We continue staples week here on SI.com with our top sleepers for the 2015 season. If you missed our column on breakouts, including our tribute to Marcus Stroman, who was originally part of that column, click here. With that, let’s get to the sleepers. Remember, to be a true sleeper a player needs to be ranked outside the consensus top 100 while providing a significant return on investment.
Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
You know the feeling when you’ve been apartment hunting for a few weeks, and you finally find the right place? I imagine it's the same feeling Gattis had when he learned he had been traded to the Astros.
Gattis’ new franchise can offer him two things his old one, the Atlanta Braves, could not over the last two years: an everyday spot in the lineup, and a home ballpark perfectly suited to his skill set. Gattis is expected to be Houston’s starting left fielder this season, and he’ll likely get some run at DH and catcher, but his bat is simply too powerful to keep out of the lineup with any regularity. In 783 plate appearances over the last two seasons, basically about a season-and-a-third’s worth of trips to the plate, Gattis belted 43 homers and drove in 117 runs. On top of that, his new home, Minute Maid Park, is 7% more friendly than Turner Field, and 4% more than the average park, to right-handed power hitters.
Gattis isn’t going to help you in batting average, but he doesn’t need that to turn a profit at his average draft position. Assuming he plays somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 games, he’s going to hit 30 home runs, and that’s really just simple math. His fly-ball rate has been flat at 44.5% each of the last two years, and his career HR/FB ratio is 17.6%. His presence in the middle of a better-than-you-think Houston lineup could help him push 90 RBI, as well. If he’s the .243-hitter from his rookie year, he’s still going to provide a strong return. If he’s the .263-hitter from last season, an bump he earned on the back of an increased BABIP based on a higher line-drive rate, he’ll be a huge steal.
Brandon Moss, Cleveland Indians
Moss's move to Cleveland from Oakland has been buried enough, and it’s time for someone to expose it as the most underrated move of the offseason.
Moss spent the last three seasons playing his home games in one of the worst stadium for his talents. According to Fangraphs’s park factors, the same ones that suggest Minute Maid should be great for Gattis, The O.Co Coliseum suppressed left-handed power by 12% last year. The only stadiums that were worse for lefty power hitters were Marlins Park and AT&T Park in San Francisco. Conversely, his new home, Progressive Field, increased left-handed homer production by 9%. Only five parks in the majors—Coors Field, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Great American Ballpark and Miller Park, or the five places hitters refer to collectively as “Heaven”—were friendlier for lefties with pop.
Despite being hampered by his home stadium, Moss still managed to hit 76 homers over the last three seasons, and never had a campaign with fewer than 21. He should be able to sleepwalk his way to 30 homers. He’s expected to hit fifth, right behind on-base machines Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. Batting average will be a problem, though he’s not a rate killer in OBP leagues with a career 9.5% walk rate. Neither will matter too much when his counting stats spike this season.
Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox
We’ve discussed a few times this winter the perennially underrated runs category in fantasy baseball. Most fantasy owners pay no attention to runs, assuming they’ll just come organically through having a strong offense. That is true, to a degree, but owners sometimes need to target players with high run-ceilings to ensure competitiveness in the category. If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate to lead the league in runs, look no further than Eaton.
The 26-year-old Eaton had a couple of stints on the DL last year that cost him 39 games, but when he was on the field he was exactly the table-setter the White Sox desperately needed. He hit .300 with a .362 OBP, and was on an exact 100-run pace for a full season. Before you get down on him for his .359 BABIP, understand that he earned it on the strength of a 20.2% line-drive rate and 59.7% ground-ball rate. Eaton’s xBABIP was .348. When you factor in his above-average plate discipline and bat control (96.2% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone), you see that he can be a high BABIP player for his entire career.
Jose Abreu is back to anchor the middle of the lineup for the White Sox, and that’s great news for Eaton. The team also upgraded the offense by adding Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche, who are expected to hit second and fourth, respectively. Rounding out the top five in the order is Avisail Garcia, a popular breakout pick (just check out our outfield primer for proof), with 25-homer potential. If things go right for the White Sox and Eaton this year, he could easily score 100 or more runs. Factor in that 15 steals is a floor, and 20-plus is more likely, and Eaton becomes a bargain at his draft-day price.
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Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
Let’s go over some of Myers’ career milestones, and you tell me which one seems out of place, knowing everything that we know about him as a player and non-linear growth patterns of professional athletes.
• Pre-2011: Myers debuts on Baseball America’s seminal prospect rankings as the No. 10 overall prospect at 20 years old.
