Fantasy Baseball 2021 Sleepers: Top Pitchers and Sluggers to Target

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMarch 20, 2021

Fantasy Baseball 2021 Sleepers: Top Pitchers and Sluggers to Target

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Opening Day is set for April 1, which means it's time to fire up those fantasy baseball leagues.

    Last year was likely a novelty for most fantasy managers. After all, it was a novelty for all of baseball. The 60-game schedule birthed breakout stars and upstart contenders. Will those stars continue to experience the same success over the course of a 162-game season?

    Let's take a look at some of the top sleepers in the pitching and hitting categories. Oftentimes, fantasy baseball managers win because of the depth players they pick up in the later rounds. These players not only strengthen rosters but could also be major contributors come playoff time.

Top 15 Player Rankings

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    1. OF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

    2. OF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

    3. SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

    4. OF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

    5. OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angeles

    6. SP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

    7. SS Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

    8. SP Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

    9. OF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

    10. 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

    11. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

    12. SP Shane Bieber, Cleveland

    13. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    14. OF Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

    15. OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers   

    Rankings via FantasyPros.

Top Sleeper Pitchers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    SP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland

    Triston McKenzie was the latest in a string of breakout arms in Cleveland.

    McKenzie displayed electric stuff across 33.1 innings. He posted a 3.24 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, striking out 42 and finishing the season with a 142 ERA+.

    The right-hander has done enough to earn a full-time place in Cleveland's rotation, and the numbers suggest managers take a good look at taking a chance on him. McKenzie ranked in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity and 63rd percentile in whiff rate. That is a strong combination for someone with his power stuff.

    McKenzie's average draft position (ADP) is 178. Managers can get terrific value from that spot if they select the 23-year-old, a legitimate strikeout picture who should continue to build in 2021.


    SP Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies

    Zack Wheeler excelled in his debut season with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The 30-year-old had a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts, leading the National League in home runs per nine innings (0.4) and slashing his walk rate for a third consecutive season.

    Wheeler consistently generates soft contact. He has ranked in the 81st percentile or higher in both barrel percentage and average exit velocity in the past two seasons. The right-hander also has good life with the four-seam fastball and sinker. That sinker in particular helped Wheeler to a 56.6 percent ground-ball rate in 2020.

    The right-hander is getting decent respect from fantasy managers with an ADP of 94th overall. Still, Wheeler's velocity and slider play well in terms of strikeout stuff and the ground ball rate is even more encouraging.


    SP/RP Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers  

    Freddy Peralta has addd value because he could be a flex arm used in a six-man rotation or out of the bullpen.

    Peralta's 2020 ERA (3.99) is not a good indicator of his potential. He struck out 47 in 29.1 innings of work (14.4) and gave up just two homers. His 2.41 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark suggests he deserved better success, as did his 3.11 expected ERA (xERA).

    The 24-year-old ranked in the 82nd percentile in hard-hit rate and 97th percentile in whiff rate. Those are elite metrics for a young arm who could provide value in the rotation or bullpen.

    Even if Peralta does not begin the season in Milwaukee's starting group, his 318 ADP is good value for a guy who could be a tremendous weapon for the Brewers.

Top Sleeper Sluggers

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    OF Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics   

    Mark Canha has never had an opportunity to be a full-time outfielder in Oakland, but he will this season.

    Fantasy managers should pounce to add Canha to their outfield group. The 32-year-old had a 126 OPS+ in 2020. He has even bigger upside considering he hit 26 homers with a .913 OPS in under 500 plate appearances in 2019.

    Canha ranks 11th among all players in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) since 2019. Yes: All players. That should speak to his tremendous offensive value as a guy who can slug, get on base and score plenty of runs in a deep Oakland offense.

    The A's slugger has an ADP of 243. He's far more valuable than that, especially now he will have the chance to play every day.


    OF Joc Pederson, Chicago Cubs

    Joc Pederson is another guy who will finally have the chance to play every day after signing with the Chicago Cubs. He could relish that opportunity.

    Pederson had a tough regular season in 2020. But he was dominant in the postseason, hitting .394 with a pair of homers and eight RBI over the course of the final three series.

    His October success has carried over to the spring. Pederson has been incredibly impressive, hitting .500 with five homers and a 1.755 OPS. Granted, it's spring ball, but he appears ready to break through with a full-time role.

    Pederson hit 36 homers with an .876 OPS in his last full season (2019). That was a platoon role. Who knows how prolific he can be as Chicago's everyday left fielder. Plus, Pederson has positional versatility, at least in terms of fantasy designations. He's worth a flyer with an ADP of 281 overall.


    1B Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox   

    Bobby Dalbec burst on to the scene with the Boston Red Sox last summer, clubbing eight homers and posting a .959 OPS in 23 games.

    Dalbec has been every bit as impressive this spring, hitting .333 with five homers and a 1.345 OPS. He has earned the first base job, and could be in the running for American League Rookie of the Year.

    Boston puts up a ton of runs and has sluggers throughout the order. Dalbec should have lineup protection and the ability to be a major run-producer. 

    The 25-year-old has an ADP of 278 overall and 38th among first baseman. But his slugging and place in a high-scoring offense gives him legitimate top-15 upside at the position.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted. All fantasy information obtained via FantasyPros.