The difference between winning and losing your leagues often comes down to the decisions you make in the middle and late rounds of your drafts. It’s why “sleeper” articles are usually the most popular and well-read articles this time of year, as everyone is looking around for thoughts on this year’s hidden gems and potential value plays. So the use of the word “sleeper” in the title isn’t an accident, for as much as the word can invoke strong feelings regarding it’s overuse, the fact remains I want as many of you to read this article as possible. So forgive me for utilizing the word which most fantasy players inevitably type into Google multple times on a daily basis, looking for the latest list of candidates.
Now that I have you here, a little primer: While I may have lured you here on a quest for “sleepers”, I actually prefer the term underrated. This list focuses only on American League players who I believe will out-perform whatever it will cost you to acquire them on draft day. The number shown in parenthesis is the player's current ADP for NFBC mixed league drafts since the beginning of March. My goal was to provide a broader data point, so that both mixed and single league drafters could find this list useful. As always, Platinum members can refer to our latest rankings, which were updated again last week. So without further explanation, here is this year’s team.
2012 American League All-Underrated Team
C – Ryan Doumit, MIN (231) – Doumit was having one of his best offensive season’s last year before injuries took their toll yet again. He is an injury risk for sure, but the Twins should be able to get him out from behind the plate enough to hopefully keep him healthy longer. If you are looking for a bargain at the position that can easily out-produce his draft position this is your guy. The fact that he is one of the few C’s you can get this late who won’t torpedo your batting average is yet another plus.
1B – Mike Carp, SEA (277) – Carp was one of the better surprises last year, bashing 12 homers once the Mariners finally gave him a chance to play. Consistent contact will always be an issue, but this guy can hit the ball a long way. Power like this can be hard to find this late in your drafts, and I would rather wait to take a chance on Carp, who also qualifies in the OF, than gamble that Justin Mourneau (222) will stay healthy.
2B – Dustin Ackley, SEA (164) – It is no secret that I have been an early backer of Jason Kipnis (152) this year and he is a guy I have targeted in multiple drafts already. But as much as I like Kipnis, I can’t deny any longer that Ackley looks like the better play at this point. He has looked great so far in camp and he has a lock on the second spot in that lineup (while Kipnis will hit 7th most likely). I think there is more power and stolen base upside here than most drafters are projecting.
SS – Yunel Escobar, TOR (242) – Escobar is a good bet to improve on last year’s numbers, as he battled injuries all year before missing almost all of September. He’s still young enough to shake the injury-prone label, and when he does his counting stats should rebound. He’s slated to hit leadoff for the Blue Jays, which gives him a real shot to score 100 runs for the first time in his career. He’s never been much of a base-stealer, but I can’t see how he doesn’t crack double-digits there for the first time as well. I guess what I am saying is I think he’s possibly on the verge of a career season in 2012.
3B – Edwin Encarnacion, TOR (208) – Encarnacion quietly had a pretty nice season in 2011. He also qualifies at 1B and might even be able to squeeze out enough time in the OF to add that to the resume at some point this year. He has always had power, it’s just a matter of him finding the AB’s. As the primary DH option for the Blue Jays, he could easily get back over 20 home runs this year. With the Blue Jays running at every opportunity, he could match last year’s eight stolen bases, which will just be a little bonus for taking a shot.
MI – Mike Aviles, BOS (293) – When the Red Sox decided to trade Marco Scutaro to the Rockies, it opened up more regular playing time for the versatile Aviles. He looks like he will open the season as the regular SS, and has become a popular sleeper since he enters the year with 2B/3B eligibility already. He’s a great guy to throw on your bench, as he brings a little pop and some speed and can cover your entire infield in case of injury.
CI – Adam Dunn, CHW (215) – You don’t need me to remind you about the nightmare that was Dunn’s first season in Chicago. The best thing I can say is it’s in the past and it has at least provided a buying opportunity for the former slugger. If you are desperate for power you will be tempted to pull the trigger on him the further he falls. You have to have the batting average to absorb the potential damage, but he seems like a good bet to rebound and he won’t cost you a 4th round pick this year.
OF – Delmon Young, DET (183) – Young enters the year as one of the more under-the-radar players on my draft board. He has found his way on to more than a few of my teams, mainly when he falls to a point that I can no longer ignore the upside. He was very good after the trade to Detroit last year, and now gets to hit behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. That’s a recipe for 100 RBIs if ever I’ve seen it. As I wrote on the Forums when I drafted him in Round 16, it seems like he has been around forever, but he’s just 26 years old. This is what a breakout player looks like and if I was going to pick a captain for this year's team, he would be the choice. Don’t be afraid to get in on the ground floor.
OF – Coco Crisp, OAK (149) – I have been as guilty as anyone of over-drafting Desmond Jennings this pre-season. But it is easy to see that Crisp could match him step for step, and will be available at half the price. There are a lot of moving parts in Oakland right now, but Crisp will open the year in the heart of the lineup, providing a veteran bat for this rebuilding team. His 49 steals from a year ago are what you are getting here, and he’s not pure Judy, as he has a chance to belt 10-12 home runs as well.
