Now that the Super Bowl is finished (my condolences to Atlanta Falcons fans, I am one of you, that was hard to watch) we can focus on baseball. Holy cow! Pitchers and catchers report next week! April is fast approaching and it is time once again to set rankings, projections, sleepers, busts, breakouts, and just about anything you can think of for every player. From Mike Trout to Mike Leake, Kyle Seager to Corey Seager, Jose Ramirez(CLE) to, well, Jose Ramirez(ATL). You get the point.
Since the news of Spring Training beginning next week is a positive development (and I’m honestly looking for positivity right now) let’s look at players who have potential to outperform where experts currently have them ranked. Some would call these ‘sleepers’. For me, these are just guys who I like more than the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR). I’ll start out with 30 sleepers, 1 from each team. Here we go! *American League Edition*
Houston Astros – Yulieski Gurriel, 3B My Rank 183 ECR Rank 243
The Astros are loaded with young superstars but my sleeper for this team is relatively unknown and also a bit older. The Cuban import made him MLB debut in late August last season at the age of 32. He finished the year hitting .262/.292/.385 in 130 at bats. Nothing earth shattering but let’s look at his Cuban stats. How about .500/.589/.874 with 15 HR and only 3 strikeouts in 49 games?!?! Yes, he actually hit .500 at Cuba in 2015. He only played 15 minor league games before joining the majors last season so the Astros clearly like what they see. Gurriel appears set to begin the year as the Astros 1B. Gaining that position certainly does not hurt his draft stock. His profile has him as a plus hitter with power and great plate discipline. There could be a battle for playing time as the Astros try to fit in multiple 1B/DH/C players into the lineup each day. However, with Gurriel currently going at the end of drafts, owners would be wise to take him a few rounds earlier.
Los Angeles Angels – Matt Shoemaker, SP My Rank 185 ECR Rank 200
Shoemaker got off to a dreadful start in 2016. Something changed around the middle of May. From May 21st on Shoemaker pitched 20 games with a 2.83ERA 1.08WHIP and 8.8K/9. In 2014, Shoemaker pitched 20 games with a 3.04ERA 1.07WHIP and 8.2K/9. If Shoemaker can get this type of production over the course of a full season, he will be a steal where he is currently going in drafts.
Bonus Sleeper: Cam Bedrosian
Give this man the closer job and his 11.4K/9 and 1.12ERA will easily have top 10 RP potential. Even without it, Bedrosian is a solid RP option in AL only and holds leagues.
Oakland Athletics – Rajai Davis, OF My Rank 159 ECR Rank 231
I like Sonny Gray as a bounce back candidate a lot this season but the difference between the ECR and my rank on Davis was too great not to address. Rajai Davis is the name no one will be excited about taking in draft rooms. Some people may even be surprised his still playing. Even when he wasn’t hitting homeruns to force extra innings in game 7 of the World Series, Davis had a phenomenal season for the Indians. He finished the year as the number 79 overall player in fantasy. A new team provides a weaker supporting cast for Davis, but stolen bases are still very valuable. Davis can easily get 30 of those. Barring injury, Davis is a guaranteed top 150 player that is being ranked well outside the top 200.
Seattle Mariners – Drew Smyly. SP My Rank 178 ECR Rank 195
This team doesn’t have many sleeper options but I’m looking at the pitching staff behind Felix Hernandez as being a bit underrated. Last season, just about every breakout starter in Tampa Bay failed miserably. Hopefully, a change of scenery will help Smyly reclaim his excellent 2015 numbers. I’ve been a big Smyly believer in the past and feel he has true top 20 SP upside. Because of that, I am willing to reach for him a couple of rounds earlier than his ECR ranking.
Texas Rangers – Adrian Beltre, 3B My Rank 42 ECR Rank 56
*I am excluding Mike Napoli until the ECR can reflect his signing.*
Full disclosure, I am a huge Texas Rangers fan. (This really adds to the sadness I felt after the Falcons lost in similar fashion to how the Rangers lost in 2011…hahaha good times…hold me) After seeing how the ECR and I view this team’s players, I am clearly lower on nearly all of them. I feel like I know more about this team which oddly leads to me ranking them lower than the experts. Maybe I’m trying reverse psychology. The Rangers 3B will turn 38 one week into the season but he’s coming off his best season since 2012. It’s not like his 2014 and 2015 were terrible either. I have him ahead of players like Giancarlo Stanton, David Price, and Jose Abreu and you should too.
Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller, RP My Rank 85 ECR Rank 109
Look no further than my ‘Pure Reliever Rankings’ to see how dominate Andrew Miller was last season. Him and former teammate Dellin Betances were the only two top 50 RP (excluding RP turned SP like Danny Duffy) to produce a +1 value in strikeouts. Couple that with a 1.45ERA and .686WHIP and you have another top 5 RP season for him even if he only gets a handful of saves. The lack of saves does put him behind Jansen, Chapman, and Britton, but just barely. ECR has him RP#8, I have him RP#4 and going over 20 spots sooner in drafts.
Bonus Sleeper Michael Brantley
I have to believe the low rank by the ECR is due to health. If he is healthy for Opening Day, even my rank might be too low.
