The Making Of A Sleeper

At the tail end of my 2012 draft in an AL only 5X5 keeper league, I was looking for a starting third baseman. Not a great spot to be in when all the top 3B are either protected, or taken, and you’re trying to fill a position that represents solid to great offensive production for your competitors.

I would normally be filling backup middle infield or catcher at the end of my draft. But despite my predicament, I found myself watching each pick with increasing anticipation, feeling suspiciously good about this situation.

My assessment of Mariners infielder Kyle Seager had been thorough. I had him pegged as a sleeper-in-waiting who could potentially help me if everything fell my way. And dog-gone it if the draft picks didn’t just fall perfectly in line.

Our league uses AVG,OBP,HR,RBI and SB offensively. It’s a highly competitive league that was started way back in 1989 when Fantasy Baseball was still called “Rotisserie Baseball”.

Kyle Seager had had a strong spring in 2012, but Cinderella also wears slippers in spring, be careful over-valuing spring numbers. Spring is a bit player in this formula.

By Spring last season, Chone Figgins and his big contract had all but played their way out of Seattle. The M’s had prospect Alex Liddi in the minors, but he wasn’t really ready to push for the starting 3B gig. Third base was Seager’s for 2012 if he simply produced.

Not a highly touted prospect, Seager was actually drafted as a second baseman. Seager’s minor league numbers portray a hitter who hits for average. (.328 over three seasons), shows good plate discipline (130BB’s to 165K’s), and has gap or possibly developing power (22HR’s in 1090AB’s).

For 2012, I didn’t expect or need Seager to smack 25-30 homers. I needed double digit home run production, a good average, and someone who wouldn’t hurt me. I got .259, 20HR’s and 86RBI, with an OBP of .316. Not yet All-Star numbers, but definitely very solid in an AL only league. Snagging that production in an AL only league when your peer is drafting a backup SS or Francisco Cervilli is pure gold.

Seager homered twice as often in 2012 as he did in 2011 (every 30AB’s vs. every 60AB). He was also clutch, hitting .308 with RISP. Even in an anemic offense and a pitchers park he drove in a solid 86 RBI.

When you are assessing sleeper status, there are some key indicators to look for: How has he developed in the minors? How long did he stay at each level? Does he have the pedigree? Does he display plate discipline? Strike zone judgment rarely improves substantially once a player hits the big league level. Can he, will he take a walk? Look at their current position within the organization. Are they going to get regular playing time? Who is pushing them from the minors?

Finally, know the rosters and needs of your competitors. Even if all the factors are there for sleeper potential, when will the player go in the draft? Taking Seager in the early rounds would have been a reach or a mistake. Picking sleepers is an imperfect science. Sometimes your sleeper is a bust right out of the gate.

Even when everything clicks though, you have to recognize a sleeper before you can draft him.

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