2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Sleepers 2.0 welcomes spring successes Greg Bird and Taijuan Walker and gives Yasiel Puig some love

Of all the value picks on Draft Day, these are not my favorites.

I’ll repeat with a change in emphasis: These are not my favorites. You’ll find those in Breakouts 2.0, so if you haven’t already.

These players belong on that same spectrum, meaning I do expect them to outperform their going rate, perhaps even dramatically, but they’re further down the spectrum. They’re the types of players you should target in the late rounds, and since the late rounds signal the end of the draft -- and a time when you may still be filling needs -- you may only be able to commit to drafting two or three of them.

In fact, depending on the depth of your league, several may go undrafted entirely.

So is that a failure on your part? Not at all. An unowned sleeper is one you have just as much claim to as anyone else. You’ll just need to keep a close eye on him and a short leash on all your other late-round picks.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with in-season strategy. Let’s instead focus on the task at hand: identifying some of best end-of-draft discounts, according to CBS Sports average draft position (or ADP).

The Newcomers

Michael Pineda SP / N.Y. Yankees (4.82 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 18 Roto ADP: Round 20

I thought I could resist the seduction this year. I thought I had finally learned, after being faked out time and time again, that Pineda is a walking anomaly whose talent and peripherals disguise some base malfunction that will forever render him Fantasy fool’s gold. 

But then he struck out eight over five perfect innings March 15 against the Phillies. And I’m putty in his hands.

He has had dominant springs in the past. In fact, through that perfect outing, he has a 2.17 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings over the last four springs combined. Obviously, we know what the last one led to, and my contention just a week or two ago was of course he dominates over short stints. He has electric stuff. It just becomes too predictable that second and third time through the lineup. 

Why? He basically has two pitches: a fastball and a slider. They’re both high enough quality that he’d probably make for a great closer, especially with the kind of control he has, but that’s not the role he’s asked to fill. To fill that one, he’ll need more than just the show-me changeup he threw 7 percent of the time last year.

Both catcher Gary Sanchez and manager Joe Girardi praised Pineda’s changeup usage in that perfect five-inning outing.

“We really believe in Michael,” Girardi told MLB.com. “I think this guy is really big for us this year. Really big.”

That changeup could be a game-changer. It’s not like the potential is all theoretical in Pineda’s case. He led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings last year. Ranked ninth in strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the second straight year, his FIP suggested his ERA should be a run lower than it was. It’s just that his FIP didn’t account for the predictability of a two-pitch pitcher.

Nobody’s expecting any different this year, which works to our advantage.

Yasiel Puig RF / L.A. Dodgers (.263 BA, 11 HR, 5 SB in 334 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 21 Roto ADP: Round 18

Judging by his ADP, you’d think name recognition is all Puig has going for him, but this is an unprecedented drop for a player we were drafting in the second round just two years ago, who’s still in his prime at age 26 and who showed some reason for optimism following a stint in the minors late last year, batting .281 with four homers and a .900 OPS in 57 at-bats.

Of course, most of those at-bats came against lefties, and I’m sure there’s some fear that the Los Angeles Dodgers will confine Puig to that role going forward. But not to start out. He may be on a short leash, but the Dodgers will give him every opportunity to succeed out of the gate.

“It’s as simple as swinging at strikes and taking balls,” manager Dave Roberts recently told MLB.com. “If Yasiel can just continue to prepare the right way, there’s no reason why he can’t be out there and perform.”

To his credit, Puig seems to be taking steps to improve his focus, most literally by opening up his stance to see the ball better. And the results this spring have been more positive than not, including a two-homer game March 10.

“I want to look for better pitches, not swing at every pitch, and I’m doing great now,” he said after that game. “I want this season to do what I didn’t do last season. Be a good teammate, come early, listen to coaches and manager. That’s my hope to do great in baseball.”

One look at Puig will tell you the guy has talent, and we’ve seen it come to fruition in the majors before. It’s a no-risk investment in Round 18 or later. Even if he’s merely the .750 OPS guy he was the last two years, he’ll justify that price tag, provided he keeps his job.

