2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Infield Sleepers
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The first 3 posts on sleepers (infield sleepers, outfield sleepers, and SP sleepers) are guys who you want starting in 12-team leagues, whereas the last 3 posts on deep sleepers (infield deep sleepers, outfield deep sleepers, and SP deep sleepers) are guys who probably wouldn’t be starting in a 12-team format, unless at a MI/CI slot – although they might be starting in a 15-team format.  A player’s sleeper tag is based on their Average Draft Position in Mock Draft Central (MDC) and in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) satellite leagues thus far (out of 32 drafts).  The NFBC ADP gives you a more accurate view of where these players are likely to go in real drafts, although the MDC ADP is more commonly referred to.  You can find the NFBC ADP data under the “Drafts” – “Average Position” tab on the main page here.  The difference between “sleepers” and “deep sleepers” is that the sleepers are guys who I project to be definite starters in even 12-team leagues, whereas the deep sleepers are more likely to be starters in 15-team leagues, or at least that’s all you should count on them for.  I can see a lot of them outproducing that value, but you can’t count on it.

INFIELD SLEEPERS

C  Salvador Perez – KC
Perez’s sleeper appeal comes largely from the fact that he should be in line for close to full-time PT at by far the weakest fantasy position (especially in 2-catcher leagues like NFBC).  He can hit 10-12 HRs with a .280-.290 AVG, so he won’t hurt you, like most catchers.  The fact that he will play almost every day gives him a leg-up in counting stats (R/RBI) as well.  He’s still only 22 years-old and has plenty of upside.  In his brief stint as a 21 year-old last season, he certainly did not look overmatched (12.7% strikeout rate), so he looks like he is for real.  No young starting catcher who is going to play pretty much every day and doesn’t hurt you in any category should be drafted as late as he is – 245th in Mock Draft Central (MDC) and even later – 257th in NFBC satellite drafts.

1B Ike Davis – NYM
Davis was well on his way to a big breakout season in 2011 when he hurt his leg in May and ended up sitting out the rest of the year because of it.  Now, he should be 100% healthy to start 2012 and could easily hit .280 with 25 HR in the middle of the Mets’ lineup (clean-up) in a stadium that just had the walls moved in.  Unlike most of the other sleepers, he IS getting drafted within the first 200 picks (177th in MDC/159th in NFBC), but he’s still being picked after Trumbo (who isn’t even starting), Goldschmidt (still a question mark), Lind (who might match him in power but likely won’t come close to hitting .280), and Morneau (who I expect very little from in 2012), so he is very much a sleeper in my opinion.  Many people may have forgotten about Ike Davis already, but make sure you’re not one of them.

1B Adam Dunn – CWS
I know it’s strange to see his name on this list, but I think he deserves to be here.  I will admit I have no idea what to expect from Dunn, and you surely can’t bank on a full rebound from last year’s meltdown.  However, what I do know is that before last year he had 7 straight seasons of 38-46 HRs.  I think that kind of upside is worth gambling on at the 231st pick in MDC (215th in NFBC).  That puts him behind Morneau, Gaby Sanchez, Kendrys Morales (not 100% healthy coming into 2012), Carlos Pena (who might not start against lefties), and Todd Helton (who definitely isn’t starting every day).  He’s being drafted at about the same time as Justin Smoak and James Loney… in other words, way too late.

1B/OF Lucas Duda – NYM
Duda might be an even bigger value than Davis.  He might not have as much power, but similarly, he’ll hit about .280 with 20 HR.  He’s projected to hit 6th in the order compared to Davis hitting clean-up, but he’s also got dual position eligibility.  Just like with Davis, moving the fences in at Citi Field will help Duda hit more HRs as well.  He’s being picked 228th in MDC (223rd in NFBC), though he should be going right after Ike Davis (who’s also being picked too late).

SS Alexei Ramirez – CWS
Here’s a player who only fits the sleeper description because he’s one of those guys that always seems to fall in drafts… he’s not particularly exciting and doesn’t really have any upside.  Sometimes, though, stability is just what your team needs – especially at SS.  Judging by where he goes in NFBC drafts (106th) he’s not a sleeper, but in MDC he’s going 163rd!  That’s insane.  It’s not who he’s going after (although the fact that he goes after Stephen Drew is ridiculous) so much as the fact that a SS with his skills shouldn’t be going nearly this late.  A line of .275 16 HR 10 SB 80 Runs 70 RBI is about what you should expect, with upside in R/RBI if he does hit 2nd in the lineup all year as expected (he hit 5th-8th 1/3 of the time last season).  He’s about as safe as they come, so don’t let him fall that far.

