For the past two years in the fantasy baseball preseason, I put together an article called “The Darts I’m Throwing in Drafts This Year,” which looks not just at sleepers to target in your drafts, but guys that are going way late in drafts if they’re even being drafted at all.
All of the players I feature in the article had an NFBC ADP outside of 250 as of when I wrote it. The goal of the article is to give you some guys who are worth a late-round snag as a potential low-risk, high-reward guy.
Now that the fantasy baseball season is over, I figured I’d take a look back at those dart throws from this year and see how they ended up!
In case you’d like to see the article from March, here it is.
Jeimer Candelario, 1B/3B, DET
Final season stats: .271/.351/.443, 16 HR, 75 R, 67 RBI
All told, that’s a useful player in deeper leagues. Candelario didn’t have a traditional “breakout” season in the sense that he was a top-tier player at his position, but he very clearly had the best season of his career, and a lot of the progress he made in 2020 looks like it was legit.
Ultimately, Candelario finished as roughly a top-20 first baseman, which, in deeper leagues, was likely someone who was rostered. Not a league-winning late-round pick, but a useful one.
Mitch Haniger, OF, SEA
Final season stats: .253/.318/.485, 39 HR, 110 R, 100 RBI
I thought Haniger might be good, I didn’t think he’d be that good. My hope for him was a guy hitting in the .260s/.270s who hits like 30 home runs. Then he went off and decided to hit almost 40 home runs, tied for the sixth-highest in MLB. And a 100/100 season? No way I expected that out of him.
This is the joy of late-round sleepers and something you don’t get often. A lot of those guys, at best you’re hoping they end up fairly useful guys, solid players who maybe occupy your utility spot or something. But you draft these guys hoping they end up turning in a breakout season, and Haniger did that, ending up as roughly a top 10/15 outfielder.
C.J. Cron, 1B, COL
Final season stats: .281/.375/.530, 28 HR, 70 R, 92 RBI
Cron turned in a typical C.J. Cron season, except he boosted his batting average about 30 points higher than he usually has it. I was bummed Cron missed almost all of 2020 after turning in a solid season in Minnesota, but moving to Colorado was fantastic and Cron enjoyed hitting in Coors, as he slashed .326/.412/.661 at home.
Cron finished as about a top 10/top 15 first baseman and if you snagged that with one of your last picks in the draft, I think you were pleased with it.
Dane Dunning, SP, TEX
Final season stats: 4.51 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 22.3% strikeout rate, 8.4% walk rate
Whelp, you don’t love that. Back when Dunning was with the White Sox and made his MLB debut, I did a GIF breakdown of the appearance and I like what I saw from a pure stuff standpoint. He showed a nice repertoire, and I was hoping now that he had a rotation spot in Texas, we’d see him turn into a solid starting pitcher.
He didn’t do that. His sinker was solid, his slider was a good strikeout pitch, but he struggled mightily with his changeup and cutter, which all added up to a pretty mediocre season.
Dunning had his moments for sure. He struck out 10 in five innings against the Mariners back in early May, and he pitched six innings of shutout ball with six strikeouts against the Yankees in late May, but he was never a reliable guy, even against bad opponents. I still think he’ll figure it out one day, but I’m not banking on it next year.
Justus Sheffield, SP, SEA
Final season stats: 6.81 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 16.4% strikeout rate, 11.2% walk rate
Part of me just wanted to put a bunch of vomit emojis in this and leave it at that, because YIKES was Sheffield bad this year. Like really bad. Bad enough to land him back in Triple-A.
His sinker was bad, he couldn’t command his slider, which led to a .244 ISO against it, his changeup got knocked all over the place, he just didn’t have it this year.
I still like Sheffield, I’m hopeful one day we’ll see the Dawn of Justus, but man oh man what a clunker of a season.
Griffin Canning, SP, LAA
Final season stats: 5.60 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 22.4% strikeout rate, 10.1% walk rate
In my defense, I did warn all of you that I’ve been on the “I swear to god Griffin Canning will one day be good” bandwagon for a while now, and it seems like it might finally be time to pull that bandwagon into the station for a while.
Because, and I know I’m repeating myself, but YIKES. Canning was bad and then ended up missing the rest of the year with a stress fracture in his lower back.
We’ll see how he recovers and what he looks like, part of me is still hoping he’ll get it together one day because he’s got the potential, but this was just not a good year for Canning.
