I purposely avoided the term “sleeper” in the title of this post because I’m not sure that word really applies in deep leagues. Whether you’re in an AL- or NL-only league, a 16-team mixed league, or a league that just uses a ton of starting positions, you have to know more players than the average fantasy manager.
I prefer the term “target” because it’s a much more literal description of how you feel about that player. So-and-so could be a sleeper, but that doesn’t mean they’re someone you should actually target. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia are two outfield prospects I really like for the Twins, but chances are neither of them will see significant playing time this year, especially in the early going. Should opportunity knock and Hicks or Arcia lands a starting job in Minnesota, I’d be all-in on them. They’re sleepers for sure, they’re just not targets I’d have come draft time.
Darin Mastroianni, MIN
I haven’t heard much (if any) buzz surrounding Mastroianni this offseason, and I’m not sure why. At 27 years of age, he’s definitely on the older side for someone with just 189 career plate appearances at the major league level, but he has all the attributes I look for in a successful lead-off hitter.
In the minors he struck out 16.0% of the time and walked 11.6% of the time, one of the better K:BB ratios you’ll see for a player with so little experience. Those rates resulted in an OBP of .368 in the minors, and toss in Mastroianni’s speed — he averaged 55.5 stolen bases per 150 games in the minors — and you have the makings of an exciting lead-off hitter. With Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham at the heart of Minnesota’s lineup, 85+ runs is a distinct possibility, and imagine how sneakily valuable an 85-run, 30-steal season would be for a player who could probably bat .270 based on his speed and strikeout rate alone.
It’s not a sure thing that Mastroianni lands the team’s starting job out of spring training, but if he does then I’m all over him. In fact, I view Mastroianni this year as I viewed Alejandro De Aza before 2012. De Aza has more power, but they’re both speedy, contact first lead-off types, and De Aza went on to have a very valuable season as the 97th-ranked player in fantasy.
Current MDC ADP: 340.1
Chris Carter, HOU
Carter has already received a little bit of hype in the wake of his move from Oakland to Houston. If Carter’s going to help your team in any way, it’s with his power, and that will play much better in Minute Maid Park than it would have in the poorly named O.co Coliseum. Houston’s park factor for homers to right-handed hitters is 109 whereas Oakland’s is 89.
What may go unnoticed about Carter is his value in OBP leagues. Most people assume that players with low batting averages can’t contribute in OBP because the poor average is too much to overcome, but that’s not always the case. In 260 plate appearances last year, Carter drew 39 walks for a well-above average 15.0% rate, and despite putting up a putrid .239 average he was able to post a very good .350 OBP.
Drawing walks isn’t new to Carter whose OBP in the minors (.378) was 95 points higher than his batting average (.283). He certainly won’t be a .283 hitter in the majors, but if he can maintain a similar BA-OBP differential, a .240 average would yield a .335 OBP. OK, so that’s definitely not great, but last year the MLB average OBP was .319. If Carter can be above average in OBP, which he likely will be, and deliver 30+ homers and 85+ RBI batting fourth for Houston, he’ll have a surprising amount of fantasy value.
Current MDC ADP: 237.0
Leonys Martin, TEX
Of the three players mentioned in this post, Martin easily has the highest upside. With Josh Hamilton’s departure, Martin has the inside track for the team’s starting center field job, but that spot is far from assured. Texas still has to figure out what they’re going to do with the log jam in the middle infield that’s currently preventing Jurickson Profar from starting, and Profar deserves a full-time job.
Martin has spent parts of the last two years at triple-A and will be 25 years old on opening day, so it’s getting to that make-or-break point with him. That said, the Cuban-born prospect doesn’t have a lot of professional experience in the minor leagues (just 2011 and 2012) and would probably benefit from another year of seasoning, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers elect to do this spring.
I’ve read reports that say Martin has enough power to hit 15-20 homers in his prime, and Arlington probably gives that the best chance of happening. He also has above average walk and strikeout rates for a minor leaguer with his level of experience and enough speed to steal 30+ bases in the majors. He’s probably one-to-three years away from being someone to target in standard fantasy leagues, but in deep leagues I could definitely see Martin having an impact this year with a line resembling 65 runs, 10 homers, 50 RBI, 20 SB, and a .275 average.
Current MDC ADP: 270.9