2016 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: 10 Names to Target

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2016

2016 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: 10 Names to Target

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    The start of spring training is still a few weeks away, but it's never too soon to start planning for this year's fantasy baseball draft.

    Hitting on your early-round picks and anchoring your roster with superstar talent is important, but more times than not, it's the late-round sleeper picks that prove to be the difference when it comes to contending for a league title.

    What follows is a look at 10 fantasy sleepers to target in your draftfive hitters and five pitchers—based on positive regression factors, strong second-half performances and potential upside.

    None of these guys are going to be targeted early, but rounding out your draft with a few of them could push your team over the top in 2016.


    Note: Sleeper picks based on a 10- or 12-team mixed league with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, HR, RBI, R and SB for hitters; W, SV, ERA, WHIP and K for pitchers).

RP Carter Capps, Miami Marlins

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Carter Capps has always had closer-caliber stuff with a fastball that can touch triple digits and a biting slider, but a quirky mechanical adjustment has allowed his career to take off.

    Already a big guy at 6'5", Capps hops forward off the rubber toward the hitter before releasing the ball, so his 100 mph fastball looks like it's right on top of you when he throws it. Until batters find a way to better attack that quirk, he'll continue to rack up strikeouts.

    Those strikeouts came at an impressive 16.8 strikeouts-per-nine rate in his 31 innings of work last season, and it appears that performance was enough for him to earn a crack at the closer's role in 2016.

    "Marlins executive Michael Hill said he expects an open competition for the closer job," Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote Jan. 21. "Carter Capps will have a chance to compete with incumbent A.J. Ramos."

    Ramos took over for a struggling Steve Cishek last season and converted 32 of 38 save chances with a 2.30 ERA, 1.009 WHIP and 11.1 K/9.

    Those are solid numbers, but Capps has a chance to be elite for a Miami Marlins team that could find itself in plenty of close games as a fringe contender.

    "Carter Capps has turned himself into something absurdly good," Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote back in July. "It's interesting to wonder if, as a consequence, Capps is just doing himself future harm. Yet, all that is right now is speculation. Capps' dominance, meanwhile, is reality."

3B Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Baseball America ranked Nick Castellanos as a top-25 prospect overall and the No. 1 prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization after both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

    "He can flat-out hit, adjusting extremely well to any and all pitching," Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com wrote in the 2013 Prospect Watch. "He drives the ball to all fields, and while he hasn't shown too much in the way of home run power to date, there is definitely pop in his bat that will come."

    After raking in the minors, Castellanos took over as the Tigers' everyday third baseman in 2014, but his bat has been slow to make the leap.

    In 1,192 career big league plate appearances, he's hit .257/.304/.405 with 26 home runs and 139 RBI, and on the surface, he didn't show much in the way of improvement from 2014 to 2015.

    However, a closer look reveals an .800 OPS with 20 doubles, nine home runs and 35 RBI after the All-Star break last season.

    Castellanos will turn only 24 in March, so there is still plenty of time for things to click, and his strong finish last year could be a sign of bigger things to come in 2016.

LF Khris Davis, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    As a career .250 hitter who struck out at a 27.7 percent clip last year, he won't help your team's batting average, but Khris Davis does have some intriguing power upside.

    The 28-year-old slugged 22 home runs in his first year as an everyday player in 2014, and he managed to raise that total to 27 last season.

    That may seem like a modest improvement, but the stat to look at is the fact that 21 of those 27 home runs came in the second half.

    Only Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies hit more home runs (27) after the All-Star break among National League hitters, so this is some serious power production we're talking about.

    A total of 20 players reached the 30-homer barrier last seasona big jump from just the 11 who did it the previous seasonbut consistent home run threats are still hard to come by, and Davis has a chance to be just that in 2016.

    If you're looking for a cheap source of home runs late in your draft, you could do a lot worse than rolling the dice on Davis and hoping he matches his impressive second-half output.

