MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
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The definition of a sleeper continues to evolve in the Fantasy space. For me, sleepers have become synonymous with undervalued. I'm looking for profit potential. Which players going outside the top 200 picks could return top-100 value? How does one even go about finding that player? Well, there are multiple ways. Of course, we'll always start with a player's skills. For a hitter, what does the plate discipline and quality of contact tell us? For a pitcher, what do we see in the surface-level numbers vs. underlying data? Do those stats tell the same story?

After we evaluate the skills, it's time to consider other things like a player's environment. Is this player changing teams? Is that a good thing? Is a player entering a contract year? Are they coming back from injury? I also really like to consider a player's track record. At times, I think we fall victim to recency bias on both ends of the spectrum. Just because a player has a career year, are we to assume that's just who that player is now? If somebody has a proven track record and then all of a sudden has a down year, is that player "done"? Sometimes it feels like there are infinite variables that factor into a player's outcome, which makes sense in a sport like baseball. I like to look at player analysis like weaving a web, trying to connect all the dots that eventually tells us a story of what to expect. For the 12 names below, I expect them to outperform their cost based on current average draft position.


Bailey Ober
MIN • SP • #17
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This one seems about as straightforward as they get. All Ober has done is perform. In 57 career starts with the Twins, he has a 3.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He's averaging over a strikeout per inning, which is supported by a 13% swinging strike rate. Among pitchers with at least 250 innings since 2021, Ober ranks 22nd in K-BB rate (19.8%) and 24th in swinging strike rate (13%). Even with that, he's currently the SP42 in ADP. Ober has great command, limits walks and generates whiffs, all key ingredients in a successful starting pitcher. 

The pitch mix tells us a similar story. Ober has a legit three-pitch mix, which features a four-seam fastball, changeup and slider. What might give people pause is that Ober only averages 91.3 MPH on his fastball… or does he? Ober is a mammoth human at 6'9 who has elite 98th percentile extension on the mound. Given his height and extension, the perceived velocity on Ober's fastball is surely higher than 91.3 MPH. Ober is a lot like his teammate, Joe Ryan, in that he has a sneaky, deceptive fastball. In that case, it might seem hypocritical of me to have Ober as a sleeper and Ryan in my Busts 1.0. The massive difference is that I trust Ober's secondary pitches while the same can't be said for Ryan. Ober just feels vastly underrated and somebody I'd love to have as my SP3 in a deeper league or SP4 in a shallower one.


Carlos Rodon
NYY • SP • #55
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Everything about Rodon's first season in New York was a disaster. The final nail in the coffin was a horrendous start where he was charged with eight earned runs without recording a single out against… the Royals? What I truly believe is that Rodon was never healthy last year. Let's run through the laundry list of injuries he dealt with. First up, Rodon was diagnosed with a left forearm strain just days before the start of the season. As he was ramping up his rehab from the forearm, his back flared up, which eventually required a cortisone shot. Rodon would finally make his Yankees debut on July 7 but missed two more weeks in August with a hamstring strain. 

There are no stats from last season that I can use to support Rodon's bounce-back. What I can tell you is that his pitch characteristics were mostly on par with 2022, when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. From velocity to spin rate to extension, 2023 was nearly identical to 2022. So why was he so bad? Command and pitch execution, are things I would argue could be directly hampered by injury. Let's consider track record and risk-reward. Throughout 2021 and 2022, Rodon posted a 2.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP with a ridiculous 26.8% K-BB rate. Over those two years, Rodon amassed the third-highest WAR among all pitchers in baseball. He's currently the SP46 off the board. The risk is that he's hurt again this year, continues to pitch terribly, and you drop him. The reward could be a top-10 starting pitcher in Fantasy.

Since writing this back in January, we've had multiple reports on Rodon and we got to see him make a start in spring training. Apparently, he touched 97 MPH during a live batting practice earlier in February, which is much higher than this time last spring. With that being said, in Rodon's first spring start he averaged just 93.6 MPH on his fastball, down 1.7 MPH compared to last season's velocity. He likely needs more starts to build up throughout March but it's something to monitor.


