It’s way too early to start gauging major league talent, but who isn’t excited about the official/unofficial start of the baseball season.
Pitchers and catchers started reporting on a limited, team-by-team basis on Tuesday, with full rosters and workouts days away yet. Not to mention spring training games, which are another couple weeks out.
For the die hard fantasy players, combing the free agent lists and 2017 stats sheets will be pretty much a part-time job very soon. Although, with a slow free agency period, it may be an agonizing wait to see where guys like Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez land, to name a few.
Where they end up could have a huge hand in impacting their fantasy value, for good and bad.
The big fantasy picks are pretty well known. It’s a distinguished list that includes new Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, his teammate Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Kenley Jansen, Alex Colome, Jose Altuve, Joey Votto and on, and on, and on.
But, what of those players down the list, who get glossed over in the early rounds while those in your draft deepen other areas of their line-ups?
Here are 20 good fantasy sleepers to look out for in the later rounds, representing at least one player from every position (starting from the catcher out).
20. C J.T. Realmuto – Miami Marlins
It’s going to be a dumpster fire in South Beach this season, which may be either very good for fifth-year catcher J.T. Realmuto, or very bad. And, it all depends on whether the Fish keep him around or not. The rumor spreading this week is that the homegrown Realmuto might be traded to the defending champion Houston Astros. Either way, when bigger names like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Gary Sanchez are off the board, Realmuto is worth a later round pick. He’s been quietly efficient and just a bit of a free swinger in a Marlins uniform. Last year he posted highs in games at 141, homers (17), doubles (31, same as 2016) and RBI (65), along with eight stolen bases and five triples. He also sported a career best .451 slugging percentage and OPS of .783. He won’t do anyone any favors in the strikeout department (high of 106 in 2017) and he doesn’t walk much, either (just 36 times).
19. DH Corey Dickerson – Tampa Bay Rays
With the acquisition of OF Denard Span in the Evan Longoria trade with San Francisco, Dickerson will be the odd man out in the outfield. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as he’ll most likely be the full-time designated hitter. Here’s why. He appeared in 150 games last season, 54 of them as DH. He led the team in batting average at .282, was third in homers with 27 and fourth in RBI at 62. However, he hit much better as DH than he did while playing left field (which will be manned by Span mostly). In 89 games in left field, Dickerson hit .261 with 13 homers and 44 RBI. As DH, he logged a .319 batting average in 54 games, adding 14 HR and 39 RBI. He may not be the biggest name in this category, but we believe he isn’t fazed by not taking the field. One to grab in the late rounds.
18. 1B Carlos Santana – Philadelphia Phillies
Santana stunned Indians fans in December, signing a three-year, $60 million contract with the also-ran Philadelphia Phillies. The big switch-hitting first baseman will man the same position in Philly, in a park that is rated the seventh most homer friendly field in baseball. A durable corner infielder, Santana has great gap power and while he doesn’t log a high batting average (.249 lifetime in 1,116 games, all with the Tribe), he has an excellent eye. He led the AL in walks in 2013 with 113 and has a lifetime OBP of .365, which is good for those picking in deep pools (or keepers). Last year, the 31-year-old Dominican was his typical self at the plate, slugging 37 doubles, three triples and 23 home runs, while driving in 79. Heck, he even swiped five bases. Once all the sexy picks like Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are off the board, Santana is a great later round selection.
17. 1B Matt Carpenter – St. Louis Cardinals
For anyone hunting a fantasy bargain and running out of options at first base, Carpenter might be the man. The 32-year-old hit 36 points below his career average of .277 in 2017, which we think is an anomaly. Most poolies might also shy away from him since he plays in pitcher friendly Busch Stadium, too. But a deeper look at his stat line says he’d be a great late round pick. Overall, Carpenter had 31 doubles, two triples, 23 homers, scored 91 runs and had 69 RBI, while also drawing 109 walks (second to Joey Votto among all first basemen) for a sterling OBP of .384. He hit more doubles (20) at Busch Stadium, but his two triples and 14 of his homers came on the road. We believe his batting average will come back up to career levels and he’ll punch out 50-60 extra base hits.
