Among the various Fantasy Baseball draft preview content pieces we go through every preseason, sleepers are definitely the most fun to write about. Maybe it's because the stakes tend to be lower with sleepers – they are, by definition, players who shouldn't cost you very much to acquire in your drafts.
But maybe it's also because the returns on your investment can be truly massive if you hit on a few of them. You throw a few darts and one or two of them land near the bullseye and all of a sudden the whole complexion of your team changes. These are mostly low-probability hits, but there's so much variance inherent to the game of Fantasy Baseball that it's always worth making sure at least a few of your late-round picks come from a list like this.
I've got three different flavors, so to speak, of sleeper for you in my first round of picks. I've got some post-hype prospects (or recent prospects), classic late-round fliers (outside the top 250 in ADP), and then some bounce-back candidates. As we get closer to Opening Day, I'll start to whittle this list down, but I like to have a lot of dart throws at this point. Here are my favorites right now:
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Alek Thomas CF
ARI Arizona • #5 • Age: 22
At this point, Thomas might be on the outside looking in for the Diamondbacks Opening Day roster, as he seems to have been surpassed in the organizational hierarchy by a couple of other young outfielders. So, he probably needs a big spring to get back into the picture – and I fully believe he has the ability to do so. Remember, this was a consensus top-40 prospect a year ago who has performed well in the upper minors (.949 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A while being young for both levels) who won't even be 23 by Opening Day. Thomas wasn't ready for the majors last season despite that success, though it's not like he was totally overwhelmed – his 18.0% strikeout rate especially serves as a solid building block even if the rest of his plate discipline numbers weren't great. Thomas could eventually be a legitimate five-category contributor for Fantasy, and he's a classic post-hype sleeper this season.
DET Detroit • #20 • Age: 23
Torkelson was supposed to be major-league ready, but he just couldn't get going in his rookie season, and there wasn't much positive to take from it. He hit the ball relatively hard relatively consistently (90.5 mph average exit velocity, 61% hard-hit rate), but neither was enough to make up for a poor strikeout rate. Playing at a very tough home park didn't help, either – his .305 expected wOBA was nothing to write home about, but it was quite a bit better than his actual .272 mark, which would have been the fourth-worst in baseball if he qualified. The Tigers are, thankfully, moving the fences in at Comerica Park, so there should be some natural regression even if Torkelson isn't better. I'm betting he will be.
C.J. Abrams SS
WAS Washington • #5 • Age: 22
We've been talking about Abrams for a few years now, which makes it easy to forget that he's still just 22, with only 204 career games as a professional under his belt. The degree of difficulty in what he's been asked to do is incredibly high, and he predictably struggled with his aggressive assignment last season. Despite that, he has shown high-end speed and good contact skills at the major-league level and was still hitting well at the Triple-A level last season – and, notably, stole 14 bases in 38 games. I have some concerns that Abrams might be the next Victor Robles, but I think he'll be a more functional base stealer, even if the hit tool never comes around.
MIA Miami • #27 • Age: 24
At his best, Cabrera looked a lot like a young Sandy Alcantara last season. He can ramp his fastball up to the high-90s, but in typical Marlins pitcher fashion, it's the secondaries that really impress – most notably a changeup that, like Alcantara's comes in right around the MLB average fastball velocity. Opposing batters' best option last season was typically just to avoid swinging, as Cabrera's 11.3% walk rate was the biggest blemish on his record. If he can follow Alcantara's lead and get closer to an average walk rate, there's a ton of upside here with a pitcher who can get whiffs and rack up weak contact. It's an exciting profile, though it comes with serious workload concerns, as 2022 was the first time he threw more than 90 innings since 2018 – and he only got to 110.1 including the minors.
WAS Washington • #1 • Age: 24
Gore has a complicated delivery that, when it is working, helps him hide the ball well and helps his stuff play up. Unfortunately, it also creates pretty wide gulfs between how he looks when things are working and when they aren't, and since getting to the high minors, things haven't been working as well as often as you'd like. However, we saw flashes of how good he can be when things are going right, like when he had 57 strikeouts in 48 innings in his first nine appearances (eight starts) last season. He couldn't keep it up in the long run, and then suffered an elbow injury that ended his season, so there are a lot of red flags here. However, Gore has three secondary pitches he can get whiffs with, and a less fastball-heavy approach could help him play up a bit more consistently if he can stay healthy. Both seem like pretty big ifs at this point, but I'm willing to take a late-round dice roll on it.
Joey Gallo LF
MIN Minnesota • #13 • Age: 29
Gallo's time in New York was a disaster, and the Fantasy world has pretty much given up on the idea of a bounceback based on his current price. Part of the problem is, that while the limitations to defensive shifting figure to help left-handed sluggers disproportionately, Gallo's massive strikeout rate limits how much it will actually help him – he doesn't put many balls in play as it is. Still, this should be a better offensive environment, and I'm hoping to reset in Minneapolis can help him get back on track. There are always going to be limits on how much Gallo can help your team, but let's not forget, he's just a year removed from 38 homers and a .351 OBP.
