Hitters are safer to draft than pitchers. If one doesn’t pan out, you drop them in favor of someone else. Here are five hitters worth drafting as a sleeper.
The 2018 fantasy baseball season is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report in just three weeks. Spring Training will begin shortly after that. Fantasy owners need to start planning their strategies and participating in mock drafts. It’s good to have a mix of stars and scrubs. However, some of those scrubs could be sleeper picks and win you your league.
There were a lot of hitters that broke out and became stars by the end of the season. Most of those players were either drafted very late or not drafted that all. Everyone knows about the star players and what they can do. It’s the no-name or question mark players that are the difference makers.
For example, Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield went undrafted in ESPN leagues. He finished 13th among hitters on the Player Rater with a .288 average, 19 home runs and 78 RBIs. Another name that burst onto the scene was Travis Shaw.
Though Shaw has been around for a couple of seasons, no one wanted to draft a .251 hitter. Then, with a change of scenery, Shaw hit .273 with 31 homers, 101 RBIs and 84 runs scored with Milwaukee. He was the 39th-best hitter.
While you may do a lot of research, you can only hope that the players you draft are the ones to break out and you’re not stuck with this year’s Dansby Swanson. It is important that, if you do bust on one of your late draft picks, it’s easier to cut ties because you didn’t invest a lot into that player. There will likely be someone of equal or greater value on the waiver wire.
As I said in my pitching sleepers piece, you are not trying to find the next Mike Trout or Jose Altuve. You are looking for value late in drafts for players that can complement the stars you do draft.
Here are the five sleeper hitters I think can fill that role in 2018.
Cory Spangenberg is entering his fifth season but has just 271 games played in that span. He played his most games last year with 129 and posted career highs across the board.
Spangenberg hit 13 home runs and 46 RBIs with a .264/.322/.401 line. As someone who played all over the field, he got a lot of playing time. That also affects his position eligibility. If your league requires 20 games played, Spangenberg will be eligible at third base and outfield.
That is an interesting combination as it gives you a fifth outfielder or a corner infielder in deeper leagues. In standard leagues, he will be relegated to bench duty but could be important if one of your top players gets injured.
The San Diego Padres have done a great job trying to become competitive in 2018. Chase Headly is back at third base. The outfield consists of Manuel Margot, Jose Pirela and Hunter Renfroe.
I think Spangenberg will still some playing time throughout the season but the lack of a starting job hurts his value some.
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded their top outfielder Andrew McCutchen earlier this month. This opens up a starting job for 2018. The rest of the offense seems safe, for now.
Along with Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, Adam Frazier will join them in left field. He played in 121 games last season and was productive. He finished with a .276 average, six home runs, 53 RBIs and 55 runs scored.
Frazier also stole nine bases in 14 attempts, struck out just 57 times and walked 36 times with a .344 on-base percentage.
I don’t think the loss of McCutchen will affect the Pirates offense that much. Yes, he was their main run producer but the rest of the team wasn’t slacking off. Polanco, Marte, Josh Harrison and the newly acquired Colin Moran will support this team.
Frazier is just 26 years old and will have plenty of good seasons ahead of him, starting with this season. Draft him as your sixth outfielder with the probability of him moving into your starting lineup.
This one may seem obvious. Raimel Tapia hits in Colorado for half of the season, add him for the power potential. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case of Tapia.
Looking at his career throughout the minors, his highest home run total was 12 back with High-A Modesto in 2015. In his 160 at-bats last season, he hit just two home runs, split between home and away.
The rumors are still there that the Rockies will trade Charlie Blackmon but with Carlos Gonzalez a free agent, that may not happen. Along with Blackmon, the Rockies will have Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra in the outfield.
Desmond isn’t the healthiest of players, so Tapia may be lined up for a few extra at-bats this season. But you won’t be drafting him for power. He hit .288 with five steals, 16 RBIs and 27 runs scored last season.
With speed at a premium, those extra steals could be a difference maker in your head-to-head matchup or move you up a place or two in Roto leagues.
The catcher position isn’t as deep as the other positions. There are a few names worth drafting before Round 10 but if you focus on other positions, you can find a valuable catcher late in drafts. Enter Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez is the only player on this list with a guaranteed starting job. The Red Sox do have Blake Swihart on their roster, so their time may be split. Sandy Leon is also biding his time down in Triple-A. Vazquez played in just 99 games and started in 87 of them.
He finished with a .290 average with five home runs, 32 RBIs and 43 runs scored. He also stole seven bases, third-most among catchers.
You will likely fulfill your power needs within your first five or six hitters. With power available in all parts of the draft, it’s important not to forget about batting average. Unless you decide to punt that category and focus on the other four hitting categories. Vazquez can help offset the damage guys like Chris Davis will do to your batting average.
He is ranked as the 37th catcher by FantasyPros. For a starting catcher, that is very low. I have him just inside my top 30. Yes, I may sound like a hypocrite because of how low I also rank Vazquez but the playing time is what is keeping him down in my rankings.
Still, he has the starting job (for now) on a good team in a hitter-friendly division. He’s worth a pick as a second catcher in deep leagues.
Hernan Perez is another bench player with sleeper potential. He spent a few years in Detroit before signing with Milwaukee as a free agent.
He’s had two great seasons with the Brewers so far. Perez has a combined .266 batting average with 27 home runs, 107 RBIs and 97 runs scored. He also has 47 steals with a .296 on-base percentage.
In 2017, Perez played 86 games in the outfield, 26 at third base, 16 at second base, seven at shortstop, one at first base and even one at pitcher. He also made 16 appearances as a pinch hitter.
Following the 20-game eligible rules, he will be 3B/OF eligible this season. That expands to second base if it drops to 10 or 15 games. However, according to Roster Resource, Perez is currently listed as a bench player, meaning he’ll likely see more PH opportunities.
If Ryan Braun gets traded or Brett Phillips doesn’t work out in center field, that may change.
As you can see, most of the hitter sleepers are those that do not have a starting job. They will likely emerge later in the season due to either a trade, injury or poor play from their counterpart.
When drafting, I like to stash one or two of these players to see how the first month pans out for them. If they aren’t even sniffing home plate, I cut ties and look for someone who is. If they are getting at-bats on a weekly basis, then there is something worth holding onto for a few more weeks.
It’s all about timing and drafting the right sleeper. Neither of which takes any skill.