It’s that time of year again, when the ever popular sleeper articles start popping up all over the web, because there is nothing fantasy players like more than an article talking about all the fancy new superstars that will emerge in the coming year and lead you to fantasy glory. I will let you know up front, this isn’t one of those articles. No Will Middlebrooks, Manny Machado, Jurickson Profar or Wil Myers today. But hey, it’s only January, so you can rest assured we will touch on these four and lots of other players from now until Opening Day. Today we are going to start at home plate and work our way around the diamond taking a look at some names to keep in mind for the end of your drafts or AL-only auctions. None of these names are going to be this year’s Mike Trout, none of them are sexy. But they all have one thing in common. They are currently positioned to deliver draft day profits at bargain prices and give you a few extra bucks to spend elsewhere.
C – Jason Castro, HOU – It would be easy for me to write about guys like Salvador Perez or Carlos Santana yet again, but that’s not what I am going for in this article. We are looking for guys who aren’t on anyone’s radar that will be useful in AL-only or deep fantasy leagues this year. As an incoming Astro, Castro fits the bill as a young player on a lousy team that many of your league-mates may overlook at the draft table. The 25-year-old backstop enters the year as the team's presumptive starter and stills holds the promise that surrounded him the last couple of years. Injuries have slowed him down but the prospect of a mini-breakout still exists. If you like to wait on the position, Castro should be able to deliver 10-15 dingers and at least a respectable .250 batting average.
1B – Brett Wallace, HOU – Yeah, that’s right, another Astro here in the former top prospect, and perhaps my favorite AL sleeper on this list. Like Castro above, Wallace comes to the junior circuit flying under the radar. If you just take a look at the stats he has so far accrued in his brief time in the majors, you will likely come away uninspired by the general lack of power and mediocre batting average. But he does have a couple things going for him. First, and most importantly for AL-only drafters is that he’s going to play. When you are looking for cheap options, you want to get guys who are going to at least see the field from the get-go. It also doesn’t hurt that in the weak Astros' lineup, Wallace should find himself in the heart of the lineup, where he will at least get a chance to drive in some runs. The real key for Wallace this year will be if he can finally tap into his power at the major league level. We have him penciled in at about 15 homers with a .250 average. If he can finally get some confidence, there is 20-homer upside here at a bargain price.
2B – Jeff Keppinger, CHW – One of the more surprising signings of the off-season had to be the White Sox handing Keppinger a three-year deal to become their new third baseman this year. While it may be a curious move on paper, for fantasy purposes the supposed promise of regular at-bats gives the reliable veteran more value heading into the season than he’s ever had before. Versatility has always been his calling card, and because of that he qualifies at 1B/2B/3B, and he even added SS to the list during the season last year. Now, he’s never going to deliver the stats to justify starting him at the corners of your fantasy team, but he makes a great addition at MI, since he can help you navigate through injuries in leagues where replacements are scarce. While he likely won’t hit .325 again, he won’t hurt your batting average, which can come in handy with an endgame pick.
SS – Eduardo Nunez, NYY – The signing of Kevin Youkilis has at least on the surface put a damper on Nunez’s value heading into the season, but if you are looking for some cheap speed with upside late in your drafts, then there may not be a better play than the 26-year-old infielder. 2012 was in many ways a lost season for the enigmatic speedster. Manager Joe Girardi showed little faith in him during the year, often opting to play unexciting veteran Jayson Nix instead. Still, my thinking is that Youkilis, A-Rod and Derek Jeter aren’t getting any younger and the injuries will just continue to mount. Even when Jeter returns, Girardi will have to rest him more than he ever has before. That opens the door for Nunez to finally pick up where he left off in 2011. Out of all the names on the list, Nunez is the one I have the least faith in. It’s more about Girardi than it is the player himself. Keep an eye on the situation in March and see if Nunez can secure a spot on the roster. If he can, the opportunity to run will follow.
3B – Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE – Just a few years ago, Chisenhall was penciled in as the Tribe's third baseman of the future. After a shaky promotion in 2011, he failed to grab a starting job in camp last year as the team turned to Jack Hannahan instead. They finally called him up at the end of May before a broken arm knocked him out until late in the year. Fast-forward to this year, the former first-round pick has the job all to himself, as Hannahan was finally released. The hype has definitely died down, and in many ways this could be a make-or-break year for the 3B. The 25-year-old will get every chance to prove that the upside he showed in the minors will finally translate to the big leagues. He doesn’t have near the upside of a Will Middlebrooks or Manny Machado, but he’ll cost a lot less. The Indians have Mike Aviles lurking, but that could actually be a good thing for Lonnie’s bottom line. He doesn’t hit lefties very well, so sitting him against tougher southpaws could actually help him get the batting average up a few notches.