Friday, March 30, 2007

Sleeperville - the top 20
Build the coolest keeper fantasy team in the land
My own personal top 20 sleepers for the 2007 season

As we inch even closer to the Major League regular season so many questions hang gently in the air like a gentle, inviting Kei Igawa fastball. Will Barry Bonds eventually run out of needles? Does Jarrod Saltalamacchia have the coolest name in baseball? Who is Cameron Maybin?

It is hard to build a dominant fantasy team and harder still to build a dominant fantasy keeper team. Not to mention the fact that with the season just days away you are running out of time. I am here to make that task that little bit easier. I was listing the chíc, 'under the radar' picks position by position (see below links) however I have run out of time with the season starting this weekend. Therefore I am going to simply list a few of what I consider the top 20 sleeper picks for the 2007 season. Stun your friends by grabbing these gents before anyone else.

Previously posted: First Base - second base - Catchers

Let's break it down and chop it up.

Remember, you won't find the 'usual suspects' here. Everyone knows about Delmon Young, BJ Upton, Verlander etc. These are the guys you might pick when working 'outside the box'. Each player has the position he was taken in the .406 Club Fantasy Keeper Dynasty League draft just before his name.

53. Felix Hernandez (SP-SEA)
Why am I considering Hernandez a sleeper? Because allot of fantasy team owners may have looked in other directions after his comparatively poor 2006 season. After a 'the sky is the limit' 2005, King Felix suffered a little bout of the sophomore slump. Given a number of factors he could really break out in '07.

Here's what Dan Perry on FoxSports had to say about the man who would be King;

"King Felix" is the best young pitcher to come along in many a generation, and he'll probably prove it this season. He's got four plus-plus offerings, strong groundball tendencies, an ability to make hitters miss and poise on the mound that belies his years — Hernandez has everything you want in a young hurler. With a full season under his belt and an excellent infield defense behind him (important for a pitcher who gets so many groundballs), Hernandez will come up big in 2007. He may not get the run support he needs to win 20, but he'll challenge for the AL ERA title. The best is yet to come for the King.

I would add that Felix can relax a little with slightly less pressure on his shoulders after his somewhat disappointing '06. The bottom line is, if he is available in your fantasy league draft grab him. If you are playing in a 'keeper' league, climb over your friends dead bodies to get him!

57. Brian McCann (C-ATL)
Brian McCann is only 23. He got his big break with the Braves when they traded catcher Johnny Estrada to the Arizona Diamondbacks, basically making McCann the Braves' everyday catcher in 2006. He had shown plenty of promise in 2005, but broke out in style in 2006. He hit a fantastic .354 batting average during the first half of the season and was named to the National League All-Star team. Plus, he is only 23! McCann kept hitting in the second half, batting well over .300 while hitting for even more power and driving in even more runs. Brian finished the season batting .333 with 34 doubles, 24 home runs, and 93 RBI in just 442 at-bats. In case I forget, he is only 23! Stunning numbers at the catching position. By the way, he's only 23.

62. Dan Uggla (2B-FLA)
Uggla is still flying just below the radar although word is starting to spread about the 26 year olds skills around the second base bag, as illustrated by him going at 62nd in my Fantasy Keeper League draft. Uggla lost out to narrowly to his team mate Hanley Ramirez for the 2006 NL Rookie of the year. He finished third behind Ramirez and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, who both posted sensational rookie seasons.

68. Matt Cain (SP-SF)
I know all about this next guy because he has become a personal crusade. I have been trying to pry him from his current .406 Club Fantasy Keeper Dynasty League for the last few days and I am getting nowhere. His current owner, Baseball America and Dayn Perry of Fox Sports all agree he could have a break out season in 2007.

First up, Baseball America had him at number 10 in their 2006 top 100 propects.

