Tuesday, March 4, 2008

SportsJudge.com Round Table: Sleepers

Welcome back to another SportsJudge.com round table discussion. A group of SportsJudge.com writers contribute their thoughts on a fantasy relevant discussion. Each will give their opinion concerning the round table subject while commenting on previous opinions. As with all SportsJudge.com content, please feel free to give your opinions and ask questions.

The subject for this round table is players we are specifically targeting to draft. The player does not necessarily have to be a sleeper, but rather a player we specifically think is headed for a great year.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Maybe the most talked about topic in fantasy sports is sleepers. Everyone wants to be the guy that finds the gem late in the draft that pushes his team over the hump to the championship. It is finding these guys through the masses that set some fantasy owners apart from the rest.

With that said, the first player I want to mention is Houston’s outfielder, Michael Bourn. Bourn is a speedster that slips under the radar because he wasn’t a highly touted prospect even though being towards the top of Philadelphia’s weak farm system for a few seasons. Bourn has incredible speed and had 18 stolen bases in just 118 at bats with the Phillies last season. Don’t expect much power out of Bourn, (only 16 HRs in over 1500 ABs in the minors) but stolen bases should come in bunches. Since his trade to Houston he should have an everyday job in center field and with the at-bats should be in the top 5 in stolen bases. I expect 50 stolen bases because he understands how to read pitchers as well (caught stealing just once last year and had a SB% of 85% in the minors). In my opinion avoid a guy like Pierre in which you will have to take many rounds earlier and take Bourn late in the draft. He will bring similar production.

Another player that I am focusing on at the back end of my draft is Tampa Bay pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine. Sonnanstine has incredible control for a young pitcher (turns 25 right before the start of the season). He had a 3.73 K/BB ratio and only had 1.8 BB/9. The problem Sonnanstine had last season was leaving the ball over the plate as he gave up 18 home runs in 130.2 innings pitched. Expect his high ERA (5.85 last season) to drop as he becomes more comfortable in the majors and learns to hit his spots better. He also has solid strikeout numbers. Pay attention closely to his situation as there is no guarantee for a spot in the rotation. Tampa Bay has a ton of young pitching prospects.

Joe Romano: I also like Bourn and agree with passing on Pierre for a guy like Bourn. However, I do see a problem with his average. In his 4 seasons in the minors he only hit .284 and had almost a 2:1 K:BB ratio. So I will reserve some of my expectations and look for him only late in drafts.

I really like what I have seen out of Geovany Soto. He followed up a great minor league season with a stellar stint with the Cubs towards the end of last season. There is no chance he hits .389 again but I would expect him to hover in the mid .280s. I also see him hitting between 15-20 home runs and driving in about 65-75 runs. He is a solid catcher who won’t hurt you in any categories, especially in comparison to other catchers. As of now the Cubs have him penciled in as their starter, so I view him as a top ten catcher. In recent drafts, I have seen him go earlier and later than I expected. In 12 team leagues, he has good value past the 15th round and great value past the 18th round.

I also really like Chris Young, the Padres pitcher not the Diamondbacks outfielder with an anemic average. I know he isn’t a sleeper, but in every league I have ever drafted, Chris Young always goes surprisingly late. Out of all starting pitchers last year he was 4th in WHIP, 8th in ERA, had a very good K/9 ratio of 8.69 and there are only 5 starting pitchers in the majors last season who had more K’s than IP. Young missed this mark by 6. The biggest knock on Young is that he only had 9 wins. I expect this to go up this year because of improvements in San Diego. Lastly, he pitches in PETCO, one of the best pitcher parks in the majors. Young posts top 10 numbers while usually being drafted as 13th-18th best pitcher. He always has great value; don’t make the same mistake as the rest of your league.

Brett Smiley: Just like in Cy-Young Award balloting, pitchers with lower win totals often get overlooked, which I think is definitely one of the reasons that Chris Young (SP, Padres) is typically drafted later than the rest of his numbers would suggest. Many owners place too high a value on a total rather than the player himself. Of course, Young would have had many more wins on a team with a better offense than the Pads, but consider that wins is just one category of four where starting pitcher will help in a standard 5x5 format (the exception being saves). So draft the player and the potential, not just the stats.

