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Hype is a double-edged sword. It can drive the price of young players to unreasonable heights before they've accomplished anything at the major league level. It can create an uncomfortable situation where you don't want to miss on a future star but can't hardly stomach overpaying for them.
On the flip side, if they don't immediately live up to that potential, that same hype can cause their cost to crater, creating value picks that still have the same potential they once did. All because they didn't live up to our unreasonable expectations. This can provide an opportunity to pounce, securing a player with enormous upside at a fraction of what it cost a year or two prior. The following six players all have the potential to deliver profitable results, even if the hype has quieted down.
One quick note, before we get started. I'd originally planned on including Byron Buxton in this piece but all it took was one spring game for the hype to return on Buxton. He still has good upside if you can find him late, but his ADP looks like it's prone to skyrocket.
It was a miserable 2018 for Rafael Devers. He was plagued by injury and didn't produce when he was healthy. As such, his NFBC ADP has slipped to 148 overall and the 18th third baseman off the board. His potential is much greater.
For starters, Devers lost weight this offseason, believing thefor his injury issues. And realistically, staying healthy may be all he needs to do to provide value at his ADP. In 730 career plate appearances, he's hit 31 home runs with 93 runs and 96 RBI. Those run production numbers seem fortunate based on his actual production, but he'll once again be in one of the best lineups in baseball.
Where he can actually improve on 2018 is another story. For one thing, luck will play a part. His .281 BABIP was a professional low and 61 points lower than the mark he posted in 240 plate appearances in 2017. The other part will be whether his contact rate can begin to improve. In the minor leagues his strikeout rate was consistently below 18 percent. So far in the majors he's hovered around 24 percent. He's still just 22 years old, so there's plenty of reason to think he'll improve on that in 2019, which along with better batted ball luck could make him a legitimate four-category contributor.
If you've been reading my work you know I've been part of the problem when it comes to hyping Nomar Mazara, and I'll fully admit he's yet to live up to my expectations. But he's still just 23 years old and he has an NFBA ADP of 156 (much later on other sites), so I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet.
Mazara has been remarkably consistent, just not quite good. He's hit exactly 20 home runs all three years in the majors and his OPS has hovered between .739 and .753. His biggest problem (much like Eric Hosmer) is that he hits far too many balls on the ground. For his career, he owns a 50 percent ground ball rate.
The Rangers are talking about hitting the ball in the air more as a team, so hopefully Mazara takes some of that to heart. Because the hard contact is there. The strikeout-to-walk rate is fine. The ballpark is great and the talent is undeniable. Mazara is one tweak away from becoming the player I'd thought he'd already by now.
Unlike Mazara and Devers, Miguel Sano has already broken out at least once. He hit 28 home runs in 116 games in 2017 with an OPS of .859. The sky seemed like the limit. Then he battled injuries, conditioning issues and was actually demoted to the minor leagues in 2018. Add on his a heel issue in February and it's no wonder his ADP is outside of the top 200.
But there has been a positive buzz around Sano this offseason and he still has immense power potential and walks a lot. He still owns a career 42.6 percent hard contact rate and a .233 ISO. Sano's upside looks a lot like that of Joey Gallo. He just needs to get healthy and stay on track.
Luke Weaver's 2018 was an unmitigated disaster, but that doesn't mean you should forget what he was before. In 2017 he posted a 3.88 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 60.1 major league innings. In 87.2 career innings at Triple-A he struck out a batter per inning and logged a 2.46 ERA. His profile suggests good control, and Aaron Saucedo's ranks him the 81st percentile amongst starting pitchers.
Weaver will be in a new home in 2019 after the Paul Goldschmidt trade sent him to Arizona. While there are few better places for a starting pitcher than St. Louis, Chase Field now looks like a neutral park at worst for starting pitchers. With the change of scenery, Weaver's (limited) history of success and the quality of his stuff, he's well worth a pick in the late rounds. His ADP is currently outside the top 300.
Like Buxton, a good spring could drive Urias right out of this column ... and it's already begun. With an injury to Clayton Kershaw and a positive comment from his manager, it's looking possible, if not likely, Urias begins the year in the rotation. An innings limit will keep him from being an absolute star this season, but he could be just that for the limited time he's in the rotation.
In his first 104 major league innings, Urias struck out nearly a batter per inning and posted a 3.71 ERA. In the minor leagues he was far more dominant. It's tough to trust he'll stay healthy or pitch more than 110 innings this season, but he's currently undrafted in most 12-team drafts and should be a must-start pitcher when he's healthy. That's just the expectation. The upside is far beyond that.
You might wonder how a young pitcher like Reynaldo Lopez could post a sub-4.00 ERA and still be a sleeper the next year. It's because his peripherals suggest he was one of the luckiest pitches in baseball last year. Among qualified starters, he had the seventh-worst FIP and the second-worst xFIP in 2018. He was definitively not good, but there's reason for hope.
In his last seven starts last season, Lopez had a 1.38 ERA and a 2.61 FIP. He struck out 48 in 45.2 innings and walked just 14. While full season statistics are generally more predictive, Lopez is a former consensus top-50 prospect who was at times exceptional in the minor leagues. His potential has not been exhausted, and we may have seen a glimpse of it at the end of 2018.
So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett's huge breakout last season, and find out.