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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 1.0

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Scott White's sleepers | Nando Di Fino's sleepers

Practically as soon as one season ends, the process of looking for value for next season begins. And now next season is almost here, so the time is upon us to put our money -- or at least our auction dollars and draft picks -- where our mouths are.

What follows are my 12 favorite pre-spring sleeper picks, the players whom I expect to deliver the greatest return on my investment of a bid or pick, based on my offseason research. As the spring progresses, some of these players may lose their sleeper appeal, while others who didn't make the cut this time might look like better values a few weeks from now. So this is just version 1.0, with the upgrade to come in the weeks ahead.

Not only will players' value relative to draft position change due to health issues or role changes that could arise, but also because of changes in perception. This list was made in reference to average draft position (ADP) in CBSSports.com leagues, but at this point only a limited number of leagues have drafted, so I'm also relying on the rankings of other industry experts as well as feedback received from our readers, viewers and listeners to get a sense of what the market's expectations are.

These dozen players, then, are the ones I expect to be drafting often, if not early. Of course, early is relative, so while I will have no reservations about spending an early-round pick on Alex Rios or Jose Altuve, I won't need to in order to enjoy the value of Brian Dozier or Steve Cishek. Being sleepers, though, all of them are players I can wait at least an extra round or two to fill a need that I would otherwise need to fill with my next pick.

Along with their current ADP, for each player, I'll explain why I think he is worth targeting at the expense of pursuing a more popular option.

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

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Jaso's inclusion on this list has as much to do with events impacting his teammates as with what he has actually done on the field. When the A's signaled their intention to let Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris do most of the catching in a platoon, relegating Jaso to designated hitting duties, Jaso's Fantasy value improved. Coming off a concussion as well as a disappointing season in that he did not build on his double-digit homer total from 2012, Jaso is probably not registering on the minds of very many mixed league owners. Particularly in two-catcher leagues, he should, at least as a late- round option. Jaso should collect even more plate appearances than he did when he was part of the Mariners' catcher/DH mix in 2012. That season he was a top 20 Roto catcher, and with just a little more power than last year, he could be again in 2014.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 12)

Altuve is still only 23, so there could be time for him to develop the double-digit home run power he showed in the minors. Even if he doesn't, the Astros' fourth-year second baseman can be counted on for enough steals and runs to be in the top five at his position in Roto leagues and the top 10 in Head-to-Head. Altuve's Head-to-Head value is boosted by his low strikeout rate, and that translates into a batting average that is unlikely to be no worse than .270 and could hover around .300 -- a potential boon for Roto owners. If everything comes together -- a .300 average, 10-15 home runs and 40-plus steals -- Altuve would have a breakout season that would elevate him into Jason Kipnis territory in terms of value. Without the breakout, Altuve is still a sleeper as he could be overlooked in favor of more established options like Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist.

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 17)

Dozier is a less proven and riskier second base alternative than Altuve, and as such, he shouldn't be targeted among the top 10 players at the position. Judging by the early draft results, many owners are letting 15 other second basemen get taken ahead of Dozier, but last season's power spike makes him someone to consider above the likes of Chase Utley and Jed Lowrie. Because Dozier profiled as more of a doubles hitter as a prospect, it may be hard to take his home run surge seriously, but he was an entirely different hitter last year. He was far more patient, averaging 4.17 pitches per plate appearance (versus 3.69 in 2012) and chasing fewer pitches outside the zone. Longer plate appearances correlate with home run power, so it seems like more than a coincidence that Dozier found some home run moxie. He seems like a lock for double-digit steals, so Roto owners in particular should look to Dozier as a mid-round fallback option.

