At long last, it’s time for baseball again! This means it’s time for Fantasy Baseball Sleepers. 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.
Check out the AL East batters here.
Note: All position eligibilities and ADP figures courtesy of FantasyPros. All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless noted otherwise.
AL Central Fantasy Baseball Sleepers
Chicago White Sox
Nick Madrigal – 2B/SS
As things stand right now, there’s no guarantee Nick Madrigal will crack the Chicago White Sox Opening Day roster. Even if he makes it, there’s no guarantee he’ll see regular playing time. FanGraphs has Leury Garcia projected to be the everyday second baseman, though it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that it’s Madrigal sooner rather than later. Madrigal is not big and will not provide any power whatsoever.
However, he’s considered by some to be the best hitter among all prospects, almost never strikes out (three percent strikeout rate so far as a pro), and has 60-grade baserunning ability. Not to mention Gold Glove-caliber defensive potential. All of these things lead one to believe Madrigal is the future of the White Sox at second base.
In 42 Double-A games last season, Madrigal slashed .341/.400/.451. In 29 AAA games, his line was .331/.398/.424. Across all levels in 2019 (A+, AA, and AAA), Madrigal struck out only 16 times total and stole 35 bases. It may be a slight gamble, but a late-round stab at a guy who could feasibly hit atop the potent White Sox lineup is worth a shot.
Franmil Reyes – OF/DH
Franmil Reyes is locked in as the designated hitter for the Cleveland Indians this season. The power upside here is phenomenal. He qualifies as a sleeper pick simply because you could fade more popular picks and land Reyes somewhere around No. 150 overall. According to ZiPs projections, Reyes should hit more homers than J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, Eloy Jimenez, Jorge Soler, Nelson Cruz, and the list goes on.
That’s not to say Reyes is overall a more valuable player than those listed (Yelich is easily a consensus top-three pick), but you could beef up other positions and still land a massively powerful outfield bat later in the draft. The 24-year-old hit baseballs very hard very consistently last season, finishing in the top six percent for barrel percentage. Reyes also finished in the 99th and 98th percentiles in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, respectively (check out his Baseball Savant profile here).
Some owners may be a little down on him after he blasted 25 homers before the All-Star break but only 12 after. Plus his strikeout rate increased to almost 31 percent in the second half. Still, the power and RBI potential is seriously high. Reyes won’t exactly help your average, but last season’s xBA of .264 suggests he shouldn’t hurt too much, either.
Honorable mention: OF Domingo Santana has proven to be a cheap source of runs, power, and speed in the past – playing for the Indians instead of the Mariners could help boost production.
C.J. Cron – 1B
If not for injury, C.J. Cron might have had a breakout 2019 season. He finished with 25 home runs in 120 games – paced out to 162 games, he would have reached a career-high 34. Cron still managed to set a career mark with 78 RBIs last season. As a new member of the Detroit Tigers, his RBI outlook doesn’t look nearly as good in 2020.
But don’t let that deter you from targeting him later in drafts as a good source of power at first base. Cron saw the ball well last season, barrelling 15 percent of the time, which was in the top five percent of the league. His expected slugging percentage was .548, good for the top ten percent.
All signs from last season’s performance point toward sustained success this year – he increased his hard-hit rate from 36.6 percent in 2018 to 44.6 percent in 2019 while also decreasing his strikeout rate from 25.9 percent to 21.6 percent. Cron has matured as a hitter every year of his MLB career so far, showing growth in xSLG every time. Furthermore, each season his chase rate has gone down. Look for big things from Cron in 2020.
Honorable mention: 2B Jonathan Schoop was an All-Star in 2017 and still has good pop for a second baseman – age is still on his side, and he’s not a bad middle infield option in the later rounds.
Kansas City Royals
Maikel Franco – 3B
Deep sleeper alert: last season wasn’t the best we’ve seen from Maikel Franco. The long-time Phillie is now with the Kansas City Royals and should get an everyday opportunity at the hot corner. Barring injury, Franco could be a deep, sneaky fantasy baseball sleepers pick.
His ADP is virtually off the board. He batted .270 and hit 22 homers a couple of seasons ago, but his stock has slipped after 2019’s slash line of .234/.297/.409. Franco had just 17 home runs and 56 RBIs. To add salt to the wound, he compiled a -0.8 WAR. Not a good look from a 27-year-old veteran.
On the bright side, he’ll get a fresh start on a new team with not much to lose. Last season’s .236 BABIP at least provides some hope that better numbers are in store in 2020. Franco is probably not draftable in a 10- or 12-team league unless lineups are deep and offer versatility with either 1B/3B slots or a corner infield slot. But in the right league, he could provide some solid return for the price.
Honorable mention: SS Bobby Witt Jr. is one to watch in keeper and dynasty leagues – currently listed as the No. 10 overall prospect on MLB.com but with a 2022 ETA.
Byron Buxton – OF
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, and it feels like this has been talked about for a decade, but a full season of Byron Buxton could reap huge rewards for fantasy baseball owners. Few possess his combination of power and elite speed, as one would think he’s capable of 15 homers and 25 or more steals.
Only seven players did that in 2019. Back in 2017, Buxton hit 16 bombs and swiped 29 bases in 140 games played. Last season, Buxton missed time in June, all but one day in August, and most of September. In 87 games, he slashed .262/.314/.513, hitting 10 homers, driving in 46, and stealing 14 bases. If we pace that out to 162 games, that’s 19 homers, 86 RBIs, and 26 steals.
Let’s not forget the Minnesota Twins lineup he’ll be a part of. One that, although it looks a little different this season, set an MLB record in homers. As a team, the Twins were first in runs driven in and second in team batting average. That’s a lot of opportunities for a speedster like Buxton to score. Buxton is definitely a risky pick, but at his current ADP of No. 180 overall, the potential reward is worthwhile.
Honorable mentions: 2B/3B/OF Luis Arraez is an excellent pick to boost your batting average, just don’t expect any contributions elsewhere. 3B Miguel Sano is still a thunderous bat being drafted relatively late for the R/HR/RBI potential he provides (career-high 76 runs, 34 HR, and 79 RBI in just 105 games in 2019).
Thanks for reading this edition of fantasy baseball sleepers, AL Central hitters edition! Be sure to check out the links in the intro for AL East batters and pitchers. AL Central pitchers coming soon!