While many leagues have drafted their teams in anticipation of the opening of the MLB season on Sunday, there are still some stragglers waiting to get it going.
The usual cast of characters will be picked early, leaving some not-so-slim pickings for fantasy owners to mull.
In 2016, no one could have expected Rick Porcello to win 20 games, much less win the AL Cy Young. For that matter, Toronto’s J.A. Happ winning 20 was also a shocker. Mark Trumbo’s league leading 47 homers were a boon to his fantasy owners, as were Khris Davis’ 42 in Oakland.
Over on the senior circuit, D.J. LeMahieu and Daniel Murphy raised a few eyebrows finishing one-two in batting (.348 to .347) and Milwaukee’s Chris Carter smacking a NL leading 41 home runs surely shocked quite a few fantasy owners who didn’t pick him.
With just days left until Sunday’s troika of regular season openers, we have 12 sleeper picks (two from each division and all with an ADP outside the top 300) who could do some very unanticipated things in 2017.
12. Steven Souza, RF – Tampa Bay Rays
When Souza was in the Washington Nationals minor league system, he was a 20/20 threat a few times, just falling short with AAA Syracuse in 2014 when he had 18 HR and 26 RBI. Since breaking into the big leagues for good with Tampa in 2015, he has shown flashes of that potential, but has yet to fully deliver. He hit 16 big flies in 110 games in 2015 and followed it up with 17 in 120 games last season. He also stole 12 and seven bases, respectively. Souza has been fairly consistent in two big league seasons and if he can get close to a full slate in, 20/20 is within reach. He could pay off even better for his owners by striking out less (he has whiffed 303 times in the past two seasons) and picking his spots better when stealing (he was just 7-for-13 in 2016 after going 12-for-18 in 2015).
11. Eduardo Rodriguez, SP – Boston Red Sox
With David Price shelved or an indeterminate period, it’s Eduardo Rodriguez’s time to shine. The young southpaw has an ADP of 310 and would be a great pickup as a fourth-fifth starter in any league. He is currently penciled in as Boston’s fourth starting pitcher on their depth chart and he has the tools to be successful in Beantown. He started 20 games in 2016 and went 3-7 with a 4.71 ERA, a year after posting a 10-6 mark in 21 starts and fashioning a 3.85 ERA. Being a lefty, his stat line was ballooned due to the Green Monster. Of the 16 homers (1.3/9 innings) he gave up in 2016, 10 came at Fenway, including a season high four to the mashers from Toronto in a 5-4 loss June 5. That was just his second start of the year, which was part of a horrid June that saw him finish the month with a 8.59 ERA. He finished strong, though, in his last 14 starts, paring his ERA down to the 4.71 mark. We believe he has another 10-win, 100+ strikeout season in him.
10. Justin Bour, 1B – Miami Marlins
Fourth-year first baseman Justin Bour is an imposing figure from the left side of the plate. With 15 homers in just 90 games last season, the 28-year-old D.C. native is due for a big, breakout year. His ADP is 336, so he’ll be available to owners looking to fill in their depth in the infield. Bour broke out in a big way in his rookie 2015 season, hitting .262 in 129 games, with 20 doubles, 23 homers and 73 RBI. The only thing he’ll have to do be a better-than-average major league hitter is hit lefthanded pitchers. Of his 39 career dingers, none have come off a southpaw. Otherwise, his numbers across the board look good, including his walks to strikeouts (38 to 56 in 2016), OPS (.824) and WAR (1.2). He’s a solid pick in the middle of a deep draft.
9. Mike Foltynewicz, SP – Atlanta Braves
Ever since being drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft (19th overall) by Houston, Foltynewicz has teased everyone with his talent. The 6’4″ righty with the big fastball has danced around the margins, recording a career record of 13-12, with a 4.92 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 228.2 innings pitched. Last year, though, may have provided a glimpse into bigger and better things for the Illinois native, who is slotted in as Atlanta’s fifth starter. He went 9-5 in 22 starts and had a career low 4.31 ERA for an up-and-down Braves squad. He struck out 111 in 123.1 innings, registered a 1.297 WHIP and gave up 18 homers (1.3/9). His owners would like the Foltynewicz who struck out 10 Chicago White Sox and gave up zero runs over seven innings in a mid-July start last year, rather than the hurler who got smoked for 11 hits and five earned runs in 3.2 innings against Miami in September. Given 30 starts, we feel he can win 12-13 and go 170-ish innings.
8. Daniel Norris, SP – Detroit Tigers
Free wheeling Daniel Norris — the notorious VW van dweller — was highly though of enough to be traded for David Price in 2015. That the Blue Jays were willing to part with him to reel in big fish Price speaks much to his value. Yet, Norris has barely scratched the surface of all that talent due to a series of injuries. He is currently slated to be the Tigers fourth starter and with a full season of activity, the sky could be the limit for the hard-throwing lefty. He gave potential owners a peek at future greatness in 2016, going 4-2, with a 3.38 ERA in 13 starts. Norris registered 71 strikeouts in 69.1 innings and gave up 10 homers. He was good against AL Central competition in 2016, including a mid-September victory over Cleveland where he struck out six over five innings and gave up just one earned run.
