Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Late-Round Targets For Your Draft

Sleepers aren't what they used to be. The idea of grabbing a sleeper that could take your baseball league by surprise has become as outmoded as newspapers. The wealth of information available on the internet at the click of mouse means any player with a shot at a major league roster is well vetted by any diligent researcher.

Still, digging up value, especially in the later rounds of your draft, will always be the key to giving yourself a real shot at taking home your championship. Value can come in many forms on draft day, and today I want to look a few players who fall into several categories.

Here are our four players to target late in your fantasy baseball drafts:

Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

Belt falls into the forgotten by injury category. Last year, Belt's breakout was cut short by injuries. First a broken hand, then a concussion sustained in batting practice served to hide a transformation that had begun the previous season. From August 1, 2013 though his injury on May 9, 2014, Belt hit .300+ with 16 HR, 46 runs scored and 52 RBI across just 352 plate appearances. Entering his age 27 season and his physical prime, the projections of 20 home runs may well be selling him short. With Pablo Sandoval in Boston and Hunter Pence injured, Belt will be given every opportunity to be the focal point of the Giants offense in 2015 and accrue the counting stats needed. Last year, just six qualified first basemen managed to hit at least .270 and launch 20-plus home runs. With an ADP around 200 and as the 28th first baseman, Belt is more than likely being drafted far too low for the production he will provide.

Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians

Salazar falls into the post-hype sleeper category. Last year Salazar was touted as sleeper after coming off a fantastic finish to the 2013 season. Salazar got off to a rough start. While he piled up strikeouts in bunches (47 in 40.2 innings), his 1-4 record and 5.53 ERA were harsh enough to sour most owners and even the Indians on him. After a stint in the minors, Salazar came back and posted the numbers people thought he was due for with five wins, a 3.50 ERA and 73 Ks in 69.1 IP across 12 starts, but by that point, he was overshadowed by Cleveland's Cy Young pitcher Corey Kluber. While his first-half numbers looked ugly, they were heavily influenced by a .369 BABIP and 14.8 HR/FB ratio, two numbers that should, and did, regress in the second half. Last year's 9.82 K/9 would have ranked sixth among qualified pitchers and his 3.52 FIP was 33rd. With an ADP of 241, the 2.83 FIP he posted in the second half of last year would have ranked 11th among qualified starters and could be the sign of a big year in 2015.

Steven Souza, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Souza is the free-at-last prospect. With Bryce Harper and Jason Werth manning the corner outfield spots, Souza was finding playing time scarce in Washington despite two fantastic seasons in the high minors. With the deal that sent him to Tampa Bay, he has cleared the first hurdle to fantasy success and that is playing time. While projections don't see him maintaining the .300+ average he sported in the minors, the speed and power threat is real. Souza is projected to hit 22 HRs and steal 24 bases in 600 plate appearances, last year only four players managed to have more than 20 in each of those categories. With and ADP of 243, Souza can provide plenty value at the tail end of a roster.

Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit Tigers

Hunter is the old and boring pick. Hunter continues to to be a reliable even entering his age 39 season. There aren't a whole lot of projections, and number squinting to see what he has done. It's been a decade since he has failed to record 70 runs or 80 RBI. He's also logged at least 140 games in eight of the last nine years. Projections once again see a solid, unspectacular year from Hunter, but many times the certainty you can get by. Consistent production out of a guy with an ADP of 259 can help smooth over some misses on high-upside youngsters.

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