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2013 Draft Prep: Al Melchior's Sleepers

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It's not Draft Day if you haven't prepared a list of sleepers, and in case you're not sure whom to put on yours, I've got a few candidates to consider.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of building a list, there's the issue of putting our fingers on exactly what constitutes a sleeper. Owners may disagree on what qualifies a player to be one, though the basic idea is to find players whom you think other owners are likely to undervalue. Perceptions of value vary from league to league, but to get a general idea of how a player is perceived, you can see where they rank in terms of average draft position (ADP) among owners in CBSSports.com leagues.

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Based on those ADPs, I have identified 12 players who are getting shortchanged in a wide swath of leagues. Each of these players should deliver more value than their draft positions would indicate, so if I'm waiting to take a player at a particular position, I'll target one from this list after I have filled other, more pressing needs.

Some of my sleepers are coming off disappointing seasons, while others have recently dealt with health issues and others still have skill sets that are underappreciated. Regardless of the reason behind their relative lack of popularity, each of these players provides the potential for a healthy return on the value of the draft pick or auction bid you would need to acquire them.

John Jaso, C, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 25, H2H: N/A)

You knew that Jaso could draw a walk, but that alone doesn't make him a viable pick in a two-catcher league, especially since those tend to be Rotisserie formats where the free pass doesn't count for much. However, Jaso is not exactly a one-trick pony, as he produced 10 home runs in just 294 at-bats last season. Jaso should get even more playing time this year as the A's No. 1 catcher, and he could easily exceed his homer total from last year. He hit for moderate power in his minor league career; last season just happened to be the first time we saw it from him as a major leaguer. Instead of a deep-league afterthought, Jaso is a legitimate second catcher in standard mixed Rotisserie leagues.

Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 21)

It's true that Hart is expected to miss at least the first month-and-a-half of the season due to his recovery from knee surgery, but that doesn't mean he should drop off your radar on Draft Day. He has become a late-round option, but bear in mind that you don't lose all of his value while he's on the shelf -- only the portion that a replacement-level player can't provide. The combination of Hart plus, say, a replacement like Jason Kubel, would give you an outfielder with value similar to that of Carlos Beltran, making Hart a legitimate mid-round option.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Rays (Roto: Rd. 27, H2H: N/A)

I'm not suggesting that Johnson should be anywhere near the top or middle of your second base rankings, but he's a better late-round option than he's getting credit for. Slated to split time between second base and outfield, Johnson should see close-to-regular playing time, and he still possesses a nice combination of home run power and speed. Don't count on Johnson to provide a decent batting average, but he will provide enough otherwise to be worth a late-round selection.

Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS, Giants (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 14)

With double-digit homer totals likely out of reach and a history of nondescript RBI and stolen base lines, Scutaro is not an exciting player to pursue. Still, he has quietly become a better hitter for average over the last four years and has scored 87 or more runs three times over that span. Even with the lack of flashy stats, that's enough to make him a top 12 second baseman or shortstop in Rotisserie or Head-to-Head. While he has been getting his due in Head-to-Head drafts, Scutaro remains highly underrated in Rotisserie and is worth taking over the more popular types like Danny Espinosa, Erick Aybar or Derek Jeter.

Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 17)

Seager's 20-homer explosion last season came as a surprise, given that he was much more of a doubles hitter in the minors. The fact remains, though, that he didn't jack up his flyball rate to achieve the feat and didn't hit many cheapies just over the outfield wall. While Seager could maintain his power gains, he seems poised for batting average improvement, since he was a better contact hitter and a better hitter on balls in play in the minors than he has been so far with the Mariners. With just a slight increase in batting average, Seager should be the equal of David Freese in points leagues, yet he is typically going a couple of rounds later, and to a lesser degree, he is undervalued in Rotisserie drafts.

