Having a list of sleepers to queue up on draft day is not only an integral part of the draft prep process, it’s a big part of what makes draft day fun.
The key to a successful draft is finding value, and picking the right sleepers is central to getting the most out of your auction dollars or picks. Plus, when your sleepers perform better than your league-mates thought they would, you get to take the credit.
A sleeper isn’t just a player who comes out of nowhere to make an impact; a sleeper is anyone who has a profile that suggests he will outperform his draft position.
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CHRIS DAVIS (1B, Orioles): Davis’ stock is down after losing 41 points in batting average and 103 points in slugging percentage in 2016. However, he was just two homers shy of the 40 mark, and most of the power he lost was of the doubles variety. Don’t be concerned about the one-year drop in his line drive rate that is behind that; expect a rebound.
DOMINGO SANTANA (OF, Brewers): He does strike out too much, but Santana has great home run and line drive power. He slashed .280/.344/.508 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in 37 games after returning from an elbow injury late last season. It’s a small sample, but the performance appears sustainable.
JORGE SOLER (OF, Royals): Soler has even bigger issues with making contact than Santana, but strikeouts were not a serious problem for him in his minor league career. At 25, he is young enough to improve in that area, and he has already demonstrated impressive power. In moving from the Cubs to the Royals, playing time should no longer be an issue.
ABRAHAM ALMONTE (OF, Indians): Similarly, Almonte does not currently have a place to play regularly, but an Indians outfield of Michael Brantley (shoulder), Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall offers the potential for a bench player to fill in and steal playing time with a strong performance. In limited play, Almonte has gone 15 for 16 in stolen-base attempts over the last two seasons.
DANIEL NORRIS (SP, Tigers): Norris had trouble staying healthy last season, but the 24-year-old made significant strides in the 69 1/3 innings he pitched for the Tigers. The lefty added more than 1 mph to his average fastball velocity and dramatically increased the rate at which batters whiffed on it. He could be a surprisingly good source of strikeouts and wins.
TONY WATSON (RP, Pirates): Watson is not a big strikeout pitcher, and he blew three saves during the two months he served as the Pirates closer late last year. Those struggles were largely confined to a 19-day period, and Watson has been a master at inducing soft contact over the course of his career. Owners may overlook Watson on draft day, but he could be one of the steadier sources of saves outside of the pricey elite closers.
CARTER CAPPS (RP, Padres): Because Capps is coming off Tommy John surgery, he is almost sure to be overlooked, but Padres manager Andy Green has told reporters that he could be the team’s closer. The last time we saw Capps pitching in the majors, he notched 58 strikeouts and seven walks in 31 innings with the Marlins in 2015. Even if Capps is somewhat short of his top form, he could be a dominant closer.
In fantasy draft prep, you’ll hear three terms more than any others: breakout, sleeper, and bust. Looking at the negative of the three, how do we define what a bust is? It really depends on whom you ask.
A bust can be a player who doesn’t live up to his average draft position (ADP) or high expectations but still has a good year, or it can be someone who was just plain awful.
Busts are, unfortunately, a part of playing fantasy. They happen every single year. The good news is there are sometimes ways to avoid them, like not overreacting to a career year, identifying signs of decline, or addressing pre-existing injuries.
JEAN SEGURA (2B/SS, Seattle): He hit a career-high 20 home runs last year in Arizona, which doesn’t get enough credit as the second-best home ballpark for hitters behind Colorado. If his power and average regress to his career norms in a neutral ballpark (which Seattle is), you’d be better suited to wait about 100 picks and grab Tim Anderson, who offers a similar skill set for a cheaper price.
ALBERT PUJOLS (1B, Los Angeles Angels): Despite dealing with numerous injuries over the past five seasons, Pujols has played in at least 152 games in four of his five seasons with the Angels. That’s likely going to change this year, though, as Pujols had foot surgery in December. At this point in his career, Pujols is going to give you 30 homers and not crush you in average. But if he misses Opening Day, will that result in him missing all of April? What about May?
ADRIAN GONZALEZ (1B, Los Angeles Dodgers): Gonzalez dealing with elbow inflammation may be the best thing possible for fantasy owners. You recognize his name, sure, but do you recognize the player that hit the ball on the ground 46.2 percent of the time and lowered his fly ball rate from 36.7 percent to 27.5 percent last season?
DAVID DAHL (OF, Colorado): If Dahl is a bust this year, it won’t be by his own doing. As spring training games start he still hasn’t been guaranteed a full-time job. Dahl remains a high-risk, high-reward pick until it’s known he’s going to get everyday at-bats at the big-league level.
RICK PORCELLO (SP, Boston Red Sox): Porcello’s value is driven by his 22 wins and 223 innings pitched last year – both career highs – en route to the American League Cy Young Award. Porcello will still have value, but he’s a better fit as a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy starter instead of a No. 2 with his lack of ability to miss bats and rack up strikeouts.
FREDDIE FREEMAN (1B, Atlanta): He’s a better value at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth round in 12-team leagues. Without knowing how Atlanta’s new home field will lean as far as ballpark factors, Freeman is too risky at his current rate.