One fantasy sleeper from each MLB team
The definition of “sleeper” will vary among leagues, but most of the following players have ADPs of 200+, are undervalued, and worth targeting. Check back next week for busts, and here’s to baseball being back.
He not only surprisingly hit 29 homers and stole eight bases last year, but Walker also finished in the top 10% of the league in Barrel% and Hard Hit%. First base is much thinner than third these days in fantasy, and Walker is set to hit in the middle of the Diamondbacks’ lineup.
The former No. 1 pick continued to show growth last season until a July foot injury ruined the rest of his year. There’s 25/15 pace upside here, and batting toward the bottom of an NL lineup hurts less now with pitchers no longer hitting. Swanson’s draft cost won’t be nearly this cheap again for a long time.
He hit 20 homers last year in just 380 at-bats, possesses 60 power and appears set to bat in the middle of Baltimore’s lineup and in one of baseball’s best hitter’s parks (Camden Yards is #1 in the AL and #3 in MLB in increasing home runs over the last three seasons).
[Still time to join or create a fantasy baseball league for the short season]
One of the hardest throwing starters in baseball, Eovaldi has a better chance of pitching a full season now, and when healthy his upside remains high. His 10.5 SwStr% last year was better than Zack Greinke’s and Zack Wheeler’s, and Eovaldi wasn’t even totally right physically … Alex Verdugo is also someone to target now that his back is healed and he has a full-time job hitting in Fenway Park, so treat him as a borderline top-40 outfielder. (Bonus Deep Sleeper: Matt Barnes)
He’s injury-prone but produces when in the lineup and now gets an opportunity with the DH available for the Cubs. Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ are younger Cubs who could also emerge as sleepers.
His playing time is more secure with the universal DH, as Winker is a poor defender. He’s worth more in OBP leagues, but those with daily transactions take note — Winker hit 16 homers with an .887 OPS over 295 at-bats versus righties last season, is just entering his prime and hits in one of baseball’s best parks for left-handed power.
His expected ISO was in the 80th percentile last year, and he’s now locked into a regular role in Cleveland … Franmil Reyes is overqualified to be termed a sleeper, but he’s a sleeper fantasy MVP candidate.
The former top prospect has been slowed by injuries but continued to beat up minor league pitching last year (batting .350 with a 147 wRC+ in Triple-A) and has a better chance of playing in Colorado in 2020 with the DH available. Rodgers is a former top-three pick with 60 power who’s a middle infielder and gets to call Coors Field home, so he’s someone to target. (Bonus Deep Sleeper: Scott Oberg)
Projection systems aren’t optimistic, but Lopez throws hard (95.5 mph) and produced an 11.0 SwStr% last season when he also recorded a 15.2% K-BB and a 4.18 FIP after the All-Star break. Getting to face the Royals, Tigers and Pirates a whole bunch should help too.
THE BAT X projects Cron as a top-10 fantasy first baseman, and he’s not being treated nearly as such at draft ables. He’s slated to hit cleanup for the Tigers. (Bonus Deep Sleeper: Cameron Maybin)
He has terrific stuff (a 70-grade fastball that averaged 97.2 mph) that produced a 14.67 K/9 rate (and 16.2 SwStr%) last season out of the pen. James still has to work on his control, but this is someone who posted a sub-4.00 FIP despite a 5.14 BB/9 rate. His expected batting average (.171) and expected slugging (.286) were both in the top 1% of the league. James is now being given a chance to start, and it’s almost unfair the Astros also get to pitch in NL West parks (bench them in Coors, and AL West pitchers easily have the most favorable parks’ schedule). I’ve also got Lance McCullers Jr. as a top-30 fantasy SP.
Kansas City Royals: Hunter Dozier
He remains under the radar and affordable despite posting a 124 wRC+ during a breakout last season. Projected to hit cleanup (and directly behind stud Jorge Soler), the former top-10 pick Dozier decreased his K% last year while finishing in the 85th percentile in exit velocity, so he’s ascending.
