Share this article

print logo

Late picks can put you in position to win

By now you've scoured all the scouting reports and analyzed the player rankings, mentally mapping out a championship fantasy baseball team.

But which players may have slipped through the cracks in your league? Those late-round draft picks (or cheap auction purchases) are often the key to your team's success or failure.

Here's a look at a starting lineup of sleepers to consider.

* Catcher: Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds -- Mesoraco, the 23-year-old who's expected to split duties with Ryan Hanigan, has had a so-so spring. Don't sweat that. He's shown an ability to hit in the minors, finishing with a .289 batting average, 15 homers and 71 RBIs with Triple-A Louisville last season.

* First base: Ike Davis, New York Mets -- The former Buffalo Bison played just 36 games last year because of an ankle injury. He's also suffering from Valley Fever, a lung infection. So what's the good news? Davis is symptom free from both ailments, and has the potential for 25 homers in the middle of the Mets' lineup. It's also worth noting the fences at Citi Field have been brought in slightly, which can only help in somewhat helping hitters in the pitcher's park. Davis had 19 homers and 71 RBIs for the Mets in 2010 and turned 25 this month.

* Second base: Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics -- He doesn't have the power of his brother, Rickie, in Milwaukee, but Jemile can give you stolen bases and runs, especially useful in head-to-head leagues. In more than 400 at-bats last season, he hit .303. In the A's season opener Wednesday in Japan, he had a stolen base. He should go for about 30 of those this year.

* Shortstop: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds -- Another player coming off injury, Cozart has lit it up this spring, hitting .418, including an eight-game hitting streak. Cozart hit .324 last season in just 11 games with the Reds before hyperextending his left elbow, which forced him to have Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm. At a thin position, he's a fine late-round target.

* Third base: Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers -- Gamel hasn't produced in the majors as well as he has in the minors. In 85 career big-league games, he's hit just .222, compared to .304 in 746 games in the minors. Gamel's got pop, hitting 28 homers at Triple-A Nashville in 2011. Added bonus -- he's taking over at first base for the departed Prince Fielder and should be eligible at both positions.

* Outfield: Colby Rasmus, Toronto Blue Jays -- The 25-year-old has been hitting cleanup this spring. In all of his three big-league seasons, he's driven in at least 50 runs and scored more than 70 runs. Rasmus, though, has been dogged by claims of being a cancer in the clubhouse. He's facing a big season in his career. The natural talent is there, so it's worth a low-round pick to see if he can put it all together.

* Outfield: Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels-- Another player with big-time steals potential, Bourjos has swiped 59 bags the past two seasons in the minors. Couple that with the Angels' big bats, and the potential is there for him to score plenty of runs.

* Outfield: Mike Carp, Seattle Mariners -- Here's a fun stat: Carp's average home run distance last season on his 12 bombs was 413 feet. That's longer than noted sluggers Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp. Carp, of course, is not on that level, but he'll get plenty of chances in the middle of the Mariners' order as the regular left fielder. His 12 homers came in 79 games last season for Seattle after being called up.

* Starting pitcher: Carlos Zambrano, Miami Marlins -- Big Z is clearly a head case, but so is his new manager, Ozzie Guillen. If that relationship works, Zambrano has the talent to win 10 to 15 games. Until last year, Zambrano's earned run average stayed under 4.00. His velocity has been good this spring, but it's been control issues that have plagued him. If Zambrano can fix those before the season starts, he's a good sleeper.

* Relief pitcher: Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies -- In two-plus years with the Rockies, he's got a sparkling WHIP of 0.91. He'll give up a bunch of homers (16 the past two years), but that's not a huge surprise in the thin Mile High air. Betancourt hasn't given up much else in 150 innings with Colorado. His 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings average is also fantastic.

* Designated hitter: Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels -- Quite simply, the Angels are paying Wells way too much money ($26 million!) to sit on the bench this season. He'll get at-bats and has had a pretty good spring (two homers, 11 RBIs). He almost has to improve on his career-low .218 batting average from 2011.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com