Deep Sleepers: Catcher and the Infield

Adam Wainwright photo taken from Zimbio


A few weeks ago Chris McBrien offered a great list of fantasy baseball sleepers, as well as an excellent explanation of their role on your team for the 2012 season. However, as we all know, you can never be too prepared for your fantasy baseball draft! With that said, I have decided to dive in a little deeper into the theoretical sleeper pool to find some of the deep sleepers. Adam Wainwright is certainly a player who may be undervalued entering this season and deemed a sleeper, but he’s also a household name who will be drafted in the upper half of most drafts. Drafting sleepers like Adam Wainwright can help you win your league, but I’m interested in finding the players you will grab with the last picks in your draft that have your league-mates scratching their heads while you cheer in victory.

So, without further ado, here is my list of deep sleepers at catcher and the infield for the American and National League.

Please note that my projections are assuming regular playing time for each player and that each prediction should be seen as more of a baseline rather than a ceiling.

Catcher

AL: Salvator Perez – Kansas City Royals. In his 39 game cup of coffee in 2011, Salvador Perez impressed hitting .331 with 3 HR and 21 RBI, and he’ll still only be 21 years old when the 2012 season starts! His average was aided by an unsustainable .362 BABIP and he won’t be hitting 30 HRs anytime soon (or ever), but realistically how many catchers actually will? Even with tempered expectations, Perez should be able to hit above .280 with 10 HRs in an underrated lineup, which is pretty solid production considering you can draft him in the late rounds after everyone else has secured their catching slot.  Young players like Perez, especially at catcher can bust (I’m looking at you, Matt Wieters circa 2010), but with the minimal risk it would take to draft Perez, he’s certainly a solid sleeper to keep in mind.

Projection: .285/10/60/60/1

NL: Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati Reds. When the Reds let catcher Ramon Hernandez leave via free agency this year they were left with Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco as replacements. Ryan Hanigan may have the “experience” that an old-school (aka stubborn) manager like Dusty Baker may prefer, but all bets are on the Reds letting Mesoraco, one of their top prospects, take the reins as the starter. Mesoraco’s power has slowed down as he has moved up the ranks in the minors, but he has always displayed a solid eye at the plate, and given Cincinnati’s friendly ball park and above average lineup, Mesoraco can certainly provide a lot of value at catcher for your fantasy team at a pick with little to no risk.

Projection: .260/18/65/65/2

Other potential sleepers: J.P. Arencibia, Chris Iannetta and Wilson Ramos.

First Base

AL: Kendrys MoralesLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim (I still can’t believe this is their actual team name). The last time Kendrys Morales was playing he was having a successful follow-up to his breakout campaign, proving he wasn’t a fluke. However, that was in 2010 and Morales unfortunately hasn’t seen the field since. The addition of Pujols to the Angels lineup creates a potential logjam in the Angels lineup with Morales, Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter all sharing time for OF/DH spots, but if Morales is healthy he is the best of the bunch. Now, that is a very, very big if, but wouldn’t you rather roll the dice with Morales over a “proven” (aka boring) guy like James Loney? I wouldn’t recommend drafting Morales as your starting first basemen (not a knock against his ability, more his fragility) but at corner infield, utility or as a backup, Morales could be special.

Projection: .285/24/70/80/1

NL: Anthony Rizzo –  Chicago Cubs. Last offseason the San Diego Padres acquired Anthony Rizzo in a package in return for former Padre-great Adrian Gonzalez. This offseason, the Padres acquired another young first basemen in Yonder Alonso, which made Anthony Rizzo expandable leading to him being traded to the Chicago Cubs. Rizzo certainly isn’t complaining as he couldn’t ask for a better change of scenery, leaving the pitching paradise of Petco (which suppressed his pull-heavy power) to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Rizzo struggled during his brief time in the majors in 2011, batting .141 in 153 at bats, but a large part of that was due to bad luck (.210 BABIP, regression is coming!). Also, Rizzo maintained an excellent eye at the plate throughout his struggles (13.7 BB%) which is a promising sign for his future. Rizzo won’t win the batting title this year, but if he’s playing every day, Rizzo could provide Carlos Pena-type production at a fraction of the cost.

Projection: .240/25/65/75/2

Other potential sleepers: Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt and Kyle Blanks.

