Opening Day is just over two weeks away, which means fantasy baseball drafts will be getting under way shortly.
Owners know it doesn’t necessarily matter how many Grapefruit League games they’ve watched or if the player they’ve scouted since their high school days is finally making their major league debut.
What truly matters is an owner finding that player everyone overlooked or even doubted. Or in fantasy terms "the beloved sleeper."
Below is a quick list of each position, and a player that deserves a close look ahead of draft day.
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins
Switching leagues and no longer protected by some of baseball’s best hitters, Saltalamacchia goes from best offense in the AL to the NL’s worst in a matter of months. Last season, he put up his best season average of .273 since he first entered the majors, and knocked 40 doubles. He’ll certainly be available in the last three or four rounds, representing great value.
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Injuries have cost him 186 games in the last two seasons, but Teixiera still has plenty of power to offer the Yankees lineup. He’s eclipsed 30 or more home runs and 100-plus RBI eight times before, and that kind of production available in the last seven rounds of any draft is worth a risk.
Daniel Murphy, N.Y. Mets
Murphy’s trouble working the count forced a career-worst 95 strikeouts last season. But with a position that’s relatively weak this year outside of the top 10, Murphy is still a solid hitter with a .290 career average and he’s upped his stolen base count every season since entering the league in 2008.
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
He’s not showing up in most mock drafts, so owners can nab him via free agency. Owings appeared in 20 games last season, notching 16 hits, including five doubles, along with two stolen bases. His solid defensive abilities will keep him in the lineup if he struggles early, but Owings could payoff huge in the first half of the season.
Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox
The power is there, but the reps weren’t last season. A huge dip in Middlebrooks’s average last season is a cause for concern, especially the 98 strikeouts. However third base is his job to lose heading into Opening Day, so the 25-year-old will have plenty of opportunities to work out any kinks and build some patience at the plate.
Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels could have the best hitting outfield in the league this season, and it all hinges on Calhoun’s development. He’ll certainly appear in more than 58 games than he did last season, but in that small sample he produced a decent eight home runs, 32 RBI, and 21 walks for a .282 average and a .347 on-base percentage. Depending on where he’s slotted in the lineup, Calhoun could see lots of pitches with Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols to pitch around.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
As a third starter in a fantasy rotation, Cole could be one of the best pick-ups of the season. He was good enough for 10 wins a 3.22 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP in 19 starts last year. Now in his second-year, Cole is expected to be at the top of the Pirates rotation with plenty of chances to build on his rookie season.
Chris Perez, L.A. Dodgers
Perez has been a lock for more than 30 saves and 58 innings of relieve work a season in the last four years. Rather than chasing the Craig Kimbrels and Aroldis Chapmans of the league, pair Perez with former Cleveland teammate John Axford and Detroit’s Drew Smyly for consistent production all year.