There's really no shortage of players you could call a sleeper for Fantasy baseball drafts in any given year. Think someone going in the third round should be a first rounder? Go ahead and call them a sleeper! Think there should be more hype around your favorite young player? Slap that label on them!
Scott White gave you his sleepers last week, focusing primarily on players he thinks are simply being overlooked. That's as good a definition for the term as you're going to find, but it's not the one I'm going with for my sleeper picks. I want to cast a bit of a wider net, so I'll be focusing on players with a current ADP outside of the top 250 on FantasyPros.com.
Some of these guys have serious potential to be difference makers, we're just not sure what their role is going to be in 2021. Some of them are coming back from injury and feature question marks about whether you can rely on them. Some are coming off bad years but have the chance to bounce back. Either way, I've identified 20 players you can usually find with your last few picks in any league who I think could help put your team over the top. To see more of my more traditional sleeper picks, head here for the first version of this list.
Jordan Hicks - 252.8
Hicks was taking a step forward in 2019, cutting his walk rate and pushing his strikeout rate higher as he grew more comfortable relying on his wicked slider. He had some of the best stuff in baseball and now he's 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery and with a chance to return as the Cardinals closer. It'll be worth watching how his spring goes because he could be one of the biggest risers if he takes that job.
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Jarred Kelenic - 255.0
Kelenic reached Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2019 and might have made his major-league debut had 2020 been a normal season. He doesn't have much left to prove, and will likely get a long look against major-league competition in Spring Training. He may not make the Opening Day roster, but he should be up for most of the season. Before the 2020 season, I compared him to a healthy Tommy Pham, with a ceiling comp of "Francisco Lindor with more strikeouts — or Trevor Story with fewer strikeouts." He's added enough bulk to where it's not clear if he'll maintain the athleticism needed to play a plus outfield, so the steals could be a question mark, but the overall hit tool figures to make him a very good Fantasy option either way. If you want to draft-and-stash a prospect, Kelenic might be the best option besides Wander Franco -- and he might have a more obvious path to the majors.
Buster Posey - 256.8
Posey struggled through the 2019 season and then opted out for 2020, so we really haven't seen him play at a Fantasy-relevant level since 2018. That's not great for a guy who will be 34 on Opening Day, but he was also fighting through a hip injury that he underwent surgery on following the 2019 season. In his case, a full year off to recover may do him some good, and if Posey can return to being even the .285 hitter he was in 2018, he'll be a must-start catcher.
Mitch Haniger - 259.0
Haniger has been hit by a slew of injuries -- including two core surgeries -- over the last few years and hasn't really been Fantasy relevant since 2018 as a result. However, it's worth remembering that he hit .284/.361/.492 between 2017 and 2018, with 42 homers in 253 games. The injury risk doesn't really matter at this price, and the chance he returns to being a second-tier outfielder is worth gambling on.
Nick Senzel - 270.3
Senzel struggled mightily in 2020, and now has 127 major-league games under his belt with a paltry .245/.305/.416 line, so it's pretty hard to get excited at this point. However, he never really got the chance to get in a groove in 2020, as he was sidelined after the first two games of the season due to an illness -- that turned out not to be COVID-19 related -- and then dealt with finger and groin injuries early in the season before missing a month with an undisclosed injury. He was hitting .244/.327/.489 before that last issue, and has a per-162 game pace of 18 homers and 20 steals, so you can still see a path to a good Fantasy outcome. I'm expecting improvement from the entire Reds lineup, and Senzel could be chief among them.
Ryan McMahon - 271.2
I'm not terribly enthusiastic about McMahon as a real-life player, but he seems likely to bat in the middle of the lineup for a team that plays half their games in Coors Field, and that has value. He hit 24 homers and drove in 83 runs while starting just 122 games in 2019, and he could be a cheap source of 30 homers and 90 RBI.
Michael Kopech - 275.3
We've seen Kopech throw exactly one inning in game action since 2018, but he generated plenty of buzz in that spring appearance last season, hitting 100 mph easy in a 1-2-3 inning in his return from Tommy John surgery. The season was postponed shortly after and Kopech opted out of the rest of 2020, so we're now two full seasons removed from seeing Kopech try to get through an MLB lineup. Presumably, he still has that 100-plus mph fastball, and he seemed to be figuring out his control issues before his injury, walking just six in his final 11 starts between the majors and minors, with 74 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. He's got a chance to open the season in the White Sox rotation, and while he'll almost certainly be capped at 100 innings or possibly even below there, with a pick this late, he'll still have value.
Amir Garrett - 288.2
Garrett certainly has the bulldog mentality to be a closer, and he's got the stuff, too, with 104 strikeouts in 74.1 innings over the last two seasons. He's lobbying for the job and will get a chance to earn it. If he does, Garrett could be a viable replacement for Raisel Iglesias and could provide similar production.
Joey Votto - 294.5
Votto is never going to bounce back to being an elite player, but there's more juice left here than his ADP might suggest. He made some adjustments in 2020 that unlocked more power, with a slight tradeoff in strikeout rate to go along with it. He had a .254 xBA with his highest expected ISO since 2017, and it's not out of the question that he could be a 25-homer hitter with a decent average and 90 runs. It's not a difference-making profile, but it could be pretty similar to what Anthony Rizzo might give you.
