By Ryan Hallam
Garrett Atkins, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
If you had said at the beginning of last season that Atkins would belong on a sleeper list just one year later I would have said you were crazy. I mean his numbers had declined for three straight seasons, but they completely fell off the map in year four. Atkins went from 21 home runs to just nine, and his averaged dropped SIXTY points to .226. He gets a new start in Baltimore this season, and while he doesn’t have the luxury of 81 games in Coors Field anymore only four of his nine homers came there anyway so it isn’t like that was inflating his numbers. Many times a change of scenery is just what a player needs, and I find it hard to believe that a guy who just turned 30 years old has completely lost his talent. Don’t expect him to revert to his .329/29/120 numbers from 2006, but he should get back to respectability as he remains in a hitter friendly ballpark. Look for Atkins to bounceback with a .265 average, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, and 85 runs scored.
Kevin Slowey, SP, Minnesota Twins
A former second round pick, Slowey was well on his way to living up to the potential the Twins saw in him as he was 10-3 last season when a wrist injury finished his season. Slowey is kind of a rare breed as far as starting pitchers go as he gets a pretty good number of strikeouts but is not a power pitcher. He rarely throws over 90 miles per hour, but he had 361 strikeouts in 367 minor league innings, and he followed that up with 75 Ks in 90 innings last year before going down to injury. Slowey should be fully healthy heading into 2010 and I believe that he will pick up right where he left off. As long as he is able to stay on the mound, he should be a shoe in for 15 wins and at least 150 strikeouts. His ERA might be a little high, but he rarely walks a batter (18 in 133 innings in 2007) so his WHIP is generally in a good place.
Brandon Morrow, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Four years ago Morrow was the fifth overall pick in the MLB Amateur entry draft, but it seems that the Mariners never quite figured out what they wanted to do with him. He was dynamite in the bullpen in 2008 as he struck out a ton of batters and even saved a few games. However, the next year the Mariners were going to use him as a closer which never panned out. Oh wait, let’s send him down to the minors and stretch him out to be a starter. Again, with not positive results. Somehow the Mariners decided to put him back in the ‘pen again and then injuries ended his season. Morrow gets a fresh start with the Blue Jays, and right away they defined his role as one of their starters as soon as they acquired him. Morrow was exclusively a starter in the minors, so it isn’t a role that is foreign to him, but the only thing I worry about is the number of innings he will be able to put on his arm this year, as he threw just over 130 innings last year. I think that is a minimal concern though. Look for Morrow to win 11-13 games and strikeout nearly a batter an inning.
Brandon Wood, 3B, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Is this the year? Finally? We have been waiting since 2005 when he hit 43 homers in the minors for Wood to finally make good on that promise, but it has been five mostly disappointing seasons since. The power has been there in spurts, but the batting average has been too low and the strikeout rate has been way too high. Wood has been blocked in the majors by Chone Figgins, but with his departure for Seattle, the Angels may be forced to do something that they have been hesistant to do thus far which is hand the keys to Wood. Even when he has been called up over the years his playing time has been very sporadic. He has the ability to pop 30 jacks out of the park so he is enticing, but there is plenty of risk for him to continue to be the bust he has been at the major league level to this point. If he is available in the last few rounds of your draft, he is absolutely worth the flier.
Drew Stubbs, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Once the 8th overall pick in the draft, Stubbs was ranked as the third best prospect for the Reds coming into 2009. He got the call to the majors in August, and he far surpassed what was expected of him. He was expected to run so his ten steals over 42 games weren’t a surprise, but the fact that he hit eight home runs was unexpected considering he had just three over 107 games in the minors in 2009. There is no doubt that Stubbs will continue to run and has a real chance to steal 40 bases, but he will also likely hit around .275 and hit 13-17 home runs to go with it. As injury insurance or perhaps as a utility guy, Stubbs will bring you speed in the late rounds and is worth a draft selection.
Scott Sizemore, 2B, Detroit Tigers
In two levels of the minors last season Sizemore was able to hit .307 with 17 homers, 66 RBI, and 21 steals over 130 games. He showed enough that the Tigers decided to let Placido Polanco walk out the door, which should open the door for Sizemore to claim the starting job right out of Spring Training. Sizemore isn’t a guy who is going to dominate in any one particular category, but he should give you decent production across the board. Assuming he wins the job, which is nearly a foregone conclusion, he should be able to hit about .285 with 12-15 home runs and steal 20-25 bases. He is a great late round sleeper, especially for leagues that require a middle infield roster spot.
Kelly Shoppach, C, Tampa Bay Rays
When given the opportunity, Shoppach has proved that he can do one thing and that is hit the long ball. When Victor Martinez was injured in 2008, he launched 21 bombs in just 112 games and hit 12 more last year with just under 90 games played. He doesn’t exactly hit for a reasonable average, although I do expect him to do better than the .214 he hit last year. Shoppach now goes to Tampa Bay where he will battle Dioner Navarro for playing time. Tampa obviously thinks that Navarro is a good enough defensive catcher because they have stuck with him for a few years. So, he might need a real power surge or an injury to get regular at-bats, but if you do see that he is playing very regularly Shoppach could be a guy that can help you with power from a position where power is very scarce.
Matt Lindstrom, RP, Houston Astros
Lindstrom was one of the more exciting closers in the majors last year, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. He has an electric arm and is capable of throwing the ball over 100 mph, but unfortunately he doesn’t always know where it is going. Lindstrom didn’t blow many saves (just two in 17 attempts), but he sure gave up his fair share of runs (5.89 ERA), and walked 24 guys in just 47 innings. Brandon Lyon is dealing with some cyst issues that will likely effect him into Spring Training, giving Lindstrom the leg up on the closer’s job. The Astros play a lot of close games, and if he can get that fastball under control, Lindstrom could be in for a big year.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B/OF, Chicago Cubs
In his last real season in the minors, Hoffpauir showed that he had nothing left to prove down on the farm. In just 71 games he hit .362 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI. Now, he isn’t a young hot shot prospect (he turns 30 in March) and I don’t expect those numbers to ever translate to the major league level, but Hoffpauir proved if he was given a shot with the big club that he could be productive. In 234 at bats in 2009 for the Cubs, he belted 10 home runs and drove in 35 runs, although his average was atrocious. Now, he isn’t projected to be a starter for Chicago to start the 2010 season, but he is capable of playing either corner outfield spot and first base, so there are numerous chances for him to get playing time. Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Kosuke Fukudome haven’t exactly been the picture of health throughout their careers, and Hoffpauir could fill in for any of them. He is not a guy to draft to start the season, but definitely someone to keep your eye on in case of an increase in playing time, he could really help you in the power department.