Fantasy Baseball: Deep sleepers for the 2021 season

Your definition of sleeper may vary, but the following list contains undervalued players (when compared to ADP) on every MLB team. This version is aimed for deeper leagues.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Nick Ahmed

Shortstops fly off draft boards, but Ahmed is available late despite being one season removed from posting a solid .254-79-19-82-8 line. He was affected by a shoulder injury last year that lingered after he jammed it in camp, and his strong defense ensures his name in the everyday lineup. Ahmed is dealing with some knee soreness right now, but it’s not considered serious and is only further deflating his ADP.

Atlanta Braves A.J. Minter

While Minter currently sits third on Atlanta’s bullpen depth chart, it wouldn’t surprise if he finishes the season atop it. Once considered the closer of the future, Minter appeared to figure it out in 2020 (including a dominant postseason with a 10:1 K:BB ratio). Will Smith is 31 and has an injury history, while Chris Martin is approaching 35 years old and has just six career saves (and a side gig with a band). Minter sports a career 2.97 FIP and a 14.7 SwStr%, and the Braves should win a bunch of games. He’s a role tweak from suddenly having a ton of fantasy value.

Baltimore Orioles: Maikel Franco

Franco was on a 22-homer, 100-RBI pace during last season’s shortened campaign. He'll go from a home park that kills righty power (KC has decreased HR for RHB by 15% over the last three seasons) to one in Baltimore that’s increased them an AL-high 21% over that span. Projections have Franco putting up basically Nolan Arenado’s stats, and he could easily end up hitting cleanup in that lineup.

Kansas City Royals' Maikel Franco
Maikel Franco could be successful as a member of the Orioles. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Boston Red Sox: Adam Ottavino

Presumptive closer Matt Barnes just posted a 4.84 FIP — a mark Ottavino has reached just once during his nine-year career despite pitching in Coors Field and Yankee Stadium. Ottavino looks healthy now in an extremely thin Boston pen. He’s an option for those digging deep for saves.

Chicago Cubs: Nico Hoerner

Hoerner is currently dealing with a back injury, but it’s supposedly minor, and the former first-round pick was having a nice spring. He’s set to act as Chicago’s starting second baseman, and the toolsy 23-year-old is eligible at 2B, SS and 3B. Also, with Craig Kimbrel once again looking extremely shaky this spring, Ryan Tepera is a deep sleeper for saves.

Chicago White Sox: Garrett Crochet

He isn’t slated to open the year in Chicago’s rotation, and Liam Hendriks signed a big contract to close for the White Sox, but Crochet can still help in deeper fantasy leagues. The lefty was the No. 11 pick in last year’s draft and can reach triple digits with his “80” grade fastball. At worst, he’ll help your ratios while recording one of the better K rates in baseball.

If you’re looking for a starter, then former prospect (and now healthy) Carlos Rodon is another deep sleeper in Chicago.

Cincinnati Reds: Sean Doolittle

With Amir Garrett dealing with forearm tightness and Lucas Sims’ spring delayed thanks to elbow soreness, Doolittle could easily lead the Reds in saves this season (albeit he’s also a trade candidate on a one-year deal). The latest velocity reports have been encouraging, with the oft-injured Doolittle reaching 93-94 mph.

Cleveland Indians: Josh Naylor

No longer blocked in San Diego, Naylor is slated to be Cleveland’s everyday right fielder. He’s put up some nice numbers in the minors and should be a league-average regular in 2021. He might even find himself batting toward the middle of Cleveland’s lineup.

Colorado Rockies: Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers’ status is currently unclear after he recently suffered a hamstring injury, but it also means his ADP is going to be even more affordable. The former prospect has disappointed during his limited time in Colorado but has some big seasons in the minors on his resume. The 24-year-old was a top-three pick and the favorite to open the year as the Rockies’ new starting second baseman before the injury. Colorado has no reason not to give him every opportunity this season, when he’s stated having a goal of swiping 20 bags.

Coors Field has made worse hitters into fantasy stars.

Detroit Tigers: Nomar Mazara

Mazara is an afterthought at this point, but it wasn’t long ago fantasy drafters were excited about his future. He’s still just 25 years old and now gets a fresh start in Detroit, where he could settle into the middle of a wide-open lineup. Mazara averaged 20 homers and 77 RBI over his first four seasons in the majors while never reaching 150 games, and it should be easy to ignore his 2020. It will also be a race to the waiver wire once Spencer Torkelson is called up.

