Full disclosure: I was aiming to write about only 12 players in this space, but I wanted to address four more right here at the top who all share a particular trait. Don't be disappointed that the sister column on overrated players isn't quite as robust.
Do I need to explain what it means to be underrated? I hope not, but I will. These players are going later than I think they should, according to FantasyPros ADP. I've included each player's ADP alongside my own ranking for 5x5 Rotisserie scoring (which is all FantasyPros accounts for). The players who made the cut aren't strictly the ones with the greatest disparity between the two numbers. It's also a matter of how eager I am to capitalize on the discount.
Now then, for those four extra-special ones with that extra-special distinction: Have you noticed how late the DH-onlys are going this year? You could argue it's just as true for Franmil Reyes, Jorge Soler and Willie Calhoun, but specifically, I'm talking about these four:
Granted, Yordan Alvarez, J.D. Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton all greatly underperformed in 2020, and while Nelson Cruz didn't, his defiance of Father Time causes the now 40-year-old to slide a little more every year.
I don't think the discount in their cases, though, comes from a loss of confidence, at least not entirely. Other hitters are getting a pass for lackluster production during an all-too-irregular season, provided their track record justifies it, and track record isn't an issue for these four.
Alvarez's may be limited, but he hit like Mike Trout after getting the call in 2019 and killed it in the little bit we saw of him last year (alternate training site included) before succumbing to knee surgery. Cruz has hit .289 and .933 OPS over the past five years and was on pace for 43 homers last year. Martinez had been an early-round fixture in recent years and was one of the first to complain about a lack of in-game video access last year (which has since been restored). Stanton has had trouble staying healthy the past few years, but he's the most affordable of the four and still hits the ball harder than anyone, homering 11 times in 30 games between the regular season and playoffs last year.
More than anything, I think it's the fact there are so many DH-only players that cause them all to fall so. Every Fantasy team has use for only one, and you'd be blocking the most flexible lineup spot by taking one.
Still, it's a must. No two ways about it, you must enter every draft planning to draft one of these four in Rounds 8-10. The potential benefits are just too great.
Now then, who else?
Alex Bregman 3B
HOU Houston • #2 • Age: 29
The first-round fixture is sliding to the end of Round 3 for, as best I can tell, failing to perform up to his usual standards during a 42-game stretch that was interrupted by a hamstring injury. But he had his usual exit velocity. He had his trademark plate discipline, walking about as often as he struck out. He's still only 26, for goodness' sake. Did you know that for his first 42 games in 2018, the first of back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons, he hit .258 with a .778 OPS? True story.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #59 • Age: 36
I had my concerns about the physiological toll Carrasco's leukemia battle would have on him, but he refuted them with a flourish in his return to the starting rotation last year, gaining steam as the season went on and, most impressively, sustaining his stuff deep into starts. He went six innings or more in nine of his 12 starts and of course is accustomed to taking on a big workload. That's an especially valuable characteristic in a year when every pitcher's workload is likely in question. His move to the DH-less NL is just icing on the cake.
Matt Olson 1B
ATL Atlanta • #28 • Age: 29
Sure, the batting average looks bad, but the power was certainly there for Olson, who continues to impact the ball like some of the elite sluggers in the game. The strikeout rate ran a little high and the BABIP a little low, which are the sort of things that are bound to happen over a small sample. The overall profile, though, still looks a lot like Pete Alonso, who's going about 30 picks earlier on average.
Jose Altuve 2B
HOU Houston • #27 • Age: 33
Granted, Altuve's batting average has been on the decline for a few years now, but the steep drop in 2020 wasn't accompanied by any substantive changes to his batted-ball profile. And then there's the fact he hit five more home runs in postseason, batting .439. The combined production (.250 average, 10 homers, .754 OPS) should be forgivable for a 30-year-old who has performed like a first-rounder for the better part of six years, especially given that it came in just 61 games, but instead, we're going to value Altuve like Jeff McNeil, all too eager to move him down our rankings.
