Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hidden Fantasy Gems

Can you name this player?
You may want him on your team.
There are always guys every year that fly under the radar that can make a big difference in your fantasy season. The term "sleeper" is overused and overdone. If a guy is on everyone's "sleeper list", guess what he is no longer a secret. I prefer to bring attention to players who are undervalued or simply not as well known. Can you name the Yankee in the picture to the left? Perhaps if you are a Yankee fan you can, but most baseball fans can't pick Ivan Nova out of a lineup. Yet, last season Nova was arguably the best and most reliable starting pitcher on the team once he regained his rotation spot. Baseball is littered with big stars and big names, but most of them will be off the board in the first few rounds of your draft. Fantasy coverage generally pays a fair amount of attention to the elite players, followed closely by the hype train of young rising stars. What often falls through the cracks are the players who have been in the league a few years and are starting to figure things out. There are also useful veterans who still have something in the tank, even if their glory days are behind them. They tend to be the middle tier of positions pools and will get drafted in the middle rounds. However, the right "middle men" can really separate your team from your opponents. Here are some names that you shouldn't let fall through the cracks on draft day.

IVAN NOVA SP NYY
It’s amazing what fighting for your rotation slot can bring out of a pitcher. Nova was dreadful last April, got sent down, then called back up and posted a 2.78 ERA over his final 13 starts. Keep in mind this wasn't the Yankees we were used to, so Nova did not get as many wins as he may have deserved nor did he benefit from great run support. He was really tough to beat at home (7-3 with a 2.44 ERA) and in 2014 he seems locked into the number 4 spot behind Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda. He is not an ace, but he has the ability to be an above average starting pitcher with the occasional big game. The Yankees may not be the runaway favorites they once were, but they certainly re-tooled the offense enough to give him a great chance at 15 wins if everything breaks right.

HECTOR SANTIAGO SP LAA
There is no denying Santiago has a power arm. He split time between the rotation and the pen but was more effective as a starter (23GS, 3.51 ERA, 8.4 K/9). He still has lapses with his control, so he will incur some bad outings. However, he can also drop some big strikeout games making him a nice points league gamble. Santiago can be had in the later rounds and now that he is all but a lock for the Angels rotation you can draft him without concern over his role. There will still be ups and downs, but he has the ability to outperform his draft slot.

JOSH BECKETT SP LAD
Yes, he is 34, but Beckett should not be forgotten in your draft plans. He simply wasn't healthy in 2013, but don't forget he posted a 2.93 ERA over his seven starts after being dealt to the Dodgers in 2012. Being healthy in the NL with a formidable Dodger lineup is a recipe for a rebound. Beckett will cost you next to nothing and is a great bet to outperform his draft slot giving his career body of work. Not all veterans are equal, and Beckett's track record deserves attention on draft day. Monitor his spring outings just to be sure he is free and easy, then bid accordingly. 


de Aza had a very productive '13 season,
but no one seems to have noticed.
ALEJANDRO de AZA OF CWS
His 17 homeruns were a surprise, but he continued to steal 20 bags for the second straight year. Granted, the White Sox outfield got a little crowded this offseason with the acquisition of Adam Eaton. Between Eaton, Avisail Garcia and Dayan Viciedo, only de Aza has really produced at the big league level. Frankly, with 84 runs scored and 160 hits last year, he doesn't deserve to be on the bench. Last year was probably his ceiling as a player, but that doesn't mean he can't repeat it. de Aza will be a cheap source of steals in roto leagues and may even give you double digit homers again in 2014.

PABLO SANDOVAL 3B SFG
He suffered back to back seasons with hamate bone breaks in each hand. He also let his weight issue get the better of his talent and his production has become underwhelming as a result. ENTER THE CONTRACT YEAR! The Panda showed up in the best shape of his life to spring training and if he is motivated, the story may be very different in 2014. Sandoval did pick up his production in the second half  of last season (.814 OPS), and he has the potential to give you good power numbers along with a high batting average. At 27, he is far too young to write off altogether yet.

ERIC YOUNG Jr. OF NYM
While everyone else is ogling Billy Hamilton, let us not forget Eric Young led the NL in stolen bases with 46. The Mets view him as their best (and perhaps only) option as a lead-off hitter and in roto leagues. He may not hit for a high average and struggles to get on base, but Billy Hamilton has those same issues and he's going to be drafted with extreme prejudice in 2014. Why not wait and take a flyer on EY instead?

WILSON RAMOS C WAS
1.      He needs to stay on the field, plain and simple. Ramos is the classic example of the position taking its physical toll and hindering a gifted hitter from realizing his full potential. Take Ramos as a catcher with legitimate pop, but you may need a back up on your bench. The Nats have committed to him by letting veteran Kurt Suzuki leave via free agency. His age (26) gives me hope that he can put together a full, productive campaign in 2014. If that happens, he could be an upper tier backstop for a fraction of the cost of the big names. 






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