By Michael Model
With Opening Day under two weeks away, there’s a good chance your fantasy baseball team will be on the clock in the next few days. Who will be this year’s breakout stars? Here are my best sleeper infielders for 2015.
Catcher: John Jaso
Playing primarily catcher and designated hitter last season, Jaso hit to the tune of a .264 average with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. Being the number one catcher and playing in cozy Tropicana Field with the Rays, his numbers should see an increase. If he hits .260 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, he’ll find himself amongst the top half of MLB catchers. Best of all, he might not even get drafted, ranked 336 overall on the ESPN Pre-Draft Rankings. Therefore, if you want a high value catcher for a low cost, John Jaso is the way to go.
First Baseman: Lucas Duda
Lucas Duda broke out in 2014. He hit .253 with 30 homers and 92 RBIs. Not only did Duda see his power numbers double, but his batting average increased by .030 as well last season. Although not a top of the line guy, Duda has some serious talent and it would not surprise me if he had a season similar to top-30 first-basemen Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman. Quite simply, Duda is a sixth round talent currently going around the tenth round of drafts. He is being drafted after half the major league first baseman, yet has the potential to be the difference maker between a fantasy runner-up and championship prize.
Second Baseman: Joe Panik
Joe Panik burst onto the scene midway through the 2014 MLB season. During his 73 games in the majors, Panik hit .305 with 18 RBIs and 31 runs. Panik also played a key role with his defense in the Giants’ championship season. Although he doesn’t bring a lot of power, second base is amongst the shallowest positions in the draft this year. If he can hit .260 with eight home runs and 60 RBIs, he can be a solid contributor to your fantasy team. Nevertheless, Panik is currently not being taken in most drafts, and is ranked 390th by ESPN for this season. Even if he’s not your starting second baseman, Panik has a lot of potential and can provide a lot in the utility role as well.
Third Baseman: Trevor Plouffe
Trevor Plouffe had a solid 2014 season for the Twins. Plouffe posted a .258 average with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. Last season was his third straight of hitting at least 14 home runs, and he hit 24 in 2012. Overall, Plouffe can hit for a decent average and has shown sparks of power as well. His biggest improvement last season was his 28 RBI increase from the 2013 season. For the 25th ranked third baseman, a .250 average with 15 homers and 60 RBIs is a solid season. If you find yourself without a third baseman by round 22, take a look at the upside of Plouffe who is ranked 296th on ESPN’s Pre-Draft Rankings for 2015.
Shortstop: Jung Ho Kang
Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman. What do all these players have in common? Each of these players was a superstar abroad who broke out in the major leagues. Over the last few seasons, international rookies have been underrated, and many have had stellar campaigns. Puig, Ryu, Abreu, and Chapman are each amongst the best at their respective positions. Jung Ho Kang is just the next in line. Last year, Kang hit .356 with 40 homers and 117 RBIs for the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization. While his numbers may decline in the states, ESPN projects he’ll hit only .258 with 10 home runs. I personally feel that his power will be unchanged, and he will be worth the risk at hand. Kang is currently the 23rd ranked shortstop, and the 330th player overall. With the potential to be an all-star shortstop, Kang has a ton of potential with no risk at all.
Stick around, sleeper outfielders and pitchers are coming next week.