For many, fame arrives with age 27
Spotting late-round breakout candidates offers Fantasy edge
Here is a homework assignment for you: Compare the roster of your league's 2006 champion to our 2007 rankings.
The person who won your league has a team that makes it look like he had extra picks in the early rounds ... or some serious insider trading tips.
If you are a veteran of Fantasy Baseball, you have done that exercise before, and you know there is no way you or anyone else will be able to assemble that same team again this spring. Those players will be scattered about your league like a twisted Rubik's Cube.
Chances are, that same team wouldn't win again anyway.
We have determined, after years of playing this game to varying degrees of success, that it is of utmost importance to target players who haven't peaked. They have the best chance to outperform their draft position and stock a team that will wind up looking like you were allowed to pick twice in each of the first 10 rounds.
Draft this year's Fantasy team, not last year's. Sure, that sounds too obvious. But how does anyone know that a player hasn't peaked?
We don't. No one does. But we do have some ways of anticipating that he hasn't.
Success is the culmination of preparation and opportunity, and our five-part series on Fantasy Baseball's Draft Day sleepers for 2007 is dedicated to helping you get there by understanding five ways to sniff out inefficiencies in the Fantasy marketplace:
I. Age: Hitters around the age of 27 enter their prime.
II. Preparation: A starting pitcher in his third year is ready to take off.
III. Opportunity: Know those getting to start for the first time.
IV. Health: Avoid injury or score on injury-risk sleepers with huge upside.
V. Talent: Track top rookies and overlooked sophomores.
We go into Part I in depth here.
Perhaps you are coming off a Fantasy Football season in which you drafted LaDainian Tomlinson and reaped the rewards, but welcome back to baseball -- i.e., reality -- where even an Albert Pujols doesn't make you a surefire winner. In this Fantasy game, it's about what you do in the middle and late rounds -- or with those $1 gems at the back end of an auction.
To score steals and sleepers, the most important thing to remember is that it doesn't matter what you think of a player. It's about how everyone else thinks.
Case in point for 2007: Dan Uggla. The power-hitting sophomore second baseman extraordinaire has early-round value if you look at his age and numbers from a year ago. In fact, at his position, a case can be made that his power makes him the second-best option behind Chase Utley, last year's 27-year-old deluxe.
But, if you're making that case, you might be alone among the competition in your league. It has become a cliché to consider his rookie season a bit of an overachievement -- if not a fluke. So, a player you're picking in Round 4 could have been had in Round 8 or later. Regardless of whether he's worth it, that might be classified as a reach, which is a five-letter no-no for draftniks.
Uggla, by the way, was a gem last year. He might even have been on the team above that won your league. Coincidentally, he fit a number of our five sleeper categories. He had talent, won an everyday job in spring, stayed healthy, was able to capitalize on good Minor League numbers and was hitting his prime (he turns 27 in March).
Life truly begins at 27 for a big-league hitter. Physiology suggests that it's a man's physical peak, and statistics have traditionally proven it.
A caveat: Not all 27-year-olds are cultivated equally. Knowing that Pujols, Ryan Howard and Garrett Atkins are of prime age is interesting fodder, but it won't help you win your league. They are established Fantasy studs, and odds are, you will never get a chance to pick them anyway.
But you will have a shot at these undervalued guys on Draft Day:
1. OF Adam Dunn, Reds
Career highs: .266 AVG, 46 HR, 102 RBI, 107 R, 19 SB
If you look past the strikeouts and terrible average, Dunn is already worthy of top dollar on Draft Day. With those warts, though, 45-50 homers and well over 100 RBIs will be on the board much later/cheaper than they should. There is less correlation with age and batting average than with homers, RBIs and runs, but Dunn is primed to best all of his career highs.
2. SS Bobby Crosby, Athletics
Sure, Dunn is more of a breakthrough early rounder, but Crosby is a definite sleeper because he will be targeted after at least 10 other shortstops. There is early-round potential here that has been hidden by a series of injury-plagued seasons. He's a multi-category sleeper because the overlooked top talent has injury risk dragging his value down for you, too. Bonus!
3. SS Khalil Greene, Padres
Another injury-plagued former Rookie of the Year candidate at shortstop, like Crosby. We think he has even more run-production potential than Crosby -- with just a touch less injury risk. Run-producing shortstops are hard to come by; there are only a handful of them in baseball, and Greene and Crosby have the potential to rise to top-five options at the position, Uggla-style. We should be able to look back on Greene's career bests coming into the year and laugh.
4. 1B Mark Teixeira, Rangers
We cannot help ourselves. We have to toss in another stud -- one who goes no later than Round 3. He was a first-round bust last year, but his second half (.291-24-61-51-1) portends a big-time rebound. If there is such a thing as a "steal" in Round 3 of a standard mixed league, Teixeira is it. His career highs will be difficult to match, but he just has to come somewhere close to outperform his tempered draft position.
