We’ll get to the MLB season one of these days, but until then, we’ve got a bunch of time to prepare for drafts, some of which may be happening soon! In this article, I’m going to outline 10 of my favorite sleepers.
All of these sleepers are guys whose NFBC ADP is, as of this writing, before pick 250. If you’re interested in some really deep sleepers (i.e. guys outside pick 250), check out my dart throws article from earlier this offseason (it’s worth noting that NFBC ADP changes over time, so it’s entirely possible some of those dart throw guys are no longer past pick 250, but you get the idea).
For this, I’m not looking at deep, way-late-round sleepers, but rather guys that will almost definitely be drafted in the double-digit rounds who I think are worth a shot. Rounds that late are typically reserved for the positions you forgot to fill (and some of these guys will be good for that), middle or corner infield spots, or bench guys with upside.
So here are my 10 favorite sleepers for this year.
Matthew Boyd, SP (ADP: 161)
If you’ve spent more than about a half-second on Pitcher List or listening to On The Corner, you know how much we love Matthew Boyd here. We love him like McAdams loves Gosling. But for the uninitiated, it might seem weird that we’re so head-over-heels for a guy who posted a 4.56 ERA last year and pitches for the Detroit Tigers, and you know what, I get it. On the surface, Boyd’s 30.2% strikeout rate is appealing, but he looks scary otherwise, on a bad team with an ERA above 4.00 every year that he’s pitched in the majors.
But if there’s one thing I believe with pitchers, it’s trust the stuff. If you’re looking for a guy who could take the next step into being a really good starting pitcher, look at their stuff, because that’s often the needed foundation for a great pitcher. Boyd? He’s got some great stuff. Let’s start with his slider.
If there’s one thing to love about Boyd, it’s his slider, it’s absolutely filthy. Last year, the pitch had a 42.4% chase rate, 20.1% SwStr rate, .229 wOBA against, and .112 ISO against, all culminating in a 10.3 pVAL. That is a filthy pitch, it’s a pitch that hitters chase, they whiff at when it’s in the zone, and they make bad contact on even when they hit it. That is exactly what you want in a putaway pitch.
So what’s wrong with Boyd then? Well, it’s everything else. He saw improvement on his fastball last year, which is good, but bis changeup and curveball were both pretty bad pitches, and one filthy pitch does not make a great starting pitcher. But the good news is, Boyd knows that, he’s said as much, and he’s working on it. Specifically, he’s been working on a new changeup that’s looking like a pretty nice pitch (he talked about it a bit with Nick on an On The Corner episode). If he keeps improving that fastball and the new changeup turns out to be a solid third pitch, he’s going to have one sweet arsenal and could be on track for a very good season.
Bryan Reynolds, OF (ADP: 184)
One of the tenants I live by in fantasy is this: you can find sneaky value on really bad teams because people forget about them. Everyone knows the Yankees and Dodgers and Astros rosters, but your average fantasy baseball player can easily forget the Tigers and Orioles and, in the case of Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates. Last year, Reynolds put together an all-around pretty solid season, posting a .314/.377/.503 line with 16 home runs, 83 runs, and 68 RBI.
Even better? His Statcast numbers don’t suggest this was all that fluky, as he had a .296 xBA (16th-highest in the MLB) and .357 xwOBA compared to a .371 wOBA. Honestly, it would not shock me at all if Reynolds essentially repeated last year with a high average, close to 20 home runs, and a good number of runs hitting at the top of the lineup. In the 17th/18th round, I’m perfectly happy with that.
Luke Voit, 1B (ADP: 190)
Luke Voit is a popular sleeper this year among a lot of fantasy analysts, and for a good reason—the guy mashes the ball and he’s got great plate discipline. I absolutely love a guy who has a walk rate in the double-digits, and not only did Voit have that last year, he had the 12th-best walk rate in the entire league at 13.9%. On top of that, he posted a 13.2% barrel rate, tied for 22nd-best in MLB. Sure, you don’t love the .263 average he posted last year, but given his plate discipline and how well he barrels that ball, I could easily see Voit having a great year this year if he’s healthy.
