The start of the 2018 Major League Baseball season is just a week away, and with that also comes the start of the fantasy baseball season. Fantasy players across the country are monitoring spring training statistics, doing mock drafts, and preparing to draft their favorite players.
It is no secret who the most coveted players are in fantasy baseball. The likes of Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton will be snagged in the first few minutes of every draft. This is what makes planning for the later rounds of the draft crucial for fantasy success. Filling the draft board with big-name talents is a good start, but what happens when those great players are swept away early in the draft? This is when the less obvious choices, or “sleepers,” come into play, and there are plenty of sleepers to be found throughout baseball. All 30 teams have at least one player who is not on everyone’s radar and should be available in the later rounds of any fantasy baseball draft.
Keep these names in the back of your mind when you head into your fantasy drafts this week.
Los Angeles Angels – Keynan Middleton, RP
The Angels have yet to announce who will be their closer for the 2018 season. This is not only a headache for Angels fans but for fantasy baseball players as well. The two leading candidates for that job, at least at the moment, seem to be Blake Parker and Jim Johnson. Parker finished the 2017 season as the Angels closer and looked decent in that role. Johnson has the most experience in the closer role out of everyone in that bullpen, but he has regressed quite a bit over the past few years. Middleton is a 24-year-old fireballer who can occasionally touch the 100 MPH range with his fastball, according to FanGraphs. Middleton could very well get a chance to close for the Angels if the veterans struggle in that role.
Houston Astros – Chris Devenski, RP
It’s hard to say that any defending World Series Champion team has a fantasy sleeper, but Devenski definitely qualifies for that distinction. Devenski was one of the best fantasy relief pitchers to have in 2017 despite not being a closer. He consistently racked up strikeouts and generally pitched more than just one inning per outing. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has already stated that Devenski will be a multi-inning reliever for Houston this season. As long as the Astros can manage his usage properly, he should continue to be one of the most effective relievers in Major League Baseball in 2018.
Oakland Athletics – Stephen Piscotty, RF
If there was ever a player to root for this season it would absolutely be Stephen Piscotty. He was traded this offseason to Oakland from the St. Louis Cardinals so that he could be closer to his family. Piscotty’s mother is battling ALS, so the trade allows the native of nearby Pleasanton to be closer to her while she fights her diagnosis. It is impossible to predict how players will perform under those kinds of circumstances, but being closer to his family could alleviate some stress for Piscotty, who hit .273 with 22 home runs just two seasons ago. Take a chance on Piscotty, and more importantly, continue to root for the entire Piscotty family.
Toronto Blue Jays – Curtis Granderson, LF
It seemed like a minor deal when Granderson signed with Toronto earlier this offseason, but he’s making a strong case for being a worthy fantasy baseball sleeper so far. Granderson has already hit four home runs this spring and is batting an impressive .306 so far. “The Grandy Man” could be revitalized by getting a chance to play every day in Toronto, which would be an upgrade over the platoon role he played with the Dodgers at the end of last season. The other benefit for Granderson is that he’ll be playing at the Rogers Centre, a veritable launching pad, which will play well to his powerful bat.
Atlanta Braves – Ozzie Albies, 2B
The Atlanta Braves have one of the youngest rosters in baseball, and Albies is a big part of that young core. Albies is slotted to be Atlanta’s everyday second baseman in 2018 and looks primed to have a big breakout year. The 21-year-old Albies is off to a hot start this spring and is looking to build off the .286 average he put up in just 57 games last season. Second base is a valuable position in fantasy baseball, and Albies represents one of the most promising talents at that position. He will definitely be worth a look in the later rounds of your draft.
Milwaukee Brewers – Jonathan Villar, 2B/SS/3B
Villar was a fantasy baseball superstar in 2016, racking up a whopping 60 stolen bases while batting .285 over the course of the season. He took a step back last season, playing in just 122 games and batting a meager .241 over that time. He is currently in an open competition for the Brewers’ second base job with Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez, both of whom have performed well so far this spring. However, Villar’s prowess at stealing bases, plus his versatility in the field, gives him a good chance at winning the job. Finding stolen bases in fantasy baseball can be extremely difficult, so give Villar a look if you need infield depth later in the draft.