RF Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Since the start of the 2012 season, Kansas City Royals speedster Jarrod Dyson is tied for sixth in the majors with 126 stolen bases.

    That's an impressive total by itself, but it's even more impressive when you consider he has never been an everyday player and has never tallied more than 292 at-bats in a single season.

    That could change in the upcoming season, however.

    The Royals re-signed Alex Gordon to man left field, but the team opted against adding anyone to replace Alex Rios in right field, which leaves Dyson as the beneficiary.

    "We feel as a group that it's time to let Dyson play a lot more. He's going to get that opportunity," Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said (via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). "I think he's capable of stealing 50 some bases a year and score a lot of runs. When he gets on base, we score."

    Despite playing in only 90 games and recording just 200 at-bats last season, Dyson still managed to rank tied for third in the American League with 26 steals.

    A run at 50-plus steals and 70-plus runs scored is well within reach if he sees regular playing time. He won't help much in the other three categories, but his stolen-base potential makes him worthy of a late-round flier.

SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Gio Gonzalez may never repeat his terrific 2012 performance, when he went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.129 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in 199.1 innings to finish third in National League Cy Young Award voting.

    However, he looks to be one of the biggest candidates for positive regression in the majors heading into 2016, and he's certainly capable of once again becoming a fantasy-relevant starter.

    The left-hander posted a rough 1.423 WHIP last season, as his hits per nine innings climbed from 7.6 in 2014 to 9.3, but much of that was a result of terrible luck.

    Gonzalez's .341 BABIP was the highest among all qualified starting pitchers, and that resulted in an ERA (3.79) that was well above his FIP (3.05).

    His velocity was on par with what it was in 2014—he posted identical fastball averages of 92 mph the last two yearsand his strikeout stuff was still there as well, as evidenced by his 8.7 K/9 mark, which was in line with his career rate of 8.9 heading into last season.

    "[H]e could be Francisco Liriano, only eight rounds later," Scott White of CBSSports.com wrote while naming Gonzalez a fantasy sleeper.

CF Randal Grichuk, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    When the St. Louis Cardinals shipped third baseman David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjos, outfielder Randal Grichuk was viewed as something of a throw-in.

    Two years later, Grichuk has emerged as the prize of that deal and a major X-factor for a Cardinals offense that has struggled to find consistent power production.

    Grichuk posted an .877 OPS last season, good for 21st among players with at least 300 plate appearances.

    The 24-year-old, however, missed significant time with an elbow injury and wound up being somewhat overshadowed by fellow rookie outfielder Stephen Piscotty.

    With regular playing time, 30 home runs are well within reach for Grichuk, and he appears to have a clear path to at-bats as the team's everyday center fielder.

    "I try not to do a goal statistical-wise," Grichuk told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But I think 30 [home runs] is a realistic goal if we had to set something on there. I had 17 in a little over 300 at-bats last season. I feel pretty confident if I can get in a little groove I should be able to get to."

    The Cardinals are counting on both Grichuk and Piscotty to come up with big seasons, and Grichuk figures to feature prominently in the middle of the lineup.

SP Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Never a high-profile prospect and by no means flashy (his average fastball velocity is 88.3 mph), Kyle Hendricks quietly put together a nice season for the Chicago Cubs in 2015.

    His 3.95 ERA was roughly average (99 ERA+), but it came with a 3.36 FIP, and he showed plus command with just 43 walks in 180 innings of work.

    That ability to limit free passes resulted in a 1.161 WHIP, good for 12th among qualified National League starters, and that should be something Hendricks is capable of sustaining going forward.

    "It's all about makeup," ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe said on a CSN broadcast during a game in July (via Tony Andracki of CSN Chicago). "I was here in '86 when a guy named Greg Maddux showed up. I was in Baltimore in '92 for Mike Mussina's first [full] year. It's not the same stuff—it's not the velocity or whatever. 

    "But it's the same kind of makeup. The tougher the situation, the less you will see the catcher's glove move, and the better pitch he's gonna make."

