Like most, I enter every Roto draft with the mindset of drafting for balance. To a certain degree, I like to think I follow that for as long as possible. Before long, the player pool dries up and you're left with what I like to call category specialists.
Now there are a few different ways to do this. If you're using a draft software, that means you're keeping track of your projected stats throughout the draft. By this logic, you should have a good idea of the categories you're lacking in the later rounds.
With that being said, I imagine more than 75% of drafters are not using a software to help keep track of projected stats. That means you have to rely on the old draft intuition to figure out where you might be lacking. It's not all that hard. Throughout your draft, take a scan of your team whenever you're not on the clock. Use this time to make a quick determination of your needs. It's not a perfect science, but you'd be surprised how many people draft this way. The key is being honest with yourself and what your team needs.
Well, whatever that need is, I've got you covered. Below you'll find three sleepers for each of the traditional 5x5 categories. Some might even fit the needs of two categories. Thank me later.
We talk Roto draft strategy, in-season management and more with Vlad Sedler on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast embedded below, and make sure you subscribe at Apple, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcasts for more of our comprehensive draft prep coverage:
Through 283 career games, Fletcher is batting .292 with 10 home runs and 13 steals. A throwback slap-hitter, Fletcher won't provide much more than batting average. However, he's currently penciled in as the leadoff bat with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani behind him. If he stays healthy and remains in that spot, we can also see 80+ runs.
As of Feb. 5, we still don't know where Turner is playing in 2021. Over the past four seasons, Turner's batting average floor has been .290 while his ceiling was .322 back in 2017. He's 36 years old now but his .299 expected batting average in 2020 still ranked in the 93rd percentile. As long as he's healthy and playing, expect plus batting average.
It's finally happening! Somebody contact friend of the podcast, Nando Di Fino! Tapia always had a great bat in the minors, evidenced by his .319 batting average across 740 games. He was finally given an opportunity in 2020 and, while the power was nearly nonexistent, Tapia hit .321 with eight steals. As currently constructed, Tapia is projected to lead off for the Rockies.
He's 34 years old now and nowhere near the player he used to be, but he's still very useful for Fantasy. Last season McCutchen scored 32 runs over 57 games. He was on pace for 84 runs over 150 games. He still walks a good amount and his strikeout rate is better than league average. I think McCutchen gets it done again in 2021.
As boring as Hernandez was in 2020, he still scored 35 runs while batting .283. That put him on pace for 90 runs scored over 150 games. Cleveland's lineup is not exciting, but Hernandez is pegged to lead off with Jose Ramirez, Eddie Rosario and Franmil Reyes right behind him, so 80+ runs should be a lock.
Over Wong's past 162 games, he's batting .288 with eight home runs and 23 steals. While he remains in the National League Central, he just signed a two-year deal with the Brewers. Wong is now expected to lead off with Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura batting right behind him. That's a pretty good spot to be in.
Walker has gone down the Kris Bryant path of progression where he's sacrificed some power for contact and batting average. Regardless of what you think about the Diamondbacks, Walker is slated to bat right in the middle of their lineup, so 80-90 RBI seems attainable.
If you've read my breakouts or listened to any Fantasy Baseball Today podcast in the past week, then you know my love for Riley. He cut his strikeouts from 36% as a rookie to 24% last season. If he couples that approach with his massive power in the Braves lineup, the RBI will come in bunches.
BORING. That's right. but Seager reinvented himself last season, cutting his strikeout rate to 13.3% while raising his walk rate to 12.9%. He also hit more fly balls than we're used to seeing. Admittedly, he's not exciting, but the Mariners lineup is improving with some young studs on the way. He's a late-round corner infielder who should be a lock for 80+ RBI.
Another boring name for Fantasy, but the truth is this: Calhoun was tied for seventh in baseball last year with 16 home runs. While he only batted .226, Statcast says he deserved better with a .264 expected batting average. Calhoun has really upped his power output over the past two seasons, which means you should expect close to 30 home runs.
The strikeouts and batting average will likely be an issue for Dalbec but this young fella posted a 22% barrel rate across 41 batted balls last season. Had he qualified, that would have ranked second among hitters. Having posted 27+ home runs in each of his past two minor-league seasons, I would expect something similar this year with the Red Sox.
Will he ever hit lefties? Who cares because he mashes righties. Pederson has found his way to the Chicago Cubs, where he'll likely be on the strong side of a platoon. Pederson remains one of the premier slugging outfielders in the game. He's hit 130 homers since 2015, 15th among all outfielders. I'd expect close to 30 once again in 2021.
I'm getting Oscar Mercado vibes from last year but I hope I'm wrong. Also, Taveras is going much later in ADP this year than Mercado was last. Anyway, Taveras nabbed eight steals in 33 games in 2020 with the Rangers and has a history of running in the minors. In 131 games across High-A and Double-A ball, Taveras stole 32 bases. Expected to play everyday in 2021, 20+ steals are well within reach.
