By Eric Mack
March 06, 2013
Roster shuffling could lead to 23-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons batting leadoff for the Braves.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more

You've probably noticed some themes while reading through our extensive offering of 2013 fantasy baseball preview content:

1. Age: Players entering their prime can break through with career years, especially around the age of 27.

2. Preparation: Pitchers with around 40-70 career starts (roughly in their third season) are poised to break the 200-inning barrier and set career highs.

3. Health: Players who were injured won't necessarily be injured again, so some negative stigma can allow talented players to slip in the draft.

4. Experience: Young players, whether they're rookies or sophomores, can outperform expectations and draft position by capitalizing on their talent for the first time.

Keep those points in mind as you delve into our NL sleeper picks. Players who check those boxes can help an owner score great value in the later rounds and make up for some faulty early picks who go bust. Here's a team-by-team look at the top sleeper candidates in the NL this season.

AL: Breakouts | Busts | SleepersNL: Breakouts | Busts | Sleepers

NL East

Atlanta Braves:

? Sleeper -- SS Andrelton Simmons (23 years old): Shortstop tends to be a tough position to fill, but trading Martin Prado to the Diamondbacks opened up some great potential for Simmons, who many consider a poor man's Elvis Andrus. Simmons can lead off in front of the likes of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, which gives him an opportunity to score a lot of runs. Steals will be his best asset, which makes him a great sleeper in Rotisserie formats.

? Honorable mention -- SP Mike Minor (25): While everyone is picking Kris Medlen in the early rounds coming off his surprising stint as a starter last season, you should be laughing and circling Minor on your cheat sheets. This lefty might even be the better pitcher and he will get picked in the late rounds, if at all, on Draft Day.

Miami Marlins:

? Sleeper -- RP Steve Cishek (26): Cishek came out of nowhere last season to be the Marlins' de facto closer, a status he retains going into this spring. He's the right age to be at his best, and because the Marlins aren't a top contender, he'll likely fall into the very late rounds. The thing is, though, a weak, rebuilding team might need a strong closer quite a bit to seal the deal on low-scoring, tight ballgames. There are going to be very few blowout victories for this Marlins team, which is great news for Cishek and his owners.

? Honorable mention -- 1B Logan Morrison (25): His disappointing 2012 season masks his true potential. He's just now entering his years of peak physical strength, so he stands to develop into a productive protector for strongman Giancarlo Stanton. There are few late-round picks like him with more room to grow into big numbers.

New York Mets:

? Sleeper -- SP Matt Harvey, (23): Harvey is an elite pitching prospect just getting started for a team that has one of the better pitcher's parks in baseball. We haven't yet seen him over the course of a full season, so there is a bit of an unknown of exactly what his 2013 bodes for him. If you go on talent, Harvey is capable of being a top 25 starter in baseball; yet, he'll be picked outside of the top 50 in fantasy.

? Honorable mention -- RP Bobby Parnell (28): Parnell can hit triple digits on the radar gun and he enters spring training as a projected closer for the first time in his career. It is a tenuous status right now, but he is plenty good enough to make good on his potential and post a 30-save season if the Mets give him the opportunity.

Philadelphia Phillies:

? Sleeper -- OF Ben Revere (24): The Phillies are mostly a veteran team with players in or past their prime, but they acquired Revere this winter precisely to change that. If he winds up leading off for the Phillies, 50-plus steals are possible and unlike some one-dimensional base-stealers, his average doesn't project to be a drag.

? Honorable mention: OF Delmon Young (27): The erstwhile prospect should just be getting started as a run producer. He signed a low-end deal with a team that plays in a ballpark that suits his right-handed bat best. Although he might not be ready for the start of the season, crazy things can happen at 27 and Young can still be a viable fantasy outfielder.

Washington Nationals:

? Sleeper -- SP Ross Detwiler (27): Detwiler is a 27-year-old who is roughly in the category of a third-year starting pitcher. Although he slots at the back end of that dominant Nationals rotation, he has serious upside. He not only proved capable of taking his turns every five days, but he was a winner for arguably the best team in baseball. If he reaches 200 innings for the first time, look out.

