When I did my first previous sleepers list a few weeks ago, I focused on late-round picks, and I'm going to do the same thing here. There's a bit of overlap between the two lists, but not much, and that is by design. If you do your research, you should end your draft with a list of late-round targets too long to finish -- in my home league draft Thursday, I had 12 players left in my queue by the end of the reserve draft.
There are a ton of interesting late-round targets to fill out your roster, and you should always be looking for upside. That's what I'm focused on with my last round of preseason sleeper picks.
I'm focusing on guys going outside of the top 250 on average who could wind up being must-start players for your squads in 2021.
Rojas hasn't been able to get it going in a couple of stints in the majors so far, and he might be on his last chance to secure an everyday job here. He's making the most of his opportunity in the spring so far, hitting .345/.406/.552, and at this point it looks like he's going to have that second base job on opening day -- potentially splitting some time with Asdrubal Cabrera -- and he has a skill set worth getting excited about. With guys like Cavan Biggio going inside the top 100 for their 20-homer, 20-steal potential, Rojas has averaged 21.1 homers and 36.6 steals per-150 games in the minors, including 15 and 20 in just 65 games at Triple-A. Rojas has a lot more to prove at the big-league level, but he could be must-start option in category-based leagues if it clicks for him.
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Rodgers carries a lot more prospect pedigree than Rojas, but he has struggled even more in his limited opportunities in the majors, hitting .196/.235/.227 in 32 career games, and now he's likely to miss the start of the regular season with a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out until the middle of April. That's not great, but Rodgers could be worth waiting on. He's a career .296 hitter in the minors, and it's not unreasonable to think he could do the same in the majors with Coors Field helping him out. There should be some power and speed in the profile, too, and he could be a Charlie Blackmon-esque Fantasy option -- maybe not the one who had 61 steals between 2014 and 2015, but the one consistently hit near 30 homers with a .300 average and a dozen or so steals. That's the upside, at least. Snag someone like Tommy La Stella late, and he'll help keep you afloat until Rodgers is ready.
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Speaking of La Stella, it looks like he's going to open the season as the Giants' leadoff hitter against both lefties and righties, and I'm surprised there hasn't been more excitement about him. Over the past two seasons, La Stella has hit .289/.356/.471 with 21 homers, 80 runs, and 69 RBI in 135 games, as he has clearly taken a step forward as a hitter from his early light-hitting days. La Stella isn't a superstar, but he makes a lot of contact and should hit for a strong average, and at the top of the Giants lineup, he should get plenty of counting stats. If you want to wait for your MI or starting 2B in a points league, he's one of the better late-round options.
Trammell has been the kind of player scouts and prospect analysts have always been split on. The consensus is definitely down on him lately, after he struggled to a .234/.340/.349 line in Double-A in 2019, but he still stole 20 bases that season, so even in a down year, there's an enticing set of skills for Fantasy. Jarred Kelenic's injury made it easier for the Mariners to put Trammell in a position to take the starting left field job, and he's earned strong reviews for both his play and his makeup from manager Scott Servais. He spent time at the alternate site last season re-working his swing to create more power, and if those changes helped him unlock his latent potential, his profile actually isn't that much different from someone like Trent Grisham.
Haniger has barely played since 2018 due to a series of back and core injuries, but he's looked good so far in spring training, hitting .275/.356/.600 in 15 games. It's just 15 games, but it's a nice reminder that the last time we saw him healthy, he hit .271/.351/.486 with a 30-homer-per-150-game pace across three seasons. This spring isn't proof that he doesn't have any lingering issues from those injuries, but it's a heck of a start, and one Fantasy players should be getting excited about. Especially since it looks like Haniger may bat leadoff, putting him in position to rack up a ton of plate appearances. Obviously, RBI may be tough to come by, but he should score a ton of runs to go along with his 30-homer potential and the skills to hit .280-plus. Fantasy players usually want to chase younger players, and so a post-hype veteran like Haniger can slide down draft boards pretty easily. Take advantage of that to lock in a strong third or fourth outfielder for bench-depth prices.