Houston Astros: Myles Straw

Straw is slated to take over as Houston’s starting center fielder after George Springer’s departure, and there’s even been talk of him batting leadoff, something we can’t put past manager Dusty Baker. Straw doesn’t offer much power, but he can take a walk, and he’s put up big SB numbers throughout the minors. Straw projects to be among the league leaders in a category growing increasingly scarce, and he’s even SS eligible in Yahoo leagues.

Kansas City Royals: Mike Minor

Minor is an underrated workhorse who helps in WHIP. He ranked top-30 in CSW last season (just ahead of Max Scherzer and Trevor Bauer) and No. 4 in fastball spin rate, so there’s quite possibly another level here too.

Josh Staumont has a “70” fastball and a “70” curveball but a “30” command. He’s a deep sleeper for saves.

Los Angeles Angels: Jose Quintana

Quintana owns a career 3.64 FIP and has looked fully healthy and sharp this spring. He joins an Angels team that should offer a ton of defensive support with David Fletcher, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Rendon, and Max Stassi (and a big addition by subtraction with Albert Pujols no longer starting).

Los Angeles Dodgers: Blake Treinen

It’s not easy finding a deep sleeper on a team loaded with stars, but Treinen is the clear No. 2 behind a closer who was bypassed during the team’s biggest wins in the World Series and showed a significant decline in velocity late in the year. The Dodgers are going to win a bunch of games, and Treinen is just two years removed from one of the best reliever seasons in MLB history.

Miami Marlins: Adam Duvall

A DH in the NL would’ve been preferred, but Duvall is slated to get regular at-bats as Miami’s starting right fielder anyway. He’s also projected to hit cleanup, and Duvall has the strength to overcome a tough home Marlins Park. He’s a cheap power source.

Milwaukee Brewers: Avisail Garcia

Garcia has been overlooked at draft tables since the Brewers signed Jackie Bradley Jr., which could mean a bench role with no DH in the NL this year. But the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain is soon to be 35 years old, opted out of last season, and has been dealing with a quad issue that has his status for Opening Day in question. Garcia, meanwhile, is motivated and in “the best shape of his life” after a rough first year in Milwaukee. He lost nearly 40 pounds during the offseason and has some impressive Statcast numbers on his resume. Garcia offers a nice power/speed combo, and Milwaukee has been among the league leaders in increasing homers for righties by 14% over the last three seasons. He’s a sleeper to target.

Minnesota Twins: Trevor Larnach

He won’t open the season with the Twins, but Larnach has raked throughout the minors and is one of baseball’s better hitting prospects. He should debut in Minnesota at some point this season and will be a hot fantasy commodity when he does.

New York Mets: Taijuan Walker

Walker was once a top prospect but is now a post-hype sleeper who’s finally healthy. He’s also going to the National League after signing with the Mets, which provides MLB’s best pitching park. Walker has legitimate upside.

If you want an NL-only sleeper, look toward Joey Lucchesi, who could join the rotation after Carlos Carrasco’s injury (or by beating out David Peterson) and could benefit from visiting Driveline during the offseason (as well as Citi Field).

New York Yankees: Jay Bruce

Bruce isn’t a lock to make the Yankees’ final roster, but he’s impressed this spring and would likely be unaffected by the possibly new deadened ball. He’ll be joining a Yankees team that provides a loaded lineup but at the same time the most injury-prone set of outfielders/DH in baseball. New Yankee Stadium also boosts power for lefties, so Bruce is a deep sleeper who’s free to draft.

Oakland A’s: A.J. Puk

Puk seemed like a long shot to contribute early in 2021 following offseason shoulder surgery, but all signs point to a quick and full recovery. A former top prospect, Puk has an innings cap but also long-term ace potential. The huge southpaw is Oakland’s top candidate to fill Mike Fiers’ rotation spot, should he be unable to make the Opening Day roster.

Philadelphia Phillies: Odubel Herrera

Herrera looks like the favorite to open the season as Philadelphia’s starting center fielder with Adam Haseley suffering a serious groin injury and Scott Kingery batting .120/.185/.280 with 11 strikeouts over 25 ABs this spring. Herrera is slugging .522 in March, owns a career .276 batting average, has a 15/25 season on his resume and plays in a home park that’s among the league leaders in boosting homers for left-handed batters.