? Honorable mention -- SP Dan Haren (32): After years of consistent production and health, Haren tailed off last season, which means he's going to fall in drafts. But the reality is that he'll be going back to the pitcher-friendly NL and starting for a big-time contender. Haren shouldn't be hit with the injury-risk stigma, because he's been a workhorse -- he'll fall on the perception of injury woes from a year ago.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs:

? Sleeper -- SP Matt Garza (29): Garza, potentially a top 25 starter, has a lat strain that put his opening-day start in question in February -- but that's actually good news for fantasy owners. If that muscle heals properly and the elbow that balked a year ago holds up, Garza is going to easily outperform his late draft position -- especially if he is dealt to a top contender midseason.

? Honorable mention -- OF Alfonso Soriano (37): In Soriano's case, his bad contract alters his perception as a fantasy player. No one is actually listening to the Cubs when they offer Soriano up in trade, but he's actually a fairly productive fantasy outfielder who will be available late. If he's your last outfielder, you will at least get some homers and RBI with that pick.

Cincinnati Reds:

? Sleeper -- SP Homer Bailey (26): Bailey is coming off a career year already, but he still hasn't capitalized on all that promise that once made him one of the most coveted pitching prospects in baseball. He'll be one of the high-upside starting pitchers on the board much longer than his profile suggests he should be, a true low-investment mound ace candidate.

? Honorable mention -- SS Zack Cozart (27): The Reds thought enough of the 27-year-old Cozart's arrival last season to move elite prospect Billy Hamilton to outfield and trade another major-league-ready SS prospect to the Diamondbacks. He is a poor man's J.J. Hardy who should be available in the latter rounds at one of the thinnest positions.

Milwaukee Brewers:

? Sleeper -- OF Corey Hart (30): Hart's January knee surgery projected to knock him out until late May, but he has publicly announced April 20 as a target return date. The Brewers are leaning toward the safe late-May estimate, so that will help Hart slip into the latter rounds in drafts. Track his situation closely, but even in the worst-case scenario, you'll have yourself a rock-solid starting outfielder for all leagues come June.

? Honorable mention -- OF Carlos Gomez (27): If Gomez continues to improve at the rate he jumped a year ago, fantasy owners will have a potential top 25 fantasy outfielder who might be picked outside the top 50. The only reason he will be on the board into the middle rounds is because of how long it took him to finally hit .260 and reach his power potential. Last year's breakthrough was more of a coming of age than a fluke, and it's possible he continues to grow into even more.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

? Sleeper -- SP James McDonald (28): As a starting pitcher breakout candidate a year ago, McDonald was a tale of two halves. First, he was an ace (9-3, 2.37 ERA), and then he was a scrub (3-5, 7.52). This season we have to expect him to be somewhere in between and quality enough to be considered as a late-round pick in standard Rotisserie leagues. A third full season as a starter should help him be more consistent late into the season this go around, too.

? Honorable mention -- 2B Neil Walker (27): Walker doesn't star in any one category, but you can do a lot worse at the thin second base position. It helps he is the prime age of 27. Career highs across the board are possible, if not expected, for a second baseman that will be on the board at least until the middle rounds.

St. Louis Cardinals:

? Sleeper -- SP Jaime Garcia (26): Garcia, who will turn 27 around the All-Star break, dealt with shoulder woes a year ago, but the Cardinals are hoping he can prove healthier and capable of a full season -- especially after the news Chris Carpenter might not pitch this season. Garcia is a solid starter for all leagues, when healthy, but the uncertainty of his shoulder will allow him to be available very late on Draft Day.

