There’s always going to be players that outplay their average draft position. Some of these guys are mid-round players that turn into stars, usually referred to as ‘breakouts’, while others are late rounders or un-drafted players that become solid contributors to your team. I usually classify sleepers as the latter. These are some of my favorites for the 2018 fantasy baseball draft season.
2018 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers
Josh Bell- 1B Pirates
One thing that I love to target is the post-hype sleeper. Bell was a sought after prospect and more than likely has some growth left in his development. In his first year as the Pirates 1st baseman, he hit 26 home runs with a .255 average. What makes Bell attractive is his plate discipline. He walked over 10% of the time last year and has consistently walked throughout the minor leagues. I get the arguments against him. He plays at a position where 20-something homer power doesn’t move the needle and he doesn’t necessarily hit the ball that hard and his ISO of .211 will be hard to repeat. One thing that I’m a sucker for is young guys with prospect pedigrees that have quality plate discipline. Bell really has a high floor, even if his upside might not be as a top 5 first baseman. You could do much worse with your utility or corner infield spot, and he might emerge as something more.
Cesar Hernandez- 2B Phillies
Here is another plate discipline play that many of your league mates may ignore because he isn’t very exciting. His OBP was one of the best in baseball at .373 in ‘17 and he is a solid contributor to almost every category except RBIs. I almost hesitate to put him here because fantasy experts are starting to discuss him more often. His BABIP was .353 and that may be a little high, but this guy has consistently hit for high average and likely won’t see a huge regression. Steamer projects 8-16-.275 and that is just fine to slot into your middle infield position. Definitely someone to target late. Hopefully his value stays here before your league starts to catch onto this hidden solid gem.
Delino Deshields- OF Rangers
I’ve been hearing about Delino Deshields for so long, it’s really hard to imagine that he is only 25 years old. Continuing the theme of post-hype sleepers, this guy has tremendous plate discipline and is a former first round pick. DeShields has a skillset that adds speed to that equation of a high walk rate, which is extremely rare. I don’t know if he can repeat his batting average of .269 because of high BABIP, but most speed guys do excel in this area. His 10% walk rate is a huge asset especially in OBP leagues and his stolen bases will play anywhere where is almost a lock to get 30. His power is almost nonexistent, but he did have a 20% line drive rate that could drive up his number of extra base hits. Deshields has never had consistent playing time. If he can get it, this is a guy that will provide a huge return on investment.
Jesse Winker- OF Reds
Jesse Winker has a high variance of possibilities for this season. There’s a chance that he wins a job in the Reds outfield and starts a promising career as a corner outfielder of the future. He could also ride the bench most of 2017. The Reds rebuild has welcomed some new talent and surprisingly has given them some options in the outfield. They have acquired Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler over the last couple of seasons to keep the seat warm for Winker. Little did they know that both Duvall and Schebler would surprise in Great American Ballpark. They’re basically the same player; big power that plays there and poor plate discipline. Rumors swirled this offseason that someone could be traded which would create space for Winker, but that has yet to happen. The team clearly has no leadoff hitter and Winker fits that mold with high on base percentage. Unfortunately, many teams in the MLB and especially the Reds don’t always do what is the best thing for fantasy or themselves. He has been a top prospect in the past and although he hasn’t shown much power to this point, GABP tends to bring out the best in many players, especially left-handers. Winker could hit in the .275-.300 area and possibly contribute 15 homers and a handful of stolen bases with regular at bats. That is in no way a tremendous player in mixed leagues, but he could contribute especially in OBP leagues. I don’t know that I would draft Winker, but he is someone to put on your watch list.
Carlos Rodon- SP White Sox
He was probably on everyone’s breakout list last year and then the news came out in spring training that Rodon wouldn’t be ready to start the season. Of course, the issue did not go away and Rodon only pitched 69 innings in 2017. The end results in ‘17 were not very promising either. He walked over 4 per 9 innings and actually outpitched his FIP of 4.69 last year with a 4.15 ERA. He has just been approved to start throwing and will probably not be ready to go again at the beginning of the 2018 season. Shoulder injuries are extremely worrisome for pitchers and I understand the low price tag. His stuff is exciting and he’s still only 25. The problem with starting pitching this year is that after the top 30 or so, there is a huge collection of similar players with high variance. I think you have to go upside with these picks. I’m definitely willing to stash him for cheap at the end of the draft.
Jordan Montgomery- SP Yankees
It seems like it took fantasy owners a while to get on the Montgomery train, but he sure had a fine 2017. He ended up with 155 innings and a 3.88 ERA with a 12% swinging strike rate. The most impressive thing about Montgomery is his pitch repertoire. He has five pitches that he trusts and uses consistently. The problem may be that he doesn’t have a dominant pitch, even though his curveball played fairly well last year according to Fangraphs Pitch Values with a rating of over 10. I’m not one to chase wins, but with this Yankees lineup it sure would be tempting to roster as many of their starting pitchers as possible. Currently, Montgomery is penciled in as the Yankees fifth starter. Their worst starting pitcher is clearly CC Sabathia, but he is paid too handsomely to lose his spot. Any free agent signing or trade to bolster the rotation could negatively impact this sleeper, but right now he’s someone I would believe in. He may not have an ERA under 4 again, but in this new era of fantasy a 4.20 ERA is playable.
Tyler Mahle- SP Reds
Mahle performed well in his cup of coffee with the Reds last season and may be in position to win a rotation spot this spring. The Reds have several arms that are promising, but have not done anything at the major league level. Their rotation is wide open after Luis Castillo, so Mahle could easily start in Louisville or be as high as their 3rd or 4th starter. He has four pitches, but he probably relies on his fastball too much at this point. If he could get to where he develops his change or curveball enough to trust, he could have some success. He has only 79 innings above AA, so he may need some more time. Right now this might be more of an NL-only speculation, but he could easily work his way into the mixed league conversation later in the year.
Andrew Heaney- SP Angels
Heaney made his debut all the way back in 2014, and he’s still going into his 27 year-old season. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery in 2016, so he only pitched 49 innings last year across 3 levels. So we have to go back to 2015 to even find him somewhat contributing to a Major League team. He had a tremendous stretch to start that season before he regressed in the second half. This is a former top prospect coming off a serious injury. It’s always hard to speculate in cases like this. However, there is still some upside to be had and he can probably be had for dirt cheap. I don’t know that he is ever going to be a dominant pitcher with high strikeout rates, but he has shown a near 45% ground ball rate in the past. His velocity was up a tick in his brief outings last year. Check on this during spring training because it could be a sign of a slight breakout.