Fantasy Baseball 2016 Sleepers: Ranking the Top 20 Last-Minute Names to Know

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2016

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Sleepers: Ranking the Top 20 Last-Minute Names to Know

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Your fantasy baseball draft is quickly approaching its third hour, and while all the preparation you went through has paid off—you're pretty happy with the core of your team—you're at a loss as to who to take in the final few rounds.

    All you know is that you're tired, you can no longer stand the sight of your fellow owners and you don't want to sit there anymore. So you start to panic, and in the process, you forget about the late-round sleepers you had targeted weeks ago.

    Don't be the owner who drafts A.J. Burnett or Mark Buehrle because they're familiar names, ignoring the fact that one is retired—and the other might as well be.

    What follows is a list of 20 players who are all being selected in the 20th round or later, and they are ranked in order of ascending average draft position (ADP) according to Fantasy Pros. None of them are sure things—players taken that late in drafts never are—but each one can be a useful addition to your fantasy squad.

    Two things to consider before we get going:

    • 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).
    • 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.

    With that out of the way, let's take a look at 20 players you can target in the late rounds of your draft.

20. Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    ADP: 202.2

    2015 Stats: 56 G, .270/.335/.506, 23 XBH (9 HR), 26 RBI, 30 R, 17 BB, 39 K

    Overview

    There's no good reason for Michael Conforto to be lasting until Round 20 or so in most drafts and coming off the board after the likes of Jay Bruce, Gerardo Parra and Kevin Pillar, among others.

    A solid source of average and power, Conforto could easily provide 20-plus home runs, 75-plus RBI and an average in the .280 range in his first full season. And it's entirely possible the 23-year-old blows past those numbers, given his penchant for making consistent hard contact.

    He's a fine choice as your team's No. 3 outfielder—and he could be much more than that.

19. Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    ADP: 204.8

    2015 Stats: 32 GS, 8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 180 IP, 166 H, 43 BB, 167 K

    Overview

    Entering his age-26 season, Kyle Hendricks isn't likely to add much oomph to a fastball that clocks in as one of baseball's slowest, but that lack of velocity hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the better back-of-the-rotation arms around—and a solid back-end starter on your fantasy squad.

    His 1.16 WHIP and 3.36 fielding independent pitching (FIP) say he was far better last season than his ERA suggests, and Hendricks is a solid source of innings and strikeouts, adding more than three whiffs to his strikeouts-per-nine ratio from his rookie campaign (5.3 to 8.4) while continuing to limit walks.

    You can do far worse in the 20th round than a pitcher on the upswing entering his primeone who could reasonably finish the season as a top-30 fantasy starter.

18. Francisco Cervelli, C, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    ADP: 237.0

    2015 Stats: 130 G, .295/.370/.401, 29 XBH (7 HR), 43 RBI, 56 R, 46 BB, 94 K

    Overview

    The catcher spot tends to be a relatively unproductive one on many fantasy squads, and unless you're willing to burn a high draft pick on the likes of Buster Posey or Kyle Schwarber, your choice comes down to what area you need more help in—power or batting average.

    If your answer is the latter, then Francisco Cervelli is the catcher for you. One of four catchers to hit at least .290 last season, concerns about his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) are overblown. His .359 mark last season wasn't that far off his .341 career mark to think he couldn't produce a similar season again in 2016.

    Cervelli is a low-end option (high-end backup) in deep leagues and a mid-range starter in NL-only leagues.

17. Logan Forsythe, 2B/1B, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    ADP: 237.0

    2015 Stats: 153 G, .281/.359/.444, 52 XBH (17 HR), 68 RBI, 69 R, 55 BB, 111 K, 9-of-13 SB

    Overview

    What I wrote about Logan Forsythe last month, when I dubbed him a sleeper and the ninth-best second baseman heading into 2016, remains true two weeks from Opening Day: "If anyone had noticed Forsythe's breakout 2015, when he hit .281 with 52 extra-base hits (17 home runs), 68 RBI and a .804 OPS, he'd be coming off the board far earlier than he is."

