The previous three days here at NatsGM.com have been spent identifying hitters and pitchers that should be targeted during fantasy drafts to insure victory. Today we shift our attention to players being selected later in drafts, commonly known in fantasy jargon as Sleepers.
The term Sleeper is perhaps the least concrete term in sports, as it has different meanings to each person. In general most consider a Sleeper a late round pick whose unexpected performance leads a team to championship victory. For the purposes of this article, to be considered a Sleeper the player must currently fall outside the top-200 in Average Draft Position on ESPN.com. (Thanks ESPN!)
Last year in this column I correctly predicted breakout seasons for Danny Salazar and Brandon Belt, while whiffing on my Jennry Mejia and Wily Peralta predictions. This year, I promise these six sleepers ALL will provide excellent value and help you capture 1st place at the end of the season.
J.J. Hoover RHP Cincinnati Reds
A long-time favorite since I watched him pitch on Cape Cod, Hoover has quietly been an effective reliever for the Reds the past several years. He is a bit homer-prone which will keep his ERA elevated, but the 28-year-old has a career 3.34 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 9.05 K/9 ratio. Hoover projects as the closer for the Reds after the Aroldis Chapman trade and does not have much competition for the role. Draft Hoover as your #2/#3 closer and watch him give you 27+ saves this season without hurting you in the other categories.
Marcell Ozuna OF Miami Marlins
After slugging 23 home runs and driving in 85 runs in 2014, Ozuna was a popular “sleeper” pick prior to drafts last year. Unfortunately much like the Marlins, most things went wrong for Ozuna in 2015, as he hit .259 with 10 home runs. Still only 25-years-old, Ozuna has now become the forgotten man in the Marlins outfield with Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. Miami moved their fences in this offseason in order to bolster offense and the Marlins have a chance to have a potent offense in 2016, especially if Ozuna rebounds to his previous form. There is plenty of boom-or-bust in his profile, but Ozuna has far too much talent to let escape outside the top-200 picks.
Jake Odorizzi RHP Tampa Bay Rays
Odorizzi limped to the finish of last season, as he was outstanding in the first half becoming succumbing to injury midway through the year – when he returned his numbers were subpar in the second half (4.34 ERA, 1.287 WHIP), leading to a mediocre 9-9 record with a 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 150 strikeouts for the year. About to turn 26-years-old, Odorizzi has already spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues and now projects to serve as the #2 starter on a potentially strong Tampa Bay team. Let others ignore that he only pitched 170 innings last season which hampered his statistics and steal this potential breakout player late in your draft.
Carlos Rodon LHP Chicago White Sox
I love strikeouts, both in real life and in fantasy baseball, as they are typically consistent year-to-year and are a reasonably indicator to the true talent of a pitcher. Rodon posted 139 strikeouts last season in 139.1 innings pitched, with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. His WHIP is below-average because of his elevated walk rate, something I am gambling will decline this season in his second full year in professional baseball. Only 23-years-old, Rodon is one of the most gifted young arms in the major leagues and it is only a matter of time (and health) before he is one of the top pitchers in the game. Take Rodon late in your drafts with the hope that 2016 is the year is immense talent emerges in Chicago.
Jonathan Schoop 2B Baltimore Orioles
This is my #1 sleeper for 2016 and I cannot believe the degree to which people are overlooking this extraordinarily talented middle infielder. Only 24, Schoop already has 774 major league at-bats and has produced 32 home runs and 35 doubles in these opportunities. Schoop dealt with injuries last season which limited him to 86 games, yet he did hit .279/.306/.482 with 15 home runs. Now fully healthy, Schoop finds himself a part of a potentially potent Baltimore offense and could find himself hitting #2 if his emergence last season was legitimate. I am predicting a .270 average with 20+ home runs and 75+ runs batted in, with upside for more, making him a legitimate steal in drafts.
James Shields RHP San Diego Padres
Probably the least sexy name on this list, Shields falls into one of my favorite categories of “sleeper” – a proven veteran coming off an inexplicable subpar season. In 2015, Shields signed a free agent contract with San Diego and failed to live up to the hype of his deal, providing the Padres with a 13-7 record and a 3.91 ERA plus 216 strikeouts. His ERA ballooned in large part because he allowed 33 home runs last season, a surprise considering his spacious home park. I am confidently gambling a few of those taters find outfielder gloves’ in 2016, allowing Shields to post an ERA closer to 3.65 with 190+ strikeouts.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Gausman RHP Baltimore Orioles, Jeremy Jeffress RHP Milwaukee Brewers, Wil Myers 1B/OF San Diego Padres, Stephen Piscotty 1B/OF St. Louis Cardinals, Taijuan Walker RHP Seattle Mariners