The terms sleeper and bust have officially become irrelevant. They held water back when I scored fantasy football by hand using the USAToday box scores, but with the advent of the computer, a true ďsleeperĒ probably doesnít exist anymore. Itís still the best way to describe what most truly mean by the term, which is identifying the players that are being undervalued. Without further ado, here are my players to target:
Cole Hamels Ė Hamelsí ADP currently sits at 115.5, among the likes of Joe Crede (111.3), Adam LaRoche (114.3) and Chien-ming Wang (115.6). Absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Hamels comes with injury risk (a theme with the pitchers Iím targeting this year), but none of his previous ailments have ever been of the arm variety. His stuff, however, has never been questioned; featuring one of the very best changeups in the game, Hamels posted a tiny 2.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over the final two months last season. He also sported a 76/19 K/BB ratio over 69 1/3 innings during that span. If he throws 220 innings, heíll enter next year as a top-10 and possibly top-5 fantasy starter.
Jonathan Papelbon Ė They say a pitcherís ERA typically increases by about 30 percent when switched from the bullpen to the starting rotation. So even if Papelbon falls in the average range, weíre looking at an ERA at 1.20 this year. OK, maybe last seasonís 0.92 mark isnít realistic in its ability to hold up, but you get the point. Papelbon is healthy and excelling this spring and has been somewhat forgotten now removed from the closerís role and with flashy Dice-K now in Beantown. Papelbonís ADP is 143.6 right now, nestled in between Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Byrnes. Matsuzakaís is almost 50 spots earlier (94.1), and thereís at least a decent chance he outpitches the import. While his strikeout rate should decline now in the rotation, Papelbon makes a fine mid-round target this year.
John Patterson Ė After forearm surgery in July, Patterson could have attempted to return in September but instead elected to give himself a full offseason of rest, bettering the chances of him entering this season at full strength. While he remains an injury concern, Patterson is such an asset in strikeouts and WHIP, he cannot be forgotten about. Pitching for the Nationals means wins wonít be plentiful, but calling RFK Stadium home increases his upside. An ADP of 228.1 is simply far too low.
Alex Rios - Rios is hardly an unknown commodity, but at this point, his potential is greater than most give him credit for. The news of Lyle Overbay occupying the second spot in the lineup isnít great for Rios, but maybe heíll do more running hitting lower in the order. Heís always had the skill set and was finally living up to that potential last year before a staff infection essentially ruined his season. Before succumbing to the injury, Rios had a .968 OPS in 72 games. If you prorate his stats from then on, his line would look like this: .330, 34 homers, 119 RBI, 104 runs and 20 steals. Those type of counting stats over a full season are probably a tad overly optimistic, but you get the idea. Treat him like a top-20 outfielder.
Nick Markakis - Markakis had a very up-and-down first season; he clubbed just two homers over his first 202 at-bats but then hit .366 over a three month stretch. During August, he hit 10 long balls and finished with a 1.140 OPS, only to struggle throughout the final month of the season. This year, heís set to bat third in a solid Orioles lineup, and even if he doesnít immediately become the star he will one day, a .290-25-100-100 line should arrive as soon as this season.
Kelly Johnson - This sleeper is of the catatonic variety, as Johnsonís ADP doesnít even show up in the top-400, meaning heís going undrafted in a whole lot of leagues. A Chipper Jones clone in the batterís box, Johnson has both the skills and the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy commodity this year. Mostly forgotten after missing all of last year following elbow surgery, Johnson is a former first round draft pick with tremendous plate discipline. He also possesses 25-homer power. He hasnít been officially named it yet, but Johnson should act as the Bravesí starting second basemen this year and even has a chance at occupying the leadoff spot in their lineup. Becoming MI eligible will only increase his value, and with his on-base skills, heís a threat to score 100 runs. There likely isnít a better player currently sitting on your waiver wire.