Fantasy owners need to dig further and further down the rankings to find true sleepers in today’s landscape. How deep? No player put forth in our NL sleepers column, presented herein, or in our AL sleepers column has a FantasyPros consensus ranking higher than 145. That translates to the first pick of the 13th round in a 12-team league.
These players aren’t the ones who are going to turn into surprise stars and win your league; those are the breakouts, and they get their own columns. These players, however, are undervalued and will turn a profit for their fantasy owners and double as easy selections to make late in drafts and for cheap in auctions.
Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals
We know that Grichuk can hit for power, and we know that he’s going to strike out a ton. What we don’t know is if the former can overcome the latter, making him a net-positive fantasy player. At an ADP outside the top-200, however, we definitely know that he’s worth the risk.
There actually isn’t much difference between Grichuk’s 2015, which portended a potential future breakout, and his '16, which threw cold water on that notion. He actually cut his strikeout rate, increased his hard-hit rate and posted a strong 17.9% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio last year. The huge difference was performance on balls in play: Grichuk had a .365 BABIP in 2015 and a .294 BABIP last season, and that made all the difference, bringing his batting average and on-base percentage down to levels his power could not cover. Still, we’re talking about a 25-year-old with 44 homers and a .495 slugging percentage in 944 career plate appearances. He’s worthy of your attention late in drafts.
Keon Broxton, OF, Brewers
I already discussed Broxton in my outfield primer, but I can’t leave him out of the sleepers column. Broxton turned in a strong debut half-season in 2016, hitting .242/.354/.430 with nine homers, 10 doubles and 23 steals in 244 plate appearances. The fractured wrist that cost him the final two weeks of the season isn’t expected to be an issue; in fact, he caught a bit of a break given that it was his right wrist, which is less important at the plate for a righthanded hitter.
Broxton played about a full season at Triple A between 2015 and last year, first with the Pirates and then the Brewers, and slashed .267/.356/.473, showing the on-base skills that translated to Milwaukee last year. He also hit 15 homers, 26 doubles and 15 triples, indicating above-averageextra-base power for a player with his general skill set. Add in the speed, and you get a player who’s a real threat to produce a .250/.350/.430 slash line with 15 homers and 30 steals.
Raisel Iglesias, RP, Reds
Iglesias struggled with poor performance and injury as a starter last season but found himself when he returned as a reliever, throwing 50 innings out of the bullpen and totaling a 1.98 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 0.96 WHIP and 54 strikeouts. Iglesias has the stuff to be a dominant closer: His four-seam fastball averaged better than 96 mph as a reliever; he trusts his slider and his two-seamer; and his changeup is more than just a show pitch. The Reds were reluctant to use him as a closer last year, and an injury suffered this spring (he apparently slipped in the shower and hurt his hips and elbow) nearly cost him a roster spot, but latest reports are that Iglesias is okay and should at least be in the mix to be Cincinnati’s Opening Day closer. Given all of that, he’s predictably been one of the last closers taken in a typical draft, carrying an ADP of 170.32. His stuff, however, is suggestive of a top-15 closer, making him a real bargain on draft day.
David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
Peralta’s 2016 season never got off the ground. He struggled through an ugly April, hit the disabled list for the first time in May, then returned about a month later to play in eight games before another stint on the DL. Peralta managed to get back on the field for exactly one week in late July before the injuries that torpedoed his season officially ended it in early August.
Fantasy owners would be wise to discard such a season of fits and starts and instead remember what Peralta was the last time we saw him fully healthy in 2015, when he slashed .312/.371/.522 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs in 517 plate appearances. Peralta is expected to be the cleanup hitter in Arizona’s offense, slotting in behind a couple of on-base machines in A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt and playing half his games in one of the league’s best hitting environments. Take the buying opportunity created by his injury-riddled 2016 season and nab him with confidence at an ADP of 274.44.
Jason Heyward, OF, Cubs
Other than that whole “winning the World Series and becoming a legend in the city of Chicago” thing, nothing went right for Heyward last season. He had the worst individual season of his career, hitting .230/.306/.325 in close to 600 plate appearances. He had the fourth-worst weighted on-base average (.282) and third-lowest OPS (.631) among everyday players, rubbing elbows with the likes of Adeiny Hechavarria, Alexei Ramirez and Alcides Escobar. It’s safe to say that’s not what the Cubs expected when they threw $184 million at him in free agency last year.
