Sleepers: They're dead to me.
OK, well, the term "sleeper" is.
The problem with "sleepers" in fantasy baseball -- and, really, any walk of life -- is that the very mention of such a concept violates the first rule of the sleeper: That no one notices it or believes it's capable of anything. It is one of the most misused pieces of terminology in this game.
I firmly believe in the usage of "sleeper" in its basest form: Players from whom nobody expects anything, who have at least decent odds of a significant return.
These are players who, by all rights, won't be drafted in ESPN standard leagues. Heck, they might not even crack the radar in singular (AL- or NL-only) leagues. The point is to familiarize you with these names now, in the hopes that you'll find a dirt-cheap gem, either at the draft table or perhaps as a midseason pickup.
As always, the goal is to have at least half -- so six -- of these picks earn at least $10 in a singular league. If that happens, their owners will likely win their respective leagues, so long as their leading men also perform at or near their own expectations. To give you a sense of valuation, I've also included their price points from the AL- and NL-only versions of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) and Tout Wars leagues; be aware that Tout Wars uses on-base percentage instead of batting average in the Rotisserie 5x5 scoring.
Travis Snider, OF, Baltimore Orioles
He's one of the higher price-point players on the list, but opinions on Snider range wildly (as you'll see in a moment with the expert-league prices). I'm on board with those who believe his second-half-of-2014 numbers -- .288/.356/.524 and an 81 percent contact rate -- were more representative of skills growth than fluky outcomes. Bear in mind that in his big league career to that point, his numbers in those same categories were .241/.304/.392 and 71 percent. Snider pays painstaking attention to his mechanics and always seeks an edge, and he's trading brutal-for-lefty-power PNC Park for a much better hitters' environment in Camden Yards. Now he just needs regular at-bats, though there are three potential paths to them: right field, left field and DH.
Price points: $9 LABR, $3 Tout Wars.
Kendall Graveman, SP, Oakland Athletics
Some of these picks are plays for upside; others make it for their heightened basement-level expectations (among late-rounders). Graveman is more of the latter, a pitcher without the blazing fastball or filthy breaking pitch to accumulate strikeouts in bunches. But he has the two-seamer/cutter/change combination that tends to narrow righty/lefty splits and that generates many grounders, therefore minimizing disastrous results. He's likely to make the Athletics' rotation to begin the season, and with that ballpark behind him, at the bare minimum he should have some streaming utility.
Price points: $5 LABR, $4 Tout Wars.
Kyle Gibson, SP, Minnesota Twins
Remember what I said about Graveman? Gibson is the exact opposite: He's a play for upside. Watching him, I've got little doubt that he has the slider/changeup combination to thrive -- or at least be a mid-rotation guy -- in the bigs, but from outing to outing in 2014, no one was less consistent. Consider: In six of his starts, he generated misses on more than 30 percent of hitters' swings; in seven others, his "miss rate" was sub-12 percent. That's a massive disparity, and it makes me wonder whether he's a small pitch-arsenal tweak away from a breakthrough.
Price points: $2 LABR, $2 Tout Wars.
Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Every time I watch this spring, he's driving the ball with authority and/or hitting the ball to the opposite field. In short, he's not going to make this team simply because his contract stipulates it; he's going to make it because, thanks to his refined approach, he deserves it. And let's not forget, Guerrero had .284 isolated power last season in Triple-A -- yes, in that hitters' heaven known as the Pacific Coast League, but let's also recognize that the PCL's overall mark was .152 (the MLB average was .135), showing how far and beyond it he finished. Plus, he has two steals thus far this spring -- he had 14 combined in 624 games between the U.S. minors and Cuba. Third base is an option for Guerrero, considering the Dodgers' projected starter there is Juan Uribe. That said, the signing of Hector Olivera might fill that void aptly, as well. Even if Guerrero has to settle for a utility role, he's worth a stash. Price points: $3 LABR, $6 Tout Wars (both paid pre-Olivera signing).
Vance Worley, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
All hail Ray Searage, king of the reclamation project. Under Searage's tutelage last season, Worley restored his pre-2012-elbow-surgery mechanics and played up his two-seamer; playing for ground balls is a Searage staple. The second-half results: seven quality starts (in 12 starts), a 2.61 ERA, 3.35 K's per walk -- which flew almost entirely beneath everyone's radar. Worley is at it again this spring, with 14 groundouts and an 8:1 K-to-walk ratio in his 11 frames of work.
Price points: LABR reserve, $3 Tout Wars.
