We're in the homestretch now. Time to lock in those sleeper picks once and for all.
What these 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 the full extent of their upside.
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Riley Greene, OF, Tigers
FantasyPros ADP: 299.6
Edit: Greene fractured his foot after the initial release of Sleepers 3.0 and is expected to miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season ... which you could argue makes him an even deeper sleeper!
The Tigers have made their intentions for their top two prospects abundantly clear. They want them on the opening day roster, and so far, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene have done what they need to do to make it happen. Torkelson is a sleeper in his own right with an ADP of 231.8, but I'd rather focus on Greene, who for some reason isn't getting nearly as much love with an ADP of 299.6.
He's not quite as disciplined as Torkelson, which perhaps makes him riskier to some degree, but we're not talking about Jazz Chisholm levels of swing-and-miss for him. His hit tool is regarded as his best, in fact, with some scouts projecting him to be a batting title contender. He also brings an element of speed that Torkelson doesn't.
It's a more complete package, and most prospect rank lists have the two just one spot apart. So why is one gaining traction and the other isn't? It needs to change. Greene should be going at least as high as Jo Adell, who is himself undervalued with an ADP of 232. The upside is similar and the opportunity just as present.
Aaron Ashby, RP, Brewers
FantasyPros ADP: 302.6
I've resisted climbing aboard the Aaron Ashby hype train to this point because I just wasn't sure I could justify stashing him for however long it took him to claim a rotation spot. Well, it looks like he'll have one right away with the Brewers talking about going six-man to begin the season.
If opportunity is a given and I'm assessing him mostly on skill, then sign me up. Ashby is that rare breed of pitcher who induces ground balls as well as he does whiffs. He would have ranked first in the former if he had the innings to qualify last year and ninth in the latter. In the unlikely event he allows contact, you can feel confident the ball is staying in the park, which makes it easy to envision him as an ERA standout. If you're lacking the imagination to see past his actual 4.55 mark, just check out his 3.05 xFIP or even his 3.03 xERA. They're more indicative of Ashby's skill level than a small-sample ERA.
Consider also the Brewers' recent track record of developing pitchers. None of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes nor Freddy Peralta was considered a can't-miss prospect, and now they're all Cy Young contenders. Ashby could continue that tradition this year. Granted, the Brewers won't stick with a six-man rotation forever, but I have a feeling once he gets his hooks in, he won't let go
MacKenzie Gore, SP, Padres
FantasyPros ADP: 415.8
Gore has taken us on a winding road the past few years, having emerged as the game's top pitching prospect with a 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 12.0 K/9 in 2019 only to drop off of top 100 lists entirely this winter. The correction may have been too great. It looks like the Padres' efforts to restore his mechanics, which had gotten out of sync during the lost 2020 season, were successful after all.
We didn't see much evidence of it last year, when he struggled to achieve peak velocities and to find the strike zone, but he has shown up to camp throwing 98 mph and has so far allowed just five baserunners (and one walk!) in nine innings. It's a tiny sample, but it's a sample that seemed unattainable for him last year.
The Padres seem convinced they've straightened him out and would probably be inclined to award him a rotation spot if they hadn't committed four years to Nick Martinez in the offseason. Drafters have been slow to respond, treating Gore as a complete afterthought still, but he's well worth stashing in the hopes of a long awaited payoff.
Charlie Morton, SP, Braves
FantasyPros ADP: 71.8
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 21st 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 one of my favorite pitchers to draft this year.
Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
FantasyPros ADP: 105
I list his 2019 stats above to remind you how good Verlander was when last we saw him (apart from a singular start in 2020). He was an ace unlike even exists anymore, really, having just collected his second Cy Young after placing second the year before.
So why oh why is he only the 31st starting pitcher off the board now? Sure, he's coming back from Tommy John surgery, and it would be different if the timetable was unclear. But he's had nearly two full years to recover and has been full-go this spring, still averaging about 95 mph on his fastball.
So is it because he'll be 39? That's getting up there, sure, but again, there appears to be no loss of stuff this spring. And in fact, his age may work to his advantage by removing some of the usual safeguards coming off Tommy John surgery, knowing he's so close to the end anyway. I'm not suggesting he'll be back to 220 innings, but 180? It's possible. Another Cy Young-caliber season is the expectation, as far as I'm concerned, which at his going rate makes him a must for all my teams.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Blue Jays
FantasyPros ADP: 141.6
If you haven't surveyed the scene at third base yet, you're in for a scare. The past couple years have brutalized the position's once enviable depth, rendering it far and away the weakest infield position. When there aren't enough bankable options to go around, a glass-half-full approach for someone like Chapman makes sense. He's still on the right side of 30, was considered a rising star as recently as 2019 (when he hit 36 home runs, driving in 91 runs and scoring 102) and has a perfectly reasonable explanation for his struggles since then. His hip was messed up, requiring labral repair surgery in September 2020.