Taijuan Walker SP / Arizona (4.22 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.0 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 20 Roto ADP: Round 23

Kind of like Michael Pineda , Walker’s issue hasn’t been a lack of ability. He was arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball when he was breaking into the league three years ago. He just hasn’t had a diverse enough arsenal to maximize that ability, making him a perennial disappointment and ultimately trade fodder for the Mariners this offseason.

But that change in environment, having a new set of voices whispering in his ear, may have been exactly what he needed.

If this spring is any indication, he finally has a breaking ball -- specifically, a slider -- to offset his fastball and splitter. He has leaned on it heavily, throwing it nearly one-third of the time according to the data BrooksBaseball.net has compiled from this spring.

“I think it’s going to be a big pitch for me if I can continue to throw it and have confidence in it,” Walker said back on March 5.

He then put together back-to-back eight-strikeout efforts ... in spring training ... when he’s throwing just four innings at a time.

Walker has misled us in spring trainings past, but never with an arsenal change like this one. And keep in mind he also pitched much of last year with 10 bone spurs in his ankle -- 10! -- limiting his lower body movement and compromising his mechanics.

How’s that for an excuse?

The hype is gone, but the talent remains. And he’s better equipped to tap into it this year.

Greg Bird 1B / N.Y. Yankees (2015: .261 BA, 11 HR in 157 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 25 Roto ADP: Round 23

Bird’s 2017 outlook took a wrong turn just before the start of spring training, when the New York Yankees signed Chris Carter to a one-year deal.

I mean, who could blame them? The reigning NL home run champ was available to them for just $3.5 million. Their intended starter at first base (that being Bird, of course) had less than a full year of big-league experience and was coming off a year-long recovery for a torn labrum in his shoulder.

But Carter couldn’t have been just an insurance policy, right? No, not a reigning home run champ. He bats right-handed and Bird left-handed, so a platoon must have been what the Yankees had in mind.

Fast-forward a month, and Bird has been arguably the most impressive hitter of spring training, putting to rest any concerns about his health and putting the Yankees in an awkward situation.

“We signed Chris Carter to help fill that role,’’ manager Joe Girardi recently told the New York Post. “As I told Chris, his role is going to depend a lot on Greg Bird in a sense and how well he’s swinging against left-handers. We’ll have to see. He’s a really good player, Greg Bird.” 

You see there? Suddenly, the Yankees are open to playing Bird every day, and they well should be if they’re serious about the youth movement they initiated last season. Developing a hitter like Bird will be critical for them re-entering contention, most realistically next season. Besides, how can a hitter who runs as hot and cold as Carter xpect to find his footing with part-time at-bats? Even if it starts out as a platoon, it won’t last.

There couldn’t be a better environment for a left-handed slugger like Bird than Yankee Stadium as we saw two years ago when he homered 11 times in his 157 major-league at-bats. There were too many strikeouts then, but he hasn’t had that problem this spring. He’s not just a one-note hitter anyway, having walked 107 times one year in the minors.

It’s a murky situation, I’ll admit, but the potential rewards are huge. And the Yankees seem to realize it.

Cam Bedrosian RP / L.A. Angels (1.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 11.4 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 30 Roto ADP: Round 20

Two days Bedrosian lasted in the closer role last year before a blood clot in his arm ended his season prematurely, and it looked like a missed opportunity with longtime closer Huston Street also entering spring training healthy. But Street couldn’t stay healthy, getting shut down for pretty much the entire month of March with a strained lat, which makes Bedrosian sort of the winner by default.

And that’s the way it should have been all along. He is the only quality reliever in the Angels bullpen and ranked second among relievers (minimum 40 innings) in ERA last year, his newfound slider helping him live up to the potential that made him the 29th overall pick in the 2010 draft. The only reason he’s not getting drafted on the level of Ken Giles , Kelvin Herrera and all the other theoretically lights-out closers is because he has yet to be sworn in as the closer.

But what else are the Los Angeles Angels going to do? Use Andrew Bailey in the role? He hasn’t been able to hold down a big-league job, much less a closing gig, since 2011. So then, would they introduce their best reliever to the role only to remove him when Street is back to full health? Seeing as they already had Street hand off the baton last August, it seems unlikely.

