Sneaky Speed Sleeper Selections
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
It’s never a great feeling to realize too late in your draft that you didn’t harvest enough speed early on, and now you’ll have to change your draft strategy to make up for your carelessness (unless you’re in H2H and can punt the category). That’s exactly what happened to me during my recent TGFBI draft, as my leaguemates took speedy guys ahead of their ADPs, which caused me to look deeper into mid-round and late-round rabbits. Which is good for you, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the impetus to write this fantasy advice article!
Stolen bases are a fickle beast because on the one hand, some players’ total can fluctuate wildly year to year (Manny Machado, Elvis Andrus). On the plus side, there are potential 20+ SB or even 30+ SB upside rabbits available towards the end of your draft. The downside, however, is that their speed alone doesn’t guarantee them playing time on the major league roster. But if you get the right rabbit, you can strike fantasy gold. I’m going to focus primarily on players with 20+ SB upside. I’m not including every speedster on this list, just ones I want to highlight, and I’m listing their ADPs for both NFBC and the more recent 15-team TGFBI draft.
Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves)
NFBC ADP: 138 TGFBI ADP: 137
Why he’s a sleeper: While he set a new high in power, his .265 AVG may scare some owners off. But he may have been unlucky, as xStats gave him a .277 xAVG, which is actually higher than his xAVG from 2017 (.276). With a little BABIP luck, he could put up a line comparable to Lorenzo Cain, but far later.
What could go wrong: It’s currently unclear whether or not he’ll bat leadoff, where he stole a majority of his bases in 2018 (15 SB in 254 PA), but also had the worst AVG (.223). If bumped down, it could bring his stolen base total down to 20. While his offense surged in the second half, his baserunning was bad, with only 5 SB and 6 CS over 255 PA in the 2nd half. With such a strong supporting offense, if that trend continues, he could easily get the red light.
Billy Hamilton (OF, Kansas City Royals)
NFBC ADP: 162 TGFBI ADP: 153
Why he’s a sleeper: He’s more or less the same player he’s always been, and the Royals will likely let him run wild on the bases, as they have nothing to lose. Yet he’s far cheaper than he’s been in the past. His sprint speed has hardly declined at all, at a blazing 30.1 ft/sec every year since 2016. As a slap hitter, the move from the Reds’ bandbox to the spacious Royals park actually may help more of his hits fall in and give him more extra-base hits for better SLG% and Run + RBI numbers.
What could go wrong: He’s likely to start the year as the #9 hitter, which would limit his plate appearances. He also showed last year that his offense numbers are going in the wrong direction, with a strikeout jump due to a SwStr% that jumped to 10% from his career 7% SwStr% mark. You can’t steal first base, and if he can’t improve his contact, he could end up with a total closer to his 34 in 2018… or lose the starting job entirely, especially if he gets flipped at the deadline to a contender.
Garrett Hampson (SS, Colorado Rockies)
NFBC ADP: 187 TGFBI ADP: 168
Why he’s a sleeper: So he’s a “wide awake sleeper” of sorts among the expert community, but he’s the kind of player who may slip through unnoticed in your more casual leagues. Despite his lack of elite prospect pedigree, his skillset makes him perfect for fantasy, with an elite 30 ft/sec that gives his 40 SB upside. Hampson swiped 52 bases per 600 PA in the minors and accumulated his 123 SBs at an 84% clip. He also has great plate discipline, and the walks will provide him with more SB opportunities. He’s also one of the few hitters here who qualify at SS. While he hasn’t showed much power, playing half his games at Coors could give him a boost, and could even hit double digit homers over a full season.
What could go wrong: Although it’s one of the only things keeping his draft hype from boiling over, his role and playing time are of concern, since at his current price, he has high bust potential simply by virtue of not being given the playing time fantasy owners are dreaming about. They say to draft skills, not roles, but the Rockies are notorious for holding back and blocking talented youngsters for no discernible reason. This may be one of the rare times that you should pay close attention to Spring Training buzz.
Cedric Mullins (OF, Baltimore Orioles)
NFBC ADP: 293 TGFBI ADP: 247
Why he’s a sleeper: He lacks the prospect pedigree, but he seems to have clear power/speed upside with a solid average to boot. His lackluster debut kept his initial stock down but the skills are evident. His 29.3 ft/sec sprint speed is tied with Victor Robles and Rajai Davis, and he should have enough pop for double digit power in the friendly confines of Camden. He should also have a long leash as the Orioles’ leadoff hitter, which will allow him to accumulate plenty of runs, and with good contact and discipline (6.9% SwStr%), he has upside to help in AVG and OBP.