7. Tyler Saladino, 2B – Chicago White Sox
Any prospective owner of Tyler Saladino will have to look way down many fantasy rankings lists to find his name. However, given his production in parts of two seasons, he is a solid mid-draft selection who will pay off over a full slate of games. In two seasons he has played 161 games (one game shy of a full campaign) and his stats have been very solid. He had 20 doubles, four triples, 12 homers, 58 RBI and 19 stolen bases, the better part of those numbers coming in 2016, when he played 93 games. He was used defensively as a utility man in 2016, playing second, short and third, with second being his comfort zone (just one of eight total errors there in 39 starts). The right-hand hitting Saladino made better overall contact against left-handed pitchers in 2016 (.329 average), but had better power numbers against righties (seven of eight homers). There is a solid season in him, if he can play 130-140 games.
6. Brandon Finnegan, SP – Cincinnati Reds
If he can stay healthy, 23-year-old starter Brandon Finnegan can eclipse a few key marks this season. In 2016, his first full campaign in the bigs, he started 31 games, going 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 172 innings. Slotted in as the Reds’ no. 2 starter behind Scott Feldman, we think Finnegan could be staff ace on a Reds team that will struggle this season. With any luck, he should be able to surpass 10 wins, even getting as high as 15 and possibly pushing past the 200-inning plateau in the process. What he does need to do, though, is cut down the homers (he gave up 29 last year) and walks (84), if he is going to be successful. One three-game set in late August showed how Finnegan could be dominant, yet a little hard luck. He beat the Dodgers on Aug. 20, limiting them to one hit and no runs over seven with eight Ks. He then had a no decision in a loss to Arizona on Aug. 26, a game where he allowed just three hits in six innings and struck out 12. then On Aug. 31, he took the loss against the Angels (3-0) despite allowing just five hits and two runs with nine Ks in seven innings.
5. Kolten Wong, 2B – St. Louis Cardinals
Even though the Cardinals are considering a platoon approach to second base this season, Kolten Wong’s name is still top of the depth chart. And since 2014, his stats line has bore out his place as the number one second sacker for the Redbirds. After putting in a career year in 2015 (.262 average, 28 doubles, four triples, 11 HR and 61 RBI in 150 games), Wong slipped in 2016, playing in 121 games but getting just 313 at bats (compared to 557 in 2015). Of the positives, he hit a career high seven triples and his five homers were on par with his 2015 pace. Wong also decreased his walks to strikeouts ratio, drawing 34 bases on balls while striking out just 52 times (he was 36/95 in 2015). Whatever the situation, Wong is still the best offensive, and arguably best defensive, solution at second for the Cards. Given a decent number of at bats, he could easily blast 20+ doubles, 10+ homers, drive in 50+ runs and steal around 15 bases.
4. Shin-Soo Choo, RF – Texas Rangers
Should he remain healthy after playing just 48 games in 2016, Choo could end up being the steal in many a fantasy draft. The veteran rightfielder still put up respectable numbers in 2016, in spite of his limited games, hitting .242 with seven doubles, seven homers, six stolen bases and 17 RBI. Three times a 20/20 man (twice with Cleveland and once with Cincinnati), Choo still has that ability, if only the Rangers would run more. He did it 22 homers in 2015, but stole just four bases in six attempts. Choo also added 32 doubles, three triples and 76 walks during that 2015 season. Even at 34, the Busan, South Korea born Choo has the tools to hit 30 doubles, 20 homers and scratch out 15 steals in a full season, making him a bargain mid-draft pick.
3. Ben Revere, CF – Los Angeles Angels
Chalk up 2016 as a lost year for fleet outfielder Ben Revere. In 2014 and 2015, Revere posted identical .306 batting averages with Philadelphia and Toronto. He hit seven triples both seasons and stole 80 bases (49 in 2014). After a great run to end the 2015 season with Toronto, Revere decided to sign with the Washington Nationals and suffered a fairly tepid offensive season. He hit just .217 in 103 games and had a .260 OBP, both low points in his seven year career. However, he did smack seven triples of his 18 extra base hits and he stole 14 bases in 19 attempts. Thus, at 28, he’s hardly washed up and as of today he is the back-up corner outfielder in L.A. He should get adequate enough starts to put up decent numbers across the board with the Angels, making him a decent mid-draft selection.
2. Denard Span, CF – San Francisco Giants
Span, who actually had a pretty good season in his first go around in San Francisco in 2016, doesn’t get a lot of love from fantasy experts. Which, in our estimation, makes him a solid gold selection for an owner needing outstanding outfield depth. Span, who played just 61 games with the Nationals in 2015, bounced back to play 143 with the Giants. He hit an ordinary .266 (he is .284 lifetime) and managed 23 doubles, five triples, a career high 11 homers, 12 stolen bases and 53 RBI. We don’t expect Span to reach those lofty homer totals again, but he could get closer to the 39 doubles and 31 stolen bases he logged in 2014. For those who have walks included in stat lines, Span also draws enough bases on balls to keep his OBP more than respectable.
1. Patrick Corbin, SP – Arizona Diamondbacks
With any luck, lefty Patrick Corbin will be more 2013 and less 2016. In 2013, a then 23-year-old Corbin was an all-star, fashioning a 14-8 record (three complete games) and 3.41 ERA in 32 starts and 208.1 innings pitched. Tommy John surgery would claim his 2014 campaign and half his 2015 season. He wasn’t bad in 16 starts in 2015, going 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA. But 2016 saw him regress in a couple of areas, including homers allowed (24 in 155.2 innings) and walks (66). He managed a 5-13 record and career high 5.15 ERA, along with 131 strikeouts. He was reinvented late in the year as a long reliever, which helped push his ERA down. Of note, he had a three-inning save with four strikeouts in a win over the Dodgers on Sept. 15. Therefore, whether he’s the fifth starter (where he is penciled in) or a lefty long relief specialist, expect a bounce back season from Corbin.