St. Louis Cardinals – Jose Martinez, 1B/OF
There is always that one player who, through his tremendous play, will force his way into a lineup that seemingly has no room for him. This year that player could be Martinez. An outfielder by trade, Martinez impressed the Cardinals in the 106 games he played last season, batting .309 with 14 home runs in that span. He has not slowed down at all this spring, and he could force the Cardinals, who are poised to be a top contender in the National League Central division, to make some difficult roster decisions. Martinez can also play first base, though that is currently occupied by longtime Cardinals veteran Matt Carpenter. Nevertheless, the Cardinals will find a way to keep Martinez’s hot bat in the lineup, so do not be afraid to scoop him up in the later rounds.
Chicago Cubs – Tyler Chatwood, SP
The addition of Yu Darvish earlier this offseason bolstered what was already an impressive Cubs starting rotation. Another addition the Cubs made that went under the radar was that of former Rockies right-hander Chatwood. Chatwood is slotted to be the Cubs’ fifth starter this season and he has already looked impressive this spring. He will benefit greatly from pitching away from Coors Field, which is virtually like pitching on the moon. He surrendered 20 home runs last season, and it is reasonable to expect that he could cut that number in half given his change of scenery for the 2018 season.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Nick Ahmed, SS
The deal that sent former Diamondbacks second baseman Brandon Drury to the Yankees created an opening in the Arizona middle infield. With Ketel Marte likely manning second base, the door is now open for Ahmed to take over the shortstop position in 2018. While Ahmed has never been much of a consistent hitter, he has also not been a full-time starter since 2015. The job is his if he wants it, and he’s already off to a solid start this spring, so don’t shy away from him if you need a shortstop later in your draft.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Matt Kemp, LF
When the Atlanta Braves traded Kemp to the Dodgers this offseason, it was seen as nothing more than a salary dump, and there were questions about whether Kemp would actually get a chance to play this season. However, Kemp has been red hot this spring, batting .302 with four homers in 43 at-bats. He may force the Dodgers to reconsider their plans for him and give him the starting job in left field to open up the season. There is still a chance that Kemp regresses back to the mean, but taking a flyer on him in the later rounds may yield a tremendous payoff for fantasy owners.
San Fransisco Giants – Austin Jackson, CF
With Denard Span moving to the American League East division with the Tampa Bay Rays, the center field position in San Fransisco opened up. In steps Jackson, who spent 2017 as a platoon player with the Cleveland Indians. In just 85 games, Jackson hit .318 with seven home runs and 22 extra-base hits. After platooning for the past two seasons, Jackson will now get a chance to play every day for the first time since 2015. He seemed to rediscover his swing last season and could serve as an effective leadoff man for a retooled Giants lineup. Don’t count on Jackson for stolen bases at this point in his career, but do count on his plate discipline to not bury your team with strikeouts.
Cleveland Indians – Lonnie Chisenhall, RF/1B
The Cleveland Indians outfield is riddled with questions and doubts concerning the players manning each outfield position. Michael Brantley just made his spring debut on Wednesday, which makes him questionable at best for Opening Day next week. Bradley Zimmer had a rough second half last season and hasn’t seemed to turn things around yet during spring training. Then there’s Chisenhall, who is slated to be the team’s starting right fielder. Chisenhall played in just 82 games last season due to multiple trips to the disabled list. In fact, only twice in his seven-year career has he played in more than 120 games in a single season (2014 and 2016). However, when Chisenhall is healthy, he is a consistent, productive hitter. In limited time last season he hit .288 with 12 home runs, and he has continued to swing the bat well thus far in spring training. His health is a big concern for fantasy owners, but he may end up being the only reliable Indians outfielder in 2018.
Seattle Mariners – Marco Gonzales, SP
This is a classic low-risk/high-reward type of pick, but Gonzales has, so far, shown that he would be worth the gamble. Gonzales is returning from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2016, and he is competing to hold down the fourth spot in the Mariners rotation. Thus far, the results have been extremely positive. Gonzales is posting an impressive 1.10 ERA this spring in the five games in which he has pitched. Whether his elbow will hold up is impossible to know, but Gonzales has the raw talent to establish himself as an effective, late-round pickup for fantasy owners looking for pitching depth.
Miami Marlins – Lewis Brinson, CF
The Marlins roster was completely purged of superstar talent this offseason, but that doesn’t mean that there is no good fantasy talent on that team. Brinson is the strongest candidate for a late-round steal that could really help a lot of fantasy owners. Brinson will get a chance to play every day, and so far this spring he appears to be the real deal. He is currently hitting .333 with a pair of home runs in 48 at-bats this month. Not many fantasy owners will be looking to the Marlins for players to draft, so Brinson is a strong value who could easily slip to the later rounds.