16. 2B Ian Kinsler – Los Angeles Angels
Kinsler might be 35, but the speedster is going to a team that led the bigs in steals per game and will be playing in pitcher friendly park that favors small ball. A four-time All-Star and two-time member of the 20-30 club, Kinsler’s batting average took a big dip last season to .236 (.273 lifetime), but all his other stats were nearly in line. Hitting near the top of the Tigers order, he rapped out 25 doubles, three triples, 22 home runs and produced 52 RBI. Kinsler stole 14 bases (expect that number to be in the 20’s this season) scored 90 runs and drew 55 walks. Should he lead off for the Angels, Kinsler will also likely have Mike Trout’s bat ahead of him, which will force pitchers to bring it and not nibble. In deep pools he’s good as a defender, having logged a DWAR of 1.0 in 2017, which was second in MLB.
15. 2B Jed Lowrie – Oakland Athletics
Just up the coast in Oakland resides another quiet fantasy pick at second base in the A’s Lowrie. The well-traveled vet is a “Money Ball” dream in his second stint with Oakland. After two injury plagued seasons, the converted shortstop came back with aplomb, setting an Athletics record for doubles with 49. He also led the team in batting average at .277, added three triples, 14 homers and drew 73 walks to log an OPS of .808. His WAR of 4.0 was higher than several high profile second baseman, like D.J. LeMahieu (2.9) and Daniel Murphy (2.8). Defensively, the move across the middle infield hasn’t affected him greatly, as he logged a .991 fielding percentage and 0.2 DWAR last season.
14. SS Jorge Polanco – Minnesota Twins
Judging by his first full season in the major leagues, we think the ceiling is high for Twins’ shortstop Polanco. In 133 games, the native of baseball mad San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic hit .256, with 30 doubles, three triples, 13 home runs and 74 RBI. He used his wheels to steal 13 bases and scored 60 runs. He hit very well, considering he was shuttled up and down the line-up, from batting second to eighth to third, etc. For a player with his speed, he will have to learn to be a little more patient at the dish, as he drew just 41 walks for a pedestrian OBP of .313. Defensively, he’s neither the worst, nor the best (his fielding percentage was .969), but with another full season he’ll find his way.
13. SS Dansby Swanson – Atlanta Braves
Highly regarded former first overall pick Swanson was up and down his first full season in Atlanta, but give the kid time. A slow start hampered his overall numbers, as he finished with the lowest batting average among all qualified shortstops in MLB. He also struck out 120 times in 144 games, so he does need to be more patient. What we see, though, is a great late round pick who should even out his numbers. In 2016, he played 38 games, hit. 302 and had three homers and 17 RBI. In 2017, he hit .221 in the first half of the season (which fangraphs.com pegs at 84 games), including all six of his homers and 35 of his 51 RBI. But, he hit for better average in the 57 games of the second half (.249), struck out less on average and drew more walks on average too. Defensively, he was bottom half among qualified shortstops with a .965 fielding percentage. We like his potential as a fantasy sleeper and say no way was 2017 indicative of his potential.
12. 3B Kyle Seager – Seattle Mariners
Once guys like Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado are off the board, and to a lesser extent Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner, there are a few late round sleepers worth a pick. Seattle’s Seager is one of them. While he was an All-Star in 2014, he’s never had an eye-popping offensive season. Yet, he has been extremely consistent in his six full seasons in the major leagues. Every year he has hit 20 or more homers and driven in anywhere from 69 (low) to 99 (high) runs. Last year, Seager had a campaign on the higher end of the scale, slugging 33 doubles, a triple, 27 home runs, while collecting 88 RBI. He’s equally effective home and away and for those with defensive stats in their pools, he won’t hurt either (.969 fielding percentage last year, 0.2 DWAR). A good, safe, late round sleeper.