Los Angeles Angels: Dylan Bundy
He’s a former top-five pick who’s always had to pitch in the AL East and in a hitter’s park for an Orioles team that’s also perennially among the worst defensively. Bundy’s essentially moving to the opposite situation in a division now filled with pitcher’s parks and for an Angels team possessing one of the league’s best defenses. Bundy’s SwStr% has increased every season he’s been in the league, and last year’s mark (12.8%) ranked 15th among starters, sandwiched between Charlie Morton and Clayton Kershaw. Bundy is ready for a big breakout in 2020. (Bonus Deep Sleepers: Patrick Sandoval & Ty Buttrey)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dustin May
With David Price electing not to play this season, May has one fewer arm in his way towards joining Los Angeles’ starting rotation. Ross Stripling is another option, but there’s also an extremely unlikely chance the Dodgers’ staff doesn’t suffer injuries (Alex Wood is another sleeper, and Julio Urias could win the Cy Young in a shortened season, but they also both carry big health concerns). May is a solid prospect capable of looking like an elite one given his extremely favorable situation pitching for the Dodgers, so you’ll want him on your fantasy team.
Miami Marlins: Pablo Lopez
He recorded a 3.39 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP at home last season even while struggling through injuries, and when he looked healthy, he was throwing harder than ever. Don’t let last year’s 5.09 ERA fool you (better yet, don’t let ERA ever fool you — by ignoring it completely), Lopez is talented, and it’s extremely beneficial throwing in baseball’s best pitcher’s park (although Marlins Park had its dimensions changed some during the offseason).
Milwaukee Brewers: Justin Smoak
He’s two seasons removed from a .270-85-38-90 campaign, finished in the top 3% of the league in BB% last year and is now the starting first baseman in a loaded Brewers lineup in a hitter’s park that’s especially favorable to switch hitters. The DH allows Smoak, Ryan Braun, and Avisail Garcia to enter Milwaukee’s everyday lineup.
Minnesota Twins: Rich Hill
The late start to the season allowed Hill to recover from offseason elbow surgery, and he enters ready to contribute over 60 games. Always a big help in WHIP (at minimum), Hill should benefit pitching for the Twins and in the Central.
New York Mets: Yoenis Cespedes
He’s obviously a huge wild card having not played since 2018, but the DH was also huge news for Cespedes’ fantasy value, as projection systems remain optimistic about his bat. It wouldn’t take much to suddenly find Cespedes hitting cleanup in between Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto, and his ADP remains outside 300 despite reportedly “looking like a monster.”
New York Yankees: Jordan Montgomery
I have zero faith in Giancarlo Stanton and/or Aaron Judge staying healthy, so bats like Miguel Andujar, Gio Urshela, and Aaron Hicks qualify here as well, but Montgomery is the sleeper arm in New York. His velocity was up earlier this spring and will benefit from strong run and bullpen support from the Yankees. Montgomery is quite interesting now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and not needed for a full workload.
Oakland A’s: Stephen Piscotty
He’s coming off a down year but now fully healthy, I’d give Piscotty around 40% chance of finishing with more fantasy value than teammate Ramon Laureano, who’s being drafted as a top-25 fantasy outfielder. Piscotty is going undrafted. (Bonus Deep Sleeper: Chris Bassitt)
Philadelphia Phillies: Spencer Howard
He posted a 2.03 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP across the minors last season with a 5.88 K/BB ratio, and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball should act as the Phillies’ #5 starter this season. Howard still needs to work on his command, but with a developing fastball/changeup combo that could be devastating, the rookie will be someone to use in fantasy right away. He gets bonus points for going to Cal Poly SLO.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco
After dealing with a serious shoulder injury (among other maladies) over the last two seasons, Polanco appears to be back to full strength, and the 28-year-old was once highly regarded (he posted a 149 wRC+ and stole 40 bases at age 20 in the minors). PNC Park kills righty power a lot more than it does for left-handers like Polanco, so there’s sneaky power/speed potential here, and he should hit in the middle of the lineup.
[Positional Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]
San Diego Padres: Garrett Richards
He throws extremely hard and after pitching in the American League throughout his career (before 8.2 innings in San Diego last year), Richards gets to call Petco Park home while further removed from TJ surgery. Richards is an injury risk and still needs to improve his control, but few starters in baseball can match his K% and GB% profile, so given he also now pitches for the Padres and in the NL West, he’s a big-time sleeper.
