What should you be looking for in a sleeper? It's all about cheap upside. Every successful Fantasy team is going to have multiple late-round picks turn in early-round performances, and while sometimes they come out of nowhere – like Cedric Mullins in 2021 – often it's about taking a chance on a player like Tyler O'Neill who has elite tools but hasn't put it together.
So, your late-round targets should be the kind of players you can see becoming early-rounders if things go right. My picks tend to bunch around recent top prospects and high-end players coming off down seasons. Give me someone who has done it before or give me someone with youth on their side who has shown flashes but isn't going to cost a ton.
You'll see plenty of players of those archetypes in my first bust column of the season. Here are 11 players with an ADP after 200 in NFC drafts so far who I'll be looking to round out my roster with.
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SF San Francisco • #21 • Age: 25
Bart has failed to impress to this point in his MLB career, sporting a .612 OPS. However, that is over just 117 plate appearances, most of which came during the COVID-shortened season, so there's no real reason to hold that against him. He had played just 22 games above High-A before making his major-league debut, after all. There are still red flags in his profile – a 28% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A – but he's also hit .299/.361/.489 at the highest levels of the minors. With Buster Posey out of the picture, Bart should get a real crack at starting from opening day, and he's absolutely worth drafting in two-catcher leagues.
Luke Voit DH
SD San Diego • #45 • Age: 31
There are questions about not only how much but where Voit is going to play, and he's now had two of his past three seasons spoiled by injuries. As a 30-year-old, that's a concern, especially coming off his worst numbers. However, just as he did in 2020, Voit looks like a screaming buy coming off injury. He's too good not to be playing somewhere, whether it's first base with the Yankees or DH with some National League team, and at this price, there's absolutely no downside. Even taking last season into account, he's hitting .270/.362/.519 with a 36-homer, 100-RBI, 90-run pace over his past four seasons since becoming a regular for the Yankees. If he stays healthy, I don't see why he shouldn't be able to produce similar numbers to guys like Jared Walsh or C.J. Cron going 140 spots ahead of him.
Jeff McNeil 2B
NYM N.Y. Mets • #1 • Age: 30
Like Voit, McNeil is coming off a poor season with questions about where he's going to play, but I don't think there are really any questions about playing time with him. The Mets are expected to trade McNeil, and given his defensive versatility, he should find somewhere to play every day. So this is strictly a performance-related question. McNeil had a miserable season, and it's fair to wonder if the de-juiced ball might not have affected him more than most players, as it seemed to with DJ LeMahieu, given his limited raw power. McNeil has lived off putting the ball in play and racking up hits with bat control rather than power, but if the ball isn't traveling as far or as fast, doubles can turn into outs really quickly if you don't hit the ball hard to begin with. And, in this instance, McNeil's .255 expected batting average lines up perfectly with his poor performance. However, while will be 30 early in the season, that's not so old that you would expect him to fall off the cliff. He still rarely struck out, and batting average is the hitter stat that fluctuates most from year to year, so I'm not reason to write him off just yet. Especially if it only costs a final-round pick.
Alec Bohm 3B
PHI Philadelphia • #28 • Age: 25
I love a post-hype sleeper, and Bohm is one of the better candidates this season. He had a 108.4 ADP last season coming off a 44-game rookie season that saw him hit .338/.400/.481, with the expectation that he would take another step forward. That obviously didn't happen, as the concerns about his power potential as a prospect came to fruition in a concerning way. Ironically, there actually were signs of Bohm tapping into some raw power, as he was in the 89th percentile in average exit velocity, 82nd in max exit velo, and 90th in hard-hit rate. The problem is, he hits too many balls on the ground, and almost never hits the ball in the air to the pull side. If you look at players who tend to maximize their raw power, they tend to look like Jose Ramirez, who hits more than half of his batted balls in the air to the pull side; Bohm hit around 15% of his. He'll need to change that to take a step forward, but he's another final-round pick worth betting on.
Oneil Cruz SS
PIT Pittsburgh • #15 • Age: 23
When we're talking about late-round picks, you should be looking for upside above all else, and Cruz has a ton of that. He's coming off a season where he hit .292/.346/.536 as a 22-year-old in Double-A with 18 steals in 62 games, and he's long been considered a high-upside prospect – albeit one with quite a bit of risk. That'll happen when you swing as hard as he does and stand 6-foot-7. There's a chance Cruz comes up and is an immediate power/speed threat if he can keep the strikeouts to a manageable level. The problem is, his ADP has been rising over the past month, and it's possible he ends up in the 150 range if he earns the job out of spring training. However, if he's in the sub-200 range, I'll be buying.
