Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep 2018: Sleepers

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by Erik McKeen, Anthony Brown, and Griffin Murphy

Finding value with your sleepers is the most important part of draft day. This is the best way to gain an advantage over your opponents and hit the ground running when Opening Day comes. One of my sleepers from last season that I got right was Jose Ramirez, who had a slash line of .318/.374/.583 to go along with 107 runs, 29 home runs, 83 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases. I drafted him in the 13th round, and he gave 2nd round value. One sleeper that I was very wrong about was Tyler Glasnow, who went 2-7 with a 7.69 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 62 innings last season. I drafted him in the 19th round, and he was easily droppable. Not all of your preseason sleepers will pan out, but if you can get a few that do, you’ll be set, and if you find one that drastically outperforms his draft position like Aaron Judge, you’ll have a huge advantage.

Our 2018 Sleepers:

Name C 1B 2B SS 3B OF SP RP
Erik McKeen
Francisco Mejia  (CLE)
Matt  Olson (OAK)
Scooter Gennett (CIN)
Paul DeJong (STL)
Rafael Devers (BOS)
Tommy Pham  (STL)
Jacob Faria (TB)
Blake Treinen (OAK)
Anthony Brown
James McCann (DET)
Greg Bird (NYY)
Cesar Hernandez (PHI)
Paul DeJong (STL)
Yangervis Solarte (TOR)
Ender Inciarte (ATL)
Trevor Williams (PIT)
Felipe Rivero (PIT)
Griffin Murphy
Alex Avila   (ARI)
Justin Bour (MIA)
Matt Carpenter (STL)
Marcus Semien (OAK)
Marwin Gonzalez (HOU)
Steven Souza    (TB)
Jeff Samardzija (SF)
Sean Doolittle (WAS)


Erik’s Top 3 sleepers:

1. Matt Olson (1B – OAK):

Matt Olson took the league by storm last year. Well… kind of; he only played the last 59 games of the season. He is not a household name yet but he will be at some point this season. Last year he had a slash line of .259/.352/.651, 33 runs, 24 home runs, and 45 RBIs in 59 games en route to an fWAR of 2.0 and 4th place in AL Rookie of the Year voting. These counting statistics extrapolated over 150 games amounts to 83 runs, 61 home runs, 114 RBIs, and a 5.0 fWAR. I certainly don’t think he’ll hit 61 home runs, but I also don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. I project him to have 85 runs, 35 home runs, 95 RBIs. I don’t expect his average to be great this season considering his .238 BABIP last season, but according to early ADP data, he is being drafted 132nd overall (18th among first basemen). I think he has a chance to be a top 10 first baseman, and at that price tag, it is very good value.

2. Tommy Pham (OF – STL):

I know what you’re thinking: how could a guy that finished 11th in NL MVP voting be a sleeper? Well, because he is currently being drafted 63rd overall (21st among outfielders), behind guys like Starling Marte and Willson Contreras. Yes, I know he is almost 30 years old and he had the best year of his career last season, but I don’t think this is a one year wonder. Pham contributes in all five major categories; last season he had a .306 batting average, 95 runs, 23 home runs, 73 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases. He cut his strikeout rate down to 22.1% last season to go along with a .368 BABIP and an fWAR of 5.9. Some may call him a regression candidate because of his career year, but in an improved Cardinals lineup, I think he will be even better this year. I project him to have a .300 batting average, 100 runs, 25 home runs, 85 RBIs, and steal 25 bases.

3. Rafael Devers (3B – BOS):

Former top Red Sox prospect Rafael Devers quickly made his way up through the ranks of the minors. He started 2017 in Double-A, where he played about half the season, and only played in 9 games in Triple-A before being called up to the majors at the end of July. In 58 games in the majors, he had a .284 batting average, 34 runs, 10 home runs, and 30 RBIs. He also had an impressive 17.2% home run to fly ball ratio and a .342 BABIP. Devers is currently being drafted 101st overall (11th among third basemen). He is a future star and will be a first-round pick some day. He probably won’t deliver first round value this season, but he will definitely outperform his draft position and deliver great value on draft day. This season I project him to have a .290 batting average, 95 runs, 30 home runs, and 95 RBIs.

Anthony’s Top 3 sleepers:

1. Trevor Williams (SP – PIT):

Quite possibly the most underrated rookie last year, Williams received no votes in the ROY voting, despite being very comparable to rookie pitchers German Marquez and Kyle Freeland (who finished 5th and 7th, respectively). As a starter, Williams posted a 3.96 ERA and a 3.91 FIP in 138.2 innings, but if you take out two bad starts against the Dodgers and Cardinals (8 runs in 3 innings both starts), his ERA sits at 3.20. Although he doesn’t strike out many batters (7.0 K/9), he had a 48% ground ball rate and 28.9% hard contact rate, both better than league average. Despite a solid 2.2 fWAR last year, some sites aren’t even projecting him to be in the Pirates’ rotation (I’m looking at you, Rotochamp). However, as long as he remains in the rotation, Williams should put up solid numbers again, despite playing in one of the hardest divisions in baseball. Williams’ ADP is 473rd overall, which pretty much guarantees that he’ll outperform his ranking. If you happen to be looking for a low-risk pitcher during the last round of the draft, Trevor Williams is your best bet.

