With Spring Training games kicking off next Wednesday, the chatter about sleepers will begin to be based on actual performances and less on hypothetical scenarios. Starting today, I will review those areas of each major league team where I will be dropping my line to fish for 2009 sleepers. Up first is the NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching staff: There is a new closer in town, Jonathan Broxton, and a rookie who dazzled in last season's NLDS, James MacDonald. With Broxton's promotion from the eighth inning and holes in the starting rotation, MacDonald is the most obvious of several possible sleepers on the Dodgers staff.
Arizona Diamondbacks, bullpen: Currently, Chad Qualls sits atop the closer pile with Jon Rauch and Tony Pena squirming franatically to topple him. Additionally, 2008's 1st round selection Dan Schlereth is expected to begin this season in AA. This looks like the most speculative closing situation in the majors this year.
San Diego Padres, CF, C, pitching staff, middle infield: Let's hope whomever mans C, SS, 2B and CF are absolute defensive whizzes because there isn't going to be any offense amongst them. Man, if only top prospect Kyle Blanks could play one of those positions! Instead, a huge rebound from 2B Matt Antonelli is what fantasy players will be looking for.
On the mound, things are scary behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young. PETCO Park makes conquering one's fear important, though. Whoever takes the hill in home games merits consideration especially if the ability to spot start that pitcher is possible.
Colorado Rockies, 2B and OF: The trade of LF Matt Holliday either opened left for converting 3B Ian Stewart or Eli Manning's back-up at Ole Miss, Seth Smith. If there isn't enough doubt there, how about 2nd-year OF Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs and veteran fav, Scott Podsednick, battling in CF?
At 2B, Clint Barmes tops the depth chart, but Jeff Baker lurks. Given the Baker's 12 HRs ranked 7th amongst NL 2B last season despite just 299 ABs, a full-time opportunity would make Baker a legit top 5 player at his position in NL-only leagues.
Barmes' 11 HRs last year ranked 9th amongst 2B-eligble NLers, though, and both players' splits last year were close enough that either needs to full-time job for mixed league value.
San Francisco Giants, right side of the infield: Playing 1st base for the Giants is....Travis Ishikawa or Rich Aurilia. At 2nd is either Kevin Frandsen, Emmanuel Burriss or Eugenio Velez.
At 1B, Ishikawa offers the upside Rich Aurilia does not. He hit 27 HRs as he rose from AA Connecticut to San Francisco. Along the way, he also swiped eleven bases. This situation is eerily similar to Dan Ortmeier last year, so be wary.
In mixed leagues, Burris and Velez's SB hold little value as neither offers the run production to be anything more than single category players. Their value is perfectly correlated on the negative side with every Kevin Frandsen AB.