As the MLB season approaches quickly, the Forecast team is compiling various articles to give you a leg up in both season-long and daily fantasy baseball formats. Co-Founder Ben Joyce kicks us off with his Ultimate Sleeper Guide. This is a lengthy article, but WELL worth the read! – Enjoy!
I first off want to define what I mean by the term “sleeper” as it is interpreted in various ways by different people. A sleeper is a player whom I believe will provide more value than what he is worth, aka “undervalued” (according to current ADP). Or in other words, a player who you can most likely get for cheap in your upcoming draft that will outplay that price tag. Someone who is overlooked and has a good opportunity to capitalize while putting you in a good position to win. A sleeper is merely a prediction, not all “sleepers” will pan out, so don’t expect that. Also a sleeper is NOT the same thing as a breakout candidate. That article is coming soon…
– These are in not in order of importance, rather organized alphabetically by position to allow easier navigation for readers-
Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – Entered the 2016 season with high expectations and came through with a 2.65 ERA through his first 12 starts until he ran into a UCL injury that landed him on the DL for the rest of the season. Nola held an effective 9.7K/9 and a low walk rate which allowed him to find success early on. The risk here is that he is coming off a plasma-injection surgery to correct his sprained UCL but if he can bypass those issues, he could bring great value as we saw in the early half of 2016.
Garrett Richards (Los Angeles Angels) – Proved he has the stuff to be a great pitcher as he boasted an outstanding 2014 campaign finishing with a 2.6 ERA with 164 Ks which was followed by a great 2015 season as well. Unfortunately, his 2016 season ended after only 6 starts in which he held a 2.30 ERA with a shoulder injury that would normally require Tommy John. However, Richards and doctors decided to take the route of modern medicine and use a stem cell procedure to repair the shoulder. He has since progressed very well and is in great shape to be in the starting rotation for the beginning of the season. Obviously, he comes with a level of risk but if he can bounce back and put up numbers similar to his previous seasons, he will be a great asset to your team.
Ivan Nova (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Coming off an effective second half with the pirates last season, Nova signed a 3-year deal, showing the Pirates have faith in him – which they should. Nova suffered Tommy John in 2014 and wasn’t very good after that up until he got traded into a pitcher friendly ballpark. Now, I’m not saying he was only good because of that but his new home has seemed to serve him well and should continue to do so for the 2017 season – if he can limit the longball. Nova had a 4.54 K/BB rate, ranking him 10th in the MLB last season and will be the No.2 starter behind Gerrit Cole. In addition, he will be pitching in the NL Central, home of two offenses that don’t necessarily scare you when it comes to hitting (Brewers and Reds). I Really like his potential this season as he has always seemed like he was only a few steps away from becoming a top of the rotation guy and I think he is there now – with some nasty stuff too.
James Paxton (Seattle Mariners) – He’s a lefty flame-thrower who can reach 100 mph, which only wreaks havoc if you don’t look at anything else. His 2016 season was inconsistent but he started to find his groove dramatically toward the latter half. He ended with an ERA of 3.79 with a 6-7 record, but an impressive 8.7 K/9, his best of his career thus far. The real noise came from his splits before and after the all-star break last season in which he increased his K:BB ratio from 3.21 to 7.2 – crazy stuff. Paxton also lowered his BB/9 rate from 3.9 to 1.8 post all-star break proving he is on the right track to making that next step to becoming a fantasy ace. He will look to carry that momentum into this season and looks to have made that next step in his development where he can carry a fantasy team at a lower price tag.
Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Boasted an impressive 11.25 K/9 in 2016 which ranked 2nd in the MLB only behind the late Jose Fernandez, may he rest in peace. He struck out 218 batters last season which ranked #9 in the majors. He does give up a high hard hit rate which showed in his 4.90ERA but he also ran into some bad luck suggested by 3.76 FIP. Strikeouts are the most important category for fantasy purposes and he excelled dramatically last season in that area and looks to take that, along with an improved walk rate into the season.
