SleepersJanuary 15, 2013

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Sleeper Watch - 9 comments

By R.J. White

When searching for fantasy baseball sleepers, many people circle the names of incredibly young players they expect to take a step forward. Of course, if a young player has any type of hype attached to his name, it’s hard to find any profit in the draft or auction room. That’s why some of the best sleepers each year are either post-hype sleepers or aging veterans perceived to be on the decline. For our first base sleepers, we’re going to talk about a few guys in the latter category.

Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN

Starting with his MVP season in 2006, Justin Morneau was an elite fantasy baseball weapon for four-and-a-half years. In that time, he posted a .298/.372/.528 slash line with a 138 OPS+ and 162-game averages of 32 home runs, 124 RBI and 98 runs. Sadly, it all came crashing down for Morneau, as a mid-season injury went from bad (missing the remainder of the year) to worse (clearly affecting his play all throughout 2011).

Fantasy owners were willing to give Morneau a shot at retribution in 2012, and he responded with a ho-hum .267/.333/.440 line with 19 home runs in 570 plate appearances. This year, those same owners willing to blame injury for a couple forgettable years are likely to give him the heave-ho after seeing a season of mediocrity.

However, there are some positives when considering Morneau. He’s only 31 years old, still young enough to recapture a large part of his peak performance. He made it through 2012 healthy and is far ahead of where was physically in each of the last two offseasons, according to him. He played much better at the plate when manning first base (with a .275/.343/.450 split). Finally, it’s going to cost virtually nothing to grab him in your draft. I can see him topping .280 and 25 HRs if he can stay healthy, which would mean plenty of profit for you.

Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI

Ryan Howard was a lineup mainstay for much of his career heading into 2012, collecting at least 620 plate appearances in his previous six seasons. But after tearing his Achilles tendon while making the final out of the Phillies’ season in the 2011 playoffs, Howard was guaranteed to miss some time heading into 2012. How much time he would miss was up in the air, and an infection in the stitched-up area of the wound didn’t help matters.

Once Howard finally hit the field in July, he looked to be a shell of his former self, hitting just .219/.295/.423 with 14 home runs in 292 plate appearances. To add injury to insult and the previous injury, Howard broke his toe at the end of 2012 by dropping a batting-practice bat on it. The good news is that the injury isn’t expected to affect his availability for 2013, and Howard’s previous history of great health prior to the Achillies tear could mean a relatively healthy season for the slugger.

How much of his fantasy value can he reclaim? If he goes back to his regular workload of 620-plus plate appearances in 2013, I can’t imagine he’d hit less than 30 home runs. Even with an average in the .250s, that’s something to target late in the drafts. It wouldn’t shock me to see him have a statistically similar year to Mark Teixeira at a fraction of the cost.

Lance Berkman, 1B, STL

The third grizzled veteran in our first-base sleeper article can actually lay claim to the moniker, as they don’t come more grizzled or more veteran than Lance Berkman. Turning 37 in February, Berkman thought long and hard about retiring this offseason after turning in a dismal .259/.381/.444 line in 97 plate appearances in 2012. It marked the first time Berkman had managed to accumulate less than 400 plate appearances since the year 1999, when he picked up 106 plate appearances in his first cup of coffee.

Prior to that near-retirement-inducing line, Berkman had halted a downward performance trend in 2011 by hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 home runs in 587 plate appearances for the Cardinals, even spending most of the season in the outfield for the first time since 2004. Turning his back on walking way, Berkman signed with the Rangers this offseason, bringing his career .296/.409/.544 line back to the state of Texas.

There’s plenty to love about his prospects for 2013. Manager Ron Washington plans to hit him third in the lineup. The DH role should keep him healthy if he can remain engaged in the game while not on the field. His excellent skillset is only one injury-marred season away. He plays in a great home park for offense, and more than a few of his road games will come in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. He’s a guy I’ll be looking to add at the CI slot for cheap in many leagues.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. 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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9 Responses to “1B Sleepers”

  1. Ender says:

    I will be brutally honest with my opinion on this. If any of these guys are sleepers in your league you need to play in deeper leagues. These guys will go in the middle rounds of any really competitive draft since 1B gets bled to death by CI and UT.

  2. User avatar daullaz says:

    @Ender: These guys are being ranked in the 20s on most lists, with Howard occasionally slipping into the late teens. I think they’re more than qualified to be included in a sleeper article.

  3. User avatar MashinSpuds says:

    I guess they’re sleepers in terms of production, like LaRoche from last year, in comparison to the likes of Votto, Gonzalez, and even Tex. No one is going to forget about these guys, but they might forget about the possible numbers. Maybe they’re sleepers as in “don’t sleep on them” versus the typical young guy sleeper.

  4. User avatar NikkiSixx says:

    Sleepers are turning into fading stars who suffered injuries the year before? While these guys are ranked low, I don’t think these are sleepers by any stretch of the imagination. They are all guys that are well known as risky players to own. Yes you can get them in the late rounds, but what fantasy player doesn’t know what these guys are capable of? I usually think of sleepers as people not on most owners radar, and I don’t think that happens with this list. ESPECIALLY if you are speaking to a casual fan…. which is another reason I wouldn’t consider any of these guys sleepers.

    That being said, Ryan Howard would probably be the guy I target of this bunch…

  5. User avatar daullaz says:

    @NikkiSixx: My point is that these players have by and large been written off, despite showing impressive peaks in recent years. I think they have the best chance to outproduce their draft/auction value at the position.

  6. User avatar NikkiSixx says:

    I agree they are all good value plays. Solid write-ups and definitely guys likely to out produce their adp if they stay healthy.

  7. User avatar Kimbos Beard says:

    I don’t know if there is a technical definition of what it takes to qualify as a sleeper. If you want to call these guys sleepers or ADP targets whatever, I think the point is basically the same, these are guys who the author believes can significantly outperform where they are being drafted, for whatever reason. Honestly, I will become bored of the hundreds of other “sleeper” articles that will be telling me to draft Rizzo, Goldy and Freeman. If every website and article is telling you to take Rizzo, Goldy and Freeman, are they really “true” sleepers anymore. Perfect case study: 2012 Hosmer.

  8. mike shavo says:

    I think of a sleeper as someone who nobody in your league has ever heard of. I drafted Evreth Cabrera in 2009 for $1 at the very end of the draft. I just needed a SS and our league was deep so there wasn’t much left to choose from. I’d never heard of Cabrera – he wasn’t even mentioned in that year’s Baseball Prospectus. He went on to steal 25 bases that year, and that to me is a sleeper.

  9. PastramiTime says:

    only sleeper i can see here is Berkman. He has been counted out but i believe he will put up some great numbers in Texas. Morneau and Howard aren’t sleepers….they’re just washed up…..


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