2. Cesar Hernandez (2B – PHI):

Cesar Hernandez is one of the most underrated players in baseball today. Not only is he a great player in real life, he is the very definition of a steal in fantasy baseball. First, let’s look at his stats. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged a .294/.372/.406 slash line. He will only hit 5-10 home runs, but he’ll also get 15-20 stolen bases. Add that in with a better-than-average 18.6% K% and 10.6% BB%, and it’s clear to see that Cesar Hernandez is a very solid second baseman. Now, we’ll look at fantasy relevance. Hitting at the top of an improved Phillies lineup will only give Hernandez more opportunities to get on base and score runs, which would be pretty helpful to fantasy owners. Additionally, in past years, Hernandez has been eligible not only at second base but at third base and shortstop as well. While he may not reach eligibility in those positions this season, the chance to use Hernandez as a solid super-utility player on any team makes him worth a shot any day. Despite being a very solid player, he has an ADP of 259 (28th among second basemen), which is insane. You could use this once in a lifetime opportunity to draft more well-known stars in the earlier rounds, and then snatch Hernandez up towards the end, laughing at your opponents as you do so.

3. Paul DeJong (SS – STL):

Paul DeJong picked the wrong year to play his rookie season. A solid rookie campaign was vastly overshadowed by the emergence of Cody Bellinger, who ultimately ended up unanimously winning NL Rookie of the Year. DeJong ended up with a slash line of .285/.325/.582, as well as 25 home runs, 55 runs, and 65 RBIs in 108 games. Although he does strike out too often and doesn’t walk enough, those numbers could change for the better as he gets older and more used to the league. Most websites are predicting a regression for DeJong, but with an improved Cardinals lineup, he should see plenty of opportunities to knock runners in. You may be wondering why the NL ROY runner-up is considered a sleeper pick. He is being drafted 160th overall (15th among shortstops). While this may be due to his youth and inexperience, it shouldn’t deter anyone from taking him over more experienced shortstops such as Javier Baez or Xander Bogaerts. If you want to save picking a shortstop until later in the draft in order to load up somewhere else, DeJong should be available, and he is a pretty solid bet to do big things next season.

Griffin’s Top 3 sleepers:

1. Marcus Semien (SS – OAK):

Marcus Semien is the type of guy who seems to make his way to the waiver wire every single year. Sure he has his hot streaks when he is a solid starter, but in general, he has never quite broken out. And this is reflected in his ADP. As of now, Semien is the 22nd shortstop off the board (and 248th overall), going behind the likes of Jorge Polanco, Orlando Arcia, and Tim Anderson. Now I’m going to tell you why Semien will be an absolute steal at that price and should easily end the year as a top-15 shortstop barring injury. In the second half of 2017 Semien hit .262 with 9 homers and 7 steals in 70 games. While the average is nothing to write home about, his home run and steals pace would put him in great company among shortstops. At his second-half rate, Semien would have hit 21 dingers with 16 steals, joining Elvis Andrus and Francisco Lindor as the only 20+ homer, 15+ steal shortstops, both of whom are top 6 among shortstops in ADP and top 60 overall in ADP. There is also reason to believe his early season wrist injury sapped up some of his power as he finished 2016 with 27 long ones. The major issue with Semien is his lack of a supporting cast in Oakland which will limit his RBI and run opportunities, but his current ADP more than makes up for this factor. While I’m not saying Semien should be in your starting lineup on opening day, few players around his ADP offer comparable upside making him a superb value.

2. Steven Souza (OF – TB):

2017 was finally the breakout year that Souza believers had been waiting for. But what about his .239 average, you ask? Well, it was the breakout half-year that believers had been waiting for, and there is good reason to think Souza will put together a full season in 2018. To understand why, we need only look at one date last year: July 19th–the day Souza exited in the first inning against the A’s with a left hip strain, the same hip that had bothered him throughout 2016. Before the 19th Souza was well on his way to a career season: hitting .271 with 20 homers through 90 games, on pace for 36 homers. After the 19th was a different story, as Souza hit a meager .188 the rest of the way. Entering the season at 28 years young on a one-year deal, Souza is poised for a breakout year which should land him easily inside the top 30 outfielders, far above his ADP of 54th among outfielders and 181st overall.

3. Jeff Samardzija (SP – SF):

If you’re looking for sexy sleepers you can stop reading now. Honestly, it doesn’t get much less sexy than Jeff Samardzija for sleepers, but if you care about winning your fantasy league “the Shark” is a must-own. So what’s not to like about Samardzija? Entering his age 33 season, coming off a year with a 4.42 ERA, it would seem like a lot. But the reality is that the reasons to dislike Samardzija more or less stop there. In 2017, the Shark had a FIP of 3.60 and an xFIP of 3.61, good for 13th and 16th among qualified starters, respectively. How is this possible? Samardzija’s K/9 was its highest since 2013 (8.88) while he set a career low in BB/9 (1.39). In other words, his control was elite, finishing the 2017 season with lowest BB/9 among qualified SPs and a respectable K/9, 22nd overall. That sounds pretty sexy to me. On top of that Samarj is coming off five straight seasons of 200+ innings pitched so he is about as reliable as they come in terms of health. Based on these stats it seems like the Shark is a great bet to finish in the top 25 among SP, yet he is being drafted 39th in that group, behind the likes of Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Gerrit Cole, all of whom finished 2017 with FIPs greater than 4. My advice: let these name-value players slide with a smirk on your face and grab Samarj as your third or fourth starter.

(All ADP data is from – a site that combines rankings and ADP data from all major fantasy sites)

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