Yusei Kikuchi, SP, SEA
Final season stats: 4.41 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 24.5% strikeout rate, 9.3% walk rate
Through the end of June, I was pretty happy with this pick, because Kikuchi was sporting a 3.34 ERA with a solid 25.5% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate.
But numbers don’t lie, and Kikuchi’s .220 BABIP and 4.34 FIP came back to bite him, as from July 1 on he posted a 5.73 ERA (though his strikeout rate and walk rate remained fairly steady).
Ultimately, I think Kikuchi was a guy you streamed against bad teams and that was about it. And if you drafted him and sold high on him by the season’s halfway point, well done, because you got all the good and didn’t have to endure all the bad.
Tarik Skubal, SP, DET
Final season stats: 4.34 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 25.9% strikeout rate, 7.4% walk rate
I was impressed by Skubal’s raw stuff he showed as a rookie and was excited to see what might happen when he got a steady spot in the rotation.
All in all, not a terrible year from Skubal, whose 3.92 SIERA suggests he might’ve been a bit better than his numbers showed. He likely was a streamer for you unless you were in pretty deep leagues.
The main problem with Skubal was his fastball—it’s supposed to be one of his main draws because it’s such a fireball of a pitch. But it got knocked around hard last year, to the tune of a .403 wOBA and .310 ISO against. And that’s his most-thrown pitch! He threw that pitch nearly 1,100 times!
Otherwise, his slider, changeup, sinker, and curveball were all solid at inducing weak contact—though he struggled to command his sinker a bit and none of his offspeed or breaking pitches were definite putaway pitches.
He’s just got to figure out that fastball, and I hope he does.
Robbie Ray, SP, TOR
Final season stats: 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 32.1% strikeout rate, 6.9% walk rate
So uhhh, I think that worked out pretty well.
Frankly, I was about ready to give up on Robbie Ray reaching his 2017 upside. I thought he’s just gonna be what he is—a guy who gets you a lot of strikeouts but hurts you a bit in ERA and WHIP because he can’t keep his walk rate down. And 2020 exacerbated that feeling even further. I didn’t think he was a 6.62 ERA bad, but I didn’t think he’d do anything remotely close to this.
But the thing I liked was that Ray was tweaking his mechanics. He was working on things, clearly he wanted to improve and he was working towards that. Obviously it didn’t work out in 2020, but man did it work this year because that walk rate dropped to a career-low 6.9% and we saw a Cy Young-caliber season out of Robbie Ray.
Tejay Antone, SP/RP, CIN
Final season stats: 2.14 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 32.8% strikeout rate, 10.2% walk rate, 3 SV
I was hopeful that one of two things would happen with Antone—either he’d work his way into the rotation or he’d end up the closer.
He did a little spot starting and ended up nabbing three saves out of the bullpen, but a forearm injury sidelined him for the majority of the season. I still think the guy has some phenomenal stuff, he just needs a role. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn into much this year, but I’m hopeful he’ll either turn into a steady starter or (more likely) a solid closer in the future.
Dylan Cease, SP, CWS
Final season stats: 3.91 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 31.9% strikeout rate, 9.5% walk rate
I’m fairly impressed with what Cease did this year. It wasn’t a lights-out season by any stretch, and he didn’t turn in a Cy Young season like Yasmani Grandal thought he might, but he made some adjustments to his delivery, which you can see here (2020 on the left, 2021 on the right):
It’s subtle, but he made some changes, similar to what Lucas Giolito did, shortening up his arm motion. Ultimately, Cease was a fairly useful pitcher in deeper leagues who logged you a good number of strikeouts and turned in some killer starts (like his seven-inning, 10 strikeout shutout against the Tigers in June).
He’s going to be a sleeper for me coming into next season, if he can take another step forward, he’s going to be something to see.
Spencer Turnbull, SP, DET
Final season stats: 2.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 21.9% strikeout rate, 6% walk rate
Similar to Canning, I’ve loved Turnbull’s potential for a while now and he finally was putting it together this year. But after nine starts, Turnbull’s season came to a sad end as he ended up needing Tommy John surgery, which SUCKS.
We’ll see how he comes back from Tommy John, but man was he looking good. He toyed with his pitch mix, ditching his four-seamer for a cutter that was working well, he started using his slider more, which was a really good out pitch, he was solid all around. Hopefully he’ll keep that up once he’s back.
Franchy Cordero, OF, BOS
Final season stats: .189/.237/.260, 1 HR, 12 R, 9 RBI
Not a lot to say here. Cordero is a guy I’ve liked for a couple of years for his raw power stats. The guy’s Statcast profile looked wonderful whenever he made contact with the ball, he just hadn’t had a sufficient opportunity.
