Everyone loves to find the gems in fantasy baseball, not only because you reap the rewards of terrific return value, but because you can also brag and look smarter than your leaguemates.
Before you draft your team, make sure you have these seven sleepers highlighted on your draft boards.
Greg Bird, 1B, NYY
Bird went from overhyped in 2017 to nearly forgotten in 2018 drafts. If you’re looking for cheap power at first base, there is none better than Bird. Limited to just 48 games due to foot and ankle injuries, Bird’s overall line doesn’t look impressive (.190, 20 runs, nine home runs, 28 RBIs). After missing all of 2016 to a labrum injury as well, Bird limped through the early season before hitting the DL again, but it’s his post-DL performance that should grab your attention. Bird played 29 games after his return, hitting .253/14/8/25 with .244/5/3/6 in 13 postseason games, which would equal 68/39/123 over a 150 game season. Those home run and RBI totals are a tad out of reach, but Bird still has the ability to put up a 70/30/90 line for a fraction of the typical cost.
Trevor Story, SS, COL
While Story’s 2017 season wasn’t awful, it wasn’t close to his abbreviated 2016 debut with .272/67/27/72 and eight steals in 97 games. Story finished with .239/68/24/82/7 last year, but that took 145 games (140 more PAs) and included a significant drop in average. The good news is that Story improved in the second half, giving hope that Story can top the 30-HR threshold with a less-disappointing average. The strikeout percentage is always going to be a concern, but Colorado will always be Colorado, and a .255/80/30/90/10 season isn’t out of the question.
Nomar Mazara, OF, TEX
Mazara’s lack of fantasy support is a bit baffling, as he’s the same player we’ve seen the past two seasons. The only difference from 2016 to 2017 was a large jump in RBIs. There is one simple answer for that. In 2016, Mazara had 18 games hitting leadoff, 37 second, 36 third and 20 eighth. Last year, Mazara became the main three-hole hitter, having 96 games there with just nine combined leading off, second or eighth. In fact, 36 other games had Mazara cleanup or hitting fifth. Mazara will be the same hitter once again a slight jump in runs and HRs given the Rangers lineup and Mazara’s further development in his third season; he’s still just 23 this year. Even with a slight dip in RBIs, Mazara is a top 25 outfielder.
Christian Vazquez, C, BOS
A catching sleeper? Yep! Many people play in two-catcher leagues. And despite Vazquez playing just 99 games, he still finished as the 17th best catcher with a .293/43/5/32/7 line. That’s seven spots higher than Austin Hedges, who owners are drafting several rounds earlier. On top of that, Vazquez has a great average and chips in some speed – two qualities that are tough to find at catcher. If Vazquez can get 120 games this year, he’ll end up as a top 12 catcher, despite being the 18th catcher off the board.
Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL
Gausman’s career has been a bumpy ride, and last year was far from appealing with a 4.68 ERA and horrific 1.49 WHIP. At least the strikeouts were still there again: 179 after 174 the year before. Unfortunately, the ERA was over a run higher that it was in 2016. Fortunately, the second-half Gausman posted a 3.41 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, and his deeper stats mirrored that success. The biggest change was in getting more strikes and resulting strikeouts, as we saw his strikeout minus walk percentage go from 8.9 to 18.6. The reason for the change was Gausman’s release point adjustment and his bringing the slider back. Gausman was a different pitcher in the second half and should look more like the 2016 pitcher that was on the rise.
Mike Clevinger, SP, CLE
Based on ability, Clevinger should have never been battling Josh Tomlin for a rotation spot, but with Danny Salazar starting the season on the DL, there is no question surrounding his role. Clevinger has the ability to repeat a sub-4.00 ERA, even if he doesn’t get it all the way down to his 3.11 mark from last season. Clevinger’s real appeal is the strikeout ability with a 27.3 strikeout percentage in 2017 and the fact that he’ll top a strikeout per inning. Clevinger finished as the 39th best pitcher (both starters and relievers combined) last year and can easily top that in 2018.
Joe Musgrove, SP, PIT
It’s surprising more fantasy players aren’t excited about Musgrove being in Pittsburgh. Musgrove has nice marks, he just needs a bit of refinement and limiting of the long ball. Fortunately, Musgrove is now with pitching guru Ray Searage and in a ballpark that is much better for pitchers. Musgrove has the potential to break the 4.00 ERA barrier, drop his WHIP and post 150 strikeouts with this move to Pittsburgh. He has top 50 potential and should be inside the top 75 at worst.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com