Happy Opening Day to everyone! It is the best time of the year as the regular season and fantasy season both start today. To celebrate, here is what a team of my top sleeper picks would look like in 2018. Enjoy!
C) Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds, ECR: 547
If I were writing this just one month ago, this spot would have most likely gone to Austin Barnes. Since then we have learned that Yasmani Grandal is the preferred option behind the plate, so I had to go back to the drawing board and find a new catcher for my All-Sleeper team. With Barnhart finishing up a tremendous spring, I decided to make him my starting catcher.
With a healthy amount of line drives, low soft contact rates and good contact numbers over his career, I was not surprised that he was hitting for a +batting average. The thing that caught my eye was his home runs he hit this spring. He did raise his hard contact rate by 5.1% in 2017, so the power could carry over to the regular season and lead to 15-18 home runs.
With superb defense, Barnhart should get a majority of the starts behind the plate. This should help Barnhart become a top 10 catcher in fantasy and one of the best values available in your draft.
1B) Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies, ECR: 267
With David Dahl being sent down to Triple-A, McMahon looks like the favorite to be the starting first baseman for the Rockies come opening day. With his ability to make consistent contact, a high line drive rate and a good hitter's park, McMahon should hit for a high batting average. He has never had an infield fly rate above 8.5%, which shows some good batted ball ability. McMahon is someone who offers 20-homer upside with a .280 batting average, which is an excellent bargain for where he is being drafted.
2B) Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics, ECR: 415
Lowrie is going to be an interesting fantasy option going into 2018. He had a fantastic batted ball profile last season as he hit 1.32 fly balls for every ground ball. He has always been good at putting the ball in the air, but last season we saw him raise his hard contact rate by 6.75% from the previous season. This ability to hit fly balls and make hard contact could see Lowrie put up 20 home runs.
While Lowrie has some power potential, the batting average should be above .270, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see him post an average close to the .300 mark. He had an excellent contact rate last season, which when paired with his 27.1% line drive rate and 12.1% soft contact rate, makes him a good sleeper pick for batting average.
There is no reason to pick up a second baseman like Jonathan Schoop (61.0) or Scooter Gennett (194.0) when you can wait for a player like Lowrie (448.0) 250 picks later.
3B) Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics, ECR: 268
Chapman has some serious power potential, which should lead to 30+ home runs. He has been averaging around a 0.60 GB/FB rate throughout the minors, and that didn't change when he reached the majors. He did post a 36.0% hard contact rate last season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that number rise in 2018.
With Chapman's elite defensive ability, he should be getting a majority of the starts at the hot corner, which should give him around 600 plate appearances. He does have a terrible contact rate and below average line drive rate, so he is going to hurt your batting average a little bit. Although he may be a batting average anchor, his 30/75/90 potential make him worth his draft price.
SS) Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs, ECR: 234
Russell has gone from a player who I have avoided in all drafts prior to this year to someone I have been taking on every single one of my teams. This is a guy whose peripherals have slowly been getting better every year he has been in the big leagues, and this season may be the year he puts it all together as he had a career-best 23.0% line drive rate and 13.8% soft contact rate. Although he may strike out 20% of the time, his batted ball profile could lead to a batting average around .270 in 2018. When you combine that batting average with 20-homer potential, then Russell is a steal at a position that really drops off after the top five.
1B/3B) Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, ECR: 371
Moran completely changed his swing last season, hitting more fly balls than ground balls for the first time in his professional career. With the Astros trading him to the Pirates for Gerrit Cole, Moran should be playing third base on the days a right-hander is on the mound with David Freese facing off against the lefties. With his good contact numbers and spectacular line drive rates, he could have a batting average around .280 this season. If he can become more patient at the plate, he has the potential to become the next Justin Turner.
2B/SS) Amed Rosario, New York Mets, ECR: 280
With a lack of steals across the league, Rosario is an exciting option to man your middle infield spot. According to Statcast's Sprint Speed, Rosario was one of the fastest players on the basepaths. This amount of speed gives him 25+ stolen base potential.
Rosario struggled in his first 170 plate appearances at the major league level as he hit a measly .248/.271/.394. His strikeout rate did rise by 13.0% when he reached the majors, so I would expect that strikeout rate to creep down below 20.0% in 2018. If he can lower his strikeout rate, then a .265 batting average is a likely outcome for the 22-year-old shortstop.
Even though Rosario does not have much power, his contact skills and speed could make him a top 200 option in fantasy baseball this season.
OF1) Michael Conforto, New York Mets, ECR: 144
Conforto is a top 50 fantasy player when healthy, and should be taken way before his expert consensus ranking in head-to-head leagues. This is 2018’s J.D. Martinez in the sense that he can come off the DL later in the season and post incredible numbers due to his insane line drive rates and raw power. The one issue we had with Conforto was that he struggled to hit left-handed pitching, but with a 24.4% line drive rate and 41.6% hard contact rate, he should be more than a platoon bat in 2018. Look to draft Conforto in the middle rounds of your draft, because when he gets back on the field he’ll be a fantasy stud.
OF2) Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers, ECR: 183
What is not to like about DeShields at his current price? Jeff Bannister has come out and said that DeShields could steal 50 bags and will bat first in the lineup in 2018. With DeShields’ elite speed and excellent plate discipline, he could actually end up leading the league in stolen bases.