Billy Burns, OF, Oakland Athletics
With fellow speed demon Micah Johnson having "graduated" from what I'd deem the classification of "sleeper," I turn my attention to Burns as a slick dollar play for AL-only owners seeking cheap speed. He's tearing up the Cactus League, which is relevant not for the statistics themselves but rather for how they increase his odds of making the team, and let's not forget that this team is only three weeks removed from its announcement that Coco Crisp will shift from center to left field this season; that frees up center field, which is Burns' natural position. Burns has averaged 74 stolen bases per 162 games played as a pro, and he's a walker, too, with an 11.9 percent career rate in the minors. That's a good trait for a speedster.
Price points: LABR and Tout Wars reserve.
Jace Peterson, SS, Atlanta Braves
You've met Burns, now meet the NL's version of the dirt-cheap speedster. Peterson's career minor league walk rate is 12.5 percent, and he averaged 62 steals per 162 games there. Thus far this spring, he has looked like a quite comparable talent. While everyone anxiously awaits Jose Peraza's arrival in Atlanta or assumes that Alberto Callaspo's $3 million salary assures him the Braves' second-base job, Peterson has snuck in as the potential regular and No. 2 hitter. Oh, see that "SS"? There's a good chance he'll become a dual-eligible, adding his projected position of second base, by the third week of April.
Price points: $1 LABR, $6 Tout Wars.
Peter O'Brien, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
Frankly, I don't care that he can't catch. I know that major league teams do (and should!), so O'Brien stands little chance at an every-day catcher job. But I look at the Diamondbacks' depth chart and see minimal competition: Tuffy Gosewisch, Gerald Laird, Jordan Pacheco, Matt Pagnozzi, Blake Lalli and Mark Thomas. That's it. This has so much of a Seattle Mariners-in-2012 look to it. O'Brien's superior bat could couple with Laird's defensive strengths to form a Miguel Olivo-and-Jesus Montero-like combination. O'Brien has .236 career isolated power as a professional, and Chase Field is a good power-hitting park. There's no question that if he makes the team, he's a viable No. 2 fantasy catcher.
Price points: $5 LABR, $2 Tout Wars.
Evan Marshall, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Sticking with the Diamondbacks theme, another weak point of their roster is the bullpen: Addison Reed is coming off a shaky 2014, is dealing with some shoulder problems, and is one of the first closers I'd pick to lose his job. Brad Ziegler, the logical next-in-line, is fresh off knee surgery and is potentially a wiser situational type thanks to his extreme ground-balling (rather than elite strikeout) ways. So Marshall could quietly sneak to the front of the depth chart, on the heels of his 2.03-ERA, 3.88 K-per-walk second half.
Price points: $2 LABR, $2 Tout Wars.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Washington Nationals
He's the ultimate what-if, a player positively no one is going to draft, and frankly most everyone might be surprised he is still in the league. It has been two years since Uggla hit 20-plus homers, three since he batted .200-plus, and four since he had .200-plus isolated power. He's 35 years old.
He's also tearing up the Grapefruit League, which matters, again, not because of the stats themselves but because they indicate that his offseason training with sports physician Robert Donatelli, who helped improve Uggla's balance and focus, is working. It also improves Uggla's chances of making a team that has Anthony Rendon struggling with a knee injury, with Danny Espinosa a wildly streaky alternative.
Price points: $1 LABR, Tout Wars reserve.
Chris Young, OF, New York Yankees
Frankly, I'm a little surprised that I like him this season; I've been a vocal critic of Young in fantasy terms for years. But after several disappointing seasons, he's barely even a draft consideration, yet he's in an ideal situation in which to outperform expectations: playing in a hitting-friendly home environment as the No. 4 (or 5) outfielder behind three projected starters averaging 33 years of age. Oh, by the way, two of them are left-handed, and the third had a .564 OPS against lefties in 2014.
Price points: $2 LABR, Tout Wars reserve.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
He is being painfully underrated, even after this spring's Josh Hamilton developments vastly increased Cron's chances of fairly regular at-bats in 2015. Cron was already a near lock to take all the DH starts against lefties from Matt Joyce, but after a solid spring, the question must be asked: Is Cron really deserving of a seat against righties in favor of Efren Navarro or Marc Krauss? Cron might have the look of a free swinger, but remember, he had a 4.6 percent walk rate and a 15.3 percent strikeout rate during his minor league career. There's time yet for him to improve.
Price points: $8 LABR, $4 Tout Wars.