My first "sleeper" is the star of "Moneyball"-- Mr. Nick Swisher. I should preface the following by saying sleepers, to me, is not just an unknown guy who breaks out, but includes players that rebound or significantly exceed expectations. I think Swisher will do that this season. He's coming off an underwhelming season (from a fantasy perspective) where he posted 84 runs, 22 homers, 82 rbi and a .262 batting average; that's a serviceable OF3 in 12-team leagues. Now, he's moved from a pitchers park and a poor offense in Oakland to a hitters’ park at U.S. Cellular Field and a better lineup with the ChiSox. He'll probably be batting second, so expect him to draw some walks and score runs. He is going to fall down the draft board further than he should, so if he's available in the 10th or so round in a 12 team league, I think you'll be getting very good value.

Mike Aversa: Well usually my definition of a sleeper is somebody that nobody sees a breakout season coming from or a player that has his breakout season. So a few of these guys that were already mentioned do not fit my description of a sleeper. However, in the spirit of conformity, the names I drop this round are going to be guys that I think are going to have good bounceback years, whether they are bouncing back from injury or just a bad season.

This first guy may not seem like much of a sleeper at first, but if you think about what he is coming back from and what he is a capable of, he can be a possible league changer. Francisco Liriano missed all of last year due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. However, because the Twins shut him down so early, and completely ruled him out for 2007, they did not have the urge to rush him back, which gave him a full 18 months to recover from a surgery that most pitchers only have 12 months to recover from. This gives him a huge advantage, and all of the people who are not drafting him because of his injury should not be worried so much. In 2006, the year that he got hurt, he went 12-3 with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and 144 K’s in 121 innings. He had 18 starts in 2006, and with a projection of 25 I would put him at about 15 wins and 180 K’s. The ERA will most likely rise above 3 because of the extra innings and the fact that he pitches in the AL, but the WHIP should stay below 1.25. And keep this in mind, many people come back from Tommy John surgery physically stronger than before, which allows them to throw better. Liriano may seem like a huge risk to many people, but I feel he is a player that can only bring a huge reward.

The other guy I am going to announce as a sleeper for this year is somebody that a lot of people drafted very early last year. He was a player that everybody hyped to no end, and he was supposed to be the next great third baseman. Obviously, the player I am referring to is Kansas City Royal’s third baseman and last year’s #1 overall prospect…Alex Gordon. He started off so incredibly slow that many people had labeled him a bust by mid May. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Over the last 100 games, Alex hit .285 with an .800 OPS. He also finished the season with 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Those are not bad numbers for a rookie to put up in his first full season. I feel that Alex is going to have a very solid second season, and that he will have worked out his kinks from his first year. I am going to predict that he gets at least a 20/20, with 30/30 a very distinct possibility, and at least a .300 AVG. This is the year that people will see the real Alex Gordon, the one that everybody was touting as baseball’s #1 prospect last year.

Marc Edelman: Last week, I did two 5x5 rotisserie-style drafts in CBSSportsline for Platinum Leagues (mixed league, 10 teams). I will presume that the five players that I drafted in both of my leagues are players that I overvalue as compared to the market. So, at least for 5x5 mixed leagues, we will call these guys my sleepers:

Sleeper Player Draft Position in Draft 1 Draft Position in Draft 2
Derek Lee (1B, Cubs) Round 5 (pick 43) Round 5 (pick 44)
Chris R. Young (P, Padres) Round 7 (pick 63) Round 9 (pick 84)
Pedro Martinez (P, Mets) Round 13 (pick 123) Round 13 (pick 124)
Oliver Perez (P, Mets) Round 14 (pick 138) Round 12 (pick 117)
Eric Gagne (P, Brewers) Round 16 (pick 158) Round 16 (pick 157)

We hope we gave you a few players to think about. One of the best resources to use when preparing for a draft is the average draft position. These can be found all over the Internet, but they let you identify players that are being undervalued and allow you to take advantage of these situations. Marc took advantage of Chris Young in the 9th round, will you?

As always, please feel free to post comments or questions.

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