MATT CAIN, rhp, Giants
"The quality of his stuff has never been a question. The question was his command and ability to make adjustments. Well, he's doing those things now."
--Fresno manager Shane Turner

Dayn Perry on Fox Sports writes;
Cain's second-half numbers from 2006 tell the story. Before the break, he logged a 5.12 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 47 walks in 91.1 innings, and after the break he logged a 3.26 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 40 walks in 99.1 innings. That's obvious progress. There's some concern that Cain's control problems and fly-ball tendencies will keep him from achieving Cy Young status, but he still profiles as an ace.

All that plus he is pitching in Quadruple A, otherwise known as the National League, which pretty much means about a run and a half less on a pitchers era when compared to the AL. Now if only I could convince the guy in my keeper league to give him up!

71. Adam Laroche (1B-PIT)
Laroche is one of those sneaky, slightly under the radar guys who puts up good numbers but plenty of people wouldn't know their name. Adam hit .285 with and impressive 30 home runs and 90 RBIs, all career-bests, in 2006. He seems ready to thrive in Pittsburgh away from the spotlight at Turner Field. Plus, at 27, his best years are ahead of him.

83. Philip Hughes (SP-NYY), rhp, Yankees
An absolute case-in-point example of how potential AL stud pitchers are regarded with more value than their NL counterparts. How do you pick between Homer Bailey and Phillip Hughes? According to the .406 Club draft, they are a whopping 74 draft places apart in talent. That simply is not the case. Scouts love Hughes and he is projected to be in the Yankee rotation soon, however if given the chance to pick between them I feel most would take Bailey in a heart beat, as scouts are absolutely in love with his pure, raw talent and upside. Of course this isn't Phillip's problem, and he should fit nicely into the fourth or fifth spot in the Yankee rotation certainly before the All Star break.

Baseball America had him posted at number 39 in their 2006 Top 100 prospects. Here is the quote they associated with him;

"He throws hard and he throws strikes. That's why for me he's a Mark Prior Lite."
--Charleston manager Bill Mosiello

85. Stephen Drew (SS-ARI)
This from the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks Preview on goteamsgo.com
''Headlining the infield is Stephen Drew, who was terrific in his half-season debut in 2006. His slugging percentage of .517 might be difficult to maintain, as his extra base hits included a whopping 7 triples in 223 plate appearances. Still, the young shortstop will be one of the better hitters at his position, and he should be about average defensively. He could eventually replace his double-play mate, Orlando Hudson, at the 2-hole in the batting order.''

Baseball America has him ranked 5th on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

5. STEPHEN DREW, ss, Diamondbacks

"He's got power. He can hit for average. He's got instincts. He has all the defensive tools to play an outstanding shortstop. He is one of the most instinctual players for his age that I've ever seen."
--Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo
ETA: 2006

89. Nick Swisher (1B/OF)
Another Jeff Bagwell? Swisher was selected by the A's with the Boston Red Sox first round pick in 2002 as compensation for the loss of free agent Johnny Damon. A cocky, stylish player, Swisher is only 26 and has serious power and an eye for the clutch situations.

86. Prince Fielder (1B-MIL)
The son of former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder got his break with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and has grabbed it with both hands, much like the McDonalds triple cheeseburger which he used to actually be official spokesperson for. No, really, he was.

The regally named Prince has always had pop in his big bat. When his father played for Detroit, Prince would sometimes come along for batting practice; on one occasion, at the age of 12, he hit a home run into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium. After Lyle Overbay was traded Fielder became the Brewers' starting first baseman in early 2006, and he should be good for at least 30 long balls and a decent average in 2007. Plus he has a really cool name.

Here's what Dan Payn on FoxSports had to say about the man who would be Prince;

''We know "Son of Cecil" can rake: .524 career SLG in the minors and 28 bombs in his first season in the bigs. Fielder posted an OBP of only .320 in the first half of 2006, but after the break he authored a batting line of .278 AVG/.381 OBP/.490 SLG. That boost is mostly due to the fact that Fielder did a much better job of recognizing breaking pitches in the second half. Expect further progress in 2007. A 40-homer season isn't out of the question.''

