Fantasy Baseball 2015 Sleepers: 20 Last-Minute Names to Know
Let's paint a not-so-pretty picture: Your fantasy baseball draft—the event for which you have been prepping and planning for weeks—is well underway and in its final stages.
The core of your club already is intact, complete with studs from your first bunch of picks, starter-worthy hitters to fill out most of the rest of your lineup and, of course, a group of pitchers, both starters and relievers, who will get the job done on the mound.
You and your league-mates have been at it, picking players for something in the neighborhood of two hours, if not more. Let's face it—you're starting to get spent. That is, if you aren't already.
But there still are a handful of rounds left, and your brain is having trouble not only functioning normally by now, but also recalling those under-the-radar gems you swore you wouldn't forget about when the time came.
Satisfied that you made some pretty strong selections to this point, you decide, "Oh well, it's Round 22, and I need a pitcher, so I'll just take R.A. Dickey, because, hey, I've heard of him."
Don't let this be you! The good news? It doesn't have to be, now that you're being hit with a second smattering of sleepers this draft season.
Last time, we supplied you with 25 names to know, players who were available in the middle to late rounds but still could pay off big time. Now? We're digging a little deeper.
Whereas the initial batch was restricted to an average draft position (ADP) outside of the top 150 (the first 12-15 rounds in a 10- or 12-team league), each one of the following new names has an ADP beyond the top 200, according to Fantasy Pros.
They're listed in order of ascending ADP, so take a pen and jot them down on a piece of paper. Or, if you really want to make sure you don't forget them come the later rounds of your draft, writing the names on your arms works just as well.
This list considers three factors:
First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).
Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.
And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2014 or be in line to start there in 2015.
Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 215.4)
It feels like we've been touting—and waiting on—Avisail Garcia as a breakout candidate for years, but he's still just 23 years old.
A former top prospect in the Detroit Tigers system, Garcia has been lasting until Round 20 or so in most drafts, in large part because he missed the vast majority of 2014 due to shoulder surgery. That makes him a very intriguing late gamble considering his talent and the rebuilt Chicago White Sox lineup, featuring building blocks like Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Alexei Ramirez, along with imports Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche.
In parts of three years in the majors, Garcia has compiled just shy of a season's worth of plate appearances (497), and in those, he has registered a .272 average with 14 homers and 63 RBI. Those numbers look attainable, and it wouldn't be surprising if Garcia surpasses all three, provided he stays healthy.
Luke Gregerson, RP, Houston Astros (ADP: 231.4)
If you're the kind of fantasy owner who doesn't like using up an early or mid-round pick on a closer just to lock down a little help in one category—saves—then you'll still have some options over the final 50 picks or so in your draft.
Like Luke Gregerson, who signed with the Houston Astros this winter and is in line to be their closer in 2015, the first time in his six-year career he'll have a legitimate shot at the ninth inning.
While he has never had the gig before and is on the Astros, who are coming off a sixth straight losing season, Gregerson and his 2.75 career ERA can still get the job done and pump out 30 saves.
Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 238.8)
From all-too-hyped breakout candidate to bust to...sleeper? That's the fantasy arc for Danny Salazar so far.
The electric-armed 25-year-old struggled out of the gate in 2014, posting a 5.53 ERA through mid-May, at which point the Indians demoted him to Triple-A. Upon returning to the Cleveland rotation in July, however, he was much better over his final 12 starts: 3.50 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 69.1 innings.
The peripherals might be volatile, as Salazar is prone to blow-ups, but the strikeouts will be there, especially on a per-inning basis. And now that he costs you only a 23rd-round pick instead of a mid-rounder like last year, drafting Salazar means you get all of the upside and none of the risk.
Drew Hutchison, SP, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 239.3)
With an ADP that's bordering on No. 240 overall—essentially, the last round in many formats—Drew Hutchison is deserving of way more fantasy love than he gets.
Sure, the 24-year-old posted a 4.48 ERA last year, which is what turns off most owners right away. But here's the two-part response to that: First, he was coming off his first full season post-Tommy John surgery, and second, his fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark was a much more respectable 3.85.
Throw in a usable 1.26 WHIP and a very robust 184 strikeouts in 184.2 frames, and you've got yourself a potential fourth starter in fantasy. And you can get him with your final pick!