• 2012: In his first taste of Triple-A ball, Myers, still in the Royals organization, hits .304/.378/.554 with 24 homers in 99 games.
• December 2012: The Royals send Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The entire baseball world mocks Dayton Moore.
• Pre-2013: Myers is universally ranked as a top-five prospect.
• 2013: After raking at Triple-A Durham, the Rays promote Myers in the middle of the season. He hits .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers in 88 games en route to the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
• 2014: Myers suffers through a terrible sophomore season, slashing an anemic .222/.294/.320 with a 24.9% strikeout rate. Shortly after the season, the Rays trade him to San Diego.
• Pre-2015: Fantasy owners don’t want to touch Myers with a 10-foot pole.
Why does the last entry in the timeline make sense? Why does Myers have an ADP of 166.03, 45th among outfielders? I don’t care how many adjustments the league makes to a player, no one goes from elite prospect to rookie of the year to complete bum in the matter of three years. Myers is all of 24 years old, and yet, fantasy owners have essentially closed the book on him. That’s a big mistake.
There’s no sugar-coating how bad Myers was last season. His line-drive rate and HR/FB ratio plummeted, while his popup rate went skyward. He struck out in nearly one-quarter of his plate appearances and posted 0.1 fWAR. He was, in a word, terrible. And yet, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for Myers in 2015, especially as far as fantasy owners should be concerned.
Myers’ sleeper candidacy all comes from potential and price. We know Myers can be a very good hitter in the majors. We all saw it in 2013. We all saw the hitter he projected to be when he was dominating at the Triple-A level. Given his history and age, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Just as importantly, his ADP means he’s coming off the board in the 14th round of a typical 12-team draft. I don’t understand how everyone doesn’t want in on Myers at this price. If the 2014 version proves to be the real Myers, you can cut bait on a guy who didn’t cost you a thing. If the 2013 version returns this year, or even 80% of that version, he could be the best pick of any draft.
Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
Out of all the players I get to call a sleeper, this one surprises me the most. How is everyone so down on Werth this year? Here's his 162-game average over the last two seasons: .304/.396/.491, 24 homers, 96 RBI, 99 runs, 11 steals
That is positive contributions at all five fantasy categories, including elite production in batting average, OBP, runs and RBI, on a per-game basis. Werth isn’t going to play 162 games—he underwent offseason shoulder surgery and is still rehabbing—but he has already proven his ability to remain a strong fantasy player into his mid-30s. There’s nothing in recent seasons to suggest that would change this year.
Let’s take last year, Werth’s age-35 season, as an example. If his skills were deteriorating, surely that would have shown in 2014. His line-drive rate as 20%, directly in line with his career total. Both his strikeout and walk rates were better than his career averages. His average true home run distance was 400.8 feet, the fourth straight year it was at least at the 400-mark. Add it all up, and he posted a 4.8 fWAR, the third-most of his career.
Werth’s going to hit in the middle of the potent Washington lineup. His counting stats will be there for whoever in your league is lucky enough to steal him. Werth’s consensus expert ranking is 122nd overall and 36th among outfielders. That’s borderline criminal.
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles—For all his struggles last year, Davis still hit 26 homers. With some better batted-ball luck, and a full complement of plate appearances, he should hit 30-plus homers with a batting average you can swallow.
Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels—Don’t forget that Richards was a legitimate Cy Young candidate alongside Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez before his knee injury. All signs point to him being ready to go early in the season.
Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays—Odorizzi, one of the “other guys” in the Wil Myers-James Shields trade, fanned 174 batters in 168 innings last year. His rates probably won’t be great, but he’ll rack up the whiffs.
Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers—Choo is a high-OBP player who should be able to give you 15-plus homers and 10-plus steals. He’s not going to be the star he was in Cincinnati a few seasons ago, but he is still a bargain at his current price.
Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs—Speaking of high OBP players, Fowler should fit right in with his new team. The Cubs desperately needed a legitimate leadoff man, and if the young guys hit this year, Fowler will score a ton of runs.
Ken Giles, Philadelphia Phillies—Eventually, the Phillies are going to find a taker for Jonathan Papelbon. When they do, Giles will step into the closer’s role. He got more than 12 K/9 last year, and can be a shutdown closer from the moment he takes over the job.
Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals—Roark is the odd man out of the best rotation in baseball, which is silly because he’d likely be no worse than the No. 3 on any other team. You could do worse with one of your last picks than taking a flier on Roark and hoping the Nationals make a move.
A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks—Pollock was on the verge of a big season last year, as he was hitting .316/.366/.554 with six homers when he suffered a broken hand in late May that cost him three months. I’m taking every bet I can on him to pick that up this season.