Sleepers for RBIs (Fantasy Baseball)

by Shane McDonald
Mar 12, 2018

Searching for different areas late in categories or roto leagues has a certain art to it. It’s easy to find the players that will help you in power or speed, but how often are we talking about the guys that drive in runs consistently? It’s usually considered a secondary skill. If a guy hits for big power, he’s expected to produce RBIs. Unfortunately, there are situations where that isn’t the case. Mike Moustakas had a modest 85 RBIs for the 38 home runs he hit in 2017. The reasoning for these anomalies is difficult to discover. It could be the result of a bad lineup or a general lack of opportunity. This may have been the case for a player like Moustakas. The problem here is that some of it could just be bad luck and unexplainable. The last thing discussed in the analytics era is the idea of a clutch player, but there are players that consistently drive in more runs and their contributions to a category are just as valuable as the batting average studs or leadoff hitters that produce runs.

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Willie Calhoun (LF – TEX)
A favorite sleeper in general, Calhoun brings tremendous upside in several categories. ZiPS projects for him to have 93 RBIs with 28 HRs. Most projection systems have him with a .800+ OPS, and he possesses the plate discipline to hit for an average north of .270. His poor defense could hurt his chances of winning the left field job, but if he could even be below-average in the field, his bat could be valuable enough to keep him in the lineup every day. His RBI opportunities could be curbed by his initial low spot in the batting order, but his performance could easily bump him up a month into the season. Calhoun’s current ADP is 267, and he is being drafted as the 71st outfielder off the board. He’s basically free in and worth the investment even if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training.

Jose Martinez (1B/LF/RF – STL)
There’s no doubting that Jose Martinez can hit. Many experts are making comparisons to J.D. Martinez, but the fantasy community hasn’t seemed to notice with his ADP currently at 298. The projections are conservative on at-bats, so that could be the hesitation. The Cardinals always seem to outperform their talent level and now they’ve added Marcell Ozuna to the middle of their order. He could easily be one of the best picks of any draft. This is assuming that he even gets drafted at all. He had a 37% hard contact rate last season and had a near 21% HR/FB rate. Matt Carpenter is slated to play first base now, but his health is a huge question mark. Martinez looks like the next late breakout star for the Cardinals similar to Tommy Pham, but it all comes down to how often he plays. I’m willing to bet on the talent and take a late flier.

Josh Bell (1B – PIT)
Josh Bell will likely see plenty of opportunities hitting behind Starling Marte for an entire season. A .278 BABIP suggests there is positive regression coming for his batting average which could ultimately lead to more runs driven in. He hit the ball on the ground over 51% of the time last year, so there’s a chance this is just what he is. It would be nice to see him lift the ball more, but Bell’s 90 RBIs in 2017 are exciting and there aren’t many threats to knock in that many runs available at pick 170.

Greg Bird (1B – NYY)
Greg Bird-mania spread through fantasy drafts in 2017, but an ankle injury derailed his season. He showed what he could do when healthy with a .231 ISO. He’s going to strike out, he’s going to walk, and he’s going to hit for power. He regularly hits over 50% fly balls and is going to be hitting behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. The average drag is built into his price, so your interest may depend on the makeup of your team. If Bird stays healthy, he could be a nice RBI source found around pick 155.

Logan Morrison (1B – MIN)
Logan Morrison makes the move to Minnesota where it looks like he could hit cleanup behind Miguel Sano and rack up RBIs. He may be thankful leaving Tropicana Field where he only hit 35 of his 85 RBIs last year. There’s reason to believe in the regression, but that is baked into the price. He was batting lower in the lineup and wasn’t moved into the cleanup spot with Tampa until May last year. A full season in a run-producing lineup spot could see that RBI total spike to a valuable level. 

Miguel Sano (1B/3B/DH – MIN)
Miguel Sano is probably on most busts lists among fantasy experts. The more it is written, the more his value is going to slip in drafts. Sano is potentially facing a suspension for off-field issues and is coming off major surgery on his leg after a stress reaction in 2017. He could have been on his way to that career year we’ve been waiting on before the injury. He put up 28 HRs and 77 RBIs in only 483 at-bats. I’m still willing to scoop him up if his price falls far enough because the upside is so high. Pair him with a third baseman with a little more stability and reap the rewards.

Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN)
After 2016, it looked like Eugenio Suarez was a decent regular for Cincinnati that probably wouldn’t offer much in fantasy circles. Then came 2017, where he increased his stat line in every major category. The most impressive part is his plate discipline. He increased his walk percentage to 13% and decreased his strikeouts. He’s becoming a more complete hitter and he hits in an order that is not as bad as you might think. Assuming Bryan Price uses Jesse Winker at the top of the lineup, Suarez could be hitting behind OBP studs Winker and Votto. He knocked in 82 RBIs last year and could be on his way for more.

Austin Hays (CF/RF – BAL)
Austin Hays hit 95 RBIs across Single-A and Double-A ball in the Orioles system last year and had a near 24% line drive rate at Double-A. He’s not going to walk much for OBP leagues, but he projects to hit about .270 and have 20-HR power. Scanning through the projections this offseason, none may shock you more than the ZiPS projection of 88 RBIs for Hays. This is nearly impossible if he starts the year in Triple-A, and he has been struggling with a lat injury in Spring Training. If he finds a way to win an outfield spot with the Orioles, this could be the best pick of your draft. If he doesn’t, keep him on your watch list. He could be a difference maker when he arrives.

Matt Kemp (LF – LAD)
ZiPS has him at 91 RBIs and he totaled over 100 in both 2015 and 2016. The Braves shipped him out of town and it looks like the Dodgers have tried to do the same. Right now there are no takers and really the Dodgers don’t have great options in left field. Most experts are writing him off and assuming he doesn’t make the team, but there is a real chance that he ends up starting in left field on Opening Day and actually contributes in this explosive lineup.

Maikel Franco (3B – PHI)
This is probably the most accurate example of a post-hype sleeper there has ever been. Just two years ago, he was tabbed as the next fantasy star and the foundation of the Phillies rebuild. Then came a disappointing 2016 and an even worse 2017. He’s still 25 years old and is projected to hit behind Rhys Hoskins. Carlos Santana adds even more punch the lineup and maybe Franco feels less pressure to perform every night. His BABIP was ridiculously unlucky at .234 in 2017, so there has to be some bounce-back potential. He did have 88 RBIs in 2016, so the ceiling is pretty high. Of course, the floor is also J.P. Crawford potentially sliding over to third base and taking his job early in the season.

Justin Bour (1B – MIA)
First Base is such a deep position that a player like Bour goes unnoticed. In only 429 at-bats, he put up 83 RBIs and mashed 25 HRs with a .247 ISO. It has to be said that the 2018 Marlins don’t look like the 2017 version, but Bour is going to be the foundation of this lineup. Many of the runs that do score will likely come as a result of his at-bats. He is injury prone, but almost every pick after 180 has warts.

Evan Longoria (3B – SF)
Sure, Longoria is 32 years old and going to the best pitcher’s park in the league, but he is also going to slide down to the fourth in the lineup and hit behind Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen. Three of the last four years have seen his HR total sit around the 20 mark, but one thing he does consistently in drive in runs. Four of the last five years he has hit at least 86 RBIs and drove in 98 as recent as 2016. The name brand doesn’t deliver what it used to, but it doesn’t cost as much either. He is currently being drafted on average at pick 188.

Matt Chapman (3B – OAK)
Matt Chapman’s profile looks similar to Matt Olson but he is being drafted about 200 picks later. Projection systems have him hitting over 25 HRs and over 70 RBIs. He strikes out at a ton but had a 50% FB rate in 2017. That may seem like a small sample size stat, but his minor league numbers tell a similar story. He also had a 50% FB rate in Triple-A and it was 60% in 2016. He has a first-round pedigree and is completely flying under the radar at an average ADP of 310.

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Shane McDonald is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Shane, check out his archive or follow him @coachshanemac.

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