Drew Silva

Draft Strategy

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American League Sleepers

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Last week we took a look at some of the juicier fantasy sleepers that populate the National League. Now it's time to do the same for the American League.

If you're looking for even more in-depth analysis of this season's fantasy risers and fallers, check out Rotoworld's Online Draft Guide. It's packed to the brim with nearly 1,000 player profiles and projections, tiered rankings at each position, printable cheat sheets, customizable scoring features and more. We put over 150,000 words into the thing and I can safely say that there's nothing like it on the market.

J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays

It's not easy to find great power bats at catcher. Brian McCann is a force, Joe Mauer is one of the top all-around hitters in the game, and Carlos Santana is an exciting up-and-comer, but the list of power-driven catchers tails off from there. Enter Arencibia. The 25-year-old from Miami, Florida slugged 27 home runs in 126 games between Single-A and Double-A in 2008, then 21 home runs in 116 games at the Triple-A level in 2009. He topped both of those totals with an incredible 32 jacks in 104 games at Triple-A last year. The Blue Jays are ready to hand him the starting backstop gig this season and he should be ready to run with it.

Gio Gonzalez, SP, Athletics

There's a reason the A's are drawing preseason hype as a potential sleeper in the American League and it's not about the offense, though David DeJesus and Josh Willingham should prove to be nice additions. It's all about Oakland's young and promising pitching staff that showed flashes of greatness last year and should only get better with age. Dallas Braden threw a perfect game last year, Brett Anderson was fantastic when healthy, Trevor Cahill pitched to contact and made it work beautifully, but Gonzalez is the guy who deserves the most attention from fantasy buffs. He struck out 171 batters in 200.2 innings last season while tallying 15 wins. That's the line of a rock-solid No. 2 fantasy starter.

Brian Matusz, SP, Orioles

If you were to look back at lists of "sleepers" from last spring, you'd probably find Matusz mentioned in most of them. Why, then, is he being listed again here in 2011? Because he didn't completely meet the hype, and because we all know that he has the ability to here in 2011. The 24-year-old left-hander did not get off to a great start last season, posting a poor 4.77 ERA and 1.45 WHIP across his first 18 starts. But he rallied after the All-Star break with a 7-3 record, 3.63 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over his final 14 appearances. All in all, the Orioles youngster fanned 143 batters in 175.2 innings. That strikeout total should only go up in his second full season.

Mike Napoli, C, Rangers

Napoli was involved in two different trades this winter, first heading from Anaheim to Toronto for outfielder Vernon Wells, then moving from the Blue Jays to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. We're kind of hoping that all of that movement will allow the 29-year-old catcher to fly under the radar in fantasy drafts this spring. He slugged 26 home runs in only 140 games last season and is capable of topping the 30-homer plateau this year while playing half of his games in the power-friendly confines of the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Surrounded by a high quality lineup, he should also see a ton of RBI opportunities.

Brandon League, RP, Mariners

Mariners closer David Aardsma underwent surgery on the left side of his hip in January and is expected to miss the first two weeks of the regular season. Our guess is that he misses even more time than that. Aardsma tried walking without crutches for the first time Wednesday at spring training and told reporters that he could only put about 30 percent of his weight down. Bring on Mr. League. The 27-year-old right-hander posted a 1.19 WHIP over 79 innings of relief last season for the Mariners and boasts a 132/48 K/BB ratio over his last 153.2 frames. He will open 2011 as Seattle's closer and could recapture the gig mid-summer if Aardsma, who is getting quite expensive in his second year of arbitration eligibility, is sent packing at the trade deadline.

Phil Coke, SP, Tigers

Looking for this year's C.J. Wilson? Coke might be your man. The Tigers acquired the left-hander last offseason in their trade with the Yankees for outfielder Curtis Granderson and are ready to give him a spot in their 2011 starting rotation. Last year, Coke was used as a setup man and registered a 3.76 ERA over 64.2 innings out of the Detroit bullpen. This year, he'll be back in the role that he played for the duration of his five-year minor league career. Coke's strikeout rates have been consistently respectable and he has drawn raves from Tigers manager Jim Leyland so far in spring camp. Topping Wilson's smooth transition will be tough, but Coke has the goods to tally a quality strikeout total and a decent ERA this season as a first-time starter in the American League Central.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles

For veteran fantasy players, Roberts is a household name. He averaged 101 runs scored, 46 doubles, 12 home runs, 62 RBI and 35 stolen bases per season from 2004-2009 and was one of the first second basemen off the board in most fantasy drafts during that period. A back injury and a concussion killed that steady rate of production last season, but Roberts is entering spring training this year with a clean bill of health and he should be able to climb at least somewhat close to where he once was. The 33-year-old still managed to swipe 12 bases in 14 chances in 2010 despite starting only 58 games. His value as a base-stealing threat remains intact.

Chris Sale, SP, White Sox

The White Sox aren't completely sure yet what role Sale is going to play this season. If Jake Peavy is almost recovered from his lat surgery by Opening Day, the Pale Hose will probably stick Sale in the bullpen and give him save opportunities alongside Matt Thornton. If Peavy has a setback this spring or simply isn't making a quick enough recovery, the White Sox will ask Sale to step up and fill that void in their starting rotation. The 21-year-old lanky southpaw is being groomed as a starter in camp this spring just in case and he has the ability to post strong numbers in either role. Last year, he turned in a 1.93 ERA and 32/10 K/BB ratio over his first 23.1 major league innings as a late-season reliever.

UPDATE: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen announced Thursday that Sale is going to be used out of the bullpen this season. He will compete for ninth inning duties this spring against Thornton and probably has even more valuable as a sleeper than when this article was first published. It should be a tight race.

Jake McGee, RP, Rays

Rays manager Joe Maddon has expressed a desire to use a committee approach in the ninth inning this season. It's a strategy that makes total sense, especially given the current options in the Tampa Bay bullpen and the way that bullpen was ravaged this winter by free agency. But it's doubtful that Maddon actually sticks to it. We hear every spring that a team might attack the ninth inning with a variety of pitchers, but it's usually just one guy shouldering the majority of the load when all is said and done. J.P. Howell is a reliable lefty, Kyle Farnsworth still throws gas, and Joel Peralta posted a gorgeous 2.02 ERA in 49 innings for the Nationals last season, but we're keeping our eye on the 24-year-old McGee. He was dominant at the Triple-A level in 2010 and showed no signs of nervousness when brought up to the majors in September. The lefty has crazy upside.

Jorge Posada, DH, Yankees

Yeah, you're reading this correctly. Posada, a 39-year-old veteran with 16 major league seasons in pinstripes to his name, is a fantasy sleeper entering the 2011 campaign. He's aging quickly and coming off knee surgery, but the Yankees are planning to use him primarily at designated hitter this year and that should allow him to stay healthy while tallying something close to 140 starts. He hasn't played in more than 120 games since 2007, and yet he slugged 22 home runs in 2009 and 18 home runs last season. With a fuller slate of at-bats, he might be capable of topping 25 dingers for the first time since 2003. That's a big-time total at catcher, where Posada will remain eligible for the duration of the 2011 season.

Drew Silva is a baseball editor for Rotoworld and also contributes on NBC Sports' Hardball Talk. He can be found on Twitter.
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