OF – Vernon Wells, LAA (245) – Owners didn’t get what they were hoping for from Wells last season as he struggled badly all year, hitting only .213 for the year. Still, he hit 25 homers and like the rest on the Angels' hitters figures to benefit greatly from the addition of Albert Pujols to the lineup. There is a glut of OF talent on the roster, so he could lose playing time if he stumbles again, but he has looked pretty good so far in camp, hinting that he’s made some adjustments at the plate. It will be very difficult for him to disappoint at his current ADP.
OF – Michael Brantley, CLE (277) – Brantley’s stock got a nice little boost in the wake of Grady Sizemore’s latest injury. He has been elevated to the leadoff spot, which gives him a much better chance to accumulate more runs and steals than most will be projecting. He’s not a sexy pick, but cheap speed always has value come draft day.
OF – Dayan Viciedo, CHW (306) – The trade of Carlos Quentin to the Padres has cleared the way for the Viciedo to become an everyday player this season. He is still very young at 23 years old, but he should have no problem cracking 20 homers in Chicago’s friendly confines.
UT – Chris Davis, BAL (312) – Will this finally be the year that someone gives Davis 400 or more AB’s? Time will tell, but if it happens he’ll provide power as well as some versatility at 1B/3B. Many will be afraid to take a chance on him again, making him an endgame bargain that could finally pay off.
SP – Brandon Morrow, TOR (157) – Morrow has the strikeout rate to provide 200 K’s as an SP3/SP4 in your fantasy rotation. He has struggled with his control and secondary pitches, but is making a concerted effort to work on his changeup and breaking pitches this spring. I am not alone in predicting a breakout year for the 27-year-old, as he stands out as a pitcher who could easily burst into the top 20 with a little more consistency.
SP – Hiroki Kuroda, NYY (206) – If Ivan Nova can win 16 games with a 5.3 K/9 and a 3.10 BB/9, then Kuroda can easily have similar success with a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.18 BB/9. He’s never been a big winner in the past, mainly bringing nice ratios to the back end of your fantasy rotation. This year, he’ll finally deliver the W’s as well.
SP – Colby Lewis, TEX (230) – Home runs got the best of Lewis last year and his ERA suffered as a result. Still, in most respects he was basically the same pitcher who was such a nice surprise in 2010. The Ranger offense will provide plenty of support, giving Lewis the chance to win more games than he loses. If he can get back to mixing up his pitches again, he could cut down on the dingers and get that ERA back down again.
SP – Scott Baker, MIN (236) – Baker’s stock is down in large part because most remember the elbow injury that derailed his promising 2011. He has looked healthy so far in camp, and like Kuroda before him, is a guy you target because he’ll keep those ratios in line. The injury risk has just made him cheaper than he should be. He is prone to the gopher ball, but he did display an increased ability to miss bats last year. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s effective when healthy.
SP – Brandon McCarthy, OAK (249) – If you have been reading my column for the past few weeks, you will already be familiar with my thoughts on McCarthy. Mastersball seems to be more bullish on him than just about anyone out there, and I am on board with the site’s assessment that he will continue to build on last season’s breakout.
SP – Henderson Alvarez, TOR (341) – Alvarez definitely fits the profile of the type of pitcher I want at the end of my fantasy rotation. I want a guy with upside who won’t kill my ratios. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but if I’ve gotten my K’s early, I’ll always find room for a guy like this on my team. Most people are discounting him due to his age and there’s no denying that to not expect him to struggle at times in his first full season is unrealistic. Still, this is someone you can get very late in your drafts. I’d rather gamble on him than on Jake Peavy.
RP – Kyle Farnsworth, TB (198) – If you are going to wait on closers, you might as well target Farnsworth. He was pretty darn good last year and he could easily squeeze out another dominant season. The Rays will win games, putting 40 saves within reach again.
RP – Jim Johnson, BAL (233) – He is looking like he’s got the job locked up to start the year. Everyone likes to get that third closer if they can, and this is the most likely guy to fill that spot on draft day. He won’t dominate anyone, but he has the stuff to get the job done.
RP – Addison Reed, CHW (264) – I feel like I am almost contractually obligated to have Reed on this list, but I feel okay since I was driving the bandwagon pretty early this year here on the site. The kid throws gas, pure and simple. He’s going to be a big part of that bullpen. He might not get first crack at saving games but it’s not hard to see that he’s the future. It’s more a matter of “when” than “if.”
RP – Vinnie Pestano, CLE (266) – His stock shot up recently with news of Chris Perez’s injury. With Perez’s rehab going well, hopefully the buzz on Pestano will die down again so you can steal him even later. He’s better than the incumbent and the Indians will hand him the job at some point, likely by dealing away Perez if they can. Even in a setup role he’ll offer big K totals and stellar ratios.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions below in the comments section.
You can find Ryan most days in the Forums or follow him on Twitter: @ryanpcarey