Trust in the Angels to do the right thing here -- the only thing they can do, really -- and you no longer have to invest a mid-round pick in your second reliever.

Francisco Liriano SP / Toronto (4.69 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 4.7 BB/9, 9.3 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 23 Roto ADP: Round 30

“Well, if Ray Searage couldn’t fix him, no one can.”

That’s what I assume the thinking is whenever Liriano is passed over for, in some cases, an entire draft.

Of course, it ignores the fact that he was fixed in Toronto, where he had a 2.92 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 appearances, including eight starts, following a midseason trade.

Searage may have made him, but Pete Walker fixed him.

Walker doesn’t get as much credit among pitching coaches -- and to be fair, he doesn’t the track record Searage does -- but he’s putting together a pretty good resume himself with the unconventional successes of Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ  the past couple years.

For Francisco Liriano , it was a matter of regaining his release point. Simple as that. His velocity was fine with Pittsburgh, and so were the strikeouts. But his command was off, leading to more walks and hits.

Liriano was consistently valued as a top-30 pitcher during his first three years in Pittsburgh, when he compiled a 3.26 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings, so I don’t know why we would have so little faith in his turnaround. It’s almost exactly how things played out for Chris Archer last year, and he gets a pass.

Particularly if strikeouts are of import in your league, Liriano is about as reliable of a choice as you’ll find in the late rounds.

Brandon Drury LF / Arizona (.282 BA, 16 HR, .786 OPS in 461 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 27 Roto ADP: Round 27

Pretty simple, this one. The Arizona Diamondbacks have an opening at second base after dealing Jean Segura to the Mariners this offseason, and incoming general manager Mike Hazen, previously with the Red Sox, has made it abundantly clear that finding at-bats for Drury is a priority.

“I think more than anything else when you have a hitter of that caliber you want to find him at-bats,” Hazen told The Arizona Republic before even making the Segura trade. “It’s a similar situation to what we had with Brock Holt in Boston. You find a way to get him on the field. That’s of the most critical importance, getting him in the lineup. The defensive position becomes secondary.” 

Why not at second base, a position Drury played 16 times last year? Well, he has made all 12 of his spring training appearances there, so it’s pretty clear what the Diamondbacks’ plans are for him. The real battle is at shortstop, between Ketel Marte , Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed .

Project Drury’s numbers as a part-timer over a full season, and you have something like another Logan Forsythe , which means he’s being overlooked in leagues that require third middle and corner infielders. But considering Drury was at his best when he played regularly, like when he hit .364 with six home runs in 88 at-bats down the stretch this year, and you can see how he might become something like a poor man’s Justin Turner , only with triple eligibility.

Austin Hedges C / San Diego (Minors: .326 BA, 21 HR in 313 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 32 Roto ADP: Round 26




You may remember Hedges got an extended look in the majors back in 2015. He was rushed out of need, and it went about as miserably as you’d expect. But because his offensive potential was often called into question as a prospect, that became the book on him: great defender, can’t hit.

So how do you explain what he did at Triple-A El Paso last year?

The line: a .326 batting average, 21 home runs and .951 OPS in 313 at-bats. You may point out that he was playing in a hitter’s league, and that’s true. But when you’re one of the best hitters in a hitter’s league, it’s not explanation enough.

Turns out Hedges put in some work with hitting coach Alan Zinter last spring, introducing a leg kick to his swing to help incorporate his lower body.

“For me, it’s getting to what [Zinter] calls the ‘launch position,’ which is basically the strongest position you can be in right before you make your first movement forward to attack the baseball,” Hedges told the San Diego Union-Tribune early last season, before we had even an inkling of what he would become. “I think I was kind of hindering myself a little bit in not using my entire body, and my swing allowing myself to have the maximal amount of room for error and power as well.”

Looking at past scouting reports, Hedges always had the potential for offense in theory. Zinter just helped him actualize it.

The projected starter was off to a great start this spring before suffering a hamstring injury that should be an afterthought by opening day. It was enough to win me over, but then, it doesn’t take much at a position so putrid. Particularly with Tom Murphy down for the count, Hedges is about the one upside pick you’ll find late in a two-catcher league.

