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Sleeper is one of those nebulous fantasy baseball terms, so you’ll have to give us wiggle room as we whisper that word here. Below, the Yahoo fantasy crew offer three 2018 outfield options who could be nifty values. Maybe they’re sleepers to you, or value players, or buying opportunities; attach whatever frame you like. As you’re getting ready for the fresh season, these inexpensive options are worth a second look.
• The Tampa Bay Rays could be a mess in 2018, as they work on some strange future plan. Most of the teardown is already in place — Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza and Jake Odorizzi were jettisoned from last year’s club — but it’s still our responsibility to mine for playing-time upgrades and possible values here. Mallex Smith, come on down.
Stolen bases are on a league-wide decline, which means we can compete in the category with fewer bags than before. With that in mind, I probably won’t be paying for a pricy partial-category guy like Dee Gordon, or a strict specialist like Billy Hamilton. Steals can be acquired on a budget, and of the 10 categories in 5×5, it’s the one I prioritize the least. Late picks and FAAB/wire selections can serve us well.
Back to Smith, he’s in a good pocket for a possible growth season, on the eve of his 25th birthday. He’s coming off a .270/.329/.355 slash for Tampa Bay, with 16 steals in 81 games. He swiped 21 bags in just 45 Triple-A games, so there’s significant upside for that column. You’ll have to make up the power elsewhere, but what do you expect from a late-round pick? The Rays probably have to play Smith (the depth chart is that barren), they’ll likely slot him leadoff, and they’ll probably let him run as much as he wants.
Is he a great real-life player? Probably not. But we just want the numbers. Smith is a smart target in Round 20 and above of a standard mixer. The floor is probably 30 bags, and if things click, 40-50 is in play. — Scott Pianowski
• Willie Calhoun came to the Rangers from Los Angeles, the key prospect in last summer’s Yu Darvish deal. He’s an undersized player (5-foot-8) who doesn’t figure to be an asset at any defensive spot, but there are zero questions about his bat. Calhoun can rake, no question. He slashed .300/.355/.572 at Triple-A last season at age 22, with 31 homers and 93 RBIs. Perhaps the most impressive detail about Calhoun’s minor league campaign is that he finished with more extra-base hits (64) than strikeouts (61). We’re not supposed to say that any prospect is a can’t-miss talent, but it will be an absolute shock if this guy isn’t an immediate impact bat. He’s been drafted in just 6 percent of Yahoo leagues to this point, falling well outside the top 200 picks (ADP 244.1). He’s clearly in line for 550 or more plate appearances in Texas, which should yield 25-30 bombs and plenty of run production. — Andy Behrens
• Nomar Mazara didn’t improve much during his sophomore season last year, but he reached 20 homers for the second straight campaign while also recording 100+ RBI as a 22-year-old. Part of the latter was a function of hitting third, but he’s slated to do so again in 2018, and a big breakout can’t be ruled out at his age. The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has increased run scoring by 17 percent over the past three seasons, which is second only to Coors Field over that span, so Mazara is in the right lineup spot and park. His home runs averaged a distance of 413 feet last year, which ranked top-15 in MLB, and yet he’s typically going after 175 picks in early fantasy drafts. Mazara just recorded 100 RBI with a poor 92 wRC+, so imagine the numbers he’ll put up in his situation with just modest growth, and a major leap is certainly possible. — Dalton Del Don