Alex Rios, OF, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 2, H2H: 5)

Rios' miserable 2011 season is still fresh in a lot of our minds, so it's hard to imagine many owners saying, "Yeah, I think I'll draft Alex Rios as my No. 1 outfielder this year." It's not an optimal move, but if you miss out on the very limited number of reliable producers -- the ones without significant injury risk, major inconsistency or possible past benefits from PED use (i.e., Ryan Braun) -- Rios has one of the better recent track records. He has been among the top six outfielders in Fantasy in each of the last two years, and 2009 and 2011 have been the only real clunkers out of his last eight seasons. Rios has also been largely durable over that stretch. With the aggressive Ron Washington at the helm in Texas, Rios can continue the heightened steals pace he set late last season, and he has enough power and run production to keep him among the near-elite.

Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 8)

With a hamstring injury shelving Werth for nearly all of May and some of June last year, it looked like he was about to lose another season due to health woes. Once he returned, though, he did so with a vengeance. Even factoring in a tepid month of April, Werth batted a career-high .318 and put himself on a pace for 30-plus homers and doubles with 100-plus runs and RBI, had he played a full season. Not only did he set that pace even after having a slow start, but his .292 batting average with runners in scoring position makes his run (84) and RBI (82) totals look sustainable. Werth's average will regress somewhat, since he probably won't approach a 31 percent line drive rate again, but he has become a better contact hitter over the last two years. With his wrist and hamstring issues behind him, owners could look forward to a full season of strong power and run production with double-digit steals to boot. He's a sneaky play as someone you can draft as a No. 2 or 3 outfielder but who may produce like a No. 1.

Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 13)

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I'm generally not a fan of one-dimensional players, but it's worthwhile to make the occasional exception in Roto leagues, if that player can help you move up substantially in a category. This is what Hamilton can do. He didn't hit particularly well last season in Triple-A, batting .256 with a .308 on-base percentage, yet he still managed to steal 75 bases in 123 games. As the Reds' projected leadoff hitter, he should get plenty of plate appearances and stolen base opportunities, and his speed could allow him to improve his batting average by way of frequent infield hits. Of course, there is the risk that he doesn't hit well enough to keep the leadoff role or maybe even his job, but Hamilton's 70-plus steals potential is literally a game-changer, making him worth drafting among the top 20 outfielders in Roto leagues.

Will Venable, OF, Padres (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. N/A)

Venable emerged as a surprise entry in the 20-20 club last season, which elevated him to membership among the top 30 outfielders in Roto value. So far he's not being drafted anywhere near that level, yet there is reason to think last season won't be an outlier on Venable's career stat sheet. His home run power in away games actually decreased slightly last year, but he exploded for 15 homers at PETCO Park (as compared to two in the prior year). After the right field fences were brought in prior to last season, the Padres' home stadium became much more amenable for Venable -- and other lefties -- to mash balls out of the park. There's also room for Venable to improve his run production, as he is all but certain to increase his .204 batting average with men in scoring position from 2013. If he makes it much past the top 30 outfielders chosen in Roto leagues, you shouldn't wait too much longer to snag him.

Julio Teheran, SP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 5)

With so many young ex-prospects filling up the starting pitcher pool, Teheran could get lost in the shuffle, especially since the novelty of him being a major leaguer has worn off after 211 2/3 innings. Like Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha and Sonny Gray, Teheran has the goods to provide more than a strikeout per inning. He may not have quite as much strikeout prowess as Tony Cingrani or Danny Salazar, but like both, he's a flyball pitcher poised to produce a low BABIP, and like Salazar, he will likely issue walks at a lower rate than his phenom brethren. Inning for inning, Salazar and Cingrani are probably the best of this group, but Teheran should surpass them by pitching at least 30 more innings than either of them. So to summarize, Teheran is a low-ERA strikeout pitcher uniquely primed to offer a low WHIP and high innings count. That's why I'd be happy to have him as my No. 2 starter in a standard mixed league, though you may be able to still get him after 25 or 30 starting pitchers are off the board.