Trevor Story
BOS • SS • #10
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From one bounce-back sleeper to another. Much like Rodon's tenure with the Yankees, it's been a rocky one for Story and the Red Sox. I do think there are built-in excuses for Story, however. He didn't have a normal offseason with the Red Sox until this one! If you remember, Story signed with Boston in late March, 2022. That was a result of the lockout, which delayed signings and, as we all know, the start of the regular season. Then in January 2023, Story underwent an internal bracing procedure on his right ulnar collateral ligament. He returned in August but was a shell of himself, admitting he was just trying to survive up at the plate.

I'll fully admit Story is a bit of a wild card this upcoming season. In 137 games since joining the Red Sox, he's batting just .227 with a 31% strikeout rate. What helps in category leagues is that he still hit 19 home runs with 23 steals during that span. And while he was a shell of himself in 2023, Story still managed 10 steals in 43 games. If nothing else, I'd expect the speed element of his game to be there in 2024. He's also projected to bat cleanup and, as you're about to learn, I'm pretty excited about this Red Sox lineup. I think it's filled with upside but also includes high-floor options like Rafael Devers and Masataka Yoshida. Story has a wide range of outcomes but I think a 20-20 season or even 25-25 is possible following his first normal offseason since joining the Red Sox.


Lars Nootbaar
STL • CF • #21
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Most Fantasy Baseball players are fans of specific players, names that you always gravitate towards. Aside from having an awesome name, Nootbaar is somebody I've grown to appreciate. While he didn't live up to the breakout hype from a year ago, Nootbaar still had a solid season. He hit .261 with 14 homers and 11 steals across 117 games. His plate discipline remains a tremendous asset as Nootbaar walked in 14.3% of his plate appearances, resulting in a .367 on-base percentage. The next step for Nootbaar is staying on the field.

He was limited to just 117 games thanks to three separate stints on the Injured List with a bruised left thumb in April, a bruised lower back in June and a bruised lower abdomen in August. Maybe Nootbaar will turn out to be a player who is perennially injured but, considering he's just 26 years old, I'm not ready to make that claim. The Cardinals value him highly, too. Nootbaar spent most of his games either batting leadoff or third in their lineup. Much like the Red Sox lineup, the Cardinals are one I'm bullish on entering 2024. So, let's add this all up. Nootbaar has strong plate discipline, solid power and speed and is projected to bat somewhere in the top-three lineup spots. Sign me up, especially with his ADP just inside the top 200 picks. 


Jeimer Candelario
CIN • 3B • #3
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Candelario just enjoyed a breakout season, posting career-highs in home runs (22), RBI (70) and steals (8). His .807 OPS was his highest across five non-shortened seasons. Candelario finished as a top-150 player yet his ADP is currently outside the top-200 picks. It's even more baffling when you consider he signed with the Cincinnati Reds this offseason. According to Statcast park factors, Great American Ballpark is the third-best for overall offense and the best (by far) for home runs. As Scott White pointed out in his Sleepers 1.0, look at what Great American Ballpark did for Nick Castellanos when he was there. 

Another underrated aspect of Candelario's game is the speed. While he's not the most fleet of foot, Candelario swiped eight bases last season, likely taking advantage of the new rules. He's joining a Reds team that led baseball with 190 steals as a team. Next closest was the Diamondbacks with 166! Given the Reds' aggressiveness, I like Candelario's chances of at least matching his eight steals from last year, perhaps even exceeding them. Lastly, you might have concerns over playing time for Reds hitters this year. They're loaded with talent, especially in the infield. I don't worry about it much with Candelario because money talks. On paper, the team didn't really need Candelario but they still opted to give him $45 million over the next three years. While his ADP is on the rise since joining the Reds, it likely won't rise to the point it should. Candelario is a player you should target as a corner infielder or a fallback option at either first or third base.