Second Base

AL: Mike Aviles – Boston Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia isn’t going anywhere, but Mike Aviles will be eligible at 2b this season and should be at least splitting the starting shortstop duties for the Red Sox with Nick Punto. Playing time might be an issue for Aviles, but at worst he’s a fantastic platoon option for the Red Sox and your fantasy team. Plus, how long will the Sox trot out Nick Punto if he’s batting .220? For his career, Aviles is a .290 hitter and has some pop (.170 ISO) against lefties, which is better than most second basemen. Aviles shouldn’t hurt you if you find out there are no other second basemen at the end of your draft, and he doubles as an excellent bench/rotation guy to play against favorable matchups.

Projection: .270/9/45/55/12

NL: Jose Altuve – Houston Astros. Altuve is the classic case of a player’s fantasy value being greater than his real-life value, and often that is a formula for a sleeper. Altuve has never been a top prospect but he’s always hit for a solid average and stolen a few bases at every stop in the minor leagues and that shouldn’t necessarily change in the majors. Although the Astros have one of the weaker lineups in the league, everyone benefits from batting near the top of the lineup and Altuve should be batting in the #2 slot, providing your fantasy team with plenty of opportunities to score runs and steal bases. Altuve’s skill set limits his ceiling, but he has a high floor, and you can certainly do worse at your 2b or MI slot. Let your league mates draft Kelly Johnson and Aaron Hill, hoping to turn back the clocks, while you wait and draft Jose Altuve in the later rounds.

Projection: .285/5/75/50/20

Other potential sleepers: Sean Rodriguez, Johnny Giavotella and Brian Roberts (if he can play)

Third Base

AL: Edwin Encarnacion- Toronto Blue Jays. Take a second and look at Encarnacion’s stats last year: .270, 17 HR , 55 RBI, 70 Runs, and 8 SB. Pretty good, right? That’s a better year than Kevin Youklis, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman had in 2011. I wouldn’t pencil in Encarnacion to have better numbers than those players in 2012 (well maybe Youklis), but he should achieve similar numbers at a discounted price, or several rounds later.

Projection:.260/21/75/70/6

NL: Pedro Alvarez – Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s hard to say it’s make or break time for any prospect nowadays considering Jose Bautista is now one of the better players in the league and Alex Gordon had a breakout last year, but at the very least, it’s an important year for Alvarez. Honestly, none of the “signs” are promising as Alvarez wasn’t even able to limit his strikeouts during his demotion to the minors last year (28.4 %). However, the pedigree is still there (former top prospect), he’s only 24 years old and in just 2010 Alvarez looked like a budding star. Last year Alvarez entered the season out of shape and it hurt him the entire year so if he starts off 2012 with a dud, don’t be afraid to cut your losses early. But late in the draft there aren’t many players who could hit 30-35 homers, don’t let a guy like Alvarez pass for your 2nd middle infielder or backup infielder.

Projection: .250/22/75/65/2

Other potential sleepers: Brent Morel, Mike Moustakas and Lonnie Chisenhall

Short Stop

AL: Erick Aybar – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (again, really?).  Question: How many SS hit 10 home runs and stole 30 bases? Answer: Two, Jimmy Rollins and Erick Aybar. That’s it. Erick Aybar has been a decent SS option for a few years now, but really had a break out year last year and nobody really noticed. I suppose that wouldn’t make him a sleeper for this year, but it’s so surprising how little love Aybar is getting at such a weak position that I had to put him on the list. Expecting a repeat breakout performance may be too much, but Aybar will steal 25-30 bases and hold his own in all the other categories. When your competition is picking up Ryan Theriot and Alex Gonzalez you’ll be happy with who you have.

Projection: .282/9/45/80/27

NL: Jed Lowrie – Houston Astros. The Astros may be the worst team in baseball, but their middle infield is full of sleepers! Jed Lowrie has one problem, he’s never been able to stay healthy for a full season and it eventually lead to his departure from Boston to Houston. It’s definitely a big concern (injury risk) and there isn’t necessarily any reason why it would vanish while he’s in Houston, but you should get solid production out of Lowrie when he’s healthy and when he’s hurt you get the added value of his replacement. At the very least, Lowrie should crush left-handed pitching (.326 11 HR, 58 RBI in 279 ABs in his career). Bottom line: If he can improve against righties in the weaker league and stay on the field, you could be looking at a top 10 shortstop.

Projection: .280/14/60/60/3

Other potential sleepers: Zack Cosart, Eduardo Nunez (if/when Alex Rodriguez gets hurt) and Ruben Tejada

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