New York Mets – Wilmer Flores, 1B/2B/3B
Whether Mets fans like it or not, it appears that Adrian Gonzalez and Flores will be splitting time at first base this season. Flores will likely play against left-handed pitchers, against whom he is incredibly effective. However, Flores also made his debut in the outfield for the first time in his career a few days ago, as he is attempting to make himself more versatile in 2018. This could mean more playing time as the season unfolds for Flores, who is currently on fire this spring with a .333 average and three home runs in 45 at-bats. The Mets have a long history of racking up injuries over the course of a season, so Flores could easily see himself getting regular playing time at some point.
Washington Nationals – Howie Kendrick, 2B/1B/LF/RF
Kendrick is another example of a player who may find more playing time than originally thought due to injuries. Daniel Murphy, Washington’s regular second baseman, is likely to start the season on the disabled list after recovering from knee surgery in the offseason. Kendrick will take Murphy’s spot at second base to start the season, which gives fantasy owners at least a few weeks of consistent play from him. However, Kendrick may also find himself logging time in the outfield if Adam Eaton can’t stay healthy or if Michael Taylor continues to struggle offensively. At the very least, Kendrick will provide value due to being eligible for three or four different positions.
Baltimore Orioles – Colby Rasmus, RF
After abruptly leaving the Tampa Bay Rays in the middle of the 2017 season, Rasmus has decided to resume his career, signing a one-year deal with Baltimore earlier this offseason. Rasmus will compete for the starting job in right field, and he may just get it given his impressive start this spring. Rasmus is currently hitting .281 with one home run through 32 at-bats. Orioles manager Buck Showalter seems to be high on Rasmus, so at the very least it would appear that he has earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. With his off-field issues settled and a rested body, Rasmus could end up contributing a lot to the Orioles in 2018.
San Diego Padres – Carlos Asuaje, 2B
While many believed that Cory Spangenberg would start 2018 as the Padres starting second baseman, that may no longer be the case. Carlos Asuaje, 26, is absolutely raking so far this spring, and that combined with his superior defense is likely to win him the job over Spangenberg. Asuaje is hitting .347 this spring with 17 hits in 49 at-bats. Spangenberg may still be higher ranked in most pre-draft ranking sets, so be sure to stash Asuaje in your draft queue for the later rounds.
Philadelphia Phillies – Jorge Alfaro, C
The Philadelphia Phillies, one of Major League Baseball’s youngest teams, will be handing the full-time catching duties over to Alfaro this year. Alfaro, 24, was the primary piece acquired by the Phillies as part of the Cole Hamels deal several years ago. Alfaro has always been able to swing the bat, and his numbers so far this spring further prove that. The biggest question with Alfaro has always been his defense, but he has made significant improvements over the past year. Finding offense out of the catcher position can be extremely difficult, so give Alfaro a long look if you still need a catcher in the later rounds. He can provide a decent average, as well as power, for your fantasy lineup.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Colin Moran, 3B
It was reported earlier this month that the Pirates were set on making Moran their starting third baseman for the 2018 season. Moran, 25, spent time with the Houston Astros last season before being traded to Pittsburgh this past offseason. Thus far he’s hitting .302 in spring training and appears to be on the cusp of a breakout season. Moran is not a big power guy, but his consistent contact hitting will keep him in the lineup and will help boost the overall batting average of your fantasy team.
Texas Rangers – Drew Robinson, LF
According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Robinson is now the favorite to land the Rangers’ starting left-field job. Robinson, 25, only played in 48 games last season, batting .224 with six home runs. He has been off to a slow start thus far in spring training, but Robinson seems to have some decent power in his bat. A full allotment of playing time could allow him to break out for the Rangers.
Tampa Bay Rays – Denard Span, OF/DH
When Span was traded to the Rays as part of the Evan Longoria deal, it looked like nothing more than a low-budget team picking up an expensive role player. However, Span has had a phenomenal spring and now figures to be a key part of the Rays offense in 2018. Span is currently on a torrid pace, hitting .326 with 14 hits in his 43 at-bats this spring. He will likely see time both in the outfield and as a designated hitter in Tampa. Span is a consistent hitter who won’t strike out too much, and he can even steal a base every now and then. He’ll likely be an afterthought on most draft boards due to the fact that he’s the 34-year-old elder statesman on a rebuilding team. Give Span a look in the later rounds if you still need outfield depth.
