SleepersJanuary 19, 2006

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Sleeper Watch

By Brendan Horton

Approximately one year ago, fantasy owners were buzzing about outfielder Aaron Rowand, then with the Chicago White Sox. In fact it may seem so long ago that we don’t even remember why we had our hopes up in the first place. Rowand, coming off career highs in every single standard 5×5 fantasy category – batting average (.310), home runs (24), RBI (69), stolen bases (17), and runs (94) – had helped lead many fantasy owners to victory down the stretch in 2004, as he caught fire and seemed to be hitting everything. To make it just a little bit sweeter, he had done so playing only 140 games (which at that point was a career high as well), on less than 500 at bats. So, the buzz was there, with expectations that Rowand, with a 550 at bat season, would be capable of hitting .300, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 HR, 80 RBI, 110 runs, and 20 or more stolen bases. The 2005 season came and went, and while Rowand is now flashing some serious hardware on his ring finger, fantasy owners were left feeling as if they had fallen for false advertising, as Rowand finished the year with a .270 average, 13 longballs, 77 runs scored, 69 RBI, and 16 swipes in 578 at bats. We had been deceived. Or had we?

There is good news for those who are wary of Rowand heading into the ‘06 season. Rowand has traded in his black and white threads of the Windy City and is now clad in the red of the City of Brotherly Love, where, by the way, he will play 81 games at hitting haven Citizens Bank Park. That alone is enough to propel a player’s fantasy value. Just ask Kenny Lofton, who hit .335 and swiped 22 bases at the age of 37 for the Phillies in 2005. In addition to CBP being a launchpad, in 2005 Rowand only hit .257 at home, while notching a .282 average on the road (just one point below his career average).

It’s uncertain where Rowand will bat in the Phillies’ order, but the two-hole seems like a perfect spot for him to settle in (Aaron batted .625 with two HR and five RBI in 16 ABs in that spot in 2005; a small sample, but something to build on) . With speedy leadoff man Jimmy Rollins moving station to station in between pitches over 40 times last year, that bodes well for Rowand, who managed to bat .313 with runners on and .290 with runners in scoring position, despite his down year in ‘05. Add to that three upper-echelon bats in All-Star outfielder Bob Abreu; outfielder Pat Burrell, who racked up 32 HR and 117 RBI a year ago; and Chase Utley, who may well be the #1 second baseman in all of fantasy baseball, following Rowand to drive him in, and we just may see those numbers we were projecting in February ‘05. Better late than never.

Keep Aaron Rowand in your mind as you assemble your draft sheets heading into this spring. In all likelihood, he’ll be able to be had at a very reasonable draft position or auction price. And if you’re in a keeper league, there’s nothing quite like snagging a player heading into the heart of his prime (Rowand turned 28 in August), and being able to keep him for several years to come, knowing he was an afterthought to the rest of your competition.

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