It’s time for your fantasy baseball draft and that means analyzing players who will out-perform expectations for the 2011 season. Here, is Fantasy Baseball Dugout’s Top 30 Sleeper Picks for the 2011 fantasy baseball season.
2011 Fantasy Baseball Dugout Sleeper List
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates — Pedro Alvarez had a strong rookie season and ended at .256 with 16 homers, but in just 347 AB’s. Down the stretch, Alvarez hit .306 in September and October. The 24-year-old has significant upside.
Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox — When Josh Beckett had an ERA above 5.00 in 2007, he bounced back with 3.27 and 20 wins in 2008 and finished second in the Cy Young race. Beckett’s stats last year were 6-6, 5.78, 1.54. That’s bad enough to have another great year in 2011. Beckett,31, still has plenty left in the tank; he fanned 116 in 127.2 IP last year.
Lance Berkman, OF, Cardinals — Berkman had knee surgery that hurt his power numbers last year as he amassed just 14 homers, but he’s only two years removed from 25 homeruns in 2009. If he can play right field well enough to stay in the lineup every day, Berkman could bounce back with 20+ homers and 80+ RBI on a strong team.
Wade Davis, SP, Rays – A strained shoulder put Wade Davis on the DL in August, but he came back with a vengeance going 3.09 in his final 8 starts. His overall numbers of 12-10/4.07/1.35 WHIP will undervalue him in most drafts.
Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals — Espinosa is likely to win the job at second base in Washington. In a position that is definitely scarce, especially in the National League, you are going to like Espinosa’s pop for a middle infielder. He hit 20 homers in the minors and can also steal bases — 25 last year.
Ben Francisco, OF, Phillies — Ben Francisco is off to a great start in Spring Training and with Domonic Brown injured, the right field job is all his. Even when Brown comes back, Francisco will likely spell 39-year-old left fielder Raul Ibanez in the Phillies outfield. When he gets 400+ at bats, Francisco is a 15 homerun guy with 60+ RBI.
Aaron Harang, SP, Padres — After going 16-6 in 2007, Harang has won just 6 games each of the past three seasons. Gopher balls have been Harang’s nemesis and the move from Cincinnati to pitcher’s park Petco should help nullify some of those dingers.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles — We like players with pop who move from pitcher-friendly parks to hitter-friendly ones. J.J. Hardy is one such guy who has to be excited to get out of Minnesota and Target Field. In cozier Camden Yards, he may get close to reaching the 24 and 26 homerun marks he hit with Milwaukee in ’08 and ’07.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays — Hill had a career year in 2009 when he cracked 36 homers. His homerun total dropped to 24 last year, but it was his batting average that really took a nose dive to .205. Hill is a career .275 hitter so expect another 25 homer season in 2011, but with an average closer to his career mark.
Derek Holland, SP, Rangers — In 2009, there may not have been a worse starter than Holland: 8-13 with a 6.12 ERA. You have to be good to stay in the rotation with those kind of numbers. He started 2010 in the minors where he got his mojo back with an ERA under 2.00 in 11 starts. He then pitched his way to a much more respectable 4.08, 1.37. Holland will star the year as the Rangers’ # 5 starter. At 24-years-old, he has considerable upside, at least when compared to his ’09 rookie season.
Daniel Hudson, SP, Diamondbacks — After struggling in 3 starts for Chicago White Sox, Dan Hudson sizzled with a 7-1/1.69/0.84 with Arizona. Just 24, the Diamondbacks are excited about Hudson’s upside; he went 7 innings in 9 of his 11 Arizona starts.
Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies — When you get past the top tier catchers, there’s not much left so you may as well take a shot on somebody with potential. Miguel Olivo is gone so Iannetta gets his full time catching job back in Colorado. There won’t be a lot of managers excited about a guy with 9 homers and a .197 average last year. But, look to the previous two seasons when Iannetta hit 16 and 18 homers in homer friendly Colorado.
Dan Johnson, 1B, Rays – Dan Johnson will likely earn the 1B job for Tampa Bay. He cracked 7 homers in just 140 AB’s last year, but hit only .198. He won’t hit for much average, but he is capable of 20+ homeruns as a regular.
Kila Ka’aihue, 1B, Royals — .217/8/25/0 were Ka’aihue’s numbers in 2010 in 206 AB’s. He’ll be a regular this year at first base and will also DH some. Playing every day should help the Hawaiian post numbers that he is capable of.
