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2011 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit: Top 10 Sleepers

January 31, 2011 | By Buck Davidson | comment on this post
Lorenzo Cain is a serious sleeper for the Kansas City Royals.
Lorenzo Cain brings some serious speed to the Royals.

The 2011 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit surges forward with the release of another of our beloved Top 10 lists. So while you wonder if Jason Bay can bounce back, we offer up 10 players that will fly under the radar in 2011.

Ah, sleepers: We all love ’em, we all have to have ’em, and we all expend a great deal of energy trying to uncover those players that are flying under the Fantasy radar, but that may be primed for some breakout numbers during the upcoming season. Well, look no further, as we have assembled a prime collection of players that we feel will take a step up to the next level in 2011 — and will come at a bargain price on draft day, to boot.

Now then, some may argue that a few of the players featured here would more correctly be termed “undervalued” rather than true “sleepers.” I never understood the value in this debate, so my insightful counterpoint is as follows: Who freaking cares? These players have a strong chance to outperform their draft-day Fantasy value. Period. Whether one calls them undervalued, sleepers, super-sleepers, post-hype sleepers, deep sleepers or jeepers creepers why is this bum a sleeper, the point is that these are players that could help you win your league. Argue about what they should be called while you’re being showered in Yoo-Hoo and picking up your cheque at the Championship Dinner.

1. Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS, Boston Red Sox: Lowrie was once one of Boston’s top prospects, but injuries have put a damper on his once-promising career. He finally showed what the fuss was all about in the second half of the ’10 season, batting .287-9-24 in just 171 at-bats. Heading into 2011, Lowrie looks to be slated for a super-utility role with the BoSox, but he should still see plenty of playing time — especially given the brittle nature of some of Boston’s stars. If the pop he displayed last season is for real, there is plenty to like about Lowrie’s 2011 prospects: His 2010 line projects to .287-26-70 over the course of 500 at-bats. While 26 jacks is an unreasonable expectation, even 15-to-18 dingers with a decent batting average will win Lowrie favour in most Fantasy leagues. Don’t forget: the Red Sox lineup is stacked, and Lowrie will play half his games in the park that turns good hitters into Hall of Famers (see: “Rice, Jim” for more details).

2. Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore Orioles: Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 2009: A certain much-hyped young pitcher struggled in his early-season efforts. After the kid took a few beatings, everyone looked elsewhere — and failed to notice that he righted the ship in a big way during the second half. The youngster slipped in Fantasy drafts the following year, then he went out and showed everyone that David Price was pretty good after all. This year’s Price might be Matusz, who recovered from a bumpy first half (3-9, 4.77 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) to post a 7-3 record, 3.31 ERA and 1.19 WHIP after the break. He was brilliant down the stretch, going 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA over his last 11 starts. Run support (or lack thereof) is a legitimate concern, but Matusz’s minor-league pedigree is impeccable, and his stuff is first-rate. This may be the last season that he’ll be available for a bargain price, so don’t be afraid to throw an extra buck or two on the table to land this talented young southpaw.

3. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals: Cain was a key part of the deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, and one look at this kid circling the bases will tell you why. The youngster swiped 26 bases in 29 attempts in the minors last season — while batting .317 with a .402 OBP. He hardly missed a beat when he arrived in the bigs, though his walk rate dropped rather sharply. Cain looks to have the inside track to be the Royals’ everyday centre fielder in 2011, and should be allowed to run to his heart’s content. While he has not shown much in the way of power during his career, at 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds, he may have some upside in that regard. Cain’s main weapon is speed, though, and given his solid OBP skills he may make a run at 40 steals in 2011. He owns a .291 career minor-league average, so he doesn’t project to be a one-trick pony in the bigs. Cain will be a great source of cheap speed in Fantasy drafts this season and if he can indeed live up to his billing he’ll be worth every penny spent.

4. Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox: Beckham was on just about everyone’s sleeper list last season; so many, in fact, that by the time the later leagues were drafting, his value had spiked to the point that he wasn’t much of a sleeper any more. Well, here we go again — but this time, his mediocre 2010 numbers will hound Beckham, and those Fantasy managers not savvy enough to look inside the stats will pass him by. Big mistake: Beckham surged to a .310-6-27 in 54 games after the break last season, and those fine numbers were skewed by his trying to play through a hand injury he suffered as a result of being hit by a pitch in late August. He has reportedly added 10-to-15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and is motivated to show that last year’s putrid first half was an anomaly. Don’t forget, this is the same guy that smacked 14 homers and plated 63 RBI in just 103 games back in 2009. Project that out to 155 games and you get 21 bombs and 95 ribs….and that kind of potential should be available at a bargain price in ’11.