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 240.0)
Do you know how many catchers hit 20 or more home runs in 2014? Try six, and only two—T-W-O!—hit more than Mike Zunino's 22.
Now, his .199 batting average was downright damaging, even in today's depressed offensive environment, but it's hard to believe the 24-year-old former No. 3 overall pick isn't at least a little better than that. Remember, Seattle rushed him to the majors in June 2013—less than a year after signing—and he has played all of 96 career games in the minors.
Plus, Zunino is well aware of his contact issues (158 strikeouts), and he has been working on his approach, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times.
"I was over-aggressive at times," Zunino said. "I would see that pitch, and I'd want to jump at that pitch even if it wasn't a strike. That's the biggest thing. I want to step back and simplify. Pick one side to cover, pick one approach."
If Zunino, who notched a .248 BABIP a year ago in his first full MLB season, can make even a little more contact and get just a little bit luckier, he could approach the .240-.250 mark. Given the power, that would make Zunino a borderline top-10 fantasy catcher a la Brian McCann.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 243.3)
Searching for a late-round flier with the pop to punch 30 home runs? Oswaldo Arcia is your guy.
The 23-year-old lefty slugger has had more than his share of struggles at the plate, including a .241 average and a 31 percent strikeout rate in his still-young career. But Arcia also has 34 home runs and 100 RBI in his first 788 plate appearances with the Minnesota Twins.
Arcia still has a ways to go in terms of making more contact and, thus, getting closer to 30 long balls. But even if that doesn't happen in 2015, he should at least approach—if not surpass—the 20 homers he smacked last year, when he played in only 103 games.
James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 250.4)
With James Paxton, it's all about health. If the 26-year-old has it this year, he has shown the stuff to make him a viable fifth starter in fantasy—when healthy.
Paxton missed four months of last season due to a strained muscle in his back/shoulder area, which limited him to a baker's dozen starts. But in those, the 6'4" left-hander sported a 3.04 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 74.0 innings.
This spring? Paxton got off to a late start because of a forearm injury, per Bob Dutton of The News Tribune. That said, even if he makes 15-20 starts, the reward would be well worth the risk, which is so minimal based on his ADP around No. 250 overall.
Brad Boxberger, RP, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 252.8)
Brad Boxberger could blow up this season—in a good way.
The 26-year-old right-hander is coming off a breakout year in which he struck out a whopping 104 in 64.2 frames—one of just seven relievers to hit the century-strikeout mark—and now he gets to fill in as the Tampa Bay Rays closer for the injured Jake McGee.
Granted, McGee is pretty great himself (1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 in 2014) and is expected to be recovered from offseason elbow surgery in May, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. But if Boxberger proves capable, this could be a who-knows situation, especially since the lefty McGee could be used more in matchups.
Regardless, Boxberger should net up to a dozen saves between his April stint and other opportunities over the rest of the year. Oh, and a bunch of strikeouts too.
Brett Cecil, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 254.0)
Sticking with the cheap closer theme for a moment, Brett Cecil might be a better late-round grab than Brad Boxberger considering he has been named the Toronto Blue Jays closer, per Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, and doesn't have to worry much about the pending return of the regular ninth-inning man.
The unfortunate season-ending injury to Marcus Stroman had the ripple effect of locking in Cecil as the stopper when prospect Aaron Sanchez shifted to the rotation.
The 28-year-old Cecil has been way under the radar to this point in his career despite two great seasons since converting to relief full-time in 2013. In that span, he owns a 2.76 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.5 K/9.
The most important thing for Cecil entering 2015 is to get off to a strong start, because as talented as he is, he has only six career saves. Because he's not exactly a "proven closer," it could lead to apprehension for manager John Gibbons. (And in the event the Jays look to make a switch, keep close tabs on young fireballer Miguel Castro, a spring training revelation who's a sleeper-and-a-half.)
Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 258.4)
OK, so Mike Napoli is a relatively big-name player who has been around for a decade—not really your typical sleeper. But the 33-year-old is going ridiculously late with an ADP nearing 260. That's silly.
Napoli's 2014 was a disappointment, as he hit just .248 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in only 119 games. But he had a string of six straight 20-homer campaigns before last and still has plenty of pop.
Plus, it's a safe bet that his stats were dragged down by sleep apnea that has plagued him for years and really made life difficult for him last season. Napoli had surgery to correct the problem, so he can sleep normally now, which isn't a small thing for an aging ballplayer.
