2014 AL Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Picks
The start of the 2014 major league baseball season is just around the corner which means it's time to discuss potential sleeper picks in the American League. A sleeper in fantasy baseball terms is a player that for one reason or another, maybe injury or advanced age, is being undervalued and unappreciated by baseball fans and fantasy baseball team owners. Below is a list of American League players that are being overlooked at this point in time, but have the potential to provide great returns to your fantasy baseball team for a minimal investment on draft day.
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Jesus Guzman, 1B-OF, Houston Astros
Guzman was stuck in a situation in San Diego where he would never be a full-time player due to the Padres' affinity for collecting platoon type players. Jesus never got more than 288 at bats with the Padres in a season, but when he played he always struck me as a professional, clutch hitter. I always wondered what he would do with more playing time. Would his weaknesses be exposed or would he put up solid numbers? Now we may finally get the chance to see as he could be in store for more playing time this season shuttling between first, outfield, and DH for the Astros. I expect the 29 year old to get about 400 at bats and hit 15 home with 60 RBI. Not huge numbers by any measure, but in deeper leagues this makes him a nice pick up in the later rounds of the draft.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie was deemed the next big thing in 2011 when he posted 9 home runs and 7 steals in 150 at bats during a late season call-up. However, it's now 2014 and we are still waiting for the big thing to happen. Injuries have been the biggest problem. He played in only 125 and 107 games in 2012 and 2013, but his OPS has also declined every season as well. Because of all this, people are starting to move on, but he is only 24 and still has plenty of time to get the fire going, which makes him a perfect sleeper candidate. The mind boggles at the speed-power numbers he can put up at the third base position. It may be a year or two early for his big season, but I think he will make progress in 2014 and bat .275 with 18 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and 70 RBI. Note, he also played 6 games at second last season so he may be eligible at this position in some fantasy leagues.
Corey Hart, RF, Seattle Mariners
Hart looks to reboot his career in Seattle after two knee surgeries and a lost 2013 season. He provided steady 25-30, 85 RBI production for many years with the Brewers but it all fell apart in 2013 with the health issues. If the knees look stable and ready to go this spring he could make a great steal after round 10. He may also be eligible at first base as he played 103 games at the position in 2012 along with 53 games in the outfield. Check your league rules to see if this is the case. With the DH option available to help rest his knees he should hit .280 with 28 home runs and 85 RBI.
Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox
Eaton is the classic "post-hype" sleeper. He was on everyone's short sleeper list in 2013 after flashing a .382 OBP in a September 2012 cup of coffee. However, elbow surgery and a slow recovery derailed his momentum and when he finally did play in 2013 he put up pedestrian numbers, batting only .252 with a .314 OPS and only 5 steals. Looks for him to rebound in 2014 after a full off-season to recover and strengthen his elbow. He should be the starting center fielder and lead off man for the White Sox so the opportunity is there for him to shine. All he has to do is take advantage of it. It's hard to ignore his minor league numbers (.450 OBP and 106 steals in 345 games). I expect he will hit .280 with with 5 home runs, 90 runs, and 35 steals.
Who is the most promising sleeper candidate on this list?
Jurickson Profar, 2B-SS-3B, Texas Rangers
With Ian Kinsler now in Detroit, Profor will be the everyday second baseman in Texas. No doubt this will help stabilize his performance. He should settle in nicely and show everyone why he was rated as the #1 prospect heading into the 2013 season. Profar is another "post-hype" sleeper in that he had a disappointing campaign, batting only .234 with just 6 home runs and 2 stolen bases, after receiving much ballyhoo in fantasy baseball circles. Much of this underperformance can be attributed to being shuffled around so much. He played 32 games at second, 18 at short, 10 at third, 4 in the outfield, and 19 at DH. That's a lot of adjustments to make for a young kid. With a more stable work situation I expect double digit home runs and steals from the 21 year old. The eligibility at three key positions also adds significantly to his value.
Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
I know it is a stretch to call McCann a sleeper, especially now that he is in the media capital of the world, but I think people have forgotten how good he was with the Braves before injuries knocked his numbers down the past two seasons. From 2006 to 2011 he averaged .287 with 22 home runs, 86 RBI, and a .850 OPS per season. Eye and shoulder problems cropped up and knocked those average figures down to just .242 with 20 home runs, 62 RBI, and a .743 OPS the last two years. If he is finally healthy, being in Yankee Stadium with the short right field porch, and the designated hitter option to give him at bats on his catching off days, he could be in store for a monster career season. Also keep in mind that he is still only 30 years old even though it seems like he has been around forever. For these reasons I think he will be undervalued on draft day. Let other owners in your league fight over Perez, Santana, Mauer, and Weiters while you wait for McCann to fall in your lap. The only question mark is if he can handle the pressure cooker atmosphere that is the AL East. I anticipate he will hit .285 with 30 home runs and 95 RBI.
Brian McCann Highlights
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
It is hard to be a sleeper in either Boston or New York with magnifying glass coverage whenever a player even hiccups differently, but Middlebrooks may still fall into the sleeper category in 2014 after a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw him bat only .227 with 98 strike outs in just 374 plate appearances. He was even demoted to the minors for a short period in June. He is only 25 and his minor league numbers suggest he is better than what he showed in 2013. He owns a .275 batting average in 1729 minor league at bats. He also has plus power. All of this makes him an excellent buy low candidate. I expect a rebound season from him and possibly 25 home runs if he can get off to a good start.
Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians
Another stretch as a sleeper candidate, but a mid-season DL stint caused him to miss about 6 starts which kept his counting numbers low. He finished the year with an 11-5 record, 3.85 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 136 strike outs in 147 1/3 innings. Because of the missed time he may be slightly undervalued in some leagues. If he falls in the draft be ready to pounce as the 27 year old right hander with the 98 mph fastball is primed to have big season. I anticipate he will go 15-8 with a 3.70 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 175 strike outs.
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Hellickson's ERA skyrocketed to 5.17 in 2013 after two fine seasons for the Rays. His WHIP also rose to 1.35 as his BABIP jumped to above average levels. Overall he finished 12-10 with 135 strike outs in 174 innings. One reason for the poor performance was the Ray's defense, which underperformed in 2013 after being near the top in previous seasons. It has also been noted that he went to the slide step more often, which caused him to have problems pitching out of the stretch. All of this adds up to make Hellickson an excellent sleeper candidate in 2014. He is in his physical prime, being only 27 years old, and he plays for a top notch organization. I expect him to recover and post a 14-10 record with a 1.22 WHIP, 3.80 ERA, and 140 strike outs.
Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Franklin has been playing professional ball since he was 18 years old. Even though he was only 21 when called up last season he managed to accumulate 1756 minor league at bats and even had a 23 home run, 25 stolen base season in 2010. Consequently, he was called up with much fanfare last season and briefly managed to live up to the hype by batting .287 with 6 home runs and 5 stolen bases through his first 37 games. Predictably, the league adjusted and he limped to the finish line batting a meager .189 the final 65 games. Because of this, many fantasy owners soured on him and he will likely fall in many fantasy drafts. Don't make this mistake. Franklin clearly has the potential to shine at the major league level, but the ball is in his court to make an adjustment. If he can do it I expect him to bat .265 with 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and 65 RBI. Not too bad for a 22 year old second baseman.
John Axford, RP, Cleveland Indians
Last for your consideration is John Axford, who has been on some wild ride that past few seasons. After having a monster campaign for the Brewers in 2011 that saw him post 46 saves, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 10.5 SO/9, he lost the job in both 2012 and 2013 due to epic bouts of gopheritis and erratic control. It was hard to watch it unfold at times. The Brewers finally threw in the towel and shipped him to the rival Cardinals for the last part of 2013 where he pitched middle relief. The 30 year old Axford is now with the Indians for 2014. If he can regain his confidence we may see him in the closer role again sooner rather than later. Pay attention to the Indians' bullpen situation in spring training. He may be worth a late round flyer if you find your team is weak at closer.