What could go wrong: Despite his raw speed, he didn’t have much base stealing success in his debut, with 2 SB to 3 CS. It’s a small sample, but he has limited experience against major league pitching and could continue his struggles from the end of last year if he can’t adjust. But the biggest knock against him may be his skyrocketing ADP, as he’s become a wide-awake sleeper. If he goes much higher than his current ADP, it may be time to look at other options.
Greg Allen (OF, Cleveland Indians)
NFBC ADP: 323 TGFBI ADP: 284
Why he’s a sleeper: He’s one of the true rabbits here due to his base stealing instincts, speed (28.9 ft/sec) and aggressiveness. Like Martin, he has an easy path to AB thanks to his plus defense, and while he has less pop, it’s not unfathomable that he unlocks double-digit homer ability with his athletic frame. I’ll admit, I slept on the fact that his pedestrian .257/.310/.343 line may be unlucky, as he had an xSlash of .288/.339/.375. If he could help in AVG while stealing 30-40 bases, he could be like Dee Gordon but much, much cheaper.
What could go wrong: There’s a chance he could wind up in a platoon, as he’s hit just .241 against lefties in a small sample of 64 PA. There’s also a chance the Indians acquire outfield help midseason if the division gets competitive, where he could return to more of a 4th OF/pinch runner/defensive replacement, since SB don’t have the same real-life value as in fantasy. Like Mullins, his cost has risen (though not as drastically), but he lacks Mullins’s job security.
Leonys Martin (OF, Cleveland Indians)
NFBC ADP: 343 TGFBI ADP: 323
Why he’s a sleeper: Dan Richards recently penned a piece on why he’s the most underrated player entering this year. He offers a legitimate power upside of 15-20 homers and still could steal 20 SB with the Indians, who led the majors in SB in 2018. Like Mullins, he’s a Power/Speed Combo Meal, and has a near-identical .250/15/15 AVG/HR/SB projection, but over fewer PA, indicating more upside if he can surpass 550 PA. And unlike Mullins, his hype has remained low, with an ADP over 75 picks later in TGFBI.
What could go wrong: He has historically had issues staying on the field, missing big chunks of the year in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He’s also prone to early-season slumps. On a competitive team like Cleveland, even with the sorry state of their outfield, he could lose playing time to younger talent if that happens. While his newfound power is legit, he only stole 7 SB in 353 PA in 2018, and he needs to remedy his speed decline to 27.6 ft/sec last year to get the green light again.
Delino DeShields (OF, Texas Rangers)
NFBC ADP: 367 TGFBI ADP: 326
Why he’s a sleeper: It may seem like he’s been around forever, but he’s still just 26. His 30 ft/sec is among the fastest in the game. After a lost season thanks to injury, his draft day price has bottomed out, but his K% and BB% did improve, and he should have free reign of CF in Texas. With the ability to draw walks, he could potentially outperform Billy Hamilton in OBP leagues at half the price.
What could go wrong: A repeat of last season, for one. He also hasn’t ever logged a full season of 500 PA, which is likely why every projection doesn’t see him reaching that total, which will put a damper on his counting stats. He also is likely to start the year as the #9 hitter, which will weaken his already poor run production (he had just 22 RBI in both 2017 and 2018).
Brett Gardner (OF, New York Yankees)
NFBC ADP: 346 TGFBI ADP: 355
Why he’s a sleeper: I swear I’m not stuck in 2010, but have you heard this hot jam by Cee-Lo Green? Despite a ho-hum season and being 35, the dude’s still got wheels. His 29.2 ft/sec sprint speed was just a tick behind Cedric Mullins and above Jarrod Dyson, so it’s odd he stole so few bases (16), since he has an elite 88% SB success rate (2 CS). While he hit fewer homers, his 87.3 eV and 91.7 FB/LD are pretty good for a speedster—two of the most similar AVG and FB/KD eVs in 2018 were Jurickson Profar and Charlie Blackmon.
What could go wrong: It’s rather obvious that it’s all about his age. Many view him as just holding the spot warm for Clint Frazier when he’s ready before riding off into a Bronx sunset. Banking on a 20 SB rebound may be crazy after he had that speed last year and didn’t use it as often as he should have. Still, at this price, I think ageism is mostly what’s driving his cost down, and think he’s a worthy gamble here, especially since he can produce a ton of runs in the Yankees loaded lineup.
