The first half of the fantasy baseball season was all about Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols, with a little Jim Thome mixed in to keep things interesting.
Those big names are safe bets to keep your team afloat during the long and sticky days of August. But what under-the-radar talent will we be talking about come September? Does the name Brian Meadows mean anything to you? It should.
In honor of the All-Star game that just passed, here is the fantasy All-Sleeper team for the second half of the baseball season:
Catcher: Mike Napoli, Angels
It may be too late to list Napoli as a sleeper, since he aroused the interest of fantasy owners with 11 homers in the first half. But he's listed here because he's for real. Perhaps the lone offensive bright spot for the Angels in the first half, Napoli hit 60 home runs in the minor leagues the last two years combined, has a fine arm and should continue to hit the ball out of the park. He'll strike out too much, but his power is rare for a catcher.
First baseman: Dan Johnson, Athletics
Johnson's numbers are less than pedestrian so far in his second season, especially for a first baseman (.237-7-25), and there's no reason to think he'll morph into Jim Thome the rest of the way. But his 16 June RBIs after a total of eight through May showed what he's capable of doing at the plate. He's virtually ignored in fantasy, disappearing off the radar with his horrendous 1-for-37 start this year. He's better than that, and his second-half numbers could modestly help your team.
Second baseman: Todd Walker, Cubs
This is just a hunch that Walker will take off soon after a lackluster first half. He's hit just two home runs since May 1, but has double-digit power and the ability to hit .300. Most likely, Walker will be traded to a contender looking for second base help, since he's a free agent at the end of the season. What's better than a trade to jump start a guy who currently resides in one of baseball's saddest offenses? If Jose Valentin of the Mets cools down this month, how about Walker at Shea Stadium? Just a thought.
Third baseman: Aubrey Huff, Astros
With Huff's trade to the Astros, there are two schools of thought. One is that he's now in a very crowded corner outfield-third base situation, battling with Morgan Ensberg, Mike Lamb and Preston Wilson for three starting spots with Jason Lane heading to the minors. The other is that he's moving to Houston, where his bat could thrive. Given how spotty Ensberg and Wilson have looked, Huff has a great chance to anchor himself to a permanent spot in the middle of this lineup. His first-half numbers aren't special, but his .367 average since June 1 is. Look for a tremendous second half for Huff.
Shortstop: Khalil Greene, Padres
Greene's .248 first-half average excites no one, but the slick-fielding shortstop has real power. It's not every shortstop who can hit 25 home runs, and that's what Greene may do this year. He hit .438 in his first eight games in July, and is a good bet to raise that batting average at least into the .270 range.
Geoff Jenkins, Brewers
Jenkins' first-half struggles are well documented, yet many fantasy owners have decided to dump him anyway.
Bad idea. The Brewers' slugger has a .298 career average after the break, 30 points higher than before. As underwhelming as his .264-8-50 was this year, it was better than his first half last year (.258-9-33).
Last year he responded with a .332 average and 16 home runs. What will he do for an encore?
Rocco Baldelli, Devil Rays
It was astounding to all that Baldelli would come back after missing a year and a half and immediately be an impact player. The 25-year-old hit .315 with four homers in his first 28 games back, enough to allow the team to trade Huff. He's exciting owners already, and he hasn't yet begun to steal bases like he used to. He stole a combined 44 bases in his first two seasons. Double-digit home runs and stolen bases with an average over .300 is quite possible here.
Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
Two home runs and two steals. This wasn't what Hermida had in mind for his breakout 2006 campaign. An injury stole a month of his season, but Hermida hasn't shown the flash expected of him. He has, however, kept his batting average up at .286, and I don't believe he'll finish the season with fewer than 10 home runs. Expect a breakout from the young star sometime in July or August. You'll want him on your team then.
Starting Pitcher: Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates
Oh great, another Pirates pitching prospect. How unique. In this case, he is unique. Gorzelanny is considered the team's best pitching prospect, and in his first half-season at Triple-A, the young lefty went 6-5 with a 2.35 ERA. His first starts with the Pirates were unremarkable, but if you can get past his ERA and WHIP (7.00 and 1.89 respectively), you could have yourself a pretty great young pitcher.
Remember what Zach Duke did in his first season last year?
Closer: Brian Meadows, Devil Rays
Is Meadows closing material? Perhaps not. He doesn't sport a great fastball and he doesn't scare anyone. But in his first four save opportunities, he went 4-for-4, and the team has nowhere else to look right now. Crazier things have happened. Tampa Bay sent young Seth McClung to the minors to convert him to a stopper, but whether that will work is not yet clear. Meadows is worth a grab.