That’s the big question though, can he stay healthy, and that’s the risk you take with him. That and the other big question—what’s his playing time like? The Yankees are almost certainly going to try and work Miguel Andujar into the lineup and they need a place for him to play. There’s talk of Andujar going to first base, which could cut into Voit’s playing time, though personally I think Gio Urshela might end up the odd one out at third base, but we’ll see. Either way, with an ADP of 190, Voit’s a risk worth taking in my book.
Christian Walker, 1B (ADP: 196)
I’m happy to see Christian Walker succeeding, as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, though it does continue to make me sad that we placed Walker on waivers because there was just no way he could ever overtake Chris Davis at first base……..anyways, before I sink into a deep, Orioles-related depression, let’s move on.
I do like Walker as a potential fantasy asset this year, he was a wonderful surprise last year and I have faith it wasn’t a fluke. Last year, Walker posted a .259/.348/.476 line with 29 home runs, 86 runs, and 73 RBI, and he hit the ball very well. He had a 13.1% barrel rate, good for 25th in baseball last year, and a 48.4% Statcast hard-hit rate, good for 16th-best in baseball and ahead of some notable names like Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Mookie Betts. Seriously, look at his launch angle chart last year, it’s beautiful:
His .263 xBA suggests the average will probably stick around where it was last year, but the Statcast numbers are pretty and show that Walker didn’t luck into the season he had last year, he knows how to hit the ball and hit it well. That should come as no surprise from a guy who slashed .309/.382/.597 with 32 home runs in his Triple-A season in 2017.
Justin Upton, OF (ADP: 209)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s old dudes. Let me rephrase that—if there’s one thing I love in fantasy baseball, it’s drafting veterans at a discount. People forget about them all the time and just assume the Grim Reaper has finished his chess game against them and is there to take them away. Before last season, which was almost entirely lost to injury, Justin Upton was a lock for around 30ish home runs, a batting average aroudn the .250s or .260s, 80/80 runs and RBI, and a small handful of steals.
Now that he’s back and healthy for a full season, why can’t we expect something like that again? He’s 32, he’s not dead. Is there any real reason he can’t hit in the .250s with 30 home runs and 80/80 runs/RBI production this year? I don’t see any reason why not. Oh yea, and take a look at the lineup he’s right in the middle of. Per Roster Resource, here’s who Upton will be following in the Angels’ lineup: Tommy La Stella/Mike Trout/Anthony Rendon/Shohei Ohtani/Albert Pujols/Justin Upton. I could also easily see him popping up over Pujols but regardless, what a lineup. There will be plenty of RBI opportunities there, and you can get Upton for basically nothing.
C.J. Cron, 1B (ADP: 230)
It seems like every year I’m loving C.J. Cron as a fantasy sleeper, but I especially like him this year because of how cheap he is. A thumb injury derailed his season last year a bit, but he still had a 15% barrel rate, good for 20th-best in baseball (and a career-best), a 44.6% Statcast hard-hit rate (a career-best), a .277 xBA, .366 xwOBA, and a .548 xSLG.
I mean, what’s not to love there? And sure, he’s on the Tigers now, which isn’t nearly as good of a lineup as the Minnesota Twins, but he’ll still be hitting smack in the middle of that order, and there will be more than enough opportunities for him to prove himself as a fantasy asset. Given an ADP of 230, Cron is basically free, and the potential is absolutely there for him to hit 30 home runs with an average in the .260s. If you want a deeper dive on Cron, our own Ben Pernick wrote a great piece on him a few months back.
Michael Chavis, 2B (ADP: 231)
Michael Chavis didn’t light the world on fire in the 95 games he played for the Boston Red Sox last year, but he proved himself to be useful, with a .254/.322/.444 line and 18 home runs. Pace that out over a full season and you’re looking at a guy hitting around 25 home runs, which isn’t too shabby at all for guy you get at the end of your draft.
