Let me just start with this: I am smiling from ear to ear while writing this because baseball is finally back. The season may have been delayed, but for some, fantasy baseball season had already started, with their drafts taking place before the delay. Meanwhile, myself and many other fantasy players may have had their drafts delayed each time the season got pushed back further. Despite the delay, baseball being pushed off really only meant more time to study up before draft day. Personally, I like to look at where players are undervalued, as sleepers are important to grab in any draft. For those who have had their draft already, this can also serve as a guideline of who to pick up or trade for, so below are my five fantasy sleepers, and one player to avoid drafting early, for the upcoming (finally) 2020 baseball season.
(Note: all rankings are an average of the current rankings from MLB, ESPN, and Yahoo as of June 24th, and will appear in parenthesis next to the players name. Additionally, final rankings from previous seasons will be from Yahoo, as that is the platform I use for fantasy baseball)
Mike Yastrzemski (Average ranking: 267): If fantasy baseball was around when Carl Yastrzemski was in the league, he would have garnered consideration as a first round pick almost every year. This isn’t to say that his grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, is worth a high pick, but he should at least get consideration to be drafted. In most leagues, there are not 267 picks, and even in 12-team, 25-round leagues, this is a pick in the third to last round. If I was able to get Yastrzemski there, I would be very happy. I personally believe that he should be ranked in the low 200s, which mirrors ESPN’s ranking of him (210).
In 2019, Yastrzemski had an impressive rookie season, finishing with a .272 average, 64 runs, 21 homeruns, and 55 RBIs. He did all this despite playing in only 107 games. Contributing across four categories is super helpful in fantasy, especially for value picks. Additionally, he had a 121 WRC+ and .334/.518/.852 triple slash line (OBP/SLG/OPS). There is some regression to be expected, as his high BABIP indicates, but the numbers are still very good. Due to this, it is not hard to imagine his numbers over a 60 game season. Even with some slight regression, Yastrzemski could hit 10 homers and knock in 30 runs, which could allow him to slip into the top 200 players.
Rhys Hoskins (110): Usually, in order to be called a sleeper, the player is ranked outside the top 200 and it is someone with a high ceiling who you can draft late. Hoskins doesn’t exactly fit that mold, as he is still being drafted fairly high. However, there is a question surrounding Hoskins for the upcoming season: which Hoskins will show up, the one from 2018 or the one from 2019?
Entering last season, Hoskins was one of the players retained in my dynasty league (we keep six players each year), as in 2018 he finished ranked 59th among all players for Yahoo fantasy. That year, he hit 34 homers and knocked in 96 runs, as well as hitting .246, which is respectable for a pure slugger. However, in 2019 his average dropped by a full 20 points to .226. And with that drop, his home run and RBI totals fell too. Hoskins actually managed to raise his on base percentage by walking more, but his strikeout rate also went up a bit. The slight step back in the numbers that matter for fantasy meant he finished ranked as the 225th ranked player according to Yahoo. Still, the data shows that Hoskins still had a strong campaign, posting an above average 113 WRC+ and .819 OPS
The reason I believe that Hoskins may be worth drafting a couple rounds early (in the late 80s/low 90s range) is because his walk rate went up, which is especially helpful in leagues that use OBP, as well as the implementation of the universal DH. This should favor Hoskins, and if he can raise his average back near where it was in 2018, he should finish inside the top 100 players easily. (It is also worth noting that Hoskins only played in 50 games in his rookie season, in which he hit .259 with 18 homers, 37 runs, and 48 RBIs. Anything is possible in the shortened season, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if he matched those numbers over 60 games, which would make him a top 30 player).
Rick Porcello (245): Like Hoskins, Porcello had a terrible 2019 campaign but a strong 2018. Additionally, in recent memory, Porcello has been really good in even years (peep his 2016 in which he went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA en route to a Cy Young award), and 2020 is in fact an even year. Porcello should fill in nicely as the Mets’ fifth starter while their other offseason pitching signee, Michael Wacha, takes on a bullpen roll. With the shortened season, it is entirely possible that the Mets move forward with a six-man rotation, as they have the resources to do so. The extra roster spots should mean more bullpen arms, and having an extra starter will help limit injuries in this fast-paced season. It is hard to imagine that the even year magic will be as strong as it has been recently, but Porcello should perform considerably better than last year.
