Now that the All-Star break has ended, many contending teams are likely frantically searching to make trades for upgrades, especially with a slew of injuries taking out many key players. But having guys who can be effective and underrated stopgaps can help prevent you from the desperation that often leads to regretful deals. So cast your eyes upon this list of (mostly) unheralded misfits, but make sure to put your deep sleeper goggles on first. Ben Pernick here and ready to dive into 10 deep sleepers you may have ignored.
1. Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins) – This is why I said “mostly” unheralded guys. In a keeper league, the odds of finding Sano on your waiver wire are about as likely as finding a wild Dragonite in Pokemon GO. But in a redraft league where he’s there, grab him because he’s just as powerful, and ignore the recent mediocrity. It’s easy to avert your eyes at that 34.1% K rate, which is generally a good instinct, But remember that his 93.9 mph average exit velocity is 13th in the league, right behind Josh Donaldson, and that he’s been popping infield flies only 3% of the time compared to 7.9% last year. He’s been hitting too many balls to center field for a guy with his pull power, but he still can have an 8-10 homer month at some point this season and should be rostered in all but the shallowest of leagues for that upside.
2. Pedro Alvarez (Baltimore Orioles) – Early on in the season, I liked him as a sleeper because of his improved plate discipline, and if he could just tap into his power he’d be a beast. Now he has improved that! And the plate discipline has regressed drastically. Well, can’t have it all. His exit velocity is elite at 93.8%, good for 15th in the league, but the real drool-inducer is the 99.2 mph eV on fly balls and line drives, good for SECOND IN ALL BASEBALL (Nelson Cruz is tops at 99.3). He’s still pounding too many balls into the ground at 48.1% and too many into the sky above him with a IFFB of 16.7% but for discount power, take the man with the speedy long flies.
3. Kennys Vargas (Minnesota Twins) – Kennys Vargas is a big, big dude. Just like David Ortiz. But that puts him in the company of David Ortiz in the same way an open mic comic from a small town is like Jim Gaffigan because they both like bacon. But this big dude does have power in spades, and after his flop in 2015 makes a great post-hype sleeper. While his K rate is quickly approaching his scary K rate from 2015, his 2016 walk rate of 16.7% may be closer to his true talent level than the paltry 4.9% he posted last year, as since 2015 his walk rate has been above 15% at every level. The average will fall, as will his ridonculous .417 ISO, but he can still be a great three-true-outcomes slugger and especially valuable in OBP leagues.
4. JJ Hardy (Baltimore Orioles) – Hardy – ˈ/härdē/ adj. Capable of enduring difficult conditions. Synonyms – Healthy, sturdy, strong, lusty (really). Well isn’t that ironic. While he has not been healthy, he has been deceptively strong, with a 39.5% Hard Hit rate, and a 92.4 mph eV just below Brad Miller. If finally healthy, he has the potential to make a similar contribution to Miller in terms of ROS power, and with a solid 14.8% K rate, he won’t hurt you much in average. I’m getting pretty lusty about this.
5. Billy Butler (Oakland Athletics) – Just kidding. Well, sorta. I actually planned to write his name as a joke and then go on to the REAL sleeper, but then I had to look at his stats just in case. Well! It turns out Country Breakfast may be more sausage and eggs than light yogurt (ew). He has a Hard hit rate of 34.8%, and his eV on fly balls of 96.4 is just above Joc Pederson and JD Martinez. What. Look, he’s been so terrible this year that he’s available in all but the deepest of AL-only leagues. But if you’re in one of those and you need to stream (since he’s on the weak side of a DH platoon), he should be better than this, even in Oakland.
6. Sean Rodriguez (Pittsburgh Pirates) – I’ve associated his name with disappointment ever since that spring several moons ago when I drafted him after he hit 10 home runs in Spring Training and then promptly flailed about helplessly once April 1st hit. Yet here he is, with a 42.1% Hard hit rate and a 96.7 mph eV on FB/LD. Sure, he could be selling out for power, as ahis 31.7% K rate is the highest of his career. But the impact of that is reduced by a career-best 9.0% walk rate and a career-best 7.3% IFFB%, nearly half of his career mark. Go pick him up, since someone must have told him he’s in the middle of Spring Training.
7. Stephen Drew (Washington Nationals) – Don’t look now, but Stephen Drew is not dead yet. He was pure trash on a hot summer day in a NYC subway last year, but 2015’s .201 BABIP was always unlikely to repeat, and thus far he’s had a massive jump to 35.8% Hard hit rate and a reduction in soft contact to just 16%, backed by a solid 95.5 mph eV on FB/LD. Still, his avg eV is brought down by weak grounders which may be why his BABIP is still only .255 and may not go up much from there. Still, this is a middle infielder and a good bet for power, especially in that park (See J.J. Hardy).
8. Ryan Schimpf (San Diego Padres) – One of these names is not like the others: Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Schimpf, Mark Trumbo. The obvious answer is Giancarlo Stanton, the only first name with more than four letters! But as a player, Schimpf is the outlier, yet there his FB/LD ev is right among these guys. Now that’s not to say he’s anything close to them, but what it does imply is that his 7 home runs in 93 plate appearances is not a complete fluke. And you gotta cheer for him, as the powerful spark plug is just 5 foot 9! That’s 1.045 Altuves! He does have a high strikeout rate thanks to his uppercut swing and that’s unlikely to change, but he makes for a find addition for those in need of dingers.
9. Cameron Rupp (Philadelphia Phillies) – Don’t over-stress about power-upside outfielders, as it’s better to take Rupp for your team than rupture your spleen. Well, at least somewhat. He has great eV of 92.6 mph and a Hard Hit rate of 33.7%, and has been earning more playing time at least for the short term. The average will likely drop to the .240-.250 range but hey he can sock you another 10 dingers if the increased playing time continues.
10. Tommy Pham (St. Louis Cardinals) – He’s like your fam, but cooler, like everything that replaces f with a ph. Small sample sizes be damned, he’s sporting the 21st-best eV in baseball at 93.3, and the 13th best FB/LD eV in baseball at 97.5. True to the theme of this post, his K rate is a cringe-inducing 35.1% K rate, which should regress somewhat but perhaps not entirely as his minor league K rate this year was higher than 2015. But he’s socking an outrageous 35.7% LD rate propping up his AVG, and while his Hard Hit rate only increased a little to 39%, his Soft Hit rate plunged from 23.0% in 2015 to 9.3% this year. Phamtastic.
Ben Pernick is a die-hard fantasy baseball fan living in New York City. In his non-baseball life, Ben is a comedy singer/songwriter and stand-up comic. Ben also sports a 1.000 OBP and a 1.714 SLG% over 7 AB in his recreational softball league and he wants you to know about it.