    Only four second basemen hit at least .270 with 15 home runs last season—Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, Jonathan Schoop and Forsythe—and only Cano went deep more often than Tampa Bay's cleanup hitter.

    If you can grab Forsythe in the 23rd round, consider yourself very lucky. Even if there's some regression, he's worthy of selection at least eight to 10 rounds earlier than he's currently going.

16. Joe Ross, SP, Washington Nationals

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    ADP: 239.6

    2015 Stats: 16 G (13 GS), 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 76.2 IP, 64 H, 21 BB, 69 K

    Overview

    The younger brother of San Diego ace Tyson Ross, 22-year-old Joe Ross has spent much of the spring working to hone his changeup, which adds a third plus offering to his repertoire. According to Washington ace Max Scherzer, the hard work he's put in is paying off.

    "The action’s there. Now it’s developing feel,” Scherzer told the Washington Post's Chelsea Janes. "The biggest thing is he’s got to trust it...trust that over the long haul, the results will be in his favor. Not: Oh, I threw a changeup, I gave up a home run, and I will never throw a changeup again."

    Ross is far from a sure thing—a slow start could find him replaced in the rotation by Lucas Giolito, Washington's top pitching prospect. But he also has significant upside and could become a fixture in your rotation.

    No matter what, Ross' ability to limit walks and make batters swing and miss will provide a boost in WHIP and strikeouts.

15. Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    ADP: 242.6

    2015 Stats: 86 G, .279/.306/.482, 32 XBH (15 HR), 39 RBI, 34 R, 9 BB, 79 K, 2-of-2 SB

    Overview

    If you've been reading along and not just skimming the names, then you already know that Jonathan Schoop was among a select group of second basemen last season—and he gained entry into that club in what amounts to just over a half-season.

    A free-swinger, there's no guarantee Schoop hits anywhere close to .280 this season, and strikeouts are always going to be an issue. But his power is for real, with the potential to hit 30-plus home runs over the course of a full season.

    That alone makes him worth a flier in the late rounds of your draft, whether you need a second baseman or not.

14. Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    ADP: 245.0

    2015 Stats: 151 G, .250/.356/.486, 56 XBH (33 HR), 86 RBI, 83 R, 84 BB, 145 K, 4-of-4 SB

    Overview

    The general consensus heading into 2015 was that Alex Rodriguez, coming off a yearlong suspension, would be lucky to hit 15 home runs; he had eclipsed that number by the All-Star break. So the notion that it's impossible for him to hit 30 home runs again in 2016 is a bit shaky.

    Whether or not A-Rod cracks the 30-home run mark for the 16th time, he's going to remain a solid source of power, RBI and runs scored. It'd be difficult for him not to, playing half his games at Yankee Stadium and hitting in the heart of a deep, talented New York lineup.

    Injuries are always a concern, and he will celebrate his 41st birthday just about halfway through the season. His best days are behind him, and that he's a full-time designated hitter offers absolutely no flexibility when setting your lineup.

    But when he's sitting there in the 24th round and you find yourself questioning whether the shame you'll feel for drafting him is worth it, ask yourself this: How much worse would it feel if the team that keeps you out of the playoffs did so with A-Rod in its lineup?

    He's worth taking a flier on this late in drafts.

13. Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    ADP: 259.0

    2015 Stats: 25 G (17 GS), 4-7, 4.25 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 112.1 IP, 109 H, 29 BB, 103 K 

    Overview

    It seems like we've been waiting on Kevin Gausman to deliver a breakout performance for years, but he's only 25 years old and heads into the season with no restrictions—and no questions about his role. The days of bouncing between the rotation and bullpen are behind him.

    Per the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, neither Gausman nor the Orioles are worried about the shoulder tendinitis that could delay his 2016 debut by a week or two. Neither should you.