Bonus:

Eduardo Rodriguez is a former top prospect with a changeup sometimes compared to Johan Santana’s who put together a 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 11 starts last year. He also has a good chance of claiming a rotation spot with David Price likely to begin the year on the DL. I rarely see fit to draft him in mixed leagues since he goes off the board so late, but it killed me to leave him off a list that I was trying so hard to keep finite. So now I haven’t. Yay!

The Holdovers

Kevin Kiermaier CF / Tampa Bay (.246 BA, 12 HR, 21 SB in 366 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 22 Roto ADP: Round 17

I have this mental hurdle with Kiermaier that tells me because he’s an elite defender, he’ll never amount to anything offensively.

I mean, that’s fairly obvious, right? Sure, he runs fast, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing on the bases.

Actually, he was 21 for 24 on stolen bases last year, and seeing as he played only 105 games, that projects to about 30 over a full season.

OK. Well, he’s too much of a lightweight for today’s game, what with no power and all.

Actually, the dozen homers he hit last year project to about 20 over a full season, making him a 20-30 man, hypothetically. And oh yeah, his .164 ISO ranked higher than those of actual 20-homer men Xander Bogaerts, Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara.

Fine, but the strikeouts. He can’t make the most of those tools if he’s whiffing every other at-bat.

OK, but what if it’s just in 17.9 percent of his plate appearances? That’s Joey Votto territory, and he’s only, you know, a .313 hitter for his career. And check this out: Kiermaier had just a .278 BABIP last year, about 30 points lower than normal. Some correction there makes him a .270-hitting 20-30 man with nothing less than ordinary (read: non-prohibitive) strikeout and walk rates. Sounds like Johnny Damon-level production to me.

All right, fine! But there’s a reason he played only 105 games, right? He’s a left-handed hitter. Platoon player! Terrible!

Except he actually hit lefties (.262) better than righties (.241) last year. Played his fair share against them, too. No, the games he missed were mostly because of a fractured hand.

Oh, and he ended the year on one of his best stretches ever, batting .296 with five homers, eight steals and an .874 OPS in September.

Well, what the heck? Kiermaier may have started out as a bad (or let’s say suspect) hitter, but under the cloak of night (or injury), he has become a good one with bad luck. I don’t know if the draft will last long enough for you to take him in a three-outfielder Head-to-Head league, but in a Rotisserie league, where five outfielders are typical and stolen bases are scarce, you want him late.

Josh Bell 1B / Pittsburgh (.273 BA, 3 HR, 21 BB, 19 K)
H2H ADP: Round 21 Roto ADP: Round 22

Everyone knew Bell was college-bound in 2011, but the Pittsburgh Pirates wagered their second-round pick on him anyway and then forked over a record $5 million to convince him to sign. So, yeah ... his upside was apparent from the get-go. What wasn’t was his power production, which remains mostly theoretical now five years into his professional career. And that’s partly why I say this home run is the most impressive I remember seeing hit last year (non-Rajai Davis division):

You get all that?

Such a big moment. Such an impressive distance. Such an effortless swing from a player who should have been nothing short of terrified, who we’ve heard may struggle to hit the ball out of the park, and who looks freaking imposing in the batter’s box with those broad shoulders and that tight physique.

I’ll admit reading so much into a singular swing is unapologetically romantic, but I want a reason to believe in Bell. In his first extended look at major-league pitching, he walked more than he struck out (21 to 19), continuing the exceptional plate discipline that made him a .303 hitter in the minors. These days, you just don’t see players, much less rookies, with an approach so advanced. If he adds power, even just the 25-homer variety, we’re talking early-round production.

The scouting reports say he should. My eyes says he will. My wallet says it’s only a buck. My heart says go for it.

Keon Broxton CF / Milwaukee (.241 BA, 9 HR, 23 SB in 207 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 26 Roto ADP: Round 18

So here’s a fun exercise: Take Broxton’s numbers from his time as a near-everyday player for the Milwaukee Brewers -- that all-too-brief period after they mercifully benched Ramon Flores in late July, right up to the point when Broxton broke his wrist in mid-September -- and project them over 150 games. What do you get?

A .294 batting average, 26 home runs, 52 stolen bases and .937 OPS -- and in only 466 at-bats.

