We were tempted to use the term "sleeper" in the headline, but ultimately decided against it. Without fail, whenever we employ that particular word, we're overwhelmed by comments suggesting one of two things:
1) The sleepers in question aren't nearly good enough to be owned in your league, because your league is that unbelievably tough; or…
2) The sleepers in question were owned in your league two seasons ago, because your league is THAT unbelievably tough.
It's a battle we can't win. Different leagues, different specs, different definitions of "sleeper." Let's just avoid the word entirely.
Below you'll find a list of a dozen players who appear to be excellent value plays for 2010. These names fall into an ideal risk/reward range on my pre-draft grid, based on the early ADP results at Mock Draft Central. All of them are available after the 12th round in a typical mock, and they all have clear fantasy upside. Nearly all of these players will be familiar to owners who were active in the final months of the 2009 season. (Please note that Wiggy award winners and their families were not eligible, so Garrett Jones(notes), Rajai Davis(notes) and Chris Coghlan(notes) were excluded).
There's a solid case to be made for Montero as the No. 4 overall fantasy catcher, but we'll save that for the position primer. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he delivered 46 extra base hits and posted a second-half OPS of .900. In an average draft, he's taken three rounds (and four catchers) later than Jorge Posada(notes).
Last year's hype still applies. His '09 season only lasted 90.2 innings, ending in August due to wrist surgery, but Slowey is expected to be ready for spring training. His control is obscene (1.49 BB/9) and he was a bit unlucky on balls-in-play last season (.352 BABIP). If healthy, he'll deliver enough Ks to be useful for fantasy purposes (7.44 K/9).
Borbon stole 53 bases and hit .321 at two levels in '08, then he swiped 25 bags and hit .307 in 96 games at Triple-A last year. He finished the '09 season in Texas, batting .312 with 19 steals. Borbon enters 2010 as the Rangers' primary center fielder and leadoff man. He projects as a three-category fantasy asset with a realistic shot at a 40-steal season.
After undergoing successful Achilles maintenance in September, Reimold should be at full strength by spring training. A ridiculously hot start at Triple-A last year led to a mid-May promotion, and he never really stopped hitting. (There was a brief stoppage in August, but nothing disastrous). Reimold offers better-than-league-average power and enough speed to avoid being a liability. The main worry here is the pile of sketchy left field options available to the O's.
This ADP seems preposterously low, given Anderson's production in his rookie season. The lefty struck out 150 batters in 175.1 innings, issuing only 45 walks. After the All-Star break, he improved dramatically in every important ratio. His second-half ERA was 3.48, his WHIP was 1.19, and he delivered a 4.30 K/BB. The home ballpark is friendly, too. Anderson's Yahoo! pre-rank won't be in the 240s, so don't expect this kind of bargain.
Sure, the Padres' lineup is mostly wretched, but Cabrera's name will likely appear at the top in 2010. He stole 25 bases in 103 games for San Diego at age 22, and he swiped 73 in 89 attempts at Single-A in '08. The speed is clearly real, although Cabrera offers little help in other categories. He's a career .284/.384/.383 hitter in the minors.
Last year, at age 25, Prado hit .307 with 11 homers and 38 doubles in 450 at-bats. He's expected to start at second for Atlanta this season:
“I think we watched Martin Prado become our everyday second baseman in the second half,” [GM Frank] Wren said, “and I think that going into spring training, there’s no reason to think anything’s changed.”
We can't say which closing jobs will change hands in 2010, but it's obviously a position where turnover is the rule. Bobby Jenks(notes) has been the subject of trade rumors for the past year and his fantasy ratios are trending the wrong way. Thornton is next in the bullpen hierarchy, despite the offseason acquisition of JJ Putz(notes). The lefty is coming off an excellent season (1.08 WHIP, 87 K in 72.1 IP) and should be owned in any league with an innings max, whether he's earning saves or holds.
The 25-year-old Stubbs is not without blemishes. He's struck out at least 100 times in each of the past three seasons, he's a career .269 minor league hitter, and last year's major league power (8 HR in 42 games) may have been a mirage. But he stole 46 bases at Triple-A in 2009, then swiped 10 more in Cincinnati. He's an excellent defensive center fielder, which should give him an edge in the Reds outfield pileup (assuming Dusty is making decisions based on merit, not years-of-service).
If you streamed your way to a fantasy title in 2009, you're no doubt already familiar with Davis' work. He registered 36 Ks in 36.1 innings for the Rays at the end of the season, and, despite an eight-run beating at Fenway in his second start, his fantasy ratios were ultimately useful (3.72, 1.27). The righty fanned 140 batters over 158.2 innings at Triple-A prior to the call-up. Davis should open 2010 at the back end of a respectable rotation.
Barring a spring training disaster or an unexpected free agent signing, the 25-year-old Sizemore will be the Tigers' Opening Day second baseman. Placido Polanco(notes) received an offer from the Phillies that no 34-year-old infielder could refuse ($18M/3Y). In 130 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season, Sizemore hit .308/.389/.500 with 17 home runs, 39 doubles and 21 steals. He's getting mock-drafted down in Kelly Johnson(notes)/Kaz Matsui territory, so there's very little risk associated with the pick.
In all likelihood, Taylor won't be the first outfield prospect selected in your draft. Atlanta's Jason Heyward or Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings will earn that distinction. But the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Taylor appears equally ready to offer a meaningful fantasy contribution. He was dealt from Philadelphia to Toronto in the Roy Halladay(notes) trade, then re-gifted to Oakland in exchange for third base prospect Brett Wallace(notes). "We think he's a potential monster talent," said A's general manager Billy Beane – and Taylor's minor league numbers support the hype. In 116 games last season across two levels, Taylor hit .320/.395/.549 with 20 homers and 21 steals.
Photos via US Presswire