Corey Kluber, SP, Indians (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 12)

Something of a late bloomer, Kluber didn't benefit from prospect hype, and his reputation still lags behind his performance, but he is essentially Teheran Lite. Kluber possesses great control and he's a better-than-average strikeout pitcher. Not only might he be underappreciated due to his lack of prospect cred, but Kluber likely left Fantasy owners underwhelmed by a 3.85 ERA and 1.26 WHIP last year. A 26 percent line drive rate inflated both marks, but regression in that metric should lead to improvements in both ERA and WHIP. Kluber has the makings of a top 30 starting pitcher, but he could easily fall outside the top 40 in draft order.

Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 13)

Lincecum's stock has plummeted over the past two seasons, but while expectations may not have rebounded since the latter half of last season, he started inching his way back towards his Cy Young form. He's not there yet; Lincecum is still allowing too many home runs and throwing too many pitches out of the zone. However, he did allow far fewer walks in the second half last season, and he never really lost his touch with missing bats. Lincecum may never recapture the elite status he enjoyed in 2008 and 2009, but signs of improved control are reason enough to keep him on your radar, and not just as a late-round flier.

Scott Kazmir, SP, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 19)

Kazmir was outstanding from mid-June forward last season with the Indians, compiling a 3.06 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 107 strikeouts in 103 innings, but owners could still be reluctant to trust the lefty. After all, it was his first good season in five years, and his career may be most notable for the time he has missed with injuries. If Kazmir's final 18 starts could be dismissed as a fluke, it would make sense to focus more on the risk than the reward, but there were some impressive supporting stats backing up that low ERA and WHIP. The once-wild Kazmir threw 67 percent of his pitches for strikes and got swings-and-misses on 11 percent of all pitches. Because it's asking for a high degree of faith to draft the A's lefty on these 18 starts alone, I'm not recommending he should be drafted alongside early-rounders like Madison Bumgarner, who put up similar stats to those of Kazmir's from his extended hot streak, but he is worth taking among the top 50 starters.

Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 17)

With only 36 save chances, Cishek did not distinguish himself among Fantasy closers last season, but with improved control and continued strong ground ball tendencies (and a home park that further squelches homers), he did what he could to help owners. Cishek appears to be a safe bet to post another low 2.00s ERA with a WHIP not too far above 1.00, and the Marlins' offense may be just improved enough to give their closer more save opportunities. In fact, they could be in enough close games that he gets a lot of save opportunities. Cishek likely won't be drafted among the top 15 closers in many leagues, but he could easily deliver better production than more popular closers, such as Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour and Jim Johnson.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Hanley Ramirez looking at Sunday return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez is looking at a Sunday return, according to the Los Angeles Times

Ramirez has been sidelined since August 8 due to an oblique injury. Manager Don Mattingly said he expects Ramirez to be good to go Sunday. Ramirez has hit .277/.367/.455 over 354 at-bats. 


Joaquin Benoit believes he'll avoid the disabled list
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Padres reliever Joaquin Benoit believes he'll avoid a stint on the disabled list, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Benoit was able to throw a bullpen session prior to Thursday's game. He said the session went well, and doesn't think he'll need to spend time on the DL. Benoit has a 1.64 ERA over 49 1/3 innings. 


Garrett Richards potentially still worth keeping
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:30 pm ET) What a sad day for Garrett Richards and his Fantasy owners. What an unfortunate end to a brilliant season that probably hasn't gotten the pub it deserved.

He was the ace for the best team in baseball at the time of his injury. And because his breakthrough was so unexpected, he was a waiver claim in most Fantasy leagues. With that kind of production at that low of a cost -- and from a dual-eligible pitcher, no less -- you could argue Richards was the most valuable player in Fantasy for the 5 1/2 months he was healthy.

But now, he's not -- and because an injury no one would have expected. We've all learned to brace ourselves for the next torn up elbow, but not knee -- not for a pitcher, anyway -- which means we don't really know what comes next. The timetable for Richards is 6-9 months, which is an extremely wide range. It gives him some hope of returning by opening day but also allows for him to miss up to half the season.