It seems like nobody is talking about Berti, or maybe I'm just not paying attention. Berti is expected to start at second base for the Marlins and just stole nine bases in 39 games. That's a 34-steal pace over 150 games. Given his on-base skills and the green light, it wouldn't be shocking to see Berti approach 30 steals.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays are annoying and we have no idea if Margot will play every day. With that being said, his ADP is 288.5. This is a former top prospect who just stole 12 bags in 47 games. I'm not giving up. There's a decent chance he provides double-digit home runs with 20-plus steals.
Projecting wins in Fantasy Baseball is a lot like projecting touchdowns. We can use context clues to help us make an educated guess, but that's all it is: a guess. Anyway, the formula for targeting wins should be a pitcher who goes deep into games, has good run support and an adequate bullpen. I believe Keuchel checks all those boxes.
Stroman suffered a torn calf muscle at the start of last season and then decided to sit out 2020. Who can blame him? He re-signed with a loaded Mets team that added a superstar in Francisco Lindor. Not only does that bolster the run support for Stroman but he gets an elite defender behind him. In case you forgot, Stroman pitches to contact. Buy late in your drafts.
On the surface, Manaea's 4.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP were not attractive. However, those numbers were bloated by his first four starts. Over his final seven, Manaea pitched to a 2.77 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP. The Oakland A's are just a franchise that, despite lesser talent, figures it out. I'd expect the same with Manaea in 2021.
Soroka is returning from a torn Achilles he suffered in early August last season. All indications have Soroka close to ready for the start of the season. While the Braves may play it cautious with him early, Soroka is somebody who can help you in the long haul. He pitched to a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and, while we're not expecting that, we know what his upside is.
Bet on talent and figure the rest out later. As of now, we're not sure if Tony Gonsolin will have a spot in the Dodgers' rotation, but does it matter? He's really good. In 2020 he pitched to a 2.31 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP across 46.2 innings. I'm not expecting him to do that again, but he throws mid-90s with a legitimate three-pitch mix. I'll bet on that.
I realize this one might be tougher to get behind. Kim pitched to a 1.62 ERA across 39 innings with a 4.52 xFIP. With that being said, he throws four different pitches and induces ground balls at a 50% clip. He won't give you many strikeouts, but he could be a solid late-round contributor, especially with Nolan Arenado's defense behind him.
In Kluber, we're looking at a pitcher turning 35 years old in April who has delivered just 36.2 innings over the last two seasons. I have no idea what to expect. What I can tell you is that Kluber has a 1.09 WHIP for his career. Even if he isn't the pitcher he once was, Kluber was always good at limiting walks and limiting damage. If he's healthy, I'd bet on him being 75% of what he used to be.
It feels like nobody is talking about Urquidy, but he has 1.06 WHIP across 70.2 major league innings. On top of that, he has a 1.15 mark across 323.1 minor league innings. He's not flashy but has always done a great job limiting walks, plus he has a solid defense behind him. Don't give up yet.
Means is a popular sleeper/breakout candidate in 2021 but it's the WHIP category where he might help you most. Across his 202 career innings, Means has averaged just 2.0 BB/9 with a 1.11 WHIP. You might be worried about Camden Yards, but Means has actually done a solid job limiting the damage early in his career.
Maybe you're not buying results from the shortened 2020 season, but stats don't lie. Had he qualified, Eflin's 10.7 K/9 would have ranked 14th among starting pitchers last season, just ahead of Zac Gallen. His curveball performed better than ever, and as a result, he used the pitch a career-high 13% last season. If Eflin actually figured things out, we could be in for a big year.
A favorite of Scott White, Canning looks poised to take another step in 2021. Over his final three starts, Canning increased his curveball usage and saw solid results. He racked up 22 strikeouts over 16.2 innings during that span while pitching to a 2.70 ERA. Of course, it's a small sample size, but Canning still has that pedigree as a pitcher who has averaged over a strikeout per inning at every level in his career. I don't see that going away now.
If you drafted Boyd last season, you might just want to skip this. However, I would implore you to keep the faith. Boyd revealed recently that he suffered a hamstring injury during summer camp last year and had to adjust his mechanics on the fly. It doesn't erase the fact that Boyd has 298 strikeouts across 245.2 innings over the past two seasons.
Can we just list every supposed "closer" in this section? What a mess of a position. The show must go on. Holland picked up six saves with the Royals last season while pitching to a 1.91 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP and was rewarded with a one-year, $2.75 million contract. He's the clear favorite for saves early on.
It's not often we see left-handed closers, especially ones that average 5.0 BB/9 in their careers. Nonetheless, the A's let Liam Hendriks walk and it appears they won't be signing a replacement. Diekman was awesome in 2020, pitching to a 0.42 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP. He's already been given the vote of confidence. All he needs to do is perform.
I can't stress enough how awesome Bard's comeback was in 2020. He hadn't pitched in the majors since 2013 and casually returned with a 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and six saves. He averaged right around 97 MPH on his fastball and generated a good amount of whiffs. He has some names behind him in Mychal Givens and Robert Stephenson, but if Bard performs well, he'll keep the job.