Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2018: Best Hitting and Pitching Prospects to Draft

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 31, 2018

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani runs to third base during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

More than ever across Major League Baseball, it's impossible for prospects to sneak up on anyone. 

Forget how much coverage there is readily available for minor leaguers at every level, the infusion of young talent across MLB every year is so vast that it's not hard to figure out why teams have been more reluctant than ever to hand out lucrative deals to free agents. 

Fantasy players also get to benefit from the wealth of talent, both present and incoming, because it's easier to fill out your roster and win a championship that will give you bragging rights over all your friends and competitors.

As you look to fill out your fantasy roster during draft day, here are the top prospects for the 2018 season to keep an eye on. 

       

Best Overall Prospect: Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Using Shohei Ohtani as the standard for fantasy prospects in 2018 is a bit of a cheat. He's played at the highest level of professional baseball in Japan for the past five years and is the most-hyped rookie since Bryce Harper debuted six years ago.

There's also the matter of Ohtani being used as a pitcher and hitter by the Los Angeles Angels. By virtue of being one of the most unique players to come along in years, the 23-year-old is going to be a fascinating fantasy prospect. 

Even his spring training debut last month generated a lot of buzz, with Rotoworld's Christopher Crawford offering this take about Ohtani's raw stuff on the mound:

Ohtani does come with some red flags worth monitoring. He never threw more than 160.2 innings as a pitcher with the Nippon Ham Fighters, including 25.1 in 2017, and Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reported in December his physical showed a sprained ligament in his pitching elbow. 

As a hitter, Ohtani has issues making consistent contact, with 316 strikeouts in 1,035 at-bats in 403 games in Japan. It's not a crippling problem if he's able to work counts, get on base and hit for power, but it has the potential to make him a .250-.260 hitter instead of a .290-.300 hitter. 

Regardless of those potential concerns, Ohtani is such a unique athlete with a rare value in fantasy circles that it's hard to argue with what he's capable of doing in 2018. 

To receive Ohtani's full value in Yahoo fantasy leagues, he has to be drafted twice since he's separated in the pitching and hitting categories. His primary value will come on the mound, so keep that in mind if you want to get another hitter who will be in the lineup every day. 

         

Best Hitting Prospect: Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

MIAMI, FL - JULY 9: Nick Senzel #13 of the U.S. Team and Cincinnati Reds bats during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

After being drafted No. 2 overall by the Cincinnati Reds in June 2016, Nick Senzel's first full season in professional baseball last year saw him hit .321/.391/.514 with 14 homers and 14 stolen bases in 119 games between High-A and Double-A. 

MLB.com has Senzel ranked as the No. 7 prospect in MLB this season, with this scouting report about his hit tool:

"Senzel uses a combination of strength, bat speed and an advanced approach at the plate to be an extremely dangerous hitter from the right side of the plate. He makes consistent hard contact, doesn't strike out a lot and draws walks, which points to a future of hitting over .300 and perhaps competing for batting titles. While he's not a pure power type, he did have 57 extra-base hits in 2017 and homered 10 times in 209 at-bats in Double-A. "

The lack of top-tier power would be a concern for most players at a corner position, but Senzel can get away with 15-20 homers because he's going to hit .300 annually and has enough instincts when he gets on base to swipe 15-20 bases. 

The only thing holding Senzel down is Cincinnati's development plan. He only has 57 games of experience at Double-A, and the Reds are starting him in the minors for two months—or longerbefore calling him up. 

The Reds used Senzel in the same lineup as Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza for his first spring training game on Feb. 25 against the Cleveland Indians. That would seem to indicate they know it won't be long before he's in the big leagues playing alongside that trio. 

Even if you have to use Stenzel as a draft-and-stash option, his bat is so good that he will force his way into Cincinnati's lineup with plenty of time to make a difference for your fantasy team.

        

Best Sleeper Prospect: Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

If it wasn't for Tommy John surgery last February, Alex Reyes would have made his presence felt for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. 

In 12 MLB appearances at the end of 2016, Reyes had a 1.57 ERA with 52 strikeouts over 46 innings. 

The good news is Reyes hasn't suffered any setbacks in his recovery from elbow surgery, though he is starting the year on the disabled list until he's fully healthy.

Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted the 23-year-old will pitch out of the bullpen when he returns to conserve his innings before transitioning back to the starting rotation as the year moves on. 

Prior to his elbow injury, Reyes dazzled scouts with his electric stuff. He's still ranked as the No. 17 prospect this season by MLB.com:

"He was easily hitting triple digits before the elbow injury and sat in the mid-to-upper 90s with ease. That and a plus upper-70s curve would be enough for a bullpen gig, but his 88-90 mph changeup gives him a third above-average offering. The only negative for Reyes has been his command, and he will have to keep his walk rate relatively in check to reach his potential as a top-of-the-rotation starter."

As long as that stuff is still present, fantasy owners need to take note of what Reyes is capable of doing in 2018. His immediate value will be low because it's difficult for middle relievers to make an impact in fantasy. 

When the Cardinals eventually turn Reyes loose in the rotation, his value will explode because of how overpowering his stuff is. In 480.1 innings from 2013-16, the right-hander had 501 strikeouts and 302 hits allowed. 

Reyes is the last pitcher being selected in Yahoo leagues with average draft position of 258.4. 

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