"I'd be sleeping during batting practice, and I'd wake up for the game," Napoli told Ian Browne of MLB.com. "So it was hard. I was always tired. There were games that I came out of that people didn't really know what happened, but it was because I was dizzy and really sleep-deprived."
A re-energized Napoli could have a nice bounce-back year, especially in the middle of the Boston Red Sox's revamped lineup.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers (ADP: 267.0)
Arguably the Texas Rangers' top prospect this time last year, Rougned Odor was forced into action way ahead of schedule—and at the tender age of 20 years and 94 days—when Jurickson Profar's shoulder simply couldn't get healthy.
So while Odor's fantasy numbers (.259 BA, 39 R, nine HR, 48 RBI, four SB in 114 games) don't look all that inviting, even for what essentially is a last-round selection, they are, in fact, rather promising.
The lefty swinger is small (5'11", 170), but he packs some punch, as evidenced by his 30 extra-base knocks in two-thirds of a season. And while he somehow was caught on seven of his 11 stolen-base attempts, Odor does have above-average speed and swiped 32 in the minors in 2013.
In other words, the skill set is here for 10-plus home runs and 20-plus steals, which could have Odor inside the top 10 at second base by year's end. Profar's continued shoulder problems are unfortunate and will keep him out all of 2015, but fantasy owners can capitalize by taking a late-round flier on Odor.
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B/SS, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 280.4)
One would think that Marcus Semien's huge start to spring training—he was 5-for-5 with two homers and seven RBI in his first two games!—might have bumped him up draft boards, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Semien's ADP (280.4) still looks more like Prince Fielder's weight than anything else.
The 24-year-old, whom the Oakland Athletics acquired this offseason in the Jeff Samardzija deal, has since cooled off...and then gotten hot yet again of late. All told, he's hitting .298 (14-for-47) and has scored nine runs in 16 March games.
While there are doubts about Semien's defense as the everyday shortstop, the A's are hoping he can hold it down. For fantasy purposes, he's worth snatching late as a reserve infielder, because not only can he reach double digits in homers and steals, but Semien also soon will be eligible at three infield positions. A little versatility comes in handy, particularly when there's some offensive ability in the picture too.
Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 292.7)
If all you've seen of Trevor Bauer this spring are the "highlights" in which he surrendered three consecutive homers in one game and then—get this—four triples in five batters in another, you probably won't consider drafting him, even as a sleeper.
Thing is, Bauer made a lot of gains in 2014, when the 24-year-old posted a decent 4.18 ERA and 8.4 K/9 in his 153 innings. And there's still more work to be done, especially with that 3.5 BB/9 rate, which is why the fact that he has yet to walk a single batter this March in 15.1 frames is a promising sign (even if it has come at the expense of getting knocked around a bit).
As the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2011, Bauer has the stuff and pedigree to make another leap in 2015.
Jason Hammel, SP, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 299.7)
After a very solid 2014 season, Jason Hammel is right back where he was this time last year—a sleeper.
That's because much of the great work he did while with the Chicago Cubs during the first half of 2014 (2.98 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) was undercut by his less-than-stellar showing upon being traded to the Oakland Athletics in early July (4.26 ERA, 1.29 WHIP).
But there are two things to point out about the 32-year-old: One, Hammel actually was quite decent with the A's once he found his footing back in the AL, sporting a 2.49 ERA after a 9.53 mark in his first four starts; and two, he's back with the Cubs in the NL again, anyway.
Don't look for another sub-3.00 ERA, but Hammel can be a valuable fifth fantasy starter.
Drew Pomeranz, SP/RP, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 299.8)
About the only thing that stopped Drew Pomeranz from truly breaking out last year was...Drew Pomeranz.
Inserted into the Oakland Athletics rotation in early May, the 26-year-old former first-rounder was pitching extremely well through his first seven starts with a 1.88 ERA and 33 whiffs in 38.1 innings. And then Pomeranz added injury to the insult of a terrible outing on June 16 (3.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER) by punching a chair and fracturing his right (non-throwing) hand.
Out for about 10 weeks, Pomeranz did return to pitch great over his final three appearances spread out over August and September (13.1 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 16 K). And for what it's worth, he has 19 strikeouts in 11.2 innings this spring.