5. David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: A right ankle injury (and subsequent surgery) ended Freese’s rookie season in late June, but the youngster cobbled together a respectable stat line before the injury bug bit. His power was lacking, but he has averaged one dinger every 21.4 at-bats in the minors, so we’re confident that he’ll finish with 15-to-20 bombs in 2011. Freese’s tendon reconstruction surgery was performed in early August, and he had a minor procedure done on his left ankle in early September. He started running in mid-January, and is confident that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. Third base is very thin again this season, and if you either miss out on the top options or choose to wait and load up elsewhere, Freese — assuming he doesn’t suffer a setback — is a great late-round/low-dollar fallback plan.

6. Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians: Remember him? The Tribe’s uber-prospect was well on his way to showing what the hype was about, mashing out a .260-6-22 line with a .401 OBP and 868 OPS in 46 games following his call-up in early June. His season ended with a knee injury following a gruesome collision at home plate in early August, and he underwent surgery just three days later. Santana has pronounced himself ready to go, and resumed baseball activities in mid-January. He has elite power potential, and his .290 career minor-league average shows that he’s not a one-trick pony. Santana has the tools to be a top-five Fantasy backstop, but his modest numbers from a season ago should depress his draft-day value this year. Act now, though, for if Santana fulfills his promise in 2011, he figures to be a valuable Fantasy commodity in 2012 and beyond.

7. Brett Anderson, SP, Oakland Athletics: Elbow inflammation cost Anderson nearly half the 2010 season, but when he toed the bump he was outstanding. His strikeout rate dropped significantly over his rookie season, but his minor-league track record suggests that the 6.01 K/9 he put on the board in 2010 is an outlier rather than a new norm. Health is the big question with Anderson, and that doubt should depress his draft-day price. On the other hand, his potential downside is significant, and drafting him is not for the faint of heart. Keep in mind, though, that last year marked the first time in Anderson’s pro career that he had missed significant time, so this looks like a risk well worth taking.

8. Ryan Rayburn, OF, Detroit Tigers: Johnny Damon will be three-hopping cut-off men in Tampa Bay this season, and the Tigers will probably seek to protect Magglio Ordonez’s knees by using him at DH as much as possible. This leaves a hole in the Detroit outfield — a void that Rayburn looks primed to fill. He has bounced around the Detroit organization since 2001, but it was not until last season that he received regular playing time. Raburn responded nicely to the challenge, posting a fine .315-13-46 line in 251 at-bats after the break. Now, here’s the sneaky part: He appeared in 18 games at second base last year, meaning that he’ll carry that eligibility in many Fantasy leagues in 2011. That versatility, along with the fact that he should garner plenty of time in left field this season, makes Raburn a great pick towards the end of your mixed-league Fantasy draft.

9. Danny Valencia, 3B, Minnesota Twins, 3B: Throughout his minor-league career, Valencia has always been good for a strong batting average, but his power production has been mediocre at best. Therefore, it was an eye-opener when he hit five jacks in 84 September at-bats last season — while delivering 17 RBI and batting .310. Is Valencia the real deal or a one-month wonder? We should all have the chance to find out this season, as he is slated to open the season as the Twins’ everyday third baseman. The optimists will point to his torrid September and tab him a sleeper, while pessimists will glance at his zero homers in 185 at-bats at Triple-A last season and claim lightning in a bottle. We’re of the former school at this juncture, but we would advise keeping close tabs on Valencia’s power production as Spring Training unfolds, and adjusting your draft board accordingly.

10. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, SP: Anyone watching Bumgarner throw eight innings of three-hit ball at the Rangers in Game Four of the 2010 World Series might have found it easy to forget that the lanky southpaw had just turned 21 years of age two months prior. The Giants recalled their prized prospect in mid-June, and he fulfilled the promise he had shown during his meteoric rise through the farm system. Hurlers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain dominate the Fantasy landscape in the City by the Bay, but Bumgarner has the stuff to carve his own niche in what shapes up as one of the game’s best rotations. He doesn’t have a dominant strikeout pitch, but relies on exceptional command to ply his trade. Bumgarner figures to slip into the middle-to-late rounds in Fantasy drafts this year, but he could wind up pitching like a No. 2 starter by season’s end.

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