I wanted to write about Wilson Ramos.
Of all the cuts I had to make to bring this list down to a manageable number, he was the hardest.
I wanted to write about him because I consider him my ideal fallback option at catcher and a near certainty for 20-plus homers after hitting 15 in 389 at-bats last year. And considering he's drafted on average in the 15th round in Rotisserie leagues and the 20th round in Head-to-Head, he would technically fit the description of "late-rounder."
But then I got to thinking about the purpose of a late-round sleepers column. It's more about the sleeper label than the round designation. People come looking for true under-the-radar types -- ones that might even go undrafted entirely. It doesn't matter if they're late bloomers, former prospects or aging veterans as long as they're on the periphery in Fantasy.
Nobody is sleeping on Ramos. He'll get drafted in every single league. He falls because, at least in standard Head-to-Head leagues, only 12 catcher spots are available, and the position happens to be relatively deep this year now that Jesus Montero has arrived, Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are back, and Mike Napoli, Alex Avila, Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero have all broken out.
Ramos, of course, deserves to go later than all of them, and so he does. But it has more to do with him being superfluous than being overlooked.
So let's turn our attention to the players who are overlooked -- the legitimate late-rounders with a legitimate chance of becoming difference-makers for your Fantasy team. We'll save Ramos for another day.
As in not today. Nope, no room for him here ...
See what I did there?
Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect current average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.
Lucas Duda, 1B/OF, Mets (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 17)
Among the late-rounders I like, Duda is the one I absolutely have to have.
I don't care what the format is. I don't care who I already have at first base or the outfield at that point in the draft. I'm so confident Duda will be a starting-caliber player in mixed leagues that I sometimes leave a lineup spot open just for him.
It's hardly just a gut feeling. Look at his numbers after he took over as an everyday player last year. It started when the Mets agreed to trade Carlos Beltran to the Giants on July 27, creating an opening in right field. From that point forward, Duda hit .304 with nine homers and a .900 OPS in 181 at-bats. If you include the two weeks before then, when he was splitting time at first base, he hit .322 with 10 homers and a .963 OPS in 208 at-bats.
And here's my favorite part: He did it playing half his games at old Citi Field, complete with its high walls and PETCO Park-like dimensions.
Duda wasn't any more immune to its effects than David Wright, Jason Bay or any other power hitter who's played there, hitting only two of his 10 homers at home last year, so now that the Mets have moved in and lowered the fences, he figures to be one of the biggest beneficiaries. With equal production both home and on the road, just imagine the kind of numbers he'll put up.
Go ahead, imagine.
Having a hard time? That's because the name "Lucas Duda" is still too new to you. If he had the pedigree of an Eric Hosmer or Brett Lawrie -- the kind that would cause Fantasy owners to anticipate his arrival years in advance -- last year's numbers would be enough to make him an early-round pick.
The main reason he falls so far in drafts is because he wasn't considered an elite prospect at this time a year ago. He was coming off a big season at Triple-A Buffalo, but considering how far along he was in his minor-league career at that point, some assumed he was simply taking advantage of competition he had outgrown as opposed to having a legitimate breakthrough.
Last year's performance, small as the sample size may have been, was enough to convince me Duda isn't a Quadruple-A player, especially since he only got better with increased exposure.
With offensive numbers down across the league, only 19 full-timers put together an OPS over .900 last year. Duda's patient approach and home run power give him the potential to join that group this year.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 19)
Looking strictly at the final numbers, nothing changed for Fowler last year. He reached base at a fairly high rate but again failed to demonstrate the potential that made him such a highly regarded prospect three years ago. Yup, nothing to see here but another toolsy type who never figured out how to put it all together. Move along, people.
Just understand that, by moving along, you're missing out on a player who had more extra-base hits in the second half last year than Albert Pujols.
My enthusiasm for Fowler isn't just a reminder that at some point in time somebody thought he had the upside for more. It's in response to clear, measurable changes he made in the second half, after the Rockies got his attention with a demotion to the minor leagues in June.
