2018 Fantasy Baseball: 5 Sleepers You Need to Draft This Year
Fantasy football may still be the most popular fantasy sport in the United States, but baseball actually has far deeper fantasy routes. If you grew up in the pre-Internet era, you’ll remember having to go through newspaper box scores in order to keep track of your fantasy lineups. Some of us lived a deprived existence, indeed.
Anyway, the 2018 MLB regular season is on the horizon. My annual weeklong interest in spring training has already come and gone, and I’m antsy for the regular season to get underway. Fantasy leagues are in the throes of drafting at this point. While you’ll obviously be bummed if you don’t wind up with Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, all is not lost if you miss out on them.
Fantasy baseball is a test of endurance more than anything. Keeping up with things over the course of the interminable regular season can be somewhat grueling. That said, if you nail your draft picks, you won’t have to spend as much time scouring the waiver wire as the year progresses.
With that in mind, here are 5 fantasy sleepers that are being undervalued in drafts to this point.
Lance McCullers Jr., SP, Houston Astros
- Average draft position (ESPN leagues): 132
Some questioned whether Lance McCullers Jr. before he made his big league debut. The Astros decided to use him as a starter, though, which looks to be the right call. While his physical build may make him a more natural reliever later in his career, he’s entrenched in the rotation as of now.
The problem with McCullers has been health. Nobody questions his raw stuff or talent, but McCullers has had a hard time staying consistently healthy to this point in his career. The 24-year-old hasn’t made more than 22 starts in any of his big league seasons to this point. Injuries have derailed him in back-to-back seasons.
Surely, LMJ’s average draft position has been affected by that. You aren’t going to want to spend a high draft pick on a guy that hasn’t shown he can stay on the field. When he’s healthy, though, he’s one of the most dynamic fantasy pitchers in all of baseball.
Most projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer, The BAT) have McCullers projected to make 24-25 starts this season. Obviously, that means they’re expecting him to miss a few starts with injury once again. If he’s able to put together a full season, though, he’s a Cy Young-caliber arm.
Another problem of his has been his command. LMJ had a walk rate nearing 8 percent in 2017, which is awful. Walking that many hitters is going to limit his ability to pitch deep into games.
Control is something that lots of young pitchers struggle with, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lance improve in that area entering his third full major league campaign. A lot needs to go right in order for him to reach his full potential, but McCullers is a guy you should be ecstatic about if he winds up on your roster.
Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics
- ADP: 301
2017 was essentially a lost year for Marcus Semien. The talented shortstop missed the majority of the season after fracturing his wrist in April. The injury required surgery, and as a result. After hitting 27 homers in his first season in Oakland, Semien hit just 10 last year in 85 games.
Now that he’s had a full offseason to recover, though, I’m expecting the power to return to his game. Shortstop is a position that doesn’t feature a ton of sluggers, and he’s one of the few capable of contributing home runs on a regular basis.
With so much attention on some of the big names at the position (Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager), Semien is going to fly under the radar. Some will see his rather pedestrian numbers from last season and choose to draft someone else.
Semien should rebound this season if he’s able to stay healthy. Bob Melvin opted to hit him in the leadoff spot for most of last season, and he should be atop the lineup again in 2018. With the A’s boasting one of baseball’s most powerful lineups, Semien should be in a good position to score a boatload of runs. He’s also a guy that has shown the ability to steal bases, which is growing increasingly rare these days.
The position is stacked at the top, but there’s not a whole lot of depth. It’s easy to see Semien emerging as one of the more steady producers at shortstop this year.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Minnesota Twins
- ADP: 213
Morrison was one of the handful of big-name free agents that was left in the cold for a while this winter. After smacking a career-high 38 home runs last season for the Rays, Morrison didn’t find a new home until in late-February.
Home runs were up in general last season, but LoMo managed to make the cavernous Tropicana Field look more like Coors Field at times. Of course, he did have some pretty serious home-road splits. Just 11 of his 38 dongs came in his former home park.
Now that he’s in Minnesota, though, there’s even more power upside for him. Target Field is sneakily one of the best power parks in the league. An average of 1.172 home runs was hit at Target Field per game last season, which was the sixth-most in all of baseball. The Trop was 22nd in the same category.
The American League Central is actually arguably the best hitting division in the majors. Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago), Comerica Park (Detroit), Progressive Field (Cleveland) and even Kauffman Stadium (KC) are fine places to hit.
First base is one of the most loaded fantasy positions in the league, so it’s not particularly surprising to see Morrison being drafted so late. There are a number of players with multi-position eligibility, which puts guys like Rhys Hoskins, Eric Thames and Marwin Gonzalez in the fray.
If he can prove that 2017 was no fluke, he’ll quickly become a viable source of fantasy production given his new and improved hitting environs. I’d be ecstatic to land a guy like LoMo in the late rounds of the draft.
Scott Schebler, OF, Cincinnati Reds
- ADP: 311
Scott Schebler is far from a household name, but he’s one of a handful of Reds players that has emerged as a viable fantasy option over the last few years. In 141 games with Cincy last year, Schebler slashed .223/.307/.484 with 30 homers and 67 runs batted in.
He’s still only 27, so there’s reason to believe some improvement could be in store in 2018. If nothing else, Schebler is a useful player to draft in the late rounds that comes with immense home run upside.
Outfield is a stacked fantasy position, so it’s understandable that people aren’t jumping all over each other for the chance to draft Schebler. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he plays his home games in one of baseball’s best bandboxes, Great American Ballpark.
GAB is one of the league’s , and the Reds have a lineup laden with guys capable of clearing the fences. Joey Votto is obviously the most well-known of the bunch, but the combination of Schebler, Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez gives Cincinnati a nice little core of power hitters.
Schebler is a lefty, but he’s one of the few left-handed hitters in the league that has shown fairly neutral splits over the course of his career. We don’t have a tremendous sample size with which to work, but Schebler’s fantasy stock is helped by the fact that he’s not completely neutralized by left-handed pitching.
Jedd Gyorko, 1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals
- ADP: 350
Jedd Gyorko looked like a tremendous bust after making his big league debut with the Padres in 2013, but he’s found himself since being shipped to St. Louis. The 29-year-old infielder put together his best season to date in 2017, hitting a solid .272/.341/.472 with 20 homers and 67 RBI.
Gyorko’s numbers would’ve been even better if he wasn’t limited to just 125 games due to injury. His numbers tailed off as last season went on, but some of that can be attributed to plain old bad luck. Gyorko posted a BABIP of just .252 over the course of the second half of the season, which is remarkably low.
He’s never a guy that is going to hit for much average, but he does come with excellent power potential for an infielder. Busch Stadium isn’t one of baseball’s best power parks, but we did see Gyorko hit 30 homers as a Cardinal back in 2016.
If he can stay healthy, regular at-bats should be there for him. The Cardinals may ultimately find themselves a more high-profile third baseman, but Gyorko is expected to open the season as the team’s starting third-sacker.
St. Louis also has a way of shifting their players all over the field, which means Gyorko could eventually gain some multi-position eligibility, which never hurts.