This coming weekend will again send us the League of Alternative Reality (LABR) American and National League auctions, and once again I will be duking it out with the likes of Greg Ambrosius, Steve Gardner and Steve Moyer, team Rick Wolf & Glenn Colton, and others in the industry.
It is always a great weekend--in fact I will indeed be hitting up games over five days, and reporting/tweeting (@lawrmichaels) what I see, and the live drafts will be broadcast live on SiriusXM.
There are indeed players I am looking to cop for my roster, but rather than suggest those players specifically, I would more like to change the context of some more of our thinking.
The term "fantasy sleeper" gets tossed around as freely and indiscriminately as does the term "value." Sleeper has been construed to be predicting a breakout no one else has seen. As in, say Charlie Blackmon, at least through the first six weeks of last season. There are not really minor leaguers who are that much of a sleeper any longer since we all mine so deeply for names like Jose Fernandez and Dilson Herrera.
However, Blackmon--like Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar--proved to be sleepers when the season was done, not so much because there were rivers of talent oozing in their blood, but rather because we all (and I mean all) dismissed them, at least on draft day.
So, what sleeper really means is plucking value--and the occasional big year--out of a player that everyone else has dismissed. For, let's face it, if you were in a fairly deep mixed league last year, and grabbed the troika of Blackmon, Escobar and Santana out of the free agent pool, you either had a good team, or there was never any hope for your squad in the first place.
Anyway, with that context, here are some players I think could provide that nice little profit at a minimum investment, for load up a team where every player earns $3-$4, and you will have a competitive team.
Note that the players suggested really allude to NL-only, and deep Mixed formats, but irrespective, I think they are worth following during the season.
Andrew Susac (C, Giants): Former #2 selection in 2011, Susac advanced quickly through the ranks, posting .251-31-130 totals over 249 minor league games, with a .362 OBP (131 walks to 218 K) with excellent OPS numbers (.825) after being promoted from Class-A following the 2012 season. Susac hit .273-3-19 over 35 games last year. Now mind you, we all know Buster Posey is the Giants backstop, as well as the best catcher in the business at this moment in time and space, but the Giants want to keep Buster healthy. That means days either of rest, or even spelling Brandon Belt, depending upon how his season goes. And, should Casey McGehee flounder, I would not think it outrageous to consider Buster for that spot. For a $1 catcher who seems to understand hitting and might have some opportunities, well, should Susac simply give you $4 of value for that, it would be huge.
Brandon McCarthy (P, Dodgers): Pitching is indeed very very deep, so, it is easy to overlook McCarthy with the likes of Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke and Matt Harvey floating around the pool. But, McCarthy, who does not turn 32 until the All-Star Break (and seems like he has been around always) is definitely relegated to the lower levels of the starting pitchers. True, he has struggled some since his return from being beaned in Oakland a few years back (I was there, it was brutal), but last year, especially after his trade to the Yankees, McCarthy both regained his composure and command, but also became a pitcher as a result of that age and experience. McCarthy was 3-10 with Arizona before being swapped, and then went 7-5, 2.89 over 14 starts in the Bronx. And, after arriving in the Apple, McCarthy's strikeout-to-walk rate improved from 4.65 to 6.31, while his WHIP went from 1.377 to 1.151. Now he goes to a team that has always been good with pitchers, and settles into a third/fourth starter role. That seems like a harmonic convergence for big-time success.
Brandon Maurer (P, Padres): Hard thrower (close to 100), who really only has two pitches, the move to the pen for Maurer in Seattle last year is what settled him down. He was 1-4, 7.52 over 32.3 frames as a starter, but 0-0, 2.71, with an 0.964 WHIP and 7.60 strikeout-to-walk rate (1.21 as a starter) after moving to the pen and twirling 37.3 innings. I had thought he was the sort of dark horse heir apparent closer in Seattle: Now I think he is in that role in San Diego.
Brandon Crawford (SS, Giants): I actually think the Bay Area teams have a lot of under-the-radar potential values, but I truly think Crawford has a .269-15-75-8 season in his bones. Maybe even better than that. But, since becoming a starter, his OPS has improved from .584 to .653 to .674 to .714, while his OBP has gone from .288 to .304 to .311 to .324. Now 28, and arguably the best defensive shortstop in the league, I think Crawford will understand he is a big leaguer, and rise to the occasion (while his stats rise with him).
Kolten Wong (2B, Cardinals): Not really much of a sleeper anymore, but 12 homers and 20 swipes last year over 402 at-bats, as Wong even struggled some handling everyday work at Busch, the new. He has 20/20 potential at second base, which is sweet indeed.
Scott Van Slyke (1B/OF, Dodgers): There is so much talk about the Dodgers and their outfielders, but Van Slyke kind of gets lost in the shuffle. As a minor leaguer, Van Slyke hit .295-98-476 over 791 minor league contests, with a .371 OBP and .858 OPS. Last year, as a fourth flychaser/first sacker, he went .298-11-29, with a .910 OPS over 246 at-bats. Say Joc Pederson struggles, or Carl Crawford cannot hit lefties, or Alex Gonzalez gets hurt? I like Van Slyke (the National League's Steve Pearce).
Josh Collmenter (P, Diamondbacks): I remember seeing Collmenter and his odd delivery in the fall league, and liking it then, so I guess I have always been a fan. He is not overpowering, but he pitches smart (11-9, 3.46, and a 1.13 WHIP last year over 179.3 innings) and he is not taken any more seriously than Mark Buehrle (his AL doppleganger). A great fifth or sixth starter option in a deep format. Not even a bad fourth in many instances.
Mike Morse (1B/OF, Marlins): Yes, he is still injury prone (438 at-bats last year) but he similarly can still deliver some pop (Who had a higher OPS last year, Morse or Albert Pujols?). Morse should slide right into the Fish lineup, and get some nice pitches and opportunities hitting under the radar of the Marlins hot young outfield. He could give you $15-plus in return for maybe a $5 investment.
Alberto Callaspo (1B/2B/3B, Braves): He is versatile in the field, and he can do a little bit of everything, and on an Atlanta team in some form of transition, he should continue to get the 400 or so at-bats he has garnered over the past four years. True, his .290 OBP is really bad, as was his .223 average (career OBP is .330, and average is .267) so for sure those numbers can be considered a blip. Add in that Callaspo really had a great eye (40 walks to 50 whiffs) last year says he knows the zone and just couldn't buy a hit. He will cost a buck. He could post a .265-9-50-5 line, which would be worth five-plus.