Fantasy baseball owners are always searching for a player who comes out of relative obscurity to have a terrific season. We call these types of players “sleepers.” Finding sleepers can often be the difference between winning and losing a championship.
Here is a list of some of my favorite sleepers for the upcoming season:
OF Franmil Reyes, Cleveland Indians
In 2019, Reyes hit 37 home runs in 494 at-bats while playing part-time for two different teams. This year, he is expected to be the primary DH for the Indians, but luckily for fantasy owners, he will still maintain his outfield eligibility. One thing that most people will be unaware of is that Reyes had the fourth-highest exit velocity (trailing only Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, and Nelson Cruz). What this means is that his prodigious power is not a fluke and he could easily surpass last year’s home run total in 2020. Normally, when we think of power hitters like Reyes, we think of high power, low batting average type players. This is not the case with Reyes.
In 2018, Reyes had a batting average of .280 and in 2019, he followed that up with .249. So, if we split the difference, .260 is a definite possibility, which means Reyes won’t hurt you in the batting average category. Reyes has a realistic chance of leading the American League in home runs if he can stay healthy and get 600-plus at-bats. What’s even more realistic is that you can still get him in the 9th or 10th round of your draft.
2B / UTIL Nick Solak, Texas Rangers
Baseball is a tricky sport in that it takes not only ability to succeed, but opportunity. If a player never gets a chance to play, there is no way that he will be able to produce stats and help his owners in either fantasy or reality. Up to this point, Nick Solak has been overlooked by two different organizations (Yankees and Rays). He was traded to the Rangers last July and now has a realistic shot to get 500-plus at-bats in 2020. If you take a deeper dive into his minor league statistics, you will see that Solak is a potential jewel.
In 2019, between his time in the minors and majors, he hit 32 home runs. He also proved that he has some speed on the base paths by stealing 21 bags in Double-A back in 2018. I would venture to guess that if he can find a spot hitting second in the Rangers’ batting order (where they are hitting him this spring), he might hit 20 HR and steal 10 bases. Even better, is that he is an OBP machine, consistently in the .350-plus range in all of his minor league stops. I won’t tell you that drafting Solak doesn’t come with risk; I am saying that it might be well worth the possible reward.
SP Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels
As fantasy baseball owners, we often say, “If only so-and-so stayed healthy…” I feel that way about Andrew Heaney of the Los Angeles Angels. Heaney threw 180 IP back in 2018, but in 2019 he only managed to stay healthy for 95 IP. The beauty of Heaney is his swing-and-miss ability. Hitters seldom make good contact when he pitches, and his swinging strike rate was over 14%. These skills bode well for Heaney’s success this season. If Heaney stays healthy, I project 14 wins with an ERA under 4.00 with over 200 strikeouts. Not bad for a player you can get in Round 15 or 16.
SP Josh James, Houston Astros
I was hoping that James was going to get a spot in the Astros rotation last season, but he was injured in Spring Training and ended up starting the year in the bullpen. He remained there all season and there were thoughts that James was no longer going to be considered for the team’s rotation. However, the Astros want to use his power arm (James throws a 97 MPH fastball and 89 MPH change-up) in their rotation and have completely revamped his delivery this offseason. With Brad Peacock injured and not expected to return for a while, James will take his 37% strikeout rate to the mound. He has the inside spot on the team’s fifth starter position. If he gets it, he could be a terrific sleeper and finally live up to his immense potential.
2B / OF Garrett Hampson, Colorado Rockies
Some organizations have a reputation for going with older veteran players over taking a chance on younger, more inexperienced talent. The Colorado Rockies are in the midst of an identity crisis as they are caught between having too many veterans and needing to give their younger players a chance to play. At some point this season, I fully expect 3B Nolan Arenado and OF Charlie Blackmon to be traded. If that happens, it will open up starting jobs for some younger players. One of those players, though, might get a chance come April.
Garrett Hampson had a September to remember in 2019, hitting five home runs to go along with nine stolen bases and 16 runs scored in only one month of play. If Hampson gets the opportunity to start, his floor might end up being 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases, which would make him extremely valuable in all fantasy formats. Will the Rockies cave and give him a chance? That remains to be seen, but to win a fantasy baseball league title, it takes calculated risks. Hampson seems to be an awfully good one this season.
SS Amed Rosario, New York Mets
For some reason, Rosario does not get his due with fantasy owners. I think it’s because when he came up, he had the reputation of being a light-hitting, sharp-fielding shortstop, which pushed a lot of fantasy owners away from him. However, over the past few seasons, Rosario has really come into his own as a hitter. His batting average has improved from .248 back in 2017 to .287 in 2019. His strikeout rate has gone up each of the last three seasons, while his power has gone from four home runs up to 15 last season. In fact, the only thing that went down for Rosario were his stolen bases, which dropped from 24 to 19. That said, he is still getting better as a hitter, and the best part is that he is going as like the 15th ranked shortstop off the board in drafts. Rosario seems to have one more step left in his ascension and I think that he finds it this season. I project his numbers at .290/18/75/82/20 which would make him a steal at his current draft position.
SP Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
Earlier this offseason, there were rumblings that Gallen was fighting for a spot in the team’s rotation. I don’t believe that for one second. Gallen is a lock to start with the club and could well become their second-best starter by season’s end. Gallen surprisingly came over in a mid-season trade last year with the Marlins. In the second half, he had an ERA of 2.51 and a 10.8 K/9. He battled some nerves in the majors and had twice as many walks in the majors as he did all year in the minors. That is to be expected, as major league hitters are way more selective and force young pitchers to throw their best stuff. Gallen has an arsenal of four pitches that he uses effectively in all situations. His change-up is reportedly so good that opposing pitching coaches use it to teach their young pitchers. The Diamondbacks have invested a lot this offseason, improving their team both offensively and on the mound. Gallen will be a big part of their success.
SP Kwang-Hyun Kim, St. Louis Cardinals
It seems like the Cardinals have a pipeline to the KBO (Korean Professional Organization) as they brought over Miles Mikolas back in 2018 after he was in Korea for three years working on improving his game. This year, the Cardinals went back to Korea to bring in Kwang-Hyun Kim, a 31-year old left-handed pitcher who has been one of the most dominant pitchers for the past decade in KBO.
In 2019, Kim won 17 games and had an ERA of 2.51 with 180 strikeouts in 190 IP. He has excellent command of his fastball and slider and has already flustered opposing hitters in Spring Training. In general, I always love to take a chance on pitchers who come over from Japan or Korea as they have funky deliveries. This gives them a few months head start as it takes a while for MLB hitters to get an effective read on them. I see Kim beginning the year as the fifth starter and finishing the season with a line of 12/3.34/1.21/156 which would be tremendous for both the Cardinals and his owners.
For more game-breaking advice from Shawn Childs, a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ, subscribe to FullTime Fantasy. Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription & gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.