Sleepers for Home Runs (Fantasy Baseball)
MLB’s rise of home runs and decline in stolen bases has drafters chasing speed earlier than usual. In order for this strategy to work, they must then find cheap power to keep pace in an increasingly competitive category.
Don’t want Nelson Cruz or Edwin Encarnacion because “everyone” hits 30 home runs these days? Fine, but taking Dee Gordon necessitates loading up on those sluggers in the later rounds. Even if 30 is no longer an exclusive club, 41 does not quite back up the exaggerated ease of hitting that barrier.
If anything, there’s more pressure to locate 25-30 homer producers on the cheap. Joey Gallo, Matt Olson, Kyle Schwarber, Greg Bird, and Mike Zunino offer immense upside for drafters willing to stomach a low batting average, but let’s dig a little deeper for some late unheralded power picks who are all commonly available outside the top-200 picks.
Randal Grichuk (OF – TOR)
Randal Grichuk can crush the ball. It’s just a matter of putting the whole package together to stay on the field. While brandishing a .488 career slugging percentage, the 26-year-old also wields a .297 on-base percentage with a 5.8 walk and 29.9 strikeout percentage. After getting demoted in each of the last two seasons, he will receive a fresh start away from the Cardinals. Instead of playing on an impatient squad with a deep farm, he’ll play for a Blue Jays team that has embraced pull-hitting righties. He’ll also leave Busch Field – the fifth-hardest locale for a righty to clear the fences – for the Rogers Centre.
Grichuk whiffs too often with too much weak contact to duplicate 2015’s .276 batting average without considerably good fortune. Yet when he got hold of a baseball, he demolished it with a 40.2 hard-hit percentage and 10.8 value-hit rate (batted balls nearly guaranteed to generate a hit). One doesn’t need to squint to envision a .250, 30-homer campaign, which would make him a steal at his current 315.8 consensus ADP.
Those not confident in Grichuk’s abilities can instead stash Teoscar Hernandez as a reserve flier. Before Toronto stockpiled its outfield with fresh faces, he looked poised to garner sleeper buzz with eight September home runs and a 11.6 value-hit percentage that tied Olson for third behind Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez.
Lucas Duda (1B – KC)
It feels like cheating to pick someone who just submitted another 30-homer campaign, but the prevalence of power is epitomized by everyone’s apathy toward Lucas Duda. In his last three healthy seasons, the hulking lefty has smashed 30, 27, and 30 long balls, respectively. For just $3.5 million, the Royals replaced Eric Hosmer with a first baseman who owns a higher career OPS (.796) and wRC+ (121). At the very least, he should play every day against righties, against whom he touts a career .842 OPS.
A ridiculously low 447.5 consensus ADP surely must rise now that the 32-year-old has a team and role. Or maybe not. His 410 ADP in March NFBC drafts offers no hint of the market correcting course and taking the power discount. Everyone is instead shying away from a .217 average, 50 runs and 64 RBIs that made him a one-category contributor in a category no longer as difficult to fill. He’s also a career .242 hitter who levied a 42.1 hard-hit rate last year, so Duda can easily uptick his average by 20-25 points. If he hits .240 with another 30 home runs, there’s no way he’s only driving in just 64 runs again. There’s injury risk with little untapped upside, but take the power in deeper leagues if he keeps going 200-plus picks after Chris Davis.
Matt Chapman (3B – OAK)
Drafters apparently only have enough capacity to consider one rookie A’s corner infielder named “Matt” who mashed last summer. While Olson challenges for top-100 positioning, Matt Chapman holds a 310.3 consensus ADP. His price also varies considerably by site. He holds a hefty 208 ADP on ESPN, but CBS (353) and Yahoo (388) drafters can purchase him with a bench slot.
After mashing his way to the majors with 16 homers and a .937 OPS in Triple-A, the third baseman smacked 14 more long balls in 84 games for Oakland. He also displayed a 9.8 walk percentage and defensive mastery that gives him more job security than the typical slugger (see Grichuk above). Chapman is going to play regularly, which means he’ll have little trouble pummeling 25-30 long balls with the potential for more. He’s certainly an average concern after accruing a .224 xAVG last year, but that risk is baked into his cost everywhere besides ESPN. Those eyeing Olson near Round 10 for his power and batting eye should redirect their direction across Oakland’s infield.
Marcus Semien (SS – OAK)
Let’s stay on the left side of Oakland’s infield for another cheap power source. While a wrist injury sapped his slugging percentage to a career-low .398 last year, Marcus Semien only needed 85 games to record 10 homers and a career-high 12 stolen bases. Even if he doesn’t gain back all of 2016’s 27 long balls, the shortstop should return to at least 20 with an accompanying double-digit steals in a full season.
That’s a good deal at his 283 consensus ADP below the likes of Addison Russell, Tim Beckham, and Gleyber Torres. With prior health and three years of a remarkably similar wOBA and wRC+ in the .311-.315 and 96-98 ranges, respectively, Semien is safer than the typical bounce-back play. He’s a great late bargain for anyone needing some middle-infield pop.
Austin Hedges (C – SD)
The respect paid to Austin Hedges at first didn’t make sense. Despite hitting .214 with a .262 on-base percentage and 29.3 strikeout rate, he’s going as the 18th catcher with a 294.3 ADP. Upon further review, there are reasons to invest as a second catcher with a higher ceiling than most of his contemporaries.
Only seven catchers topped his 18 home runs in 2017. Most of them were among the dozen with more plate appearances than his 417, and Hedges has pad-locked job security due to defense and a lack of competition. In 2016, he batted .326/.353/.597 with 21 homers in 82 Triple-A games, so don’t assume the 25-year-old will never amount to more than an empty 15-20 long balls. Because of their extra responsibilities behind the plate, young backstops typically take more time to develop as hitters.
Hedges’s revamped swing has paid early dividends with four spring home runs, and his five walks are an encouraging sign after earning 23 free passes last season. Don’t expect a monster breakout, but he’s worth grabbing in two-catcher leagues before Kurt Suzuki, Russell Martin, and Matt Wieters.
Deep HR Sleepers
- Jabari Blash (OF – LAA)
- Wilmer Flores (1B/2B/3B – NYM)
- Austin Hays (OF – BAL)
- Teoscar Hernandez (OF – TOR)
- Jake Marisnick (OF – HOU)
- Drew Robinson (3B/OF – TEX)
- Ryan Schimpf (2B – TBR)
- Jorge Soler (OF – KC)