At that point, Fowler had clearly stalled with a .238 batting average at the major-league level. He needed to embrace change, and he did, shortening his stroke from the left side -- which had gotten so loopy that the Rockies toyed with the idea of having him hit exclusively right-handed -- and adding a leg kick.
The results were almost immediate. In his fourth start after returning to the big leagues, he collected three hits and never looked back, batting .297 with five homers, nine steals and a .901 OPS in his final 259 at-bats.
Five homers may not sound like much, but when you consider he also had 21 doubles and 10 triples during that stretch, you get a more complete picture of his power potential. At 6-feet-4, he has the size to put a few more in the bleachers, and by adding 13 pounds of muscle this offseason, he showed he has the ambition as well.
With the changes he made at the plate, Fowler put himself in a better position to take advantage of his extra-base power, so as long as he doesn't regress, he'll be a starting-caliber player in mixed leagues. And if he takes the possible next step forward, he'll be a jack-of-all-trades outfielder on the level of Shane Victorino or Shin-Soo Choo.
Ryan Dempster, SP, Cubs (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: 18)
After three years of performing like a solid middle-of-the-rotation option, Dempster's ERA jumped by nearly a full run last year, which is perhaps exactly what's supposed to happen for a pitcher entering his mid-30s. I mean, it's not like he was ever known as a control artist. You can't expect him to age as gracefully as a Ted Lilly or Jamie Moyer.
But Dempster's walk rate last year was exactly the same as the year before. His strikeout rate was the third-best of his career (including the years he spent in the bullpen). His velocity was pretty much the same as always. He once again worked over 200 innings. One measurement after another reveals his stuff was as good as ever. He just happened to have a higher ERA.
So instead of taking the ERA at face value and giving it the final say on Dempster's Fantasy worth, let's examine it further, see if we can't poke holes in it.
One I see right away is that his six starts last April were about as bad as it gets. He allowed at least four earned runs in each of them, posting a 9.58 ERA for the month. But in the months that followed, he was as effective as at any other point in his career. He never managed to bring his season ERA below 4.50 -- not after that miserable beginning -- but over his next 27 starts, he posted a 3.59 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.
Granted, those aren't quite ace numbers, but when you consider he pitched seven innings or more 10 times during that stretch, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, you get a better sense of just how relevant he was. For a good 80 percent of the season, he was an every-week option in mixed leagues.
Then he had another terrible outing on the final day of the season -- allowing nine earned runs in 5 2/3 at San Diego, of all places -- that kind of left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.
Dempster's problem last year was that he made such a bad first and last impression that his reputation in Fantasy still hasn't recovered. But on Draft Day, I'll trust the 80 percent over the 20 percent, especially with a player who pitches deep enough into games to create his own victories.
Marco Scutaro, SS, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 18)
Scutaro turned 36 in the offseason. He's never been a power hitter or base-stealer in his career, and for at least the beginning of last year, he wasn't even the Red Sox's preferred option at shortstop.
So why am I so high on him in Fantasy?
I see the complete picture with him. I know what he lacks in homers and steals he makes up for in doubles and walks. They help give him an edge at one of the weakest positions in Fantasy.
But don't take my word for it. Just look at what he's done the last few times he's gotten to play every day. In 2009, his last year with the Blue Jays, he ranked fifth among shortstops in Head-to-Head leagues, and in 2010 -- just two years ago, mind you -- he ranked sixth. Even last year, when he finally overcame Jed Lowrie for regular at-bats, he was much more productive than his totals would have you believe, hitting .312 with an .814 OPS over the final four months of the season.
Granted, his doubles and walks don't have quite the same impact in Rotisserie leagues as Head-to-Head, but I wouldn't sell him short in any format. He'll bat second for the Rockies this year after batting mostly ninth for the Red Sox in 2011. Given his on-base ability with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki batting behind him in that ballpark, how does he not score 100 runs?