SS Zack Cozart – CIN
Cozart came up last season in early July and was primed to start at SS the rest of the way when he hurt his non-throwing elbow and had TJ surgery on it.  It’s hard to really get much information from 37 ABs in the majors, but there were some good things and some bad things that we saw from Zack.  Good: he hit .324 (though that was due to a high BABIP and contact rate), hit 2 HRs, and didn’t look overmatched (15.8% strikeout rate).  Bad: he was lucky (BABIP/contact rate), he didn’t walk even once (patience was also an issue in the upper levels of the minors), he didn’t steal any bases, he had a 9.7% LD (line drive) rate, and the fact that he’s coming off elbow surgery.  He’ll likely start the season hitting low in the Reds’ order, but there’s talk that they want to eventually move him up to 2nd as they don’t have any other good options there – this would greatly increase his value as well.  Despite all the negatives taken from his short stint in the majors (which shouldn’t be scrutinized too much here), anyone who can go 15 HR/15 SB at SS is worth a pick earlier than where he’s being taken.  In MDC he’s going 251st, while in NFBC satellite drafts he’s going 300th You’re better off using him as a MI than a starting SS, but no other SS within 100 picks has his upside.

2B Jason Kipnis – CLE
Kipnis is another guy who isn’t a sleeper in the true sense of the word, but people are still sleeping on him.  He’s going around the same time in NFBC (163rd) and MDC (165th) drafts, which doesn’t seem that late.  However, when you consider his talent and who he’s being drafted after, there’s really no way he’s not a sleeper.  Kipnis is essentially Ben Zobrist with upside (and without OF eligibility).  He hit .272 with 7 HR and 5 SB in just 136 ABs in 2011.  He should easily go 15 HR/15 SB with the ability to go closer to 20/20 (most projections I have seen have him around 18 HR/17 SB) and a .275 AVG.  The only downside is that he’s expected to hit 7th in the lineup to start the season, though he could quickly move up.  The fact that he’s being drafted 30 picks later than Dustin Ackley is a joke.  Neil Walker, Danny Espinosa, and Jemile Weeks are 3 more 2B who have no business being drafted ahead of Kipnis.  I also get the feeling that he’s going to be one of those players whose stock keeps rising as we get closer to April… I probably wouldn’t wait past the 12th round (in a 12-team league) if I needed a 2B to grab Kipnis.  If there’s one position that has a lot of depth this season, though, it’s 2B.

2B Kelly Johnson – TOR
Speaking of that 2B depth, the next sleeper is a guy who often gets forgotten/left behind in drafts – Kelly Johnson.  Kelly’s a bit of an enigma… he started to hit for more power the last 2 seasons at the expense of his contact rate while also striking out a lot more.  He’s hit around .225 in 2 of the last 5 seasons and around .280 the other 3.  A large part of that, other than his new power-hitting approach, has been abnormally high and low BABIPs.  Assuming that normalizes (which we probably can’t do), he should end up hitting closer to .250.  Still, he has 20+ HR power and speed to steal 12-15 bases or so hitting 2nd for the Jays, which makes him a valuable fantasy commodity regardless of his AVG.  You might want to draft him to a team that has a good team AVG though, just in case he does hit .225 again.  While you can get him late in MDC (235th) you won’t be able to get away with that in NFBC drafts – 185th.

2B Jose Altuve – HOU
Finally, the last 2B sleeper on the list is one who fits the sleeper bill a bit more appropriately.  Jose Altuve just might be my favorite sleeper this year… or at least one of two.  The 21 year-old (22 in May) skipped AAA and will likely experience some growing pains along the way, but he’s a great contact hitter with speed and some pop as well.  Eventually he should hit .300 with 15 HR and 30 SB, but for this season I think putting him down for 10 HR and 20 SB with a .285 AVG while hitting 2nd in the Astros lineup is pretty damn good (and reasonable).  He’s going 227th in MDC and 274th in NFBC!  Somehow Altuve is going after Gordon Beckham in NFBC drafts.  As a side note, I’ve heard from sources who have watched him play a lot and they think he has a chance to lead the majors in steals as soon as this season.  I certainly won’t go that far, and you can’t expect it from him, but knowing he has that kind of potential and still has pop and the ability to hit for a very good AVG makes him one of the best sleepers for 2012.

3B Chone Figgins – SEA
Much like Dunn, Figgins fell off the wagon last season too after providing steady 40 SB production for years.  He lost 100 points of BABIP from 2010 all the way down to .215 in 2011.  Now, Figgins isn’t getting any younger (34), but with the Mariners returning him to the lead-off spot where he’s most comfortable I expect something of a rebound year.  There’s no way he’s going to have anything close to a .215 BABIP again, and once he starts getting on-base more, the SB numbers will certainly go up – I’d expect around 25-30.  His ADP will certainly rise once owners get wind of the fact that he will be the starting 3B over Seager and also will be leading-off instead of Ichiro this year, but currently he’s at 286 in MDC and 473 in NFBC drafts!

3B Mike Moustakas – KC
On the surface, Moustakas’ line of .263 AVG 5 HR and 2 SB in 338 ABs looks downright pathetic – and it was.  However, there’s a silver lining.  He was absolutely atrocious from June to August, but then something clicked in September as he went on to hit .352 with 4 HR and 2 SB in September and October.  That, coupled with the immense talent he has shown in the minors (36 HR in 2010 between AA and AAA) point to a breakout year in 2012 (especially if he can learn to hit lefties).  Most projections have him hitting about 20 HR with a .270-.275 AVG, and he obviously has the upside to do better than that as well.  He isn’t much of a sleeper among NFBC players (ADP of 163), but in MDC drafts he’s going around pick 216.  I can’t think of a reason why David Freese is going ahead of him in both formats either.


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