105. Howie Kendrick (1B/2B-LAA)

Anybody who is a regular reader of Sports Guy on ESPN2 knows all about Howard Kendrick. Sports Guy has been high on Kendrick's potential since last year and has mentioned him several times in baseball columns. After destroying minor league pitching to the tune of a career .359 average Howie has made his splash in the majors and qualifies at both second and first base. With Adam Kennedy signing as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2006-07 offseason, second base will be all Howie's for 2007.

Here's what Dayn Perry of FoxSports had to say about Howie in his Top 10 breakout performers for 2007 piece;

''Few hitters can put bat on ball like Kendrick. He scuttled a bit last season after his call-up to Anaheim, but he was a career .361 hitter in the minors. Yes, in 1,475 minor league at bats, Kendrick maintained a .361 average. And all the while he was doing it at every level and generally competing against older peer groups. That's a hitter. He doesn't boast much in the way of secondary skills, but Kendrick could contend for a batting title right away. In fact, don't be surprised if Kendrick in 2007 emerges as the best second baseman in the AL not named Robinson Cano.''

108. Scott Olsen (SP-FLA)
This guy shouldn't be a sleeper, but seeing as he is in the unfancied Marlins rotation plus plying his trade in the NL, he should be available relatively late on in most leagues. What's not to love about a young, left handed starter who had a fantastic rookie season?

Baseball America had him posted at number 34 in their 2006 Top 100 prospects. Here is the quote they associated with him;

"You could see he was oozing with talent. The way he attacked the zone, he stuck it to us. He's a live-arm lefty, works both sides of the plate and throws all his pitches for strikes."
--West Tenn manager Bobby Dickerson

129. Russell Martin (C-LAD)
Russell Martin, or, to give him his full name, RUSSELL NATHAN COLTRANE JEANSON MARTIN JR (seriously), is the starting catcher for the Dodgers at the tender age of 24.

Baseball America has him ranked 42nd on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

"He's obviously one of the better hitters in the league, yet at the most premium position. He basically shut our running game down and said, 'If you're going to run, you're going to make outs."
--West Tenn manager Bobby Dickerson

The only other catcher currently on the Dodgers books is Mike Lieberthal and he is there solely as a backup to Martin, who is set to shine in '07.

138. Nick Markakis (OF-BAL)

Here's what Dayn Perry of FoxSports had to say about Nick in his Top 10 breakout performers for 2007 piece;

Nick Markakis, RF, Orioles Age: 23
Markakis, despite being rushed through the system (in the minors he played only 33 games above the high-A level) and despite being only a part-time position player in junior college (he spent most of his time on the mound), had a credible rookie campaign in 2006. And in the second half he raised his batting average 43 points, his on-base percentage 29 points and his slugging percentage 84 points. Considering Markakis' learning curve, the progress is deeply impressive. His defense in right is an asset, and with the bat he's a future superstar.

Baseball America had him posted at number 21 in their 2006 Top 100 prospects. Here is the quote they associated with him;

21. NICK MARKAKIS, of, Orioles
"Moon shots. That's all I think of when I hear the name Markakis. We couldn't find a way to get him out."
--Salem manager Ivan DeJesus

152. Mike Napoli (C-LAA)
Mike Napoli went 152nd in my draft, and I am delighted to say I snapped him up. Dayn Perry on Fox Sports would seem to agree with me that he's a good pick, putting him in his list of ten guys to watch for break out seasons from in '07. He wrote;

'7. Mike Napoli, C, Angels Age: 25
''The Angels have done a nice job emphasizing Mike Napoli's strengths. Napoli is the prototype of the neglected hitter. He doesn't hit for average, and he strikes out a lot. Those two deficiencies tend to obscure what he does do well - hit for power and draw walks. Credit the Angels for looking past Napoli's weaknesses and giving him a crack at the starting catcher job. He enters camp as the favorite, and if he wins the job, then don't be surprised if he gives the Halos 25-30 homers on the season. Needless to say, that's outstanding power production by positional standards.''

