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Tuesday, March 4
Updated: March 6, 2:38 PM ET
 
Sleepers to watch in 2003

By Gary Huckabay
Special to ESPN.com

You have your list of stars, and you have your list of duds. But what about the unexpected? Well for that, here's our list of top sleepers to keep an eye on for the upcoming season:

National League
Brandon Duckworth, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Yes, he had a 5.41 ERA last year -- a combination of giving up more than a hit per inning, 26 home runs in 163 innings, and nearly four walks a game. But Duckworth has a very live arm, and the peripheral stats of a much better pitcher.

Duckworth struck out 167 batters in those 163 innings, and bad pitchers don't do that. If Duckworth can catch a few breaks on batted balls, he could have an amazing turnaround season. Add in a dose of new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, and a new, improved Duckworth could be as important to the new-look Phillies as anyone.

John Patterson
Starting pitcher
Arizona Diamondbacks
Profile
2002 SEASON STATISTICS
GM IP W-L BB SO ERA
7 30.2 2-0 7 31 3.23

John Patterson, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
In 1996, Patterson was one of the players ruled a free agent because of a loophole in the rules regarding the first-year player draft. He then spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons ripping apart the low minors, striking out 243 batters in 205 innings. Injuries struck, and Patterson missed most of the 2000 season recovering from elbow ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery.

He's now 25 years old, two full years removed from his surgery, and has apparently regained his stuff. In a limited stint with the Diamondbacks, Patterson showed great mechanics, struck out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings, walked only seven, and provided an occasional flash of dominance. The unlimited ceiling that made Patterson so attractive as an 18-year-old free agent is most definitely back. There's some risk here, but there's also the possibility of a legitimate star.

Marcus Giles, 2B, Atlanta Braves
The forgotten prospect and prodigal defensive son is primed for a big year. Giles had an extremely taxing 2002 where he fought personal tragedy and nagging injuries, but he's still got an incredibly quick and explosive swing, he's only 25 this May, and it's easy to forget just how good he's looked over the years:

Year Team Level BA OBP SLG
1999 Myrtle Beach High-A .326 .393 .513
2000 Greenville Double-A .290 .388 .472
2001 Richmond Triple-A .333 .387 .488
2001 Atlanta MLB .262 .338 .430
2002 Richmond Triple-A .322 .385 .452
2002 Atlanta MLB .230 .315 .399

Giles has shown he can hit for average and power, has a pretty good command of the strike zone, and is just entering his early prime. If he gets the opportunity, he could turn into one of the very best players in baseball over the next three to five years. Giles will eventually hit; whether he's playing second base, third base, or elsewhere.

Javier Valentin, C, Milwaukee Brewers
You may notice a couple of trends among these sleepers. One obvious trend is guys coming back from some sort of nasty, usually acute injury. Valentin falls into another category: Guys Who've Shown A Range of Talent in the Majors and Minors Who Are At or Near Their Peak And Play on Bad Teams.

Valentin's hit in the minors, including a respectable-but-not-mindblowing .286/.346/.501 in Triple-A Edmonton last year. He's 27 this year, and has shown flashes of potential throughout a long minor league career. Now he's on a club where he'll be competing with Robert Machado, Keith Osik, Cody McKay, and Joe Lawrence for playing time.

Valentin's not going to be a star, but he could bust out and hit .260-.270 with 20-25 home runs, if everything breaks his way. The Brewers would certainly welcome that kind of pleasant surprise.

Derrek Lee, 1B, Florida Marlins
It's probably not fair to list Lee as a 'sleeper.' He hasn't gotten much press, partially because he's been playing in front of a lot of empty seats, and partially because the park that happens to contain those seats isn't precisely a hitters' paradise.

Before we even take Lee's impressive defense into account, he's one of the better first basemen in baseball, falling right between Jeff Bagwell and Richie Sexson according to the EqA rankings at Baseball Prospectus. Lee is durable -- he's missed only four games over the last three seasons -- will turn 28 in September, and unveiled a new part of his game -- speed -- during the 2002 season, when he stole 19 bases. Not bad for a 6-foot-5, 245 pound first baseman playing in the relative obscurity of Miami.

Michael Barrett, C, Montreal Expos
As a 22-year-old rookie in 1998, Barrett was a hot property -- a catcher who hit .293/.345/.436. It's four years later now, and Barrett finally had a second good year after floundering with nagging injuries and a slow bat for three years. His 2002 season was pretty much on par with his rookie year, and he now enters his prime years on the upswing. He's no longer young enough to be considered a prospect, but he is entering a phase of his career where he can expect to turn a few doubles into home runs, and generally hit with more authority.

