Opening day is right around the corner, so right now is the perfect time to take a look at one fantasy baseball sleeper from each division that can push your team to greatness. All of these players are positioned for either a breakthrough or bounce-back season and can be found at a discount. If your league hasn’t drafted yet these are great players to target, and if you have already drafted they are great buy low candidates. Target these guys as fantasy baseball breakout players.
AL East- Brian Matusz, SP Baltimore Orioles
The AL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball, and contains a lot of talented players that can be had in fantasy baseball leagues. While it’s sometimes hard to look past the Yankees and Red Sox, my sleeper from this division plays in Baltimore. Brian Matusz went through some growing pains in his full year, but the talented southpaw finished the year on a great note. Matusz went 7-1 with a 2.18 era and 52 strikeouts in August, September and October. Some owners may shy away because his overall numbers weren’t spectacular last year and the fact that he pitches in the AL East, but owners should get great value from Matusz. The Orioles would not have called one of their talented pitching prospects up so early if they didn’t feel he was ready to contribute, so look for a strong 2011.
AL Central- Gordon Beckham, 2B Chicago White Sox
Another talented young player that had his struggles last season, Gordon Beckham is my pick for the Central’s biggest sleeper. Many owners were expecting big things from the White Sox’s second baseman in 2010, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Beckham made some adjustments after the all-star break and in his final 57 games he posted a .320 AVG and .525 SLG %. Also in preparation for the season he added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. Second base is a thin position in fantasy baseball, and like Matusz, Beckham should provide good value for the owners that invest in him.
AL West- Gio Gonzalez, SP Oakland Athletics
Gio Gonzalez is only Oakland’s 4th starter, but the lefty possesses the arsenal of pitches to potentially top a rotation. He finished last year with a 15-9 record, a 3.23 ERA and 171 strikeouts. Like the other sleepers I have recommended thus far, he had a strong finish to last season with an 8-3 record and 2.59 ERA in the second half. While he may not be discussed among the elite pitchers in the American League yet, Gonzalez has the potential to end the year with that type of consideration. He also comes with less of a price tag.
NL East- Freddie Freeman, 1B Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman is one of the Braves’ top prospects, and with a strong spring he has all but locked up the starting first base job come opening day. He has a knack for getting on base, and should also provide solid numbers in AVG and SLG % in 2011. Freeman is only 21 years old, but he has the talent and opportunity to be fantasy relevant. He is worth targeting in the later rounds, based mostly on the fact that he more upside than a veteran that you could take there. I like him better than Phillies’ prospect Dominic Brown, who will have to recover from a fractured hamate bone before he sees the field.
NL Central- Shaun Marcum, SP Milwaukee Brewers
While the name Shaun Marcum won’t excite many fantasy owners, the former Toronto hurler can really help your fantasy team. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Marcum went 13-9 with a 3.68 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 2010. He also will be pitching in NL central as opposed to the AL East, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see his numbers rise even higher than last year.
NL West- Pablo Sandoval, 3B San Francisco Giants
Pablo Sandoval was supposed to be a top third baseman last year, but fell short of expectations and left his owners with nothing but a headache. During the off-season the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ went on a conditioning program and took some weight off, showing that he is seriously putting in the effort to make up for a dismal 2010. I could easily see Sandoval’s numbers bouncing back up a bit, and a 20 HR campaign not out of the question. He will inevitably fall farther in drafts this year, so now is the perfect time to get him at a bargain. Sandoval should be able to at very least provide solid numbers in 2011, and in the best possible scenario return to his 2009 form in which he hit .300 with 30 HRs.
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