    A former top prospect, Gausman has posted solid peripherals over parts of three seasons (1.28 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 7.9 K/9) in spite of Baltimore badly mishandling his development. With his role ensured, this could be the season he finally lives up to the hype that surrounded his arrival.

    The chance to find a potential front-of-the-rotation arm in the final rounds of your draft is far too enticing to pass up.

12. Wil Myers, 1B/OF, San Diego Padres

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    ADP: 261.6

    2015 Stats: 60 G, .253/.336/.427, 22 XBH (8 HR), 29 RBI, 40 R, 27 BB, 55 K, 5-of-7 SB

    Overview

    It's tempting to call Wil Myers a bust and not give him a second look on draft day. But that'd be premature.

    He's only 25 years old, and before he injured his wrist in early May, he was hitting .291 with 16 extra-base hits (five home runs), 19 RBI and 28 runs scored in his first 32 games as a member of the San Diego Padres.

    Health is a major issue for Myers, as injuries have limited him to 147 games over the past two seasons. Until he proves he can stay healthy for a full season, Myers is a risky pick. But he's also an intriguing one, for we've seen what he's capable of doing when he's healthy.

    Myers is still young enough to have significant upside, but make sure you have a backup plan in place.

11. Will Smith, RP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    ADP: 263.2

    2015 Stats: 76 G, 7-2, 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 63.1 IP, 52 H, 24 BB, 91 K, 0-of-4 SV

    Overview

    Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell refuses to name a closer until after the regular season begins, with his sights set on giving both Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith an opportunity in the ninth inning.

    "It's just not putting any limits on it," Counsell told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It certainly could end up being one guy. I don't think there's any reason to put restrictions on it now."

    With the way Smith has thrown the ball this spring, he's made a strong case that the closer's role should be his and his alone. The 26-year-old southpaw has allowed only three baserunners (two hits and a walk) over seven scoreless innings, striking out five.

    While Smith's value would take a hit if he's a co-closer or working as Jeffress' primary setup man, his ability to rack up strikeouts alone holds some value. If he wins the closer's job outright, a season with 30-plus saves and 100-plus strikeouts can't be ruled out.

10. Anthony DeSclafani, SP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    ADP: 263.8

    2015 Stats: 31 GS, 9-13, 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 184.2 IP, 194 H, 55 BB, 151 K

    Overview

    Anthony DeSclafani's final numbers in 2015 were maddeningly mediocre, but it's what the 25-year-old was able to do over the final month of the regular season that should have him on your radar, especially if you're looking for another starting pitcher late in the draft.

    As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Zach Buchanan wrote, it all revolves around DeSclafani's curveball:

    DeSclafani’s curve was so bad early in the season, he literally didn’t generate a swing-and-miss off it in the first two months. In September, hitters fanned at it 19 percent of the time, second to only his slider. Not-so-coincidentally, DeSclafani went from striking out 6.8 batters per nine innings in his first 25 starts to 9.6 per nine in his final six.

    That whiffability has carried over into the spring, with DeSclafani fanning 14 batters over 13.2 innings of work. While he hasn't been sharpallowing 10 earned runs and 13 hitshe's going to be Cincinnati's de facto ace in 2016.

    He's not someone you want to slot in your Opening Day rotation, and there's a decent chance he'll go undrafted in more than a few leagues. But his ability to consistently miss bats makes him an intriguing late-round selection.

9. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    ADP: 273.0

    2015 Stats: 154 G, .255/.303/.419, 54 XBH (15 HR), 73 RBI, 42 R, 39 BB, 152 K, 0-of-3 SB

    Overview

    A .257 hitter over parts of three seasons, Nick Castellanos hasn't come close to meeting the expectations that followed him to the majors as a consensus top-100 prospect. But he showed signs of life after the All-Star break last season, hitting .269 with 31 extra-base hits (nine home runs) and a .800 OPS.