Fangraphs projects him to put up an ERA of 4.29 (albeit over an 162 game season, so this number could be a bit off), which is in line with his 2018 season. During that year, Porcello went 17-7 with 190 strikeouts, and finished as the 123rd ranked player in fantasy baseball. He is also projected to put up 8.16 strikeouts per nine innings, which is higher than his Cy Young year and midway between the totals for 2018 and 2019. The highest of the three preseason rankings is ESPN, which has Porcello at 161. Personally, I don’t think he finishes that highly, but he should outperform his average ranking. It is entirely possible that he flops like in 2019, but with it being an even year and the positive projections for his numbers, he may be superb this year. I think he should be drafted around the 230 mark, as he is definitely worth a late round flier pick, especially in a year where anything can help him.
Hunter Dozier (186): Dozier was someone who may have caught many people by surprise last year. The Royals third baseman had a breakout season, posting a .348/.522/.870 triple slash line to go along with a 124 wRC+. The relevant numbers for fantasy baseball were his very solid .279 batting average and 26 homers, as well as 75 runs and 84 RBIs despite playing in a weak Royals lineup. Dozier finished ranked 142nd last season in fantasy baseball. There is regression expected, as with most breakout stars, but there’s a lot of reason to believe his numbers shouldn’t slip too far from last season’s numbers.
Dozier’s first stint in the majors came in 2017 lasted only eight games, probably due to his 38.3% strikeout rate. He made it back to the majors in 2018, and cut it to 28.1% over the course of 102 games. Last year, Dozier’s strikeout rate fell another three points to 25.3%, and if it falls even a little bit more then the breakout will be for real. Dozier has a lot of pop in his bat, and he should continue to shine in the home run category, especially as his ground ball rate keeps falling (41.3% to 35.5% over past two seasons). The category that Dozier is most likely to have negative regression is in his average, but as long as his average doesn’t fall below .265 he should beat his projection, making him a worthy sleeper candidate.
Joe Musgrove (Yahoo: 206, MLB 210, ESPN 88): Musgrove definitely qualifies as a sleeper for Yahoo and MLB leagues, but maybe not ESPN. The lack of composite score for Musgrove is because of the range of rankings. I personally think that Musgrove won’t quite hit ESPN’s ranking, but I do think ESPN is closer than both MLB and Yahoo.
Looking outside of the win/loss column, Musgrove has actually been an above average pitcher ever since joining the big leagues. He’s consistently put up a respectable ERA, finishing with a 4.44 ERA last season. Even more impressive is the fact that Musgrove’s FIP and xFIP have been lower than his ERA every single year. Musgrove gives up very few homers and has one of the better walk rates in the league — last year he walked just 2.06 batters per nine innings. His FIP could be even lower if he struck out more batters, but last year he had a career-high K/9, finishing the year at 8.3.
There is no reason to believe that Musgrove will be worse than last year. Rather, he should be even better. While fantasy owners probably won’t be happy with his win-loss record as he plays for a weak team, they will be very happy with an above-average ERA and WHIP. The strikeout numbers going up will also be huge for Musgrove, and fantasy owners should jump at the opportunity to draft him ahead of the curve. I predict Musgrove will finish in the 140 range (about 5 rounds higher than he is currently being drafted), although he does have a real shot at hitting ESPN’s prediction and finishing in the top 100.
One Player To Avoid Drafting Early – Corey Kluber (95): I’m going to start by saying I don’t think that Kluber will be a bust this year. I fully believe that he will finished ranked at a spot that makes him worthy of a roster spot (10 or 12 teams per league, each with 24-26 roster spots on average, so within the top 240 if being generous). I personally think he will finish in the 175 range, which definitely makes him worth drafting, and he will help people win their leagues. However, his composite ranking is 95, and I fully believe his value will be at least five rounds worse than his preseason rankings.
Kluber was an ace, but he is coming off a season in which he fractured his arm and had an oblique injury. He only made seven appearances, but in those starts he had an awful 5.80 ERA. It was very clear that the injury was behind those numbers, but there is little evidence that he will be able to bounce back, especially with the lack of baseball thus far in 2020. There is a lot more rust to brush off now, which makes it hard to believe that anyone returning from injury will replicate their former selves this year.
Taking out the injury, there are two things that make me believe Kluber won’t be his dominant self. The first is that despite having an absolutely phenomenal season in 2018, his K/9 rate dropped by two and a half strikeouts from 2017. Additionally, while he still posted great numbers, his ERA jumped over half a run from 2017 to 2018. The second reason I believe that he won’t be as dominant this year is because he is now pitching for the Texas Rangers. The season is starting in the middle of summer, and the heat will carry fly balls out of that park. He has a really good home run to fly ball ratio, but some of those fly balls may turn to homers in Globe Life Park. Between him coming off injury and this new setting, I think Kluber should not be drafted as highly as he is ranked.
Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill, Boston Herald