There are different types of sleepers. There are guys who are almost definitely going to be drafted in the later rounds of your draft, and then there are the guys who are probably going to go undrafted (or close to it).
In this article, I’m going to talk about the latter. There are plenty of guys I like as sleepers who are going in rounds 15-20 or so, but if you’re in a deep league, those guys are going earlier. Or maybe you’re in a league with a bunch of people who have been reading the billion sleeper articles out there, and those common sleepers from this year aren’t going to be available.
The players I’m going to talk about here all have ADPs after pick 300, which means in your standard leagues, they’re either going undrafted or they’re guys who are going in the last round or two.
When you’re drafting that late, what should you be looking for? The answer is upside. These are all dart throws, guys you’re just taking a shot on at the end of a draft because they might have some upside.
All of these players have flaws, some of them very obvious flaws, but there’s also a reason to like each one, and a reason to grab them at the tail end of your drafts. If they don’t turn out, you drop them, simple as that. You’re not going to lose your league because your 28th-round pick didn’t pan out, but you can win your league if your 28th-round pick does pan out.
So here we go!
Note: all ADP data comes from NFBC ADP
Domingo Santana, OF, CLE (ADP: 306)
Domingo Santana had an extremely nice year in 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers, an injury-shortened year in 2018, and a pretty mediocre, boring year with the Seattle Mariners last year. Now, he’s with the Cleveland Indians and looks set to have a steady starting gig. The question is, will he produce?
It’s definitely possible. While his year-end results weren’t awesome in 2019, he did post some good contact rates, including a 12.5% barrel rate, which was his best since 2015, and a .483 xwOBACON. Plus, he cut his groundball rate down to a career-low 42.6%.
Yes, there are concerns about plate discipline, I never like a guy to strike out 32% of the time like he does, but there are some good batted ball numbers here that are encouraging for him going into a steady starting gig. ZiPS projects a .251/.335/.464 line for him with 24 home runs—and the chance of getting that or better at the end of your draft is worth the shot.
Kole Calhoun, OF, ARI (ADP: 307)
Kole Calhoun’s always had solid power, but the 33 home runs and .236 ISO he had last year was quite the surprise. In part, I think it was due to the Los Angeles Angels lowering the right field wall as basically a gift to Calhoun, but it was also thanks to him hitting the ball better.
Last year, Calhoun posted an 11.2% barrel rate, a career-best, and a solid 42.6% hard-hit rate, which ranked in the 73rd percentile of the league. Calhoun is in Arizona now, and with the humidor, Chase Field generally leans a bit pitcher-friendly. But fortunately, it’s about neutral, leaning slightly hitter-friendly for left-handed hitters who pull the ball. And guess what Calhoun does? Pull the ball a ton. At a 50.5% rate last year, actually, which is good for his power, especially in Chase Field.
If you’re worried about the .232 average he posted last year, I have good news—he posted a .247 xBA, which suggests that average should pop back up. Will he surpass 30 home runs again? It’s hard to say, especially since we don’t know if we’re getting another juiced ball, but the chance is there, and if that average bumps back up to .250ish, that’s good value.
Mike Yastrzemski, OF, SFG (ADP: 313)
Yastrzemski popped up last year and all of a sudden turned into a pretty solid player, slashing .272/.334/.518 with 21 home runs in just 107 games. Pace that out to a full season and we’re looking at a guy who comes close to hitting 30 home runs.
Now, how much of that was helped by the juiced ball? As is the case for every player this year, we have no idea, but the power did come supported by an 11.2% barrel rate and a 42.9% hard-hit rate, both of which are very solid. The average, however, came with a .258 xBA, so some regression could occur. Still, he’s 29, has proven he can hit well, and has a steady job likely in the leadoff spot. That’s worth a shot.
Kevin Gausman, SP, SFG (ADP: 322)
Speaking of former Orioles now on the Giants (that’s a very niche group), there is definitely something to like about Kevin Gausman, and that’s his split-change.
It’s a beautiful pitch, and it was excellent last year, the ninth-most chased pitch among starting pitchers in all of baseball with a 49.6% chase rate. It also posted a ridiculous 22.7% SwStr rate, a 30.1% CSW, and a .089 ISO against.
Problem is, Gausman only threw his split-change and his fastball last year, and his fastball was bad. Like, really bad. Like, a .386 wOBA and .216 ISO against bad, which is part of the reason he posted a disgusting 5.72 ERA last year.
But if there’s a reason to be optimistic, it’s the 3.98 FIP that pitch came with, as well as a move to a very pitcher-friendly park in San Francisco. If that splitter is working and the fastball improves basically at all, Gausman is suddenly interesting.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, DET (ADP: 326)
It’s looking more and more like Jonathan Schoop’s excellent 2017 season is going to be an outlier in his career, but that doesn’t mean he’s totally worthless. Last year, Schoop wasn’t excellent but he was usable, with a .256/.304/.473 line and 23 home runs.
The positives? He posted a career-best barrel rate (though that was 8.8%, which is very okay), he cut down on the ground balls some, and he started pulling the ball more. And, depending on whether you trust Baseball Info Solutions or Statcast, he started hitting the ball harder.