    The big difference for Hendricks last season was his strikeout total.

    After fanning just 47 hitters in 80.1 innings for a 5.3 K/9 rate in his rookie campaign, he induced far more swings and misses last year with 167 strikeouts and an 8.4 K/9 rate.

    His out pitch is a plus-plus changeup, and he recorded 83 strikeouts with it while holding opponents to a .173 batting average, according to Brooks Baseball.

SP Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Raisel Iglesias joined the Cincinnati Reds organization with plenty of hype after signing a seven-year, $27 million contract following his defection from Cuba.

    Despite his big arm, there were questions about whether or not he could start, as Ben Badler of Baseball America laid out in an article shortly after the Reds signed the right-hander.

    "He's a bullpen guy for me. I don't see how he's going to start," a scout told Badler. "...I don't see the command or ability to repeat [his delivery] to start."

    The Reds always viewed Iglesias as a starter, though, and that's the role he found himself in when he made his debut April 12, 2015.

    The early results weren't great, but the 26-year-old hit his stride in the final two months of the season:

    • April 12-July 27: 9 G, 7 GS, 1-3, 5.53 ERA, 1.475 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 40.2 IP
    • Aug. 1-Sept. 13: 9 G, 9 GS, 2-4, 3.13 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 54.2 IP

    Iglesias pitched at least six innings in seven of those final nine starts, showing he has the stamina to go late into games, and the uptick in his strikeout rate put him in the elite category.

    Chances are he won't match that nine-start performance over a full season, and he's probably not going to tally many wins on the Reds. He'll provide help in WHIP and strikeouts, though, and he should post an ERA south of 4.00.

SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox

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    Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    The Chicago White Sox were happy to scoop up Carlos Rodon when he slipped to No. 3 in the 2014 draft, and it didn't take him long to reach the majors. 

    "You're talking about [a] lefty who—his pure stuff is going to be right up there with Chris Sale," MLB.com's Jim Callis said last February (via CSN Chicago). "He maybe needs to tweak the command a little bit, but I think Carlos Rodon will be ready to help the White Sox pretty much whenever they need him to this season."

    Rodon began the year in the minors, but he was promoted to help out in the bullpen in April. Less than three weeks later, he joined the rotation, and while there were some ups and downs in his rookie season, he gave a glimpse of big things to come with a terrific finish to the year.

    Rodon strung together eight consecutive quality starts to close the season, going 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA, 1.079 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 and delivering on his front-line potential.

    His 4.6 walks-per-nine rate is indicative of the work still to be done in the command department, but the tools are there for Rodon to have a breakout performance.

1B/OF Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 5x5 Rotisserie Stats



    Sleeper Outlook

    Five full seasons into his MLB career, we have a pretty good idea of what kind of player Mark Trumbo is.

    He won't provide much in the way of batting average or on-base percentage, and he's going to strike out about 25 percent of the time, but what he does give you is power.

    Trumbo ranks 14th in the majors with 131 home runs since the start of the 2011 season, and he topped out at 34 homers and 100 RBI for the Los Angeles Angels back in 2013.

    So as a relatively predictable player, what makes Trumbo a potential sleeper?

    To put it simply, his trade to the Baltimore Orioles.

    According to ESPN's Park Factors, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the second-most homer-friendly park during the 2015 season with a 1.415 park factor.

    A 1.000 PF represents average; anything above 1.000 indicates a park that favors hitters, and anything below 1.000 points to a pitcher's park.

    Compare last year's Camden Yards to the previous three stadiums Trumbo called home:

    • Angel Stadium of Anaheim (LAA): 0.902 PF, 20th in MLB in 2013
    • Chase Field (ARI): 1.194 PF, 7th in MLB in 2014
    • Safeco Field (SEA): 1.053 PF, 12th in MLB in 2014

    As long as Trumbo maintains his 40 percent fly-ball rate and sees regular at-bats—which seems like a safe bet—a career-best power output could be on the way.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.