We are continuing our series of AL-Only sleepers this week with Part 2 of our look at American League pitching. As a reminder, we’ll use the same approach we did in last week's column. The first names listed are those that are likely to be drafted late in deeper mixed leagues, or as potential discounts later in your auctions. I’ve also listed a true “sleeper” for each team as well. Many of these will be names to consider in NFBC Draft Champions leagues, or as $1/reserve picks for your auctions. Consider this a starting point on your journey to deciding who to place your bets on this year. When you get to the end of your draft or auction, you need to know how you feel about these potential choices, because you’ll be drafting some combination of these names to fill out your fantasy staffs this year.
Houston Astros – Bud Norris – Norris has the distinction of being the only No. 1 starter found on this or last week’s lists. That is more of an indictment of the state of the starting pitching in Houston than anything, but it doesn’t mean that Norris doesn’t qualify as a sleeper for this year. Three straight seasons with a losing record, and two with an ERA closer to 5.00 have taken the shine off the one thing that Norris does bring to the table, strikeouts. A closer look reveals that the skills he demonstrated last year were virtually identical to 2011, when his ERA was 3.77. Yes, wins will be an issue, but I have already drafted him twice this year as a reserve pick in some deeper leagues and will likely use him in favorable matchups or two-start weeks early on and see what happens. Keep an eye on the radar gun this spring, as his fastball has lost a little juice three straight seasons, down to an average of 91.9 last year
Sleeper – Lucas Harrell – Harrell started 32 games last year for the Astros, delivering a 3.76 ERA and 140 K’s in 193 IP. The decent ratios and strikeouts, and role certainty, give him some pretty decent value in AL-only leagues this year.
Los Angeles Angels – Jason Vargas –Vargas came over to the Angels in the Kendrys Morales trade. Vargas (like Morales) will hit free-agency in a year, so the Angels get to see how he performs before deciding to invest long-term. The 29 year-old southpaw comes to California off a career-best season that saw him post his best numbers across the board. Lack on overpowering stuff, and an elevated xFIP say the ERA and WHIP should rise, but then on the other hand so could the win total with a better offense behind him.
Sleeper – Garrett Richards – Richards becomes the odd-man out with the arrival of Vargas, but that could be a good thing for the 24-year old. He has the fastball, but hasn’t been able to harness it effectively in AAA or the majors just yet. With Tommy Hanson’s shoulder a concern, and Joe Blanton and Jerome Williams as un-inspiring back-end options, Richards still has an opportunity to fulfill the promise he showed back in 2010.
New York Yankees – Ivan Nova – Nova’s stock is way down in the wake of a 2012 that saw him finish with a 5.02 ERA. He was particularly brutal in the second half, and that has made drafters look elsewhere for late round bargains. However, a closer look reveals that all is not so bleak here. He made significant gains in his K%, and both SIERA (3.84) and xFIP (3.92), say that some bad luck, particularly with the home run ball, drove that ERA up. Double-digit wins will once again provide much of his value, but they’ll come cheaper than they did this time last year.
Sleeper(s) – David Phelps/Michael Pineda – Phelps will once again begin the season as the Yankees long-man in the bullpen, but with ancient Andy Pettitte in the rotation, it’s not a stretch to see a scenario where he is once again pressed into duty as the de-facto sixth starter. He struck out 96 in just under 100 innings last year, so he has the ability to miss bats if he can find the innings. Pineda is progressing in his recovery from shoulder surgery, and currently is slated to return around the All-Star break. He’s a viable reserve stash in AL-Only leagues, because the Yankees will use him if he’s ready, just be warned, shoulder’s are not like elbows.
Oakland A’s – Dan Straily – Straily kind of came out of nowhere last season, leading the minors in strikeouts before getting call up and pitching pretty well down the stretch for the A’s last year. Granted, he didn’t strike out batters at anywhere near the clip he did at AA and AAA, but he still struck out 32 in 39 IP. He looks like the probable fifth starter to start the year, and pitching in Oakland should help keep those ratios solid. I’m not quite as sold on him as some people are, but he’ll be useful as long as he holds onto a rotation spot.
Sleeper – Brad Peacock – Peacock will try to put his disastrous 2012 behind him, and get his career back on track in AAA this year. He has the fastball to succeed, but walks way too many hitters. If he can’t figure things out, he could be headed to the bullpen to stay.
Seattle Mariners – Erasmo Ramirez – After a mediocre 4 start call-up in June, Ramirez opened some eyes in September by posting 4 straight Quality Starts to finish out the year. The 5-11 Ramirez has a decent fastball that he compliments with a nice breaking ball and a very good change-up. He has always shown good control in the minors, and it followed him to the majors, and that, as well as his home ballpark gives him some decent upside as a late round target.
Sleeper – Danny Hultzen– Hultzen will likely get the call at some point in 2013, it’s just a matter of when. Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, made it all the way to AAA last year, but he really struggled badly, with a walk-rate of 7.95 at AAA last year. It’s obviously too early to give up on him yet, and keep an eye on his control this spring to see if he’s figuring things out.
Tampa Bay Rays – Alex Cobb – Cobb had a very nice season last year, acquitting himself very well in his 23 starts. He really started to figure things out in the second half, and finished the year on a tear, going 7-1, with a 3.07 ERA from August 1st on. He’ll enter the year as the Rays fifth starter and will look to build on last year’s success. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher, and that should help him once again help him post solid ratios. Those who didn’t own him last year will be less likely to know how good he was down the stretch. However the hype is already starting to swirl around him, so just be aware that you won’t be the only one at your draft table trying to snag him late.
Sleeper (s) – Chris Archer/Jake Odorizzi – The trades of James Shields and Wade Davis clears the paths for both of these top prospects to make an impact this year. Jeff Niemann only made 8 starts last year, so there is a chance we will see both Archer and Ordorizzi at some point this year. My guess is Archer would get first crack and showed some pretty electric stuff in his cup-of-coffee last year. Ordorizzi has great upside, but the trade from KC really puts a damper on his value for this year.
Texas Rangers – Martin Perez – I’d love to call Alexi Ogando a sleeper, but he just doesn’t qualify in my book. He isn’t dropping far enough in any of my drafts to quite qualify, in fact none of the Rangers main starters seem to be dropping to bargain territory. That leaves the former top prospect as the closest thing to a bargain in Arlington. I’m not sure I would chase him at all in mixed leagues, but as a reserve pick in your AL-Only league you can take a chance that he can finally cut down on the walks and become a little more confident with his secondary pitches, which are actually pretty good. He is a lefty after-all, so maybe the craftiness just takes time to develop.
Sleeper- Colby Lewis – Lewis is another Tommy-John stash, and he will reclaim his rotation spot as soon as he is able. The injury derailed a nice start to the season, and he should be able to get back up to speed fairly quickly. He could provide a nice boost down the stretch for your AL-Only squads.
Toronto Blue Jays – Ricky Romero – If you feel really lucky, then Romero could be the guy for you. I personally haven’t had the guts to bet on one of last season’s biggest busts in any mixed leagues yet, as I’ve always found another arm I have a little more confidence in. His 5.77 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 5.2 BB/9 illustrate just how bad he was last year. So the questions are will he rebound and if so how much. Well, I think it’s safe to say he won’t be worse than he was last year. Normalization of his BABIP, which shot up to .311, last year, will help in and of itself. He should come cheap enough that he can turn you a profit.
Sleeper – J.A. Happ – Happ will get the call if any of the arms ahead of him falter or get hurt. He showed some nice gains in his both his K/9 and BB/9 rates last year, and if he can work his way into the rotation, could be a nice cheap strikeout source in AL-Only leagues.
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