The Draft Prep calendar waits for no one, and the calendar says it's time to take a second crack at sleepers even as we await the resumption of baseball and the tidal wave of developments that will certainly accompany it.
So ... here we go again. Reminder: These aren't my only sleepers. They're not even my favorite sleepers (see my Most Undervalued by ADP or even Breakouts 1.0). What they are are my purist sleepers. They're the players people are genuinely sleeping on, as in drafting them in a way that doesn't account for their upside.
While the list includes some big-name players who simply aren't getting their due, it's mostly populated by late-round targets who you might not think to draft otherwise. Clearly, then, it's not a one-stop shop for identifying value on Draft Day but just one slice of the pie -- a hearty one, more of a dinner portion than a dessert.
We'll start with the new additions to the list and then continue with the holdovers from Sleepers 1.0.
Charlie Morton, SP, Braves
FantasyPros ADP: 90.2
Is this cheating? It feels like cheating. Everyone knows who Morton is and most everyone thinks he's good, right? Well, I did say sleepers are players whose ADP doesn't account for their upside, and seeing as Morton was the No. 10 starting pitcher in points leagues and No. 13 in 5x5 last year, his wouldn't seem to.
Are people drafting him 27th at the position because they're afraid he'll bust? I don't see why. Nothing about last year's performance should make anyone suspicious. His 3.34 ERA was right in line with his 3.31 xFIP and 3.32 xERA, and he has delivered an ERA in the low threes for three of the past four years, deploying one of the game's spinniest curveballs for big whiff and ground-ball rates. The only exception was the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which was weird for a number of reasons but particularly because he was dealing with shoulder inflammation. His velocity returned after an IL stint, though, and so did the results.
So what we have here is a pitcher with an unimpeachable track record, a premium supporting cast and expectations of a big workload -- exactly what you look for in an ace, in other words. Are we discounting Morton because he's 38? OK, but Max Scherzer is ancient, too, and nobody bats an eye at it. If there's no slippage in stuff, age is among the least concerning risk factors for pitchers and can actually work to their advantage by freeing them of workload restrictions.
It all adds up to Morton being my single favorite pitcher to draft this year. He's going in Round 8 on average in a 12-team league. Give him to me in Round 6, and I'll still call it a discount.
Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs
FantasyPros ADP: 251
And what are we doing here? No sooner do I finish calling Charlie Morton's track record unimpeachable than we find a guy whose 2021 interrupted a seven-year run with a 3.12 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Hendricks was as surefire as pitchers get, a consensus top-25 pick at the position a year ago, and we're throwing it all away after one suspect season? Why?
Oh sweet mercy, he was throwing 87 mph. Yeah, that's him. That's what he's always done. Maybe the lack of velocity gives him a narrower margin for error and a higher chance for a meltdown if his control isn't immaculate, and maybe it happened more often last year as MLB introduced a new ball in the clunkiest possible way, mixing it in with the old ball. But it's not like he forgot how to pitch. He had a stretch of 12 quality starts in 13 chances last year, compiling a 2.50 ERA during that time, which explains how he won 14 games even for a bad Cubs team.
Maybe if Hendricks was still targeted like a top-25 starting pitcher, I'd say the volatility isn't worth it, but he's going completely undrafted in shallower leagues. Absent a loss of skill to explain his struggles, the chances of a rebound are high enough that he's basically free money at that point.
Nicky Lopez, SS, Royals
FantasyPros ADP: 287.2
Lopez isn't for everyone, I'll admit. Points leaguers can pretty much ignore him, as can anyone trying to play catchup in home runs late in a 5x5 draft. He'll provide precisely zero of those. But what he can provide is a cheap boost in the two categories most would say need to be filled earliest: batting average and stolen bases.
Remember what we were hoping then-prospect Nick Madrigal would become at this time a year ago? That's precisely what Lopez became once he joined the Royals lineup for good last June, batting .334 with 16 stolen bases in 93 games. The theoretical version of Madrigal last year was going much earlier than the established version of Lopez is now. Meanwhile, stolen base specialist du jour Myles Straw goes about 100 picks earlier than Lopez even though he's not as likely to help in batting average. He's also more likely to lose his job given that he doesn't provide the same defensive value.
Seeing as Lopez would simply need to pick up where he left off last year to blow out his ADP, I'm thinking people must not buy what he did. But he strikes out at a rate comparable to DJ LeMahieu, and he hit .296 over his minor-league career. For the price, I think we can all afford some optimism.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Mets
FantasyPros ADP: 298.5
Carrasco's tumble in the rankings this year feels more logical than Hendricks'. He, too, was an early-round mainstay for a seven-year period, but last year wasn't his first misstep. He also had a 5.29 ERA in 2019. Plus, you can't discount the recent attacks on his health, first his much publicized leukemia battle in 2019 and then the hamstring tear that cost him the first four months of 2021.
Wait, 2019 and 2021? Those are the same two years we're holding against him performance-wise. In between, he had a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 10.9 K/9, ending the shortened 2020 season on a particularly high note. Come to think of it, is there any evidence for a decline beyond the front-facing numbers? He didn't lose any velocity. His whiff rate was down a little, but still excellent. His slider didn't have quite the same bite to it, which makes sense given the hurried buildup after a long absence. Is it possible Carrasco isn't actually on the decline but simply had his body betray him two of the past three years? If so, we're all sleeping on a pitcher with a history of Jack Flaherty-type numbers.
And come to think of it, are the red flags for Carrasco so different than for Flaherty, who goes about 250 picks earlier? Not sure I want to open that can of worms, but if nothing else, I feel comfortable saying that no pitcher going in the same vicinity as Carrasco has anywhere near the upside. The case for his decline isn't so cut-and-dried.
Jose Miranda, 3B, Twins
FantasyPros ADP: 356
You may have heard third base is terrible this year, offering maybe five bankable options and four others with hope of high-end production. If there's any position where you could use a lifeline, it's that one, and there's of course no better lifeline than a midseason callup.
Miranda is the right tool for the job. I might have said the Rangers' Josh Jung previously, but he recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and could miss all of 2022. So it all falls on Miranda, which is fine since he's the more under the radar of the two anyway, being downgraded by all conventional prospect rankings for his lack of defensive home. (Don't worry -- his third base eligibility for 2022 is secure.)
Bat-first prospects with major defensive questions are exactly the sort that catch the Fantasy-playing world by surprise, and in Miranda's case, bat-first takes on new meaning. Just look at those numbers he put up between Double- and Triple-A last year, with no drop-off from one level to the next. They're like Albert Pujols in his prime. What stands out most, given the sheer productivity of it all, is the 12.5 percent strikeout rate. I was just touting a similar number for Nicky Lopez, and Miranda ain't no slap hitter.
I don't know exactly when he'll be up, but he's 23 and clearly has nothing more to prove with the bat. The Twins lineup has question marks all over and will surely create a spot for him sooner than later. If it ends up being at first base, second base or DH instead of third base, so be it. Consistent at-bats anywhere will have made him worth a draft-and-stash.
- Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
- Matt Chapman, 3B, Athletics
- Jorge Soler, OF, free agent
- Eddie Rosario, OF, free agent
- Mitch Garver, C, Twins
- Frank Schwindel, 1B, Cubs
- Luke Voit, 1B, Yankees
- Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
- Alex Cobb, SP, Giants
- Lane Thomas, OF, Nationals
- Rafael Ortega, OF, Cubs
- Connor Joe, OF, Rockies
Read about these sleepers in Scott White's Sleepers 1.0 column.