2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Five overlooked players to target


The Fantasy industry, both analysts and managers alike, have become so incredibly sharp over the years. It seems almost impossible to discuss a sleeper, breakout or bust candidate who people aren’t aware of at this point in the offseason. I believe the question we should be asking is, “What defines a sleeper, breakout or bust”? Life is all about perspective, after all. I’ll try my best to explain how I view the three at this point in time.

A sleeper and breakout are similar. A sleeper is a player who, for whatever reason, people look the other way when their name comes up in the draft. As a result, said player has a very realistic chance of outperforming his average draft position. The biggest difference between a sleeper and a breakout is upside.

Here are my sleeper picks for 2020:  

2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep

Sleepers

For reasons unbeknownst to me, Cesar Hernandez is currently being drafted behind Dee Gordon, who is no longer a starter, and Nick Madrigal, who is nearly guaranteed to begin the season in the minors. While Hernandez’s upside is not massive, if he just provides what he normally does, he will outperform his current average draft position. Hernandez is somebody who makes a ton of contact and knows how to get on base, evidenced by his .352 career OBP and 18.9% career strikeout rate. He also owns a subtle power-speed combination that can prove useful in rotisserie leagues.

Over the past two seasons, Hernandez has hit 15 and 14 home runs. From 2015-2017, Hernandez never posted an average launch angle of more than 3.3 degrees in any of those seasons. As a result, he never hit more than nine home runs. From 2018-2019, however, Hernandez has just about tripled that launch angle, which has led to the increase in power. When it comes to speed, Hernandez posted a five-year low with only nine stolen bases last season. In each of the four seasons before that, he’s posted at least 15 stolen bases in each. Hernandez is joining the Indians, which is good news for that total. Since Terry Francona took over as the Indians manager, they’ve finished in the top half of the league in stolen bases every season. They’ve actually been top 10 in stolen bases in five of seven seasons. Hernandez should have the green light. Last but not least, there is a report that Hernandez could hit atop the Indians’ order. The Indians want to utilize Francisco Lindor’s power more in the middle of the lineup. If this happens, Hernandez could easily score 80-plus runs. There’s no reason for him to be going as late as he does.

Often in Fantasy, you can draft players on bad teams at a discount. That seems to be the case with C.J. Cron. The Tigers are not expected to be all that competitive but, as a result, Cron should see the lion’s share of playing time at first base. While he doesn’t do anything spectacular, his power can prove useful as a corner infielder or utility bat in Fantasy.

Over the past two seasons, Cron has hit 55 home runs in 265 games, including 25 in just 125 games last season. That’s a 32-home run pace over 162 games. The underlying Statcast numbers also support this recent slugging breakout from Cron. He posted a 15% barrel rate last season, which was tied for seventh in all of baseball. To put that in perspective, Cron barreled up baseballs at a higher rate than Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto and many more. You can argue he should have hit even more home runs than he did. According to Statcast, his slugging percentage was .469 while his expected slugging percentage was .548. Based on the quality of contact he made, he should have had more extra-base hits. Don’t sleep on Cron’s power potential just because he plays for the Tigers.

While many consider Luis Urias a potential sleeper in 2020, let’s turn our attention to his trade counterpart, Trent Grisham. Grisham is a former first-round pick of the Brewers back in 2015 and, after changing his swing last season, found massive success. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Grisham hit .300 with 26 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a 1.010 OPS. Based on his power, speed and plate discipline, I believe Grisham is somebody who can thrive for Fantasy purposes, regardless of format.

While Grisham owns just a .255 career batting average in the minors, he also owns a 15.8% walk rate. He has an incredible eye at the plate, which translated to a 10.9% walk rate in 51 games with the Brewers last season as well. While the 26 home runs in the minors last season were nice, his 12 stolen bases don’t tell the entire story. Grisham has sneaky speed with a 38-steal season in High-A ball back in 2017. After the Padres traded away Manuel Margot in the Emilio Pagan trade, Grisham has all but locked up the starting center field job for the team. Grisham should be viewed as a fifth outfielder in roto leagues or a bench player with upside in H2H points leagues on draft day.

I understand nobody is excited to draft a 37-year old starting pitcher coming off a 4.91 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but you should consider rethinking that when it comes to Happ. He was undoubtedly affected by the juiced ball, allowing 1.90 HR/9 with an 18.3% HR/FB ratio, both marks being the highest of his career. However, if you look at the four seasons before 2019, Happ was among one of the most reliable back-end starting pitchers in Fantasy Baseball.

From 2015-2018, Happ owned a 3.48 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, never posting a single-season ERA above 3.65. While it’s not realistic to expect an ERA that low from Happ in 2020, perhaps you can expect something closer to the 3.93 xFIP he posted over those four seasons. Happ is an oddity at starting pitcher where he relies on his fastball over 70% of the time, similar to Lance Lynn. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done. His average fastball velocity last season was 91.3 MPH, which was spot on with the rest of his career. In fact, his 10.3% swinging strike rate in 2019 was the second highest of his career. Happ was enjoying a fine spring with 16 strikeouts in just 13 innings pitched, and while I don’t want to buy-in to spring stats too much, he looked revitalized. Happ is somebody you can target as a bench arm in Fantasy who should be able to provide quality starts and a decent amount of wins with the Yankees run support behind him.

This is a deeper sleeper for those chasing saves in rotisserie leagues, but Hunter Harvey looks the part of the Orioles’ closer heading into 2020. The former first-round pick has battled a ton of injuries over the years, and perhaps his calling is in the bullpen after failed attempts as a starter in recent years. The Orioles bullpen was a mess in 2019 as eight different players recorded a save, including position-player Stevie Wilkerson in an extra-inning game.

Manager Brandon Hyde revealed recently, in a report from Craig Mish of Sportsgrid, that Harvey is “definitely an option” to close this season. If you read the tea leaves, Hyde also mentions that things “kind of fell into place for everybody else and everybody threw better during the time he was there.” That sure sounds like a vote of confidence to me. While the sample size is small, Harvey had 11 strikeouts in just 6.1 innings pitched in the Orioles’ bullpen last season. He boasts an upper-90’s fastball with a curveball and splitter. While the Orioles are not expected to win many games, Harvey should wind up being the one who saves the ones they do. 





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