Chicago White Sox – Nate Jones, RP My Rank 299 ECR Rank 326
Another team I’m not too fond of leads me to dig deep for a sleeper candidate. Jones is another Pure Reliever darling, he ranked 12th last season. *Checks to see if the David Robertson trade has been finalized*
Once If that trade does happen then Jones will skyrocket in rankings. He would probably find a way into the top 20 RP for me if this trade happens, above Robertson even (side note – not a fan of Robertson).
Detroit Tigers – Victor Martinez, DH My Rank 125 ECR Rank 148
Martinez had a career year in 2014, he followed that up with a miserable and injury plagued 2015. Last season he met in the middle almost perfectly. This landed him the #121 overall player in fantasy. The DH only tag always knocks players down in rankings. Age is certainly another factor the doubters will cite. Overlook this and see that he is a top 150 player with upside to land inside the top 75.
Kansas City Royals – Kelvin Herrera, RP My Rank 132 ECR Rank 151
The trade of Wade Davis opens up the closer position for Herrera. He increased his K/9 by more than 2 which is what most people will look at. While this is a great factor in his favor the more important stat may be that he cut his walks in half. If this dominate command continues, Herrera should easily make the top 10 RP. That would make him a steal at his current ranking.
Minnesota Twins – Max Kepler, OF My Rank 221 ECR Rank 266
I’m not high on Sano or Buxton so I’m forced to look deeper in my rankings for a player I’d consider a value at his current ECR. Kepler stands out as that guy. He should get plenty of AB on a Twins team that can afford to give them to him. His has the power to hit 20-30HR and enough speed to steal 10 or more bases. His plate discipline should improve as well. He drew a walk in 13.36% of his AB over the past 2 years in the minors but was only able to do so 9.4% of his AB at the majors in 2016. If he can get the walk rate up even just 2% higher, his AVG will increase and the strikeouts decrease. Kepler should be a solid #4-#5OF with top 30 upside. One you can wait until the last rounds of the draft to pick him up.
Baltimore Orioles – Kevin Gausman, SP My Rank 124 ECR Rank 137
It’s hard to hype a starting pitcher in this division and ballpark but Gausman seems to be on the cusp of reaching his full potential. I believe he has top 20 and maybe even top 10 upside. He saw a big increase in innings last season but performed better despite it. If he can reach 200 innings with similar stuff, the counting stats will follow. The hope here is that he can reach an even higher level of performance. This is not the only sleeper list he will be on and I am aware of others who have him ranked higher. Knowing that makes it easy to see why he’s my pick from this team.
Boston Red Sox – Andrew Benintendi, OF My Rank 98 ECR Rank 119
Another name who is bound to be on multiple sleeper lists is Benintendi. He profiles as a 5 tool player and he is either the #1 or #2 prospect in baseball this year. His plate discipline and contact rate will keep him on base and drive in runs. The lineup he is in helps too. He’s also working on his strength (video below) and this could help his HR total. A 20-20 season with a .300 AVG would not be a surprise.
New York Yankees – Starlin Castro, 2B My Rank 171 ECR Rank 239
Didi Gregorius, SS My Rank 194 ECR Rank 255
I seem to like the Yankees middle infielders more than most. I’m just not sure why they are ranked so low? Both finished as top 200 players last year, Gregorius just outside the top 150. They are both in the prime of their careers and should continue to improve. They both play the majority of their games in hitter friendly environments. They are both getting the same lineup boosts such as another year of Sanchez and also the addition of Judge, Bird, Carter and Holliday. I’m not sure why the ECR has them so low. I’m willing to take them both 60 spots earlier.
Tampa Bay Rays – Jake Odorizzi, SP My Rank 143 ECR Rank 175
Remember that Tampa Bay starting pitching staff that was supposed to break out last season… Odorizzi did the best of them actually. Better than Archer even. I’ve been a believer in Odorizzi for awhile now as well. Eventually he’ll break out…right?...RIGHT? (Sorry for yelling) Let’s continue. Nothing screams top 10 potential with Odorizzi, but not every sleeper needs that upside necessarily. With improves in certain areas of his game, it’s not unreasonable for him to end up a top 20-25SP. Think John Lackey but you can get him 5 rounds later in drafts.
Toronto Blue Jays – Aaron Sanchez, SP My Rank 80 ECR Rank 116
It’s strange a player who already had his breakout season makes this list. I’m not sure what is keeping him out of most rankers’ top 100. I understand he had a major increase in innings last year, but shouldn’t the fact he remained healthy despite it be a mark in his favor? His post All Star break numbers also seem to match his season number pretty well so there was no 2nd half slump. Sanchez looks poised to be just as good as advertised last season and I’m willing to believe he will be.
Bonus Sleeper Marco Estrada
Often overlooked, Estrada is a name to keep in mind for your 5th starter. 3.30ERA and 1.08WHIP over the past two seasons. He also increased his K rate by 4.75% from 2015.
There you have it. That is my rundown of sleepers for the American League. I wrote a lot of words and I sure hope you read a few. Join me next week for a look at the National League. Feel free to sound off in the comments. Who are some of your sleepers for the American League?
As always, thanks for the read and see you next time!