Well, the Red Sox gave him an opportunity and he sucked BAD, landing him back in the minors. Maybe one day Franchy will be the player we all hoped he’d be, but that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon, and he’s already 27 (though it’s worth noting he still looked great in Triple-A, hitting .300/.398/.533 with 13 HRs and 12 SBs, so hope springs eternal).
Spencer Howard, SP, TEX
Final season stats: 7.43 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 22.7% strikeout rate, 11.8% walk rate
It just wasn’t there for Howard this year, who was eventually dealt from the Phillies to the Rangers around the trade deadline.
And the Rangers certainly gave him a chance, but since coming to Texas, the longest Howard pitched was four innings (matching the longest he pitched with the Phillies this year), and that was against the Orioles where he surrendered four runs.
As I said, Howard just didn’t have it. There’s no denying his stuff, he’s got a high-power fastball and some pretty solid secondary offerings, but he didn’t have the command of them you’d like to see. His cutter, changeup, and slider all had ISOs against above .200, which is just bad.
We’ll see what kind of chance the Rangers give Howard next year, but this year wasn’t it for him. But, the dude is just 25, there’s plenty of time for him to put it together.
Garrett Richards, SP, BOS
Final season stats: 4.87 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 18.6% strikeout rate, 9.7% walk rate
For the first time since 2015, Garrett Richards pitched over 100 innings, and given how he’s looked in the past, that sounds like it should have been exciting. Except, unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Richards was not great. Not terrible, but not great. Not one of his pitches was overly impressive, his slider wasn’t the money pitch we’ve seen it be in the past, his fastball got knocked around to the tune of a .376 wOBA against, there just wasn’t much there.
Which is a bummer! The draw for Richards was his breaking stuff, and his breaking stuff was just entirely unimpressive this year, and by August he landed in the bullpen. He had his moments, like his seven-inning, one-run, 10 strikeout performance against the Mets in April, but overall, Richards wasn’t worth much in your fantasy leagues.
Evan Longoria, 3B, SFG
Final season stats: .261/.351/.482, 13 HR, 45 R, 46 RBI
Longoria missed some time here and there throughout the season, which limited his ability to contribute to fantasy leagues during the year (part of being 35 and still playing major league baseball, I guess).
Longoria’s Statcast profile randomly looked amazing in 2020, posting his best barrel rate (11.5%) since 2016 and his best Statcast hard-hit rate (45.2%) ever.
This year? Longoria kept it going, posting an even better 13.4% barrel rate and 54.5% hard-hit rate, so clearly something was working. He just couldn’t stay healthy and unfortunately couldn’t significantly contribute, which was one of the major risks in drafting him. But man am I curious what this season would’ve looked like had he been healthy for most of it.
Trevor Rogers, SP, MIA
Final season stats: 2.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 28.5% strikeout rate, 8.4% walk rate
Rogers did the opposite of Spencer Howard. Both he and Howard are former top prospects, Howard ultimately didn’t impress much but man was Rogers good. Like, exceptionally good.
And even more impressive? He did it with a three-pitch repertoire—a fastball with good velocity and great spin, a changeup that was a great strikeout pitch (46.3% chase rate and a 19.3% SwStr rate), and a slider that worked as a solid swing-and-miss pitch (15% SwStr rate).
Even if hitters did make contact, it wasn’t hard contact. Not a single pitch had a wOBA against over .300 or an ISO against over .130. Rogers was just plain awesome, he finished the year as a top-tier starter in fantasy, and even though he missed some time in August due to some undisclosed personal things, he looked great once he was back.
And he’s only 23. I’m psyched to see what he looks like going forward.
Dean Kremer, SP, BAL
Final season stats: 7.55 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 19.2% strikeout rate, 10.2% walk rate
Sigh. Maybe my Orioles homerism got to me here. Maybe I just desperately want the Orioles to not have traded Manny Machado away for virtually nothing. But either way, Kremer did not look good this year at all.
I’ll say this—I truly was impressed by his stuff in what I had seen, it looked like it had potential. But unfortunately, it never really came together. His fastball got destroyed to the tune of a .401 wOBA and .290 ISO against, his slider wasn’t the putaway pitch it should’ve been, nor was the curveball, it just wasn’t there.
Photos by Quinn Harris, Leslie Plaza Johnson, and John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG) and Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)