The beauty of fantasy baseball lies in the fact that, unlike fantasy football, your draft isn’t everything. With plenty of injuries, mid-season call ups, and diamonds in the rough, a waiver wire pickup or two can really change the course of your team. Two years ago, Cliff Lee’s 20 wins could be claimed in May.
Last year, Marco Scutaro, Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones, Tommy Hanson, and Ben Zobrist were all waiver wire claims. Even if you think your team is sheer perfection, injuries will have you scouring through free agents to fill out your roster by June. After all, this is baseball; guys get hurt sneezing and reading the newspaper.
Because there’s so much turnover in this sport, it’s a good idea to have several free agents in mind so that you can beat your opponents to them, if need be. I have gone through the league and picked out sleepers team-by-team for you to keep an eye on in 2010. The American League list is below:
Brandon Wood – His power has tapered off since hitting 40+ homers in the lower levels of the minors. However, he’s maintained enough of it to win the starting 3rd Base job for the Halos. If he can play well enough to keep it, despite Izturis breathing down his neck, he should get you plenty of HR and RBIs. He’s gone undrafted in roughly 95% of leagues.
Ervin Santana – Santana showed flashes of brillance in 2008, with a 1.12 WHIP and a 3.49 ERA. However, after an injury filled 2009, Santana has been left off of draft boards. Watch out, though. If he has a good outing on Tuesday, you’ll have to be quick with the trigger to claim him.
Ryan Sweeney – If he can pick up where he left off in 2009, with his .293 avg, he’ll net you plenty of runs and rbis towards the top of the Oakland lineup. He wont’ hit many HR, but he should be in double digit stolen bases if he plays a full season. He’s available in 99% of leagues.
Milton Bradley – Don’t let Bradley’s attitude or monster contract scare you away. He can’t ruin your fantasy team’s chemistry, and you don’t need to pay a portion of Bradley’s contract. Despite a dramatic drop in avg and slg, his obp was .372 in 2009. That’s pretty damn good. Expect 2010 to be a rebound year for Bradley, who is available in more than 85% of leagues.
C.J. Wilson – Wilson is making the transition from closer to starter this year. His spring numbers look great, and he appears to be stretched out enough for the gig. Even if he can’t go too deep in games, the Rangers have built a nice bullpen around him, and have the usual high-powered offense that should help him earn a respectable win total.
Matt LaPorta – The prize 1st Baseman from the CC Sabathia trade is expected to do big things someday. Whether or not that ‘someday’ is this year doesn’t matter. He’s available in nearly 87% of leagues, so you’ve got time to make sure he’s the real deal.
Alberto Callaspo – Being a good hitter on a terrible team isn’t exactly the best praise you can get. Callaspo will hit .300, but he doesn’t do a whole lot outside of that. Last year he pulled some power out of the seat of his pants and hit 11 home runs. If he can make 2010 a repeat of that performance, he could become a very desirable player, especially for someone who is available in more than 97% of leagues: A middle infielder with an OPS above .800.
Austin Jackson – Outfield isn’t that deep of a position, so you’ll need to add some depth at some point this year. Austin Jackson could be that depth. Look to the former Yankee prospect if you find yourself in need of Runs, Stolen Bases, or Avg in a roto league.
Orlando Hudson – Hudson should find himself at the top your your middle infielder list. He’ll hit 10 HR, steal 10 bases, and hit close to .300. You really can’t ask for much more from a 2nd Baseman. It’s surprising that he’s still available in 87% of leagues.
Tyler Flowers – Flowers became the White Sox top catching prospect when he came over in exchange for Javier Vazquez from Atlanta. His offensive game is solid, and the White Sox are saying good things about the development of his defense. An injury to Pierzynski could lead to a mid-season call up, and a timely fantasy pickup by you.
The 5th pick in the 2006 draft had his career derailed when the Mariners decided to let him develop in a major league bullpen. There’s a reason clubs have minor league affiliates. Morrow has all the tools in the world, but he has never been able to find his control. In 2010, he’ll be pitching out of the Jays rotation. It’ll probably take him some time, but he could breakout later this year. If he does, you’ll want to find a way to add him to your fantasy staff.
Brian Matusz – Matusz is owned in almost every league, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to acquire the 23 year old rookie. Take a look at the team of whoever drafted Matusz. If there are any holes, see if you can fill them through a trade. Otherwise, keep an eye on that team and wait for an injury. The moment one of their players gets hurt, offer your replacement in exchange for Matusz. Yes, I’m suggesting that you be an ambulance chaser. He might struggle early on in 2010, but he has the potential to be absolutely dominant. Don’t be surprised if this kid wins rookie of the year.
Wade Davis - Davis put up an ERA under 3.50 at each level of the Rays farm system, and played well in his 6 2009 starts. This year, he takes on the task of replacing Scott Kazmir in Tampa Bay’s already formidable rotation. He’s still available in 45% of leagues, but even if he’s taken, he’s worth making an offer. You should be able to get him in exchange for a lesser player, simply due to his lack of name recognition.
Mike Cameron – It’s weird to think of a 37 year old veteran as a sleeper, but Cameron is only owned by about 13% of teams. If there is such a thing as a Red Sox sleeper, Cameron fits the definition. He’s aged gracefully, and, while he won’t hit above .260, he draws walks, hits 20 HR and steals 20 bases each year. If Cameron is available in your league, put him on your bench now.
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a sleeper on the Yankees. If Joba or Gardner are on the Pirates, nobody would know who these guys are. But since the Yankees are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the eyes of the national media, it’s impossible for Yankee players to go under-hyped. It’s not that these players aren’t good; it’s just that they’re not as readily available as they should be.