Aaron Civale
TB • SP • #34
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Remember what I just said about Nootbaar? Yeah, I share a lot of the same sentiments with Civale. He's a player I've gravitated towards throughout his career because I always felt there was more meat on the bone. He was featured in Sleepers 1.0 last year as well. Now that he gets a full offseason with the Tampa Bay Rays, I'm even more intrigued. Civale had a weird season last year. On the surface, he pitched well with the Guardians and not so well once he was traded to the Rays. The underlying numbers tell a different story.

  • 13 starts with the Guardians- 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19% strikeout rate, 4.59 xFIP, 4.71 SIERA, 9.5% swinging strike rate, 11.8% K-BB rate
  • 10 starts with the Rays- 5.36 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 29% strikeout rate, 3.26 xFIP, 3.35 SIERA, 10.8% swinging strike rate, 23.7% K-BB rate

Simply put, he pitched over his head with the Guardians and was potentially unlucky with the Rays. While Civale's ERA was three runs higher in Tampa, he improved his strikeout rate and K-BB rate drastically, things we often look for in a starting pitcher. I also find Civale's outlook eerily similar to a pitcher who joined the Rays last offseason, Zach Eflin. Before Eflin's breakout 2023, he was a middling pitcher who had an elite curveball but couldn't stay healthy. What if I told you Civale's curveball has a career .183 batting average against with a 16.4% swinging strike rate? He's also had a rough go with injuries but the good news is he dealt with an oblique in 2023 and nothing arm related. The Rays have proven they know how to get the most out of their pitchers, especially ones like Eflin and Civale. He's a name I'll consistently be targeting just outside the top 200 picks. 


Shota Imanaga
CHC • P • #18
2023 Japan stats
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I'd be lying if I said I was an expert on international signings. Like most, I rely on the findings of those smarter than me. For example, Lance Brozdowski did a great breakdown on Imanaga earlier in the offseason. We also had Brozdowski on Fantasy Baseball Today where he expressed similar sentiments regarding Imanaga. With Imanaga, we're looking at a veteran starting pitcher who can generate whiffs and has great control. He relies mostly on a deceptive fastball from the left-hand side to go along with a sweeper and splitter. According to the great Eno Sarris, Imanaga led last year's World Baseball Classic in Stuff+. While it was a very small sample, Imanaga ranked even higher than Yoshinobu Yamamoto who got $325 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Imanaga is 30 years old and has spent his entire career over in Japan. He's coming off a huge year with the Yokohama Bay Stars, posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 10.6 strikeouts per nine compared to just 1.4 walks per nine. He's not perfect, though. Imanaga is a fly-ball pitcher who's been prone to allowing home runs. Imanaga signed with the Cubs and, according to Statcast park factors, Wrigley Field is the 11th-best ballpark for home runs. Wrigley could be especially tough on pitchers when that wind is blowing out. Even with that, I believe we're getting a discount on Imanaga in drafts because he came over to Major League Baseball the same offseason as the aforementioned Yamamoto. While everybody's attention has been on Yamamoto (rightfully so), it's created a buying opportunity on Imanaga. 


Vaughn Grissom
BOS • SS • #5
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Let's continue with my enthusiasm for the Red Sox lineup. Grissom made sense as a change-of-scenery candidate this offseason. It's not that he wore out his welcome with the Braves but they were in the trade market for pitching and Grissom was one of their top assets. As it went, Grissom was shipped up to Boston in exchange for Chris Sale. Now Grissom steps in as the Red Sox starting second baseman, a situation that couldn't get much better.

Grissom should play every day in a dangerous lineup and one of the best ballparks for right-handed hitters. According to Statcast park factors, Fenway Park grades out as the third-best park for right-handed bats. Even though Grissom doesn't offer the most power, line drives and fly balls to the pull side should result in extra bases thanks to the Green Monster. Just two years ago, Grissom was viewed as a league-winner down the stretch of the 2022 season. In just 51 games, he hit .291 with five homers and five steals. Additionally, all Grissom has done in the minors is hit. In 329 career games down there, he's batting .320 with an .884 OPS. If I'm projecting Grissom, I'll say he hits .280-plus with modest power and speed, think 15 home runs and 15 steals. He's a great name to target as a late-round middle infielder with upside. 