Even though he was available for the start of last season, it's the sort of procedure that can take a player more than just a few months to get back to full strength. Remember how we had written off Buster Posey prior to last season? Well, he had the same surgery late in 2018 and apparently just needed a little more time. Could it explain Chapman's rising strikeout rate, from 21.9 percent in 2019 to 33.1 percent since? Maybe, maybe not. But it almost certainly explains why his average exit velocity went from the 98th percentile to the 59th percentile last year.
A rebound would put him back in the 40-homer conversation, particularly now that he's with the Blue Jays, who offer a smaller park and a loaded supporting cast.
Jorge Soler, OF, Marlins
FantasyPros ADP: 171.4
When a player comes through with a big moment on a national stage, as Soler did in claiming World Series MVP honors last October, it's easy to overrate it in Fantasy, forgetting everything we know about sample size. But in Soler's case, it wasn't out of nowhere. Beginning in his final week with the Royals and continuing through his entire stint with the Braves, he hit .277 with 18 homers and a .936 OPS. That's a 49-homer pace.
Really, it's a wonder he was hitting .182 before then given that he was still generating elite exit velocities while demonstrating much-improved contact skills, his 23.6 percent strikeout rate looking more like something you'd see from Kris Bryant than some of the all-or-nothing sluggers Soler has modeled in the past.
And oh yeah, there's also the small matter of him already having a 48-homer season on his resume, just three years ago. We overlook it because it's such an outlier in a career ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, but the fact is it's still within his skill set. And because his heroic turn hasn't inflated his stock, with 50 outfielders going ahead of him still, I see only the upside.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Braves
FantasyPros ADP: 186.8
Like Jorge Soler, Rosario has a full head of steam from the postseason, winning NLCS MVP, and like Soler, there's reason to believe it wasn't some outlier. The 30-year-old was in fact a bankable Fantasy asset from 2017 through 2020, batting .281 during that stretch while homering every 20.9 plate appearances, a rate similar to Javier Baez over the same span of time.
Granted, he doesn't impact the ball with the same exit velocities as Baez, and because of that, it's reasonable to wonder if his decline last year had something to do with the new baseball. But health may have also played a factor. He was as good as ever after returning from a strained abdominal in late August, batting .316 with 10 homers and a .975 OPS in 48 games from that point forward, postseason included.
His launch angle is suited for maximum damage, resulting in a ground ball only about one-third of the time, and his superlative contact skills help make up for the diminished carry of the new ball. Heck, they may prove to be even more valuable with the league becoming less dependent on the long ball moving forward. Most of all, though, like Soler, Rosario is being drafted as if the postseason never happened, going 54th among outfielders.
Mitch Garver, C, Rangers
FantasyPros ADP: 194.4
How much can a man tout Mitch Garver in one lifetime? It's like he's been tattooed on my soul and my only path to salvation is to convince everyone else he's worth it. But I still haven't gotten over the miracle that was his 2019, when he hit 31 homers and generated a .995 OPS to make him a Salvador Perez-level outlier at the position. Then came the 2020 disaster (on so many fronts). It was what it was. But then came last year, when he more or less picked up where he left off in 2019.
He really did, his .875 OPS trailing only Yasmani Grandal and Buster Posey at the position. That's right: Garver's OPS was better than even that of Perez. And if you'll excuse the arbitrary endpoint (which may not even be so arbitrary given how disastrous last April was for offenses around the league), he had a .991 OPS from April 28 on. If only he hadn't missed so much time with groin and back injuries, right?
OK, so not "if only." Even when he returned for good, Garver was splitting at-bats almost 50/50 with the inferior Ryan Jeffers. But now he's with the Rangers, a team that hopefully has a greater appreciation of his skill set. They might even let him start at DH when he needs a break from behind the plate.
Luke Voit, 1B, Padres
FantasyPros ADP: 237.6
You could understand why Voit was being drafted outside the top 200 during the lockout. Sure, he was in line to be the Yankees starting first baseman, but they figured to replace him as soon as the transaction freeze ended. And then he'd be without a job and without an obvious path to at-bats, which does not a Fantasy asset make.
But when the Yankees finally did acquire their first baseman -- actually bringing back Anthony Rizzo, the guy who replaced Voit last year -- they followed up by dealing Voit to the Padres, a team that intends to turn over full-time DH duties to him. You got that? Playing time isn't an issue anymore. Voit is back, baby!
Back to what? Well, in parts of four seasons with the Yankees -- even including stretches in 2019 and 2021 when he was playing through pain or hardly at all -- Voit hit .271 with a .901 OPS, homering at a higher rate than Matt Olson. He actually led all the majors with 22 home runs during the pandemic-shortened 2022.
