Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: How to identify late-round sleepers with first-round potential

Last year, Ryan Bloomfield presented a fact and posed a question to the Fantasy baseball community.

  • Fact: Odds are at least one player outside the top 200 players will finish the season with roughly first-round value.
  • Question: Who will it be this year?

Bloomfield refreshed the question, adding Blake Snell to the list of players who, more or less, have achieved the feat in the last half-decade:

(My response to Bloomfield's inquiry: Matt Chapman, NFBC ADP 275. Not bad, eh?)

I took a cue and dedicated an entire post to the pursuit. (Therein, I actually tabbed Michael Brantley as perhaps the best bet -- also not a bad pick.) Ironically, Snell didn't make my final cut, although, in my defense, he fell within the top 200 by National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) average draft position (ADP), thereby disqualifying him from my exercise by reason of technicality. I kick myself, though, for not paying closer attention to Snell last year: I was aware he flashed one of baseball's best sliders in 2017, and his curve graded out above-average as well. I simply didn't trust him to shore up his command.

In hindsight, Snell's success was especially illuminating: he possessed at least one outlier trait. You'd be splitting hairs if you said Snell's slider was the best in baseball — Patrick Corbin likely owns that distinction — but it's pretty dang close. And the kinds of players who have achieved the feat in the past have demonstrated similar exemplary skills. Aaron Judge? Prodigious power. Jonathan Villar? Elite speed and uncommonly good power. Dallas Keuchel? Elite command. Dee Gordon? Again, speed. Michael Brantley? Literally the game's best contact skills with a splash of speed and power.

Last year's endeavor turned up some solid results (Aaron Hicks, Brantley, Chapman) and also quite a few duds (Lucas Giolito, Aaron Altherr, Albert Pujols). Such is the nature of speculating on low-cost entities; the market has allegedly priced their skills and contributions accordingly.

Fantasy owners know as well as anyone, though, that breakouts and busts are the name of the game. So, here I am, back to take another stab at finding 2019's hidden first-round talent. All of these players have some kind of outlier asset, whether it be a particular tool or simply status as a top prospect, which maybe implies future, rather than current, possession of an outlier asset(s). More importantly, you can find them outside the top-195 players -- or outside the first 13 rounds of a 15-team draft. (All ADP are courtesy of NFBC and current as of March 7, 2019.)

Honorable mentions
(Just inside the top-195, whether or not they have a great chance, so these don't count for the full list. But hey, keep 'em in mind):

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Garrett Hampson COL • 2B • 1
ADP187

Hampson is 2019's sleeper darling, which is a bummer for me because I won't have any shares of him (except -- humblebrag -- in keeper/dynasty leagues where I scooped him up on the cheap during the season last year). Everyone came to the party for the speed, and that's good and all, but his superb contact skills and plate discipline are half the fun. His upside looks something like Ender Inciarte (5/25/.290) with a ceiling of Lorenzo Cain (10/30/.310), both of whom are excellent and often underrated Fantasy options. The rub here is he's not projected for a ton of playing time, and while FanGraphs' Depth Charts projections only mean so much, his 263 projected plate appearances paired with the Rockies' insistence to bury high-quality young talent is telling.

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Josh James HOU • SP • 39
ADP192

I regret not making a bigger deal of gunning for James in my Ottoneu leagues last year until it was too late. I watched him pile up strikeouts with solid command and monster velocity but — and I hate myself for this — let myself be influenced by his lack of prospect status. Now, he, like Hampson, is a sleeper darling despite not having a clear role. The skills are there, and although we are definitely putting the cart before the horse collectively (but for good reason), he potentially has the requisite outlier skill to vault him into Walker Buehler territory for 2020.

194. Alex Reyes, STL SP

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Alex Reyes STL • SP • 29
ADP194

It's a health thing and, thus, a playing time thing; but if Reyes is every bit the top prospect and per-inning monster we saw pre-injury, he could just as readily fulfill 2019's Buehler role as well.

To see the rest of Alex's picks for late-round sleepers, head over to SportsLine.com and subscribe using the promo code "PITCH" to get your first month for $1.

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