MIA Miami • #7 • Age: 24
Sanchez has serious pop, which you can see in the 14 homers in 64 games as a rookie as well as in the underlying numbers that largely back up what he did – .244 expected batting average and .482 expected slugging percentage, per Statcast, compared to .251 and .489 marks he actually attained. You'd like to see him cut his strikeout rate (31.1% in 2021) and hit more balls in the air, and his struggles against breaking pitches could prove fatal to his Fantasy appeal. However, he's shown contact skills in the past, so if he can tap into that while maintaining his power, Sanchez could emerge as a .270 hitter with 30-plus homers.
Jo Adell LF
LAA L.A. Angels • #7 • Age: 23
Adell remains an incredibly toolsy player who started to put those tools into play in 2021. He hit .289/.342/.592 in Triple-A and was showing signs of figuring things out before an abdominal strain ended his season in mid-September. He hit .302/.343/.524 in his final 17 games. The upside is still obvious – in fact, he's starting to remind me a lot of Byron Buxton for the flashes he's showing amid injuries. It feels like Adell has been at the top of prospect lists forever, but it's worth remembering he won't even turn 23 until April and has played just 360 games as a professional between injuries and the lost 2020 season in the minors. This is exactly the kind of player you should be taking chances on with your later-round picks, because if he hits, he could still end up a top-25 player.
LAA L.A. Angels • #34 • Age: 29
I wish the price were a little better for Syndergaard, and obviously my interest level in him could go away quickly if we get reports from spring training saying he still isn't throwing his slider or is still sitting mid-90s. However, if Syndergaard can get close to the place he was pre-injury, the case for him is obvious. Good reports could obviously send his price skyrocketing, too, but as long as it stays reasonable, the reward outweighs the risk. Because the thing is, most pitchers are risky. That's the nature of the position. But most pitchers also haven't put together a five-year stretch with a 3.31 ERA and 26.3% strikeout rate. When you can get someone with that track record at this kind of discount, take advantage.
LAA L.A. Angels • #43 • Age: 25
Sandoval took a big step forward in 2021, buoyed by elite quality of contact suppression and two high-end swing-and-miss pitches in his changeup and slider. The quality of contact suppression is harder to replicate – pitchers obviously have some control over how hard they get hit, but it's also a skill with a lot of yearly fluctuation, as seen in the 47.4% hard-hit rate in 2020 preceding his 35.4% mark in 2021. However, his slider and changeup both had very strong whiff rates in 2020, and the big change was that he decreased his four-seam fastball usage, as he leaned on the changeup as his primary pitch and used a sinker more often. "Use your best pitches more often" isn't always the panacea we think it is, but in this instance, it seems to have made an impact. His 3.62 ERA in 2021 was backed up by a 3.55 ERA, so if he stays healthy, I think he can be a solid mid-rotation option.
MIA Miami • #27 • Age: 24
Cabrera's spot in Miami's rotation isn't guaranteed, but it seems pretty likely he'll be there on opening day after making seven starts last season. He wasn't great in those seven starts, of course; in fact, he was downright bad. But his stuff still looked quite good and he was coming off a 2.93 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 61.1 innings in the minors, so I'm not too worried about his first seven major-league starts portending doom. The Marlins have had a tendency to get the most out of their young pitchers of late, and his slider looked like a potentially elite pitch last season, so there are a couple more reasons to be optimistic.
Jordan Hicks SP
STL St. Louis • #12 • Age: 25
Hicks didn't quite look like himself in his return from Tommy John surgery last season, but he was back throwing 100 mph with consistency and was already getting big swing-and-miss numbers with his slider, so the foundation's there. With a full offseason to prep, I'm willing to bet he's going to be back to normal, more or less, in 2022. The interesting thing here is the talk that the Cardinals are going to try him out as a starter, which could obviously be a boon for his value if he manages. Or his command issues could make him totally unplayable there. However, Hicks has consistently been one of the toughest players to hit in the league, and if he could follow a Sandy Alcantara-like path, where he reins in the walks while remaining elite at suppressing hard contact, he could be a very useful starter. Or he can return to being a high-end closer. Either way works at this price.