Obviously, it’s not that easy. Broxton had an absurd .425 BABIP during that late-season stretch, and striking out one every three at-bats may ultimately be his undoing. But he also walks a lot, has surprising power and can run out of his mind. These abilities were just as evident during his time at Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he hit .287 with eight homers, 18 steals and a .924 OPS in 199 at-bats.

The point is you shouldn’t overlook just how productive he was during his time as a major-league starter. He’s so skilled in so many ways that he doesn’t need to hit all the right notes to make a significant contribution. And the most reliable of those contributions, stolen bases, just so happens to be the one you’ll be in most desperate need of late in Rotisserie drafts. If all breaks right, he could conceivably carry you in the category.

Of course, all breaking right includes the Brewers giving him the chance, which so far they’ve been reluctant to do. Meanwhile, the closest of their center field prospects, Lewis Brinson is already on the verge of breaking through.

But why rush him, right? In Broxton, they may well have the outfield version of Jonathan Villar , another player whose diverse skill set allowed him to overcome a high strikeout rate for a next-to-nothing cost to his Fantasy owners.

Joe Panik 2B / San Francisco (.239 BA, 7 HR, .695 OPS in 464 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 25 Roto ADP: Round 27

He hit .239 last year. Everybody, Panik!

That wasn’t intended as commentary. That’s just how I’d introduce him if I was Conan O’Brien or something. You associate the person with his latest work, and everybody makes the connection. It’s a textbook guest reveal.

And with the kind of player Panik is poised to become, he’ll be making the talk show rounds when the San Francisco Giants win their next world championship nobody sees coming.

You may recall I named Panik a sleeper last year, when he had just hit .312. I believe he is fundamentally the same player he was then -- nay, even better -- so after a year in which he lowered perception further, it goes without saying he’s a sleeper for me again.

Panik had more walks than strikeouts last year. He was already good at both, and he became even better. His strikeout rate of 8.9 percent led all of baseball, in fact. Jose Altuve and Daniel Murphy -- who hit .338 and .347 -- were third and fourth.

Making that much contact, the only way he could have such a low batting average was by having an absurdly low BABIP. Sure enough, his .245 mark was second-worst in all of baseball, and the five other hitters with a BABIP less than .260 were extreme fly-ball hitters, which sort of comes with the territory. Panik’s .330 BABIP in 2015 is more befitting a player of his abilities.

So what? He’ll hit for average, then.

That’s not exactly a small deal in Fantasy these days, with strikeout rates continuing to swell and trustworthy sources becoming fewer and farther between. In the late rounds, where you can nab Panik, they’re nearly impossible to find and typically come at the expense of everything else. Panik, though, could give you about a dozen homers, at least if you project out his numbers from the past two years. And that stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio will make him a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia in Head-to-Head points leagues.

He may go undrafted in that format, given its smaller roster sizes and the fact he’s on the wrong side of the divide at a position of haves and have-nots. But he’s right at the edge of that divide and the most likely player to bridge it before season’s end.

Nate Jones RP / Chi. White Sox (2.29 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9)
H2H ADP: NA Roto ADP: Round 24

So maybe the Chicago White Sox trade David Robertson and escalate Jones’ value to the point he no longer qualifies as a sleeper. It’s kind of the nature of the closer role, prompting sudden and sweeping changes in value. But my point in mentioning him here isn’t just “hey, he’s next in line for a team tearing everything down” but also “hey, he’ll be really good in the meantime.”

He’s not quite Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances , the only two setup men who will for sure be drafted in every Rotisserie league, but he’s on the next rung of the ace reliever ladder, ranking 20th among relievers (minimum 50 innings) in ERA, 13th in strikeout-to-walk ratio and, most impressively, sixth in WHIP.

And oh yeah, he was in line to become the White Sox’s closer in 2014, before needing Tommy John surgery. By the time he returned, Robertson was under contract, forcing Jones to play setup man. Time to right that wrong.

It’s not a stretch to say that even with a modest save total closing for a rebuilding team, Jones could be a top-10 reliever in Fantasy -- maybe even higher if Craig Kimbrel and Wade Davis aren’t right. The ratios are that good.