Pomeranz hasn't yet locked up a rotation spot—the A's have a lot of young arms to fill out the back end—but the bet here is that he'll grab one and be a savvy arm to snag with your final pick.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 313.4)
Exactly nothing about Nick Castellanos' 2014 campaign looks exciting in retrospect. Hyped up some because of his top-prospect status, he hit a blah .259, scored a meh 50 runs, managed a whatever 11 homers and drove in a just-OK 66 runs.
Maybe not so fast.
True, Castellanos wasn't much of a factor in fantasy last year, but consider the context: He played all of the season at age 22 on a contending club and more or less still was able to tread water. That's actually more impressive than you think.
Then there's this: Castellanos sported a 28.5 percent line-drive rate—second-best in baseball—showing a knack for barreling balls consistently thanks to strong hands and a swing path that keep the bat in the zone. Between that skill and the Detroit Tigers' meaty lineup (now featuring Yoenis Cespedes and a full year of J.D. Martinez), Castellanos could be a breakout in the making.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 331.0)
If you somehow miss out on your chance at Rougned Odor as a last-ditch choice to fill out your roster with a reserve middle infielder, then may we suggest you turn your attention to Jonathan Schoop?
Schoop, 23, had a rough go of it as a rookie last year, hitting just .209 and failing to top even 50 runs or RBI. He also displayed next to no patience, walking all of 13 times in 137 games. (Maybe teammate Adam Jones rubbed off on him.)
But it's important to realize that the Baltimore Orioles had to rush Schoop, their top hitting prospect entering 2014, simply because they had little else to go with at second base. Amid all of his struggles, the athletic, well-built righty swinger (6'2", 210) did slug 16 homers in 481 plate appearances.
With a year's worth of experience under his belt now, the hope is that Schoop shows some incremental improvement in his approach, scores a BABIP better than last year's .249 mark and smacks 20 with an uptick in the counting stats.
Because of the downside and damage he could do to your batting average, don't go drafting Schoop as a starter. Then again, with his ADP outside the first 330 picks, you won't have to.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, Kansas City Royals (ADP: 335.8)
Unlike many of the others in this list, Jarrod Dyson is a known commodity at this stage of his career. The 30-year-old five-year vet is still a sleeper, though, and for one—and only one—reason: stolen bases.
Dyson offers zip in the power categories (four career homers) and won't even score that many runs for such a speedster. What he does bring to the table, of course, is 30-plus steals, a mark he has hit each of the past three years.
That alone makes him a player to own in AL-only formats or mixed leagues that have 14 or more teams. Because, hey, every steal counts, and he'll get a bunch of 'em.
Although he isn't a starting player, the Kansas City Royals deploy Dyson regularly as a pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement, so he's in a good spot with an organization that values those traits.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 347.3)
Here's how little fantasy owners seem to think of C.J. Cron: He's not even the highest-drafted C.J. on his own team, because C.J. Wilson—he of the ugly 4.51 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 2014—is going about 20 picks earlier.
That's a shame, because it's not like Cron, a former first-round draft pick, wasn't good in his very first taste of MLB. The 25-year-old batted .256 with 11 homers and 37 RBI in 253 plate appearances—or barely half a full season's worth.
Plus, with Josh Hamilton's fate completely unknown, the righty-swinging Cron should get regular playing time as the designated hitter in an offense that scored more runs than any other in baseball in 2014.
This could be 20 sneaky homers waiting to happen.
Wilmer Flores, SS, New York Mets (ADP: 344.0)
Long one of the New York Mets' top prospects, it's time for Wilmer Flores to sink or swim now that he finally—and fittingly—has reached Flushing.
Flores, 23, has many doubters when it comes to his ability to handle the demanding shortstop position on an everyday basis given his size and lack of range. But there's more support when it comes to his ability to hit, and that's all that really matters for fantasy owners, as long as his defense is good enough to keep him in the lineup.
Don't expect anything crazy, but Flores could turn out to be something of a poor man's Jhonny Peralta in terms of his fantasy production.
As long as his recent foot injury checks out—he fouled a ball off his foot over the weekend but has since returned to baseball activities, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News—Flores should contribute enough to be a useful fill-in option in NL-only leagues when your starting shortstop has an off day or gets hurt.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11