Don’t Sleep on These 12 Sleepers for 2017

In fantasy baseball, it is impossible to have all of your teams loaded with the top-tier talent necessary to win every season. Even keeper leagues have players at the top every year who struggle with injuries. You need depth, you need to find a diamond in the rough, and you need to take gambles in order to win. For that reason, you need to know some players who may fly under the radar. This is a list of 12 players who may be available a little later than you think in your baseball drafts who could ruin the lives of your fiercest competitors.

pollock
Pollock should return to All-Star status after missing most of 2016. Courtesy: CBS Sports

A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Pollock had all of 46 plate appearances in 2016 due to injuries. It isn’t so much that he is a legitimate sleeper as much as how low he may rank on several draft boards due to his extended absence. Remember, this is a guy who hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, and 39 steals in 2015. He was the Yang to Paul Goldschmidt‘s Ying, worthy of an early selection last season. Don’t let him fall too far and reap the benefits if he falls into your lap.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers

Gomez struggled so mightily last season that the Houston Astros released him on August 18th. Two days later, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and promptly put up the type of line that Houston was looking for during his time there, erupting to a .284/.362/.543 line with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 33 games – he had five home runs and 29 RBI in 85 games for Houston. He signed for one-year and $11.5 million to prove himself capable of All-Star production in his age-31 season. He is playing in the right place for another offensive outburst.

buxton
Buxton still has the tools that made you fall in love. Don’t run away now. Courtesy: ESPN

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

Buxton has really disappointed a lot of fans and prospect fanatics with a pretty abysmal start to his career. He has struck out 162 times (with just 29 walks) in 469 plate appearances, which has led to a putrid .220/.274/.398 triple-slash in his brief career. While others will look at those numbers and run, you shouldn’t let the prospect fatigue and struggles lead you astray. Look at Buxton’s September from 2016:

Months
G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
29 29 113 101 24 29 6 2 9 22 1 10 38 .287 .357 .653 1.011 66 .370
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2017.

While the strikeouts are still worrisome, this supposed clone of a young Eric Davis showed power and the abilities that made people drool. He was given the job for the month of September and ran with it, which is downright scary with his speed tool and the BABIP right where most speedsters have theirs. Look for a breakout in 2017.

tomas
Tomas can’t take a walk, but you don’t need to with power. A healthy lineup around him could lead to more power. Courtesy: Peter Gammons

Yasmany Tomas, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Tomas was just a part of my story about overpaid Cuban free agents, so why would I have him on a sleeper list, you ask? Because Tomas has some tools that you can’t find everywhere, namely his power. He tore things up in the second half of 2016, posting a .913 OPS, which is impressive for a guy who walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. It meant that the 18 bombs in the second half – and 31 overall – could be overlooked due to how ridiculously horrific the Diamondbacks have handled him. With Jake Lamb locked in at third, it appears that Tomas is officially a slugging outfielder, and his numbers could continue to climb with the return of the previously mentioned Pollock to the Arizona lineup.

Hernan Perez, 2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Over his first 351 career plate appearances (2012-2015), Perez was pretty useless, posting a .235/.251/.307 line with 15 doubles, three triples, one homer, and six stolen bases. Then, at age 25, Perez got an opportunity in Milwaukee, and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the second half of the 2016 season, this previously unknown, organizational depth player went on to post a .281/.313/.449 triple-slash with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, and 24, count ’em…24, stolen bases. He’d total 13 bombs and 34 steals on the season, playing third, second, and outfield. While no one knows whether he will put up similar numbers, Perez has some value, even if it is only in deep mixed leagues. That position flexibility is Zobrist-like, while the production isn’t too far off, either. He would be a nice addition in late rounds for depth purposes, though the addition of Travis Shaw at third could lead to Perez being a one-year wonder.

cotton
Did you know who he was before September? Be honest…Keep an eye on him, but don’t go crazy. Courtesy:sacbee.com

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Cotton was a 20th round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, acquired by the A’s in the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick deal last season. He had long had solid numbers in the minors, striking out 10 per 9 IP over the course of 490+ minor league innings. Upon reaching the majors for the first time in September, Cotton posted video game numbers over five starts with a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB, and 6 H/9. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the 5’11” right-hander will continue to miss bats at that rate, but you don’t want to be the one who watches someone else benefit from the gamble. He’s penciled in as Oakland’s No. 4 starter, so continue to monitor him this spring.

