At long last, it’s time for baseball again! This means it’s time for Fantasy Baseball. It also means it’s time to start preparing for your drafts if you haven’t done so already. To kick off this season, I’ll be taking a team-by-team look at fantasy baseball sleepers. The AL East will be first, followed by the Central, then the West. Then I’ll do the same order for the National League.
Given the nature of digging through 30 teams, some of these sleepers will be pretty deep. This series will focus on batters to put on your radar, and I’ll add any honorable mentions that warrant it.
Note: All position eligibilities and ADP figures courtesy of FantasyPros. All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless noted otherwise.
AL East Fantasy Baseball Sleepers
Renato Nunez – 1B/3B/DH
Kicking off our fantasy baseball sleepers pick of the AL East batters edition is someone currently sitting outside the top 200 in drafts. Renato Nunez should be a solid power contributor this season. Make no mistake, the Orioles are a very bad baseball team. But they still have to play 162 games and field a roster of professional baseball players. Nunez will be at the heart of the order all season. Depending on your league platform, he’s eligible at both corner spots, which is always a plus. The batting average shouldn’t hurt you too much, and 25 or so homers is probably his floor – upside being the mid-30 range. He suffered from a relatively low BABIP last season at .272, causing his .244 average to fall short of his .254 xBA. Sure, it’s not great, but it leaves room for growth. The power numbers are for real. According to Baseball Savant, Nunez was a top-100 hitter in terms of average exit velocity and a top-50 hitter in barrelled balls. With a HR/FB ratio over 16 percent and a hard-hit rate approaching 40 percent in 2019 – both well above league average – you can be confident 2020 will be similar for the 25-year-old.
Honorable mentions: OF Anthony Santander is another cheap power bat who clubbed 20 HR in only 380 ABs last season.
Boston Red Sox
Christian Vazquez – C/1B
Christian Vazquez probably is on most fantasy baseball radars after hitting 23 home runs and slashing .276/.320/.477 in 2019. Vazquez ranked third in homers and fourth in RBIs among catchers. Even so, several other catchers are going before him in drafts. The position is very thin, so if you miss out on the Realmutos of the world, it’s worth waiting a long time to snag a catcher. Boston certainly lost some lineup prowess by letting Mookie Betts go, but it’s still very potent. Vazquez plays a lot as far a catchers go, and he has quite an array of talented guys hitting ahead of him. Don’t expect much of increase in production – all projection models have him hitting fewer homers this season. Yet, an isolated power (ISO) of .201 and a HR/FB ratio of 16 percent suggest his power surge was legit. Add to that his respectable 102 wRC+ and you’ve got yourself a more than serviceable backstop option late in the draft – while everyone else likely overpays for the sexier names.
Honorable mention: OF Kevin Pillar enjoyed a resurgence of sorts last season – might be worth a late grab. Decent pop and speed should see him scoring more runs on an infinitely better team.
New York Yankees
Miguel Andujar – UT/DH
2018’s AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, Miguel Andujar, only played 12 games last season. Twelve terrible games where he did virtually nothing – six hits and a single run batted in. At the moment, Andujar is being drafted outside the top-200. In his 2018 season, he batted .297 while hitting 27 home runs and driving in 92. He showed good plate discipline for a rookie, striking out only 97 times in 149 games (though he could stand to walk more). For now, he remains eligible at UT or DH only, but he could become OF-eligible before long due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Either way, the Yankees will want his bat in the lineup. Pretty much every metric across the board supports sustainability in his offensive production. The only questions are whether the shoulder holds up and how long it will take for the rust to shake off. On draft day, a talent like Andujar in a lineup like New York’s is worth the gamble.
Honorable mentions: 3B Gio Urshela had a great 2019, hitting for average and power – good later-round hot corner target.
Tampa Bay Rays
Hunter Renfroe – OF
Hunter Renfroe is now in Tampa after hitting at least 26 home runs for three straight seasons in San Diego. In case you didn’t know, Petco Park is pretty pitcher-friendly. Renfroe still mashed 33 homers last season, 14 of them at home in 66 games (49 starts). Tropicana Field isn’t exactly a hitter’s park, but it’s certainly a step up from Petco. Renfroe currently projects as the everyday right fielder – if he can start closer to a full season’s worth of games, 40 home runs aren’t even close to out of the question. No, he will not hit for contact, but a very possible 40 or more homers late in your draft is a huge bargain. A note on isolated power: according to FanGraphs, anything at or above .250 is “excellent.” Renfroe was at .256 in 2018 and .273 in 2019 and could be in store for even bigger things in a speedy lineup and a better home park.
Honorable mention: SS Willy Adames had a strong second half where he slashed .278/.340/.467 – a full season of that and 20ish HR potential would be a nice bargain in the middle infield.
Toronto Blue Jays
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. – 2B/OF
This fantasy baseball sleepers pick isn’t exactly a secret, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is still going outside of the top-150 as of now. The 26-year-old is entering his prime, and he was excellent last season in a limited-but-significant sample size. Gurriel Jr. slashed .277/.327/.541 with 20 homers, 50 RBIs, and 52 runs scored in only 84 games. He even stole six bases, so double-digits are obtainable throughout a full campaign. As far as his power explosion goes, he placed in the 82nd percentile in both hard-hit percentage and xSLG. His other metrics are extremely impressive as well – .264 ISO, 20.2 percent HR/FB, .358 wOBA, and 124 wRC+. All of those marks fall into the above-average to excellent ranges on FanGraphs. In other words, what he did last season is sustainable. To top it off, he looks to be slotted into the three-hole behind young studs Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. And hitting behind Gurriel Jr. is another young stud, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The pieces are in place for a monster year for Gurriel Jr. – you can pass on the sexier names and still land a legit power bat to slot into your 2B or OF slots.
Honorable mention: OF Randal Grichuk is locked into an everyday role and is a cheap source of power in an increasingly potent lineup.