As you've probably grown accustomed to, today we'll profile three American League outfielders, who as of today can be drafted late in mixed leagues as 4th or 5th outfielders, and will provide AL Only owners with great draft day value. The first player has a clear path to playing time, however, he does need to fend off his organizations top prospect. The second player finally displayed some of the promise his parent club had hoped for over his first couple go-arounds in the big leagues and is primed for everyday at bats. The final player has all the tools to be a great real life and fantasy player, however, he needs to shake the injury bug that has plagued him so far in his big league career. With that said and a courtesy drum roll, please... let's take a look at this week's American League sleepers.
After the Twins traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere this off season, the question became who will handle center field for the Twins in 2013? While top prospect Aaron Hicks has the job on lock down the road, I'd except the Twins to start the year with Mastroianni in center. Mastroianni's game revolves around his speed, and as such, he'll make a great option for owners who prefer to pick up a big chunk of their stolen bases later in the draft. In 77 games last year, Mastroianni swiped 21 bases, while batting .252 for the Twins. Mastroianni has had at least 30 stolen bases every season dating back to 2008 in the minor leagues, including 70 stolen bases between High A and AA in 2009. While his 24.2% strike out rate is less than ideal, his minor league track record shows an improvement to around the 20% range isn't absurd. When targeting a speed only type player it's beneficial for all parties involved said player can reach base by way of a walk. Over his minor league career, Mastroianni has averaged an 11% walk rate, which should help bolster his stolen base attempts even if the strike outs stay relatively high. If it appears the job is his coming out of spring training he's worth a late round flyer in all mixed leagues, and should be a great source of stolen bases in AL only leagues. If he can land the lead off gig, his value will also increase with the extra runs his overall stat line will receive.
After numerous failed attempts in the big leagues (including a .149/.207/.217 line over 58 games in 2011) Michael Saunders set out last off season looking for help. He found Mike Bard (Josh Bard's brother) and together they overhauled Saunders' swing, allowing the tall Canadian to drive the ball with authority. Whatever they did, it worked, as Saunders was one home run away from a 20/20 season. While his final 2012 line of .247/.306/.432 may not blow you out of the water, look back a few lines up at what he did in 2011. Pretty big improvement isn't it? As the Mariner's roster stands, Saunders will see everyday at bats at each of the outfield positions. There's been much talk regarding the fence changes at Safeco in 2013, and while most left handed hitters currently on the roster won't see a huge benefit from the changes in the left/center power alley, Saunders' new swing is designed to pepper that very area. Just looking at his 2012 hit chart, I see one double and two outs that will now leave the new and improved Safeco Field. Taking a look at Saunders' monthly splits, it's clear August was a rough month for him as he batted .189/.231/.392. If you've read my work before, you know I love to take a look at splits, and remove a month to get an idea of what the rest of his season looked like. Without that stinker of an August, Saunders 2012 line would be: .260/.320/.450 - I think this is closer to the Saunders we see in 2013. Another run at 20/20 season wouldn't surprise me one bit, making the lanky Canadian a prime target as an outfielder flyer in mixed leagues, and a viable 3rd outfielder in AL Only leagues.
After an amazing season in AAA following his trade from the Brewers to the Royals, many savvy fantasy owners had Cain on their 2012 sleeper lists as they headed to the draft table. Owners who were able to land the young Royal's outfielder were pleased for all of 5 games when a strained groin put him on the shelf. As Cain was rehabbing and getting close to returning to the big leagues, a hip flexor injury prolonged his DL stint all the way until July 13th. Not what fantasy owners had hoped for with their late sleeper pick. From July to about mid September, Cain showed fantasy owners the power/speed combination they had hoped would help their roster all year, as he swiped 10 bags to go along with 7 homers. Unfortunately a strained hamstring in September (a September that saw him hitting .308/.357/.538) ended his season prematurely. While his 2012 season consisted of only 61 games, it does hold some bright spots we can use as we head into 2013 drafts. As mentioned above, Cain was able to steal 10 bags in limited action, and was not caught once. For a player coming back from a leg injury it's nice to see he was still able to run effectively when healthy. Cain also maintained a healthy line drive rate which was in line with his career rate of 21.8%. Cain is working hard this off season to strengthen his lower half in an attempt to kick the injury bug that has attacked his legs early in his career. If healthy in 2012 Cain will provide owners with a nice power/speed combination, and a batting average that should hover around .270. His shortened 2012 season should keep his draft price down for mixed league owners, making him a great late round addition. He should come at a decent price for AL Only owners as well and while he'd make a great 3rd outfielder in a 5 OF AL Only league, ideally, managers could grab him as a 4th or even 5th option to protect themselves in case the injury bug bites again.