For our sleepers at third base, we’re bringing you one 2012 semi-breakout player who could take the next step this season, one “post-hype” sleeper for whom the term may as well have been invented, and one completely off-the-radar player that should even qualify as a sleeper in mono-league formats. On to the hot corner.
Trevor Plouffe, 3B, MIN
Despite hitting just .235 last season, Plouffe had a nice breakout year, hitting 24 home runs in just 465 plate appearances. A low .244 BABIP hints that the batting average shouldn’t be as poor this year, giving the possibility that he can crack .250 this season. He was much better against lefties than righties again, and he’ll need to figure out righties at some point to have a fantasy breakthrough. Will that come this year at the age of 26? If he gets 550 plate appearances or more as the full-time starter, he could even see an uptick on his homer total and start approaching 30, even if his 16.7 percent HR/FB rate dips a little, as long as he remains a flyball hitter. Add up the pieces, and while Plouffe doesn’t appear to be a superstar in the making, he could easily be a profitable 3B that sneaks into starter-worthy, top-12 territory.
Ian Stewart, 3B, CHC
Do you like your sleepers of the “post-hype” variety? They don’t get much more post-hype than Stewart, who was rated as a top-five overall prospect by Baseball America … in 2005. That was after a monster year at Class-A as a 19-year-old, and while he maintained solid numbers for several years, another power breakout that saw him hit .280/.372/.607 in 298 Triple-A plate appearances in 2008 made him look ready for prime time. Except when he got to The Show, it all went south. Mediocre pro performances from 2008 to 2010 turned abysmal over the last two seasons, when Stewart as become an afterthought. However, injury may be to blame for part of his poor performance in both years, and he remarked in January that he feels healthier this offseason than he has over the last two years. If that’s the case, we could see a big step forward in progression from where he was in 2010, and that could make him a viable fantasy starter, with the potential to be a star if he hits his previous ceiling.
Luis Jimenez, 3B, LAA
First question is obviously, “Who?” Neither a top prospect nor a late-season callup who caught fire in September, Jimenez has posted quality offensive numbers in the minors while continuing consistent advancement. In 2010, he split time between Class-A and Class-A Advanced, hitting .286/.324/.522 with 12 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 344 plate appearances at the higher level as a 22-year-old. He was shuttled off to Double-A in 2011, where at the age of 23 he hit .290/.335/.486 with 18 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 541 plate appearances. Then last season, he hit .309/.334/.495 with 16 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 517 plate appearances as a 24-year-old in Triple-A, albeit in the highly-offensive PCL. He doesn’t strike out that much (just 72 and 70 Ks in the last two seasons, respectively), which is interesting, considering he is a very aggressive hitter who likes to swing at a lot of pitches. Another plus for his major-league staying power is that he reportedly plays good defense at the hot corner. A very high doubles rate in the minors hints that he could have even more power potential as he enters his peak. Alberto Callaspo’s two-year deal seemingly blocks Jimenez for the time being, but the affordable deal Callaspo signed could make him or even Jimenez himself a valuable trade candidate. There are enough teams with holes at third that we should see what this now-25-year-old can do very soon.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com'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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