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 3/25
National League East
Washington Nationals: OF Michael Taylor ADP- 403.46
Denard Span will open the year on the disabled list, and Taylor will get a chance to earn a temporary starting role in his absence. Erase his .313 average at the Double-A level last year from your mind, but his 22 homers and 34 stolen bases in 441 plate appearances are indicative of his true power and speed upside. If you can stomach a poor average, he’ll have a chance to net teams some homers and stolen bases early in the year. Also, given the lengthy injury track records for Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, Taylor could see more time than he’s currently projected to when Span is healthy again.
Atlanta Braves: SS Jose Peraza ADP- 342.57
The Braves are in full-fledged rebuild mode, and second base will be Peraza’s for the taking at some point this season. He’s being over drafted right now since he’s received less than 200 plate appearances in the upper minors, but when he does arrive in the majors, his speed will appeal to fantasy gamers. Peraza stole 60 bases between High-A and Double-A last season.
New York Mets: OF Juan Lagares ADP- 319.46
A player’s defense isn’t particularly relevant to fantasy, but it will assure Lagares a full-time gig with the Mets. He’s battling for the leadoff spot with Curtis Granderson, and if he wins the job, he’ll have large mixed league value. If he fails to win the job, his value will be limited to select NL-only leagues.
Miami Marlins: SP Jarred Cosart ADP- 368.67
Finding a sleeper or breakout candidate on the Marlins is like grasping at straws. Yes, Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna could go nuts this year. I don’t quite see it yet. The appeal with Cosart is simple. He throws really hard and pitches in a park that suppresses run scoring for left-handed batters. He’ll need one of his secondary pitches to tighten up and become a punch-out pitch in order to leap into the standard league discussion, but other pitchers have made it happen. I’m not putting any money on that happening, but when you’re betting on a young pitcher the guy who throws hard is a good one to bet on.
Philadelphia Phillies: RP Ken Giles ADP- 231.72
Giles is already being selected ahead of closers, so he’s no secret. How could he be, though? Last season he pitched in 44 games and tallied a 1.18 ERA (1.34 FIP) with a 38.6% K and 6.6% BB. He’s a top five closer in waiting, and when Ruben Amaro wakes up and takes whatever anyone is willing to give him for Jonathan Papelbon, every person who passed on Giles in fantasy drafts will be kicking themselves. Get ahead of the curve and enjoy Giles’ ratio boosting relief numbers and watch him pile up strikeouts for your team.
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals: SP/RP Carlos Martinez ADP- 293.95
Martinez has one of the most electric arms in the game. Among starting pitchers who threw a minimum of 200 pitches his 97.60 mph average velocity for his fourseam fastball was the second highest, per Baseball Prospectus. In his seven starts spanning 32.1 innings Martinez totaled a 3.60 FIP with a monstrous 12.4% swinging strike rate. He’ll have to beat out a couple other pitchers for the last spot in the Cardinals rotation, but even if he opens the year in the pen, do you really trust Jaime Garcia to stay healthy?
Pittsburgh Pirates: SS Jung-Ho Kang ADP- 302.34
Kang might not even start for the Pirates. However, his stats in the KBO Korean baseball league last year were eye popping. He reached the seats 40 times and slashed .356/.459/.739. The KBO is noted for inflating offense — think of it like the Pacific Coast League — so his numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. At his current draft cost, though, you’ve got nothing to lose rolling the dice.
Milwaukee Brewers: SP Jimmy Nelson ADP- 362.43
No one is sleeping on Nelson’s rotation mate Mike Fiers, nor should they be. At their respective costs, though, I like Nelson more. The big right-handed pitcher pitched brilliantly in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League tallying a 1.46 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 111.0 innings with a 26.5% K and 7.4% BB. A .344 BABIP dogged him in 69.1 innings in the majors last year and can partly explain the gap between his ERA (4.93) and his FIP (3.78). The big man’s 48.4% ground ball rate will play well in homer-friendly Miller Park and his 18.3% K and 6.1% BB were pretty nifty, too.
Cincinnati Reds: SP Robert Stephenson ADP- 627.03
You can’t produce a breakout star like Devin Mesoraco every year, and the Reds lack many options to blow up this year. As I said with Cosart, if you’re betting on a young arm, bet on one who throws cheddar. Stephenson throws very hard and struck out better than a batter per inning in the minors last year. His control will need to improve substantially for him to get a look with the parent club, but he’s knocking on the door pitching in the upper minors already.
