Nobody is really "sleeping" on players anymore. If you play Fantasy baseball, you know the player pool. You know who Corey Seager and Kenta Maeda are, you don't don't need me to tell you that. What makes these players "sleepers" is not that they are unknown — it's because their draft cost doesn't match their skills.
We've waited a long time for baseball (and other sports) to return. However, that time off allowed us to do deep dives on players we may have overlooked back in Spring Training 1.0. It also allowed us to form new opinions on players in weak divisions. Yes, you should be drafting Twins pitchers because they get to face the Tigers and Royals consistently without having to face their own lineup, the best in the division. Yes, Angels pitchers receive a slight bump because more of their games will be played in pitcher-friendly parks in the AL West. If the only luxury this delay has given us is rankings refinement, I'll take it.
Here are my Sleepers 2.0, aka the most undervalued players in Fantasy baseball.
Shortstop is loaded in 2020. It doesn't matter where you look, either. At the top, you have Francisco Lindor and Trevor Story. In the mid-tier, you have Manny Machado and Marcus Semien. And then all the way down in the 11th round, you have Seager. It wasn't long ago that Seager was a second-round pick, considered as one of the up-and-coming stars in Fantasy. According to NFBC historical ADP, Seager was being drafted at pick 21.6 back in 2017. Admittedly, he's dealt with a fair share of injuries since then that have dinged his value quite a bit.
Seager was coming off both elbow and hip surgeries last offseason. As a result, he got off to a very slow start. By May 1 last season, Seager was batting .236 with two homers, making hard contact just 37% of the time. Based on those specific injuries, I think a slow start was understandable. From May 1 on, however, Seager was back to his old self. Over his final 102 games, Seager hit .282/.335/.517 with 17 HR, 78 RBI and a 43.6% hard contact rate. That's a 27-homer, 123-RBI pace over a full season.
Something Chris Towers mentions often when we bring Seager up on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast is how he is one launch angle tweak away from taking that next step. Well, we even saw that in 2019. His 39.2% fly ball rate and 14-degree average launch angle were both career-highs for him. If that carries over for a healthy Seager in 2020, we could be looking at a new home run pace for Seager. While nobody is "sleeping", he's going way too late in drafts on average. He can produce regardless of format, too. Seager won't contribute anything in steals, but he could be a four-category contributor in Roto. Considering his above-average plate discipline and the Dodgers excellent lineup, Seager can also be a stud in H2H points.
It's rare you see a rookie hit .314 with 16 homers and an .880 OPS with a 170.6 ADP the following season. Well, that's the case with Bryan Reynolds. The reason he's going so late can likely be attributed to two things: First, he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates who are expected to represent the basement in the National League; secondly, he didn't come to the majors with much prospect pedigree. I'm here to tell you that neither of those things matter. You can be viable for Fantasy purposes and still play for a bad team. See Trey Mancini and Hunter Dozier last year. And prospect pedigree is nice but it is not the end-all, be-all.
I like to consider Reynolds a poor-man's Michael Brantley and that's not meant to be disparaging at all. He might actually turn out to be as good as Brantley or even better. As I mentioned, Reynolds hit .314 as a rookie last season, thanks to his 23.9% line drive rate and a willingness to go to all fields. He's a professional hitter and it's backed up in both the Statcast data and his minor-league numbers. According to Statcast, Reynolds' .296 xBA ranked in the 94th percentile. Over the course of 1,088 minor-league at-bats, Reynolds hit .312 with an .844 OPS. While he did only hit 16 home runs across 134 games last season, there is optimism for his power as well.
Reynolds' fly ball rate was just 29.8% in the majors, but it was up over 40% at each of his last two minor-league levels. So not only does Reynolds make a good amount of contact, but it's good contact, and he has a history of lifting the ball more than he showed in 2019. Like Seager, Reynolds can be useful regardless of format. You'll be hard-pressed to find another batting-average contributor going as late as Reynolds. His 37 doubles and plate discipline also make him appealing in H2H points leagues.
For whatever reason, Maeda still has an ADP of just 172 despite being traded to the Twins back in February. While he has moved up from where he was as a member of the Dodgers, his ADP is still too low. Maeda is leaving a team where he was protected, often bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen. With the Twins, it is expected that Maeda will remain solely in their rotation. You're talking about a pitcher with a career 3.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.79 K/9 and a 13.2% swinging strike rate. I can tell you for a fact that if he produces those numbers in 2020, he will be better than the 48th starting pitcher off the board.
There are multiple data points that also support the talent of Maeda. He's exceptional at inducing whiffs and limiting hard contact. Just last season, his 14.6% swinging strike rate was seventh-best among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. He's been up over 14% each of the past two seasons, actually. Maeda also limited opposing batters to just a 32.5% hard contact rate in 2019, 11th best.
Maeda is joining a Twins team that allowed their starting pitchers to go 5.5 innings per start last season, tied for fifth most in baseball. Going deeper into games with the Twins run support should give Maeda plenty of chances at wins. I have no doubt that, assuming health, Maeda can perform like a Top-30 SP regardless for format in 2020. He also has RP eligibility for that SPARP crowd in H2H points leagues.
I have to admit; it feels good to finally be in Rich Hill's corner. I've never drafted him because he was always too injury prone for his cost. I would just wait to pick him up once he got hurt and somebody else dropped him.
I'm sure ADP will change once drafts start back up in earnest, and there may not be a player more in need of an adjustment than Rich Hill. It makes sense that Hill was going so late earlier, because before the delay, Hill wasn't expected to return until June or even July. If we were drafting for a full season, Hill was expected to miss at least 40% of it. By all accounts, Hill will be ready to go when the season starts back up.
Since 2016, Rich Hill has performed like a Top-10 starting pitcher when healthy. Among starting pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched during that span, his 3.00 ERA ranked sixth, his 10.64 K/9 ranked ninth, and his 1.08 WHIP ranked eighth. He has not posted an ERA higher than 3.66 in any of the past four seasons. There was never any doubt in his talent. It's just a matter of his elbow holding up. While we still have those same questions, you don't have to pay nearly the price you've had to in years past. And yes, he'll be in line for many wins. The Twins averaged 5.79 runs per game last year and added Josh Donaldson. Hill is in a prime position to contribute whether you play in Roto or H2H points.
Chris Towers used to say this a lot about Chris Archer before he got hurt, but if you're fading a player in Fantasy because they burned you in the past, you're playing Fantasy wrong. That's especially true when a player is changing teams to a better ballpark and has a great ADP! Believe it or not, Dylan Bundy has my attention and the attention of many others in the industry as well. The first and I believe main reason for this attention is he's leaving the hitter-friendly confines of Camden Yards for the more spacious Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Bundy has struggled with home runs in his career, evidenced by his 1.67 HR/9. Just last season Camden Yards ranked third in home run park factors while Angel Stadium ranked 12th.
Another reason leaving the Orioles may be beneficial for Bundy is they've just been flat-out bad at developing starting pitchers. Anybody remember Jake Arrieta? Now, I don't think Bundy will reach Arrieta levels of success but there is plenty of intrigue here. He's averaged a very respectable 8.8 K/9 in his career and just last season his 12.9% swinging strike rate ranked 17th among starting pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched. That swinging strike rate ranked higher than both Walker Buehler and Trevor Bauer.
The biggest issue for Bundy has been his declining fastball velocity that has seen him di from 93.8 MPH back in 2016 to just 91.2 MPH in 2019, so he'll have to overcome that. But I believe the move away from Camden plus leaning more on his slider and changeup should be a recipe for Bundy to easily pay off his current ADP of 228.