As part of our position primer series, we’re giving you a few names at each position who meet the ‘sleeper’ definition. Players who for reasons of obscurity, post-hype status, recent poor performance or prospect status aren’t really on everyone’s radar for 2014 and could well outperform their draft day cost. That’s the way I tend to look at sleepers – players who provide strong draft day value, as opposed to players who get the “That was my guy!” reaction in the draft room. Jake Ciely at RotoExperts.com agrees with this perspective and his piece explaining how it impacts draft strategy is very much worth a read. He’s not a sleeper if you have to reach to pick him. As such, you may not see some of the more commonly published sleeper commodities in our list.
At any rate, onward we go with our sleeper value plays for the upcoming season.
The players below are grouped by position, rather than by projected impact in 2014 but each has a significant chance to outperform their draft day cost.
You’ll see more detail – and some additional names – in our position primers which started rolling out on February 21st and in our draft guide set to publish on March 1.
2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers
Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians (ADP265, C12)
This is simply the case of a guy who is high on potential, has shown an ability to hit at the big league level and now finally should get an opportunity to approach 500 at bats. Gomes’ flexibility as a defender allows him to play alternative positions on his days off behind the plate, too suggesting he may be one of the more used catchers in the league if everything plays out as projected. His .342 BABIP from 2013 is due to drop a few points, but his overall slash line (.294/.345/.481) was very strong for a player in his first extended season at the Major League level. Gomes hit line drives just 17.8% of the time so there is room for a few more line drives and extra base hits over the course of a 450-500 at bat season. A .270 average with 20 home runs and 160 combined runs/RBI could very well be in the books this season and you’re not paying for that at his current draft price.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants (ADP 115, 1B16)
Entering just his fourth Major League season Belt’s numbers across all categories have steadily progressed in each of his first three seasons. He hit for a .351 BABIP last year to generate his .289 batting average and in many instances one would suggest that a decline is on the way, but 2013 was the second consecutive year he achieved the number. He’s still growing into his power, but his .193 ISO (isolated power) number last year coupled with a 24.3% line drive rate suggest that Belt is seeing the ball well and hitting it hard. You’d ideally find a 1B in a better lineup – sorry Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro – but he’ll still have the chance to drive in runs and he scored 76 times last season.
Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP 163, 1B19)
Looking at Adams’ frame you’ll note that unlike Belt he has fully grown into his power potential. In fact, he actually reported to camp down a few pounds this season. Adams struggled to find regular at bats last year and with St. Louis’ depth there is a risk that that may be the case again but at the moment he projects as the team’s starting first baseman. He hit 17 bombs in just 319 plate appearances last season so even if he isn’t a 150 game player he should have a lot to offer your team in the run production categories this season. His career average against lefties (.208) is a bit troubling but it also represents an area of potential growth for a young hitter who managed to hit .284 last season in spite of his struggles against them. At pick 163 Adams will cost you nothing at the draft table and could easily provide 30 home runs to his owners.
Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Seattle Mariners (ADP 232, 1B24)
Hart didn’t see the field last season so I understand the uncertainty that surrounds him heading into 2014 – particularly as he joins a new team in Seattle. That said, he’s projected to hit in the middle of a suddenly intriguing Mariners order – and not just because of the addition of Robinson Cano, as you’ll see below – whether he factors into the lineup as a DH or 1B. Take a moment and remind yourself of what Hart has done in his career when healthy, even when including a couple of slow seasons to start his career his 162 game average includes 91 runs, 26 home runs, and 83 RBI with a .276 average. If Hart approaches 500 at bats as Seattle’s cleanup hitter those numbers are all within reach.
Seattle Special: Kyle Seager/Brad Miller (ADP 80/195)
While we’re on the subject of Mariners of interest, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller each impressed in 2013, the former in his third season and the latter as a rookie. The fantasy community is wisening up to Seager but he still ranks fairly low on the 3rd base meter. With 42 home runs over the last two seasons and reasonable production in runs/RBI despite a .260 batting average he should benefit from the additions to Seattle’s lineup. The best thing about Seager is that he doesn’t necessarily need to see a progression to deliver value, as his current OBP should produce more runs and the protection around him could lead to more RBI situations than it did in 2013.
The same general story goes for Miller, who performed well in an admittedly small sample size last year. Whether he can keep it up over the course of a full season remains to be seen but in 76 games last season he produced a combined 77 runs/RBI while demonstrating surprising pop (eight home runs) and hit just .265. For a player with a career .319 minor league average, there is room for growth.
Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins (ADP 187, 2B14)
Dozier slashed just .244/.312/.414 last season so his cumulative numbers won’t be enough to excite anyone simply scanning the stats. Still, he hit 18 home runs which plays well at second base and 16 of them came from June onward after a slow start to the season. Even at .244 his average isn’t a major liability, and it has room for growth but what he offers in cheap pop as a likely reserve second bagger Dozier can contribute home runs and RBI.
Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox (ADP 251, OF66)
Sometimes baseball is a funny game. Eaton came into the bigs as a much hyped prospect and he simply hasn’t panned out. Cue a change of scenery, and we may see the long awaited breakout in 2014. With the White Sox, Eaton projects to walk right into the leadoff role and start in center field. Keep in mind, he’s only seen 380 plate appearances across two seasons so it is far too early to close the book on a talent who slashed .381/.456/.539 in his last full season (2012) at AAA, while stealing 38 bases. Eaton will be stretched to hit even double digit homers this season but if he can get on base at a reasonable clip he’ll be setting the table for some big bats in the middle of the White Sox order and could contribute solid numbers in runs and steals.
Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers (ADP90, OF34)
Let’s start with the bad on Martin: he struck out way more than you’d like (3.71 K/BB ratio) and faded significantly down the stretch last season. Still, he finished the campaign with a cumulative .260 batting average and 36 stolen bases. Again, he had more than 2/3 of his 66 runs and precisely that number of his steals while hitting .283 in the first half but for me that represents more of a full season potential than a slight on his ability to produce over a full season. He did, after all, participate in just 79 games between AAA and MLB in 2012 so the rigors of a full season were understandably tough on him. Hitting .283 at the bottom of a Rangers lineup that boasts a Choo/Andrus/Fielder combination to follow him suggests plenty of opportunities for runs and he’ll get a chance to keep running as well.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 206, OF53)
Not all that unlike Eaton, Rasmus was a young player loaded with potential who couldn’t quite cut it in St. Louis who was subsequently shipped to Toronto hoping for a rebound. Unlike what we hope for Eaton, he never quite realized that potential with his new squad either. Rasmus has shown flashes of potential with the Jays though, and had a strong 2013 when he was on the field. Coming off a pair of injuries that cost him time late in the season, Ramsus is looking to build on a campaign that saw him hit .276 with 57/22/66 production numbers. Projected over a full season those figures look like this: 78/30/90. He looked like a player finally figuring it out from July on, hitting .333 with 8 home runs and 28 RBI over his final 42 games – look for that to continue and for it to provide great value on draft day.
Bonus Blue Jay: Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 145, 3B13)
We won’t spend a ton of time on Lawrie as he’s already a well documented sleeper (and thus, he’s not a sleeper) but consider that he is still just a 24 year old with room for growth playing on a team that is regularly among the highest run scorers in the league and isn’t all that far removed from super-prospect status. He doesn’t strike out an overwhelming amount (15.4%) and his 2013 BABIP has room for growth (.280) so if he can keep the Ks down, while bringing the latter number up he’ll find himself on base more often which bodes well for a player who has already shown he can hit a bit and run a bit, the latter a nice bonus from your 3B.
Sophomore special: Khris Davis, Kole Calhoun, Avisail Garcia, Oswaldo Arcia (ADPs 223/150/296/303)
.316 and .949: Khris Davis’ isolated power and OPS last season. Amazing for a player with no prior major league experience. Of course, he still only has 153 plate appearances to his name but they were highly impressive. Even with a regression in both areas (and let’s be real, it’s going to happen) Davis’ roto numbers should benefit from regular plate appearances.
Calhoun hit .359 in the Pacific Coast League last season and earned his call up to the big club with that strong average and 12 home runs in 59 games. He stayed hot with LA too, with a home run every 25 at bats and a .282 average. This year he projects for every day playing time and while he’s going to hit toward the bottom of the Angels’ lineup at his stage of the draft he’s a safe play with significant upside.
Garcia joins Eaton (and Alejando de Aza) in an unheralded but intriguing Chicago outfield after hitting .304 in his 42 games with Chicago (and .283 on the season as a whole). He played for three minor league teams last season (two of them at AAA) and didn’t hit below .370 for any of them so the profile suggests that he can keep an average around that range going in 2014. He finds himself in an interesting position for a second year player, too, looking like the 5th batter in the White Sox lineup placing him in prime run production position. At 6’4″, 240 he boasts an impressive frame that suggests numbers well in excess of the seven home runs he hit in 72 games last season. The folks at baseball professor like him, too.
Arcia managed 14 home runs in 97 games last season while hitting .251 for Minnesota. With a 31.0% K rate he struck out far too frequently but a strong .336 BABIP kept his average in the respectable range. I wouldn’t expect a massive reduction in Ks this year (though some improvement would be nice), nor a big uptick in average but the power is legitimate and it should stick around so if you’re looking for cheap pop in the late stages, Arcia could be your man.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros (ADP 176, OF48)
Springer didn’t crack the Astros lineup last season and is no lock to make the starting lineup out of Spring Training but without a lot of depth blocking his way there is significant playing time in his 2014 future. What he did across two levels last year was hugely impressive, though. His 37 home runs and 45 steals in 492 at bats were nearly record setting as he fell just three homers short of becoming the first 40-40 minor leaguer in the modern era. The bad news is that he struck out roughly 27% of the time in the minors last year, so he’s likely to swing and miss a fair bit at the MLB level but his power is likely to translate as well. His value is contingent on how many games he gets in, but if he’s in the lineup regularly 25 home runs are a reasonable expectation.