That sounds weird, I know; here’s what I mean. Last year, Schoop posted a 38.5% Statcast hard-hit rate, which is not great. But he also posted a 38.7% BIS hard-hit rate, which is a career-best. So what gives? Statcast and BIS measure hard-hit rate differently, Statcast’s measurement is simply the percentage of balls hit at least 95 MPH, while BIS’ is a bit more complicated.
For BIS, a video scout records how much time a ball was in the air, where it lands, what type of batted-ball it was, and inputs it into BIS’ algorithm which determines a hard/medium/soft-hit ball. So who do you trust? I tend to lean Statcast, but the discrepancy is certainly interesting.
Anyways, for a guy who’s basically free, Schoop is an interesting dart throw. He’s on the Tigers now, has a steady job, will hit in the middle of the lineup, and has been good before. Most of the projections have him around .260 with 25+ home runs, I’ll gladly take that.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, TOR (ADP: 327)
I was all about Teoscar Hernandez last year and that didn’t really work out. But here I am again, advocating for Teoscar for much of the same reason I did last year—he mashes the ball. Last year he posted an 11.7% barrel rate alongside a 42.3% hard-hit rate. And in 2018? His barrel rate was a nuts 15.5% and his hard-hit rate was 45.9%.
Oh, and did I mention that he absolutely lit up the second half of the season? Because he did, to the tune of 18 home runs (tied for the second-most in that timespan), a .333 ISO (yes, you read that right), and a 142 wRC+, which is right around where Juan Soto and Aaron Judge were in the second-half. If he stays consistent hitting the ball, he’s going to be a nice power grab.
Anthony Santander, OF, BAL (ADP: 330)
Ew, a Baltimore Oriole, I know (and he’s not the only one *shudder*). Santander quietly was looking very good heading into September last year, slashing .291/.328/.520, and then all of a sudden he crashed and burned and slashed .155/.184/.321 in September.
Overall, Santander looks like a fairly league-average guy from a batted-ball perspective, but we saw for the vast majority of the season last year that he could really produce well. Could he do that again? I think that’s definitely possible.
You shouldn’t project a .280s or .290s season from him, but we’ve seen it happen, we know it’s possible, and the chance of that with 20-25 home runs and a handful of runs and RBI with one of the last picks of your draft? I’ll take it.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, MIA (ADP: 338)
What a magical 2018 it was for Jesus Aguilar, and what a horrible 2019 it was. After a breakout season that saw him hit .274 with 35 home runs, Aguilar entered the juiced-ball season and promptly sucked, slashing .236/.325/.389 with 12 home runs.
Now, he’s in Miami and will likely have a steady starting gig at first base hitting in the heart of that order. Is Miami all that appealing? Of course not. But there are a few reasons to like Aguilar as a bounce-back guy.
First, his plate discipline improved last year, with his walk rate jumping to a career-best 11.7% and his strikeout rate falling to a career-low at 22%. He also reduced his chase rate and SwStr rate to career-lows. He also looks due for a bit of positive regression in his batting average, given his .272 BABIP and .246 xBA last year.
But you also don’t love the hard-hit rate that’s dropped or the ground-ball rate that’s increased. There’s definitely reason to be wary of Aguilar, but it was just two years ago the guy mashed 35 home runs. With the last few picks of your draft, it doesn’t hurt to take a chance he can recapture some of that magic.
John Means, SP, BAL (ADP: 347)
I’m actually kind of amazed John Means is being avoided in so many drafts. I get that nobody wants to draft an Orioles pitcher (trust me, I don’t blame you), but Means had himself a very solid year last year, posting a 3.60 ERA in 155 IP.
The key for Means is his fantastic changeup, and man, was it fantastic.
It was nearly a money pitch, posting a 38.9% chase rate, 49% zone rate, and a 13.9% SwStr rate alongside a .270 wOBA against. You don’t love the .181 ISO the pitch had against it, but overall, it’s an excellent pitch for Means.
Meanwhile, the rest of his arsenal was solid to above-average. His fastball is perfectly average, which works just fine, and his slider is solid, posting a 32% chase rate and 13% SwStr rate alongside a .233 wOBA against.
All in all, he looks like a Toby this year, but there’s clearly room for improvement. No one thought he’d do what he did last year, and he’s still just 26, so he could get better. But even if he doesn’t, a solid-floor guy with one of your last picks of the draft is still useful.
Kyle Lewis, OF, SEA (ADP: 396)
Kyle Lewis only got 18 games in the majors last year, but he mashed the ball while he was up, posting an absurd 23.3% barrel rate and 46.5% hard-hit rate. Like I said, he destroyed the ball. Again, it was just 18 games, so it’s the smallest of small sample sizes, but given just how well he hit the ball while he was up, there’s reason to like him as a late-round flier.
He’s almost definitely got an everyday job in the outfield with Seattle, unless Carlos Gonzalez waves a magic wand and somehow unseats him, and if he can tap back into that power potential we saw from him during his brief stint in the majors, you’ve got yourself a nice hitter on your hands. He has strikeout problems and had them in the minors, so you’re not likely to see a high batting average, but the power is intriguing.
