Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't Sleep on the NL West: 2013 Fantasy Sleepers

By: Russell Shaffer

While most of America is sleeping, summer nights on the West Coast find some pretty good baseball going largely unwatched except by those in the Pacific Time Zone or the most diehard seamheads. When the National League West does manage to grab some headlines, it’s usually for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ free spending ways or the San Francisco Giants’ mini dynasty of two World Series titles in three years.

What falls below the fold is a wealth of fantasy goodness going on in baseball outposts like Arizona, Colorado and San Diego. To casual fans, these aren’t much more than the places Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and (until recently) Justin Upton play, and the place where Adrian Gonzalez inexplicably used to hit 30 HR a year.

A closer look by the savvy fantasy player uncovers a number of compelling sleepers toiling away with the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies just waiting for you to snatch them up in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft while your opponents are busy stockpiling big name has-beens and unproven prospects.

The following list of unheralded yet productive fantasy sleepers coming out of the NL West’s smaller markets could help your 2013 fantasy dreams come true.

Wilin Rosario (Colorado Rockies, C): It’s hard to call a catcher who mashed 28 HR in fewer than 400 ABs as a rookie a sleeper, but unless your name is Buster Posey you didn’t get much national media coverage playing behind the plate in the NL West last year. Despite the lack of fanfare, Rosario put up eye-popping stats – including a .270 AVG and 71 RBI – that are impressive whether you play your home games at Coors Field or the Grand Canyon. Rosario’s 2012 production actually outpaces that of Carlos Santana during his 2011 breakout campaign yet the Rockies backstop isn’t likely to be drafted in the 3rd or 4th round like Santana was last year. If Rosario falls much beyond the 8th round, snatch him up and consider it a steal.

Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks, 1B): Speaking of steals, 2012 owners of Paul Goldschmidt found an unlikely source of speed as the D-Backs 1B easily was tops at the position with 18 SBs. Perhaps more impressive is that Goldschmidt proved to be the rare five category total package, smacking 20 HR, collecting 82 R and 82 RBI, and posting a solid .286 AVG. He will play most of 2013 at age 26, and while he gets much less notoriety than other young 1B such as Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer and Freddie Freeman, Goldschmidt might prove to be the best real-life – and fantasy – player of them all. He is ranked 9th at 1B for the 2013 season, if he is sitting there after the big name guys get selected, take him and don’t look back.

Paul Goldschmidt is a great sleeper for the 2013 season

Everth Cabrera (San Diego Padres, SS): Pop quiz – who led the NL in steals in 2012? It wasn’t Jose Reyes, Michael Bourn or even Drew Stubbs. It was Cabrera, who swiped an impressive 44 bags in just 115 games. This spring he enters camp as the Padres projected opening day SS and could have a legitimate shot to top 50 SB. His somewhat low .246 AVG and virtually non-existent power (2 HR) is concerning, but with the fences moving in at Petco Park and Cabrera just entering his age 26 season you never know if he might begin to improve upon some of the other numbers. The real value with Cabrera is the speed, and when you can get a player who can almost single handedly win you a category at a scarce position in the 17th or 18th round, you have to do it.

Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondbacks, SP): Kennedy came back to Earth in 2012 following a superb 2011 campaign that saw him post a 21-4 record and 2.88 ERA on the way to serious Cy Young consideration. Despite the slip in production, it’s not like Kennedy’s 2012 performance was an abomination – he still notched 15 victories and 187 K with a tolerable 4.02 ERA. While his 2011 line was likely a career year, look for Kennedy to find the middle ground between those two seasons and be a solid value around the 12th round.

Josh Rutledge (Colorado Rockies, 2B/SS): Rutledge got his first taste of the big leagues in July following an injury to Tulowitzki and he made the most of it; batting .274 with 8 HR, 37 R, 37 RBI and 7 SB over the final 2 ½ months of the season. Expected by most observers familiar with the Rockies plans to get a shot as the Opening Day 2B, he projects out to a 17 HR/15 SB total over a full season. That’s pretty nice production regardless of where it is coming from on the diamond, but when you factor in Rutledge’s multi position eligibility at the two shallow middle infield spots his value spikes. As such, he is ranked 16th at 2B for the 2013 season. He has the talent to easily finish the season in the top 10 at either position and should be grabbed with a 13th or 14th round pick. However, let his late season fade and relatively small sample size be the cautionary tale against reaching for him any earlier than that.

Josh Rutledge burst on the fantasy baseball scene last season and will be the Rockies everyday 2B

Tyler Colvin (Colorado Rockies, 1B/OF): Once labeled a can’t miss prospect coming up in the Chicago Cubs organization, Colvin whiffed on repeated auditions at Wrigley and was subsequently off everyone’s radar prior to surfacing in 2012 with Colorado. Call it a change of scenery or the thin mountain air, but either way Colvin put it all together last season to post a career year with a .290 AVG, 18 HR and 72 RBI. He will play most of 2013 at age 27 – considered a peak power year – and should get regular at bats platooning at 1B with Todd Helton and in LF. Try and make a play for him somewhere around round 20 for his power potential and positional flexibility.

Jason Kubel and Cody Ross (Arizona Diamondbacks, OF): Kubel and Ross get listed together because they are essentially interchangeable. Both are solid real life run producers and serviceable fantasy roster fillers, but neither is Justin Upton. Fortunately for fantasy owners, we don’t need to figure out why the D-Backs would trade a 25-year-old star under contract for three more seasons in favor of two middling corner outfielders; we just need to compile a team with the best composite stats. When it comes to stats, both Kubel and Ross have 25 HR/75 RBI potential with the slightly younger Kubel having a narrow edge when it comes to ceiling. The key for both is health, and if they can both stay on the field for 140 games either one would be worth a pick somewhere around the 21st round.

Other Names to Watch
 Logan Forsythe (San Diego Padres, 2B/SS)
Edinson Volquez (San Diego Padres, SP)
Carlos Quentin (San Diego Padres, OF)
Jordan Pacheco (Colorado Rockies, 1B/3B/C)
Yasmani Grandal (San Diego Padres, C) (Suspended for the first 50 games of 2013)

Follow Russell Shaffer on Twitter @RussellShaffer

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