Every year players emerge as viable fantasy options. Anyone who has ever hit on a sleeper pick or breakout player know who I’m talking about. These are the players who are selected in the middle or late rounds of drafts or are scooped off of the waiver wire and play at a level commensurate with an early round pick or a star. Last year, players like Michael Brantley, Jose Abreu, Corey Dickerson and Corey Kluber carried fantasy squads to titles. Below you’ll find a sleeper/breakout candidate highlighted for all 30 Major League Baseball teams!
*ADP is from NFBC Drafts as of 3/24
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: OF- Travis Snider ADP- 389.98
Snider leaves Pittsburgh, where the left-handed batter ballpark factor for homers was 84, according to StatCorner, for Baltimore and its park factor of 128 for left-handed dingers. That’s a huge boost of 44% to home run production for the burly slugger who had the ninth highest average fly ball and home run distance, per Baseball Heat Maps. He’s also coming off a second half where he hit .288 with 9 homers and a 17.6% K in 188 plate appearances.
New York Yankees: 1B Garrett Jones ADP- 414.77
Jones is capable of playing first base, corner outfield and serving as the designated hitter. Between the entire outfield, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira you have plenty of players who could get injured or perform badly enough Jones is pressed into duty. The former Pirate and Marlin is a left-handed batter who has “enjoyed” left-handed batter homer park factors of 84 and 62 with his former clubs, but now he’ll be playing his home games at Yankee Stadium where the park factor is 131. Jones could be a sneaky source of power this year.
Toronto Blue Jays: P Daniel Norris ADP- 409.45
Marcus Stroman’s season-ending injury is a bummer, but it clears an easier path to the rotation for Norris. He made just one start and four relief appearances last year, so he’ll open the year P eligible in Yahoo! games and RP in ESPN games. The Rogers Centre is a tough home environment for a young pitcher to get their bearings, but Norris’ strikeout upside is hard to ignore. Last year he pitched in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A and managed a jaw dropping 11.8 K/9 before earning a look in the majors.
Tampa Bay Rays: OF Steven Souza Jr. ADP-218.21
Souza was the main get when the Rays dealt Wil Myers this offseason. He’s a late bloomer who was old by prospect standards for the upper minors the last two years, but he raked. Souza hit .350/.432/.590 with 18 homers and 26 stolen bases in 407 plate appearances en route to winning the Triple-A International League MVP Award. He’d be far from the first player to figure things out in his mid-20’s (he turns 26 at the end of April).
Boston Red Sox: 2B/OF Mookie Betts ADP- 117.15
The Betts’ bandwagon is nearly full, but make no mistake, I’m in the driver’s seat. He’s only outfield eligible in ESPN leagues, but he has dual eligibility in Yahoo! leagues as a result of playing some second base last year. He’s the favorite to win the center field job in Boston. Betts is also the best man for the leadoff job, and he’ll score a ton of runs hitting atop the order. The 22-year old should hit for around a .300 average while 25-to-30 bases and hitting 10-to-12 homers. Don’t be afraid to reach a bit to secure him for your rosters.
American League Central
Detroit Tigers: 3B Nick Castellanos ADP- 263.18
I’m not big on trying to analyze the thinking of players, but I can’t imagine being jostled around in the field makes life easy on a young player. Castellanos was finally able to settle in and play third base last year, and this will be the first time in the youngster’s career where he returns to the same position for the second straight year. As a rookie, his 94 wRC+ indicates he was 6% worse than the average hitter. Honestly, that’s not bad for a rookie. His bat was his carrying tool as a prospect and advancements as a hitter should be expected.
Kansas City Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas ADP- 318.83
I’ll start with the caveat that I don’t believe a Moustakas breakout will result in him living up to his top prospect billing. That said, the above average power and ability to make contact at a high rate that made him a top prospect remain in his skill set. His 55 plate appearances in the postseason are a tiny sample, but he did swat five homers and strikeout just 16.4% of the time. More than 20 homers and an average over .250 aren’t out of reach, and they’re playable stats at the hot corner. To put his draft spot in perspective, he’s being selected just a couple picks ahead of a 39-year old third baseman who was suspended for the entire 2014 season.
