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2013 Draft Prep: Scott White's Sleepers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Now this ... this is the good stuff.

Busts are kind of depressing. Breakouts are cool and all, but sometimes a little obvious. Sleepers? They drive the search engines.

You know it's true. It might be how you got here. On the eve of your draft, you went to Google and typed in "sleepers," followed by "Fantasy Baseball" in quotation marks.

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Followed by "Scott White" in quotation marks? Maybe next year, if these guys pan out.

You know those players you expect to get in every draft -- the ones you'd be crushed to see go to someone else after spending the last month or so investing all your hopes and dreams in them? These are mine.

Of course, not all of "my guys" are represented here. Some of them -- such as Mike Minor, Alex Cobb, Brandon Belt and Domonic Brown -- instead appear in my breakouts column just because they happen to meet that criteria as well.

But for the most part, these are the most affordable of the players I target on Draft Day, and because of that, they're the ones I'm most likely to get.

Or at least they were.

You know you're not allowed to draft with me now, right?

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.

Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 8)

The most encouraging part about Lester's regression in 2012 is that, to those of us who attempt to assess these things in ways our untrained eyes can comprehend -- using stats and whatnot -- it didn't make sense. His velocity and pitch selection were almost exactly the same as the year before, and if anything, his control actually improved. His 3.0 walks per nine innings were his fewest in three seasons.

Clearly, what went wrong for him was something only the trained eye could detect. And what eye is more trained to detect it than that of his former pitching coach?

John Farrell made his return to the Red Sox -- this time as the manager -- this offseason and immediately went to work correcting Lester's delivery, pointing out that he was collapsing his backside and losing the crispness on his pitches.

Whatever you say, coach man. All I know is Lester was wholly hittable last year but has been wholly unhittable this spring. Seriously, 2.7 hits per nine innings through five starts is like something out of a comic book.

Lester has never been a control artist, so you shouldn't expect a Cy Young-caliber WHIP, but if you liked him as an early-rounder prior to last year, you should be thrilled to get him in the 10th-round range now.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 17)

Maybe in Rotisserie leagues, where owners typically start two catchers, Lucroy isn't necessarily a value pick, but in Head-to-Head leagues, he's the reason why you shouldn't even bother with the early-rounders at the position.

How do I figure? He's capable of first-round numbers himself. Or close enough, anyway.

OK, so maybe he won't win a league MVP like Buster Posey, and maybe he lacks the ceiling of Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina. But relative to where you'd have to draft them, he's the better bang for your buck. After those three and Carlos Ruiz, who's suspended for the first 25 games and unlikely to repeat last year's numbers anyway at age 34, Lucroy was the highest-scoring catcher on a per-game basis in Head-to-Head leagues last year.

Ah, but how likely is he to repeat last year's numbers? Maybe if the broken hand that sidelined him for two months last year came at the end of the season, leaving him without a chance to regress to the mean, I'd be little more skeptical. But seeing as his numbers in the two months afterward were nearly as impressive as the two months prior, I'm thinking we can trust that the breakthrough was legitimate, especially since it came during his age-26 season.

Glen Perkins, RP, Twins (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 16)

With one unheralded closer after another going down or staying down with injuries this spring -- first Ryan Madson and Casey Janssen, then Grant Balfour and Chris Perez -- Perkins has emerged as the preeminent poor man's pick for saves.

Of course, he and Greg Holland are about the last men standing of that group, unless you aim even lower for the Jason Grilli and Steve Cishek types.

Perkins has better control the Holland, a more consistent track record than Holland, fewer threats to his job security than Holland and, best of all, a lower price tag than Holland, who tends to go a round earlier in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head leagues. Plus, I think he's just better than Holland. If you look at Perkins' final 31 appearances, which just about covers the period he was fully entrenched as the closer, he had a 1.93 ERA, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and -- get this -- a 0.58 WHIP.

Forget Holland. Maybe a Fernando Rodney comparison would be more accurate.

Now, Perkins doesn't get to work with the same pitching staff as Rodney, and his opportunities (at least in theory) will be fewer as a result, but based on the way he stepped up his performance in the second half last year, he's not another one of those closers that just stumbled into the role. It brings out the best in him.