    His high strikeout rate is a concern, especially in points leagues, and a productive half-season doesn't mean Castellanos has finally arrived. But the 24-year-old still has considerable upside, and if he's able to build on that strong finish, he could push his way into the top 10 at third base by season's end.

8. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    ADP: 275.8

    2015 Stats (Double-A/Triple-A): 130 G, .279/.350/.514, 70 XBH (20 HR), 80 RBI, 83 R, 51 BB, 141 K, 22-of-25 SB

    Overview

    If you're one of those fantasy owners who likes to take a potential impact rookie in the later rounds of your draft, look no further than Colorado's Trevor Story.

    Taking over at shortstop for the indefinitely suspended Jose Reyes, Story has both the power and speed to impact your fantasy team in multiple ways. While he's expected to start the season hitting toward the bottom of Colorado's lineup (which will limit his run production), he could quickly move into a run-producing spot.

    After all, it's Story—and not Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez—who leads the Rockies in home runs (four) this spring, while his 10 RBI put him one behind Arenado for the team lead.

    If you're leery of using him as your primary shortstop, Story is a quality insurance policy and one you can stick in your lineup when the Rockies are playing at home to take advantage of the Coors Field effect. A 20-20 season isn't out of the question for the 23-year-old.

7. Andrew Heaney, SP, Los Angeles Angels

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    ADP: 276.8

    2015 Stats: 18 GS, 6-4, 3.49 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 105.2 IP, 99 H, 28 BB, 78 K

    Overview

    Andrew Heaney has yet to show the strikeout potential that saw him average nearly a whiff per inning over parts of four minor league seasons, but the ability to miss bats is there—and the 24-year-old southpaw could take another step toward his ceiling in his first full MLB campaign.

    Even if the strikeouts don't materialize in 2016, Heaney has value as an innings-eating starter who will help to lower your rotation's ERA and WHIP.

6. Marcell Ozuna, CF, Miami Marlins

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    ADP: 283.5

    2015 Stats: 123 G, .259/.308/.383, 37 XBH (10 HR), 44 RBI, 47 R, 30 BB, 110 K, 2-of-5 SB

    Overview

    Marcell Ozuna's second full season in Miami was one to forget, as he battled ineffectiveness and found himself demoted to the minor leagues in mid-July. But he showed life upon his return in mid-August, hitting .278 with 19 extra-base hits (six home runs), 18 RBI and a .789 OPS over his final 44 games.

    He may never hit for average given his penchant for striking out—though it's worth noting that Ozuna has yet to whiff in 29 spring at-bats—but the power potential the 25-year-old offers makes him an enticing late-round pick.

    It's not often you can find a legitimate source of 20-plus home runs in the 24th or 25th round of drafts, especially a player just entering his prime. Slotted to hit second in Miami's lineup between Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich, this could be the year Ozuna breaks out as more than a one-category pony.

5. Aaron Sanchez, SP/RP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    ADP: 312.3

    2015 Stats: 41 G (11 GS), 7-6, 3.22 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 92.1 IP, 74 H, 44 BB, 61 K

    Overview

    It's always helpful to have a swingman on your fantasy roster; a pitcher with dual-eligibility you can slot as a starter or reliever, depending on your needs. There may not be a more enticing option to fill that role than Aaron Sanchez, who has been downright filthy for Toronto this spring.

    The 23-year-old has pitched to a 1.35 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 20 innings of work, walking only three batters while striking out 19. The command problems that have plagued his career seem to be a thing of the past, largely due to the work he's put in on his secondary offerings, as we looked at earlier this week.

    His role with the Blue Jays has yet to be determined. While he appears to be leading the competition for the fifth and final spot in Toronto's rotation, he could wind up back in the bullpen, where he spent much of the 2015 season.

    Regardless of where he winds up, Sanchez seems to have taken a major step forward in his development and, as a result, could be on the verge of a breakout season.