And since they are that good, you won’t mind having them in your lineup while you await the transition. He won’t be a game-changer in the setup role, but in leagues where saves are scarce, that’s not a bidding war you’ll want to have later.

Brandon Finnegan SP / Cincinnati (3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 7.6 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 29 Roto ADP: Round 27

OK, so I know citing just a partial season of data is a dangerous game, but in the case of Finnegan, we have a clear and demonstrable reason for the change -- one that leaves as little room to the imagination as I can remember in my time picking sleepers for CBS Sports.

The period in question is a seven-start stretch from Aug. 20 to Sept. 25 in which he compiled a 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.33 strikeouts per nine innings. Notice anything about his pitch usage during that time?

Pitch usage (by percentage)
Game Fastball Sinker Slider Changeup
CIN@CHC (7/5/16) 26.37 45.05 23.08 5.49
ATL@CIN (7/18/16) 21.88 44.79 27.08 6.25
ARI@CIN (7/24/16) 34.48 42.53 19.54 3.45
CIN@SD (7/29/16) 13.33 56.67 17.78 12.22
STL@CIN (8/4/16) 25.32 39.24 29.11 6.33
CIN@STL (8/9/16) 18.09 39.36 30.85 11.70
MIA@CIN (8/15/16) 26.80 36.08 26.80 10.31
LAD@CIN (8/20/16) 26.04 33.33 28.13 12.50
CIN@ARI (8/26/16) 21.65 36.08 18.56 23.71
CIN@LAA (8/31/16) 36.90 15.48 29.76 17.86
NYM@CIN (9/6/16) 17.31 32.69 29.81 20.19
CIN@PIT (9/11/16) 22.11 35.79 17.89 24.21
PIT@CIN (9/17/16) 40.96 26.51 12.05 20.48
CIN@MIL (9/25/16) 33.33 22.22 14.81 29.63

(data from BrooksBaseball.net)

Hey, where did that changeup come from? That’s the third pitch Finnegan was lacking (seeing as a sinker is really just an alternate fastball). The development of one is often the biggest hurdle for aspiring starters, and you may remember some evaluators pegged Finnegan for the bullpen from the get-go.

And the fact it’s a changeup is especially notable because that’s the pitch with the best chance of neutralizing opposite-handed hitters. Now, he just needs to master it, which I’m sure if we look at the whiff percentages, we’ll discover he’s not at all ... oh.

Whiff rate
Game Fastball Sinker Slider Changeup
CIN@CHC (7/5/16) 4.17 7.32 14.29 0.00
ATL@CIN (7/18/16) 4.76 6.98 15.38 0.00
ARI@CIN (7/24/16) 13.33 10.81 17.65 0.00
CIN@SD (7/29/16) 0.00 11.76 0.00 0.00
STL@CIN (8/4/16) 10.00 12.90 8.70 0.00
CIN@STL (8/9/16) 0.00 5.41 20.69 9.09
MIA@CIN (8/15/16) 7.69 2.86 11.54 20.00
LAD@CIN (8/20/16) 20.00 6.25 18.52 16.67
CIN@ARI (8/26/16) 4.76 5.71 11.11 52.17
CIN@LAA (8/31/16) 6.45 7.69 28.00 40.00
NYM@CIN (9/6/16) 22.22 5.88 9.68 14.29
CIN@PIT (9/11/16) 9.52 8.82 17.65 21.74
PIT@CIN (9/17/16) 14.71 9.09 0.00 5.88
CIN@MIL (9/25/16) 5.56 8.33 12.50 18.75

Well, what do you know? It was his very best pitch.

Small sample, yes, but a big one may well have priced him out of sleeper status. Finnegan had struggled to find a changeup grip over his career, but he picked up a new one from Dan Straily  and thus may have turned the corner as a pitcher who had long impressed with his stuff.

He’s not a finished product yet, needing to shore up his control to become a reliable Fantasy option, but you don’t see people questioning whether he can make it as a starter anymore. Compared to more celebrated pitching talents like Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed , he was the one of the Cincinnati Reds young hurlers who offered some hope for the future last year.

