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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
David Buchanan will compete for one of two spots in Phillies' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:08 pm ET) Phillies starting pitcher David Buchanan said refininig his curveball has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as he prepares to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I had success with (my curveball) in certain games,” he said. “It started coming along there toward the end. But it’s definitely something that has a lot of work still to go. It’s definitely something I’m working on. It’s getting better, which is all I can ask for.”

There is two spots currently open in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. Buchanan, Jerome Williams and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are considered the leading candidates for the openings in the rotation. 

“There’s going to be some competition,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I think that’s the only way that you can get better is by creating competition. I can’t sit here and tell you today that David Buchanan’s going to be one of our guys in the rotation, but he absolutely is going to get an opportunity to pitch in spring training and be ready and compete for one of those spots.”


Santana fine after throwing bullpen session; winter-league status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:55 am ET) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


Mariners planning on batting Smith, Ruggiano in second spot in lineup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:31 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is tentatively planning to bat the right-field tandem of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano second in the lineup, per The New Tribune.

The Mariners ranked last in the majors last season in on-base percentage (.260) from their No. 2 hitters. No other team was lower than .279.

Smith had a .367 OBP last season for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Cubs.


Rays' Jake McGee plays catch for first time since elbow surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:25 am ET) The Rays announced Monday reliever Jake McGee played catch for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in December. McGee is still expected to miss the start of the season.

Cardinals' Carpenter hoping to build off postseason power surge
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:17 am ET) Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter hit just eight home runs with a .375 slugging percentage during the 2014 regular season, but had a much better power swing in the postseason, belting four home runs and slugging .722 in nine games.

“I took a more of an aggressive approach in the postseason,” Carpenter said, per STLBaseballWeekly.com. “Part of that was from the experience that I had gathered the year before. After a long season, going into the playoffs I felt like I wasn’t as prepared as I felt like I could’ve been. It kind of snowballed and my approach and the way I took the regular season at-bat in the postseason it wasn’t playing out well.”

Carpenter said his postseason success could have a positive impact on his power numbers in 2015.

"Certainly, I’m always going to be a guy who’s patient at the plate, but that was a good learning experience for me -- being aggressive," he said. "I don’t remember the exact numbers but out of the four home runs I hit, I think three of them were on the first pitch. That’s something typically I don’t do a lot of, and it was a good learning experience.”


Tigers' Dombrowski expecting 'real big season' for Justin Verlander
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:48 am ET) Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander said last week this is the best he's felt physically approaching the start of spring training in at least three years.

Apparently, the optimism doesn't end with Verlander. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated the Tigers are expecting big things from Verlander in 2015 after he posted a 4.54 ERA in 2014, failing to make the All-Star team for the first time in six seasons.

"Justin Verlander is as prime a pitcher as there is in the game of baseball," Dombrowski said, per the Detroit Free Press. "Last year, he was not the traditional Justin. But when you look at what he came back from with the surgery, I think he's going to go out and have a real big season for us."


Sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox's Mike Napoli to retire
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Dealing with sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli to retire prematurely from baseball, reports the Boston Globe.

"I couldn't do it anymore, feeling the way I was feeling," Napoli said. "I was like, 'I need to have the surgery or I'm not going play anymore.' That's how bad it was."

During the offseason, Napoli underwent facial reconstruction surgery to correct the condition, which was preventing him from getting a proper night of rest.

"It was a brutal process," Napoli said. "It was probably one of the worse things I've ever done."

With the surgery a success and Napoli recovered from losing weight due to a six-week liquid diet, Napoli is now sleeping better than he ever has.

Before the surgery, Napoli turned to medication, mouthpieces and a CPAP mask, but said those problems are now behind him.

"I wake up now and I'm ready to start my day," he said. "It's great."


Angels' Jered Weaver bulks up in effort to pitch deeper into games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:36 am ET) Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver has bulked up to 224 pounds, which is six pounds heavier than he has ever been, in an effort to pitch deeper into games in 2015, per the Los Angeles Times. Weaver dropped to as low as 199 pounds during the 2014 season.

“Numbers-wise, it was all right,” Weaver said of his 2014 season (18-9, 3.59 ERA). “But from a personal standpoint, me being ultra-competitive, I want to get deeper in games.

“The bullpen helped me a lot last year. I just want to gain some strength. I went on a different weight-lifting program last year, and it’s been paying off. I’m going to stick with it.”

The average velocity of Weaver’s fastball dipped to a career-low 86.3 mph last season. However, he said the added weight gain is more for endurance than velocity on his fastball. He averaged just over six innings per start last season and has just one complete game over the last two seasons after throwing seven complete games in 2011-12.

“I don’t care about velocity -- I just want to be stronger for the whole nine innings,” Weaver said. “If velocity comes along, so be it. I think I’ve shown I can pitch from 83 to 93 mph.”


Mariners' Austin Jackson looking to bounce back in 2015
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:08 am ET) After being acquired by the Mariners at the trade deadline last season, outfielder Austin Jackson struggled to produce for the Mariners. In 54 games, Jackson hit .229 and Jackson said the trade affected his playing ability, reports The News Tribune.

"Not making excuses, but I think getting traded and trying to get used to the travel and the sleep - those things affect your play on the field," Jackson said.

By starting the season in Seattle, Jackson said he hopes to avoid the distractions from last season and he's looking to return to his old form.

"Hopefully, getting started here and staying here, those distractions won't be there," Jackson said.


White Sox OF Avisail Garcia dropped weight during offseason
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia dropped roughly 15 pounds during the offseason, according to MLB.com.

"I've been eating healthy, working real hard at the gym, Garcia said. "I have to be ready for spring training. I can't go there and be fat." With the weight loss, Garcia is hoping to keep his power potential. "I don't want to lose speed, I don't want to lose power," Garcia said. "I want to be in the middle. I know I can do a little bit of everything, so that's why I've been working really hard on speed, power, hitting and defense, so I can help my team win."

Garcia hit .244/.305/.413 over 172 at-bats last year.


 
 
 
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