Wil Myers RF
CIN Cincinnati • #4 • Age: 32
If you're looking for a candidate for this year's Brandon Drury, Myers is your guy. We're a few years removed from Myers being someone Fantasy players get excited about, and injuries will always limit his upside, but I'm thinking the move to Cincinnati's bandbox will help prop Myers up – per StatCast metrics, Myers would have had 164 homers over the past seven seasons if he played all of his games at Great American Ballpark, compared to just 124 in San Diego. Even if he gets traded midseason like Drury, Myers has more than enough time to help your lineup as a late-round pick.
MIA Miami • #29 • Age: 25
It's not clear Garrett has a spot in Miami's rotation at this point, which is certainly one reason to keep his price low. But, while specific injuries are impossible to predict, it doesn't take a crystal ball to predict that someone is going to get hurt for the Marlins at some point, and Garrett should be ready to step in. He proved a solid rotation option for the Marlins when pressed into action last season, striking out more than a batter per inning with good control and solid groundball rates, leading to ERA estimators that mostly backed up his solid 3.58 ERA. Garrett isn't an ace, but he proved last season his slider is a legitimate weapon (40.1% whiff rate), and it should make him an above-average starter whenever he gets the chance.
KC Kansas City • #54 • Age: 35
We have no idea what Chapman's role in Kansas City's bullpen is going to be, which is why he's still going outside of the first 300 picks on average in drafts since signing. Though, of course, his miserable 2022 season is doing plenty to keep his price down, too. My thought process here is pretty simple, though: I just have a hard time seeing a player as mercurial as Chapman signing with the Royals to be a setup man. Chapman needs to be better than he was last season, and there's no guarantee he will be, of course. But he still had plenty of velocity and racked up swings and misses at a healthy (if not elite) rate. Even a small recovery in Chapman's skill set would probably make him an effective reliever, and I'm betting that's enough to make him the Royals closer.
Jesse Winker LF
MIL Milwaukee • Age: 29
The move to Seattle was never a good one for Winker's Fantasy value, and the fact that he was playing through multiple injuries that ultimately ended up requiring offseason surgery surely didn't help. Milwaukee is a much better park, especially for left-handed power, and I think Winker could get back somewhere close to his Cincinnati days if he's healthy. There are always going to be platoon concerns with Winker, which tends to deflate his counting stats even when he's playing well, but he's going late enough now that it really isn't a concern anymore.
STL St. Louis • #22 • Age: 27
When you had to draft him as a borderline No. 1 starter, I wasn't much of a Flaherty fan. However, when all you need from him is No. 3 or 4 starter production to be a big win, and it's a lot easier to stomach. After so many injuries, the chances of Flaherty getting through a full season seem pretty slim, and he's lost enough velocity on his fastball (down to 93.3 mph on average last season) that it might just be a problem pitch for him. However, Flaherty still sported whiff rates over 35% with his curveball and slider last season, and that might be enough for him to remain an above-average pitcher. He doesn't need to be much more than that to be worth drafting now.
MIA Miami • #28 • Age: 25
Rogers took a step back across the board in 2022, and while he dealt with multiple injuries, I don't think you can point to that as the culprit, seeing as he stunk from the very start, sporting a 5.09 ERA with just 14 strikeouts in 17.2 innings in April. However, there was a brief stretch between IL stints in August and September where he struck out 22 in 18.1 innings over three starts, generally looking more like the guy we got so excited about in 2021, though not without making changes along the way. He was throwing his slider with more horizontal break and upped his changeup usage against lefties – a good move, seeing as it's his best pitch, by far. His fastball went from a weapon to a problem, though, and if he can't rediscover the form that made it such an effective pitch for him in 2021, nothing else will matter. Seeing as he sustained his velocity despite the injuries, I'm pretty optimistic.
Tyler Mahle SP
MIN Minnesota • #51 • Age: 28
Mahle's 2021 numbers – 3.75 ERA, 210 strikeouts, 1.23 WHIP – are even more impressive when you check under the hood and remember he had a whopping 5.63 ERA at Great American Ballpark. For his career? A 5.02 mark. A shoulder injury limited him to just four starts after getting traded to the Twins, and he wasn't great in those outings, and he'll need to rediscovery some of the velocity he lost last season. If he can do that – and regain confidence in his slider, which helped fuel his 2020 and 2021 breakouts – I like the prospect of a bounce back in a new environment for Mahle.
Brandon Lowe 2B
TB Tampa Bay • #8 • Age: 28
Back injuries are always scary, and it's possible that the one Lowe battled through last season will leave him permanently diminished. That's the risk here, but if Lowe is healthy, he had established himself as one of the premiere power threats at the second base position, clubbing 70 homers in 287 games between 2019 and 2021, with the kind of quality-of-contact metrics that should have have been able to overcome the dead ball of 2022 (and, presumably, 2023). I'll take the injury discount here.