Chicago Cubs: 2B/OF Arismendy Alcantara ADP- 258.50
Alcantara lacks the ceiling of his fellow young Cubs hitters, but he’s the most reasonably priced of the lot. The idea has been floated that Alcantara could serve as manager Joe Maddon’s new version of Ben Zobrist. By that I mean he could be used as a super-utility player. If he gets nearly everyday time in that capacity the flexibility he’ll award gamers who roster him will be a big plus. As far as what Alcantara can do, he managed to hit 10 homers and steal 8 bases in only 300 plate appearances last year. A 31.0% K took a bite out of his batting average (.205), but he had strikeout rates south of 23.0% in Double-A and Triple-A last year. He should improve at making contact this year. If you extrapolate his power and speed production to full-time at-bats, a .240-to-.250 average would be all he’d need to be rosterable in most leagues.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers: C Yasmani Grandal ADP- 197.49
Grandal isn’t even assured the starting catcher’s job, he could end up sharing it with A.J. Ellis. That would be a mistake, though. Grandal is an excellent pitch framer (which doesn’t matter for fantasy beyond getting him in the lineup) and an intriguing switch-hitter. He’s an extremely patient hitter (13.8% BB in his career) who gets a significant boost in value in leagues using OBP, and his power will get help this year escaping PETCO Park. Speaking of his power, Grandal posted the eighth highest average fly ball and home run distance last year. Forget about paying a premium for a backstop, spend a pick just inside the top 200 to secure Grandal’s services.
San Francisco Giants: SP/RP Yusmeiro Petit ADP- 305.89
Petit was a swing-man for the Giants last year. That role limited him to 12 starts. Don’t be fooled by his 5.03 ERA as a starter, his 3.59 ERA is a better indicator of what he’s capable of. In his dozen starts he had a 26.9% K and 4.0% BB. His bread is buttered with a filthy curveball that had by far the highest whiff percentage when compared to all others thrown a minimum of 200 times, according to Baseball Prospectus. The run suppressing nature of his home park, AT&T Park will help him this year, too. It’s only a matter of time before Tim Lincecum coughs up the fifth starter spot, and Petit is a better pitcher than fellow long reliever Ryan Vogelsong.
San Diego Padres: SP/RP Brandon Maurer ADP- 615.46
Maurer is a long shot to close games for the Padres this year, but he can help ratios and strikeout totals in large mixed leagues and NL-only formats. He’ll also be one of my favorite relievers in leagues using holds. A bad showing as a starter with the Mariners last year resulted in a move to the bullpen. He was a stud in the bullpen. Maurer’s stuff played up — including a big jump in velocity — and the results followed. He pitched 37.1 inning in relief to the tune of a 2.17 ERA (1.85 FIP) with a 25.3% K and 3.3% BB.
Colorado Rockies: SP Eddie Butler ADP- 651.45
Trusting pitchers who call Coors Field home is usually ill advised. In NL-only leagues, though, it’s sometimes a necessary evil. Butler’s ability to keep the ball on the ground (51.6% ground ball rate in three starts) should help him avoid the dangers associated with the thin air. Forgive his low strikeout rates. From what I’ve read, Butler was asked to work on certain secondary pitches in the minors before he received his major league promotion. When he’s allowed to throw his full assortment of offerings in The Show, I expect his strikeout rate to line up closer with the stellar grades he receives on his pitches. Leave him in the free agent pool early, but don’t hesitate to scoop him up if he gets off to a fast start.
Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Allen Webster ADP- 575.54
Credit is due to Eno Sarris of RotoGraphs for unearthing some interesting numbers in Webster’s statistical profile. Those numbers include a 27.18% whiff rate on his changeup and a 15.95% whiff rate on his slider last season. His pair of put-away offerings netted him an 11.0% swinging strike rate that belies his 13.9% K from last season. Webster’s sinker generated a 65.0% ground ball rate last year, per Brooks Baseball, giving him the requisite offering to navigate the pitfalls Chase Field will provide him. His changeup and slider also did a great job of coaxing worm burners with ground ball rates of 48.57% and 51.85%, respectively. He’s not a lock to breakout, no one is, but he’s worth an investment much more significant than a pick approaching 600. Take the plunge and grab Webster.