Fantasy Baseball Sleeper of the Week-Ian Stewart
Welcome my first edition of Sleeper of the Week. As a new writer to this column, I honestly have some reservations about writing this particular column. The nature of the type of information that I will be writing about is that it will often turn out to be incorrect in hindsight. Basically, this is a great place to make myself look like a fool.
The other trick to this type of information is that I have to be ahead of the curve on these guys. I can’t fire out with a name that 90% of the fantasy baseball world considers a sleeper, because then by definition that player is not a sleeper. A tough gig, but a rookie writer has to start somewhere, right?
To start off, a little bit of background information about your writer. I am 29 years old, and live in Indiana. I played baseball throughout my youth, culminating with me playing high school ball for one of the best programs in the northern part of the country. Currently, in addition to my full time job in sales, I work part time as the scoreboard operator and sometime official scorer for a minor league club. I watch over 50 baseball games per year in person, and I catch at least that many on television.
As a fantasy owner, I participate in two to four fantasy football leagues each year, and three to six baseball leagues. I have been participating in fantasy sports since 2006. Two of my baseball leagues are keeper leagues, one of which I serve as co-commissioner. One of those keeper leagues is a very deep league that has keeper spots designated for minor league only players. I really enjoy the challenge of that format.
So enough with the blathering on about myself; you aren’t reading this for my biography. My first sleeper of the week for 2009 is infielder Ian Stewart of the Colorado Rockies.
In 2008, the Rockies were very strong at third base with Garrett Atkins. First base was occupied by Todd Helton, left field by Matt Holliday, and right field by Brad Hawpe. There was seemingly no way to get Stewart every day at-bats, so he started the season in triple-A. Stewart was called up mid-season and performed fairly well in regular duty, posting an .804 OPS in 266 at-bats as a 23 year old.
For the coming year, it seems like the Rockies are keen on finding an every day role for Stewart from Opening Day on. In the recent fantasybaseballcafe.com position ranking poll, 15 site 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 5 of the 15 voters placed Stewart in their top 25, but I think that it is telling that 3 of those 5 had Stewart ranked either 17th or 18th. To me, this defines the player as a sleeper. Most people have him as an afterthought, but some people have him rated fairly high. I am one that feels like he can perform enough to bring himself into the top 15 fantasy third basemen this year.
If you look at Stewart’s minor league numbers, and his production at the Major League level last season, I think that expecting a season with numbers similar to those of Ryan Zimmerman in 2007 (.266, 24, 99, 91, 4) is within reason. Numbers like this would make Stewart a serviceable, if not spectacular option at third base. If your league recognizes him as a second baseman with his 12 games played there last year, then Stewart could be just outside of the top 5 at that position. I have not seen any mock drafts yet this year, but I think that Stewart will last longer in the draft than guys that are similar players, such as Dan Uggla, Troy Glaus, or Zimmerman.
There are a couple of negatives to 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 (first base is an option if Todd Helton is slow to come back from injury), traded, or injured for Stewart to have an everyday role. The other issue is the classic Rockies home/road splits. Stewart showed good pop on the road last year, but his batting average dipped considerably versus his numbers at Coors. If you draft Stewart late, consider having another option available when Stewart is on the road, especially in a roto league with batting average as a category.
I think that the playing time thing will work itself out this spring somehow. There are so many possible scenarios that will allow the Rockies to play Stewart every day that it will be hard for at least one of them to not happen. 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.
My belief is that a .270 batting average, 22 homers, 90 runs, 95 RBI, and 8 steals are within reach for Stewart this season. He could even surpass these numbers if he has the breakout year that he is capable of. This makes him a great value pick later on in a mixed league draft, especially if he is eligible at second base in your league.
Overall Stewart is a guy that is very likely to out-produce quite a few players at his position(s) that will be drafted ahead of him, making him a good value and a good sleeper for 2009.