THE NatsGM 2015 Fantasy Baseball Preview – The Sleepers

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The past two days here at NatsGM.com have been spent identifying both hitters and pitchers that should be targeted during fantasy baseball drafts this year to insure victory. To conclude our fantasy preview coverage, today we shift our attention to players being selected later in drafts, commonly known in fantasy slang as Sleepers.

The term Sleeper is perhaps the sexiest and least concrete term in sports, as it has different meanings to each person. In general most consider a Sleeper someone who outplays his average draft position, though for me this fails to capture the entire concept – a late round pick who is the difference between a middle-of-the-fact finish and winning a championship. In order for a player to be considered a Sleeper for the purposes of this article, he must fall outside the top-200 in Average Draft Position on ESPN.com.

In this article last year I successfully predicted excellent seasons for then Sleepers Howie Kendrick, Anthony Rendon and Yordano Ventura. On the other hand I missed like Adam Jones on a low-and-away slider on my predictions on Ubaldo Jimenez, Colby Rasmus, and Nick Swisher. That’s still a .500 batting average and dare I say, better than most of the fantasy “experts”. These are my 2015 Sleepers.

THE Sleepers

1)   Oswaldo Arcia OF Minnesota Twins (ADP 200.1)

Arcia has weaknesses in his game, as his home park suppresses offense, he strikes out a lot and he provides little speed, but what he does provide is significant power and upside at a bargain price. He hit 20 home runs in 372 at-bats last season and has hit 34 homers in 723 career ABs. Still only 23-years-old, Arcia could hit 25+ bombs this season if he stays healthy for 500+ at-bats, with some potential for batting average improvement if he can learn to lay off the breaking ball away.

2)   Jenrry Mejia RHP New York Mets (ADP 220.5)

A converted starter, Mejia has an electric upper-90s fastball and quietly converted 28 of 31 save attempts in 2014. The Mets have starting pitching depth throughout the organization, meaning that Mejia’s success last season should portend a career pitching in relief. Mejia likely begins the season as their closer, especially considering Bobby Parnell will start on the disabled list, meaning he should be a cheap source of saves and strikeouts for the shrewd owner (me!) who drafts him this spring.

3)   Brandon Belt 1B San Francisco Giants (ADP 226.0)

Belt suffered a concussion last season that essentially wiped out the second half of his season, forcing him to struggle to a .243 average with 12 home runs. Allow this unfortunate injury to help you secure Belt late in drafts and grin like The Joker when this 27-year-old breaks out with 20+ home runs along with a handful of stolen bases.

4)   Danny Salazar RHP Cleveland Indians (ADP 229.4)

Salazar is a talented but woefully inconsistent arm who struggled in the first half of 2014, to the point where he was demoted to the minors, before returning later in the 2nd half and striking out 73 hitters in 69.1 innings pitched. Salazar is only 25-years-old and owns a career 10.3 K/9 ratio, which when combined with the expectation of an improved Cleveland team this season, gives him an excellent chance to breakout like Dakota Johnson in 2015.

5)   Nick Castellanos 3B Detroit Tigers (ADP 234.0)

This guy reminds me of the of the 1999 classic “Forgot About Dre” as the fantasy world is more than sleeping, they are in a coma, on Castellanos. Possessing one of the sweetest right-handed swings in baseball, Castellanos spent all last season as a 22-year-old in the big leagues and hit .259 with 11 home runs and 66 runs batted in. Now 23-years-old Castellanos should hit either #6 or #7 in a potent lineup behind Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez. I expect his batting average to jump closer to .280 this season, with 15+ home runs and 80+ RBI, making Castellanos a terrific value this late in drafts.

6)   Wily Peralta RHP Milwaukee Brewers (ADP 260.0)

Lost amidst the poor finish to the Brewers 2014 season, Wily Peralta blossomed into a mid-rotation major league starting pitcher, posting a 17-11 record with a 3.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 154 strikeouts. Fast forward and the 26-year-old Peralta is often going undrafted this spring, as his sub-7 K/9 rate is scaring off owners thinking last year was a fluke. Certainly the 17 wins will be difficult to match, but otherwise I see little reason why Peralta cannot match or surpass his 2014 numbers this season.