Seattle Mariners: Austin Adams
He’s a sleeper for saves now recovered from knee surgery in a wide-open Mariners bullpen. Adams walks too many batters to be a typical closer, but he makes up for it with a ton of strikeouts, and his ninth-inning competition in Seattle is weak.
San Francisco Giants: Kevin Gausman
I wanted to suggest Brandon Belt here, owner of a career 121 wRC+ and with Oracle Park dramatically changing its right field dimensions during the offseason, but he’s already dealing with a heel injury. Gausman, meanwhile, is a former top-five pick who quietly recorded a career-high 14.8 SwStr%, and after playing the vast majority of his career in the AL East and an extreme hitter’s park, he gets essentially the opposite of that joining the NL West and pitching in San Francisco’s climate. He’s a post-hype sleeper. Also, it’s not too soon to have future superstar and 18-year-old Marco Luciano on your radar.
St. Louis Cardinals: Harrison Bader
While rookie Dylan Carlson will cost a much higher pick, Bader should provide similar stats (without the risk of missing the first week of the season due to contractual issues), and his terrific defense should keep his bat in the lineup as well. Fantasy drafters were bullish on Bader entering 2019, so this is the year to target him.
Tampa Bay Rays: Yandy Diaz
He’s a good hitter who’s a small tweak (continuing to increase his launch angle) away from possibly being a great one, and he’s slated to bat third in Tampa Bay’s lineup. Diaz was in the top 8% in exit velocity last season, and the bet here is he approaches hitting .300 or starts blasting a bunch of homers soon, and the added 1B/3B eligibility is a plus. The Rays are loaded with sleepers including Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Yonny Chirinos, and Brendan McKay.
Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
He’s hit .205 or worse in two of the past three seasons and somehow disappointed fantasy managers last year while swatting 30 homers and stealing 10+ bases. Moreover, the Rangers are now playing indoors, which brings a huge question mark into how much his home park will help, as Texas has previously been by far the most favorable place to hit outside of Coors Field. Odor is also an ugly 52.3% (23/44) while trying to steal over the last two seasons.
But all this means Odor (who shares the exact same name as his brother) holds a very cheap draft cost at 2020 tables, and few middle infielders offer the same HR/SB upside. Batting average can also be fluky (especially in a smaller 60-game sample), and Odor finished in the top 8% in Barrel% last season. THE BAT X projects him as a borderline top-10 fantasy second baseman, so Odor’s a sleeper.
Toronto Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez
Nate Pearson is an intriguing arm in Toronto, but those searching for a deeper sleeper can turn to Hernandez, who’s one of the cheapest power/speed sources in the game right now. Unpopular opinion alert: Teoscar Hernandez is the better fantasy player than Cavan Biggio in 2020.
Washington Nationals: Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick & Eric Thames
Castro is a career .280 hitter who’s undervalued thanks to playing in baseball’s most extreme pitcher’s park over the last two years in Miami, and he’ll now be moving to one of the best hitter venues in Washington. Put differently, Marlins Park has decreased home runs for right-handed batters by 25% over the last three seasons (only SF has been worse) while suppressing run-scoring by 12%, whereas Nationals Park has increased HR for RHB by 15% and boosted run-scoring by 10% (third-most in MLB) over that span. Castro managed a career-high 22 homers last year, is even projected to hit third between lefties Adam Eaton and Juan Soto, and is about to see as drastic of an upgrade in environments as it gets, so he’s extremely undervalued.
Kendrick is 1B,2B,3B eligible, hit .344 with a 146 wRC+ last season, and is looking at regular at-bats now with Ryan Zimmerman sitting out and the universal DH, making him another absolute bargain in Washington … Thames is another beneficiary, as he’s now Washington’s starting first baseman and gets to hit in a park that ranks top-five in boosting batting average and homers for left-handed batters over the last three years. Thames had the fifth-longest average fly ball distance last season and could frequently bat directly behind OBP monster Juan Soto, so he’s a strong sleeper and a long shot to win the HR title.
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