A fantasy baseball sleeper can be defined in a number of different ways. What it really comes down to is the ability to draft a player at a lower position than they should be positioned. In other words, a fantasy baseball sleeper is any player who will perform significantly better than other players drafted in or around the same round.
So, how does a player slip past the other fantasy baseball owners on draft day? Generally, if a player has a significantly poor season statistically, or if they experience a serious injury, then that player may be deemed to have decreased in perceived value. Sometimes, a player has in fact dropped in value. Other times however, a player may have simply had an ‘off year’ or may be able to bounce back from injury to perform at previous levels. The key is to identify who these players are and which may in fact be ‘sleepers’ heading into next year.
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers
Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE)
A little over a year ago, Jimenez was the talk of the baseball world. He entered the All Star break in 2010 with a record of 15-1, 2.20 ERA and was limiting opposing hitters to a .198 BA. He regressed slightly in the second half of that season but still ended up with a great season. In 2011, he didn’t fare
Quite as well and a move out of Colorado didn’t help as much as expected. Although he has seen a dip in his velocity, it hasn’t been an alarming drop so he should rebound with an off season of adjustments. Chalk it up to a poor year and expect him to drop to a favorable position at the draft table in 2012.
Adam Wainwright (STL)
Entering 2011, Wainwright was one of the top 5 pitchers in all of baseball. However, an early season elbow injury required ‘Tommy John’ surgery and ended his year. There is a long list of pitchers who have recovered nicely from the procedure (Tim Hudson, Billy Wagner, John Smoltz) and Wainwright’s prospects for beginning the 2012 season look promising. The average recovery period for the surgery is approximately 12 months putting Wainwright in a position to be a nice sleeper in 2012.
Adam Dunn (CWS)
Prior to 2011, there was no power hitter more consistent than Dunn in all of the major leagues. From 2005-2010 Dunn put up home run totals of 40, 40, 40, 40, 38 and 38. Then, he fell apart with only 11 HR and a BA of .164. That type of historic decline will sour even the most optimistic of fantasy owners. Despite of the rock solid consistency, Dunn is a human being (not a robot) and as such is susceptible to ups and downs. Keep an eye on him in the off season and spring training. He may slip so far in most fantasy owners’ minds that he may just be the sleeper of the year in 2012.
Shin-Soo Choo (CLE)
There is nothing more appealing to fantasy owners than a player who offers both power and speed. Toss in the fact that Choo also hits for a .300 average and he was being drafted among the top 20 outfielders in most fantasy leagues. The 2011 season was one of major problems both on and off the field for the Indians slugger. Even when he returned late in the season, he was able to stick around for the grand total of 1 at bat before injuring himself again. Having burned several fantasy owners (and scaring many more in the process) should allow Choo to slip to a draft position worthy of serious consideration in 2012.
Aaron Hill (TOR)
Middle infielders with power are a rare breed and highly valued in fantasy circles. After setting a Blue Jays second baseman record with 36 HR in 2009 (with 108 RBI), he slipped to 26 HR the following year and a paltry 6 HR in 2011. This led Hill to be reviled by fans and team management alike and saw him shipped out of town to Arizona, where he put up a .300 BA. A free agent, Hill won’t be returning to Toronto in 2012 and just may be a late-round steal at the draft table next season.
Alex Rios (CWS)
This isn’t the first time Rios has disappointed. In 2009, the Blue Jays were so frustrated with Rios’ that they essentially waived him to the White Sox with no return. Although he has disappointed in 2011, the problem with the outfielder seems to be less about production then it has to do with effort. Rios often gives the impression that he is ‘dogging it’ when really he is seemingly just very low-key. A player with his prominent skills tends to leave managers (and fantasy owners) wanting more. Take him for what he is: a player with power, speed and the ability to drive in runs. So long as you do not over-value him, you will be pleased with his production. He has started to show some signs of life late in the season as well as a willingness to work on his game in the off-season. Let him drop in the rankings and grab him late.
If it’s fantasy baseball sleepers in 2012 that you are looking for, there are plenty of candidates. If you allow other fantasy baseball owners to react to recent events, they might just miss the opportunity to grab a bargain next year.
Chris McBrien is a baseball writer for numerous websites and may be found at Dear Mr. Fantasy. He may also be followed on Twitter @cmcbrien.