The only issue with Mike is that he is part of a bit of a log-jam at the catching position in Anaheim. They go into spring training with the current crew.
Mathis is another prospect while Molina is one of the 18 Molina brothers worldwide. The word on the street though, is that Napoli possesses the two tools in particular to make him front runner for the position, defensive play and big, sexy, home run power.

157. Homer Bailey (SP-CIN) rhp, Reds
Another one of those guys who would probably cause a bigger splash and have more of a fanfare if he was in the American League. Instead he is being allowed slip under the radar in the NL and the Reds have high hopes for him.

Baseball America had him posted at number 38 in their 2006 Top 100 prospects. Here is the quote they associated with him;

"He'll break off a hammer curve after a 97 mile an hour fastball and there's just nothing you can do about it. Unless your name is Ichiro, you're not going to hit that."
--Dayton outfielder B.J. Szymanski

182. Troy Tulowitzki (SS-COL)
A talented, high-upside young player who recently won the Rockies starting job at short. Sky is the limit type guy. Baseball America has him ranked 25th on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

25. TROY TULOWITZKI, ss, Rockies

"He's better than Bobby Crosby. He could play in the big leagues right now. He can hit, hit for power and he's the whole package defensively with a plus-plus arm."
--anonymous scout

233. James Loney (1B-LAD)
This kid (only 22!) has serious power potential. On September 28, 2006 in a game against the Colorado Rockies, Loney went 4 for 5 with 9 RBI's which tied a 56-year Dodgers franchise record for RBI's in a single game. The problem is of course, Nomar Garciapara stands in his way at first right now for the Dodgers. Loney probably showed enough in limited playing time in '06 though to stick to the big club and would have to fancy his chances of getting good playing time if Nomar went down. Sadly, that's a pretty decent possibility considering Nomar's recent injury troubles.

265. Anthony Reyes (SP-StL)
I was suprised I was able to pick up Reyes this late in the .406 Club Fantasy Keeper Dynasty League draft. People are basically waxing eloquent about him all over the internet, plus he had a pretty solid finish to the 2006 season. This leads me to conclude the following. I think there is much more attention given to young, promising pitchers in the AL than in the NL. Look at Felix Hernandez. The furore that surrounded him in late '06 was almost overbearing. Meanwhile young potential stars like Reyes, Cain and Lowry slip relatively quietly under the radar in the NL. Dayn Perry likes Reyes chances in '07;

Anthony Reyes, SP, Cardinals
Reyes has good stuff — as he proved in Game 1 of the World Series last year — and now he finally gets the opportunity to pitch a full season in the Cardinals rotation. He'll always have injury concerns (his career at USC was riddled with serious arm and shoulder maladies), but Reyes has been reasonably healthy as a pro. In 2007, he'll be pitching in front of a solid defense and with the help of a solid offense. Take those factors in tandem with Reyes' native skills, and you've got a solidly above-average starting pitcher.

Baseball America has Reyes at number 41 in their 2006 top prospects listing

41. ANTHONY REYES, rhp, Cardinals
"He's going to make you put the ball in play and give the defense a chance to make plays behind him. He is always ahead in the count and he is not going to beat himself."
--Round Rock manager Jackie Moore

Basically a solid pick all round, with the added advantage of his position in the pitching friendly National League.

361. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - (C/1B-ATL)
Saltalamacchia, or 'Salty' as he is known amongst his Braves buddies, is a 21 year old first base/catching prospect for Atlanta. Saltalamacchia was selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2003 June free agent baseball draft. Interestingly, when he makes the majors, he will grab the record of having the longest last name in major league baseball history. Jarod is known as a blue chip prospect however the Braves already have Brian McCann (who is only 23!) in that spot, so this means that Salty will either have to learn a new position, become a backup or get traded. Anything is possible, the thing is, the kid has oodles of talent.

Baseball America has him ranked 18th on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

18. JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA, c, Braves "He's got a chance to be Jason Varitek to me. The size, the strength, the power are all there." --anonymous scout



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