Marco Estrada, SP, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 15)

If he hasn't reached it yet, Estrada is at least nearing that point in a player's career when the pedigree takes a back seat to the numbers.

The pedigree says he's not really a strikeout pitcher, having averaged 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 48 career appearances (46 starts) at Triple-A. The pedigree says he's better suited as a swingman than a regular part of the starting rotation.

Yet in 94 appearances (32 starts) at the major-league level, he has averaged 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and in his first extended look as a starter last year, he was better than ever, demonstrating the pinpoint control that gave him the third-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among pitchers with at least 130 innings as he recorded nine or more strikeouts in six of his starts.

Clayton Kershaw also recorded nine or more strikeouts in six of his starts. Of course, he had 10 more to work with.

The numbers, from what I can tell, make Estrada sort of a poor man's Ian Kennedy, but the pedigree, from what I can tell, is the only reason he goes 8-10 rounds later. Needless to say, he finds his way to my roster in just about every league.

Wil Myers, OF, Rays (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 17)

If you weren't the guy who picked Mike Trout or Bryce Harper late in last year's draft, chances are you snickered at the one who did, saying he was wasting both a pick and a roster spot.

But you weren't laughing a month later. You were just losing.

This year, the late-April call-up who's sure to shake the standings is Myers -- and yes, you can be sure he's getting called up. Maybe the Royals didn't know what they had in the 22-year-old, confining him to the minors even as he made a mockery of Double- and Triple-A pitching with 37 home runs, second-most in the minors, but to the Rays, he was the prize that made moving James Shields and his steady 220 innings, long rumored to be on their way out, worth the while.

And if they have any hope of competing without Shields this year, they have to know it won't be with Luke Scott and James Loney occupying regular spots in their lineup.

Granted, Trout's 2012 performance is an unreasonable standard to set for anyone, but Harper, with his relatively modest .270 batting average and .817 OPS, won a few owners their leagues as well. If Myers, who should be better prepared for a promotion given all the time he spent at Triple-A, can perform even at that level, he'll give you the last laugh.

Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 18)

Even with him suffering an elbow injury that will sideline him for at least the first six weeks, I can't help but see the value in Eaton. He averaged more Head-to-Head points per game during that brief period he was up and playing for the Diamondbacks last September than Carlos Beltran -- the 14th-best outfielder in that format -- did for the season.

And that was with only a .259 batting average. Over his 1,210 career at-bats in the minors, Eaton hit .355.

Now, 732 of those at-bats came in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, the two most hitter-friendly leagues in the minors, so you can't expect those numbers to translate cleanly. But if nothing else, you know he puts the bat on the ball -- and with enough power that he wouldn't even need to steal bases to make an impact in mixed leagues.

Except he's going to. Between the majors and minors, he stole 46 in 60 opportunities last year, and as the leadoff hitter for the Diamondbacks, a team built to win on "grit" rather than the long ball, he's liable to run out of his shoes.

Clearly, he comes with some risk. The injury is a small tear in his UCL -- one that will theoretically heal on his own, but if it doesn't, Tommy John surgery would presumably be the next course of action. Still, for the price of a late-round pick, the reward more than justifies the risk.

As a hitter, Eaton reminds me of Victor Martinez, and as a runner, he's at least Shane Victorino. That's a scary combination.

Julio Teheran, SP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 24, H2H: Rd. 21)

Teheran is to the late rounds what Jon Lester is to the middle rounds: a supreme talent who, because of an unfortunate mechanical tweak, got his brains beaten out last year.

For Teheran, the tweak was intentional. The Braves wanted to reduce the violence of his delivery, but all they did was reduce its effectiveness. His velocity dropped, and his ERA soared.

Hence, the brain beating.

After abandoning the changes in the offseason and rediscovering his form in the Dominican Republic, he has pitched out of his mind this spring. Through five starts, he has 25 strikeouts while allowing just seven hits in 20 innings.

If Philip Humber or some equally uninspiring placeholder was doing something like that, you'd choose to ignore it -- and rightfully so. But Teheran was one of Baseball America's top five prospects in 2011 and 2012. This time a year ago, he was basically Dylan Bundy. He didn't lose his potential with his 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP at Triple-A Gwinnett last year. He just showed he was in need of an adjustment. And clearly, he made it.