Cleveland Indians: SP Danny Salazar ADP- 228.98
Salazar was a popular breakout candidate last year and disappointed. Lost in his underwhelming full-season stats is his promising second half. In 69.1 innings pitched he posted a 3.50 ERA (2.83 FIP), 1.24 WHIP, 25.2% K and 6.3% BB. I was tempted to choose Carlos Carrasco as the breakout player for the Indians since I believe he’ll pull a 2014 Corey Kluber and make an American League Cy Young Award run. Instead, I’ll take the guy who I believe could do a decent 2014 Carlos Carrasco impression.
Chicago White Sox: OF Adam Eaton ADP- 203.65
The decision for which breakout player to choose from the White Sox came down to Avisail Garcia and Eaton. Interestingly, I like Eaton more than Garcia and he’s being selected later than Garcia. The leadoff hitter for the White Sox makes contact at a high rate and works walks at a decent clip. He’ll be a fantasy asset in batting average, runs scored and could really make hay for his owners with an uptick in stolen base efficiency. He stole 15 bases in 24 chances last year, but if baserunning coach — owner of three seasons with more than 100 stolen bases — Vince Coleman can coach him up, Eaton could make a run at 25-plus stolen bases this year.
Minnesota Twins: SP Kyle Gibson ADP- 473.56
I’ve previously expounded my love for Gibson elsewhere, and stealing from that write-up, I believe a 2015 breakout from Gibson will look a lot like Dallas Keuchel’s 2014 emergence. Gibson had a 54.4% ground ball rate last year and all of his pitches resulted in a ground ball rate in excess of 47%, per Brooks Baseball. His slider gives him a put away pitch, and his changeup gives him a potential second bat-missing offering. One key to him making a splash this year will be striking out more left-handed batters. He’s super cheap in drafts, and he’s worth a late-round flier.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: SP Andrew Heaney ADP- 346.15
A Heaney breakout will require him to overcome being dealt from the National League to the American League, but the upside is there. The young lefty tallied a 9.6% swinging strike rate (9.4% was the league average) last year, yet his 15.9% K was well below the league average of 20.4%. Even with the move to the American League, his strikeout rate should approach the league average. Home runs killed him last year, and with some normalization of his HR/FB rate, he should pitch closer to his 4.18 xFIP than his 5.83 ERA from last year. Furthermore, the gains I’m expecting from him in the strikeout department would whittle his ERA under 4.00.
Oakland Athletics:SP Jesse Hahn ADP- 293.97
Hahn stays on the west coast this year, but trades in a Padres uniform for the green and gold donned by Oakland. He made 14 appearances (12 starts) in his rookie year totaling a 3.07 ERA (3.40 FIP) with a 50.3% ground ball rate, 22.9% K and 10.1% swinging strike rate. The fly in the ointment is a 10.5% BB, but all things considered, that’s not too bad.
Seattle Mariners: C Mike Zunino ADP- 217.87
It’s often suggested that catchers take longer to develop offensively than other position players due to the demands of the position. That makes logical sense, and if that’s the case with Zunino, his average should climb over the Mendoza Line. He’s a great defensive catcher who should now be able to concentrate on improving offensively. Zunino already has a 20-plus homer campaign under his belt after hitting 22 last year, pair that with an average in the .220-to-.230 range and you’ve got yourself a fringe starter in single catcher 12-team mixers.
Houston Astros: SP Dan Straily ADP- 577.86
I’ll start by saying Straily is a long shot to have mixed league relevance this year, but AL-only gamers need some love, too. His 11.5% swinging strike rate last year portends well for an increase to his 20.4% K. If he can pare down his walks, a low-4.00s ERA and a hearty strikeout total are within reach.
Texas Rangers: 3B Joey Gallo ADP- 475.29
Gallo will probably spend almost the entire season in the minors. There aren’t many sleeper and breakout options on the Rangers, though, and he reached the Double-A level last year. A big showing at Double-A could speed up his ascension to the bigs, and his power would immediately create a buzz in fantasy leagues.