Spencer Turnbull, SP, DET (ADP: 416)
If there’s one thing I really like to see in a pitcher, it’s a guy who has a nice fastball as his base. Plenty of pitchers are out there with awesome breaking balls but trash fastballs, and those fastballs ultimately do them in.
Spencer Turnbull has a very good fastball. The pitch generally sits around 94 mph but can get as high as 98 and induced plenty of weak contact last year, posting a .321 wOBA and .121 ISO against. It even induced some swings and misses, posting a 29% chase rate and 10.7% SwStr rate, both of which are very solid for a fastball, on its way to an excellent 14.1 pVAL. I love that.
He’s also got a very nice slider.
Last year the pitch posted a 35.9% chase rate and a 15.3% SwStr rate alongside a .270 wOBA against. He had some command issues with it though, as hitters had a .183 ISO against it, but generally it worked really nicely as a strikeout pitch.
And alongside that slider, he’s got a pretty decent curveball that gets swings and misses and some chases but, again, isn’t commanded as well as it needs to be.
So what’s the catch? The catch is that Turnbull also has a sinker that is absolute hot garbage. Like, it’s awful. Last year it had a .420 wOBA against and an 86.3% contact rate. It didn’t get hit for a ton of power, just a .140 ISO against, but it got smacked around a ton, and Turnbull couldn’t control it, posting a 14.2% walk rate with the pitch.
So we’ve got a pitcher here with an excellent fastball as a base pitch, a very good breaking pitch and another breaker that’s decent, and one horrible, terrible pitch. So why does he throw it? I don’t know. But I think he could easily drop it, work with the fastball/slider/curveball combo and be a solid starting pitcher.
There’s potential here, and I think he’s worth a flier on the chance he figures things out.
Franchy Cordero, OF, SDP (ADP: 420)
This year, I want my fantasy baseball with a side of Franchy fries (remember, this website is free). Last year was a lost season for Cordero thanks to injury, and before that, he barely got to play because of how crowded the outfield was for the San Diego Padres.
However, when Cordero did get to play, he showed that he can crush the ball, posting a 12.9% barrel rate, 51.9% hard-hit rate, and .502 xSLG in the 40 games he played in 2018. “But what about that .237 average he had,” you ask. Yes, that’s not ideal, nor was his 35.7% strikeout rate, but it’s worth noting that average came with a .273 xBA.
The skills are there, and the guy is still just 25 years old. Will he get playing time? I think so. My guess is he ends up on the strong side of a platoon with either Juan Lagares or Wil Myers, and if Cordero starts raking, that platoon will pretty quickly go away.
That being said, Cordero does have options, so he can be sent to the minors if he struggles, which neither Lagares or Myers can, so there is some risk there, but there are also some very enticing skills.
Shed Long, 2B, SEA (ADP: 429)
So here’s the thing with my guy Shedric (yes, that’s his first name): he’s probably leading off for the Mariners this year, and he’s shown to be a guy with a solid hit tool and some decent speed. In his 42 games last year, Shed posted a .263/.333/.454 line with five home runs and three steals, and if you combine Triple-A with the majors last year, we’re looking at a guy with 14 home runs (though just four steals).
He’s got good speed though, his 27.6 ft/s sprint speed isn’t back-breaking, but it’s very solid. Could Long end up being a 15/15 or even 15/20 guy with a decent average? Given the opportunity he’ll have at the top of the lineup, I think that’s definitely in the cards.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, TOR (ADP: 449)
Rowdy Roddy Tellez (not his actual nickname) is here to hit dingers and chew bubble gum, and he’s all out of bubble gum. In 111 games last year, Tellez showed off some of his power, hitting 21 home runs, albeit with a .227 batting average.
But here’s the deal: the dude hit the ball quite well, posting a 13.2% barrel rate, good for 24th-best in all of baseball, just below Fernando Tatis Jr./strong>. and just ahead of Christian Walker and Cody Bellinger. He also had a solid 41.8% hard-hit rate along with that.
And while that .227 average was bad, it came with a .251 xBA and a .267 BABIP, which suggests he’s a better hitter than what he showed last year. And not only that, he’s reportedly tweaked his hitting mechanics this offseason, dropped some fat and added a bunch of muscle, if you want to believe in “best shape of his life” line of thinking.
Here’s the thing that makes him a bit risky—who knows how much playing time he’ll get. It’s looking like first base will be a Travis Shaw/Brandon Drury platoon for the Blue Jays, meaning Rowdy doesn’t really have anywhere to play.
That being said, it’s not like Shaw and/or Drury are guaranteed to be successes, nor is the Blue Jays lineup some murderer’s row of hitters. There’s room for Rowdy to slip in, especially if he has a strong spring.
Luckily, he’s going so late in drafts that if he gets optioned at the start of the season, you can easily drop him without it hurting your team. But if he doesn’t, there’s a really nice skill set here that’s worth a shot.
Images courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)