With a rotation spot his for the taking, Teheran has a chance to be this year's Chris Sale. And in some leagues, you can get him with your very last pick.

Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 27)

When the Rangers signed Martin as a 23-year-old in 2011, he was thought to be more advanced than most players his age, as is typically the case for Cuban defectors. And judging by his minor-league numbers, he was. In his two minor-league seasons, he hit .323, showcasing enough speed and extra-base pop to lead you to believe he might put together a 20-20 campaign someday.

The problem was the Rangers were loaded with talent and, in their march to three consecutive postseasons, couldn't afford to work him into the mix.

Now, they have little choice. Josh Hamilton is gone, leaving a gaping void in center field that you know Craig Gentry isn't going to fill.

So far this spring, Martin has met his end of the bargain, and manager Ron Washington has said nothing to indicate he's leaning in a different direction. Our .309-16-55-67-15 projection for Martin might seem a little optimistic, but given his pedigree, that lineup and that ballpark, it's on the low end of what he could deliver this year.

Matt Carpenter, 1B/3B/OF, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 24, H2H: 24)

When reports of Carpenter working out at second base first surfaced this offseason, the possibility of him manning the position full-time seemed like a pipe dream.

Now, it seems like a forgone conclusion.

The concern was always his defense, but just recently, manager Mike Matheny said Carpenter has progressed enough in that respect that he now sees the 27-year-old as a second baseman. As for his bat, when scouts refer to a player as a "pure hitter," Carpenter is exactly what they mean. In what amounted to two-thirds of a season in a reserve role last year, he hit .294 with an .828 OPS, and looking at his minor-league track record, that's exactly who he was there, too.

No, he didn't get a lot of hype coming up through the system, but neither did Allen Craig. That's not to say Carpenter has as much power as Craig, but he has enough to hit maybe 15 home runs and contend for the league lead in doubles.

Just imagine how much earlier Martin Prado would go in drafts if he was eligible at second base, the weakest position in Fantasy. That's basically where Carpenter is headed, with eligibility also at third base, the outfield and -- something Prado doesn't have -- first base.

What Carpenter brings to the table is good enough that, if I don't draft Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler or Ben Zobrist early, I'm counting on Carpenter as my starting second baseman and slotting in a stopgap for that week he's ineligible.

Erasmo Ramirez, SP, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 29, H2H: Rd. 26)

If you check out the draft averages on CBSSports.com, you'll see Ramirez is getting drafted in less than 30 percent of leagues. For those of you who like your sleepers completely under the radar, there you go.

I don't want to overvalue what Ramirez did in eight starts last year, producing a 3.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings. It's a small sample, and his minor-league track record is underwhelming, to say the least. But most of that track record was compiled by a different pitcher than the one you see today.

That one threw in the high 80s to low 90s. This one throws in the mid-90s.

That alone seems like a perfectly viable explanation for his sudden emergence last year. And it has only continued in spring training, where he has a 1.50 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in four appearances.

Maybe he's the kind of sleeper you can wait to scoop off the waiver wire if he gets off to a hot start early this season, but if you're underwhelmed by the available options at starting pitcher late in your draft, Ramirez is a name to consider.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins (Roto: 30, H2H: Undrafted):

While Adam Eaton has gained traction as a sleeper over the last couple months, Hicks has kind of flown under the radar. Comparing their minor-league numbers, Eaton clearly stands out over Hicks, but when you adjust for park factors and league tendencies, what they do is awfully similar.

Hicks has actually been regarded as the better prospect throughout their careers, but his development lagged in the minors until last year, when he finally showed off some power with 21 doubles, 11 triples and 13 homers at Double-A New Britain.

He has always walked at a good rate, compiling a .379 on-base percentage over five minor-league seasons, and as the leadoff hitter for the Twins, he should be in line to steal some bases. As many as Eaton? Probably not, but seeing as he's hit four home runs this spring, including three in one game, his power might be a little further along.

If you miss out on Eaton in the 15th or 16th round, Hicks isn't a bad consolation with your last pick.

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

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