Fantasy Sports R Us

2011 FANTASY BASEBALL SLEEPERS by Ryan Hallam

Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
With Carl Crawford likely to take the fast train to a team that can pay him more money, it seems like the path will be open for Desmond Jennings to take a starting spot for the Rays. He doesn’t translate to a ton of power, but Jennings can run like the wind and should hit for a pretty good average in the majors as well. Jennings has stolen 35 bases in the last three seasons he was healthy in the minors and he could hit 15-20 homers in the majors. Think of Jennings as a poor man’s Crawford, and while he likely won’t realize that potential in 2011, he should do enough in all categories to be a fourth outfielder or a good utility spot if you don’t draft speed early in the draft.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals
Before there was Lord Strasburg of Washington, Jordan Zimmermann was the big time pitching prospect in the nation’s capitol. He has struggled somewhat so far in his limited major league career, but Zimmermann was nasty in the minors, compiling a 16-7 record with more than a strikeout per inning. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2010, but was able to return even if the results weren’t great. The Nationals are becoming a better team little by little, so pitching for them isn’t necessarily a recipe for not getting any wins. Zimmerman has massive talent and the kind of stuff to miss many bats, and could be a guy that you snag at the end of drafts but could perform much better.

Jake Arrieta, SP, Baltimore Orioles
He didn’t strikeout nearly as many batters as was hoped of him in his first half season in the majors, and he walked far too many but most of the time Arrieta competed and competed hard. He finished the season pretty strong, as he gave up three earned runs or less in five of his last six starts, and did the best he could considering the supporting cast around him. Arrieta does have a bone spur in his elbow, but it doesn’t appear that it will require surgery and he should be ready to go in 2011. He is one of the Orioles future aces, and should take a nice step forward in 2011 with a chance to win 12-13 games.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies
With Brad Hawpe out of town, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Fowler will finally get a full time gig in Colorado, a role that he should thrive in. He doesn’t have a ton of power, but as he gets older he should grow into a guy that could hit 20 jacks in the majors. Fowler has speed to burn though, as he hit 14 triples and stole 13 bases in very limited time. If he gets regular at bats, Fowler could be a guy that hits 15 jacks and steals 40 bases, all while hitting a solid .285 average. Fowler should be a great source of steals and really could hit his stride assuming he gets regular time.

J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
This is the next in the line of young, big hitting catchers that is going to come to the major leagues. Arencibia had a huge season at AAA where he had 32 homers in just 104 games. That was in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but that is power you just can’t ignore. His batting average might be a little suspect in his rookie season, but I still think that he can get to about a .270 clip. The Blue Jays did acquire Miguel Olivo in a trade, but if Arencibia can put together a solid Spring Training he certainly could be behind the dish from the first game of the season.

Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees
It isn’t too often that someone on the New York Yankees shows up on a sleeper list, but Nova certainly proved enough in his limited time in the rotation that he is worthy of such a spot. He had a so-so minor league career before breaking out with a huge season in 2010 as he was 12-3 at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre and got his chance at the major league level. He did struggle a little bit with his control, but earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and didn’t give up too many home runs. It is always within the realm of possibility that the Yankees go out and grab a few starters from free agency that would push Nova back to the minors, but if they give him the chance he could surprise fantasy players.

Brett Wallace, 1B, Houston Astros
Once one of the most promising prospects for the Cardinals, Wallace has been traded more times than a fading stock. He now sits as the first baseman of the future in Houston with the trade of Lance Berkman. His talents might not have translated to the majors in 2010, but he was ranked as the 27th best prospect in all of baseball coming into last season by Baseball America. Wallace is a career .300 hitter in the minor leagues ,and has the talent to be a consistent 25 home run hitter in the majors. He certainly took his lumps in 2010, but he now finds himself on a team that is clearly rebuilding and should give him ample opportunity to find his way on the job. First base is a very deep fantasy position, but Wallace has a world of talent, and if a few things break right, he would be at worst an injury insurance guy on your bench, but perhaps a corner infielder or utility guy on deeper rosters.

J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
This is the next in the line of young, big hitting catchers that is going to come to the major leagues. Arencibia had a huge season at AAA where he had 32 homers in just 104 games. That was in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but that is power you just can’t ignore. His batting average might be a little suspect in his rookie season, but I still think that he can get to about a .270 clip. The Blue Jays did acquire Miguel Olivo in a trade, but if Arencibia can put together a solid Spring Training he certainly could be behind the dish from the first game of the season.

Chris Sale, SP/RP, Chicago White Sox
Sale was the White Sox first round pick in 2010 and he rifled through the minor leagues after coming out of college. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in the minors, and even got a cup of coffee with the big club in September, even registering four saves for Chicago when Bobby Jenks got hurt. It has been said that he will get a look as a starter in 2011, but even if that doesn’t work out we have all been waiting for Jenks to lose his job for the past three years. Sale has great stuff, and perhaps his best quality is the way that he racks up the strikeouts. This kid has a chance to make an impact in the majors whether it be in the starting rotation or in the back end of the bullpen and you can pull a gem out of the draft if you pick him in the very late rounds.

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B/DH, Kansas City Royals
This isn’t exactly the friendliest name to try to search for when you are scouring the free agent wire in your league, but it could be worth the effort. Ka’aihue has big time power, unfortunately he hasn’t gotten much chance to show his wears in the majors yet. They already have a guy just like Ka’aihue in Billy Butler but right now I would think that they are going to have to put one of these guys at first and the other at DH even though they are both liabilities with a glove. Between the minors and majors last season, Ka’aihue connected on 32 home runs in 146 games and if he can get anywhere near that in the upcoming season he could be a huge diamond in the rough for your fantasy team.

Travis Snider, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
This guy came into the league a couple of years ago with all kinds of hype and fanfare. Unfortunately for Snider, most of the first couple of seasons have been littered with inconsistencies and trips to the Minor Leagues. Snider has struck out about once per game in his time in the majors, and every time he does go down to the farm he absolutely rakes. He did show a little promise in his time with the Blue Jays in 2010 and I believe that he will use that to springboard himself to a viable fantasy player this upcoming season. He’s never going to hit .330, but Snider has the potential to hit 25-28 home runs and if he can improve his plate discipline he could hit around .285.

Corey Luebke, SP, San Diego Padres
With the Padres understandably not picking up the option on Chris Young, this could easily open the door for Luebke to be a regular part of the San Diego rotation. Another in a long line of tall San Diego pitchers with good strikeout potential, Luebke showed what he was capable of when he shut down the Dodgers in a September start where he threw six shutout innings and struck out seven. He will definitely need some more seasoning, but with what he has already shown and pitching in PetCo Park, Luebke has the stuff to surprise fantasy players who take a late shot on him or those who might pick him up off of the waiver wire.

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