When it comes to sleepers and busts, it's all about value.
The best sleepers are those lower-ranked players who outperform their draft-day value. Meanwhile, the busts are those players who play significantly below their draft-day value. In many cases, finding the right sleepers and avoiding the appropriate busts at the draft can go a long way toward winning a title.
The baseline for draft-day value in this case is our ESPN Fantasy rankings. We arrive at these rankings via a consensus of our writers and editors, but that doesn't mean we're all in agreement with the final rankings. Thus our experts provided their own sleepers and busts, in relation to those rankings.
We've asked a number of our analysts to provide one sleeper and one bust for each of the following positions: catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, outfield, starting pitcher and relief pitcher. Our analysts then go deeper into one sleeper pick and one bust pick. In most cases, we're discussing draft strategy/rankings for ESPN's standard leagues (10-team mixed league, 22-man active roster, including one starting catcher and one utility player, plus a three-man bench). Thus, the sleepers are mostly players ranked below the top 10-15 at the infield and catching positions, below the top 50 at outfield and starting pitcher and the top 20 among relief pitchers. The busts are mostly at players ranked above the top 10-15 at each position. The analysis is mostly applicable in deeper leagues, though.
Our panel of analysts: Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Dave Hunter, Eric Karabell, AJ Mass, James Quintong and Brendan Roberts.
Erik Bedard, P, Pittsburgh Pirates: I can see your eyes a-rollin' from here. Sure, missed starts are part of Bedard's repertoire, but so is pitching well: He has a respectable 3.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 since 2007. A move to the National League (and the NL Central, no less) should serve him well, and he's easily replaceable, especially in mixed leagues, for his occasional missed starts. --Brendan Roberts
Peter Bourjos, OF, Los Angeles Angels: While other teams are chasing Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, I am taking Bourjos -- a few rounds later. No, he is not the next great fantasy player, but he did have 12 homers and 22 steals last year in 502 at-bats. There is still some upside too. Bourjos won't win a batting title, but he will not hurt your average and it is not a stretch to say he could have a 15-HR, 30-steal season this year. --Shawn Cwalinski
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets: Project Davis' career stats to 162 games and we're talking a .271/.357/.460 hitter with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs, and that's in spite of his spacious home ballpark. Injuries are the issue; problems with his ankle limited him to 36 games last season, and he was diagnosed at the start of spring training with a lung infection that was likely valley fever. However, if healthy, two things stand out as hints at a possible breakthrough: One, the opportunity to quickly grab a heart-of-the-order position on the paper-thin Mets, and two, that the Mets brought in the Citi Field fences slightly, perhaps improving his power potential. --Tristan H. Cockcroft
Mat Gamel, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers: He'll eventually qualify for first base as he takes over for Prince Fielder in Milwaukee. He's been held back in the past primarily because he had no position to call home, but when the team needed a DH in 2011, they turned to Gamel. So what if his defense is sketchy? His bat is all you should care about, and given a real chance to play every day, he'll finally live up to the hype. --AJ Mass
Colby Rasmus, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Entering the 2011 season it seemed Rasmus and Curtis Granderson were on a similar path, with near-identical 2010 stats. Rasmus had a poor 2011 campaign, but he's out of St. Louis, the power/speed package remains and many fantasy owners will simply forget how he's 25 and how good he can be. --Eric Karabell
Sergio Romo, P, San Francisco Giants: Romo's incredible career K/BB and K rates, along with his wicked slider, should put him on your radar for saves. Romo likely won't match last season's numbers -- five walks in 48 IP -- but he remains one of the best middle relievers in 2012 to target, especially with concerns over Brian Wilson's health this season. --Dave Hunter
Johan Santana, P, New York Mets: He's obviously a risk because of his recent injury history, but returns from spring training look solid so far. If he actually pitches Opening Day and can put in anywhere close to a full season of work at a level somewhat close to his days as a Cy Young candidate, he'll be a great bargain in the later rounds of a draft. --James Quintong
Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers: Like most of my bust picks, this selection is more about value versus draft spot than anything else. I think the Tigers' new big-money acquisition will struggle in his first trip through the AL, just as many former NL stars (including teammate Miguel Cabrera) have. After that, he'll provide typical Prince-like numbers. Unfortunately, to get him, you'd have to pay the equivalent of a full season of Prince-like numbers. --Brendan Roberts
Dee Gordon, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Cheap steals from a shortstop are great, but Gordon has two traits particularly bothersome for a speedster, which make him a risk to statistically collapse: He doesn't walk, having drawn them in only 6.5 percent of his plate appearances during his minor league career, 5.8 percent at the Triple-A level alone and 3.0 percent with the Dodgers last year. He's also a slap-happy, entirely-lacking-in-power hitter, his isolated power as a pro a mere .082. Heck, I'll probably hit as many home runs as Gordon, and the Dodgers haven't even contacted me yet about their probable May shortstop opening. --Tristan H. Cockcroft
Tommy Hanson, P, Atlanta Braves: Sure, he's got ace stuff (he had a career-high 9.83 K/9 last year), but his health is becoming much more of a concern that he's probably not worth the high pick it'll take to get him on your roster. I'd rather not build my rotation around Hanson, who also gave up a career-high 17 homers last season in just 130 innings. --James Quintong
Matt Moore, P, Tampa Bay Rays: I won't argue Moore's astounding skills and his potential this season, but to draft him before pitchers like Chris Carpenter and Madison Bumgarner in seasonal leagues? No thanks. I just don't expect Moore to live up to the hype enough to pass on solid veteran names. --Dave Hunter
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers: Ramirez is really going to miss the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where he has a .925 career OPS. He's being treated as a certain top-10 third baseman, but has averaged only 22 home runs in 118 games the past three seasons, with much of his power and batting average coming in home games. --Eric Karabell
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Miami Marlins: He's only 28, he has to bounce back, right? I want to say yes, but I look at the trends and have doubts. The past three years, Hanley's homers, expected batting average and runs scored have declined. The past two years, his steals, batting average and on-base percentage have declined. I have not even gotten to his declining line drive and fly ball rates yet. Those are not the trends that I look for in a top-15 pick. --Shawn Cwalinski
Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Utley has missed over 100 games over the past two seasons, and he has yet to play in a spring training game. The Phillies can claim they're just taking it slow with him, but the red flags are waving fast and furious. His power numbers are declining and he didn't even attempt a stolen base after Aug. 10 until the last game of the season. No thanks. I'll pass. --AJ Mass