Finding the 2019 Sleeper Hitters (aka The Search for Narco)

It is easy to draft a stud in the first few rounds of your fantasy baseball draft. Take the highest ranked player in the draft queue and there’s a decent chance he will be a great player for your team. How you will win your drafts is finding those high-value players at discounted prices. That is, of course, easier said than done. I’ve been using a system over the past ten years here that gives you a decent chance of hitting bullseye with some of the darts you’ll throw in the later rounds of your drafts.

I wish I could tell you that there was one perfect formula that predicted every single sleeper that would ever come our way but, alas, I have not found that yet. My system will at least generate a small number of names that should deliver at least a handful of breakouts at a low price. It’s a numbers game. Much like my search for sleeper pitchers, I established various cold benchmarks that decide which players are on my list of sleeper hitters each year.

Using these benchmarks, I usually get a list of 5 to 10 sleepers each season that are drafted in the later rounds at a low cost but with a chance of blowing up. Here are some of the players from previous years who took a leap ahead after meeting my criteria (with their draft position change noted):

  • 2018 – Jesus Aguilar (went from 537 ADP to 80 ADP)
  • 2017 – Andrew Benintendi (from 127 to 41 ADP), Byron Buxton (143 to 49 ADP), Domingo Santana (255 to 99 ADP)
  • 2016 – Jonathan Villar (from 345 to 21 ADP), Jackie Bradley Jr. (319 to 145 ADP), Wil Myers (208 to 54 ADP)
  • 2015 – Mookie Betts (from 113 to 18 ADP), David Peralta (395 to 114 ADP), A.J. Pollock (was 183 ADP, had a great season but was injured next year)
  • 2014 – Charlie Blackmon (from 450 to 96 ADP), Yan Gomes (268 to 120 ADP), Kole Calhoun (215 to 79 ADP)
  • 2013 – Matt Carpenter (from 375 to 56 ADP)
  • 2012 – Paul Goldschmidt (from 168 to 49 ADP), Josh Reddick (386 to 167 ADP), Jason Kipnis (184 to 66 ADP), Allen Craig (322 to 56 ADP), Todd Frazier (450 to 178 ADP), Salvador Perez (316 to 140 ADP)

Of course, some years are better than others. The point remains that each year has at least one player break through from this list. “How is this list generated and who is on it this year,” you ask? Okay, let’s discuss.

The Method Behind My Sleeper System

The sleepers I am looking for are those that are young and still proving themselves and, thus, not in the mind of the public yet. I’ve found that players without a full season of playing time are generally undervalued because they don’t have those gaudy stat lines that a 600 PA season shows off. When filtering down my list of sleeper candidates each year, I start by looking for these type of players:

  • Less than 400 plate appearances last year
  • Less than 900 career plate appearances going into this year
  • 27 years old or younger
  • Not being drafted in the Top 100 players

That gives me a list of young players who are standing on the fringe of fantasy baseball minds. From there, I want to narrow it down to those who look poised to make the jump this year. To do so, I calculate a Fantasy Points Per Plate Appearance (FPPPA) stat for all players. The fantasy points are based off weighting certain stats that are relevant for fantasy success. I then translate the FPPPA into z-scores to see how far above/below average each player was for that year. For my sleeper list, I take my filters mentioned above and then look for which players were at least 0.50 standard deviations above average in that FPPPA.

Who Meets the Criteria in 2019?

There’s a large number of players who met the criteria this year. In most years, I mentioned earlier that we might see 5 to 10 players. There were only 6 players last year, for instance (with most of them falling in an undraftable range). This year? We have an abundance of options. There are 13 players who fit the bill. I’ve broken them into categories based on their average draft position.

The Draftable Sleepers

  • Shohei Ohtani (LAA, DH) – 155 ADP
  • Ramon Laureano (OAK, OF) – 226 ADP
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (TOR, 2B) – 237 ADP
  • Franmil Reyes (SD, OF) – 243 ADP
  • Willy Adames (TB, 2B) – 265 ADP

To state the obvious, Shohei Ohtani is a complete mystery due to his injury and recovery. Yes, he will play DH a bit this year but, no, I don’t want to draft him at 155 ADP and deal with that uncertainty. He’s on this list due to math but I don’t feel compelled to reach for him. Ramon Laureano though? Hell yes. He’s got tools in all areas and could be a 20/20 type player at a low cost. With a 226 ADP, he’s worth a gamble. It’s looking quite possible that Franmil Reyes may be the cleanup hitter for the Padres this season and, yes, that’s good news for fantasy owners. He has 30+ HR potential and he’s being drafted late, mainly because of his uncertain role which is seemingly becoming less uncertain. Now is the time to buy low. Willy Adames is an intriguing prospect with a low price tag. He’s got a little bit of everything going for him but not a lot of anything. He’s not quite a 20/20 hitter but he’s close. I’d be willing to draft a 15/15 player at a 265 ADP though and see if he goes beyond that.

Sleepers for Deeper Drafts

  • Ryan O’Hearn (KC, 1B) – 288 ADP
  • Jeff McNeil (NYM, 2B) – 307 ADP
  • Tyler O’Neill (STL, OF) – 334 ADP
  • Franchy Cordero (SD, OF) – 367 ADP

These are players that may be end-of-draft picks in smaller leagues or bench picks in deep leagues. In a recent FantasyPros article, I wrote about my hopes that Ryan O’Hearn would have a big spring again this year. He’s been doing well thus far. If he can crack the Opening Day starting lineup, he has the ceiling of player who could hit 30 HR. Jeff McNeil looks destined to take on a utility role with the Mets but has high batting average potential. In a perfect world, Tyler O’Neill would have a clear full-time role and hit for .300 while swatting 30 HR, but his role is not clear with the Cardinals yet. Keep an eye on his situation though because if he somehow gets a solid role in the OF there then he’s a solid breakout candidate. Meanwhile, Franchy Cordero represents a nice 20/20 type player that, once again, is waiting on an opportunity. The Padres have their OF spots filled, so he’s mainly one to keep an eye on. From this list, O’Neill and Cordero are the most exciting prospects to me, so jump on them if their role becomes more developed.

Players To Watch After Draft Day

  • Brandon Lowe (TB, 2B) – 390 ADP
  • Ji-Man Choi (TB, DH) – 456 ADP
  • Jake Cave (MIN, OF) – 423 ADP
  • Tyler Austin (MIN, 1B/DH) – 522 ADP

Every single one of these players is dripping with question marks, but also potential. Last year, we saw Jesus Aguilar in a similar position until he eventually found a firm place with the Brewers. I would recommend keeping a close eye on these players in the months ahead and jumping on them if they show any signs of life.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    El Loco
    March 14, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Awesome! Thanks Luke…

  • Reply
    Dougie
    March 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Luke – your work is nothing short of spectacular. I’m a fantasy sports junkie and I probably read 10+ fantasy articles a day year round and your Narco articles are without a doubt the best thing I read all year. Thank you for your awesome work!

    Now its time for me to go trade for all of these players! Haha

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