He may not end the season in Montreal, but he should end the season with solid offensive numbers, and if he can lift the ball a bit more, he could emerge as a legitimate power source behind the plate, in sort of a neo-Terry Steinbach way.

American League
Johan Santana, SP/RP, Minnesota Twins
One AL front-office executive calls Santana "a stone killer in the rotation waiting to happen. A left-handed Pedro." High praise for a guy who's not even ticketed with a slot in the starting rotation yet. Obviously, Santana isn't quite Pedro Martinez, but is the comparison at least reasonable? Here are Santana and Martinez's stat lines for the 2002 season, prorated to Martinez's inning workload:

Pitcher IP H BB K HR ERA K/9 H/9 K/BB
Martinez 199.1 144 40 239 13 2.26 10.79 6.50 5.98
Santana 199.1 155 90 252 13 2.99 11.38 7.00 2.80

Perhaps he's not a "Left-Handed Pedro" just yet, but he sure looks awfully good, and if there's an injury to the fragile Twins rotation, Santana may just turn one of the Twins' starters into the first Wally Pipp of the 21st Century.

Miguel Olivo, C, Chicago White Sox
With Mark Johnson shipped off to Oakland, Olivo should be able to wrest playing time from Josh Paul. Olivo's got a broad offensive skill set, with good power, a demonstrated ability to hit for a high average, and that rarest of commodities in a catcher -- speed.

Olivo hit 10 triples in just over 100 games at Double-A Birmingham last season, a nice complement to his 29 stolen bases. It may take a little time for Olivo to adjust to the majors and become a productive bat, but he definitely has the skills, and could pull it all together as early as this season.

Bobby Kielty, OF, Minnesota Twins
Teams without huge revenues aren't supposed to have depth. So what's the deal with the Twins? You've heard of Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones, but Kielty might be as good or better as either of those two, and he's going to be battling for playing time and clawing to keep out of the Dreaded Dave Hansen "He's too valuable off the bench to put in the starting lineup" Career Path. Kielty's a solid defender who can play either corner well, and won't embarrass himself in center field. But what sets him apart is his bat.

Bobby Kielty
Outfielder
Minnesota Twins
Profile
2002 SEASON STATISTICS
GM AB R HR RBI AVG
112 289 49 12 46 .291

Here are the OPSs posted by Minnesota outfielders last year. See if you can pick Kielty's out of the list without looking it up.

.890
.852
.859
.759
.740
.709

Give up? Kielty's .405 OBP, .484 SLG, and rounding put him at .890 --- atop a very crowded Minnesota outfield. Like most of the players on this list, he's right in his prime, and the main question marks about him are external; specifically, will he be able to get enough playing time?

Frank Catalanotto, OF/2B, Toronto Blue Jays
Now entering the "Injury Bounceback" portion of the AL Sleepers. Catalanotto's play last year was limited because of a back injury, which is now healed up. During his previous years, he's demonstrated everything you want in an offensive player -- the ability to hit for average, hit for power, draw some walks, and even steal some bases -- 24 out of 34 over the last two years.

He's now entering a situation that's perfect for a breakout. He's going to play nearly every day, with the occasional day off against tough lefties. He turns 29 years old in April, and he's going to play a position (right field) that doesn't expose one to a huge number of nagging injuries because of collisions with baserunners. Catalanotto could very well hit .300 with 75 walks with a lot of power. Don't be shocked if he's north of 20 home runs.

Carl Everett, OF, Texas Rangers
The potentially combustible Metroplex locker room never really exploded last year, despite the uncanny ability of GM John Hart to assemble a rather eclectic bunch. Lost among the debris of a rough season in Texas was Everett's second half, when he hit .327/.405/.527.

If manager Buck Showalter can keep Everett's 32-year-old knees healthy, he could put up some truly huge numbers in Arlington, and have a late-career surge a la Ellis Burks. He's never had 500 AB in a single season, but Everett can still definitely pound the ball, and could be the center of a relentless, pitcher-crushing offense.

Rondell White, OF/DH, New York Yankees
White needs a convergence of health and opportunity, and he might be halfway there depending on the status of Nick Johnson's new wrist injury. White fought a hamstring problem and some unfortunate off-field distractions and had the worst season of his career in 2002, posting a .240 BA, and showing little power.

But prior to last season, White was one of the most consistent performers in the game for years when healthy, with an OPS between .864 and .900 from 1998-2001. He's still only 31, and if the Yankees have to count on him, he's a good bet to deliver.

You can check out more work from the team of writers of the Baseball Prospectus at baseballprospectus.com. Baseball Prospectus is a registered trademark of Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC.





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