As we start our runup to Opening Day and the start of Fantasy Baseball goodness for the next six months, let’s take a quick spin around the league as I identify one player on each team that I’m higher on than where he’s going in drafts. I’ll also look at a player I think could be a disappointment or has too high of a risk factor for me to draft them where they’re going in most drafts.
Today, we’ll start with the AL East as we look at sleepers to target and busts to avoid.
Sleeper: With the injury to Wilson Betemit, Nolan Reimold should get a long look in the DH/OF spot over the opening weeks of the season. He missed all but 16 games last season requiring surgery on a herniated disk in his neck, but if he can stay healthy he could be a final-round steal. He’s had a good spring showcasing some serious power and hit five home runs with 10 RBI and a .313 average in his short stint at the Major League level last year. Reimold could get off to a good start, and if he can stay healthy carve out a spot in the everyday lineup for manager Buck Showalter. Nate McClouth will be his main competition for playing time once Betemit returns, but it’s hard to know what to expect from McClouth after last year’s late resurgence.
Bust: Although I think he’s definitely worth a draft pick at the end of your rotation, Jason Hammel is getting overrated in many of the drafts I’ve been a part of. He had a breakout season last year, but I expect some regression this year and there are injury concerns with his knees. He’ll get the start on opening day for Baltimore, and if you can get him at the right price could pay off beautifully. However, there is definitely some risk involved and I’m seeing him go way earlier than I personally feel comfortable taking him.
Boston Red Sox
Sleeper: After all the drama surrounding his offseason signing and the discovery of his hip condition, Mike Napoli has slipped down some draft boards and could be in for a huge season moving to Fenway and not being used primarily as a catcher. Napoli’s condition is worrisome for the long-term, but for just a fantasy baseball season he’s a steal where he’s going in many drafts. He maintains catcher eligibility in many formats and is definitely a top five option at that position where power and RBI can be hard to come by.
Bust: On the other side of the catching picture for the Red Sox, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is due for a bit of regression after career highs in flyball rate and home runs. I like him as a fringe starter (top 10-12 catcher) but only if you can get him late.
New York Yankees
Sleeper: Don’t overlook newly-acquired Vernon Wells at the end of your draft this year. The Yankees went and got Wells after their rash of injuries in Spring Training and he still provides above average contact and power numbers. The advanced stats would indicate he’s been a bit unlucky the last few years, and playing at Yankee Stadium with that lineup around him will only boost his numbers especially over the first several weeks of the season when he will most likely be in the lineup on a daily basis.
Bust: All the injured Yankees could make this part of the list if their recoveries take longer than expected. Every year people line up to say this is the year to avoid Derek Jeter, but this is the year they could be right. Jeter will start on the DL with ankle issues and could lose some of the speed he needs to get on base if it continues to bother him. I wouldn’t bank on Jeter going downhill, but there are plenty of SS I’d take before tapping the Yankee captain since I see him as extremely high-risk.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sleeper: Although he’s not going to be around late in your draft, Matt Moore is starting to slide after a tough spring. However, he’s usually a slow starter and bounced back with a 3.01 ERA in 14 starts in the second half. He’s still just 23 and has the potential to be an elite starter if this can be his breakout year. There’s risk involved, but his upside has me taking him earlier than most in my recent drafts.
Bust: After one elite year, I’m not ready to crown Fernando Rodney one of the best closers in the game. I avoid drafting for saves anyway, but Rodney could be a bust if he can’t keep his walk rate as low as last year. He’ll be fine, but not elite. Draft him accordingly.
Toronto Blue Jays
Sleeper: With the influx of talent to Toronto, don’t forget about a player that’s been there-Brett Lawrie. Lawrie will start the season on the DL, but should be back shortly and his rib injury only will make him more of a discout in people in your league run from the injury tag. When he comes back, he’ll be a integral part of the suddenly-potent Blue Jays lineup and could be in line for a breakout season. His 3B position is notoriously thin, and Lawrie could easily emerge as an elite option. He struggled at times last year, his first full season in the majors, but will look to bounce back and flourish with a much improved Toronto lineup around him.
Bust: Although he may work his way back into form, Ricky Romero has already landed in this spot to start the year. Starting the season in Single-A while the team heads north isn’t what his fantasy owners had in mind when they drafted him. Romero was alarmingly bad last season and wasn’t able to bounce back this spring. He could return to form, but leave him on the waiver wire until he shows signs of life and finds a spot in the loaded Jays rotation.