if not lap those two this year. Smoak won't be picked in many leagues either.

Honorable mention: Brandon League is very likely the best reliever you have never heard of. If you have, you should know he is going to open the year as closer with David Aardsma coming off surgery and not expected to be ready until mid-April. League is talented enough to hold the closer role the whole season.

Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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