John Lackey, SP, Red Sox — John Lackey has been the mark of consistency over 8 seasons with the Angels. His 2010 season in Boston fell off to his worst ERA in the last 6 seasons and his worst WHIP of his career. Walks hurt Lackey last season, but he’s been such a consistent pitcher over the years that we see a nice bounce back in 2011 as he’s only 32.
Matt Laporta, 1B, Indians — Laporta will be the Indians starting 1B in 2011. In 425 AB’s, he was .221/12/41/0, but we expect him to improve in all categories when given the regular job.
Brian Matusz, SP, Orioles — Brian Matusz and the Orioles are the most improved team in MLB this year. Matusz was 10-12/4.30/1.34 last year, but after the all-star break, he was 7-3/3.63/1.19 in 14 starts. He was especially effective against the three best teams in the division (NY, BOS, TAM) and compiled a 3.13 ERA in 13 starts against the powerhouses of the AL East.
James McDonald, SP, Pirates — McDonald was acquired from the Dodgers last year for Octavio Dotel. McDonald had a 3.52 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 11 starts in Pittsburgh. He struckout 9.7 K’s per 9 IP in the minors. He could be the best starting pitcher on the Pirates staff this year and will surely come at a bargain in your draft.
Ricky Nolasco, SP, Marlins — You can find a sleeper in a guy who can toss strikeouts without a lot of walks. Nolasco had a huge ’08 season when he was 15-8, 3.52, 1.10. Nolasco has won 14, 13, and 15 over the past three years, but his ERA has not been good despite good WHIP and strikeout totals. He’s due for an improvement based on that consistency.
J.J. Putz, RP, Diamondbacks — J.J. Putz was the White Sox set up guy last year and won 7 games with a 2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP. Putz will be Arizona’s closer this year and will rack up 35 saves in a role where he has virtually no competition. Plus, you have to love the guy’s name.
Ryan Raburn, OF, Tigers — Ryan Raburn will get his first regular starting job in 2011 as the Tigers LF. Raburn hit 16 homers in ’09 in just 291 AB’s and he followed that with 15 homers in ’10 with 62 RBI.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — Pablo Sandoval ate himself out of the lineup last year, but he has reported to Spring Training 38 pounds lighter than in 2010. His body fat has been reduced from 30% to 19%. In watching him play in the Cactus League, he’s moved around third base much quicker than he did last year. At 240, Panda is still not svelte, but his weight loss should pay off in returning to his 2009 ways.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners — Smoak was hot down the stretch hitting .340 in September and October. He ended his rookie season at .218/13/48/1, but was much improved after leaving Texas for Seattle. He’ll be the Mariners starting first baseman.
Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays — Snider hit 6 of his 14 homers in September last year and ended the year at .255/14/32/6 in just 298 AB’s. Snider has the lock on the RF job this year for Toronto.
Drew Storen, RP, Nationals — Drew Storen will be the Nationals closer in 2011. He has electric stuff having been picked just 9 selections after Stephen Strasburg in ’09. The Nationals are much improved offensively and Storen will get some chances to earn saves this season.
Matt Thornton, RP, White Sox — Another new closer on an improved team, Thornton will get the saves while Chris Sale acts as the set up man. Thornton has had exceptional and consistent stats for 3 years now and he finally gets the nod as the set up man.
Danny Valencia, 3B, Twins – Danny Valencia hit .311 after a June call up last year, but he can build on his power stats which were 7/40/2 last year now that he starts the season in Minnesota as its regular at the hot corner.
Javier Vazquez, SP, Marlins — Veteran Javier Vazquez, 35, had a disastrous 2010 season in The Bronx going 10-10/5.32/1.39. But, just a year earlier, Vazquez was 15-10/2.87/1.02. He should still have another decent season or two left for Florida.
Johnny Venters, RP, Braves — Johnny Venters is the favorite to win the closer job for the Braves after the retirement of Billy Wagner. He posted 10.1 K’s/9 with a 1.95 ERA and 1/20 WHIP last year. Craig Kimbrel will push him for the job, but Kimbrel has no Big League experience.
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles — Yes, I know that Wieters has been on everybody’s radar for two seasons now, but he’s yet to have a breakout season. 2011 will be that breakout year for Matt Wieters.