Boston Red Sox – Eduardo Nunez, 2B/3B/SS
Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s starting second baseman, will start the season on the disabled list while he recovers from offseason knee surgery. This is a big reason as to why the Red Sox brought back Nunez on a one-year deal earlier this offseason. Nunez will serve as the team’s starting second baseman while Pedroia is out, and he will look to pick up where he left off last season. In the second of half of 2017 with Boston, Nunez hit .321 with eight home runs and 23 runs scored in 38 games. There is also speculation that Pedroia may not return as soon as originally thought after he had knee surgery. Nunez is more than just an insurance policy; he figures to be a big part of the Red Sox offense this season.
Cincinnati Reds – Jesse Winker, OF
Winker, a first-round pick of the Reds back in 2012, may finally get his shot at a major league role in 2018. Winker is tearing the cover off the ball this spring, slashing .350/.413/.963 in 40 at-bats so far. Winker will have to compete with Cincinnati’s veteran regulars such as Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler, and Adam Duvall for playing time, but none of those three are consistent enough to keep Winker out of the lineup for very long. While Winker did not typically show power in the minors, he will be playing at Great American Ballpark, which is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball.
Colorado Rockies – Ryan McMahon, 1B
With Mark Reynolds no longer occupying first base, the door has opened up for McMahon. McMahon, 23, is red hot so far this spring and is showing the Rockies brass that he is ready to be an everyday player. The only trouble for McMahon is that he still has minor league options left, so the Rockies could just decide to send him down to Triple-A to start the season in favor of a more veteran presence in Ian Desmond. McMahon is still a good late-round stash option for fantasy owners. Even if he starts the year in Triple-A, he will not likely be there for very long.
Kansas City Royals – Lucas Duda, 1B
Duda is a good option for any fantasy owner looking to add some power late in the draft. Duda struggled with the Rays in the second half of 2017, hitting just .175 through 52 games. However, he still mashed 13 home runs in that span, giving him a total of 30 for the season. The power has always been there with Duda, but he has never been a steady hitter. Wait for the later rounds to pick up Duda, and only pick him up if you need power. Duda will get everyday playing time until the Royals determine that budding star Hunter Dozier is ready for the big leagues.
Detroit Tigers – Dixon Machado, 2B
Machado enters 2018 as the Tigers’ everyday second baseman following the departure of Ian Kinsler to the Angels. Machado, 26, is off to a hot start this spring and is showing that he’s ready for the everyday role. The best part for potential fantasy owners is that Machado seemingly has no competition at his position. The Tigers are rebuilding and don’t currently have any prospects who can compete with Machado at second base. He will get plenty of playing time in Detroit this year, and if his spring tTraining numbers are any indication, he could be in line for a breakout season.
Minnesota Twins – Addison Reed, RP
Fernando Rodney will start the season as the Twins closer in 2018, meaning he will likely be drafted in the early rounds. Keep Reed in mind for the later rounds, because the closer situation in Minnesota could end up changing as the season goes on. Rodney’s ERA has gone up the last few seasons, so he is not a sure things in the ninth inning anymore. The Twins expect to contend this year, so if Rodney struggles, Reed could end up taking over the closer role.
Chicago White Sox – Adam Engel, CF
A late-round draft pick himself, Engel is poised to fully take over the White Sox center field job in 2018. Engel’s calling card to this point in his career has been his speed and his defense, but now it looks like his bat will keep him in the lineup for good. Engel is mashing so far this spring, hitting .364 with four home runs in 44 at-bats. Adding a consistent bat to his already impressive defensive skill set could make for a big breakout year for Engel in 2018.
New York Yankees – Neil Walker, 2B/3B/1B
Despite not being signed until late in spring training, Walker can provide great value for any fantasy owner looking for infield depth. Walker will likely split time at second base with youngster Tyler Wade, but don’t be surprised if the at-bats lean slightly more in Walker’s favor. Wade has yet to prove he can hit consistently, while Walker, an established veteran, provides solid offense against right-handed pitching. Second base and third base are slight question marks for the Yankees this season, so Walker will have no trouble finding playing time at either of those positions.
The most important thing to remember about sleepers is this: These are not players who will single-handedly bring you a fantasy baseball championship. However, the value they provide as late-round draft picks is better than most other players who will be available in those rounds. Good luck and happy drafting!
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