Everyone loves talking about sleepers and breakouts in fantasy, but few really understand the difference between the categories. A sleeper is someone who gets overlooked in drafts for one reason or another, while a breakout is someone that goes from good to great.
Regardless of the terminology, all fantasy owners want is someone that outperforms his draft position.
But breakouts help fantasy owners win championships. A sleeper has warts -- that's why they slip -- and those warts tend to show themselves over the course of a season. A breakout has shown a lot of good things with more to come.
If you had Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez or Justin Verlander a year ago, you were living large in fantasy come September. The problem with them now is they are tough to reacquire. You have to find the next Kemp, and thankfully, there is always someone else ready to take off.
We have exhausted the depths of the sleepers in the American and National leagues. Now, we take a look at the potential next big fantasy things in the AL, outlining one per team. Not all of these players can possibly have the career years we hope for, but putting your money on them can help increase your chances this season:
This was going to be one of the best starters in baseball, and he looked like it at times out of the gate last season. There is some concern about his weight this spring and his noticeable decline in velocity, but his second full season in the majors could make him a more consistent force. If he regains his velocity and stays healthy, he will help a lot of fantasy owners win titles this season. He'll win a lot of games behind that offense.
Bailey was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2009, but he hasn't made it through a full season healthy since. He has averaged a steady 25 saves per year, but in Boston, he could develop into a 40-save fantasy must-have. The question is health and it won't be something that can be proven until he pitches a full season. It is noteworthy Bailey is in his prime at age 27 and in his money-making arbitration years. It is time to step forward and get paid.
It is hard to believe Price was a sub-.500 pitcher for a postseason team if you look at the peripherals. Price hasn't been an elite fantasy ace for a full season yet, but this figures to be the year as he enters his prime at age 27. Some might consider James Shields over him on draft day, but that would be a mistake. Price has Cy Young talent and has built up for what should be the best season of his career. He is ready to absolutely take off.
In a quarter of a season as a rookie, Lawrie posted .293-9-25-26-7. You cannot project 36-100-104-28, but it is clear Lawrie has the potential to be one of the best fantasy third basemen in a hurry. He will be tricky to pick at the right value, but watch the Average Draft Position (currently 54th overall on MockDraftCentral.com and 81st on CBSSports.com). You probably have to draft him by early Round 5 to be sure you get him.
If you look at his full-season numbers, it will be hard to remember the start he got off to last season. He was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA through his first 10 starts, eight of them quality starts. Britton might not have come with the hype of Brian Matusz, but he certainly has the juice to be a front-line starter. He potentially is a great last-round pick, and a sleeper as much as a breakout.
While he did win 15 games last season, Scherzer has 20-win, Cy Young-stuff. He has yet to reach 200 innings or 200 strikeouts, but a full healthy season will push him past both of those plateaus and into the Top 15 among fantasy starters, if not the Top 10.
When he came up in '09, he looked like a future leader at second base in fantasy. Now he looks like mixed-league cannon fodder. It is easy to forget he is still just 25-years old. New manager Robin Ventura went through a slow start and broke through, so the new manager should help get the best out of this lost talent.
This is an easy pick, almost a cop-out after Santana went .239-27-79-84-5 in his first full season as a catcher. He just might be the first catcher selected on draft day, but is capable of even more. If he is moved to first base full time, it might affect his fantasy eligibility, but it can also make him more productive. Most leagues don't lose catcher eligibility in-season, so Santana can be a rare full-time, run-producing fantasy backstop.
The 22-year old didn't look like a 21-year-old rookie last season, going .293-19-78-66-11 (.334-.465) in what amounted to a five-month season. It is pretty clear we are looking at a future fantasy star that can go .300-30-100-100 annually. It won't take much more maturation for him to reach those levels even this year.
Doumit just might be in the perfect situation, if healthy. He has never played a full season, passing 400 at-bats just twice, but he is slotting as a DH and can also retain catcher eligibility. That makes him a superb sleeper at the thin catcher position. He might even be capable of posting the above numbers that would make him a top-five fantasy backstop.
Kendrick is coming off a career year at age 27. Now, he is smack dab in his prime and might finally take-off hitting in front of Albert Pujols, if the Angels choose to hit Kendrick second. It is the comfiest batting spot in baseball and means a lot of good pitches to drive in hitter's counts. You don't want to mess with Pujols with men on base. His career bests by category (.306-18-75-86-14, .347-.464) are not only reachable but smashable. He might not have the power potential of a Robinson Cano, but Kendrick can become a Cano-lite version picked many rounds later.
This is a bit of a cop-out pick, because Kinsler already is an elite fantasy second baseman, but he is still capable of a lot more. A lot. His batting average has never been consistent but Kinsler has hit .300 before. If he gets 600 at-bats again for a second year in a row, he is going to outperform his lofty second-round draft position.
Montero is probably more likely to disappoint than star, but the fact he will qualify as a catcher and get full-time at-bats as the DH makes him a valuable fantasy performer. There are few catcher-eligible fantasy options that project to get as many at-bats as Montero. Even a .255-20-80 season will make him a top-five fantasy catcher option.
We were going to pick Jemile Weeks, but his rookie season was just a bit too good. It is more likely Weeks disappoints optimistic fantasy drafters than out-produces his draft position. McCarthy is coming off a career year and slots as the A's No. 1 starter. It is very easy to forget he is still just 28 years old. He can win double-digit games with a tidy ERA and WHIP, and you can get him in the late rounds in most leagues, because few expect anything out of the A's in terms of victories.