5. 1B Dan Johnson, Athletics
Johnson's 2006 was a disaster, but he's just getting started and is being given an everyday job this spring, with the 26-year-old Nick Swisher moving to the outfield full-time. Despite all of his talent and potential, Johnson won't even be drafted in many mixed leagues. He'll be a waiver-wire steal in that event.
6. CF/2B Chris Burke, Astros
Burke's career has yet to amount to much in most Fantasy leagues, but we really like the fact he could be the Astros' everyday center fielder in his age-27 season. Plus, second base is thin at the top and he's eligible there, too. He's capable of being a poor man's Craig Biggio and going .285-20-80-100-20.
7. 3B Chad Tracy, Diamondbacks
Tracy had most of his career bests in '05 before disappointing owners last season, but he's still capable of posting a .300-30-100-100 campaign. Age 27 is as good of a time as ever. That D-backs lineup is a little young, but it's loaded with long-term potential, so Tracy and company may all hit their stride simultaneously.
8. 1B Ryan Shealy, Royals
Shealy is just getting started, although his rookie eligibility expired. He'll be an overlooked sophomore, especially at the deep first base position. With a full season of at-bats, he's capable of going .300-25-90-80 and being a pivotal mixed-league waiver pickup. OPS means run production, even in a Royals lineup.
9. RF Brad Hawpe, Rockies
Hawpe is coming off his first full season, when all of those career bests were set, and if not for the presence of Jeff Baker potentially stealing at-bats against left-handed pitching, Hawpe would be higher on this list. Hey, that's good news -- a reason he might slip! Hawpe is a poor man's Matt Holliday, who is also 27, by the way. We say poor man's because Hawpe's average doesn't project to be as good.
10. 3B Wilson Betemit, Dodgers
Betemit is a two-time Braves Minor League Player of the Year -- and those were the seasons that the organization was still among the talent-rich. He enters the 2007 season as a full-time starter for the first time. You know how we love those multi-category sleepers. Assuming he doesn't eat himself back to a bench role, Betemit has a body that can develop into that of a slugger.
Note: We considered all of those players who will be 27 years old at some point this season (April-September). Here's the list of 27-year-olds we left out because they have already been Fantasy stars: 1B Pujols, STL; 1B Howard, PHI; 3B Atkins, COL; OF Holliday, COL; 3B Adrian Beltre, SEA.
Other 27-year-olds we can see having a career year for Fantasy owners: C Gerald Laird, TEX; DH Jason Botts, TEX; SS Felipe Lopez, WAS; OF Austin Kearns, WAS; OF Coco Crisp, BOS; OF Corey Patterson, BAL; 1B Adam LaRoche, PIT; 1B Chris Shelton, DET; OF David DeJesus, KC; OF Nelson Cruz, TEX; OF Scott Hairston, ARI; SS Jason Bartlett, MIN; OF Ryan Langerhans, ATL; OF Chris Duffy, PIT; OF Nook Logan, WAS; 2B/SS Russ Adams, TOR.
Here's the list of 27-year-olds waiting for opportunity to knock: 3B Dallas McPherson, LAA (surgery); OF Todd Linden, SF; OF Scott Hairston, ARI; C Kelly Shoppach, CLE; OF Jayson Werth, PHI; OF Gabe Gross, MIL; UTL Maicer Izturis, LAA; UTL Ryan Theriot, CHC; 2B Hector Luna, CLE; 2B Pete Orr, ATL; 2B Ryan Roberts, TOR; 2B Richard Lewis, KC; C Jeremy Brown, OAK; C J.R. House, BAL; OF Cory Sullivan, COL; OF Adam Stern, BAL; OF Luis Terrero, BAL; OF Chris Denorfia, CIN; 3B/2B Jeff Keppinger, CIN.
We do not advise drafting a Fantasy team entirely of 27-year-olds, although you could surely try, and you might not do too poorly.
But, before we send you on to Part II of our sleeper series, we leave you with a little anecdote:
At CBS SportsLine, we have a competitive group of Fantasy players, and one of them, senior engineer Jake Payton, took the information from this annual sleepers series a step further, highlighting the 27-year-olds and third-year starting pitchers in different colors on his personal cheat sheets.
He showed me what he did in our league, and he targeted them periodically as his draft(s) went on. We tell you this not only to advise you to do the same, but we will also let you know that Payton is that guy we opened with above.
He won that league -- back-to-back -- and didn't even offer so much as to buy me lunch. (Although, those funds helped him buy an engagement ring.)
You're hard-pressed to beat him in any Fantasy league. Can't beat him, join him.
Eric Mack is a Senior Fantasy Writer at CBS SportsLine. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.