Ben Revere, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 18)

As a stolen base specialist, Revere's value clearly lies in Rotisserie, and in those formats, he is coming at a discount. Because of his utter lack of power, it's easy to dismiss Revere, but as a superb contact hitter, he doesn't need an outrageous BABIP to hit .300, and he has a strong chance of exceeding last season's 40 steals. That's enough to give him better Rotisserie value than either Mark Trumbo or Austin Jackson, yet Revere is being drafted well after them. You can probably wait until after the first 10 rounds to take Revere, and if do, you are nearly assured of getting a huge bargain.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 25)

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Saunders was a home run shy of a 20/20 season last year, yet he is being ignored in many standard mixed league drafts. He doesn't need to improve to be viable as a No. 4 outfielder in a 12-team mixed league, but even if his rate stats don't budge, he should be more productive than last year by virtue of more at-bats and a better lineup surrounding him. Saunders can probably be had in the final round or reserve draft, but he should deliver more value than most of the players going in those rounds.

Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 25)

Martin didn't do much in his brief time in Texas last season, so perhaps that's why owners in CBSSports.com leagues are not drafting him among the top 60 outfielders. That's particularly surprising in Rotisserie leagues, where his 20/20 potential could really be of use. Even if Martin is just a 15/15 player, he could hit for a high enough average to offer more than late-round value, at least for Roto owners.

Jaime Garcia, SP, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 17)

Mediocre ERAs and WHIPs from the last two seasons have caused Fantasy owners to doubt Garcia's value for standard mixed leagues, but his peripheral stats tell a different story. His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates are similar to those of Hiroki Kuroda, who is a bona fide top 40 starter. Better yet, Garcia has been much more proficient at keeping the ball in the park, which is not unexpected, given the home parks in which each pitcher plays. The difference, Fantasy-wise, between the two hurlers is their respective strand rates. Garcia's 71 percent rate from last season is a bit on the low side, but in 2010 and 2011, he registered better-than-average rates. He's also allowed batters to hit over .250 on grounders in each of the last two seasons, and neither that nor his subpar 2012 strand rate may be his fault. If that's the case, Garcia could join Kuroda as a solid mid-tier starting pitcher.

Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 19)

Maybe owners are scared off from Hammel because of last season's knee surgery, or maybe it's skepticism over the breakout-level numbers he put up when he was healthy. However, Hammel's success was backed up by increases in fastball velocity, swinging strike rate on fastballs and ground ball rate. Hammel revamped his pitch selection, as he relied more on his sinker and slider, and both pitches were more effective than they had been during prior seasons. While there is always a risk of regression, there are enough signs of real skill improvement that Hammel looks like an absolute steal in the late rounds.

Sergio Romo, RP, Giants (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)

Despite an upper 80s fastball, Romo is a proven producer of strikeouts and he rarely walks anyone, so why is he ranked outside the top 10 relievers in average draft position? Maybe some are concerned about his job security, given the presence of Santiago Casilla, or maybe some have taken note that we have him projected for just 56 innings. That is based on the way that Giants manager Bruce Bochy has historically used Romo, even after he became the team's closer late last season. Romo's full-inning appearances were mixed in with several one-out and two-out stints. However, that may not be the way that Bochy uses him this season, now that he is established as the closer. After all, Brian Wilson typically pitched a full inning when Bochy entrusted him with saves. With 65-plus innings, Romo is clearly a top 10 closer and possibly an elite.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RP, Cubs (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: N/A)

Fujikawa was a strikeout machine in Japan's Central League, but will that carry over to his work in the majors? That's a hard thing to predict, but even if Fujikawa isn't as dominant with the Cubs, he has some sleeper appeal because of the likelihood of saves. The North Siders are clearly disenchanted with incumbent closer Carlos Marmol, so whether it's by trade or a demotion to a setup role, it seems like only a matter of time before Marmol cedes his save opportunities to Fujikawa. Especially in Rotisserie leagues, where some late-round relievers never get a taste of the ninth inning, Fujikawa's odds of contributing are better than those of the other options available at that point in the draft.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Trevor Plouffe misses Twins workout with illness
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:28 pm ET) Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe missed the team's workout on Saturday with an illness. 

