David Freese/Troy Glaus - Last night's news that Troy Glaus won't be available for much of the first half (if at all this year) certainly bumps David Freese's stock upwards, and you don't have to squint to much to see a sleeper here. Freese had plenty of strike zone issues last year in his first exposure to AAA, but he did hit for average (.306) and power (.244 ISO). At age 26 and with only one season above A-ball, it's easy to be skeptical of Freese's ability at the big league level, but he's hit everywhere he's been in the minors. The Cards are so thin in the infield that they're converting OF prospects this year (Schumaker), so Freese shouldn't have a lot of competition if he struggles. I'd take a strong look at him in NL leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
Alex Gordon - In today's "instant gratification" society, guys like Alex Gordon are labeled as busts halfway through their age-24 seasons just because they don't improve by 25% YOY. It isn't fair, but perhaps it offers those of us with some perspective one last opportunity to get a future star on the cheap. Gordon's 2008 stat line is awfully similar to his 2007 campaign, but he did make strides in plate discipline while keeping everything else roughly the same. This spring he's hitting for much more power thus far: enough so that I think it could presage a breakout this year. If the Royals could ignore the decrepit veterans they're planning on using at the bottom of their rotation, they could actually make a little noise this season. If that comes to pass, expect Gordon to be one of the biggest reasons why.
Nelson Cruz - I'm getting more and more excited about seeing Nelson Cruz get one more crack at a starting job in Texas. After slamming 44 homers last year between AAA and the majors, a healthy Cruz, potentially batting between Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis, could easily put up a 30-100 campaign in the power categories. Sprinkle in a few steals (he had 27 last season) and Cruz appears to be rather undervalued to me.
Russell Branyan - At age 33, Russell Branyan may finally be poised to post only his second season of over 85 games played. It seems surprising, but most teams haven't been able to deal with the heavy dose of strikeouts that Branyan offers. The M's aren't going to offer him a lot of lineup protection, and he also has a difficult home park to deal with, but as a source of cheap power (and at least a decent OBP as well), you could do quite a bit worse for a CI.
Travis Buck - After an injury plagued couple of seasons, Travis Buck looks like another OF sleeper to me. He's solidly above-average across the board, and like a number of players he's been seemingly written off entering his age-25 season. I would absolutely look at picking him up in the later rounds in most formats....our PT projection looks a bit low for him based on the current composition of the A's roster. One caveat: staying healthy is a skill, and Buck certainly hasn't illustrated that to any length just yet.
Erick Aybar - Aybar hasn't really played regularly since he was 21 years old, which might explain his stalled development over the past few seasons. Yet another age-25 "failed prospect", Aybar is showing some pop this spring for the Angels(.375 ISO) and seemingly has the SS job locked up. He's always going to run (although not optimally...his CS numbers are always high) and should post a high AVG to boot....a bit of power could make him drastically undervalued. Not a bad late choice in AL-only leagues.
Kendry Morales - I think this is pretty clearly today's theme: 25 year olds that have been dismissed or downgraded because they've just "been around too long" without improving. Morales has a career .337 AVG in the hitter-friendly Angel minor league chain, and he might be at an age where a bit more power will show up (he has 10 doubles already this spring). He should be a nice sleeper in Al-only formats, and likely in deeper mixed leagues as well.
Chicago White Sox - Sure, he's buried behind ironman A.J. Pierzynski and nominal catch-and-throw guy Corky Miller, but if this is the year that Pierzynski declines significantly (that can't be discounted at age 32 with 1100 G under his belt), Tyler Flowers could certainly provide some pop. Flowers posted an ISO of .206 in the heavy air of Myrtle Beach last season, and while it's doubtful that he's quite ready to make the jump to the majors, catchers with that sort of pop are on the rare side. He's a name to remember if a bit more PT comes his way.....The big C's (Contreras and Colon) aren't showing much of a decline in stuff this spring, but both of them look pretty close to done. With Clayton Richard also in the mix, the back end of the Sox rotation looks like a mess. That may open a spot up for Aaron Poreda sometime in the middle part of the season, although his K/9 ratios weren't all that stellar last season at A and AA. He would likely be an improvement over the other three in any event.
Cleveland Indians - Shin-Soo Choo is one of my favorites as you can probably gather, and I fully expect him to be the second best hitter on the Tribe this season behind Grady Sizemore. A 300/375/500 season wouldn't surprise me one bit......Cliff Lee was thrashed again yesterday in the thin Arizona air, which has to make everyone wonder if 2008 was the exception or the rule. The answer, as usual, is probably somewhere in between. Lee did allow far fewer flyballs last year than in the past, which is probably mostly sustainable. Unfortunately, he also allowed about half as many flyballs to leave the park last year as he did in 2007. That part of his performance will likely regress. I would expect at least 3/4 of a run of regression in his ERA this year, which will still make him a viable starter in all formats.....just not Cy Young material.
Detroit Tigers - The abrupt release of Gary Sheffield obviously pushes Marcus Thames' value upward significantly. Thames is always a good source of power and little else, so if that's your need he's an easy choice......Rick Porcello will enter the season as the #4 starter for the Tigers, while Zach Miner will be the #5 as long as Jeremy Bonderman is on the shelf. As Drew mentioned yesterday, expect some early struggles from Porcello as he tries to make the jump from A-ball. I'd actually be surprised if he sticks in the majors this time around, although down the road I fully expect him to be a top-level starter. Miner is staff filler......The dreaded closer-by-committee is rearing its head in Detroit. Brandon Lyon was brought on board ostensibly to close, but Jim Leyland said yesterday that Fernando Rodney would be the guy if a save situation comes up on Opening Day, but after that he wasn't sure. Lyon will be in the mix, as will control-challenged youngster Ryan Perry, Twin castoff Juan Rincon, and the currently disabled Joel Zumaya. Rodney is your best bet for now, but this promises to be a pretty fluid situation.