Mitch Haniger CF / Seattle (.229 BA, 5 HR, .713 OPS in 109 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 30 Roto ADP: Round 28

Seattle Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto made a couple of trades in late January that didn’t exactly send shockwaves through the Fantasy Baseball world, shipping Seth Smith to the Orioles and then acquiring Jarrod Dyson from the Royals. But with that two-step outfield exchange, he made his intentions perfectly clear:

Defense first.

So where does Haniger come in? Well, he’s really good at it, at least by DiPoto’s own assessment.

“He’s athletic, plays all three spots, throws very well and very accurately,” Dipoto said in early December. “He’s an excellent defender.”

It’s not the only positive thing he has had to say about Haniger since acquiring the 26-year-old as a “throw-in” in the Jean Segura deal.

“There are many situations where at 25, a guy has performed his way onto the major-league scene, and because he wasn’t adored by prospect ratings systems, he kind of flies under the radar,” DiPoto said just a few days after the trade. “But a lot of times, they’ll turn out to be really good players. We had a guy like that in Anaheim, Kole Calhoun , who turned out to be a heckuva player. I think Mitch Haniger has a lot of that ability as well.”

And, more to the point ...

“I feel like Mitch Haniger is an everyday outfielder,” he said.

Well, guess what? DiPoto is the one who can make it happen, and after the Smith-for-Dyson exchange, he confirmed it: Haniger is the Mariners’ intended starter in right.

So why should you care?

Because judging from the numbers and the story behind them, DiPoto’s instincts are spot on. Haniger hit .321 with 25 homers and a .999 OPS between two minor-league stops last year, showing plus plate discipline in the process. It’s a skill set that made him the 38th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but after he stalled in the lower levels, he faded from the prospect discussion.

His transformation came after a conscious decision to remake his swing, modeling it after A.J. Pollock (a good choice to emulate), and the results speak for themselves. With a big spring performance, which has even included some stolen bases, Haniger is firmly in the mixed-league discussion.

The Dropouts

Kendrys Morales 1B / Toronto (.263 BA, 30 HR, 93 RBI, .795 OPS)
H2H ADP: Round 12 Roto ADP: Round 14

At 33, Morales would seem to be the quintessential is-what-he-is player.

Except he’s not. His career to this point has had four distinct chapters. First, he was the Cuban defector struggling to adapt to his new environment, then the fulfilled investment pacing a playoff-bound Angels lineup, then the ghost of his former self after missing nearly two years with a gruesome leg injury before finally having this late-career resurgence with the Royals.

Even last year we saw two different versions. The Morales of the first two months hit .193 with six homers and a .591 OPS. The Morales of the last four months hit .296 with 24 and an .888 mark. Particularly for players his age, it’s never as simple as taking the numbers from the last however many games and projecting them over a full season. That is, by its nature, a series of corrections and counter corrections, but Morales’ BABIP during that stretch was a sustainable .318. The unusually high home run production helped, but it’s not like his ISO was out of line with his Angels days.

And now he’s entering the most promising chapter of all: Toronto, an organization most known for getting the most out of power hitters, from Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion , who were significantly lower-end than Morales upon arrival, to Josh Donaldson , who was significantly higher-end.

The Toronto Blue Jays ’ home park probably has something to do with it. It consistently ranks among the most hitter-friendly in baseball, and for Morales, its impact might be even more palpable. His fifth organization is his first with a park that favors hitters, and of his 30 home runs last year, 18 came on the road.

If he’s having that much success on balls out of play, his in-play average supports him hitting .290. And if he does that, he’s back to where he was in his Angels days and a gem of a late-round pick, even if he’s confined to your DH spot.

Reason for removal: I’m every bit as confident in Morales’ production today as I was two months ago, when Sleepers 1.0 came out, but for some reason I deluded myself into thinking I could grab him in the late rounds back then. Round 12-14 is appropriate value for him, but I rarely find myself in a position to take him then, instead looking to solve my closer issues or pick up every breakout starting pitcher I can. It’s kind of a stretch to call someone so established a sleeper anyway, so let’s just say I’m with everyone else on this one and keep drafting Morales where we already do.

Garrett Richards SP / L.A. Angels (2.34 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.8 K/9)
H2H ADP: Round 13 Roto ADP: Round 17

To have faith in Garrett Richards is to have faith in modern medicine.