Scutaro will contribute enough in batting average and runs scored that you won't even miss the homers or steals, provided you don't reach for him too early. He's practically a duplicate of Derek Jeter -- at least the current iteration -- but he's available half a draft later.
Ryan Doumit, C, Twins (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 25)
Think back to 2009 for a minute. Getting foggier now, I know, but only three Harry Potter movies have come out since then. We're not talking ancient history here.
Back then, Doumit was coming off a breakout season in which he hit .318 with 15 homers and an .858 OPS in 431 at-bats, ranking among the top catchers in Fantasy.
So what happened? He got hurt. The next year? He got hurt. Last year? Yup, he got hurt again, but at least this time, the injury -- a fractured ankle -- had a definitive enough starting and ending point that you can trust he was operating at full capacity when in the lineup. And the results were about the same as they were during that breakout 2008 season. He hit .303 with eight homers and an .830 OPS.
Still, Fantasy owners shrugged off the performance. Why bother with a player who's shown over the years that his brittle body can't take the beating behind the plate?
But that's the beauty of him signing with the Twins this offseason: It doesn't have to.
You may have heard the Twins have a pretty good catcher already. And considering that catcher is still in the earliest stages of an eight-year, $184 million contract, you can assume he's not moving out from behind the plate on a full-time basis anytime soon.
Oh sure, Doumit will spell Joe Mauer on occasion, just as he will Josh Wilingham in right field and Justin Morneau at first base. He'll basically be the Twins' answer to Mike Napoli, who broke through as an elite Fantasy contributor in a rover role last year. But unlike Napoli, who had to contend with another position-less player in Michael Young, Doumit will have first dibs on the DH spot.
If he's playing DH, he's not playing the field, and if he's not playing the field, he's not as likely to get injured. With this move, he goes from playing the most dangerous position in baseball to the least dangerous position in baseball, and the difference should show up in his at-bats.
We already know what a healthy Doumit can do with 431 at-bats. This version doesn't cost nearly as much as that one did.
John Mayberry, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: 25)
It started with manager Charlie Manuel last season. It continued with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. this offseason. It's to the point now that they can't even mention the name Mayberry without bringing up another of their recent success stories -- one who has since moved on to bigger and better things.
"There are some parallels with Jayson Werth," Amaro said in December. "Jayson was a tremendous athlete -- tall, lanky, good speed, good athleticism -- but it took him a while to hone his skills, especially offensively. I view John sort of the same way."
Don't we all?
It's one thing if I say it. It's quite another if those with the most invested in him -- those with access to scouting reports detailing all of the flaws that someone in my position wouldn't even know existed -- say it. Yet low and behold, it's been said, making it his identity now: Mayberry is the next Jayson Werth.
Let's trace the parallels, shall we?
Mayberry was initially a first-round pick, like Werth. He fell out of favor with his original organization and eventually landed with the Phillies, like Werth. He didn't get a reasonable shot at playing time until his late 20s -- beyond the point most players have secured everyday jobs in the majors -- like Werth. He performed so well when he finally got that shot that the Phillies made a point to clear a starting job for him in the offseason, like Werth.
Back in 2008, I took a chance on a guy who impressed in 255 at-bats the previous year but whose track record suggested he couldn't handle a full-time role. I believed because the Phillies believed, and he rewarded me with a 20-20 season. His name, as you might have guessed, was Jayson Werth.
So excuse me if I'm not so quick to write off a player who hit 15 homers and stole eight bases in only 267 at-bats last year -- a player who made such an impression on the Phillies last season that they pretty much declared him their starting left fielder the day they were eliminated from the playoffs.
Mayberry may not have the longest leash with former top prospect Domonic Brown waiting in the wings, but if you project last year's numbers over a full season, he clearly has the potential for a 25-homer, 15-steal campaign, if not more.
Tell me you wouldn't invest a late-round pick in him for a shot at those numbers.
