2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 35 deep sleepers for late rounds in large leagues
Play in a deeper league? Scott White looks beyond the normal range of players to find those who could make a significant impact for an insignificant cost.
Your draft won't drag on forever. But if it did, these are some of the players you might consider targeting.
I do play in several leagues deep enough that all of these players are eventually taken. Maybe you do, too. More likely, you'll see just a handful go. I limited my selection to those taken beyond the top 276, according to FantasyPros ADP. The significance? Well, that's the total number of lineup spots that need to be filled in a 12-team Rotisserie league, which isn't to say this list is only applicable to Rotisserie leagues, 12 teams or otherwise. But there needed to be some guidelines for which players I'm allowed to pick, and that's the way I decided to do it.
As you can see, I had trouble limiting myself as it is.
Even if your league doesn't go deep enough for you to consider a single one of these players, they're names to file away in case they make some noise early. They're low-probability investments, of course — they wouldn't go so late if they weren't — but the upside is there for them to make a considerable impact.
Note: Within each position, the players are listed by my order of preference, but ADP (also shown) may have some say in when I actually draft them.
TOR Toronto • #9 • Age: 24
Danny Jansen was a sleeper without the "deeper" label at this time a year ago but then delivered a rookie season so bad that it overwrote all of our preconceptions. A new pregame hitting routine and an adjustment to his swing allowed his power to show up this spring, and of course, making contact is probably his best talent.
TEX Texas • #9 • Age: 25
A total zero for power through two years in the majors, Isiah Kiner-Falefa ranked among the spring leaders with four home runs at the time of the shutdown, making better use of his lower body after adjusting his stance this offseason. The Rangers were so impressed that they were giving some thought to making him their primary third baseman, shifting Todd Frazier over to first, which would give Kiner-Falefa a playing-time advantage among catcher-eligible players.
Evan White 1B
SEA Seattle • #12 • Age: 23
Evan White is penciled in for everyday at-bats after signing a long-term deal this offseason, which underscores the Mariners' confidence in a guy who has yet to play above Double-A, and while there are concerns about his power profile, particularly in a power-suppressing park, it's true that his launch angle and exit velocity have been trending up. It may all work out for a guy so many are outright dismissing.
Nate Lowe 1B
TB Tampa Bay • #35 • Age: 24
Nate Lowe's numbers in the minors the past two years are ridiculous, and he seemed to be on the verge of figuring it out in the majors last July before being unceremoniously sent down. That logjam stands in his way still today, but the odds remain high that another .400-plus OBP and .900-plus OPS at Triple-A will open a door for him eventually.
BAL Baltimore • #6 • Age: 23
You can see from the numbers why Ryan Mountcastle was the International League MVP last year, and on a team with something to play for, he'd already have a job. Even now, it's only a matter of waiting however many days will preventing him from using up a year of service time, which means he could be a worthy contributor of batting average and home runs (think Nick Castellanos, the Tigers version) for most of the season.
DET Detroit • #24 • Age: 36
Miguel Cabrera made headlines with two home runs off Gerrit Cole early in spring training, but it was his physique — a slimmed-down frame resembling something from his Marlins days — that left a lasting impression. Carrying extra weight probably wasn't good for his bum knee, which forced him to alter his swing last season, but he still has the exit velocity and contact rate to be an impact hitter at 36.
Mike Ford 1B
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #72 • Age: 27
The forgotten face in the Yankees' corner logjam (with multiple candidates for first base, third base and left field), Mike Ford might actually be the most talented hitter of the bunch — and not just because of his 11 home runs in 39 games down the stretch. His walk rate, strikeout rate, exit velocity and launch angle are all about as optimal as they come — really, why doesn't this guy have a job yet? — so while there isn't a clear path, you have to like his chances if something opens up.
Ryan O'Hearn 1B
KC Kansas City • #66 • Age: 26
Ryan O'Hearn's five home run early in spring training were a reminder of the sort of power threat this guy looked to be when he first came up in 2018. The ground balls are what killed him last year — not a lack of hard contact or a prohibitive strikeout rate — and he recognized it, working with a private instructor and a high-velocity pitching machine to add some elevation to his swing this offseason.