James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

If only this guy could stay healthy…which is exactly why he is a sleeper. After making only 20 starts in 2016, Paxton is the type of guy that Brett Anderson would like to be and every other pitcher avoids becoming; however, his final 11 starts were pretty impressive, injury-free, and worthy of fantasy acknowledgment. He posted a 71:9 K:BB over 67.2 innings, a 3.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and a .235 BAA. Seattle made a lot of deals this winter to become contenders, and Paxton could be a “guy” who improves enough or continues to pitch like he did last season, to help make that happen.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers

Norris had an interesting year, spending a lot of time rebuilding stamina after beating cancer between the 2015 and 2016 season. Upon sticking in the Tigers rotation (from August 9th onward), the young left-hander posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 punchouts in 56.1 innings. While the 1.37 WHIP and 19 walks in the same 56.1 innings is worrisome, Norris has shown the ability to make it work. He will turn just 24 in April and he has to beat Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey to earn the No. 5 spot, but, if he wins it, he has the stuff and the teachers (Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann) to learn on the job.

Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Run in terror if you’d like, but don’t forget to look at the 11.3 K:9 that Ray posted in 2016. That led to a whopping 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings. Sure, the 4.90 ERA is gross. Sure, the 1.47 WHIP is disgusting. There is something here. You don’t miss that many bats without having great stuff. This will be Ray’s age-25 season and he will take another step forward because he won’t be posting a .355 BABIP in 2017 and he won’t be losing 15 games again if he throws it by so many opposing hitters in 2017. Keep in mind, Ray’s FIP was 3.76 in 2016. Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

peraza
There could be a lot of this happening in Cincinnati. Courtesy: Getty Images

Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds

Everyone is going to be on the Peraza bandwagon, with valid reasons. When the Reds traded Brandon Phillips (and millions of dollars that “small-market” teams don’t have) to the Atlanta Braves, it made fantasy baseball fans celebrate. Peraza posted a .324/.352/.411 triple-slash and 21 stolen bases in just 72 games and 256 plate appearances. With Peraza and Billy Hamilton around, the Reds could look a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980’s, when Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ran wild on the league. They just have to get on base for that to happen, and Peraza has been more of a hit-tool and speed talent than an on-base machine.

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

After getting hit in the head on June 18, Panik battled some concussion symptoms, having played through them by passing concussion protocol through MLB. After the beaning, Panik hit just .215/.305/.346. Prior to that, he was hitting .263/.326/.411. Obviously, there could be something in the Justin Morneau area here that could scare you away from wanting Panik on your fantasy team, but he showed a couple of statistics that would warrant a rebound. Overall, including the times that he was apparently dazed, Panik walked more than he struck out in 2016, while posting career highs in homers (10) and RBI (67). In addition to that, Panik had a woeful .245 BABIP. While the league average is typically around .300, Panik’s was incredibly low. There are always outliers and it appears that Panik was one of them in 2016. Expect a rebound in 2017.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have a lot of interesting young pitchers. Finnegan was, prior to Anthony DeSclafani‘s return from injury, the only Reds’ pitcher worth owning in fantasy leagues. Like any young pitcher, there were growing pains…lots of them; however, it wasn’t all Finnegan’s fault. The Reds had Finnegan paired with Ramon Cabrera in 12 of his 31 starts and Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 catchers in pitch framing. Whether that is something you consider or not, you should know that he should have Devin Mesoraco back there again, barring another injury, in 2017. In addition to the potentially damning battery mate in 2016, Finnegan was able to change something in his approach down the stretch, throwing a changeup more often and posting some ridiculous numbers over his final seven starts: 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47:16 K:BB, 37.1 IP, .199 BAA. Sure, the Reds will be one of the worst teams in MLB in 2017…unless they have players like Finnegan continue to grow while on the job. Consider adding him in late rounds and be willing to bail on him if he goes through battles of inconsistency in the middle of the year.

Advertisements

Inspecting the Prospects – The Cueto Deal

 

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been keeping an eye on Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds deadline for quite some time, but you can’t blame a Cincinnati native and long-time Reds fan for being a homer. The deal that finally happened on Sunday, which resulted in the Cincinnati ace landing in Kansas City to anchor the Royals’ rotation in their push towards the playoffs, was something that was anticipated for months. Unfortunately, my prediction from this offseason, which had him landing in Boston, flopped about as much as the Red Sox have this season. Still, Cincinnati is left with a lot of question marks, especially since management isn’t done making moves. If you’re like me, you understand that this deal needed to happen so that the Reds could regroup and be competitive in a couple of years. If you’re pissed off because the Reds just traded their ace and have no one readily available to take on that role – you may want to take a step back from the ledge.

