Everyone loves blue-chip prospects, top Rookie of the Year contenders, annually picking them as if they're already proven commodities. But first-year performers are among the riskiest players in the game, and there are countless examples of unheralded rookies who step forward and wind up making serious challenges for the postseason hardware. For instance, in 2005 alone, Robinson Cano, Gustavo Chacin and Jonny Gomes stepped forward with big years, despite none being considered a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender heading into the season. And as recently as 2003, the National League award winner was Dontrelle Willis, who didn't even break camp with the Marlins.
As a result, I'll often make some of my late-round sleepers the prospects who display the most promising skill sets, regardless of their projected positions on their teams. You never know when an untimely injury might clear a spot for an unheralded first-year player. The following 15 names have all the tools to be legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates, but each falls into the sleeper category due to questions about their 2006 roles. (Projections show a player's expected numbers if he winds up in full-time duty; AVG-HR-RBI-SB, G, OPS for hitters, W-ERA-WHIP-K, IP for pitchers.)
Travis Bowyer, RP, Marlins -- 20th round, 1999 -- 4-2.78-1.224-96, 74.1 (Triple-A): Someone has to close in Florida, and if it's not the most experienced reliever, Joe Borowski, then it might as well be Bowyer, who did a fine job in that role at Triple-A Rochester in 2005. Bowyer has a 2.65 career minor-league ERA, but his WHIP is 1.367 due to a distressing 5.05 walks per nine innings ratio. That's a little too wild for comfort, though this team is so precariously thin in the bullpen, the right-hander might have to fill in at some point. Projection: 4-3.12-1.459-74.