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.

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2015 Season Previews: Toronto Blue Jays

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!

Toronto Blue Jays

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 83-79 (3rd in AL East, 11th in MLB)

Manager: John Gibbons (462-472 in seven seasons with Toronto)

Top Three Players: 3B Josh Donaldson (5.6), OF Jose Bautista (5.2), C Russell Martin (3.7)

Bounce-back Player: OF Michael Saunders

Saunders has battled injuries throughout his career, but there is quite a bit of unlocked potential within him that could burst out in the tremendous lineup that the Blue Jays possess. Even after having knee surgery in February, Saunders will get enough plate appearances to carve out value. In his native Canada, he could find levels of comfort that he wasn’t able to in Seattle, and at just 28, he has his prime and a solid power/speed combination to become another offensive force in Toronto.

Can the stuff be tamed enough for Sanchez to become a top starter? Courtesy: mlbtraderumors.com
Can the stuff be tamed enough for Sanchez to become a top starter?
Courtesy: mlbtraderumors.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Marcus Stroman (tore ACL and is out for the 2015 season) – RHP Aaron Sanchez

Sanchez was electric out of the bullpen in 2014, posting a 1.09 ERA and 0.70 WHIP over 33 innings and 24 appearances. He has electric stuff, but the inability to control it, as well as some shoulder issues, have led to a cautious approach from Toronto, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him from making his debut at 21. Now, seemingly locked into a rotation spot, Sanchez will have an opportunity to shine as a starter. It won’t always be pretty, especially with the potential for high walk totals, but he has enough stuff to warrant roster consideration in any and all formats.

Offseason Overview: Possibly the biggest addition a team could have made this winter was signing C Russell Martin, as his pitch framing and ability to produce solid offensive numbers impact the roster tremendously. If you consider the power and punch in the lineup, you’ll see that his true value will lie in his ability to work with the pitching staff. While Josh Thole will likely remain R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher, Martin could play a huge role in the success and maturation of Opening Day starter Drew Hutchison (23), RHP Aaron Sanchez (21), and LHP Daniel Norris (21). The Jays lost 1B/DH Adam Lind to Milwaukee, they were able to sign former can’t-miss prospect Justin Smoak to an affordable deal, while handing the center field job over to Dalton Pompey after Colby Rasmus left via free agency. Adding Josh Donaldson was a coup to an already incredible offense, and his defense is just as stellar as the bat.

The Verdict: The loss of Marcus Stroman really hurt the rotation. As much as I, personally, wanted Aaron Sanchez to be a starter, he isn’t ready, and he would have been better served in the bullpen until the club knew that he had harnessed his stuff. That isn’t to say that who is around isn’t valuable. Hutchison should come into his own this season, and Dickey and LHP Mark Buehrle are about as sure a bet as you can get to penciling in 200 innings and 32 starts. With Norris and Sanchez as high potential wild cards, the Toronto rotation will certainly be worth monitoring. The offense is outrageously talented. Adding Donaldson to Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista makes the Blue Jays lineup an absolute nightmare for opposing pitchers. The AL East will continue to be a demanding division, but the Jays are heading in the right direction. They have plenty of major league talent and are utilizing their system to acquire more of it, as they did with Donaldson. The 83 wins seem about right, but, with Martin leading the pitching staff, 87 and contending for a wild card spot is within reason.

How Good Are the Blue Jays?

Courtesy: businessinsider.com
Courtesy: businessinsider.com

You can’t buy championships…Well, maybe you can. The New York Yankees have tried to and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels seem to think that it is possible. The Blue Jays are taking a new approach. They seem to be trading for AND buying a championship, acquiring an All-Star team this offseason (and their contracts) to become immediate contenders in the American League East.

Toronto is absolutely loaded. Starting pitching…upgraded. Bullpen…upgraded. Offense…upgraded. Manager…well, they brought back a former manager, John Gibbons, so that is questionable.

Still, you have to like what GM Alex Anthopoulos has done, and if you’re a Blue Jays fan you have to love it.

Courtesy: northjersey.com
Courtesy: northjersey.com

The starting rotation is stacked. If the club rotates right-handed, left-handed, the rotation is: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow. Morrow could be the No. 2 starter for most teams, possibly the No. 1 starter for many other. Morrow’s BB/9 IP have fallen from 4.1 in 2010 to 3.0 in 2012, when he posted a 2.96 ERA, also the lowest of his career. If Johnson stays healthy, he is capable of winning 20-games, having won 15 games in 2009, the last time he pitched 200 innings. Romero was 42-29 with a 3.60 ERA in his first three seasons (2009-2011) before imploding to a 9-14 record and 5.77 ERA in 2012. Buehrle has only tossed 200 innings in the last 12 seasons, winning 170 games in that time, and Dickey…a Cy Young in 2012 and a 39-28 record with a 2.95 ERA since 2010, when he seemingly became a totally different pitcher from his 22-28 record and 5.43 ERA that he posted in his previous seven seasons.

The bullpen is solid, as well, providing an end game from the Jays dominant rotation. Casey Janssen was dominant as a closer in 2012, Darren Oliver (if he doesn’t retire) has been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball over the last seven seasons, Brandon Lyon is a former closer turned set-up man, Sergio Santos is coming back from shoulder surgery, and Esmil Rogers, Aaron Loup, and Brad Lincoln still have potential to become great bullpen arms.

Cabrera, Reyes, and Bautista - the new core. Courtesy: nydailynews.com
Cabrera, Reyes, and Bautista – the new core. Courtesy: nydailynews.com

The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera provide, quite possibly, the best leadoff and No. 2 hitter in baseball, setting things up perfectly for the powerful Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Brett Lawrie will continue to establish himself as one of the top third basemen in baseball, starting in 2013, as his power, speed, and athleticism make him an elite talent. Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus have shown glimpses of talent in the past and they are both young enough to rebound and become great contributors, even All-Star talents. The club has a lot of power at catcher with J.P. Arencibia around, who now has a clear future with Travis d’Arnaud going to the Mets in the Dickey deal.

While you can look at all of the deals that sent talent like d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, and Noah Syndergaard away from the club, the Blue Jays still have a lot of young talent in the system. Lawrie, Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, and David Cooper will contribute at the major league level in 2013, and great prospects like Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris (who will surely rebound from a disastrous 2012), Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna, Sean Nolin, and D.J. Davis still within the system.

While the Boston Red Sox try to rebuild without making a huge splash in free agency and the New York Yankees aim to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have just made their move…or moves…to become a huge threat to the entire divison and the league. Could Toronto be battling Tampa and Baltimore as the Red Sox and Yankees try to determine how they are going to build in the future? The future is now in Toronto and the Blue Jays could approach 100-wins with their upgraded roster in 2013.