Yeah, I said it.

At last report, Richards needed Tommy John surgery. You may remember amid the obscenities you were shouting as you dropped him in early May. But news flash: He didn’t actually have Tommy John surgery, and yet here he is gearing up for the start of 2017.

What he had was stem cell therapy, a treatment still in its infancy in sports medicine. But even knowing the extent of the damage to his elbow, actual doctors have in fact cleared him to pitch again, and the Angels’ enthusiasm has been far from restrained.

“It’s a big sigh of relief, as an organization,” pitching coach Charles Nagy said after watching Richards pitch four innings, his fastball registering in the mid-90s, during an instructional league start in October, according to The Orange County Register. General manager Billy Eppler, meanwhile, said he was “as excited as I get.”

Even Richards, while calling himself Garrett Richards 2.0, spoke reflectively of his recovery and not like a player still in the throes of it.

“I hope this opens doors for other guys,” he said. “You don’t have to get surgery right out of the gate. If you are fortunate enough to be able to go this route and have the timeline I did, why would you automatically go in and have yourself cut and miss two years of baseball?”

But pitchers still get hurt, of course, and the ones at the greatest risk for it are the ones who’ve already been hurt. Plus, Richards’ innings will surely be limited in his first year back, and the last time he pitched a full season (2015), he wasn’t exactly at his best.

But in 64 starts since the beginning of 2014, he has a 3.11 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Pitchers so good aren’t often available so late.

Reason for removal: Richards’ stem cell solution to his torn elbow ligament may still be a smashing success, and nothing I’ve seen or read this spring has diminished my enthusiasm for it. The problem is that Richards himself has issues apart from the elbow. The Angels have discussed giving him a hard cap of 100 pitches in his first year back, which wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for some pitchers. But Richards isn’t exactly a model of efficiency, often making do with a high walk rate. He’s typically closer to 110 pitches after six innings, so if he’s struggling to go the minimum required for a quality start, his wins potential, not to mention his other totals, will suffer.

Tom Murphy C / Colorado (.273 BA, 5 HR, 19 K in 44 AB)
H2H ADP: Round 28 Roto ADP: Round 19

Have you checked out the catcher rankings yet? Egad.

Going by last year’s numbers, only 11 players really amounted to anything Fantasy-wise, and that’s including partial seasons from Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras . And then when you consider that the fallback options are names like Yadier Molina , Stephen Vogt and Matt Wieters -- players on their way out instead of in -- it’s hard to get excited about anything the position has to offer.

Then, there’s Murphy, a 26-year-old rookie who lacks a top-prospect pedigree and remains under the radar as a result. He’s in the same spot Trevor Story was going into last season as an all-or-nothing hitter whose home park is perfectly suited to mask his shortcomings. Pitches don’t move as much at Coors Field, giving hitters a better chance of making solid contact, and because the expansive outfield gives batted balls a better chance of dropping, a player can strike out every third at-bat and still post a respectable batting average.

As for power, he homered five times in 44 at-bats down the stretch last year, giving him eight in 79 at-bats between two seasons. Small sample? Sure, but with a long gap in between. And seeing as he hit .404 with 17 home runs in his final 198 at-bats at Triple-A, yeah, I’m thinking he can hit it out anywhere.

The only caveat -- and it’s a big one -- is that the Colorado Rockies really seem to like Tony Wolters , a 24-year-old who’s an inferior hitter but an expert pitch framer. It’s the only reason I don’t already rank Murphy among my top-12 catchers, but even if he gets only, say, 350 at-bats, it might be enough for him to stand out at this position.

Reason for removal: I was already having doubts about keeping Murphy in 2.0, and then he went and fractured his forearm. I still love the skill set and believe he could be something like the Trevor Story of catchers if given the opportunity, but I think we all jumped the gun by assuming the job was his. The Rockies really like Tony Wolters -- what he brings behind the plate rather than at it -- so if he’s halfway respectable with the bat while Murphy is sidelined, he may become entrenched as the starter. I’d still draft Murphy late just because upside catchers are so hard to find, but my enthusiasm has certainly waned.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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