By Matt Cott, Matthew Schwimmer & Moe Koltun of Roto Analysis
An old fantasy adage is that, “You can’t win your league in the first round, you can only lose it.” Those later upside picks are where you make your team and ultimately can grab the value that will win you your league. This week, the founders of RotoAnalysis are each bringing you their favorite upside pick – one pitcher and one hitter each. Here they are!
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 1B,2B,OF
Matt Carpenter has only played a total of 18 innings at 2B in the major leagues, but he is expected to open the year at second for the Cardinals. And really, why shouldn’t he be? Carpenter’s main competition was the light hitting Daniel Descalso, but he is expected to slide to shortstop after Rafael Furcal underwent season ending surgery earlier this spring. Carpenter held his own in 114 games last season in which he hit .294 with 6 home runs. Those numbers are directly in line with his 2010 and 2011 minor league numbers. With middle infield relatively shallow, Carpenter should be a nice sleeper once he gains 2B eligibility after 10 or 15 games this year.
Lorenzo Cain, Royals OF
Cain was floated around as a “sleeper” on many lists last season but ended up having less than 250 at bats to prove his owners right or wrong. When he was able to play, however, he displayed a lot of potential. He has the classic power/speed mold that is great at any position, and is also better in fantasy than real life due to his lack of walks and high strikeout totals. Cain is not as young (26) as you may think after toiling in the minors for a few years. This may have helped him slip under the radar, but also points to a lack of truly elite talent.
Despite the lack of elite tools, he will contribute at average to above average rates in all 5 categories. His line drive rate points to strong hit skills that should raise his batting average to the .270-.290 range this season. When you combine that with 10-15 homers, 15-25 steals, and an improving lineup around him in Kansas City, Cain should be a very valuable asset to fantasy owners. He compares favorably at an outfield position that isn’t as deep as usual this year – key on him in the mid to late rounds.
Michael Saunders, Mariners OF
Saunders had 40 combined homers and steals last season, yet he’s getting drafted as a fantasy afterthought coming into this year, with an overall ADP of 241. Sure, the Mariners lineup isn’t phenomenal, but there’s definitely some potential in Kendrys Morales, Dustin Ackley, Michael Morse, Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak. If a couple of those guys along with Saunders can reach some of their talent potential, the team could have sneaky runs/RBIs potential to go along with Saunders’s precedented stolen base and home run upside. Saunders’s average is never going to be a boon for him, but given his improved eye at the plate and more aggressive swing rate within the zone, I think the Mariners outfield has the potential be a .260 20/20 guy with not horrible runs and RBIs by season’s end.
Brett Anderson, Athletics SP
Call me a sucker if you want. I prefer to think of it as long-term commitment. It feels like I’ve had Brett Anderson on more sleeper lists than Kanye has problems, but I still think the guy is primed for a breakout season if he can just stay healthy. Yes, he has pitched more than 115 innings in a season exactly one time, but when he has pitched, Anderson has been just short of spectacular. His strikeout numbers are never going to match the 9+ per nine innings he garnered in the minors, but his career strikeout to walk rate is 3.15, which is better than the career rates of C.C. Sabathia, Max Scherzer, and David Price. Anderson also has a fantastic 54.0% career ground ball rate, as well as a consistent track record of keeping the ball in the park (0.78 HR/9 Innings Career, 9.7% Home Run Per Fly Ball Rate). That combination along with his plus control could lead to Brett Anderson finally having that stud season fantasy analysts and owners alike have been pining for.
Mike Fiers, Brewers SP
I’m not sure whether it was because he was on the Brewers, has a name that could go either way in terms of pronunciation, or just looks like a fluke, but Mike Fiers’ second half of the season was barely talked about. In CBS’s preseason rankings, he had an average ranking of 58th among starting pitchers. I like him much more than that range of guys and see him as a guy who could end up in the top 25 if he holds his strong strikeout and walk rates over a full season.
Just how good were his rates? He was one of just 2 pitchers last season to put up more than 9.5 K/9 and less than 2.5 BB/9 while also allowing less than 1 HR/9; the other was Stephen Strasburg. While he clearly doesn’t have the raw potential of Strasburg and some regression is in order, it’s not as much as you might think. Fiers has the chance to be an elite option this season and that’s very hard to come by towards the end of drafts.
Scott Kazmir, Indians SP
A few weeks ago it seemed absurd to think that Kazmir could break camp with the Indians as their 5th starter, but it appears that it is now likely what will happen after Kazmir has impressed the Indians and analysts alike this spring. Let’s not forget Kazmir was formerly an elite pitching prospect in the Mets organization. Although he has struggled in the majors, it seems Kazmir’s velocity has improved back to his prospect status. This spring, Kazmir has dealt 8 scoreless innings with 8 strikeouts and only 1 walk. With an elite defensive outfield behind him, Scott Kazmir is worth a late-round sleeper if you are looking to strike gold.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.