LAA L.A. Angels • #9 • Age: 31
Exactly how much he'll play against lefties would be helpful to know, of course, but Tommy La Stella's on-base skills have him poised to bat leadoff most days, directly ahead of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. So what if the power breakthrough that saw him hit 16 home runs over half a season last year is legit? The data backs it up, as does the narrative — i.e., him reverting to stance that made him more of a power guy in college.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #92 • Age: 23
Nick Madrigal has struck out just 21 times in 705 minor-league plate appearances, so batting average is a foregone conclusion for him. If there's any hope for stolen bases — and there appears to be — he's going to be a godsend in Rotisserie leagues when he eventually does claim the second base job, bolstering those scarcer categories at a weak position.
SF San Francisco • #1 • Age: 25
You'd like his chances more if he was still playing his home games in Milwaukee rather than San Francisco, but Mauricio Dubon is guaranteed to play and has a high enough floor as a contact hitter that you can afford to chase the upside — i.e., something like a 20-homer, 15-steal campaign.
Alec Bohm 3B
PHI Philadelphia • #80 • Age: 23
Alec Bohm is built like a Kris Bryant but with the hitting instincts of an Anthony Rendon, and he made a strong enough impression this spring to suggest he's on the fast track. The Phillies won't hesitate to move Scott Kingery to center field once Bohm takes care of business at Triple-A.
Travis Shaw 3B
TOR Toronto • #6 • Age: 29
Travis Shaw's performance this spring — mainly the 15 strikeouts in 28 at-bats — didn't inspire a lot of confidence that he's fixed his ruinous mechanics from a year ago, but the Blue Jays have already signaled to us that the reward is worth the risk just by signing him to be their everyday first baseman. Let's not forget he had back-to-back 30-homer seasons, and with a high walk rate to boot.
WAS Washington • #8 • Age: 22
Seeing as he's a consensus top-25 prospect with a solid minor-league track record and some assurances of regular playing time as the primary third baseman, it's a wonder Carter Kieboom is going as late as he is. I imagine it'd be different if the Nationals didn't give in to our demands to rush him to the big leagues after Trea Turner got hurt last April, making his first big-league stint a not-so-rewarding one.
Luis Urias 2B
MIL Milwaukee • #2 • Age: 22
Luis Urias' failure to perform over 249 big-league plate appearances last season may have hurt his stock and precipitated his move to the Brewers. But he's a 22-year-old who profiled for a high floor as a high-contact, line-drive hitter, and it's way too early to write him off, especially since it sounds like the Brewers want him to be their starting shortstop.
Sam Hilliard CF
COL Colorado • #22 • Age: 26
Sam Hilliard first taste of the majors last season went swimmingly, and it's worth pointing out at every chance that he had 42 homers and 24 steals between the majors and minors last year. His late-bloomer status and possible platoon role don't give him much job security, but he's also the sort of player Coors Field could transform into a five-category monster.
Wil Myers LF
SD San Diego • #4 • Age: 29
Wil Myers had already established himself as a power-speed threat before the Padres began phasing him out last year. Their outfield options have since dwindled, putting him in line for everyday at-bats again, and it's worth taking him this late just for the steals, not the mention the possibility of him getting back to being a middle-of-the-order bat.
SF San Francisco • #5 • Age: 29
Because he bats left-handed, Mike Yastrzemski often sat against left-handed pitchers last year but was actually at his best against them, batting .329 with a .943 OPS. He hit .287 with a .915 OPS in the second half and .300 with a .929 OPS on the road. The Giants plan to play him all the more this year and have reconfigured their outfield fence in a way that should help left-handed sluggers like him.
SD San Diego • #2 • Age: 23
The other side of the Luis Urias deal had a lackluster showing with the Brewers last year but is already penciled in as the Padres everyday center fielder after a big-time breakthrough in the minors last year. His on-base skills especially point to a high ceiling and a possible move up the lineup if things break right early.
Austin Hays CF
BAL Baltimore • #21 • Age: 24
Having battled injuries and bad habits developed while playing through injuries, Austin Hays' minor-league numbers the past two years are a far cry from 2017, when he surged to the majors with a .329 batting average, 32 home runs and .958 OPS. But a strong September showing has him in line to be the starter in center, and the scouting reports remain favorable.
Ian Happ LF
CHC Chi. Cubs • #8 • Age: 25
An untenable strikeout rate prevented Ian Happ from capitalizing on the prospect hype the first time around, but after another stint in the minors last year, he cut it down to a respectable 25 percent when he returned in late July, homering 11 times in 140 at-bats. And he projects to be the primary center fielder.
Austin Riley LF
ATL Atlanta • #27 • Age: 22
Having worked to simplify his swing this offseason, Austin Riley was making contact at a much higher rate this spring, and while he remains a long shot to seize the third base job from Johan Camargo at the start of the year, it seems like only a matter of time before he overtakes him. This is still the guy who homered nine times in his first 18 big-league games, let's not forget.