Scott Kingery (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)
NFBC ADP: 365 TGFBI ADP: 394
Why he’s a sleeper: It was just 52 weeks ago that people were saying Kingery was a legitimate .300 30-30 threat. Those people were definitely drunk on hype, but the hangover is overblown and now he’s underrated. While Kingery only stole 10 bases last year, he definitely has upside for more, with 70 grade speed at 29.4 ft/sec. That is as faster than Victor Robles, and he stole 29-30 bases in the minors in 2016 and 2017, so he has it in him. The bat will likely also improve, and it’s not too far of a stretch to see him hit 12-14 homers with a .250 average. Add 16-18 stolen bases to that and you’d have a fine fantasy asset, especially with the multi-position eligibility he’s likely to earn.
What could go wrong: I’m still bullish on him, but it won’t be easy for him to find opportunities to play with Cesar Hernandez at 2B and Maikel at 3B. I’ve learned from Marwin Gonzalez that you can still have a near-full season without a set position, but it remains to be seen if Kingery can handle the positions and if the Phillies are willing to try that with him. If he doesn’t show signs of offensive development, the Phillies may prefer to use him as a bench bat and pinch runner, which would make him not worth rostering. I’m still betting on the pedigree to win out.
Dustin Fowler (OF, Oakland Athletics)
NFBC ADP: 480 TGFBI ADP: 485
Why he’s a sleeper: Despite being the A’s top hitting prospect, he’s lost all his prospecty sheen after struggling in his debut, but I argue it wasn’t so bad at all. If his 203 PA were prorated to 600 PAs, he’d round up to 18 HR and 18 SB, something he should be able to achieve as a leadoff-type hitter. xStats would argue he was unlucky, with his .224/.256/.354 falling short of his xSlash of .256/.286/.386.
What could go wrong: The biggest issue is playing time, as they blocked him with Nick Martini for some reason. Now he may be hurt, but they backed him up with a similarly mediocre Robbie Grossman. This could just be a service time game and he’ll push them out in May or June, but he’ll have to improve his terrible 3.9% BB% to hit atop a lineup. Still, he’s virtually free, and is a great combo meal in batting average leagues.
Steven Duggar (OF, San Francisco Giants)
NFBC ADP: 449 TGFBI ADP: 484
Why he’s a sleeper: In deep leagues, playing time is key, and unlike many others on this list, Duggar has it, and he’s also batting leadoff. While his debut seemed lackluster, it prorates to .255 with 8 HR and 20 SB over 600 PA, which Duggar could earn and them some. He also had double-digit walk rates at every level of the minors, so with another year of experience, he should at least surpass an 8% BB%, which would increase his OBP league value and run production. He has a strong 28.9 ft/sec sprint speed and can steal 20+ bases with double-digit pop.
What could go wrong: With his high strikeout rate, he’s not far off from being a replacement-level player, so it would not be too surprising to see the team, well, replace him. Every projection has his batting average under .250, some even going below .230, which is less surprising when you realize he had trouble keeping his K rate below 30% in the minors, which is never a good thing, especially for a slap hitter.
Keon Broxton (OF, New York Mets)
NFBC ADP: 478
Why he’s a sleeper: Broxton’s terrible 2018 deserved better in his small sample, as his .180/.281/.410 actual line was far more horrific than his xSlash of .240/.334/.412. In 798 career PA, he’s hit 33 HR and stole 50 bases, which, Prorated to 600 PA, would be 25 HR and 38 SB. That’s a lot of power/speed upside this late in the draft, and in OBP formats, the Marianas Trench-level floor gets raised a good amount.
What could go wrong: How about everything? For one, he just got hurt running into a wall. If he’s okay, he’ll still have to fight for his playing time with Lagares or wait for Conforto or Nimmo to get hurt. Even with ABs, his crazy whiff rate makes it rather likely he’ll be under the Mendoza line (.200) again. Don’t take him if you can’t stomach the legitimate odds of him being really bad. Gamblers only.
