We’ve all been there; it happens in every draft. The point in time in a fantasy baseball draft where the sure-fire talent and everyday major-leaguers have been snatched up, and every remaining name left on the draft board conjures up questions about playing time, upside, or role.
Will he open the season in Triple A? Will he see action only against left-handed pitchers? Will they try him out at second base to get him more at-bats? These are among the many questions fantasy owners are forced to wrestle with when evaluating players in the draft’s final rounds.
For every overlooked gem who pays significant dividends, there are wasted picks and players ultimately destined to find their way onto the waiver-wire a few weeks into April. As confident as any fantasy owner is about his or her ability to identify useful sleepers from underwhelming options, it’s really little more than educated guesswork — and as fantasy players we hate to admit that.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to sort through the mess. When a sleeper or waiver wire pick up pans out, it is like hitting the fantasy lottery, see Bautista, Jose, 2010-present. With that mindset, let’s sift through the rough to identify a few unheralded players fantasy owners may find extremely desirable given the lost cost it will take to acquire them.
Emilio Bonifacio — The One-Category Wonder With An Undefined Role On A New Team
Emilio Bonifacio’s rise to fantasy prominence can be attributed to his ability to rack up a ton of steals while manning several positions on the diamond. Owners paid the diminutive speedster no mind prior to his breakout age-26 2011 season in which he hit .296 and swiped 40 bases in 152 games as a utility infielder for the then-Florida Marlins. That performance catapulted Bonifacio all over fantasy radars everywhere. Then came an injury-plagued 2012 campaign where Bonifacio saw the field in just 64 games and logged only 274 plate appearances. However, despite suffering significant injuries to his thumb and knee, he still managed to steal 30 bases and total 30 runs.
Now Bonifacio finds himself without guaranteed playing time or a precisely defined role on a Toronto squad blessed with an abundance of offensive talent. Despite not having an assured starting position, Bonifacio has experience manning second base, shortstop, third base and center field at the major-league level, Bonifacio may very well excel as a super-utility player with multi-position eligibility for fantasy. He’ll likely split time with Maicer Izturis at second and see some starts in center field sprinkled in along the way given the underwhelming Colby Rasmus and the potentially-over matched Anthony Gose are ahead of him. Furthermore, Bonifacio should be ready and able to step in and take over for Jose Reyes at shortstop or Brett Lawrie at third base should one or both of them succumb to injury (which wouldn’t be a surprise, given their respective health histories).
His track record as a high-end stolen base threat and versatile utility player makes Bonifacio an attractive late-round option to fill out a fantasy roster, even if there are legitimate questions regarding where and how often he’ll play in 2013. Fifty steals and 75 runs scored with a .270 batting average are reasonable expectations for his inaugural season as a Blue Jay.
Victor Martinez — The Forgotten Veteran Coming Off Serious Injury
Remember Victor Martinez? Jog that memory! V-Mart Detroit’s backstop-turned-DH is coming off a serious knee injury that required season-ending surgery before his 2012 campaign even began. Now 34 years of age, almost assuredly past his prime and destined for a future where he will see little if any action in the field, Martinez will not be a highly sought-after fantasy asset in drafts this spring.
That being said, he is armed with catcher eligibility (in standard leagues), a sweet swing which has provided six seasons with a batting average over .300 in the past seven years and regular playing time, Martinez should prove to be a stable and known option at a backstop position where year-to-year value is pretty volatile and future production is difficult to predict.
For example, three of the top catchers drafted a year ago (Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Brian McCann) finished outside the top 10 at the position on ESPN’s Player Rater, behind less costly options such as Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Pierzynski, Wilin Rosario and Ryan Doumit. The catcher position doesn’t boast a wealth of high-end hitting talent, and the physical demands of playing the position can often wear on a player and hinder his offensive production. As a result, it can be quite risky to burn an early-round draft
pick or a large chunk of your budget on a backstop.
While he probably won’t provide the 20-homer power that made him an elite option at the position while he was in Cleveland, Martinez may match or exceed the production put forth by Joe Mauer or Yadier Molina in 2013 — while being among the last starting catchers drafted in 10 or 12-team mixed leagues. Fifteen homers, 75 RBIs and a batting average north of .290 are all within reach for Martinez if he proves himself healthy for the start of the regular season. The most recent updates place Martinez ready and almost 100% for spring training.
Manny Machado — The Natural, Unrefined Talent
Machado is far from realizing his immense potential as a big-league player, but he’s already an interesting and useful fantasy asset. Baltimore’s budding young star has all the physical tools to be an impact player, even if he’s still developing and refining his skills. No, he isn’t yet the dominant five-category contributor his dynasty league owners hope he’ll become, but he’s already capable of 15 homers and 15 steals as a 20-year-old shortstop and third base-eligible player.
Only 11 infielders in all of baseball posted a 15-15 season in 2012, and just six were eligible at shortstop or third base: Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Headley and David Wright. Machado’s athleticism, budding power, and speed have allowed the young infielder to force his way into Baltimore’s lineup — and he’s likely to stay there for all of 2013.
It’d be hard to overstate just how much more upside Machado has over most late-round selections, so why not take a chance on a breakout season? Ask owners who employed Bryce Harper or Mike Trout a season ago how their lottery ticket selections worked out for them. While Machado may only hit .250 or .260 over his first full season with the Orioles, he will be a solid power/speed option at a position that lacks many players blessed with his diverse skill set.