Each of these arms makes the list for different reasons. Ross, as a back of the rotation name that few are paying attention to who showed + stuff and numbers in his work as a starter last year, Cashner as a bit of a post-hype player of interest and Josh Johnson as a bounce back candidate. None of them is likely to sport a strong win/loss record and Ian Kennedy will lead the rotation while Eric Stults was a reasonable spot start in fantasy last year but these three names each work in a (less so, but still relevant) pitcher friendly park and offer upside at little to no cost.
As a starter last season, Ross posted a 3.06 ERA with a 2.94 SO/BB ratio, while holding opponents to a .210 batting average and posting a 1.10 WHIP. Those numbers will be hard to sustain over a full season, and he’ll be throwing on an innings cap but the potential shown last season must be acknowledged.
Speaking of potential, that has always been a big part of the conversation with Cashner. He showed that last season with a 3.09 cumulative ERA and in particular during a hot close to the season. In August/September his second half ERA came in at 2.14 and he posted a reasonable 7.3 K/9 during that stretch – in the last two months of the season, his K/BB ratio was 5:1 (50-10). You’d like Cashner to throw a little more effectively over the course of the season (and away from home, his split ERA was 1.95/4.00). What I like most about Cashner is that he seemed to figure out control last season, sacrificing a little velocity on his fastball (still impressive at an average 94.6 MPH) to ‘get it over’. That is why we saw the low K/9 rate. Hopefully the number comes up a bit this season but if it keeps his walks/WHIP and ERA down, it’s a worthwhile trade off.
Lastly, there is Josh Johnson who had never registered an ERA over 3.81 (in a season with more than 16 IP) until last year and is just three years removed from a 11-6 record with a 2.30 ERA (and a league leading 180 ERA+). Clearly the move to Toronto (more accurately the AL East) went poorly for him and he dealt with injuries all season which has become a recurring concern but if he starts the season healthy Johnson is a pitcher with a career 3.40 ERA and 8.3 K/9 rate who should bounce back with a move back to the NL.
Drew Stubbs, OF, Colorado Rockies (ADP 361+, OF)
This is all about a move to Coors Field. Stubbs, who has never been long on batting average, is coming off consecutive seasons where he hit has hit .213 and .233 respectively but he hasn’t needed that average to be a player of interest in fantasy. Last season in Cleveland was a down year with just 17 steals and 10 home runs, but he’s flashed 20-30 potential in his career and the move to the thin air should help rekindle that. Again, don’t expect an average much higher than the .240 range but you could get 20 homers, to go with his 162 game average of 33 steals. He’s got to win the starting job first, but if he does he may find himself hitting atop the Rockies’ lineup with a good chance to produce in three (runs also) categories.
B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves (ADP 218, OF59)
Another player who you’re having to view as a water-treader at best in terms of batting average and a significant liability at worst, B.J. Upton still has a shot to factor into your 2014 plans. I know last season was deplorable (.184 batting average!) but Upton has spent the offseason working to simplify his swing, in hopes that he can return to pre-2013 production. He struck out at an immense rate last season (33.9%) and hit a ton of infield fly balls (19.3%) which means that 53% of the time he was a guaranteed out last year. Not good. That said, both of those numbers should regress naturally as they are by far career highs, and a reduction in each should lead to a more palatable average. He’ll hit a few homers, steal a few bases and is in a great bounce back value position – as recently as 2012 Upton was just two home runs shy of 30-30 status.
Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers (ADP 341, SP98).
Perez is a pitcher we were all high on heading into 2013 and while he didn’t do anything that wowed the fantasy community, he posted a very respectable season in his first real action at the major league level (six starts in 2012). The WHIP was higher than you’d like and and 6.1 K/9 isn’t exactly fantasy efficient but last year’s 6th place finisher in AL Rookie of the Year voting still put together a solid season with a 3.60 ERA and 10 wins in 20 starts. His minor league average K/9 is just 7.7 so he won’t be a pitcher that produces a lot of whiffs but the first year was enough to suggest that he can further develop in 2014. With injuries befalling the Rangers rotation already he projects as their #2 starter behind Yu Darvish and he’s being drafted in the very deep regions in most leagues.
Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals (ADP361+, SP)
Ventura has exactly 15.1 Major League innings on his resume and yet the Royals are telling you they can push him to 200 this season. They may not all come at the big league level, but what we saw in his brief cameo last year suggests that if they do, fantasy investors might see a promising result. He gave up just 13 hits and three home runs (all of the HRs in one start) last season while striking out 11 and posting a 3.52 ERA. Again, that is an incredibly small sample size but it is a nice validation of his top prospect status – one that he earned with 10.7 and 10.4 K/9 in his last two minor league seasons. Ventura is a hard thrower (97.1 MPH average velocity in his three starts last season) including a 102.8 MPH heater that was the fastest pitch thrown in the Majors last year.