Plouffe showed up for the morning meetings, and then the team sent him home. 


Padres' Middlebrooks, Solarte competing, getting along at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:04 pm ET) Padres thirdbasemen Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte are both battling to get the starting nod at third base during spring training, but the two are getting along just fine so far, reports UTSanDiego.com.

"I'm trying to help him, he's trying to help me," Middlebrooks said. "We're working together, we're having fun and we're competing. It's for the team, and I think it'll be good if we both push each other."

Middlebrooks hit .191 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 215 plate appearances for the Red Sox in 2014.

He is also okay if he ends up playing a different position down the line.

"Third base is the priority," he said, "but wherever I can get in the lineup, wherever I can help us win some baseball games, that's what's important for me."

Meanwhile, Solarte is doing what he can to help Middlebrooks adjust to his new surroundings.

"That's competing," Solarte said. "For me, it's my teammate. I want to work hard with him and make it fun, too."


Nationals pitcher Rich Hill will compete for bullpen spot
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:59 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Rich Hill is expected to compete for a bullpen spot with the team during spring training after being signed to a minor-league contract Friday.

"Veteran, been there, got big league experience," Williams said. "We'll get him in camp, get a good look at him, and let him compete."

Hill posted a 1.69 ERA in 14 appearances with the Yankees in 2014.

"He's ready to go compete," Williams said. "He's here to vie for a spot."


Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu back on the mound Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:56 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu is set to get back on the mound Monday to throw, manager Don Mattingly said Saturday.

Ryu is dealing with a back injury, but has been throwing the last couple of days without pain. He went 14-7 in 2014 with a 3.38 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched.


Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw to make spring training debut Thursday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:50 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will make his spring training debut Thursday against the White Sox, manager Don Mattingly said Saturday.

Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in 2014 with 239 strikeouts in 198 1/3 innings pitched, leading the National League MVP and Cy Young awards.


Athletics' Coco Crisp dealing with short term case of pink eye
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:44 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp is dealing with a short term case of pink eye and could miss a few more days of spring training, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

"We're hoping we've caught it early," manager Bob Melvin said. "He came in with it yesterday and we've got him at home now hoping this resolves itself quickly."

Crisp dealt with a similar problem at the end of the 2012 season, but isn't expected to miss as much time as he did then. 

"We're hoping very much that it's not going to take him that long this time," Melvin said. "But if it had to happen, this is a good time, with so much of the spring left."


Dodgers' Joel Peralta to throw bullpen session Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:28 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Joel Peralta is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Monday while dealing with a shoulder injury, reports the Orange County Register. Peralta, who is fighting off shoulder stiffness, could still open the season on the disabled-list.

White Sox's Chris Sale out three weeks with fracture in right foot
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Chris Sale is expected to miss at least three weeks with an avulsion fracture in his right foot, the team announced Saturday. Sale, who suffered the injury in an accident at his home, underwent X-rays and will undergo further testing once the swelling goes down.

He reportedly suffered the injury while unloading a item from his truck, according to general manager Rick Hahn. Sale is confident he can be ready by opening day, even though his status has yet to be determined.

He went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 174 innings pitched with 208 strikeouts in 2014.


Astros' Luis Cruz misses practice Saturday with swelling in hand
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Astros pitcher Luis Cruz is still dealing with swelling in his pitching hand a day after jamming it while fielding ground balls Friday, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"It feels better, but it's still swollen a lot," Cruz said. "Hopefully I can play catch tomorrow."


Padres pitcher Casey Kelly cleared for some baseball activities
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:54 pm ET) Padres pitcher Casey Kelly has been cleared for some baseball activities, but is still not ready to resume bullpens, reports MLB.com.

Kelly, who is dealing with a groin strain, suffered the injury last weekend and is hoping to resume throwing in the next few days.


 
 
 
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