4. C.J. Cron, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    ADP: 315.7

    2015 Stats: 113 G, .262/.300/.439, 34 XBH (16 HR), 51 RBI, 37 R, 17 BB, 82 K, 3-of-4 SB

    Overview

    Could C.J. Cron be nothing more than Los Angeles' latest version of Mark Trumbo, a player who offers big power and little else? Absolutely. Getting on base is never going to be a strength for either. But Cron is going undrafted in many leagues, while Trumbo, on average, has been an 18th-round pick in most drafts.

    That you can add Cron in the last round of your draft makes him far more valuable than Trumbo, as both figure to deliver between 25 to 30 home runs and a handful of RBI over the course of a full season.

3. Mike Napoli, 1B, Cleveland Indians

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    ADP: 350.3

    2015 Stats: 133 G, .224/.324/.410, 39 XBH (18 HR), 50 RBI, 46 R, 57 BB, 118 K, 3-of-6 SB

    Overview

    If you've somehow forgotten to take a first baseman as your draft heads into its final rounds—or you're looking for some insurance at the position—fret not, for you still have options.

    Two years removed from sleep apnea surgery, Mike Napoli has looked a whole lot like the old Mike Napoli this spring, the one who routinely hit .250 with a high on-base percentage and 20-plus home runs—and not the guy who hit .207 with 13 home runs over 98 games with Boston last season.

    Slotted fourth or fifth in Cleveland's lineup, he'll have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. If everything goes well, he could even approach his career high of 92 RBI, which was set in 2013 while playing for the Red Sox.

2. Robbie Ray, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    ADP: 378.5

    2015 Stats: 23 GS, 5-12, 3.52 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 127.2 IP, 121 H, 49 BB, 119 K

    Overview

    Robbie Ray quietly put together a solid rookie season in Arizona last year, and with Opening Day fast approaching, he is the favorite to break camp as the fifth starter in a rebuilt Diamondbacks rotation.

    A former top prospect with Detroit and Washington, the 24-year-old flashed the ability to consistently make batters swing and miss while limiting damage, with an FIP (3.53) that was nearly identical to his ERA.

    If there's a concern, it'd be his trouble pitching deep into games, as he failed to reach the sixth inning in 10 of his 23 starts, but that's little reason to pass on a potential breakout candidate in the late rounds of your draft.

    Ray isn't someone you want to slot into your rotation right away, but he makes for excellent insurance against injury to one of your other arms.

1. Tyler Naquin, CF, Cleveland Indians

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    ADP: N/A

    2015 Stats (Double-A/Triple-A): 84 G, .300/.381/.446, 33 XBH (7 HR), 27 RBI, 50 R, 40 BB, 73 K, 13-of-16 SB

    Overview

    Sleepers don't get much deeper than Tyler Naquin, a player who, by all accounts, isn't even on the radar for most fantasy owners. But he should be on yours.

    The former first-round pick has put on a clinic this spring, hitting .447 (17-for-38) with eight extra-base hits (two home runs), nine runs scored and a 1.342 OPS. As a result, he appears to be the leading candidate to replace the suspended Abraham Almonte in center field.

    "He's really doing everything you can do," Cleveland manager Terry Francona told the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto. "We'll get to the point where we will start to do things (about the roster). ... There is a time to start saying things about guys...and he has done a really good job."

    While Naquin doesn't have a ton of power, he is capable of clearing the fences 10 times a year, but it's his speed that makes him so dangerous. It's not a question of whether Naquin will take an extra base on balls hit down the line or into an outfield gapit's a question of how many bases he's going to take.

    Given his lack of experience in the majors, Naquin is more of a fourth outfielder on your fantasy squad than a starter—at least in the early part of the season. But a season that finds him hitting for average with double-digit home runs and stolen bases isn't out of the question.

    Not bad for a player who's going undrafted in most formats.

    Unless otherwise noted, all spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com and are current through March 23. All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball, fantasy or otherwise: @RickWeinerBR.

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