Fantasy Baseball: Revisiting preseason sleepers for 2018
Some of Scott White's sleeper picks have come through, and some have flopped miserably. And then there are those for which the jury's still out. He offers his latest assessment of all 15.
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Let's have some fun, shall we?
Yeah, I can take it. The misses here 2 1/2 months later are plenty, but that's the nature of the game. When you're picking sleepers, you're going against the grain, setting expectations most people wouldn't set at a time when Fantasy Baseball players are more sophisticated than ever and the number of voices contributing to the groupthink prevent virtually anything from slipping through the cracks.
So in those instances when I go for a player who I'm hoping will do what he's not expected to do, I'm only hoping for a 50 percent success rate. If I get half my sleepers right, my teams are probably in good shape.
But look, this isn't only about revisiting what I got right and what I got wrong. It's about assessing these players going forward, and for some of them you'll see I'm not ready to declare a verdict yet.
In retrospect, "sleeper" was kind of an awkward label for Lorenzo Cain, but I needed a platform to express that I thought he'd be better than ever with his move from an extreme pitcher's park, where he had played almost all of his major-league career, to an extreme hitter's park. And hey, he's on pace for 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases, which would both be career highs. It's a modest success given where you drafted him, but I'll count it nonetheless.
You may remember Jason Kipnis homered six times in his first six games this spring, which originally sent me down this path. He didn't homer again for the entire exhibition season, which should have been my first clue. To be fair, he was regarded as one of the best second basemen in Fantasy in 2013, 2015 and 2016, so I wasn't crazy for buying in. But it's clear now that the 2017 version is here to stay.
Granted, it took longer than expected for Gleyber Torres to claim the starting second base job, and by the time he finally did, it's fair to assume those who followed my preseason advice had already moved on. Which only made him more of a sleeper, amirite? He needs to do something other than hit homers, because his current pace for those is unsustainable, but for as little as you invested in him, this one is already a victory.
I still don't know what makes Tanner Roark good. A lot of soft contact, I guess, but that particular measurment doesn't seem to carry much weight for most pitchers. Mostly, I just liked that we could trust him to pitch deep into games with a great offense backing and was willing to bet that if he could pull the same trick twice (2014 and 2016) he could do it again.
"So I'm fully willing to acknowledge Matt Harvey may be dunzo."
That's how how I started my writeup back in March, so it was more of a what-do-you-have-to-lose sort of pick than anything. And there was plenty of buzz surrounding him in spring training, complete with the hope that a new coaching staff would help him recapture his mechanics another year removed from thoracic outlet surgery. But then when he came out of the gate with even less velocity than last year and no working swing-and-miss pitch, the Mets gave up on him. Soon enough, the Reds will, too.
There was such a stark contrast between Marco Estrada's first 11 starts and final 22 last year that there had to be something he was doing differently, especially given his mostly favorable track record. And the reports of him telegraphing his changeup — i.e., his everything — by slowing down his arm speed seemed to explain it. But nope, he's still awful, and though his first two starts in June have gone better, I'm not holding my breath for a turnaround at this point.
I'll say it's to be determined even though things had to go really right for me to get away with calling Zack Godley a sleeper given that he was being drafted in the middle rounds. The bottom line is I'm still plenty interested in rostering him after his latest start at Colorado where his curveball suddenly looked like an elite swing-and-miss pitch again. He gets that working alongside his elite ground-ball rate, and things will turn out all right.
Another mid-round sleeper? We've reached the Scott-has-thoughts-on-these-players-and-is-going-to-shoehorn-them-into-an-article-he-knows-you'll-be-eager-to-read portion of the sleepers list. Yeah ... sorry about that. I really thought Sonny Gray had transformed himself into an elite swing-and-miss pitcher last year, but even during his good stretches this year, that has proven not to be the case.
Again, Matt Olson wasn't coming at a great discount on Draft Day, but for a player who seemed to have a reasonable shot at 50 homers (he was on a 70-homer pace last year), I thought he deserved a little more love. After a slow start, he's now on a 33-homer pace, which isn't bad for the investment you made in him but isn't some great triumph either. Given that he leads all hitters in hard-contact rate, though, we may not have seen his best yet.
What's funny is I didn't have some airtight, data-soaked argument for why Scooter Gennett would be good this year. I just couldn't believe how late he was going -- barely getting drafted, basically -- after performing like a top-five second baseman from the time he took over as an everyday player last June. I just hope that my fellow believers stuck with him through the April power drought.
Once it became clear Danny Salazar would miss the start of the season, Mike Clevinger didn't come at such a discount anymore, but I was still willing to draft him higher than most, confident in the bat-missing ability he showed all of last year and especially down the stretch when he began pitching deeper into games. Funny thing is he has succeeded more on avoiding homers than missing bats this year, which may not be a sustainable formula, but the swinging strikes are back where they need to be since the start of May.
This one has followed the script perfectly, beginning with Jose Martinez securing everyday at-bats from the get-go. His elite line-drive rate combined with his low strikeout rate and all-fields hitting (more than 30 percent to left, center and right) have made him a safe source of batting average — a batting title contender, even — and with just enough power to push him into high-end territory at first base.
This guy was so good in the minors last year, rocketing up the prospect rankings everywhere that published them, and seemed to have the inside track on the right field job heading into spring training. But he hurt a lat muscle early on and hasn't been right since. Now he's out with a sprained ankle, which means he'll need to get better, get right and get hot to get a promotion. I give it long odds.
As hard as it may be to believe now, Alex Claudio was the front-runner for saves in Texas throughout draft prep season, which makes this one a pretty easy victory given that Keone Kela has ended up filling the closer role pretty much all year. He's not a great closer, but he's a closer. And with the Rangers out of contention, he's not at great risk of being replaced by someone else.
Coming into the season, there wasn't a middle reliever I wanted more than A.J. Minter, who had 26 strikeouts to two walks in 15 major-league innings last year. There was already some talk of him overtaking Arodys Vizcaino for closer duties at that point. But he struggled with command out of the gate, and though he has shown some signs of turning it around lately, Dan Winkler has almost certainly overtaken him in the pecking order.
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