11. 3B Evan Longoria – San Francisco Giants
The Giants, looking to return to glory, made a bold move in the off-season, trading for three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove award winner Longoria. With his stats, he should be a top shelf pick, however, he has always played in hitter un-friendly Tropicana and will now play in even more surly AT&T Park, which is the 30th ranked hitter’s ball park. Longoria, for his part, hit for way better average at the Trop (.296) than on the road (.227) and split his homers right down the middle (10 road, 10 home). All together, Longoria hit .261, with 36 doubles, two triples, 20 HR and 86 RBI. Where he bogs down for deep pools is lack of walks (just 46) and thus a low OBP (.313), as well as high strike out totals (109 last year, fifth straight season of 100 or more). Defensively, he owned the third best DWAR of all qualified third baseman at 1.3.
10. OF Byron Buxton – Minnesota Twins
Buxton is another one of those good young players, like Jorge Polanco above, that should get better with time at Target Field. The speedy Buxton tied for fourth in the AL in stolen bases with 29 (he was caught just once) and also lashed out six triples (tied for 11th in the majors) in his first full season. In 144 games, the 2012 second overall pick hit .253 with 14 doubles, six triples, 16 homers and 51 RBI. The knock on his game, so far, is a tendency to be a big free swinger, as witnessed by his 150 whiffs. Buxton was definitely a second half player (which makes him valuable later in trades), hitting the majority of his homers in August and September, as well as recording most of his RBI. His fantasy sleeper value is enhanced by the fact he plays at Target, which is rated the eighth most hitter friendly park in baseball. One to nab.
9. OF Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs
Happ was mostly a centerfielder last year, in that he played in 54 of 115 games there last season. His real fantasy value might lie in being a utility man, if a pool allows such a player. He also logged time at second, third, left and right field. What makes his versatility impressive is the fact it was his rookie season, where he hit .253 with 17 doubles, three triples, 24 homers (in just 364 at bats), and had 68 RBI. He didn’t walk much and struck out a lot (129 times), however, his OPS was notable at .842 and his WAR good at 1.4. Defensively, Happ was decent in center, making two errors and recording three of his four outfield assists. In a deep pool he would be a good late rounder, or mid-season acquisition, depending on where he ends up playing. He could be taken as straight up “OF” as he is on the Cubs depth chart at all three positions.
8. OF Brett Gardner – New York Yankees
Even at 34, longtime Yankees outfielder Gardner is showing no signs of slowing down, literally and figuratively. The hard-charging left fielder stole 23 bases in 28 attempts in his 10th big league season, upping his career total to 241. He had his second highest WAR ever at 4.9, due to a year where he hit .264, with 26 doubles, four triples, 21 home runs and 63 RBI for the Bombers. He’ll no doubt be overshadowed even more in New York this year, what with the arrival of Giancarlo Stanton and the presence of Aaron Judge. Gardner has been a steady, productive part of the Yanks outfield for a long time and we see no reason that he can’t put up similar numbers for fantasy owners willing to take a gamble on him in the late rounds.
7. OF Aaron Altherr – Philadelphia Phillies
Altherr, who broke out in a big way last year coming off wrist surgery, is another one of those guys who could be classified in fantasy circles as utility. Looking at his 107-game sample in 2017, he appeared in the most games in left field. What he can be, for prospective owners, is a great early season late round pick up, if his stats from last year are to be taken at face value. He was great in the three months of the season, smoking 13 of his 19 homers, 16 of 24 homers and driving in 41 of his 65 RBI total. He ended up with a .272 batting average overall, but started out near .300. He has some speed (18 stolen bases in 205 games) and provides decent defence (.986 fielding percentage and seven assists last season). Again, a guy to get as an early late round choice, then wait and see.
6. OF Nomar Mazara – Texas Rangers
After an outstanding rookie season in 2016, the expectations were pretty high for Nomar Mazara heading into 2017. He didn’t disappoint, even though he had a great start, rough middle and decent ending. While he hit the same number of homers he did in 2016 at 20, his RBI total climbed from 64 to 101. His run production stayed pretty constant month to month, too, despite roller coaster drops and rises in his batting average, which ended up at .253 overall. He also added 30 doubles, two triples and scored 64 runs. The numbers that hurt an otherwise good year were the 127 strikeouts, as well as ho-hum OBP of .323 and OPS of .745. Defensively, he could cut down on the errors, but did register six assists in right field in just 92 games and another two in left. Hitting at very friendly Globe Life will only enhance his fantasy value.