Tyler O'Neill
BOS • LF • #17
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Alright, I swear this is the last Red Sox hitter I'll write about… for now. O'Neill is a blend of the first two Red Sox hitters we talked about in Story and Grissom. Not only is O'Neill a bounce-back candidate but he's getting a change of scenery. O'Neill has constantly dealt with injuries, playing more than 96 games just once in his Major League career. The one year he did manage to stay on the field was his breakout 2021 when O'Neill hit .286 with 34 homers and 15 steals. He finished as a top-30 player in Roto and averaged 3.1 fantasy points per game, tied for the 15th-best outfielder in that format. 

I believe that the upside still exists. O'Neill just has to find a way to stay on the field. Luckily for him, O'Neill is entering a contract year. There are no assurances but I find it interesting how often players find a way to stay on the field when playing for that next contract. What helps O'Neill's chances of a big year is playing in Boston. As pointed out with Grissom earlier, Fenway Park is one of the best environments in baseball for a right-handed bat. O'Neill has not performed over the past two years but he's also been hampered by a multitude of injuries. Yes, I'm making excuses for him but why wouldn't you when talking about a player with this much upside, going this late in drafts? If O'Neill can stay healthy, I foresee another 30 homers with double-digit steals. 


Cristopher Sanchez
PHI • SP • #61
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Betting against mid-career breakouts is often a profitable strategy. There are exceptions, however. Sanchez made big changes in 2023, which helped fuel the breakout. First was the pitch-mix. Sanchez lowered his sinker usage, opting to throw more changeups and sliders. As we say every year. Sometimes, it's as simple as throwing your bad pitches less and your good pitches more. Not only is Sanchez's changeup good but it has the upside to be one of the best in baseball. Throughout his career, Sanchez's changeup has just a .152 batting average against and a massive 20.3% swinging strike rate. 

Sanchez also made massive gains in control. Over 2021 and 2022, Sanchez posted 4.1 walks-per-nine and a 10.2% walk rate. Last year he dropped those down to 1.5 walks-per-nine and a 4% walk rate. Both are supported by career-bests in strike percentage (67.5%) and first-pitch-strike percentage (66.7%). On top of the pitch-mix change and improved control, Sanchez has always consistently generated ground balls. Among pitchers with 90 innings last season, Sanchez's 57% ground ball rate ranked fourth in the league. Time will tell if he can maintain the gains in control but regardless, Sanchez has a great foundation with that nasty changeup and his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Target Sanchez as a late-round bench option with upside.


Henry Davis
PIT • RF • #32
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Let's wrap things up with a post-hype sleeper. Davis was the first overall pick by the Pirates back in 2021. He struggled a bit in 2022 but put things together in the minors last year. As a result, he was promoted by the Pirates in mid-June. In 62 games Davis hit just .213 with a .653 OPS and a 27% strikeout rate. He did flash a little power and speed with seven homers and three steals during that span. What changed the equation for Davis' 2024 outlook was a season-ending injury to teammate Endy Rodriguez, the team's likely starting catcher.

What changed the equation again is that the Pirates signed Yasmani Grandal to a one-year, $2.5 million deal earlier in February. While it's not ideal, Grandal has really regressed as both a hitter and defender over the past few years. Injuries have played a part but he's not getting any younger. Based on this article, it sounds like Grandal has embraced this opportunity to mentor Davis behind the plate. Perhaps Davis just catches a few times per week as the backup to Grandal but even with that, he should gain catcher eligibility before the end of April. As we are all aware, catchers don't need to do much offensively to have value in Fantasy. See where I'm going with this? Davis offers a loophole in Fantasy drafts. I can tell you right now that if Davis already had catcher eligibility, he'd be going inside the top 200 picks, likely closer to somebody like Luis Campusano. Davis is a name to target as a bench option who could offer big upside assuming he gains catcher eligibility.