Here's a quick look at a few other bargains available in the late rounds:
Scott Baker, SP, Twins (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 19): Baker's 2011 season didn't end so hot. An elbow strain limited him to only 24 innings in the second half. But before the injury, he did exactly what Fantasy owners had been hoping he'd do since he first broke in as a full-time starter in 2008. He put up numbers that made sense, taking advantage of his impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio by producing not only his usual low WHIP, but also a low ERA. He was pitching deep into games, recording nearly a strikeout per inning and basically doing his best Josh Beckett impression. And you choose now to give up on him? The worst is over. He didn't need Tommy John surgery. Baker may be overplayed as a breakout candidate, but given his average draft position, he's suddenly interesting again.
Daniel Murphy, 1B/2B/3B, Mets (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 18): You know all those favorable things I said about Lucas Duda? Many of them apply to Murphy as well. In fact, for most of last year, he was the more relevant of the two, originally taking over at second base in early April before filling in for various players around the infield. And with the regular playing time, the Mets discovered he could hit. Boy, could he hit, putting together a stretch of 27 multi-hit efforts (for a .358 batting average) in 62 games before his season-ending knee injury in August. And now that the Mets have shrunk Citi Field, 15 homers is a possibility as well. You couldn't use that kind of production at second base? Or third? Or wherever else he's eligible? With that kind of versatility, you're sure to have use for Murphy.
Javy Guerra, RP, Dodgers (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Undrafted): Guerra blew only two saves in 23 opportunities last season, and yet since one of them happened to come on the second-to-last day of the season, all Fantasy owners have been hearing about this offseason is how great Kenley Jansen would be closing games for the Dodgers. Only problem is they haven't heard it from the person who matters: manager Don Mattingly. In fact, Mattingly announced at the start of spring training that he's more or less committed to Guerra. And why shouldn't he be? Apart from the stellar save rate, the 26-year-old also posted a 2.11 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning over his final 39 appearances. Jansen's stuff is sinister, and he likely would be a great closer. But Guerra is probably good enough to prevent him from getting the chance.
Mike Leake, SP, Reds (Roto: Rd. 25, H2H: Rd. 22): Leake's upside has never been in question. It's what made him the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft. But what makes him worth a late-round pick in your draft is his refinement at such a young age. He's already a control artist, averaging fewer walks per nine innings than Jered Weaver, Ian Kennedy and James Shields, and the result of wasting so few pitches is he's able to go deeper into games, pitching seven innings or more in eight starts and eight or more in four. He may never be a strikeout artist, but given his five-pitch arsenal, he has the potential for more than he showed last year. If nothing else, he profiles as the kind of stable innings eater who ends up making a bigger impact in Fantasy than anyone anticipates entering the season. Think of him as another Brandon McCarthy, only without the injury history.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 25): Viciedo can hit. From the moment the White Sox signed him out of Cuba and planted him in their farm system, that much was evident. Where he'd play was the question, but with the departure of Carlos Quentin this offseason, the team clearly has its answer. Viciedo will never be a patient hitter, and his free-swinging ways could lead to some early struggles, but considering how effortlessly he transitioned from Cuba to the U.S., he at least has the capacity to hit for both average and power right away, having already shown some of that ability during his previous stints in the majors. Provided he stays healthy, 20 homers is pretty much a lock for Viciedo, and given how much upside he has at age 23 and how late he's going in drafts, you can afford to dream big with him.
Alejandro De Aza, OF, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Undrafted): Shane Victorino produced 17 homers, 27 doubles, 16 triples and 19 stolen bases in the majors last year. Meanwhile, De Aza produced 13 homers, 40 doubles, eight triples and 34 stolen bases between the majors and the minors. Granted, most of his season was against lower competition, but his 152 at-bats in the majors were some of his most effective at any level, yielding a .920 OPS compared to .871 in the minors. He clearly convinced the White Sox he had turned the corner at age 27, entering this season as their projected starting center fielder and leadoff man. The possibility of him picking up where he left off last year is reason enough to target him late. If all goes according to plan, Victorino might not be the only outfielder who scraps his way to high-end numbers.
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