HOU Houston • #59 • Age: 29
I get that Framber Valdez wasn't a top prospect or even a trendy sleeper at this time a year ago, and it's totally conceivable he turns back into a pumpkin considering. But if he doesn't, his workload figures to set him apart in a year when it's more likely to matter more than ever. No pitcher had more starts (six) of seven innings or more last season, with only Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks having as many. And as for his effectiveness, Valdez was a distant No. 1 in ground-ball rate while still striking out more than a batter per inning. That's a good combination.
MIN Minnesota • #4 • Age: 28
OK, I'm detecting a common thread here. This is just what we're doing with Astros hitters now, isn't it? As with Altuve, whatever cosmic comeuppance you wish to attribute to Correa's regular-season numbers is refuted by his performance in the playoffs, where he actually hit more home runs (six) than during the regular season. The combined numbers (a .282 average, 11 homers and .807 OPS) once again offer a more complete picture of a messed-up season and suggest that Correa is far from washed at age 26. Good grief, we were targeting him in the first round a couple years ago.
Joey Gallo 1B
MIN Minnesota • #13 • Age: 29
Here's yet another example of a hitter whose disappointing 2020 is having almost all the say on his ADP. The year before last, Gallo had a .986 OPS and was on his way to a third straight 40-homer season before breaking his wrist in July. He was one of the most coveted sources of home runs and a rising star at age 26. We knew his profile was volatile, being so dependent on the long ball and so vulnerable to strikeouts, so it wasn't at all surprising for him to deliver a worst-case outcome when denied a full six months for his numbers to normalize.
Gio Urshela 3B
LAA L.A. Angels • #10 • Age: 31
I could understand the hesitance to buy into Urshela's breakthrough 2019, but his 2020 performance should have validated it. He's one of the safer bets for batting average, combining a low strikeout rate with an elite line-drive rate, is in a prime RBI spot batting in a loaded lineup and hits for enough power to make it all hold up. Particularly at a position where so many underachieved last year, giving him the seventh-highest point-per-game average (fifth-highest if you take out second base-eligible DJ LeMahieu and Cavan Biggio), Urshela should be a hotter ticket than he is.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #33 • Age: 30
There's no sugarcoating what Sanchez did last year, striking out at a Miguel Sano-like 36 percent clip, but it was such a departure from the norm for him that you have to think the weirdness of the season had an impact. He performed like an elite catcher three of the previous four years and was in the discussion to go No. 1 at the position just last year. As rare as impact bats are at catcher, we shouldn't give them such a short leash. Sanchez still crushed the ball when he made contact, placing in the 89th percentile for average exit velocity and the 92 percentile for hard-hit rate.
SD San Diego • #15 • Age: 34
While the addition of Mark Melancon does jeopardize Pomeranz's claim to the closer role, the disparity in talent there is not insignificant. Pomeranz has the potential to be a true No. 1 at a position with precious few, and it may be only a matter of time before the takes the job all for himself. He can help with ratios in the meantime. Since transitioning to the bullpen after joining the Brewers midway through 2019, the left-hander has a 2.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 14.8 K/9.
PIT Pittsburgh • #41 • Age: 37
A quick glance at Santana's 2020 stat line would suggest it's a clear case of a 34-year-old falling into ruin, but he has historically been a slow starter, needing a couple months to round into midseason form. Obviously, the entire 2020 season lasted only a couple months. Beyond that, though, the under-the-hood numbers paint a much rosier picture, his expected stats (a .253 xBA and .450 xSLG) being perfectly in line with his career norms. Given his always exemplary plate discipline, you could argue he still has stud potential in Head-to-Head points leagues.
TB Tampa Bay • #5 • Age: 22
It wasn't so long ago that the top prospect in baseball was an easy pick in the middle rounds, provided he was on the verge of a promotion, sometimes being elevated to the early rounds. We may have moved up Vladimir Guerrero a little too much two years ago, but Ronald Acuna the year before worked out nicely. So why not go there with Franco, the undisputed top prospect whose plate discipline should make for an easy transition? Sure, the Rays won't offer a clear timetable, but he traveled with them to the World Series last year just in case. It's at least on their minds enough for you to throw a late-round pick at him.
So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.