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GETTIN’ GEEK’D: 10 Late-Draft Fliers

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No one’s sleeping on sleepers anymore. To find breakout candidates, you have to dig deep. Everyone can draft the Ryan Zimmermans and Mariano Riveras of the world. Most drafts are won in the middle-to-late rounds. So when all the big names are scratched off your draft list, don’t start pulling your out, pull out this list of late-round picks that can deliver solid value.

Danny Espinosa, 2B, WAS – Players with the speed/power combo are highly coveted by fantasy owners. We’re always looking for that next player who can go 20-20. Espinosa could be that guy. In 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Espinosa delivered 22 HR and 25 SB. After being called up, he hit 6 long balls in just 103 at bats. Be warned, he also struck out 30 times and hit a scary .214. If he can up that contact rate, you could have yourself a very nice fantasy value in 2011.

Cliff Pennington, SS, OAK – Not sure what Cliff has to do to get some love. He’s going undrafted in tons of leagues, despite stealing 29 bases at a very shallow shortstop position. By comparison, the trendy Elvis Andrus hit 6 fewer home runs and stole just 3 more bases than Pennington, yet he’s going 250 picks earlier, according to average draft position. That’s a real head scratcher.

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, TOR – Looking for a candidate to be this year’s Jose Bautista? Just look at the same team, in the same position. Encarnacion was a mess for the first half of 2010. So much so that he was demoted to the minors. But when he returned, he brought a big stick. In total, he swatted 21 homers in only 332 at bats. I don’t need to tell you what that projects to over a full season. Returns on your investment won’t get much bigger than this.

Andres Torres, OF, SF – Seems like people are downplaying Torres’ big 2010 season because he’s not a prospect on the rise. True, Andres is 33 years old. Yet there’s a chance he delivers even better stats than the 16 HRs and 26 SBs he posted in his breakout season. See, he missed some time last season and wasn’t the Giants’ exclusive leadoff man early in the year. Give Torres another 100 at bats, and 20-20 is a good possibility.

Coco Crisp, OF, OAK – No, I’m not going to say I’m Cuckoo for Coco. (But I kinda am.) He broke his pinkie finger not once, but twice last season—more proof that Crisp has a hard time staying on the field. But when he did, he was a beast on the basepaths, swiping 32 bags in under 300 at bats. He also chipped in decent power and average numbers. Crisp is going around #250 according to average draft position. That’s after guys like Alberto Callaspo and Matt Capps. Crisp will give you way more value than those guys.

Ryan Raburn, OF, DET – Here’s another bargain outfielder going in the same neighborhood as Coco Crisp. I love Raburn’s breakout potential. He’s never gotten a full season’s worth of at bats, but stretch his numbers over the past two seasons and Raburn’s put up 31 round-trippers in 632 at bats. Bonus tip: Check you league eligibility rules to see how many games are needed to qualify at a position. Raburn played 18 games at second base last year, so that’s boosts his value a bunch.

Adam Lind, DH, TOR – Awesome minor league numbers. Awesome 2009 season. Abysmal 2010 season. Lind’s batting average mysteriously dropped 67 points. Why? Because he suddenly forgot how to hit lefties. He went from hitting .275 vs. LHP in 2009 to an eye-popping .117 BA vs. LHP last year. Lind’s swan dive off a cliff and limited position eligibility have depressed his value. But there’s still good pop in his bat, he’s got a solid pre-2010 track record and he’ll get first base eligibility, so don’t forget about Lind.

Jeff Niemann, SP, TB – Tampa Bay’s #4 starter was a solid sleeper heading into 2010, and he rewarded owners who took a shot on him with a terrific first half. So how is a he sleeper again this season? Because a shoulder injury derailed the Niemann train in August. His overall stats were blown up by 31 ER in the first 19 1/3 innings he pitched after returning from the injury. Niemann’s had a solid spring, so a bounce-back season could be in store for the 6′9″ hurler.

Brandon Beachy, SP, ATL – You know all that hype Atlanta pitcher Mike Minor was getting? Well, transfer it right over to Beachy. Minor is heading to the minors because Beachy won the #5 starter spot for the Braves. Beachy has been peachy in spring training and he’ll face an heavy NL East schedule that’s not exactly loaded with sluggers. His three minor-league seasons were a day at the Beach(y), as the right-hander went 11-4 with a 2.55 ERA and 228 Ks in 208 innings.

Jon Rauch, RP, TOR – Rauch proved to be a very capable closer when he saved 21 games filling in for Joe Nathan in Minnesota last year. He’s #2 on the closer depth chart in Toronto, yet he may start the season as the Blue Jays ninth-inning guy. Toronto manager John Farrell said of Frank Francisco, “We traded for him to be our closer.” But Francisco has had recurring injury problems and will miss the beginning of the season with a sore pectoral muscle. You only have to look back to last season to see how short-lived Francisco’s previous closer stint was. In 2010, he got torched out of the gate and quickly handed Texas’ closer role over to Neftali Feliz. Certainly could happen again.

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