Matt Wieters (Washington Nationals) – He cut his arm on accident with a glass bottle in November which has apparently caused teams to look elsewhere for catching, but was since signed to the Nationals and could have great opportunity to pile up RBIs as well as catch regularly. The Nats don’t really have any other options and people forget that Wieters can actually hit. With the lack of depth at the catcher position, I might be inclined to wait on a guy like this late in the draft. I wouldn’t necessarily rely on him as my starting catcher but he is certainly worth taking a flyer on and keeping a close eye on if he doesn’t get drafted. He will be hitting behind a very robust group of hitters that contains Adam Eaton (assuming he bats 1 or 2), Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. If he can stay healthy and prove his bat is worth keeping them in the lineup (he comes with subpar defense/framing), he could very easily make for an effective fantasy asset this season.
Tom Murphy (Colorado Rockies) – Just look at what Nick Hundley, who has since been shipped off to the Giants, did at Coors last year. Tom Murphy is the favorite to be the starting catcher in competition with Tony Wolters and should return great value in late rounds simply being in the friendliest ballpark for hitters. He hit 72 dingers in 367 minor league games and could see success this year because of his bat and peripherals. Don’t be afraid at all to take a late-round flier on him as the catcher position is rather anemic per usual. It’s basically Posey, Lucroy and Sanchez, then a bunch of average hitting catchers who are better on the defensive/framing side of the position. In addition, the Rockies’ lineup is very good and Murphy will see plenty of opportunities to produce if he can stay on the field.
Travis D’Arnaud(New York Mets) – Similarly to Byron Buxton (who I’ll discuss later), D’Arnaud had high hopes and expectations that didn’t exactly pan out but his outlook looks bright heading into the 2017 season. In 2016, he got hit by the injury bug that lead to a disappointing .247 average and placing himself on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues. Travis appears to be fully recovered going into spring training and looking to correct his mechanics, something that has clearly tempered his expectations. The good thing is, mechanics are certainly fixable so assuming his focus is and was on that during the off-season, I think he puts it together. The potential is 100% there.
Greg Bird (New York Yankees) – With the Yankees losing Big Tex (Mark Teixeira) to retirement, a whole was created at first base in which Greg Bird could take full advantage of. He has been off the radar as of late due to his injury-laden 2016 campaign. Even though he is coming off shoulder surgery, he could very easily provide the Yanks with a big bat towards the back end of the lineup. In his 2015 debut with the Yankees, he slashed .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs. It is important to note the offseason signing of 1st baseman Chris Carter but the Yankees are in rebuild mode so Bird should see plenty of time there. Yankee Stadium also ranks as the 2nd best ballpark for lefties behind Miller Park. I’m really high on Bird this season as the dude can flat out crush the ball with some exciting Bronx bombers alongside him in the lineup.
Tommy Joseph (Philadelphia Phillies) – 21 HR in 72 starts last season, 37% hard hit rate, 45% fly ball rate. Will be everyday 1st baseman starting the season. Progressed in the plate discipline category after the all-star break last season and looks to continue to improve at only 25 years old.
Devon Travis (Toronto Blue Jays) – Always been a fan of Devon’s skill set and he certainly has the potential to be a consistent top ten 2nd baseman. The issue with him lies in the injury department as he has yet to finish a season without missing time. Through 62 games in 2015 he batted .304 with a .859OPS and in 2016 he produced similar numbers batting .300 with a .786OPS but a bigger sample size of 100 games played. I think we can expect a batting avg. around .300 for him and will have the opportunity to score many runs batting atop a dangerous Blue Jays lineup in the Rogers Centre with Donaldson, Bautista and newly acquired Morales behind him. So, bottom line is, if he stays healthy, watch Travis fly heavily under the radar while being a productive fantasy player.
