`Sleepers' who won't make you yawn

ON FANTASY SPORTS

March 21, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

When I talk to friends and readers about fantasy baseball, the conversation usually swings around to one question: Who are the "sleepers" of 2006?

Well, the term sleeper gives me a bit of pause, because it's so relative. In casual leagues, just about any rookie could be a sleeper. In ultra-competitive leagues, any decent player above Double-A is probably a known quantity.

So I can't promise any deep revelations here. But at the same time, the run-up to draft season isn't a whole lot of fun without some player predictions. So here are a few guys I like. And no, they're not superstars, so call them sleepers if you must.

Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati: His molten hot spring has dragged him from the ranks of the unappreciated. But this 23-year-old has a broader base of skills than many realize. He could hit .270 with 20 homers and 10 steals, numbers that would make him quite valuable in National League-only fantasy settings. And he should only get better, so buy now.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota: Maybe you saw this rookie follow Daniel Cabrera in shutting down Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic. If not, let me assure you that he has sick stuff. Mid-nineties fastball, two change-ups, a hard slider and terrific control. Not bad. Ignore that 5.70 ERA during his brief call-up last season and realize he could be one of the best starters in baseball as soon as the Twins give him a chance.

Matt Holliday, Colorado: Fantasy players, like all humans, tend to dwell on extreme talents or deficiencies. Thus, we overlook a certain class of players who are solidly above average in every category. Holliday may be a Coors Field creation, but he could give you a .300 average, 20 homers, 80 RBIs, 80 runs and 15 steals. Such breadth of skills isn't common so he should rank just beneath the elite outfielders.

Rafael Soriano, Seattle: The scouts and the statistics agree that he could be the American League's next dominant reliever. Eddie Guardado will start off as the Mariners' closer. But Soriano could snatch that spot by year's end, so buy low now.

Brian McCann, Atlanta: The National League catcher pool is just terrible. But McCann came in and held his own last year at age 21. And he could be a solid power source in a relatively barren field for years to come.

Curtis Granderson, Detroit: Here's another young guy having a tremendous spring. He's also a player like Holliday who could give you a little something in every area. Think .275 with 20 homers, 70 RBIs, 80 runs and 10 steals. Nothing spectacular but quite an asset.

Brett Myers, Philadelphia: I feel like no one noticed this guy's breakout last year. He had been touted forever and written off by some, but he struck out almost a batter per inning last year with very good control. Philadelphia is a tough place to pitch, but he may be top 10 in the NL anyway.

Howie Kendrick, Anaheim: This second baseman won't start the year in the majors, but in leagues where you can stockpile minor leaguers, grab him. He may not be the most patient hitter but he's batted .368, .367, .384 and .342 on his way through the minors. He has some pop and speed, too. So he could be a dominant second sacker in a few years.

Randy Winn, San Francisco: Yet another member of the unremarkable but supremely versatile club. Your league mates will probably lust after the 30-homer guys. But stockpile dudes who hit .280 with 15 homers, 80 RBIs, 80 runs and 20 steals and ye shall not be disappointed.

Dan Haren, Oakland: I love Billy Beane. He gets ripped for trading a supposed ace in Mark Mulder and sneakily picks up the best pitcher in the deal. That would be Haren, a young workhorse who will pitch before an excellent defense this year and could be a top 10 starter in the AL.

David Wright, New York: So he's already great and I've already lavished praise on him in this space. I can't hide my love for his all-around talents. There's virtually no chance he won't be a major star over the next five years. And you could count on one hand the players like that. If you have any chance to build a fantasy franchise around him, do it. Now.

Hank Blalock, Texas: He was pretty bad last year. But I can't shake the broader idea that a great percentage of players who were as good as he was at age 22 are in the Hall of Fame. And the Texas launching pad is a friendly place for him to rediscover the inner phenom.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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