There is a certain art to finding a sleeper in fantasy sports.
Oftentimes, the depth pieces are the ones who can make or break a league. This is especially true in fantasy baseball. While star players are expected to produce and injuries tend to play a role, winning rosters are normally predicated on depth and shrewd moves on the waiver wire.
The best way fantasy owners can set themselves up for success is by having a successful draft, and that means being locked in from start to finish. Occasionally, quality players will slip through the cracks or show up far down the board in terms of draft rankings, which makes for good value.
Here are a few MLB players who could turn out to be sleeper picks in fantasy this season.
Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers
Willie Calhoun is almost sure to be overlooked as a guy who played in just 83 games last season for a Texas Rangers squad that still might finish towards the bottom of the American League West in 2020.
Nevertheless, what he did in those 83 games hints he would be an excellent value pickup.
Calhoun slashed .269/.323/.524 with 21 homers in just 337 plate appearances, and those numbers should look far better stretched across a full season now that he is projected to be a starter in the Rangers outfield.
The 25-year-old suffered a broken jaw before spring training was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he has already been cleared to resume baseball activities.
The Rangers did not do much in terms of making positional upgrades in the offseason, and they will be banking on Calhoun to have a big year and increase the overall production in the lineup. Look out for him in the later rounds.
Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins failed to land any of the marquee starting pitchers in free agency, but they did upgrade their pitching staff by trading for Kenta Maeda.
Although Maeda took a slight step back in 2019, he will have every chance to excel pitching in a more friendly environment at Target Field.
One of the reasons Maeda struggled was due to the home run ball. He gave up 1.3 homers per nine innings last season, mostly because Dodger Stadium was the ninth-friendliest park in terms of the long ball, according to ESPN. Target Field, on the other hand, ranked 24th in that capacity last season.
Minnesota needs Maeda to take a big step forward in the rotation if it hopes to improve in 2020. The 31-year-old has posted at least 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings in each of his first four seasons in the big leagues, and his peripherals suggest he could excel pitching in front of a Twins defense that should be vastly improved following the addition of Josh Donaldson and a healthy Byron Buxton in center field.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have such a star-studded lineup—even more so now that they added Mookie Betts in February—it is sometimes easy to forget Justin Turner is one of the best hitters in baseball.
Turner slashed .290/.372/.509 with 27 homers and a 131 OPS+ last season. More importantly, he remained mostly healthy, appearing in 135 games.
More importantly, Turner has been a model of consistency for years. He ranks 18th in fWAR between 2016 and 2019 and 15th in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) during that same span.
Turner is way down on most draft boards in terms of average draft position (ADP). According to Fantasy Pros, he had an ADP of 147 across all leagues, below the likes of Tommy Edman from the St. Louis Cardinals and Danny Santana from the Texas Rangers.
The 35-year-old is a consummate professional at the plate, and he should get even more RBI chances with Betts hitting at the top of the lineup. He would be a premium pickup at the hot corner.
A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics
A.J. Puk has been a top arm in the Oakland A's system for years, and he finally got the chance to prove his merit during a September call-up last season.
The left-hander had a 3.18 ERA in 11 1/3 innings of work out of the bullpen, displaying some of the dynamic stuff that made him such a coveted prospect.
Puk figures to be something of a flex arm, similar to how Maeda was used during his tenure with the Dodgers, making spot starts while also throwing out of the pen. His strikeout stuff might give him tremendous value depending on how categories are ordered, and he should also rack up a few quality starts here and there.
The 24-year-old is going around 236 in terms of ADP, which makes him a pretty good buy as someone who can throw innings at the start or at the back end of games.