My guess he misses some time -- enough to diminish his keeper value in a league where you keep just a handful of players, and all on equal terms. But if you keep as many as one-third of your players, and you keep them relative to what they cost you, again, given the price tag for Richards coming into the year, I'd hold on to him.


Oliver Perez hit with the loss Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Oliver Perez was hit with a loss Thursday against the Nationals.

Perez entered a tie game in the eighth inning, and was able to hold the Nationals scoreless for an inning. He came out to start the ninth, but was pulled after giving up a single to Denard Span. Span would steal second against Evan Marshall, and came around to score on a throwing error for the walkoff win. Perez was charged with the run and the loss. He dropped to 2-3.


Salvador Perez's MRI comes back clean
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:25 pm ET) An MRI on Royals catcher Salvador Perez came back clean, according to MLB.com.

Perez has been dealing with knee issues, but both he and manager Ned Yost have been adamant the injury is not serious. Perez first complained of tightness Monday, but played in Tuesday's game. He was held out Wednesday, though, and the club decided to send him for an MRI. Perez is hitting .268/.304/.417 over 441 at-bats.


Hyun-Jin Ryu able to throw bullpen session Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was able to throw a bullpen session Thursday, according to MLB.com.

Ryu is working his way back from a glut injury. He's not expected to go on a rehab assignment. Ryu has been sidelined since August 13 due to the injury. He has a 3.28 ERA over 137 1/3 innings. 


Rafael Soriano picks up rare win Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:12 pm ET) Nationals closer Rafael Soriano picked up a rare win Thursday against the Diamondbacks. 

Soriano entered with the game tied, and was able to get through the inning without giving up any runs. He did issue a walk, but worked out of trouble with an inning-ending double play. Soriano was the beneficiary of the Nationals hot stretch. In the bottom of the inning, the Nats were able to mount a comeback, scoring on a throwing error to end the game. With the win, Soriano improved to 4-1. 


More reason to like Steve Pearce again
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:10 pm ET) I've wondered allowed if Steve Pearce's recent turnaround could be a sign of things to come and more than once compared him to Brandon Moss, thinking he could be another late-bloomer if only he'd get the chance.

Based on what CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman said on Thursday's Fantasy Baseball Today, he absolutely will.

The video goes into more detail, of course, but to summarize, the Orioles really like Pearce. They believe in him, which doesn't explain the way they used him in July, but whatever, it's a new month.

Considering he hit .336 with a 1.003 OPS over a two-month span earlier this season and .294 with an .893 over nine minor-league seasons, I'm willing to take a flier on him if I need a corner infielder or a late-season power boost.


Gio Gonzalez tosses fantastic start, but can't win
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:07 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez turned in a fantastic start Thursday against the Diamondbacks. 

Gonzalez allowed four hits over seven scoreless innings. He struck out six and walked three during the outing. Gonzalez did a good job limiting the Diamondbacks early. He was able to get through the first two innings by facing the minimum six batters. He did allow a hit in the second, but got out of it with a double-play. Gonzalez was also challenged in the third, putting the first two men on. After a sac bunt moved them into scoring position, Gonzalez was able to keep them from scoring. He loaded the bases in the fifth inning, but was able to get Cliff Pennington to pop out to end the threat. 

Gonzalez was matched by Wade Miley throughout the start, and ultimately wound up with a no-decision. He'll take on the Phillies in his next start.


Wade Miley struggles with control, but manages good start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:02 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley struggled with his control Thursday, but still managed a strong start.

Miley allowed eight hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out four and walked six during the outing. Wiley worked his way out of trouble a number of times during the game. The Nationals put two men on base in each of the first three innings, but Miley kept them from scoring. Miley was able to pitch out of a bases-loaded situation in the fifth, striking out Adam LaRoche. He again escaped the sixth after putting two men on base. 

Miley went up against Gio Gonzalez, who kept Arizona off the scoreboard. Miley picked up a no-decision for his efforts. He’ll take on the Dodgers in his next start.


 
 
 
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