On the pitching side, the Phillies also offer a couple of deep sleepers in Spencer Howard (video evidence) and Vince Velasquez.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Kyle Crick

Predicting saves from Pittsburgh’s bullpen may prove futile all season, but Crick is as good of a bet as any to emerge as the team’s closer. Finally healthy after dealing with injuries the last two seasons, Crick has fanned seven over five scoreless innings this spring. If he’s back throwing 95-96 mph, he’ll likely run away with the ninth-inning role.

San Diego Padres: MacKenzie Gore

Gore is arguably baseball’s top pitching prospect, and while it will take patience, no minor league player would be scooped up faster should he join San Diego’s rotation. Even if he ends up working out of the bullpen, Gore’s filthy four-pitch mix is going to help fantasy managers whenever he gets called up, which will almost certainly be at some point in 2021. Gore has future ace potential, and THE BAT projects a 1.20 WHIP as soon as this season.

San Diego Padres' MacKenzie Gore
Excitement will be at an all-time high when MacKenzie Gore is called up. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt

Belt is partially being overlooked in drafts because of a rough offseason that included heel surgery and later contracting COVID and mono. But he’s feeling much better now and is quietly coming off a season in which he posted a better OPS and wRC+ than the AL MVP winner. Belt‘s career wRC+ (123) is going to help fantasy managers a lot more now with Oracle Park no longer death to left-handed power with the bullpen move (Alex Dickerson is another SFG sleeper).

Belt is without question a big injury risk (at not much ADP cost) but also capable of adding 10-15 steals with a healthy heel now too. He’s one of the best late-round fantasy fliers.

Seattle Mariners: Ty France

France should replace Kyle Seager at third base next year, but he’ll act as Seattle’s full-time DH this season, making him an intriguing fantasy sleeper who’s eligible at 2B/3B. France struggled to find at-bats in San Diego, but he posted a 196 wRC+ in Triple-A in 2019 and followed that up with a 132 wRC+ across 141 major league ABs last season. Seattle is a pitcher’s park overall, but it helps boost righty power, so France might have the lowest ADP for a second baseman who’s going to swat 20+ homers.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez

Martinez has been an effective starter and closer during his career. His ADP is too low thanks to an overreaction to his five-start sample last season that included a lower FB velocity while pitching through an oblique injury and the aftereffects of COVID. CMart has yet to turn 30 years old and is a nice target to bounce back in St. Louis’ rotation.

Tampa Bay Rays: Francisco Mejia

Mejia was one of the main pieces involved in the Blake Snell trade and was once considered the best catching prospect in baseball. Mike Zunino re-signed a one-year deal in Tampa Bay, but he’s posted a wRC+ of 45 and 65 the last two seasons and is slugging .100 this spring, when Mejia has seen more playing time while posting a .375 OBP. The switch-hitting Mejia isn’t being drafted in most leagues but could easily finish as a top-10, if not top-five, fantasy catcher.

Texas Rangers: Ronald Guzman

Guzman’s revamped swing has so far resulted in a .353/.450/.824 line this spring, making him the sudden favorite to start at first base over Nate Lowe (.478 OPS). Of course, those are spring stats and a small sample, but Guzman also won the Dominican Winter League MVP and has legit upside. It’s hard not to compare the possibility of him breaking out later in his career in Texas, just like Nelson Cruz.

If you want a sleeper pitcher in Texas, Mike Foltynewicz is back throwing 95-97 mph, making him an intriguing flier as a likely part of the team’s rotation. Folty’s past problems with homers should be helped by Texas’ new home park that was among the league leaders in decreasing long balls when it debuted last season.

Toronto Blue Jays: Danny Jansen

Alejandro Kirk has been hot this spring and may be the team’s future at catcher, but he’s likely ticketed for a lot of Triple-A this season to further develop his defensive skills, especially with Toronto having such a young staff. Jansen hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball in the majors, but he did post a BB% in the 88th percentile last year, and catchers often develop slower than other positions. He’ll also benefit from a slew of favorable hitter’s parks the Blue Jays are likely to play in throughout 2021.

Washington Nationals: Starlin Castro

Castro is back healthy after dealing with a wrist injury during his first season in Washington and is one season removed from posting a .270-22-86 line in one of the toughest hitting environments in Miami. He’s now calling home to a park that’s been one of the most favorable to bats over the last three seasons (only Coors Field has boosted batting average more in the NL over that span). Castro is one of my favorite middle infield sleepers this year.

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