Joe Panik (San Francisco Giants) – 2016 may have had you in panic mode (get it?) with Joe but I’m here to tell you not to worry anymore. One of my favorite sleepers going into this season even after a season to be forgotten by the 26-year-old lefty from lovely Yonkers, NY. Panik posted a .239 average last season which leaves much to be desired. However, he also posted .245 BABIP suggesting he ran into some bad luck. For those not familiar with this stat, I would suggest getting to know what it means. Maybe that will be an article topic I write about in the near future. He doesn’t strikeout, suggested by his MLB leading 8.9 k-rate and plays great defense suggested by his Gold Glove last season. The potential to be a .300 hitter is certainly there and he provides some pop as well. Before his disappointing 2016 season he had two consecutive seasons (2014 came with a small sample size) of a .300+ average, so I think we can say his significant drop in that department is an outlier in which he will certainly look to learn from in 2017. Huge potential to be solid 2nd baseman this year, Panik strikes me as a great all-around player which doesn’t always translate to fantasy production. I think we see him batting .300+ this season with 12 bombs and continued plate discipline that many players strive to achieve.
Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals) – One of my favorite position players in the “sleeper section” as we have seen what Rendon can potentially do. I would put him in the breakout section but I believe he has already done so in 2014 when he slashed .287/.351/.473 with 21 bombs and 83 RBI’s in 153 games played. He killed it in 2nd half of 2016 season after a disappointing 2015 campaign that has allowed people to kind of forget about him. I think we have seen his ceiling but he also has a high floor so long as he stays healthy, I like him a lot this year as he continues to fly under the radar. He is my favorite 2nd tier 3rd baseman this season who will continue to see excellent RBI opportunities that lineup.
Nick Castellanos (Detroit Tigers) – 24-years-old and has a lot of potential as we saw in his mini breakout last season halted by a broken left hand. If he had played a full 162 games he would have held a .285 average with 27 bombs, 85 RBIs and 80 runs scored, yet this man is currently ranked as the number 16 third baseman going into the 2017 season and he could easily return top 10 value if he stays healthy. His injury is what is allowing him to go under the radar which is perfect for good value in your draft. All signs are pointing toward Nick having a breakout type season but he still fits the profile of a sleeper, which is a recipe for success in your fantasy league. Oh, and he will be bating in the 5 hole behind one of the game’s most potent sluggers, Mr. Cabrera. I wouldn’t let this man slide down the draft board.
Travis Shaw (Milwaukee Brewers) – Lefty power hitter in Miller Park just sounds sexy. Miller Park ranks #1 in home runs allowed to lefties in the MLB so this alone gives him good value. Looking like he will be starting at 3B this season and should return some good value for his price and current ADP. If he gets the at-bats, he could very easily see 30 or so homeruns this season based solely on his peripherals and his high homerun to fly ball rate. It would be safe to assume he will get around 400 ABs as Hernan Perez will move around the infield taking some playing time from him but either way, Shaw is a great late round flier with high upside. He wasn’t very productive last season in a competitive Red Sox lineup which will leave many doubting his ability, but I’ll take my chances on his potential.
Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox) – The speedy shortstop for the Sox is primed for a great season coming off a pretty efficient debut campaign in 2016. He hit .283 with 9 dingers, 10 steals and 57 runs in 99 games. The Sox are clearly rebuilding as they shipped of their elite southpaw this offseason so playing time shouldn’t be an issue for him in the event of early struggles. He will most likely look to swipe more bags as his speed should certainly be taken advantage of. He should also be a run scoring machine atop the Sox batting order and may return some great value for you.
AJ Pollock (Arizona Diamondbacks) – This pick is fairly self-explanatory and will likely be a staple in most sleeper articles. It might even be so obvious that he doesn’t really classify as a sleeper but I’m going to throw him in here anyways because I love him this season. Seventh highest fantasy scorer in 2015 and most likely will be forgotten about after getting injured during an exhibition game that ultimately ruined his 2016 season as he had to sit out for its entirety. In case you forgot about what he did that year here are his stats: .315 avg., 20 home runs, 76 RBIs, 111 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. He was a stud prior to this injury and you will likely see him slip down draft boards because of that. This guy could easily return top 20 value and is currently being drafted #35 overall according to Fantasy Pros. Don’t let this man slip under your radar because of his injury or you might be get burned by him. We’ve seen what he can do and he could certainly replicate it.
Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins) – Yes yes, I know you are thinking, “we’ve heard this narrative the last 2 years” and he obviously hasn’t panned out even close to what people expected. But, there is a reason he had such high expectations in the first place and I think he takes that into the 2017 season. I am basing this sleeper pick off the hype he once held and the ending to his 2016 season. In September alone, he slashed .287/.357/.653. It may be a bold call but it’s one that could take you the playoffs if he produces the way he was “supposed to”. His 2016 batting avg. of .225 and OBP of .284 will certainly scare people away and rightfully so but that is why he is on this list. He is also only 23-years-old so youth probably had a big influence on his woes thus far and only leaves more motivation and time for growth/consistency.
Keon Broxton (Milwaukee Brewers) – In the 2nd half of the 2016 season he showed star potential batting .294 with a .937 OPS and 16 stolen bases. He ended the season with 23 stolen bases before fracturing his wrist which ended his season. It needs to be noted that he is coming off an injury but no surgery was required so it isn’t a huge cause for concern heading into 2017. He did strike out at a high clip but his youth can be blamed for that as he continues to work on his plate discipline. This guy has some very exciting potential in not only stolen bases and batting average but homeruns as well. Could be a true difference maker in your drafts barring any injury setback. He will have to do his part to separate himself from Brewers’ top-prospect, Lewis Brinson, but he will get the first chance at center field. I think the Brewers will have a hard time taking him off the field this year, especially in rebuild mode. My excitement may be somewhat driven by Milwaukee Brewers fandom but I don’t think I’m over exaggerating him at all. He will hopefully be a part of all my fantasy teams this year.
Kevin Kiermaier (Tampa Bay Rays) – He often goes overlooked as a viable option in fantasy. Last year he missed some time with injury but was productive nonetheless. He’s a very good contact hitter with an above average strikeout rate in 2016 and plays very good defense, steals bases and starting to show pop in his bat. He’s progressively getting better each year and could see a batting average around .270 in 2017 with 25 bombs, if all goes right. Don’t expect anything too exciting from him but his production has gone under the radar for years making him a decent late round flier.
Marcell Ozuna (Miami Marlins) – Disappointing 2016 season after mini breakout in 2014. Hit 16 dingers in 2015 prior to injury in June. Should be able to avoid platooning as his defense and plate discipline are sufficient to remain an everyday starter. Marcell has loads of talent but just hasn’t been able to put it all together which I envision changing in 2017. Consistency has certainly been an issue but it looks to be coming together for him going off his 2016 season in which he hit .266 with 23 bombs, 76 RBIs and a .773 OPS. Specifically, in May he showed his breakout potential hitting 7 bombs alone with 17 RBIs, a 1.155 OPS and .411 average which led to his bid for the All-Star game. His 37% hard hit rate is certainly respectable but he needs to improve on plate discipline, something I think he does for this season leading to a very productive season for the 26-year-old. I think we can expect around a .275 average with 80+ RBIs and 20 or so home runs.
Mitch Haniger (Seattle Mariners) – If you haven’t heard of him by now you likely haven’t been on top of your MLB game. Mitch was part of that deal that brought Segura to the Mariners in exchange for Taijuan Walker. Even though he wasn’t the focal point of that trade, he could end up producing as if he was. He is projected to be the Mariners’ starting right fielder who brings with him slick defending and a great arm. Haniger possesses some pop as well based on his 25 homeruns and .999 OPS last season in double/triple A. The Mariners are very excited about this 26-year-old’s talent and potential to become a stud.
Kendrys Morales (Toronto Blue Jays) – Don’t let his age, 33, and his past batting averages, or lack thereof, scare you away from drafting him this season. He signed deal with the Blue Jays in offseason that will put him in a prime RBI producing role while playing in a favorable hitter’s park with a good surrounding cast. He’ll look to spend most of his 2017 season in the DH position but will likely see appearances at first giving him some position flexibility. Has a great opportunity to produce 90+ RBIs and will likely be overlooked going into drafts. I’m not expecting a batting average like the one he had in 2015 (.290) but the potential for a very effective season is there nonetheless. I think we can expect a .265-.270 average with 25 bombs and potentially 100 RBIs.
Thank you for reading my first MLB article of the season, and the first installment of the 2017 Fantasy Forecast Ultimate MLB Guide! Stay on top of our Twitter for what’s next!