SleepersFebruary 4, 2009

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Sleeper Watch

By Ryan Dunn

In this edition of “Sleeper of the Week,” we are looking at a 26 year old former first round pick who already has 59 Major League wins to his credit and has thrown only 240 innings over the past two years due to non-arm injuries. This player is pitching in front of what should be an improved team defense. He also has a clean bill of health after a lengthy recovery from the blood clot he suffered last year. He is guaranteed a spot in the rotation for a team that scored 821 runs last year, good for fifth in the Majors.

Have you figured out who it is? I give you Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman.

In 2007, Bonderman was shut down in early September after pitching the second half of the season with pain in his right (pitching) elbow that did not require surgery. This was immediately following a 2006 season in which Detroit advanced to the World Series and Bonderman pitched a whopping 234.1 innings. In Bonderman’s case, my theory about starting pitchers who experience a lack of durability in the season following a World Series run seems to hold true.

While the circulatory problem that Bonderman experienced in 2008 was unfortunate, I believe that it could wind up being a positive as far as 2009 is concerned. Bonderman’s arm has had ample chance to rest since he last pitched in early June. Reports out of Lakeland, Florida, where Bonderman has been working out at the Tigers’ training complex, are that Bonderman looks as healthy as he ever has.

Bonderman has always been a pitcher that has struggled to live up to his potential but still puts up the numbers of an acceptable back-end fantasy starter. He could get you 12-14 wins and 150-170 strikeouts if he can stay healthy. Burning a late-round pick on him is a reasonable risk for the production that he has put out during his last few healthy seasons. His sleeper value lies in the fact that most people have forgotten that he is still only twenty-six years old and has a much higher ceiling than that.

In a perfect world, Bonderman would revert to the form he found in early 2007, before the arm fatigue set in. During the first half of the 2007 season, he went 9-1 with a 3.48 ERA and about a strikeout per inning. If Bonderman can find a happy medium between his career norm and his early 2007 numbers, he could put up around 16 wins with 190 Ks and a 3.90 ERA. That would be a really nice sleeper pick in the 20th round of your draft.

As is often true with a sleeper, Bonderman is worth a look in spring training. I recommend taking a shot on him in the late rounds unless he has a horrible start in the spring. If he shows that he is commanding the strike zone, and more importantly if the changeup he has been trying to figure out finally comes around, I would make it more of a priority to snatch him up.

Ryan Dunn is a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. He resides in South Bend, Indiana with his wife and two children, where he works in sales for a beverage distributor, and part time for the South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League. Ryan posts in the cafe forums as RDD15.
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