SleepersJanuary 19, 2009

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Sleeper Watch

By Ryan Dunn

Welcome to this season’s first edition of Sleeper of the Week. As a new writer, I have some reservations about writing this particular column. The nature of this type of information will often turn out to be incorrect in hindsight. Sleeper articles are a great place to look like a fool.

My first sleeper of the week for 2009 is infielder Ian Stewart of the Colorado Rockies. The 2008 Rockies were very strong with Garrett Atkins at third, Todd Helton at first, Matt Holliday in left, and Brad Hawpe in right. There was seemingly no way to get the twenty-three year-old Stewart every day at-bats, so he started the season in triple-A. Ian was finally called up at mid-season and performed fairly well in regular duty, posting an .804 OPS in 266 at-bats as a 23 year old.

In the first Cafe Rankings of the season, 15 Cafe members were asked to rank their top 25 players at each position for the upcoming season. In the third basemen category, Stewart was the 26th highest player drafted on average. Only five of the 15 voters placed Stewart in their top 25, but it is telling that three of those five had Stewart ranked either 17th or 18th. This defines the player as a sleeper. I will go as far as saying he can perform enough to break into the top ten for fantasy third basemen this year.

Looking at Stewart’s minor league numbers and production at the Major League level leads me to believe he can have a season similar to Ryan Zimmerman in 2007 (.266, 24, 99, 91, 4). Numbers like this would make Stewart a great value option at third base. If your league recognizes him as a second baseman (most should), then Stewart could potentially be just outside of the top five at that position.

There are a couple of negatives for Stewart. The first is his search for an everyday role. I doubt that he is a season-long answer at second base, so most of his playing time is going to have to be at third. This means that Atkins needs to either be moved to a different position (left field and first base are the likely options) or be moved to another team as the Rockies rebuild. The other issue is the classic Coors effect. Stewart showed good pop on the road last year, but his batting average dipped considerably. If you draft Stewart late, consider having another option available when Stewart is on the road, especially in a rotisserie league with batting average as a category.

I think the playing time issue will work itself out this spring. There are plenty of scenarios that will allow the Rockies to play Stewart every day. The split issue is something that can be monitored, but I think that even those owners that start Stewart every day will be rewarded in the end. They just have to be prepared for some big swings in production.

Overall, Stewart is a guy that is very likely to out-produce quite a few players at his position(s). The players that he is likely to out-produce will be drafted ahead of him, making him a good value and a good sleeper for 2009.

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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