Quiet rookies make super sophs
Not everything goes right the first time around. Sometimes you have to try and try again. "Baseball is a game of redeeming features," late Mets announcer Bob Murphy used to say.
Well, for those rookies who disappointed us last year in fantasy -- maybe even the ones who fell flat on their face -- it can be payback time.
This brings us to Part V of SI.com's preseason series on finding breakouts before they happen and sleepers on draft day: The phenomenon of the overlooked sophomore. The theory goes that we saw them last year as rookies and didn't like what we saw; heck, we might even be once bitten, twice shy on them this spring.
But, Year 2, particularly when it comes to hitters, is no time to give up completely. In fact, it might just be precisely the right time to buy.
Most everyone loved Domonic Brown a year ago. Heck, he was almost in the Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton class of outfield prospect. While Stanton took off as a sophomore, Brown sputtered in his big-league trial with the Phillies. Now, Stanton is an elite fantasy pick and Brown is unlikely to be picked in any standard mixed leagues.
Here is where targeting overlooked sophomores can be a boon to your fantasy draft success. You can take some fliers late on rookies that disappointed a year ago and potentially end up with late-rounders who perform like monsters.
Brown isn't even projected to make the Phillies roster this spring, but he can be a huge part of a title push in the NL East and on fantasy rosters by this summer.
Here are this year's top overlooked sophomores to target on draft day -- in All-Overlooked Sophomore Team format. We also give you a slew of other names to consider (listed alphabetically) if you don't like the guy we re-hype at a specific position:
Hitting 23 homers as a rookie catcher can make you overrated in fantasy, but not when that comes with a .219 batting average. Arencibia has elite catcher potential but he won't get drafted in the first or second tier at the position because of that average. He could lead all fantasy catchers in homers and RBI, though. If people are turned off by the low batting average, or prospect hounds worry about charging top Blue Jays prospect Travis D'Arnaud, Arencibia is going to be undervalued this year. We shouldn't forget he hit .301 in his second go-round in Triple-A after hitting .236 in his first. He stands to gain a lot of points in average.
Belt is much like Arencibia: A lot of power, but little in the way of consistency. He ripped through the Giants system in an effort to add power to a contending team that was sorely lacking it. He gave it with nine homers in 187 at-bats, roughly a 25- to 30-homer pace, but he posted just a .221 average. He is being given an opportunity to earn full-time at-bats at first base this spring, and if he wins the job, he is going to be a great late-round pick at the deep slugging position. He is a career (albeit brief) .300 hitter in the minors, so if he finds it, he could become a star in a hurry.
We saw a pretty solid two-thirds of a season from Ackley, but we may not have seen anything yet. The No. 2 overall pick to Stephen Strasburg in 2009, Ackley displayed .290-15-80-90-15 (.375-.450) potential at second base. Those are modest numbers when you consider how strong the first three tiers of the position are now in fantasy. Ackley leads that fourth group and he does it on his .300-20-80-100-15 (.390-.480) potential. We doubt we see those numbers this season, but even a first full season at a modest improvement from a year ago will make him a draft day value.
Since it is going to be tough to get Brett Lawrie at value coming off his nine homers in 150 at-bats, we'll go with Moustakas on the all-overlooked sophomore team. Moustakas is equal the talent and will come off the board many, many rounds later. Since most of fantasy baseball players are playing fantasy football by September, it will likely be completely forgotten that Moustakas turned around his disappointing rookie season by hitting .352 with four homers and 12 RBI in the final month. There is .290-20-80-80 potential here as early as this season. Long term, he can be a .300-30-100-100 monster many will be drafting (dangerously) Lawrie to be. Moustakas is the superior "value," if not player.
The sophomore class at the thin shortstop position is a very, very small one, but Dee Gordon is a very, very good one -- so good, in fact, he just might be overrated in fantasy, particularly rotisserie formats. Gordon hit .304 with 24 steals in one-third of a season. We cannot project a .300, 70-plus steal season (we shouldn't anyway), but it is entirely possible with this talent. He has slapped and run his way to those kind of numbers throughout his minor-league career. This is a burgeoning rotisserie superstar even if he never hits a big-league homer.
Trumbo came out of nowhere to provide the Angels and his fantasy owners with loads of pop last season after it became apparent Kendrys Morales wasn't going to make it back from his ankle injury. Now, Albert Pujols is playing first base in Anaheim, Morales looks like he could be healthy enough to DH by Opening Day and Trumbo will have to get situational starts at third base, DH or compete for at-bats amid a left field logjam with the likes of Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and perhaps Mike Trout. There just doesn't seem to be many at-bats on tap for the sophomore coming off a great rookie season of .259-29-87-65-9 (.291-.477).
As we said above, Brown is what the overlooked sophomore strategy is all about. Now that no one is looking his way -- not even his Phillies management this spring -- this could be the time we reap the huge rewards we expected out of the gate. Brown is a speed-and-power monster who could thrive in Philly's potent lineup and hitter's park. If you don't want to consider a guy that might start in the minor leagues, watch to see if Jerry Sands wins the left fielder's job in Los Angeles. There is big-time pop there, too.
While we tend to believe Year 3 is better for starting pitchers than Year 2, there are some elite arms that didn't enjoy big hype as rookies like the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson, the Yankees' Michael Pineda or injury-returnee Stephen Strasburg did. Those arms are more likely to be overrated this spring. But guys like Zach Britton, Aaron Crow and Sale are going to be overlooked. They pitch for teams very few expect much from and their first
Britton was pitching as well as anyone out of the gate last year before he slowed down. He could extend his dominance deeper into the season if he shoulder can take the punishment (yeah, that's why we like Year 3 better). But it is Sale (or Crow) who can be the biggest surprises as they transition from middle relief to a more impactful roles in fantasy as starters. They also provide valuable position versatility in those head-to-head leagues where you can slot an extra starting pitcher in at the relief-pitcher position. Sale isn't starter-eligible on draft day, but he could win double-digit games and be a Low Investment Mound Ace as a late-round pick.
After a legendary rookie season for a closer from the Braves' Craig Kimbrel, who surged quickly to the fantasy elite, young power arms are going to be popular sleepers in fantasy -- and therefore tougher to get under value. Teams no longer are wary of forcing young arms into the closer's role, which used to be a veteran's spot. They are much more willing to let 'em rip. Last year, the Dodgers had two rookies with closer potential and they head into camp this year competing for the job. Guerra showed he can do it, but Jansen is the more elite arm with the closer-of-the-future tag. Jansen was banged up early last season, so it was Guerra who held down the closer's role (admirably). Whoever wins the job is going to be a great pick in the latter rounds of fantasy this spring. Jansen, among the two, is the better value, because of the talent. Many will assume early that Guerra showed enough to win the job. But Jansen allowed just two earned runs after May of last year, posting an ERA well below 1.00.