Spring Training is finally upon us. It’s a magical time of year where visions of walk-offs and perfect games dance in our heads. The unofficial National Holiday that is Opening Day is near. I want to take a look at some overlooked players who could bring fantasy usefulness to the table. If you are at the helm of a 14-16 team league squad, I dare say these players can bring you great joy when you snag them up late on draft day for cheap.
Deeper League Sleepers
Japhet Amador (1B – HOU) – The 6'4" 315-pound Amador played his 2013 season in the Mexican League, which is regarded as Triple-A by most in the industry. He’s not a household name, mostly due to being 27 years old and not landing on any top prospect lists. The burly right-handed slugger smashed 36 homers and drove in 121 RBI last year over 449 plate appearances while raking in a .368 batting average and slugging .693 with only 59 strikeouts. While his .325 ISO and .355 BABIP scream regression, there is more than a glimmer of hope that he could actually be a very good contact hitter with prodigious power to all fields in the majors. He has been in Mexico dealing with a family issue, but reports today indicate that he may report to Houston camp by this Friday. If that is the case, Amador could push for the starting 1B job this spring. He’s worth a look late in drafts before the hype train gains steam.
Norichika Aoki (OF – KC) After spending the past few seasons as the Brewers right fielder, 32-year-old Aoki has a new home in Kansas City. Aoki has put up two solid seasons, with 30 steals and a .355 OBP in 2012 followed by a 20-steal .356-OBP campaign last year. His run production fell off a bit in 2013, but his peripherals remained constant. He was caught stealing 12 times on 32 attempts in 2013 after a 30-for-38 season in 2012. He is a definite source of speed atop a Royals lineup which stole more bases than any other team in the league last season. I believe his attempts will increase with a Royals team that had a conversion rate over 80% last season. He could very well get more efficient at his craft. Scoop him up late if he gets overlooked as a source of speed that won’t hurt your average or the wallet.
Michael Pineda (SP – NYY) A forgotten name by many, he could be a diamond in the rough for heady owners. A 6'7" Pineda is hard to lose sight of, but it seems that the masses have. After a brilliant 2011 season with Seattle during which he struck out 173 batters over 171 innings and earned an All Star bid, Pineda injured his shoulder and required surgery. He has been recovering from shoulder surgery for two full seasons, waiting in the wings for his current team, the Yankees. He actually made a push to return last in 2013, and posted superb numbers over 10 minor league rehab starts, putting up a 3.32 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 41 K over 40 .1 innings. With a solid showing this spring. he will be the favorite to land the fifth spot in the Bombers’ rotation. He has potential to be one of the best bounce-back sleepers in 2014 if he can revert to his previous form of a low ERA and WHIP with a K/9 around 9.0. BUY!
Francisco Rodriguez (RP – MIL) The 62-save bullpen threat formerly known as K-Rod managed to land back in Milwaukee after being dealt to Baltimore from the Brewers last season. Rodriguez nailed down his first double-digit save season since 2011, while returning to form with a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 54 strikeouts over 46.2 innings. His numbers could have been even better had he not been traded. In fact, he was boasting a 1.09 ERA in 25 games while closing for the Brewers. Obviously he thrives as a closer, and if (when) Jim Henderson falters, Rodriguez could pounce on the job and not look back. He is my #1 favorite set-up/closer handcuff going into 2014.