Griffin Canning - 295.3
Canning dealt with an elbow scare in 2020, but actually made it through the season intact, the most important thing. Canning has two viable put-away pitches with his two breaking balls, and has seemed to be on the verge of putting it together in each of the last two seasons. With an ADP around 300 overall, it's worth finding out if he can do it this year.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa - 297.4
Kiner-Falefa has a lot more value in Yahoo leagues, where he maintains catcher eligibility despite transitioning into a full-time infielder in 2020. However, he's still a plus contact hitter with good speed, and steals aren't just valuable for a catcher. He figures to play every day, and if all he does is repeat his 2020 over 150 games, he would have given you a .280 average, 20 steals and 72 runs. Those aren't huge numbers, but as a free source of stolen bases, at least he doesn't hurt you in batting average.
Deivi Garcia - 303.8
Garcia wasn't great in his MLB debut, but he was probably better than you're giving him credit for. The 4.98 ERA is ugly, but he sported a manageable 1.19 WHIP, thanks in large part to a very low 4.1% walk rate. Control was his biggest issue in 2019, as he walked 4.4 per nine and struggled to a 4.28 ERA. Garcia still has to prove he can handle a starter's workload and keep the ball in the yard effectively, but if he can continue to show improved control while tapping into more of the considerable swing and miss he showed in the minors -- 33.9% strikeout rate in 2019 -- he could be an above-average starter with a shot to crack the Opening Day rotation.
Nate Lowe - 310.0
It's fair to ask if, for all they do right, the Rays' willingness to put even young players in a platoon or part-time roles might not do at least some of those players a disservice. Lowe hasn't been an impact player yet, but he's also never really had a chance to play everyday, which makes it awfully hard to get into a rhythm. A .299 hitter with 33 HR and a 15.5% walk rate between Double-A and Triple-A, Lowe should get a chance to play everyday for the Rangers and has more upside than the Rays have allowed him to show so far.
Mitch Keller - 313.7
I was extremely high on Keller heading into the 2020 season, so it was pretty disappointing to see him struggle yet again. However, while I don't want to just give him a mulligan -- he'll be 25 shortly after Opening Day, so he's not exactly young for someone who hasn't proven himself yet -- but it's clear Keller wasn't right last season. His velocity was way down in his first two starts before he went on the IL with an oblique strain and then he uncharacteristically struggled with his control upon his return. This is a prove-it season for Keller, but as a late-round flier, I'm willing to give him a shot.
A.J. Puk - 343.8
Puk is expected to be in the A's rotation on Opening Day, and while there are definite inning and injury concerns, the upside outweighs the risks at this point. He's coming back from shoulder surgery and has also had Tommy John surgery, so we've only seen him pitch in the majors briefly as a reliever back in 2019. However, the 6'7" lefty averaged 97 mph with his fastball, elite velocity from that side of the mount. If he can regain that velocity -- early reports out of camp are good -- he still has the potential to be an overwhelming power pitcher. Even if he maxes out around 100 innings or so, Puk could be very useful for however long he is throwing.
Jo Adell - 345.3
Adell looked overwhelmed in his first trip to the majors, to the point where it seems unlikely he'll have a spot on the Opening Day roster and some think prospect Brandon Marsh may have surpassed him in the organizational hierarchy. I'll just point out that Adell has still played just 262 games as a professional, so calling him up as a 21-year-old was an aggressive move. He struggled initially upon getting called up to Double-A before figuring it out, and he's played just 70 games total in the high minors, so a bit more seasoning wouldn't hurt. However, he's an elite talent, and if it clicks early either in spring training or the minors, it may not take long before we see him again, and his potential power-speed combo could be extremely valuable.
C.J. Cron - 365.5
Cron and Coors Field could be a match made in Fantasy heaven. Between 2018 and 2019, Cron was in the top 10 percent both seasons in barrel rate, while hitting 55 homers in 265 games. Coors Field is good for power, but where it really improves hitters in batting average, which could be huge for Cron, who hit .253 across those two seasons. He's only on a minor-league deal, so Cron still has to earn a job, but if he's playing everyday for the Rockies, a .275 average with 35 homers isn't an unreasonable outcome.
Chris Archer - 401.3
Archer was on many people's "Never Again!" list even before he had Thoracic Outlet Symptom surgery last year, but admit it: You're at least interested to see if the Rays can unlock some of his former form. The track record for pitchers coming back from TOC surgery is not great, and Archer's recent track record is also not great, but if he simplifies his approach and gets back to prioritizing his four seam fastball and slider, he might still be able to be effective. That the Rays made him their third most highly paid player says a lot about the Rays financial situation, but it may say something about what they still see in him. Either way, he's essentially free, so why not see if they can figure something out. If any team can …
Jazz Chisholm - 413.5
Chisholm is pretty far on the toolsy end of the prospect spectrum, and it's not terribly surprising that he looked overmatched in his first opportunity above Double-A. He'll probably always strikeout issues, but the overall package here is a very enticing one for Fantasy, and his explosive physical tools could make him the kind of player who can make a big jump from one season to the next. He's got a chance to be in the Opening Day lineup for the Marlins with a big spring, and that should also put him back on Fantasy radars.
Alex Wood - 488.0
Wood has really struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, and he hasn't pitched well at all even when healthy enough to be out there. The Giants took a cheap flier on him this offseason, however, and that's about as good a landing spot as any in baseball given their home park. Wood had a 3.29 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning from 2016 through 2018, and his RP eligibility makes him one of the few potential worthwhile SPARPs in H2H points formats, so consider him a late-round option in those leagues.