With the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs opening the MLB season Sunday night, most if not all fantasy baseball drafts have already occurred. While preseason projections are still quite useful, they can no longer help most fantasy owners in preparation for their drafts or auctions.
However, every roster inevitably has holes that owners will need to fill through the waiver wire during the season. Spring training injuries to the likes of Anthony Rendon and Hunter Pence have already wreaked havoc on lineups and forced some to turn to undrafted players. Early-season hot streaks are often the products of small sample sizes, so it's important to understand before the year starts who you can and can't trust.
With that in mind, let's project 2015 stat lines for the top sleeper at each position owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN standard leagues (10-team mixed), highlighting a few especially noteworthy players you might want to consider adding before their stocks rise.
|2015 Fantasy Sleepers and Projections|
|C||Mike Zunino, SEA||34.8 %||.220, 61 R, 22 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB|
|1B||Stephen Vogt, OAK||0.9 %||.285, 59 R, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 1 SB|
|2B||Brett Lawrie, OAK||26.5 %||.250, 60 R, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 7 SB|
|3B||Trevor Plouffe, MIN||4.2 %||.258, 62 R, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 2 SB|
|SS||Javier Baez, CHC||41.5 %||.225, 55 R, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 12 SB|
|OF||Yasmany Tomas, ARZ||48.5%||.250, 63 R, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 11 SB|
|OF||Steven Souza, TB||19.5 %||.261, 49 R, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 19 SB|
|OF||Dexter Fowler, CHC||5.2 %||.268, 71 R, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 21 SB|
|SP||Henderson Alvarez, MIA||19.7 %||13-11, 110 K, 3.15 ERA, 1.21 WHIP|
|SP||James Paxton, SEA||16.8 %||12-8, 150 K, 3.72 ERA, 1.30 WHIP|
|SP||Brandon McCarthy, LAD||10.7 %||11-10, 140 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.19 WHIP|
|% via ESPN, projections are author's own|
Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Oakland A's
Lawrie is the prototypical post-hype sleeper, a former top prospect who was a fourth-rounder in standard leagues as recently as two seasons ago. While moving to Oakland's pitcher-friendly park wouldn't appear to help the injury-prone Lawrie, his multipositional eligibility, power potential and clear path to playing time make him a player to keep an eye on early in the season.
The former Blue Jay experienced the most disastrous season of his four-year career in 2014, missing 92 games and putting up the worst slash line of his career at .247/.301/.421. However, as The Patriot-News' (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) Dustin Hockensmith relays, Lawrie's per-game statistical trends are still favorable for key counting stats:
Lawrie's 162-game averages over four Major League seasons: 20 HRs and 13 SBs. ... despite injury issues, is still working on a three-year streak with double-digit homers, including a career-high 12 last season. ... his .247 average was, in part, a product of bad luck with a .260 BABIP that was 32 points below his career average.
Even after significant offseason renovations, Oakland still possesses plenty of on-base skills at the top of its lineup. Thus, hitting in the middle of the A's lineup should drive up Lawrie's RBI totals if he can play a reasonable number of games. Lawrie's value could rise even further if his batted ball rates return back to the more promising rates he exhibited over his first two seasons, especially in the cavernous O.co Coliseum:
|Brett Lawrie Batted Ball Stats|
|Year||Line Drive %||Fly Ball %||BABIP|
Thus, when tracking Lawrie early in the year, look at these batted ball rates rather than his raw average. If he can rebound from last year's regression in line-drive percentage, there's a chance for some nice value here.
Yasmany Tomas, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
The immediate success of recent Cuban defectors like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig has Tomas on everybody's radar but not enough to warrant a draftable ADP in standard leagues. That's understandable, especially given that Tomas isn't even guaranteed a spot on the D-Backs' Opening Day roster. A natural outfielder, Tomas has spent considerable time at third base this spring, which appears to represent his clearest avenue to playing time:
Even if he begins 2015 in the minors, Tomas appears likely to split time between third base and left field, something that should help him acquire multipositional eligibility. Whenever he does arrive, Tomas' uppercut swing will play extremely well in Chase Field, a flyball hitter's paradise. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan opines, Tomas' game could reach an All-Star level:
These are 29 potential offensive comps for Yasmany Tomas. Over the past five years, they've averaged a 112 wRC+, meaning they've hit 12% better than average. ... These are power-hitting fly-ball guys, with some tendency to chase and some tendency to whiff.
If things go well, Tomas as a hitter might resemble Justin Upton. Upton hasn't built on his peak, but he's been a consistent offensive threat. Yoenis Cespedes sets a more attainable level, and there are also interesting players like Corey Hart, Nelson Cruz, and Khris Davis.
The early going will probably be rough; Tomas likely won't be a great option in points leagues this season because of what should be a sky-high strikeout rate. Still, that's hardly unusual for a player making the transition to the big leagues, and few also bring the same double-digit upside in homers and steals that Tomas does.
Cheap power is one of fantasy's most desirable qualities, and Tomas should provide it this year, especially if he gets sent down and sees his ownership percentage plummet. But Tomas' time in Triple-A shouldn't be long if he's there at all, so don't be afraid to stash him on your bench before the rebuilding D-Backs acquiesce and give him his at-bats.
James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners
In his first extended look at the big leagues, the 6'4" southpaw Paxton demonstrated why he was a widely renowned cog in Seattle's pitching-rich prospect arsenal. Despite control issues and an average strikeout rate, Paxton drew plenty of poor contact with a 54.8 percent ground-ball percentage and posted solid peripherals to support his 3.04 ERA.
Injuries are a concern for Paxton, as a strained lat muscle limited his 2014 campaign to just 71 innings. Still, with a 2.66 career ERA in 17 big league starts, Paxton is part of a maturing young core that has the Mariners trending as a popular postseason pick in the American League:
Moreover, fantasy owners shouldn't be especially worried over his pedestrian strikeout rate. Opposing hitters swung at 33.3 percent of Paxton's pitches thrown outside the strike zone last year, a mark that would have ranked among the top 30 in the league had he thrown enough innings to qualify. Paxton clearly possesses swing-and-miss stuff, and improved control should produce more tangible results.
Pitching at Safeco has made the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma and Jason Vargas must-own standard leaguers in recent seasons. Paxton holds considerably more upside than either of those options, so don't be surprised if he breaks out in 2014 and becomes a top-30 type of fantasy starter.
*All stats via FanGraphs.