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 pitchers (either starters or relievers) 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
Mychal Givens – RP
Our first fantasy baseball sleepers pick is Mychal Givens. Bad baseball teams don’t blow out their opponents. Therefore, bad baseball teams are a really good way to get cheap value in the reliever department. Will the Baltimore Orioles win 60 games this season? Maybe, but you can bet a good portion of those hypothetical 60 wins will be save opportunities. Givens is likely the first option in that department. Mind you, he is not an elite option. Just a cheap option. That’s what makes him a sleeper, obviously. He did blow eight saves last year while only successfully closing out 11 games. His ERA was bad, but the man can punch out batters, as evidenced by his 86 strikeouts in 63 innings. And just two years ago, Givens had a 3.99 ERA but a FIP of 3.07. In other words, Givens was let down by defense and bad luck. Granted, last year’s ERA and FIP were almost identical, but there’s always a chance he finds that 2018 magic again. He has the stuff for it.
Honorable mention: RP Hunter Harvey looked fantastic in his short stint last season – watch if he challenges for the closer role or if he gets hold opportunities.
Boston Red Sox
Ryan Weber – SP
This is a deep one, but Ryan Weber looks primed for a rotation spot with the very questionable health of ace Chris Sale. Things do not look promising there. This affords Weber the opportunity to stake a claim in the rotation and run with it. The Boston Red Sox were, to say the least, underwhelming last season, having missed the playoffs as defending champions. The departure of Mookie Betts doesn’t help their chances, but again, the lineup is still very good. Weber will not dazzle with electric stuff; however, most of his pitch arsenal has excellent vertical and horizontal movement. He induces a lot of groundballs and his FIP is better than his ERA suggests. Weber doesn’t walk batters much, either, with only 21 free passes in 114.1 career innings. As an added bonus, he has seven strikeouts through five spring innings thus far. Weber could be a bargain source of wins and has added value in leagues that count strikeout-to-walk ratios. It’s likely he’ll be available until your very last pick, no matter how deep the league.
New York Yankees
Jonathan Loaisiga – SP
Like Weber, Jonathan Loaisiga will likely get a shot in the New York Yankees starting rotation thanks to injuries. With Luis Severino done for the season and James Paxton set to miss significant time, it’s Loaisiga’s time to shine. The 25-year-old right-hander has excellent stuff, backed up by his double-digit K/9 ratio at all levels the past two seasons. Loaisiga needs to improve his command, but there’s no doubt he’s got some quality pitches. His fastball and curveball spin were both well above average last year (84th percentile and 89th percentile, respectively). His fastball can hit the upper-90s with ease, and his hard sinker troubles hitters. Loaisiga’s bread and butter is his curve, though – it’s his second-most thrown pitch, and batters hit just .125 against it in 2019. If you’re looking for some high upside in the strikeout department, this is your guy. Early spring results look fantastic so far.
Honorable mention: Don’t forget about RP Adam Ottavino for potential saves should Aroldis Chapman falter – Ottavino is good for holds at the very least. SP Jordan Montgomery is another quality starter to keep an eye on – missed basically all of last year but was very good the two years prior.
Tampa Bay Rays
Ryan Yarbrough – SP/RP
Ryan Yarbrough burst onto the fantasy baseball scene last season after becoming a regular starter for the Tampa Bay Rays after the All-Star break. He finished 2019 with 11 wins in 28 total appearances (14 starts). His ERA wasn’t spectacular at 4.13, but his 3.55 FIP suggests it should have been better. He doesn’t stand out in the strikeout department, but a career 7.6 K/9 isn’t awful given his mid-to-upper 80s fastball. Where he really shines is in limiting quality contact. Yarbrough is among the very best in average exit velocity against and hard-hit percentage against. In fact, last season he was in the 100th and 99th percentiles, respectively. He rarely walks anyone, contributing to his 1.00 WHIP (.0995 to be exact). Plus in leagues that count K:BB ratios, he’s a cheap option despite his lower strikeout totals. For fantasy purposes, Yarbrough’s value is increased by the fact that he’s eligible as both a starter and a reliever. Yarbrough is a good pitcher on a good team who is falling outside of the top-200 right now in fantasy drafts.
Toronto Blue Jays
Rounding out fantasy baseball sleepers for the AL East pitchers edition is one of the biggest prospects in the game. Nate Pearson has the stuff of aces. Entering 2020, Pearson is the No. 7 overall prospect for Baseball America and is No. 8 on MLB’s Top 100 list. His 80-grade fastball can reach triple-digit speeds on a regular basis, and he also possesses a 60-grade slider and an above-average changeup. Last season, Pearson soared through the Toronto Blue Jays system, rising from A+ ball all the way to AAA. Batters hit no better than .186 against him at any level, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was consistently high. Power pitching combined with good control leads to very good things indeed. It’s no guarantee Pearson cracks the rotation immediately, but it’s expected he’ll make his debut at some point in 2020. The Blue Jays’ rotation is their weakest aspect as a team, so why not let a guy like Pearson show what he’s got? In keeper and dynasty leagues, make sure this guy is on your roster. In redrafts, it’s worth taking a risk in the final rounds.