I hate the term “sleeper”. With the amount of information available to fantasy owners nowadays, players just don't sneak by in drafts. Sleeper tags are also typically applied only to late round players, when really any player can return value if selected at the right time. Players like Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011 and Andrew McCutchen in 2012 may have been the best draft day bargains the past two years, but neither appeared on any preseason sleeper lists. League settings, size and hundreds of other factors also dictate who should be coined a sleeper. Despite all of that, the big question in fantasy baseball remains, "Who are the sleepers for 2013?”
Because I think the question is impossible to answer, I am not going to give any sleepers. Rather, I will give you my Black Swans Team for 2013. Like black swans, the players on this team are seen by all, but for one reason or another they are being undervalued this season. Some may be early round picks, while others can be had in the closing stages of a draft or auction, but all of these players should give owners a big return on investment in 2013.
Joe Mauer has a chance to be the top catcher in 4 of the 5 roto categories. In fact, last year he was 1st in runs scored, 2nd in steals and 3rd in both average and RBI among catchers. The one category he does not excel in, home runs, is vastly overrated by fantasy owners, making Mauer's elite production available at a discount.
1B – Freedie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
In 2012, Freeman improved upon his rookie campaign in every category except batting average. His .259 average can really be credited to a large discrepancy between his .295 BABIP and his .345 xBABIP, which should correct itself in 2013. Also, his OBP and isolated power saw significant increases in the second half last season. Normally, I disregard second half splits due to small sample size caveats, but Freeman had a tangible reason for his improvement. He had corrective eye surgery half way through last season, making me believe that the boost to his production should be sustainable.
Cano is the poster boy for the Black Swans team, a consensus first round pick that is still undervalued this year. There are 4 truly elite talents this season: Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Robinson Cano, yet Cano is only 7th in ADP on Mock Draft Central. In each of the past three years, Cano has hit at least .302, scored at least 102 runs, hit at least 28 home runs and driven in no fewer than 94 runs. In 2012, he set career highs in homers, runs scored, walk rate, and isolated power, displaying that he is not done improving as a hitter. His numbers alone should make him a top pick, but when you remember he is eligible at second base you have every reason to consider him first overall in drafts.
Ramirez could have made this team at either shortstop or third base, an impressive feat. What’s not to like about Hanley Ramirez? He is a 20/20 lock that has put up numbers his entire career in spite of his ballpark and teammates. At 29 years old, I see no reason he won’t at least repeat his 2012 numbers and I actually think we will see some improvement now that is away from Miami. He should be happy playing SS full-time again and I think a .280 average with 20 home runs, 20 steals, 90 runs and 90 RBI is well in reach for Ramirez.
Escobar detractors will point to a .344 BABIP in 2012 and scream regression, when the truth is he actually underperformed his xBABIP of .354. He will be hitting second in an emerging Royals lineup, which should boost his runs scored and RBI totals up and I think he steals 40 after swiping 35 bags in 40 attempts last year.
Reimold is the only player on this team who is probably undervalued by his own team. Trust me when I say I am not worried that Nate McClouth will take playing time from him. Last year before his injury, Reimold.313 with 5 home runs in just 69 plate appearances and he has displayed power at every level including the major leagues. Do I expect Reimold to hit .315 with 45 home runs this year? No, but I do think he finishes with 20 home runs and steals 10 bases, though, and you will be able to get for next to nothing even in AL-only formats.
SP – Jeff Samardzjia, Chicago Cubs
Samardzjia will fall into the late round starting pitcher category this year, when really he should be drafted in the top 20 at the position. Among pitchers that threw at least 150 innings in 2012, Samardzjia ranked 7th in K% and 15th in xFIP. He gets ground balls at a decent clip, limits walks, is just entering his prime and boasts one of the fastest average fastballs among starting pitchers. With a slight decrease in ERA and increase in innings, Samardzjia should finish with 12-15 wins, a 3.50 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and 210 strikeouts.
Madson was expected to be one of the five best relief pitchers coming into 2012, and it sounds as if he will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery right before the start of the season. Prior to his surgery, Madson had become one of the more dominant pitchers in the Major Leagues. In 2011, Madson threw 60.2 innings, striking out 62 hitters while walking just 16, 8 of which were intentional. Ernesto Frieri is a nice pitcher, but if Madson is healthy he is the Halos’ closer and I expect him to excel in that role.