SleepersJanuary 23, 2012

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Sleeper Watch

By R.J. White

Next up in our series of 2012 fantasy baseball sleepers — the shortstops. Not everyone can land a Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez for the position, and if you don’t spend a premium price on one of those guys early, you’re stuck playing catch-up. We’re going to dip past the next couple tiers of SSs and find five backup types that could return starter value at the position this season.

Emilio Bonifacio, MIA. We listed two SS-eligible players on the Marlins above, and here’s another. Bonifacio caught fire in the second half of last season, hitting .319 with 32 SBs in 329 at-bats. The average was largely luck-driven — he had an absurd.463 BABIP in July and a slightly less absurd .419 BABIP in September and October. However, the speed is real. He’s the favorite to start in centerfield for the Fish, and he still has plenty of value as long as he keeps running, even if he hits in the .260s. Plus, he’s 3B and OF eligible as well.

Zack Cozart, CIN. Tommy John surgery curbed a nice start to Cozart’s professional career last year, as he hit .324 with two dingers in just 37 at-bats before the injury. He has a history of not only good power but excellent speed in the minors, hitting 17 homers and stealing 30 bases in Triple-A in 2010. Though his average isn’t likely to be close to .300 over a full season, he should provide similar stats to what you expected from Ian Desmond last year, and as a candidate to hit first or second in a nice lineup, he should rack up some runs as well.

Marco Scutaro, COL. This 36-year-old veteran was recently shipped off from Boston, putting him in line to start at second base for the Rockies. We know Coors Field contributes to better offensive numbers in general, and Scutaro seems like he can keep an average in the .290s all year, even if last year’s .299 was a little lucky. At his age, you have to worry about injury playing a factor, but if he can stay healthy for 500-plus at-bats, he could top Derek Jeter’s numbers this year at half the price.

Jed Lowrie, HOU. Lowrie brought some buzz with him into the 2011 season after hitting .287 with nine HRs in 171 at-bats from late July when he joined the Red Sox till the end of the season. He started off on a tear last season with three HRs in April and a .400 average as late as April 28. The party ended after that, and struggles with a shoulder injury in the middle of the season pushed him out of the fantasy eye for good. However, the Astros have come along and scooped him up to start at shortstop, and a healthy season could mean finally fulfilling Lowrie’s promise over a full year.

Eduardo Nunez, NYY. Nunez saw quite a bit of action last season all around the diamond, filling in at second, third and short on numerous occasions. With the trade of Jesus Montero, a lineup spot has opened at DH. The Yankees have suddenly become gun-shy at throwing money at a free agent to fill the role, and the speculation is that they could use the DH slot to rest regulars throughout the season. If this is the case, Nunez should see a lot of at-bats at various positions as well as DH himself. He hit .265 with 22 SBs in just 309 at-bats last season, but he does have some batting average upside as well. An end-game pick, Nunez should be a nice MI in standard leagues this year.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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