By SEAN RAPOSA
“I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”
If the great Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken taught us anything in their 2000 Blue Oyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper” Saturday Night Live skit, it was that you can never have too much of a good thing (knock, knock, knock, knock). With that in mind, I present you with the following collection of fantasy sleepers knowing full well you’ve probably already seen 100 such lists. Because as Walken said, “I think we got a dynamite sound here.”
There are many variations of fantasy sleepers, and of course, everything depends on your league size and scoring system. For the purposes of this column I’m going to focus on guys who could potentially be hanging out on the waiver wire or acquired for a reasonable price through trades in deeper leagues. All of these players should be useful in both points-based and rotisserie leagues.
Denard Span, OF, Twins
There is something uplifting about identifying a true fantasy sleeper; it’s akin to introducing friends to a great new band. The player’s success and growing popularity are so much more meaningful when you know you were the first to recognize the talent. With that in mind, I have two suggestions for you: check out The John Butler Trio, and get the “Spanman” on your fantasy team.
The 25-year-old Twinkies leadoff man will get a significant boost in pub after his big opening week, but his perceived value remains much lower than his eventual production this season will warrant. Detractors will cite his lack of a track record and the “logjam” in the Twins outfield that doesn’t actually exist. In spite of what some so-called experts may tell you, the 2002 first-round pick is in no danger of losing at-bats to Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel. He hits for average and is an OBP monster, having reached base at a .387 clip as a rookie, and his 3-to-6 K-to-walk ratio in his first 25 at-bats this year will come in handy in leagues that penalize strikeouts. His power is still in the developmental stage but I could see him surprising people with 16 to 20 dongs. His speed is legit, as evidenced by his seven triples and 18 stolen bases in just over half a season last year. The dude is here to stay. Think Johnny Damon, pre-sellout, locks flowing.
Anthony Reyes, SP, Indians
While Span is a guy who had spent five years playing in the minors without much fanfare, Reyes is a longtime prospect that a lot of fantasy owners have pretty much given up on. Don’t make that mistake. The trade that sent him from St. Louis to Cleveland last summer seemed to do wonders for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound righty, who posted four quality starts in six tries for the Tribe. Cleveland’s offense should be one of the A.L.’s best once again this year, and with the serious doubts I harbor about Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona and Carl Pavano (ha!), someone has to step up and win some games for this team. Reyes is still just 27 and if he can achieve consistency with his command, maybe he can trend back towards his ridiculous minor league numbers. Stranger things have happened - right, Edinson Volquez?
Jason Werth, OF, Phillies
Werth is a different sort of sleeper; he’s well known and well regarded, but inexplicably falls way too far in drafts. It’s not every day that ballplayers turn into fantasy studs at age 30, which, I suppose, is why Werth is so underrated. Roto players know how elusive the speed-power combination is and how far a lineup full of multidimensional players can carry a fantasy squad. The Phils’ hit 24 homers and swiped 20 bases in just 418 at-bats last year and should have no problem improving upon those numbers now that he’s a full-time starter. Expect increases across the board, with a significant jump in RBI if he continues to bat fifth or runs scored if he moves back into the two-hole. Think Corey Hart without the sticker shock.
Jonathan Sanchez, SP, Giants
Sanchez is an example of what I like to call a “top-shelf sleeper.” It’s like drinking Johnnie Walker Blue Label - it can be darn good, but if you go to the well too many times it can really damage your bottom line. The timing has to be right and as always, consumption should be done in moderation. The 26-year-old flame-throwing lefty can be dominant at times, as evidenced by his 252 K’s in 250 big-league innings. On the other hand, he’s wild and hittable - assertions backed up by his 5.18 career ERA and 1.50 career WHIP. The good news is that Sanchez has some pretty decent rotation-mates to learn from in Tim Lincecum and new addition Randy Johnson - you know, if the Birdman allows him to ask questions. Look for Sanchez to start moving his averages down this season and utilitze him when the matchups are right.
That will do it for today - No more cowbell!
Sean Raposa can be reached at email@example.com.