The Reds are headed towards a new era, and likely one with several years of trying to figure things out, resulting in 90 or more losses per season; however, Sunday’s deal was a tremendous start in showing that they are capable of righting the ship quickly. Here is some reaction from the experts:

The "major" piece in the deal, LHP Brandon  Finnegan Courtesy: kansascity.com
The “major” piece in the deal, LHP Brandon Finnegan
Courtesy: kansascity.com

About Finnegan:

“…Coming to the Reds, there is no reason he shouldn’t be given another chance to lengthen out into a starting role. Finnegan has the arsenal of a starting pitcher and while he is short, he has some present strength. If Finnegan moves back into a starting role, he needs to work on regaining the feel for his changeup. As a reliever, he’s largely junked the pitch but it was above-average at times when he was pitching as a starter in college. This year Finnegan has largely focused on using his 92-95 mph fastball and his slider which flashes above-average.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America

“…Finnegan’s changeup is obviously going to be the separator there, as far as any hope of starting goes. It’s a genuinely strong pitch, able to generate whiffs and ground balls against right-handers in its limited exposure to date. He has an excellent sinker/slider combination, although neither have yet passed the MLB test in more than a single trip through the order. If he can wield that change as a weapon against righties in larger samples, he’s a starter, and probably a good one.” – Baseball Prospectus

The "Wild Card" in the deal, LHP John  Lamb Courtesy: royalrevival.blogspot.com
The “Wild Card” in the deal, LHP John Lamb
Courtesy: royalrevival.blogspot.com

About Lamb:

“…He now sits 88-93 mph, but he’ll touch 95 occasionally. More importantly he’s added a cutter that has quickly become a pitch that compensates for his still fringy curveball. His changeup isn’t as good as it was pre-injury but it’s an average offering as well.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America

“…Though Lamb still can hit 96 mph on occasion, he has lost a couple of ticks off his fastball and usually works from 89-93. His changeup isn’t the weapon it once was, so he has come up with a low-80s cutter to keep right-handers at bay. He also has a soft curveball that wasn’t much of a factor before he got hurt.After battling his control and command in his first two Triple-A stints, Lamb has thrown more strikes and was doing a better job of keeping the ball down in the zone in 2015. He won’t be the frontline starter he once projected to be, but he could help the Reds in the near future.” – Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com

“…He works with a 90-92 mph fastball, and he still possesses a plus change that has excellent deception from arm speed with some downward movement to it as well. The curve will never be much more than a 45 offering—and he’ll likely need to add some velocity to it. The key is the development of his cutter, which many scouts attribute his 2015 step forward to. If it can continue to be another weapon for him, he stands a good chance to be a competent back-end starter.” – Baseball Prospectus

The piece with the helium, LHP Cody  Reed Courtesy: milb.com
The piece with the helium, LHP Cody Reed
Courtesy: milb.com

About Reed:

“…With a better finish to his delivery, he developed the ability to locate more consistently down in the zone, allowing his 92-95 mph fastball (which touches 97 mph at its best) to play better down in the zone. It has late life when he elevates it as well. Reed flashes an above-average slider that he can now throw for strikes as well as using as a chase pitch. And his once fringy changeup has improved to become an average offering.” – J.J. Cooper, Baseball America

“…Reed works with a 90-94 mph fastball that peaks at 96 and has some sinking and cutting action. He has greatly improved his changeup this season, and at times it’s his second-best offering. Reed always had the athleticism to repeat his delivery but struggled to do so before 2015. Now he’s more aggressive and filling the strike zone with ease, showing the potential to become a mid-rotation starter with three solid-or-better pitches.” – Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com

“…The improved control gives him a chance to start, but of the three arms acquired, this is the one who is the most likely to end up in the bullpen.” – Baseball Prospectus

In Cueto, Kansas City is getting a dynamic starter who has managed to go 60-31 with a 2.51 ERA (3.33 FIP), 1.05 WHIP, and 7.7 K:9 since the start of the 2011 season, covering 808 innings over 121 starts (6.7 IP/start). He’ll likely take Yordano Ventura‘s rotation spot, as he was just shipped to Triple-A prior to the injury to Jason Vargas, and he’ll be exactly what the team needs, an ace, while the Royals’ defense will only make him look better than he did in Cincinnati.

Being left-handed and breathing is an excellent way to score an opportunity in baseball. The fact that the Reds were able to get three left-handed pitchers who can touch the mid-90’s with their fastballs for three months of Cueto is a coup. This deal was very even, and even though Cincinnati will need to wait and see what happens with these young arms, the Reds did just as well to get the pieces that they needed as what the Royals did in getting the ace that they needed.

Cincinnati fans need to understand that this is just the beginning of several changes. If Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, and Marlon Byrd are still with the team on August 1st, Walt Jocketty is doing it wrong. This team hasn’t won a World Series since 1990, and those players aren’t going to bring another to Cincinnati. Scrap it and start over. While it is painful to go through a process, just remember that things could be worse, even if we may not be able to say it much longer – Thanks, Cubs!