Top potential AL sleepers for 2011
It is the buzz word of fantasy baseball: Sleepers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.