Hold on, am I a Mariners fan now? This is my third Mariners player in this column, and he's not the last -- and I didn't even pick uber prospect Jarred Kelenic, who could be a game changing player for the team and for Fantasy players. Maybe I need to track down a Mariners futures bet -- they're +7500 to win the weak AL West at William Hill … and Kikuchi could be a big help there. You might remember Kikuchi generating some hype last spring for his increased velocity and new pitch mix, and you might also remember that he went out and had an ugly 5.17 ERA and promptly taken him off your draft board. However, Kikuchi really was a much-improved pitcher last season, even if the ERA didn't reflect it. He sported a 3.30 FIP and 3.78 xFIP, thanks to a spike in strikeout rate to 24.2% and an increase in groundball rate -- he also gave up less hard contact. The problem was a 59.9% strand rate, an issue Kikuchi actually didn't have as a rookie. His stuff is legitimately very good, and with a bit more refinement (and a dash of luck), Kikuchi could be a must-start pitcher for Fantasy.
Rogers racked up plenty of whiffs in his major-league debut, but he also got hit way too hard, surrendering five homers in 28 innings en route to his ugly ERA. However, even in that small sample size, he was better than his overall numbers -- his xERA (which incorporates quality of contact) was just 3.53. And Rogers has looked even better in the spring, racking up 19 strikeouts to just four walks in 13.1 innings -- and with only one home run allowed, too. And he's done that while coming out and throwing heat, hitting 97 and averaging 94.6 mph with his fastball in his most recent start. Rogers was a first-round pick who made the majors after his 209 innings in the minors, and it looks like he could be the next Marlins pitcher to make a leap to Fantasy relevance.
Hopefully, Ray's bad-luck elbow injury -- a bruise suffered while falling down the stairs -- won't be a lingering issue, because he was having a very interesting spring. The 18 strikeouts and five walks in 13.2 innings are nice, obviously, but it's how he was doing it that really stood out. Ray averaged 96.2 mph with his fastball in his most recent outing, a level he's never been at for an extended stretch before. There's no guarantee that cures what ails Ray, and I know many of you are probably hesitant to give Ray another chance, which I understand, to an extent. However, there's an obvious difference between having to spend a top-150 pick on Ray and getting him with one of your last picks, so there's very little risk in taking this chance on Ray bouncing back.
It's still not clear if Peralta will win the fifth starter job over Josh Lindblom in spring, but that may not matter much. As Brewers manager Craig Counsell said recently, "No matter what we decide there, I would assure that by the end of April, [both are] starting games." Peralta is the more interesting of the two in my eyes, but I think both are interesting late-round sleepers. But Peralta is the one I'm really focused on, because I think he'll be a worthwhile starter in Roto leagues even if he isn't a starter for the Brewers -- as part of my "non-closers will have more value than ever in 2021" theory. Peralta has a career 3.59 ERA with 13.2 K/9 as a reliever, compared to a 5.45 ERA as a starter, but he continues to work on his slider in the hopes of being able to go through the lineup multiple times and he's already up to the 80-pitch range in spring. One key for Peralta will be better control -- he's been above 9.5% walk rate every season -- and he could benefit from some better luck -- his xERA has been at least .63 points lower than his ERA each season. He'll never be an innings eater, but I think he could emerge as a mid-to-high-3.00s ERA guy with elite strikeout rates in either role, and there's especially value in that for H2H leagues as a SPARP if he can stick in the rotation.
Howard is unlikely to crack the opening day rotation since he's recovering from a back injury, and between that and his less than stellar MLB debut in 2020, enthusiasm for him is pretty muted. However, he was throwing a tick harder early in spring before the injury, and his prospect standing hasn't really taken a hit since last season. He's still an advanced pitcher with command of a legit four-pitch arsenal, and it shouldn't take long for him to get another chance in the rotation once he's fully healthy -- he's been throwing bullpen sessions in recent days, so it shouldn't be too long. If you've got a deep bench and can afford to stash someone, Howard's a pretty good option.
Dunn has very little hype around him at this point, because he just didn't look particularly impressive in 2020 -- he had well below average velocity, got few strikeouts or swings and misses, and had poor control. It makes sense why people are overlooking him. However, Dunn velocity is way up this spring, as he's been sitting in the 94-96 mph range after averaging 91.2 a year ago. He was a good strikeout pitcher in the minors and his control wasn't as much of an issue as it has been in the majors, so hopefully the added velocity can make the rest of the arsenal play up. This one is truly a deep sleeper -- Dunn has an ADP of 506 on FantasyPros.com -- but I'm looking to snag him late in a 15-team league.
So which 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.