OF3) Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians, ECR: 192
Zimmer is an exciting fantasy option as he should be a good source of power and speed. A potential 20/30 player, Zimmer struggled immensely once getting called up to the majors. With a 29.8% strikeout rate, we could see him struggle to hit above .250. With steals going so early in the draft, Zimmer helps you not overdraft a steal specialists in the third or fourth round.
OF4) Mitch Haniger, Seattle Marines, ECR: 201
I have stated it in two articles before and will say it again, Mitch Haniger has the potential to become the next Josh Donaldson. Because of this, we should see him as at least a top 200 pick.
OF5) Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins, ECR: 272
Brinson is comparable to Zimmer in the fact that he is another late round source of power and speed. A potential 25/25 player, Brinson had a tremendous spring as he hit two home runs and had an incredible .328 batting average. With a high amount of strikeouts, we could see him struggle to hit for anything close to what he did this spring, but it is encouraging. Brinson is a great target to fill out your fifth outfield spot as he could provide top 100 upside in 2018.
UTIL) Jose Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, ECR: 259
Everyone’s favorite sleeper, Jose Martinez still doesn’t have a clear path to playing time in St. Louis. It seems like no one knows where Matt Carpenter will play in 2018, including the Cardinals themselves. With Martinez’s great line drive rate and hard contact rate last season, he could become a .300 hitter who also puts up 20+ home runs.
Even if Martinez is on the bench to start the 2018 season, Carpenter and Fowler have been known to be injury prone, so we could see him as a starter in the Cardinals lineup as soon as the fourth week of the season.
SP1) Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays, ECR: 193
His new approach in the second half seemed to work as he posted a 2.9 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 and a 3.56 FIP. If Snell’s second-half numbers carry over into 2018, then we could be looking at a potential top 30 starting pitcher.
SP2) Michael Clevinger, Cleveland Indians, ECR: 216
Everybody’s favorite sleeper Michael Clevinger was named to the starting rotation earlier this spring. There is no denying his strikeout potential, but his batted ball profile and high walk rates do draw some concerns. If there is anyone who can replicate what Robbie Ray did last year, it is Michael Clevinger.
SP3) Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox, ECR: 311
Although he may be hurt to start the season, Rodriguez is being severely overlooked. His ability to stay consistent through the lineup is his best attribute. Rodriguez has the potential to be a 200+ inning pitcher when healthy, and his ratios won’t hurt you as well. With innings at a minimum, Rodriguez could give your fantasy team more value than his ratios would suggest.
SP4) Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins, ECR: N/A
Who is more of a sleeper than a player who isn’t even ranked by the experts? Smith has decent control which should result in an average to above average walk rate and has the potential to strike out more than a batter per inning at the major league level. With a pitcher-friendly home park behind him, Smith could return top 250 upside at a very friendly cost.
SP5) Trevor Richards, Miami Marlins, ECR: N/A
Yet another underrated Marlins prospect who is currently not being rated by the industry’s experts. I wrote about Richards in my post about underrated prospects, He has been great this spring winning two games, both against Max Scherzer, with a 0.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He did post a 15.2% swinging strike rate last season between Single-A and Double-A, so there is some strikeout potential with Richards. He seems to have excellent command as he walked less than two batters per nine innings. He does get a lot of ground balls as well so he could limit the number of home runs against him. With all these factors, Richards could be this year’s Luis Castillo.
RP1) Chad Green, New York Yankees, ECR: 293
Non-closing relievers are not getting the respect they deserve. This has caused Green to be left just inside the top 300 by experts, but his numbers in a 12-team league offer top 150 upside. With a spectacular bullpen, it is no secret the Yankees will be taking their starters out early, and Green is just the guy they need to eat innings.
With a 15.0% swinging strike rate, Green has the potential to post the best strikeout rate among relievers. With his low walk rate, Green should post a fantastic WHIP. The only problem with Green is his batted ball profile, as he gave up a lot of fly balls while also giving up a lot hard contact. This could lead to a high home run rate, but his high strikeout rate could help balance that out.
RP2) Dominic Leone, St Louis Cardinals, ECR: 295
With Gregerson starting the season on the DL, Leone was named the Cardinals closer to start the season. He does have the potential to strikeout more than a batter an inning, and his batted ball profile suggests that a below average BABIP for opposing hitters. There are concerns about his control as he owns a 3.48 walks per nine innings, but he should be a reliable closer if he can keep it below three like he did last season.
RP3) Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers, ECR: 322
Basically, just copy and paste what I said about Chad Green above. Hader is an Andrew Miller or Chris Devenski type who can come out of the bullpen and go three or four innings if needed. He has a lot of strikeout potential, but there are concerns about his control. If he can keep his walk rate below 10.0%, then he should be a fantasy stud out of the bullpen.
RP4) Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox, ECR: 345
The White Sox have decided to have two closers to start the season in Jones and Joakim Soria. Jones will most likely post the better ratios of the two, but his injury history is quite worrisome. If he can stay healthy, however, we could see him as the White Sox’s full-time closer. He is most likely still on your waiver wire, so give him a quick add if you need some cheap saves.
Which player outside the top 400 do you think has the best chance to sneak into the top 250?
This poll is closed
Tucker Barnhart, C, Cincinnati Reds
Jed Lowrie, 2B, Oakland Athletics
Caleb Smith, SP, Miami Marlins
Trevor Richards, SP, Miami Marlins