I don’t love how much Chavis strikes out, but I do like that he barrels the ball well (11.4% last year) and as a result, should be able to hit for solid power. I don’t see Jose Peraza beating Chavis out for the second base job, so he should have a fairly secure gig probably hitting around sixth in the order this year in a very hitter-friendly ballpark and division. If you need someone to fill your middle infield spot or you forgot to draft a second baseman, you could do a lot worse than Chavis.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF (ADP: 234)
Remember when I said I love drafting old guys? Shin-Soo Choo is very much part of that. Honestly, the season Choo put up last year at age 36/37 (he turned 37 in July) is pretty incredible. He slashed .265/.371/.455 with 24 home runs (a career-best, at age 37), 93 runs, 61 RBI, and 15 steals (his most since 2013).
And in case you were wondering how luck-driven those numbers were, Choo was still making great contact last year, posting a 49% Statcast hard-hit rate (a career-best) and a 91.3 MPH average exit velocity (also a career-best) alongside a .356 xwOBA (compared to a .353 wOBA). And did I mention that he stole 15 bases again? Because that’s pretty excellent. Oddly enough, he posted his best sprint speed since 2015 (though not by much). Choo isn’t stopping, even at 37, and given his potential to put up a similar season this year, you should draft him (especially if you’re in an OBP league).
Dansby Swanson, SS (ADP: 238)
On its surface, Dansby Swanson’s season last year may look like yet another mediocre season from a former first-overall pick, but there’s more to it than that. All in all, a .251/.325/.422, 17 home run, 77 run, 65 RBI, 10 stolen base season isn’t all that horrible, but Swanson gets very interesting when you look under the hood a little bit.
Last year, Swanson appeared to have made a change in his approach, posting a career-best Statcast hard-hit rate (41.6%), xBA (.271) and xSLG (.480). In fact, until he got injured on July 23, Swanson was looking pretty solid, slashing .265/.330/.468 with 17 home runs and seven stolen bases, putting him on pace for over 20 home runs for the first time in his career. But then an injury derailed his season and he ended up with another pretty mediocre year. The hope here is that Swanson is and stays healthy, and that these changes he made last year stick. If all of that happens, you could be getting a nice value pretty late in the draft.
Austin Hays, OF (ADP: 249)
Awww yeaahhhh you know I couldn’t do an article without tossing in one of my O-R-I-O-L-ES! For real though, I really like Austin Hays as a sleeper this year. He didn’t play much last year, only coming up late in the season, but what we saw from him was very good, with a .309/.373/.574 line in 21 games.
He’s almost guaranteed a full-time role with the Orioles this year because it’s the Orioles, who are they going to play instead? Hays has shown some fantastic potential in the minors and with a full-time gig in the majors, there’s a very real chance he turns into a guy who can hit 20ish home runs with a solid average and close to double-digit steals. At ADP 249, I’m all about it.
Honorable Mention: Dylan Bundy, SP (ADP: 256)
When I wrote my dart throws article, Dylan Bundy’s ADP wasn’t past 250, but now it is and I still want to bring your attention to him, so I’m adding in an extra sleeper for this article who’s past ADP 250 becuase these are my rules and what’re you gonna do about it?
Now that Bundy is out of homer-friendly Camden Yards, I’m pretty bullish on his potential. Why? Because like I said with Boyd, it’s all about the stuff, and Bundy’s stuff is very good. Fun fact about Bundy, only two pitchers last year threw more than one money pitch (that’s a pitch with a chase rate >40%, zone rate >40%, and a SwStr rate >15%). Those pitchers are Max Scherzer and Bundy. And that’s it.
So how about those money pitches? There’s his changeup:
That pitch posted a 48.7% chase rate, 42.3% zone rate, 18.1% SwStr rate, and a .306 wOBA against. And then there’s his slider:
Which posted a 41.6% chase rate, 40.9% zone rate, 22.2% SwStr rate (top-20 in all of baseball), .219 wOBA against, and a .113 ISO against.
Those are two fantastic pitches. So what happened with Bundy? His fastball. It had a -21.7 pVAL last year, good for the second-worst pVAL in the entire league last year, and it got absolutely rocked, posting a .309 ISO and .426 wOBA against, which is absurdly terrible. If he can fix that fastball to even a league-average pitch in L.A. and keep his slider and changeup as filthy as they are, Bundy could return some very nice value.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)