Sleeper is such a dangerous term, because it's a relative term. It's league-dependent. One person's sleeper is another dude's fifth round pick.
Many of you play in 8-person mixed fantasy leagues with simple rosters and no keepers. Others are involved in 18-team, N.L.-only, two-catcher, five-outfielder dynasty leagues. If we were to construct sleeper lists for each of those two formats, there would basically be zero overlap. In that first league, you won't care about Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras until 2014. In the second, he was owned two years ago, before his 19th birthday, when he was lighting up the Midwest League.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Thus, it's always tricky to write these preseason features. Unavoidably, the sleepers we discuss are useless to many of you because they're way too deep, and useless to others because they're much too obvious.
So today we're targeting fantasy owners who occupy the middle ground in terms of roster depth, those who play in leagues that aren't necessarily at either extreme. If you're managing in, say, a competitive 12 or 14-man mixed league with deep-ish rosters, then perhaps the players below will roughly fit your definition of "sleeper." Consider taking a flier on one or two of 'em (but no more than that. These aren't foundation pieces for your fantasy squad, they're ornamentation. High failure rate among sleepers).
As Dock Ellis would have said, let's do the do...
Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! ADP N/A, 7 percent owned) — Bradley has been, without question, one of the buzziest spring training stories in baseball. This has something to do with his media market, sure, but most of it is his ridiculous level of performance. The 22-year-old has delivered a .428/.508/.615 slash line this spring with four doubles, two homers, one steal and as many walks as Ks (8). Bradley hit .315/.430/.482 last season across two minor league levels, swiping 24 bags and banging out nine home runs. He cleared the fence Cliff Lee on Sunday, enhancing his already-strong case to make the opening day roster. Boston will likely need to manage around Papi's absence in the early weeks, so it's not tough to see a path for Bradley.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves (Y! ADP 242.0, 56 percent owned) — The 23-year-old Simmons is expected to bat lead-off for the Braves, ahead of Jason Heyward, the Uptons and Freddie Freeman. So there's clear run-scoring potential here. Simmons plays a talent-scarce roster spot, he has respectable speed, and his glove is good enough to keep him in the lineup even if he's slumping. (Just check the tape). It's tough to dislike this setup.
Chris Parmelee, 1B/OF, Minnesota Twins (Y! ADP N/A, 3 percent owned) — Meet the Twins' starting right fielder. In a partial season at Triple-A last year (228 at-bats), Parmelee hit .338/.457/.645 with 17 doubles, 17 home runs and 51 walks. He's widely available, eligible at two roster spots, and capable of delivering a useful power total. Early drafters have ignored him, but he's capable of playing his way onto a few thousand more fantasy rosters.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres (Y! ADP 250.4, 31 percent owned) — We've discussed Gyorko around here a time or three (or more), so most of you no doubt appreciate his situation. He's spent most of his developmental years as a third basemen, but the Pads are expected to transition him to second in 2013. Chase Headley's fractured thumb gives Gyorko more than one route to regular at-bats. He hit .311 in the high minors last season with 30 homers, 100 RBIs and an OPS of .921, so he'll be a welcome addition at second base, where power is hard to find.
Tyler Flowers, C, Chicago White Sox (Y! ADP N/A, 3 percent owned) — Flowers replaces AJ Pierzynski in Chicago, which of course is no small challenge. His batting average will probably end up 40-70 points shy of AJ's this season, but Flowers has a terrific shot at 20-plus homers. He went deep seven times in 153 at-bats last year, and he hit 20 bombs across two levels in 2011 in just 399 at-bats.
Jordany Valdespin, 2B/OF, New York Mets (Y! ADP N/A, 2 percent owned) — A few of you may only know Valdespin from this unfortunate episode, but he's worthy of discussion for other reasons, too. He's had an excellent spring (.333/.379/.593, 4 HR), good enough to enter the conversation to bat lead-off for the Mets (despite the fact that he's never been, nor will he ever be, a walker). Just two seasons ago, Valdespin delivered a 17-homer, 37-steal campaign in the minors, so he has a fantasy-friendly skill set.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Y! ADP N/A, 24 percent owned) — Puig has gone 29-for-55 this spring with 10 extra-base hits, three homers, four steals and innumerable highlights. There's no way you've missed the absurd spring hype, right? Good. (If you somehow did, Jeff Passan will catch you up right here). The 22-year-old Puig can apparently do everything well, except draw walks — and who needs those when every swing launches a missile? No one. Certainly not Puig. Draft and stash.
Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves (Y! ADP 227.5, 57 percent owned) — We told the Teheran story around here last week, and four days later he tossed six no-hit innings against the Astros, striking out 10 batters along the way. In his 26.0 spring innings, Teheran has now struck out 35 batters, walked nine, and allowed seven hits. He's locked up a role in Atlanta's starting rotation, and he'll do his pitching in the right league, for a team that might very well win 90 games. Teheran has long been a buzzy prospect; the on-field results are now beginning to match the hype.
Juan Francisco, 3B, Atlanta Braves (Y! ADP N/A, 5 percent owned) — Francisco enters the season as the left-handed side of a third base platoon in Atlanta (the preferred side), and the kid has off-the-scoreboard power. There's clear fantasy potential here — OK, two categories — if you're willing to manage around the platoon situation.
The Houston Astros (various Y! ADPs, low percent ownership) — You guys are drafting Jose Altuve and then ... well, nothin' else. Just Altuve. That's it. The Astros are likely to be a very bad team in their first A.L. season, but not so bad that they can't assist fantasy owners. Chris Carter has the potential to deliver a significant homer total (think 25-plus), Justin Maxwell should offer acceptable power/speed numbers, and Brett Wallace can be quietly not-awful. Also, Jose Veras might just save 25 of Houston's 60 wins. There's value here.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins (Y! ADP N/A, 10 percent owned) — Hicks claimed the center field gig for Minnesota with a blistering spring (.350/.397/.650, 3 SB), and, assuming good health, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he hit 10 homers and stole 25 bases this year. Of course he's also a 23-year-old who skipped Triple-A, so it wouldn't be a shock if he hit .255 with only modest power/speed totals. There's a range of outcomes here. That's why he's sleeping.
Alex Cobb, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Y! ADP 237.2, 65 percent owned) — OK, here's a case where I might be willing to guarantee a certain level of fantasy value if Cobb manages to stay healthy — let's say 13 wins and 145 Ks, minimum, with an ERA below 3.80. The righty had a useful second-half last year (7-4, 3.40 ERA, 66 Ks in 79.1 IP) and his spring performance has been tremendous. Cobb's draft-day price tag remains curiously low.
Craig Gentry, OF, Texas Rangers (Y! ADP N/A, 1 percent owned) — Here's a plausible speed pick-up for deep leaguers who just lost Adam Eaton (elbow, 6-8 weeks). Rangers manager Ron Washington has tabbed Gentry as the surprise player of camp...
“He’s figured out just how good he can be and he’s just letting it go,” Washington said. “He’s showing me a total game.”
...as the 29-year-old center fielder has hit .333/.414/.627 with three homers and six steals. He'll likely open the season on the light side of a platoon with Leonys Martin (the guy I'm supposed to rave about in a sleeper feature), but it's not too difficult to imagine Gentry falling into regular at-bats, considering the injury risk present in Texas' lineup. Gentry has swiped 31 bags in limited duty over the past two years, and his single-season minor league high is 49. When he plays, he runs.
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