Honorable Mention:   Trevor Bauer RHP Cleveland Indians, Wilmer Flores SS New York Mets, Chase Headley 3B San Diego Padres, and Kennys Vargas 1B/DH Minnesota Twins

BOLD Fantasy Predictions

1) Shin-Soo Choo (192.2 ADP) will statistically outperform Nelson Cruz (60.5 ADP) in 2015.

2) Jimmy Rollins (133.2 ADP) will out produce Elvis Andrus (115.1 ADP) and Alexei Ramirez (96.8 ADP).

3) Justin Verlander (141.7 ADP) currently being selected outside the Top-35 starting pitchers, will finish 2015 as a top-20 starter.

4) Jason Kipnis rebounds like Charles Barkley from a poor 2014 to post a .275/15/70/25 statistical line for Cleveland in 2015.

* Have any fantasy sleepers and/or Bold fantasy predictions of your own – I encourage you to share them in the comment’s section. *

THE NatsGM Fantasy Baseball Preview – Pitching

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Pitching in fantasy baseball has always invoked many strategies, as the most dominant pitchers are typically capable of helping in only four categories (ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts and/or Saves and Wins) versus the best hitters, who contribute in all five offensive categories. This factor, along with the injury risk associated with pitchers, often has me avoid pitchers (like I do the gym) early in fantasy drafts. In fact, my personal preference is to avoid a pick on a pitcher until after Round 5.

Yesterday I highlighted five hitters I expect to have much stronger seasons in 2015 than most fantasy baseball “gurus” expect. Today in Part-2 I analyze the pitching ranks to spot some undervalued arms capable of returning plenty of value on draft day for your fantasy squad. Draft these names with confidence and starting building a shelf for your future fantasy baseball trophy.

Pitchers

1)   Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh SP (ADP 80.4)

The former #1 overall pick in 2011, Cole has quietly posted a 3.45 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and 8.4 K/9 ratio over 255.1 innings pitched for the Pirates the last two seasons. Now 24-years-old and set with a terrific defense behind him, this feels like Cole’s breakout season toward becoming one of the best 10 pitchers in baseball. Draft him in the 6th round this year, as it will be the last time he escapes the top-4 rounds for the rest of the decade.

2)   Hisashi Iwakuma Seattle SP (ADP 116.5)

Because he pitches in Seattle in the same rotation as King Felix, Iwakuma’s success the past three seasons is often ignored, as he has a career 3.07 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 440 strikeouts in 524 innings pitched. Furthermore he has surprisingly won 38 games, including 15 in 2014, the past three years on largely mediocre Seattle teams – considering Seattle is expected to be a contender, Iwakuma should again flirt with 15-16 wins in 2015, with his usual low-3s ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Confidently draft Iwakuma as your #2-#3 starter in the 9th round and watch him anchor your fantasy pitching staff.

3)   Chris Archer Tampa Bay SP (ADP 143.7)

Lost in the difficult 2014 season for Tampa Bay was the breakout season from Archer, who threw 194.2 innings with a 3.33 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 173 strikeouts. He finds himself being drafted around the 12th round due to his lack of wins, but this 26-year-old has the talent to improve on his 2014 statistics and could benefit from a rebound season for the Rays. I am predicting 15 wins for Archer this season, along with a midseason selection to the AL All-Star team – make sure you shrewdly secure his services before another owner snatches him up.

4)   Andrew Cashner San Diego SP (ADP 153.0)

This is strictly a gamble on Cashner’s health, as his talent on the mound is unquestioned with a career 3.25 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. However, Cashner is being chosen outside the top-150 because he has thrown only 409.2 innings since 2010 and his 7.27 career K/9 ratio does not match his monstrous arsenal. That said Cashner has plenty of positives, as his pitches in a pitcher’s park in a pitcher-friendly division, the Padres are projected to have a strong bullpen and have upgraded their roster significantly this offseason. Still only 28-years-old Cashner has the potential to post 14+ wins with excellent ratios in 2015, something few names selected this late in the draft can do.