Adam Engel (OF, Chicago White Sox)
NFBC ADP: 534
Why he’s a sleeper: This late, anyone with a pulse is a sleeper, but I actually think there’s a fair argument to be made that Engel could end the year better than many on this list. For one, he’s slotted in as a regular on the White Sox as the #9 hitter, and is not at risk for losing ABs since he’s the only one who can play CF adequately. His 30.1 ft/sec sprint speed is tied for the fastest regulars (not counting Buxton) in the game—Billy Hamilton and Trea Turner. His awful overall numbers hide that in the second half, he actually hit .260. It’s also worth noting that reports in Spring Training have seen a “noticeable difference” in his swings, and so far, he has a 3/3 BB/K over 25 PA (12% BB% and 12% K%, compared to 2018’s 4% BB% and 28% BB%).
What could go wrong: If you’re banking on his 80-grade speed for 20+ stolen bags, you may be disappointed. He’s actually not a great base stealer. He was only successful 66% of the time (16 for 24, and just 5 for 11 in the second half) and was just 12/20 in Triple-A. If he doesn’t improve his plate discipline as hoped, he can hurt you in AVG leagues and annihilate you in OBP.
AL-Only, NL-Only & Dynasty
Oscar Mercado (OF, Cleveland Indians)
NFBC ADP: 658
Why he’s a sleeper: The 24-year old really turned a corner offensively a few years ago when he was moved off second base to OF, and is now on the cusp of the majors. He’s stolen 30-40 bags at every level (50 in 2015) and there’s no reason to expect that to change on the base-aggressive Indians. Scouting reports say he’s good defensively, and the Indians OF is lacking reliable options. Not only that, but he has some pop. He hit only 8 homers last year but had 13 in 2017, and has double-digit homer upside with an average that should be in the .240-.260 range. Sign me up.
What could go wrong: Although the Indians lack reliable starting OF, he’ll have to fight his way past options like Naquin and Zimmer when he returns (also a great sleeper speed option). Despite his high SB totals, his speed scouting only grades at a 55, and is viewed as a 4th OF so he could disappoint in the majors. Still, it’s a great gamble at this price.
Luis Rengifo (2B/SS, Los Angeles Angels)
NFBC ADP: 724
Why he’s a sleeper: After being traded from the Mariners, he had a breakout 2018, hitting .299/.399/.451 while tallying as many walks as strikeouts, 7 HR and 41 stolen bases. Although he played just 2B/SS last season, he’s also played OF and 3B in the past, which is notable since he’s on the Angels 40-man and could be called to help anywhere on the diamond. He’s still 22 and has the potential to be a utility speed asset like Chone Figgins, and was a favorite on Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five that unearthed breakouts like Josh James and Cedric Mullins.
What could go wrong: While his season totals make me drool, his AVG, K%, BB%, and SB rate all declined at each level he advanced, with just 6 SB in his final 219 PA in Triple-A. Like Mercado, he was graded 55 for speed, so maybe it becomes less viable with every bump in competition level. Still, at pick 724, he’s insanely underrated.
Roman Quinn (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
NFBC ADP: 439
Why he’s a sleeper: Don’t follow that ADP, it’ll be far lower now, as that was from before Harper signed and Quinn was the frontrunner for PT. He’s entering the year a backup to an elite OF of McCutchen, Odubel and Harper, but he can earn his fair share of ABs if Harper gets hurt or Doobie struggles, as well as with pinch-running. Quinn is the fastest player in the majors not named Buxton, at 30.2 ft/sec, and he can hit for a solid enough average with a pinch of power to put it to use. Health has been the only thing holding him back, but seeing as the injuries were nothing chronic and he’s 25, he could just outgrow them.
What could go wrong: Compared to most players on this list, he has the most uphill battle for playing time, as there’s virtually nothing he can do to earn it without regulars getting hurt or struggling. He’s also coming back from an oblique injury, which I always red flag since they tend to linger and affect performance.
Magneuris Sierra (OF, Miami Marlins)
NFBC ADP: 732
Why he’s a sleeper: I’ll admit I like the NL sleepers far less than I do the AL-only ones, since Quinn and Sierra are pretty one-dimensional. But it’s a great dimension, as the 22-year-old is tied with Quinn for 2nd-fastest sprint speed. His 2018 small sample was worse than his 2017, but his 2019 should be somewhere in between. Miami’s offense is lousy enough for him to work his way onto it again, and while he has virtually zero power, his groundball-centric approach could give him a high BABIP to keep his AVG afloat.
What could go wrong: When Jarrod Dyson is seen as your perfect-world projection, there’s a lot that can go wrong. If he doesn’t cut down on the Ks, he might be nothing more than an occasional pinch runner and defensive replacement. If he gets a home run, odds are that it was inside the park.