Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It doesn't take a genius to pick sure
things like Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Kemp in National League
fantasy baseball drafts.
What frequently separates fantasy champions from also-rans is the ability to
draft well in the later rounds.
Every season, there are "sleepers" who emerge to far outperform their
projections. Identifying those players isn't so easy to do during spring
training, but let's try to pick an all-sleeper lineup for the National League.
(We'll do likewise for the American League next week.)
These guys will probably all be selected in the second half of NL-only drafts,
and several of them won't even be drafted in some mixed leagues. Each of them
still has the potential to pay big dividends to owners this season.
CATCHER - ROB BRANTLY, MIAMI: The Marlins are going to be terrible, but their
players shouldn't be completely ignored on draft day. There are a few potential
gems in the no-name (other than Giancarlo Stanton) lineup, and Brantly is one
In an audition that lasted 100 at-bats late last season, the 23-year-old
catcher hit .290 with three home runs. He has usually hit for average in the
minor leagues, and that's somewhat of a rare quality in late-round catchers.
His power will never be substantial, but he might be able to smack as many as
10 homers this season while not hurting your team's average.
FIRST BASE - BRANDON BELT, SAN FRANCISCO: Perhaps the 2011 comparisons to
former Giants great Will Clark were too optimistic, but Belt seems ready to
settle in as a solid player.
During the past two seasons, Belt has never really had the first base position
to himself. In 2011, he yo-yoed between the Giants and Triple-A Fresno. In each
of the last two years, he has split time between first base and the outfield
(albeit only for four games in 2012).
Finally, Belt appears to have the first base position to himself. Since he no
longer has to worry that his job will be riding on each at-bat, he will be able
to relax and let his talent take over. Think along the lines of .280 with 15-18
homers, 75-80 RBIs and 10-15 steals as an everyday player.
SECOND BASE - JEDD GYORKO, SAN DIEGO: Gyorko has never played a major-league
game, and his minor-league positions were third and first base. He needs first
to win the second base job to merit strong draft consideration, but the Padres
want him to prevail in spring training because he has nothing more to prove in
Defense doesn't matter to most fantasy owners, but it will matter to Padres
manager Bud Black, so Gyorko will have to be adequate enough with the glove to
remain in the lineup. If he does win the spot, Gyorko won't be the typical
middle infielder. He has limited speed, but he hit 30 home runs and drove in
100 runs at two levels last season.
He's probably a cheaper option to Neil Walker in a fantasy draft, but he could
deliver similar numbers. Just don't take him to fill your middle infield spot
unless you have enough stolen bases from other sources.
SHORTSTOP - JOSH RUTLEDGE, COLORADO: Since Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, Rutledge
won't see much action at shortstop this year. That's where he qualifies, even
though he will be the Rockies' second baseman.
The shortstop qualification is a plus, because he's arguably in the top seven
or eight at the position in the NL. Then there's the Coors Field factor, which
is another bonus.
Rutledge hit eight homers and stole seven bases in 277 at-bats last year. In a
full season as a starter, 15 homers and 15 steals would probably be attainable.
THIRD BASE - MATT CARPENTER, ST. LOUIS: Carpenter played more than 20 games at
first base, third base and the outfield last year, and now he's in the mix for
major playing time at second base, too.
The versatility is a great quality for two reasons: He will give fantasy owners
flexibility in their lineups, and he will earn more playing time with the
Cardinals. If St. Louis has any injuries at first, second, third or the corner
outfield, Carpenter could essentially become a regular.
Even without regular playing time, Carpenter should produce decent numbers. He
drove in 46 runs in 296 at-bats last season.
OUTFIELD - JUAN PIERRE, MIAMI: Pierre isn't an exciting draft pick anymore. Now
35 years old, he's probably never going to steal 60-plus bases again. He's also
never hit more than three home runs in a season.
Still, for the minimal investment it would likely require, Pierre would be a
productive player to draft. In 394 at-bats with the Philadelphia Phillies last
season, Pierre hit .307 with 37 steals. He's expected to lead off for the
Marlins, so there's no reason to think the stolen base total will plummet. He's
always been an asset to team batting averages.
If you draft Pierre, however, you'd better make sure you have plenty of RBIs
from your other outfielders. He'll probably only be good for 30 or so.
OUTFIELD - CAMERON MAYBIN, SAN DIEGO: The one-time top prospect took a bit of a
step back last season, hitting just .243 with eight home runs. He stole 26
bases, but that was a drop-off from the 40 he swiped in 2011.
Some of the luster has worn off, but keep in mind that Maybin is still just 25.
Also keep in mind that he batted .283 in the second half of last season. Wrist
and Achilles injuries limited him to 136 games (and probably sapped his power
and speed, respectively).
The fences are moving in this year at Petco Park. Perhaps 15 homers and 40
steals would be attainable for the toolsy center fielder, and that would make
him a major bargain.
OUTFIELD - WILL VENABLE, SAN DIEGO: OK, there are probably more Padres on this
team than you'd like to have on your roster, but Venable, like Gyorko and
Maybin, could deliver good bang for your buck.
After Venable belted 13 homers and stole 29 bases in just 392 at-bats in 2010,
he was a popular pick to break out in 2011. It didn't really happen. Venable
hit nine homers in both 2011 and '12, and stole 26 and 24 bases in those
Now at age 30, it's likely Venable simply is what he is going to be. The
question is, is that so bad? He's averaged 10 homers and 26 steals during the
past three years. With the Petco Park fences moving in, he might add a few long
balls to that total this season.
STARTING PITCHER - MIKE MINOR, ATLANTA: On the surface, 11 wins and a 4.12 ERA
look, well, average for a guy touted as a solid pitching prospect in an Atlanta
organization known for producing them.
A look closer, though, shows that Minor began to break out last season. He
pitched to a 2.21 ERA in the second half, holding hitters to a .193 batting
average in his last 15 starts. For the season, his WHIP was a tidy 1.15, thanks
to a microscopic 0.87 in the second half of the year.
Minor gives up too many homers (26 in 179 1/3 innings) and tends to run high
pitch counts, but he's dramatically improving before our eyes. On a contending
Atlanta team, the win total should grow, too.
RELIEF PITCHER - BOBBY PARNELL, N.Y. METS: If your draft is a few weeks away,
Parnell might not remain a sleeper that long. Incumbent closer Frank Francisco
was shut down at the starting of spring training because of elbow inflammation,
and manager Terry Collins said he wanted Parnell to close in Francisco's
Even when healthy, Francisco has not really been a stopper. He wasn't healthy
last season, as an elbow injury contributed to his bloated 5.53 ERA and 1.61
The Mets added veteran relievers with closer experience this offseason,
bringing aboard Brandon Lyon and LaTroy Hawkins. It's Parnell, however, who is
the Mets' best closing option for both the present and future. Even if he
doesn't get the gig, he'll still provide a solid ERA (2.49 in 2012), WHIP
(1.24) and strikeout total (61 in 68 2/3 innings) as a setup man.
Jeff Saukaitis has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.
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