Last week, we took a look around the infield for late round or endgame targets from the American League. In this installment of our early sleeper series, we’ll turn to the outfield and take a look at some names to consider when you are looking to fill out the end of your fantasy lineups this year. Like last week, we are looking for cheap or over-looked options, so while I love the prospect of Wil Myers this year, he won’t be slipping far enough thanks to Mike Trout’s historic assault on American League pitching last year. Instead, here are a few names that will come much more cheaply on draft day, and as you will no doubt need to fill at least one (if not two) of your OF slots at bargain rates, you’ll want to figure out who you want to target and why before you hit the draft table. Here’s some of my favorite targets in early drafts thus far.
Justin Maxwell, HOU – Following the theme that we established in our previous sleeper column, the Astros will be a great place to look for endgame picks in your deep or AL-only leagues this year. The 29-year-old OF finally got an extended look at the major league level and displayed good power and better than average speed once pressed into action last year. As the Astros make their move into the American League, Maxwell will get every chance to flex his muscles in the middle of their lineup and provide some much needed power. He very likely will be a batting average liability, but could approach a 20/20 season at bargain prices.
Michael Saunders, SEA – The lanky Saunders was a waiver wire darling a year ago, as he took advantage of the extended absences of Franklin Guttierez and Mike Carp to log a career high 553 AB’s. The regular playing time opened the door to one of the more quietly effective seasons in the American League last year, as he fell just one homer short of a 20/20 season. He enters the year with an inside track to the starting RF job, and unless the M’s make another deal before the season starts, he’ll have every chance to build on last year’s breakout and once again provide a nice combination of power and speed at the back of your outfield.
Darin Mastroianni and Chris Parmelee, MIN – When the Twins traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere this off-season, they opened two gaping holes in their outfield. They will look to fill the void with in-house candidates, most likely starting with the speedy Mastroianni and former first-round pick Parmelee. These two players bring different skill sets to the table, and the decision on which one to chase late in your draft will come down to needs. If you are looking for speed late, then Mastroianni is your guy, as evidenced by his 21 steals in just 186 AB’s a year ago. Now, you don’t want to go crazy and project those numbers out and think you are going to get a 60-steal guy here, but if he grabs the starting CF job and bats leadoff, then he will do the one thing he does well, run. Top prospect Aaron Hicks is the future here, so you will want to keep an eye on this battle this spring, but I expect the Twinkies to play it safe and send Hicks, who hasn’t played a game above Double-A, back to the minors to start the year.
Parmelee actually enters the season eligible only at 1B, but GM Terry Ryan has already stated that he will be the likely starting RF on Opening Day. Parmelee made some noise late in 2011 with a torrid September that landed him on a ton of sleeper lists this time last year. With Justin Mourneau staying healthy last year, playing time early on was tough to come by, and when he did finally receive consistent at-bats in the second half, he couldn’t duplicate the results he had delivered the first time around. His struggles last year put a damper on his stats heading into this year, but he simply tore the cover off the ball at Triple-A last season, and if you are looking for a little power late he’ll make a nice addition thanks to the dual eligibility he’ll accrue two weeks into the year. If you decide to gamble on Mourneau staying healthy for a second year, then Parmelee is a great insurance policy there as well.
Peter Bourjos, LAA- Bourjos is another speed demon whose stock has gotten a boost thanks to various moves made by his team this off-season. The Angels let Torrii Hunter leave via free agency, signed Josh Hamilton to a mega-deal and then promptly traded Kendrys Morales to the Mariners to free up DH AB’s for both Hamilton and Mark Trumbo. That leaves only Vernon Wells standing in the way of consistent playing time for the second best CF on the Halos roster. He brings a little more pop to the table than other speed merchants, and his name recognition will likely make him a tad pricier than the other options on this list.
Anthony Gose, TOR – The Blue Jays prospect saw his value for the upcoming season take a big hit in the wake of the flurry of moves the team has made since the end of last season. With the arrivals of Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio, there simply doesn’t appear to be any room on the roster for the 21- year-old speedster. The Blue Jays have made it clear with the big trades and free agent signings that they are serious about contending this year, and that is just another strike against Gose breaking camp with the team, as it is unlikely they want the rookie to languish in a bench role, especially since they already have Rajai Davis in the fold. Still, Gose figures to get his shot at some point, although it may not come until the second-half. Colby Rasmus is all that stands between Gose and the everyday CF job in Toronto. If I had to choose today the one player the Blue Jays will be looking to unload at some point during the season, then Rasmus would be my first choice. If that happens, Gose will get the call. His lack of a clear role will drive his price down, likely all the way to the reserve rounds of your auction. At those prices, it’s worth taking the shot that Rasmus will wear out his welcome yet again.
Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, TEX – As of this writing, the Rangers have yet to make a move to replace Josh Hamilton as the starter in CF. That leaves a likely Martin/Gentry platoon as the logical path the team will follow, unless they finally buckle to the mind-control powers of Scott Boras and sign free agent CF Michael Bourn or trade for Justin Upton. If the team stands pat, then both of these players are much more intriguing for fantasy players looking to fill out their rosters late in their drafts or auctions. Martin is the more hyped and “toolsy” player, and would be on the right side of any possible platoon. He brings more power potential to the table but hasn’t yet shown he can consistently hit for average in the big leagues. Gentry is a far less exciting player but he knows how to steal bases and is far more likely to be guaranteed a roster spot, at least as a fourth OF to start the year.
Jeff Francoeur, KC – One of the bigger fallouts of the Myers trade is that Jeff Francouer still has a starting job, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else on the roster that can seriously threaten his job to start the year. Now, I’m not saying he’s someone you necessarily chase, and I doubt he ever approaches his surprising 2011, since the steals aren’t likely coming back. Still, he is a solid veteran, and is more than capable of outperforming the price it will take to roster him this year. Sometimes, last year’s biggest flops are this season’s best bargains. I doubt you’ll find a better candidate than Frenchy to fill this role.
Jonny Gomes , BOS – The Red Sox signed Gomes to a two-year deal, and he will open the season as the starting LF for the Sox. Gomes is what he is, and that is a defensively challenged fielder with some nice pop in his bat. He kind of profiles for the team as Manny Ramirez-lite, and the team will hope that the Green Monster will mitigate his lack of range in the outfield. While Gomes will get every opportunity to be the regular guy in front of the wall, the fact is he still profiles best as a platoon option against left-handed pitching. Still, even in a part-time role he should be able to deliver consistent enough power to make him a viable option, especially in AL-only leagues.
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