Aaron Gleeman

Baseball Daily Dose

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AL-Only Hitting Sleepers

Friday, March 05, 2010


I'll be spending the next couple weeks highlighting my favorite sleepers, devoting one column apiece to NL-only hitters, NL-only pitchers, AL-only hitters, and AL-only pitchers. It's important to note that NL-only and AL-only leagues are far different than mixed leagues and require dipping much deeper into the player pool. Because of that the players who qualify as "sleepers" are much smaller names.

In fact, in order to qualify for my AL-only and NL-only sleeper lists a player can't be among the top 250 picks in mixed leagues according to the constantly updated Average Draft Position data found in our Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide. In other words most of these guys are going completely undrafted in mixed leagues, but the following 10 hitters are definitely worth targeting in AL-only leagues.

Edwin Encarnacion (3B, Blue Jays) - His defense is atrocious, but the Blue Jays seem willing to let Encarnacion take his lumps at third base in a rebuilding year and his bat is likely underrated following a career-worst campaign. He hit just .127 in April and then spent all of May and June on the disabled list with a fractured wrist, but posted his usual .800 OPS with 25-homer power after returning and is still just 27 years old.

Brett Gardner (OF, Yankees) - Gardner was likely pushed to the bench when the Yankees signed Randy Winn, but has enough speed to rack up 20-plus steals in as few as 250 plate appearances. Winn falling apart at age 36 or Curtis Granderson landing on the disabled list would leave Gardner starting regularly and he has 39 steals in 425 plate appearances as a big leaguer after swiping 61 bags in 143 games at Triple-A.

Franklin Gutierrez (OF, Mariners) - Gutierrez might be the AL's most underrated player in both real life and fantasy. He failed to win a Gold Glove despite playing extraordinary defense in center field and on average is being drafted 263rd in mixed leagues despite ranking as the No. 32 fantasy outfielder last season. At age 27 he's not likely to decline and in fact has 20-20 upside that would make him a top-15 outfielder in the AL.

J.J. Hardy (SS, Twins) - Hardy fell out of favor in Milwaukee thanks to a career-worst season and the emergence of Alcides Escobar, moving to Minnesota in an offseason trade for Carlos Gomez. Last year's batting average on balls in play was 20 points below his career norm and Hardy hit .280 with an average of 25 homers and 77 RBIs in the previous two seasons, making him an excellent bounce-back candidate at age 27.

Matt Joyce (OF, Rays) - Acquired last winter in a straight-up swap for Edwin Jackson only to spend the year at Triple-A, this season Joyce looks likely to platoon in right field as the Rays' starter against righties. Sitting against lefties will limit his run production, but should help his rate stats. Along with a solid minor-league track record Joyce has 15 homers and an .834 OPS in 282 plate appearances versus righties as a major leaguer.

Matt LaPorta (1B/OF, Indians) - Former manager Eric Wedge was oddly hesitant to play LaPorta last year and offseason hip surgery clouds his picture somewhat for 2010, but he's a big part of the Indians' future and if healthy they'll find plenty of at-bats for him this season. The centerpiece of the CC Sabathia deal two years ago, LaPorta has 30-homer power without tons of strikeouts and projects as a middle-of-the-order staple.

Adam Moore (C, Mariners) - Kenji Johjima's surprising return to Japan clears the way for Moore to be the Mariners' starting catcher as a 26-year-old rookie, with only backup-caliber veterans Rob Johnson and Josh Bard standing in his way. He's batted above .280 in each of four minor-league seasons for an overall career mark of .301 and also offers 15-homer pop at a position where the talent drops off in a hurry.

Randy Ruiz (1B, Blue Jays) - After a decade of consistently big numbers in the minors Ruiz finally made his MLB debut with the Twins in 2008 and then got his first extended chance with the Blue Jays last season. He batted .313 with 10 homers in 33 games to put himself in the mix for the designated hitter job this year, and while another 1.000 OPS isn't going to happen he should be a cheap source of power and run production.

Scott Sizemore (2B, Tigers) - Sizemore broke his ankle in the Arizona Fall League, but the Tigers still felt confident enough in his readiness to let Placido Polanco leave without a fight as a free agent. Sizemore recovered in time to play in this week's spring training opener, making him a near-lock for the job after hitting .308/.389/.500 with 17 homers, 39 doubles, and 21 steals in 130 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

Brandon Wood (3B, Angels) - A well-known prospect since approximately 1973, Wood should finally get his first extended chance with the Angels this season following the departure of Chone Figgins. His gaudy minor-league numbers are inflated by hitter-friendly environments and a sky-high strikeout rate means his batting average may top out around .250, but the 25-year-old former first-round pick has 25-homer power.

For more analysis of underrated and overrated hitters, plus complete profiles, projections, and dollar values for nearly 1,000 players, get the Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide.


Aaron Gleeman is Rotoworld's senior baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. Also find him at AaronGleeman.com and on Twitter.
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