So how is he still going outside the top 200? Seriously, if you isolate ADP to just the last week on the NFBC site, it's like the trade never happened. Voit is a top-12 first baseman, as far as I'm concerned, with the potential to be top-five.
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Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs
FantasyPros ADP: 245.6
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: 256.4
Lopez isn't for everyone, I'll admit. Points leaguers can pretty much ignore him, as can anyone trying to play catch up in home runs late in a 5x5 draft. He'll provide approximately 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 90 picks earlier than Lopez even though he's not as likely to help in batting average.
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 into 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.
FantasyPros ADP: 260
Cobb signing with the Giants this offseason was like Jim and Pam getting together. You couldn't dream up a better destination for a pitcher like him. The Giants, of course, have developed a reputation for redeeming once-highly regarded pitchers who flamed out elsewhere -- most notably another split-finger guy, Kevin Gausman, but also Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and, briefly, Drew Smyly. The big difference for Cobb is that he already took a big step back toward respectability last year, delivering a career-best 11.2 percent swinging-strike rate and, thanks to all the ground balls generated by his splitter, a 3.38 xFIP that would have ranked 10th, ahead of Sandy Alcantara and Max Fried, if he had the innings to qualify.
He might have been a sleeper no matter where he landed, but now, having joined up with a team with playoff aspirations, a big pitcher's park and a track record for getting the absolute most out of forgotten pitching talents like him, it's almost too obvious.
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
FantasyPros ADP: 262.4
Nobody's sleeping on Bobby Witt, the Royals' mega prospect who's expected to join the big club on opening day, but Rodriguez, considered an even better prospect by some publications, hasn't gotten a whiff by comparison. Granted, he's 21 and still hasn't reached Triple-A, but while the Royals are still mired in a rebuild, the Mariners are actually playing for something.
They narrowly missed the postseason last year. They've already made a big investment in reigning AL Cy Young Robbie Ray. They're in it to win it in 2022. And Rodriguez is the sort of prospect who could bring that anticipation to a fever pitch -- a potential generational talent who's been hyped to the hills from age 17 and delivered at every stop so far. He just hit .362 in his first taste of Double-A, for goodness' sake.
Those kinds of talents aren't left to linger when something is legitimately on the line, and it sounds like Rodriguez is doing his best to force the issue this spring. Manager Scott Servais has had him start almost every game in center field, believing him to be the team's best option there already, and GM Jerry Dipoto has actually said, "I think he's ready for the challenge on the big stage." Better get while the getting's good.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Mets
FantasyPros ADP: 271.6
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 had a 5.29 ERA in 2019 as well. You also 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.
There's more. Upon reporting to camp, Carrasco also revealed that he was pitching with a bone fragment in his elbow last year. He couldn't straighten it, which of course impacted the movement on his secondary pitches. He had the fragment removed and is feeling great now, so don't be so quick to write him off.
Lane Thomas, OF, Nationals
FantasyPros ADP: 299.3
Baseball being a game of rhythm and routine, we can't really know what a player has to offer until he's playing every day. Thomas, heretofore considered a fringe bench bat, got that chance after the Nationals traded away Kyle Schwarber last season, and opened our eyes to a new world of possibilities. He hit .270 with seven homers, four steals and an .853 OPS in 45 games with his new team, reaching base at a .364 clip and settling into the leadoff spot by season's end.
His .325 BABIP during that stretch is potentially sustainable, especially given that he impacts the ball much like a power hitter with his 91 mph average exit velocity and 45.7 percent hard-hit rate. He didn't really put his 93rd percentile speed to use until the last couple weeks, and the hope is he'll do it more this year with the Nationals likely having to manufacture their runs. It may be the most optimistic of outcomes, but it's not so far-fetched to say a 20-20 season is in the realm of possibility here.
Connor Joe, OF, Rockies
FantasyPros ADP: 346.4
It's like a basic law of Fantasy Baseball that anyone in line for regular at-bats at Coors Field is a sleeper. It doesn't always work out, but in Joe's case, we have an inkling it might. He got a trial run last August when Raimel Tapia was hurt, and the Rockies liked him so much in the leadoff spot that they were prepared to try him in center field once Tapia returned. It never came to fruition because Joe suffered a season-ending hamstring injury right about that time, but the dream of him setting the table in the most optimal run-scoring environment hasn't died yet.
Like Frank Schwindel, Joe is a minor-league journeyman whose production down there made us wonder what he could do with an honest big-league chance. Most notable is his .417 on-base percentage since the start of 2018, which is why the leadoff role makes so much sense, but he also slugged .536 during that time. His plate discipline is such that he isn't likely to pull a Sam Hilliard and undercut his chances with a bunch of strikeouts. His 3.13 Head-to-Head points per game during his 43 games as a starter were in line with Mitch Haniger.
Jose Miranda, 3B, Twins
FantasyPros ADP: 399.7
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.