Top potential NL sleepers for 2012
If everyone liked sleepers, then they would never fall to the deft drafters. Luckily, we're here to navigate you toward the players you may not have on your radar but should.
Chad Billingsley, for example, has done a great job hiding his potential in the NL. He has gone 11-11, 12-11 and 12-11 in his past three seasons, proving to be little more than a marginal fantasy option.
"We don't really feel like [Billingsley's] a .500 guy," manager Don Mattingly said at spring training. "We feel he's better than that. The stuff says he's better than that. I think we're looking for more consistency and a little steady improvement from Chad.
"We need him to step up and be that No. 2-type guy behind [Clayton Kershaw] that when you go into the series and these guys are hooked up back-to-back that you're going to have trouble with us."
No one should expect much from the Dodgers. But they shouldn't sleep on a talent like Billingsley. He should be capable of going over 200 innings for just the second time in his career and his modest draft position (just 266th overall currently in MockDraftCentral.com's draft averages) will make it easy for him to outperform his draft position.
Billingsley is no longer in that category of a
He is a lot closer to the 2011 version of Clayton Kershaw than the '11 version of Billingsley himself. This is still an ace in the making. Sometimes power arms just take a little while longer to develop the command and those secondary pitches.
We have already looked at the top fantasy sleepers in the American League, so here is the National League edition, broken down by division and team (with MockDraftCentral's average draft position, at the time of this writing March 8, in parenthesis):
He had a career breakthrough as a 27-year old and now will be given the chance to start for a top contender in a great hitter's park. If you project his numbers for a full season, we could be looking at 25 homers and 90 RBI, not bad for a late-round pick.
He is in the injury-risk category, coming off his own shoulder woes. A healthy Johnson, though, has the potential to be a top-five fantasy starter. The Marlins gave him plenty of rest, so if you can stomach the shoulder questions, you can get someone who will dramatically outperform his draft position.
If you miss out on Giancarlo Stanton, Heyward is going to be a nice option rounds later. He struggled with his shoulder and the consistency of his swing, but he still has 30-100-100-30 potential. It wouldn't be all that surprising to see him even out-produce Stanton in fantasy because of the steals and better strikeout-to-walk rate. Don't sleep on a yet-to-pop talent like Heyward.
He might not be draftable in a standard league if he gets sent to Double-A in mid-spring, but he could produce a .280-20-50 stat line after June, which would make him a fantasy star. The problem considering him a sleeper, though, is that it is more likely his name and hype will get him drafted far sooner than a 19-year-old hitter should ever be considered.
Bay has had two disastrous seasons in New York, but now the fences are being moved in. That gives him a chance to be a .280-25-90 outfielder again, and you will be able to snatch him up with a late-round pick. The potential reward far outweighs the potential risk. He has one good year left in him.
Leake gets little credit for what he has been able to do in his first two professional seasons. It is rare a young arm can go straight to the major leagues and pitch like a winner right away. Leake deserves a spot in the Reds' rotation for the full season and is a sleeper to win 15 games. If he falls into the late rounds -- behind that potentially potent offense -- he can be a real gem of a Low Investment Mound ace.
The converted catcher didn't really take off as closer until the postseason, but he enters spring training as the go-to guy. Plus, he won't have to deal with Tony La Russa's fickle behavior with relievers anymore. Motte could be a 30-plus save stopper for fantasy owners, maybe even 40-plus.
He has already shown pop in his bat, but questions still surround his defense at third base. That should be less of a worry at first in place of Prince Fielder. Gamel is capable of performing well enough in spurts to be useful in mixed leagues and can be a solid mid- to late-round value in NL-only formats. He could be a .260-25-90 hitter in his first full season, a great value relative to draft position.
It is possible, if not likely, Alvarez needs more seasoning in the minors. The Pirates do have a functional stopgap in Casey McGehee, so they can send Alvarez to Triple-A and allow him to prove worthy of being a big-leaguer again. Alvarez was one of the best hitting prospects of his class, but his aggressive approach has gotten him into trouble with extended slumps. If Alvarez finds his niche this season, he can be a real gem of a late-round pick at third base.
He won't have to hold off prospect Anthony Rizzo this spring, because Theo Epstein wants LaHair to open the year in Chicago at first and Rizzo to open in Triple-A. LaHair was the Pacific Coast League MVP last season, hitting .331 (.405-.664) with 38 home runs, so there is legit potential here. "Bryan LaHair is our first baseman," Epstein said. "I don't believe in the concept of four-A players. The guy can hit." LaHair is going to be a nice NL-only sleeper and might even have hot streaks that make him worthy of starting in mixed leagues, particularly on days the wind is blowing out in Chicago.
Lowrie wasn't a starting shortstop on a contender, but with the Astros he is going to get plenty of rope defensively. At the plate, he has shown flashes of brilliance and he just might develop into a .280-18-80-80 fantasy shortstop. He can be a very valuable late-round stopgap at a thin position.
His awful '11 will keep him off the radar in many leagues. But he showed a lot of improvement after change of scenery, hitting .301 in September with his move to Arizona. Hill is a late-round pick with early round potential at the still-thin second-base position. Few fantasy picks have that wide a range of potential value.
Belt's development is a big key to the Giants and might be for fantasy owners out of the bargain bin as well. Watch him closely in spring and how many starts Aubrey Huff gets in left. Belt has the kind of pop that can help even in mixed formats when he is going well. Young sluggers are famously streaky, and Belt can put some huge weeks together.
This is still an ace in the making. Sometimes power arms just take a little while longer to develop the command and those secondary pitches. Don't miss out on this potential ace late in drafts.
He assumes the closer's role and might be able to hold off 23-year-old closer of the future, Rex Brothers, for longer than many might anticipate. Betancourt is going to represent a good value at the closer position in fantasy, particularly if those young starters prove capable early.
He looked like a burgeoning fantasy ace last year while making it back from Tommy John surgery, but he wore out his welcome in Cincinnati and now has to remake himself in San Diego. Petco is a great place to do it, even if the Padres won't score that many runs. Volquez can win a Cy Young, he can be that good, so consider him a great value in the Low Investment Mound Ace category.