? Honorable mention -- SP Lance Lynn (27): Lynn was able to stretch out his shoulder to 176 innings last season, even if he wore down statistically in the second half. He should be capable of advancing to the 200 innings this year, which would make him a fantasy breakout. If he proves more consistent half to half -- as happens with many young pitchers as they mature -- he is capable of finishing among the top 25 starters, even if he's drafted outside of the top 50.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks:

? Sleeper -- SP Trevor Cahill (25): It's too easy to look at Cahill's leveled-off numbers and forget he'll be just 25 this season. It is likely equally lost on the masses that he has averaged 32 starts the past four years. That's not something that can be said of many 24-year-olds. He can be a lot better than he has shown each of the past two seasons and his maturation can eventually make him a front-line fantasy starter, maybe even this year.

? Honorable mention -- OF Adam Eaton (24): Eaton not only hit an incredible .381 last season in Triple-A, but he's also a burner that can make an immediate impact in the steals category in Rotisserie formats. The Diamondbacks would like him to win the starting center fielder and leadoff jobs, and run away as an NL Rookie of the Year candidate.

Colorado Rockies:

? Sleeper -- OF Tyler Colvin (27): Colvin warrants a full-time starting job for the first time, especially since the Rockies are squarely in a rebuilding program right now. The problem with him playing every day is he hit 17 of his homers against right-handers, which is when performs like an elite fantasy outfielder. Against righties, he is more of fringe fodder. Assuming he gets a chance to prove himself more against right-handers, Colvin can take off. The dual eligibility at 1B and OF helps in the late rounds, too.

? Honorable mention -- 2B Josh Rutledge (23): He took advantage of Troy Tulowitzki's injury-plagued 2012 to become the leading candidate to start at second base for the Rockies. The Rockies have a famously awesome hitter's park and Rutledge's speed and pop can make him a popular pick as a position-filler late in drafts.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

? Sleeper -- SP Josh Beckett (32): Beckett, one of the annual injury and busts risks, will be available later now than ever, but he still can be as good as he has ever been. Add to his own potential that of the big-budget Dodgers and you might even have a huge winner available to you in the late rounds. If things go right in Los Angeles, look out.

? Honorable mention -- SP Chad Billingsley (28): He is trying to pitch through a partial tear of his elbow ligament, and now has to compete for a rotation spot with the stacked Dodgers. The reports this winter were good and he is healthy enough right now to pitch. That's decent news. The best new is: When healthy, Billingsley is a potential top 25 fantasy starter and a rewarding late-round pick.

San Diego Padres:

? Sleeper -- OF Carlos Quentin (30): On another team, Quentin would be a candidate for 30 homers and 100 RBI. It's not that is isn't possible to do in San Diego -- Chase Headley surpassed those plateaus a year ago -- Quentin just adds question marks with his awful inconsistency and injury history. If he ever plays 140 games in a season, he is going to become his fantasy owners' favorite late-round pick. Here's to hoping it happens for him at age 30.

? Honorable mention -- 2B Jedd Gyorko (24): The offensive-needy Padres have their best hitter, Headley, at third, so they have to find a spot for the slugging prospect Gyorko. He hit a combined .311-30-100-80-5 (.373-.547) in 499 at-bats between Double- and Triple-A last year. Bats like that are hard to come by at the thin second base position in baseball, much less fantasy. If he wins the second base job in spring training, look out for this potential NL Rookie of the Year runaway.

San Francisco Giants:

? Sleeper -- SP Ryan Vogelsong (35): On numbers alone, Vogelsong is vastly underrated in drafts. The problem is so many question his effectiveness the past few years because of his decade of struggles before them. The perception is Vogelsong is one of those arms that is getting by. The reality is he was once a well-regarded prospect and is merely a late-bloomer. The Giants pitcher's park is perfect for him. He'll be on the board later than he should in just about all leagues.

? Honorable mention -- RP Sergio Romo (30): This reliever can be just about anything this year: A breakout (40 saves are possible), a bust (a torn elbow ligament is possible) or merely a setup man for Santiago Casilla, who was the Giants' first choice as the replacement for Brian Wilson a year ago. All these reasons should blur the fact Romo is in one of the five-best situations in baseball, closing games for the Giants. That team is built on pitching and defense and those teams tend to render a lot of save chances. As long as someone doesn't reach for Romo, the rewards will far outweigh the risks.

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