Fantasy Baseball Picks 2021: Sleepers to Target Deep in Your Draft

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Fantasy Baseball Picks 2021: Sleepers to Target Deep in Your Draft

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Like their real-life counterparts, fantasy baseball managers can't win league titles without superstars.

    But as any long-time fantasy enthusiast can attest, trophies aren't often won in the first few rounds of the draft. There's such an incredible amount of talent at the top that most teams will enter the campaign with multiple high-level building blocks.

    This is where draft sleepers enter the equation. They aren't league-winners on their own, but their return on investment ranks among the best in the business. If your 15th-round draft pick performs like a player selected in the first five rounds, that's the kind of value addition that can push your roster to the top.

    That's why our eyes are on the deep sleepers—those being drafted outside of the top 200, using average draft position (ADP) data from FantasyPros—who must be on your draft radar.

Mitch Haniger, OF, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 245.8)

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Remember how good a healthy Mitch Haniger can be? You're forgiven if you don't, because it's been a while.

    His bad luck with the injury bug dates back two seasons. A series of medical maladies limited him to 63 appearances in 2019 and none last season. He underwent three different surgeries over a seven-month span.

    But all of that is (hopefully) behind him now, and shrewd fantasy managers should act on that information before their leaguemates catch up.

    If the 30-year-old can approach his 2018 form—when he tallied 26 homers, eight stolen bases and 183 combined runs and RBI across 157 games—then he'll quickly prove he's being grossly undervalued in drafts.

    ESPN rated Haniger as the 27th-best player in baseball that season. He could be half the player he was then and still be a tremendous draft-day value. If he's closer to a carbon copy, you might be looking at a fantasy MVP.

Aaron Hicks, OF, New York Yankees (ADP: 231.6)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Even the most casual baseball fan probably knows the Yankees can absolutely mash. So, is it strange to anyone else that their projected No. 3 hitter is falling outside of the top 200 fantasy picks?

    Aaron Hicks might not be what fans traditionally envision in a No. 3 hitter, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone sees it as the right spot for his switch-hitting center fielder.

    "More than any spot in the order, you're going to come up with no one on base and you're going to come up more often than anyone else with a man on first," Boone told reporters. "You really value a guy that doesn't put the ball on the ground, but still gets on base a lot, especially ahead of [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Luke] Voit. I think [Hicks] is a natural in the third spot for us."

    While Hicks hit just .225 last season—notably, while working his way back from 2019 Tommy John surgery—he had more walks (41) than strikeouts (38).

    If the 31-year-old consistently puts the ball in play while batting behind DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge and in front of Stanton and Voit, that's enough right there to qualify him as a sleeper.

    But once you add in his individual potential to do a lot more than that—he clubbed 27 homers and swiped 11 bags across 137 games in 2018—this is a no-brainer.

    At worst, Hicks is cheap exposure to one of the best offenses in baseball; at best, he's a power-speed threat who could drive in and score a boatload of runs.

Jake McGee, RP, San Francisco Giants (ADP: 306.4)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Given the volatility at the closer spot, you might not want to make more than a minimal investment at the position. But if you're in any sort of categories league, you won't want to neglect the save column completely.

    Jake McGee could be a great compromise.

    The 34-year-old costs next to nothing, which makes it seem like fantasy managers either forgot or are too easily dismissing how sharp he was last season (2.66 ERA with an 0.836 WHIP and 14.6 K/9). He may not repeat any of those numbers, but he wouldn't have to in order to greatly overperform his ADP.

    He seems like the odds-on favorite to pace the Giants in saves, though it's worth noting that number may not be huge since manager Gabe Kapler likes to miss and match.

    Still, if McGee delivers something around 20 saves with above-average ratios, fantasy managers will be thrilled they grabbed this late flier.