5. OF Jay Bruce – New York Mets
In the space of two years, Jay Bruce went from Cincinnati, to the New York Mets, to Cleveland and back to the Mets again. “Suitcase” Bruce signed a three-year, $39 million contract this off-season to bring his big bat back to Citi Field, which is fairly friendly to left handed hitters like him. Despite all the bouncing around, Bruce still managed to .254 with 36 HR and 101 RBI. The majority of his offence came in New York, where he played 103 games before being dealt as a rental to Cleveland for the stretch drive and playoffs. He hit for great power last year, adding 29 doubles and two triples, finished with a .508 slugging percentage. Defensively, he won’t hurt an owner and from the resiliency he has shown with all the moving around, he’d be a sound late round fantasy pick.
4. RP Zach Britton – Baltimore Orioles
It wasn’t a banner year for elite Orioles closer Britton in 2017. He soldiered through forearm problems, which limited him to just 38 games. Then, in December it was revealed that he ruptured his Achilles tendon and had to undergo surgery. The timeline for his recovery was pegged at six months, but two months after surgery the lanky closer is already talking about throwing with a boot on at spring training. So, for fantasy owners thinking they might steal the 2016 saves leader, he might be worth a late pick-up. His numbers last season were admirable, with 15 saves in 17 opportunities and a 2.89 ERA. If he can return to the form that saw him lock down 120 games between 2014-16, he’d be a steal.
3. RP Felipe Rivero – Pittsburgh Pirates
The fireman’s job in the Steel City is Felipe Rivero’s to lose. And for prospective fantasy owners, we believe he could be the steal of all pitchers. He’s a workhorse who saw action in 73 games last year and registered 21 saves in 23 opportunities. He logged a miniscule 1.67 ERA (one of the lowest of all relievers) and outstanding WHIP of 0.889. The Venezualan southpaw also struck out 88 in 75.1 innings. What makes picking him interesting is the fact he actually performed better on the road, which is weird when considering he closes out games at friendly PNC Park. We think he’s poised for bigger and better things with the Bucs in 2018 and poolies ought to keep him in the hip pocket until after the big fish like Kenley Jansen are gone.
2. SP Aaron Sanchez – Toronto Blue Jays
Blisters were the bane of Aaron Sanchez’s existence in 2017. If his pitching hand digits can hold up, Sanchez could be like found money, not only for the Blue Jays, but for a lucky fantasy owner. Given his problems, no pool-meister would pick him early, but what needs to be taken into consideration is that when healthy, the Californian is dominant. In 2016, Sanchez broke out big time, starting 30 games and logging a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 192 innings. Another great stat from that All-Star season was his 0.7 HR/9 (15 total), which is remarkable for a hurler who had to start 13 of those 30 games at the hitter friendly Rogers Center. A slam dunk of a pick, providing the blister problem doesn’t reoccur.
1. SP Jhoulys Chacin – Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers, to their credit, added a pretty decent arm to their rotation, at relatively low cost. They handed Chacin a two-year, $15.5 million contract, in the hopes he duplicates a career year in 2017. Fantasy owners looking for a late round bargain might be so fortunate, too. He started his most games ever (32) and finished the season 13-10, with a 3.89 ERA and his highest strikeouts per nine innings at 7.6 (153 Ks in 180.1 innings pitched). The fly in the ointment will be how he does at hitter friendly Miller Park, especially after coming from pitcher’s heaven Petco in San Diego. He was lights out a Petco last year (1.79 ERA and .172 opponents’ batting average), but cannon fodder elsewhere, posting a 6.53 ERA and .295 opponents batting average. He’s slotted third in the rotation after being the Padres’ opening day starter last year, so there won’t be as much pressure on him.