STL St. Louis • #41 • Age: 24
He'll be challenged by top prospect Dylan Carlson, who should absolutely be drafted the higher of the two, but Tyler O'Neill likely has the left field job on opening day and a big power stroke, having homered 39 times in 413 at-bats over his past two minor-league seasons.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #77 • Age: 25
There's a chance that a change in timing mechanism may have finally unlocked Clint Frazier's potential, given the way he was seeing (seven walks!) and hitting the ball this spring. He had a better sleeper case back when it looked like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would miss the start of the season, but with their history, it's only a matter of time before this 25-year-old gets his next chance.
DET Detroit • #4 • Age: 32
Like many speedsters, Cameron Maybin was long conditioned to put the ball on the ground, but he reworked his swing to join the fly-ball revolution last year and put together a career-high .858 OPS as a part-timer for the Yankees. It's not as simple as doubling those numbers now that he's in line for a full-time role with the Tigers, but at the same time, a 20-20 season doesn't seem so far-fetched.
Alex Wood SP
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #57 • Age: 29
Alex Wood, who has already been anointed the fifth starter, worked with Driveline Baseball to improve his velocity this offseason, and his fastball was hitting 92-93 mph this spring. The last time he was throwing that hard was the first half of 2017, when he went 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 10.8 K/9.
Dylan Cease SP
CHW Chi. White Sox • #84 • Age: 24
Dylan Cease's first major-league showing last year was disappointing, sure, but it's worth pointing out that the top prospect took a step back in the minors as well, particularly in the control department. He said after a particularly strong start to spring training that he was "cutting the ball" last season but that now his stuff was "staying true," which sounds like a guy who may have found a cure for what ails him. Big strikeout potential here.
SD San Diego • #43 • Age: 31
It's been a long road back for Garrett Richards, who first learned of his torn UCL in 2016 and tried delaying the inevitable Tommy John surgery for two years. Over five injury-plagued years leading up to the surgery, he pitched like a high-end starter, delivering a 3.15 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 with the help of an elite ground-ball rate.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #47 • Age: 27
Jordan Montgomery showed good swing-and-miss potential — particularly with the curveball — as a rookie in 2017, and now with him fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, that potential was showing up to the tune of 16 strikeouts (compared to just one walk) in 11 innings this spring. The loss of Luis Severino actually gives him good job security, and the Yankees lineup and bullpen of course give him a chance to pile up wins.
TOR Toronto • #34 • Age: 33
We don't have a great concept yet for just how good Matt Shoemaker could be when he's throwing his best pitch, the splitter, approximately one-third percent of the time, because he hasn't been able to stay healthy since upping his reliance on it. But you see how it went for him in five starts last year.
SEA Seattle • #18 • Age: 28
Yusei Kikuchi was so bad in his first major-league season that it's easy to forget just how hyped he was coming over from Japan. But he wasn't following his usual throwing regimen, then, and now that he is, the fastball and slider are both ticking up 3-4 mph. That's certainly enough to have a transformative effect, and it was showing up in the box score this spring.
MIL Milwaukee • #39 • Age: 25
Corbin Burnes hasn't been assured a starting job, but with a revamped slider that was clocking 94 mph this spring, up about 6 mph from a year ago, he'll get his chance sooner than later. Let's not forget he had a 1.67 in his last full minor-league season, when he was used exclusively as a starter.
SEA Seattle • #33 • Age: 23
The zero walks in 12 innings this spring certainly stood out for a pitcher with a history of control problems, and ditching the four-seam fastball for a two-seamer seems largely to credit for it. It won't be a big swing-and-miss pitch for him, but it sets up his plus slider well. The spin rate on his fastball was so low that it wasn't really helping with whiffs either.
BOS Boston • #17 • Age: 30
While known for being a hard-thrower, Nathan Eovaldi's lack of a breaking ball has always prevented him from getting the most out of that velocity, but he showed potential with curveball down the stretch this season. He was featuring it more this spring, striking out 12 while allowing just four hits in eight innings.
BAL Baltimore • #56 • Age: 25
Granted, the Orioles were so bad last year that they never had reason to commit to a closer, but their reluctance to do so with Mychal Givens still suggests they prefer him as a multi-inning setup guy. Manager Brandon Hyde has already gone on record to say Hunter Harvey has "closer stuff," and he's the son of Bryan Harvey, a two-time All-Star closer.
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