5)   Jose Quintana Chicago White Sox SP (ADP 186.0)

Slightly overshadowed on a pitching staff with Chris Sale and new arrivals Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson, Quintana is a talented arm in his own right, posting a 3.32 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and 178 strikeouts in 2014. He finds himself going outside the top-15 rounds because he won only 9 games, much of which could adjust with an improved bullpen and lineup in 2015. Count on Quintana for 12 wins and 180 strikeouts this season, with the potential for more if the offense carries him to a few extra wins.

THE NatsGM Official Fantasy Preview – Bats

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With St. Patrick’s Day in the rearview mirror and the green beer hangovers slowly dissipating, many baseball fans will now turn their attention to their fantasy baseball drafts, which likely occurs one of the next three weekends. To help everyone prepare to demolish their competition and secure bragging rights over your friends for eternity, the next three days here at NatsGM.com I will provide a Fantasy Baseball Preview.

Today in Part-1 I highlight a few hitters that I believe are being significantly undervalued in drafts and attempt to convince you to gobble them up like electronics on Black Friday. The names on this list each are going outside the top-5 rounds in traditional 12-team leagues according to ESPN’s Average Draft Position (thanks ESPN!) and should provide excellent value for your team this season.

1) Jason Heyward OF (83.8 ADP)

Heyward is my sleeper pick for 2015 National League MVP, as I expect the 25-year-old to have a breakout season for St. Louis while playing for a free agent contract at the end of the season. Last season Heyward hit .271 with 11 home runs and 20 stolen bases – in 2015 I am expecting a 20-20 season from him with 25-25 not out of the question. Draft Heyward confidently as your #1 or #2 outfielder.

2) Ryan Zimmerman 1B/3B/OF (109.2 ADP)

While the new defensive responsibilities of moving to first base could cause a slow start to the season, 2015 is the year Zimmerman stays healthy for 150+ games and produces like a down-ballot MVP candidate. Furthermore, because he played games at third base and the outfield last season, Zimmerman will have multi-position versatility, a major plus when injuries arise to your roster during the season. Allow others to overlook Zimmerman and scoop him up in Round 7 or 8 expecting a monster season for the Z-man.

3) Jay Bruce OF (101.2 ADP)
Prior to last season, Jay Bruce had established himself as one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, virtually improving his offensive statistics five consecutive seasons from 2008-2013. In 2014 Bruce suffered a knee injury in May and seemingly rushed back from surgery, hitting only .201/.241/.327 after the All-Star break which caused his subpar .217-18-66 numbers.

Now fully healthy after an offseason to rest and recover, Bruce should return to his career norms of .250-25-80 per season, with upside for more. Your league-mates will let Bruce slide as they will remember being burned by him last season, but allow this outlier year to provide you with an outstanding value on draft day.

4) Brian McCann Catcher (161.0 ADP)

He cannot possibly be that bad again, can he – That’s the question fantasy owners must ask, as McCann struggled in New York last year hitting only .232 with 23 home runs. Much of the decrease in batting average is attributable to a momentous drop in his BABIP last season, going from a career .283 to a woeful .231. In addition, he played 140 games for the first time since 2010 and his defensive numbers continued to look solid, indicating he has probably not “lost it” physically. Assuming some normalization to his 2015 BABIP and better seasons from his Yankee teammates, McCann should post a .270-22-85 batting line, which would be outstanding value compared to his current 14th round price tag.

5) Xander Boegarts SS (173.7 ADP)

It was only 18 months ago the then 21-year-old Boegarts was the toast of the baseball world, as his performance in the 2013 World Series had fantasy players salivating to secure his services last spring. Unfortunately like most of the Red Sox roster in 2014, Boegarts struggled at the plate, hitting only .240 with 12 home runs. Now only 22-years-old and shortstop eligible, Boegarts finds himself sliding into the Rounds 13-16 in most fantasy drafts, a complete joke compared to his offensive potential. Let others in your league overdraft shiny new toys Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and take advantage of their ignorance to secure the services of this post-hype sleeper.