After browsing some of the spring training box scores and taking into account the overall makeup of the roster for the Cincinnati Reds, I had narrowed it down to two players that could emerge as potential fantasy baseball sleepers in 2014. Outfielder Roger Bernadina and infielder Chris Nelson were those players, and while I still think both could take advantage of Cincinnati's lack of depth to see significant playing time, reliever J.J. Hoover has emerged as the top sleeper for the Reds in the wake of the injury closer Aroldis Chapman suffered when he was struck in the face by a line drive last week.
Who is J.J. Hoover?
Hoover is only 26 and coming off a season when he had a 2.86 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 66.0 innings. He also struck out more than a batter per inning, and at one point, he went 26.3 innings without allowing a run. While Broxton's best years are behind him, Hoover appears to be coming into his own as he prepares for his third season in the majors.
As a result, he should see a decent amount of save opportunities while Chapman is sidelined. Not to mention the fact that there is no telling how Chapman will react when he does get back on the mound. After all, we are talking about a guy that has control issues at times and has basically refused to try to be a starter. Now, he will have to deal with what is likely a serious mental scar while trying to find the strike zone with his triple-digit fastball.
The Aroldis Chapan Effect
The news on Chapman is actually pretty good considering the circumstances. He needed a plate in his face, but he suffered no brain injuries and could be back in action in around 6-8 weeks. Still, someone will have to close out games in the meantime. Jonathan Broxton may have gotten the chances to start given his experience, but he is dealing with an injury of his own. Declining velocity also led to a 4.11 ERA last year, and he was generally less effective than he had been in the two previous seasons. Sean Marshall is someone else that may be in consideration, but like Broxton he is working through an injury during spring training. Both Broxton and Marshall seem likely to start the season on the DL.
2014 Season Outlook
At the very least, Hoover should provide some saves early in the year, and he is a great pick-up for owners that don't pay for saves on draft day and simply chase saves throughout the year. I also believe that it will take Chapman a little longer than the 6-8 week timetable to return to form on the mound. Hoover could end up being the closer for a couple of months and earn some additional opportunities throughout the season. I think 10-15 saves is within reach for Hoover, and with a solid strikeout rate, he could be worth keeping on fantasy rosters even after Chapman has reassumed his role as closer.