Last year was a grand departure from Heyward’s track record: Over the first six years of his career, he hit .268/.353/.431, averaging 16 homers and 26 doubles per season. Players don’t simply lose it to that degree, especially those who are still just 27 years old. Heyward has a noticeably different setup and swing path this year that won’t require his first move with his hands to be away from his body. That created an obvious, exploitable hole in his swing last season. If that problem is rectified, he should play much closer to the career norms that regularly made him a top-30 outfielder.
Aaron Nola, SP, Phillies
It’s easy to forget now, but Nola had an eight-start stretch last year in which he posted a 1.73 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 0.98 WHIP and 55 strikeouts across 52 innings before the wheels fell off his season. That will happen to a 23-year-old still learning how to pitch, especially one who ultimately had his season cut short by an elbow sprain. Any pitcher who already had an elbow issue is an even riskier proposition than the average pitcher, but the injury isn’t expected to limit Nola at all this season. He showed what his ceiling might be in that eight-start run, during which he allowed three or fewer runs, pitched at least six innings and fanned at least six batters in every start. Nola has a filthy curveball that produced a 20.2% whiff rate and 55.8% ground-ball rate last season. Pair that with a strong four-seamer/two-seamer duo, and Nola has a repertoire to be a top-of-rotation starter. That 50 starting pitchers come off the board before him in a typical draft is a joke.
Javier Baez, 2B/3B/SS, Cubs
First and foremost, playing time isn’t going to be an issue for Baez. Joe Maddon got him 450 plate appearances last year, and that was with Dexter Fowler on the team and before Baez proved himself a defensive wizard. He is going to play, even with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber locked into everyday positions.
The question for Baez is whether he can take the next step. The answer from a draft-day perspective is that it sort of doesn’t matter. Given a FantasyPros consensus ranking of 160, his price tag is well worth the risk that he doesn’t progress with the bat. Baez slashed .273/.314/.423 with 14 homers and 12 steals last season, and while his strikeout rate was a still-too-high 24% and he remained allergic to the free pass, posting a 3.3% walk rate, his upside is obvious. Counting stats will be in abundance in this offense, and there’s little reason Baez can’t match what Russell did last year when he hit 21 homers and drove in 95 runs despite a modest .238/.321/.417 line. If Baez does take that next step, he’ll go down one of this season’s biggest draft-day steals.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies
Franco was Miguel Sano Lite last year, coming in with slightly lower expectations and disappointing to a slightly lesser degree when he hit .255/.306/.427 with 25 homers in a full season last year after slashing .280/.343/.497 with 14 homers in half a season as a rookie in 2015. The real Franco is likely somewhere between those two slash lines, and the 2530 homer power is legitimate. If you believe in Franco’s ceiling, you’re buying into him being a .275/.340/.480 hitter who can push 30 homers. Even if you don’t, you have to admit that .260/.330/.450 with 25 homers is a likely outcome. Franco is in his age-24 season and doesn’t strike out much-he has a 16.7% whiff rate for his career-and his .271 BABIP last season was almost certainly a fluke, especially when you consider that he had a hard-hit rate north of 30%. He is well worth your attention once the obvious starters at third base are off the board.
Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Reds
The Reds anointed Peraza their everyday second baseman by dealing Brandon Phillips to the Braves in February, which is the right move for a team embracing its rebuild. He logged 256 plate appearances with the Reds last season, hitting .324 with a .352 OBP and 21 steals, and while his glove will play at multiple positions, Cincinnati doesn't need him to be a shortstop with Zack Cozart in place there. The question for Peraza is whether the incredible contact skills he showed at Triple A and in half a season with the Reds last year will translate to him being a consistent .300 hitter. If they do, he’ll be a major contributor to batting average and steals and be at least a slight positive in OBP. If they don’t, his fantasy value will be nil.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves
As one of baseball's top prospects in baseball who will start the season in the majors, Swanson isn’t a traditional sleeper. Everyone knows his name, and there’s a good chance someone in your league is going to grab Swanson earlier than his ADP. Still, that ADP sits at 184.05, so in terms of draft-day capital, he fits the sleeper mold.
Swanson made the jump straight from Double A to the majors last year, hitting .302/.361/.442 with three homers in 145 plate appearances with the Braves. He hit well enough for a 22-year-old at Double A, too, slashing .261/.342/.402 with eight homers. We all know what his ceiling is, and even though he’s likely years away from reaching it, he should turn an easy profit at his ADP. In Swanson, fantasy owners could be looking at a .270 batting average and a .340 OBP with double-digits in homers and steals, as well as a respectable runs total with him slotting into the No. 2 spot in Atlanta’s order.