8 Post-Hype Sleepers (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
At one point in the not-so-distant past, all of the following players were once Shiny New Toys. We drafted them with glee, expecting league-winning breakouts. Instead, like essentially every does in their 20s, they faced adversity.
Rather than exerting patience, drafters typically move onto the next rookies. That creates a major buying opportunity for players in their second, third, or fourth year who once inspired sky-high expectations. Last season, Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Lucas Giolito, Ketel Marte, Josh Bell, and (when healthy) Tyler Glasnow all dazzled at discount ADPs. Let’s explore some post-hype sleepers capable of following in their footsteps.
Standard Mixed Leagues
Ian Happ (2B/OF – CHC)
Around this time last year, the Cubs shockingly demoted Happ to Triple-A. This came on the heels of a down year in which he still posted a 106 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR through 462 plate appearances.
This is typically where the motivated big leaguer obliterates the minors to end his quick detour. Not the case here. Happ hit a meandering .242/.362/.432 in the minors, where he stayed until late July. Back in the majors, however, the spark finally lit. In just 164 plate appearances, the former No. 9 overall draft pick batted .264/.333/.564 with 11 homers.
Striking out in one-quarter of his plate appearances marked a considerable improvement from the prior year’s horrid 36.1% clip. The personal high in batting average occurred despite also accruing his worst BABIP (.286) in three seasons. It certainly wasn’t a result of weak contact. His 9.0% rate of barrels per batted-ball event positioned right above Cody Bellinger while his average exit velocity on fly balls and live drives (95.5) matched that of Moncada.
The 25-year-old should, at worst, get a full season of starting reps against righties. While batting average will never be an asset, Happ teased the skills necessary to limit the damage and reminded everyone of his 30-homer upside. He’s also stolen 29 bases across all levels in the last three years. When also adding multi-position eligibility in some formats (15 games in OF, 13 at 2B, 8 at 3B, and 7 at 1B), Happ makes the perfect dice roll for any bench.
Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA)
This is definitely a case where the hype waned for good reasons. Four years into his career, Bundy has registered a 4.67 ERA and 4.73 FIP. During that stretch, only three pitchers (Justin Verlander, Mike Fiers, and Rick Porcello) have relinquished more home runs.
His company is even bleaker when instead sorting by home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9):
As Shakespeare once said, a Chris Archer by any other name still destroys your ERA.
And yet, the slider. Oh, what a wondrous slider. The pitch has induced a swinging-strike rate above 20% each and every season. As a result, he’s punched out over a batter per frame in back-to-back seasons.
For @Angels fans, here's a look at Dylan Bundy's slider that you just traded for.
It's a beauty. pic.twitter.com/3qVWwVX9Ez
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) December 4, 2019
While his four-seam fastball is disastrous, he’s bumped down the usage rate every season. Perhaps a new team can find the right recipe. Rather than trying to turn him into Patrick Corbin, the Angels are working with Bundy to improve his heater’s location. The early results are promising; he tallied 16 strikeouts to one walk and four hits in 11.2 spring innings.
It also could be as simple as escaping Camden Yards for a far friendlier pitcher’s park. At least he’s unlikely to go 7-14 again behind an actual playoff contender. His stock is rising this month, but Bundy still has the stuff to make good on his high ceiling.
Austin Hays (OF – BAL)
Hays hit like Willie Mays back in 2017, evenly dividing 32 homers across 128 Single-A and Double-A games (64 apiece) while collectively batting .328. The hype was understandably through the roof for 2018 drafts. Instead of forcing his way into Baltimore’s lineup, however, the outfield notched a .271 OBP in Double-A.
Recovered from an ankle injury that limited him to just 75 games, Hays hardly regained all past excitement with a .254/.304/.454 Triple-A slash line last season. Like Happ, he nevertheless ran with a late big-league showcase. Back in Baltimore for the first time since a late 2017 cup of coffee, the 24-year-old batted .304/.573/.574 in 75 plate appearances.
Yeah, yeah … small sample. I get it. But as a pessimist at heart, sometimes it’s nice to look on the bright side. Hays has already displayed a prodigious blend of contact and power. He also stole 11 bases across all levels last season. The Orioles might need to fill their outfield with a tumbleweed, so the righty should get all the playing time he can handle. It might even come in the heart of their lineup.
A 25-homer, 10-steal campaign with solid marks elsewhere is within reach, but a 314.2 ADP indicates drafters are slow to rejoin the bandwagon.
Francisco Mejia (C – SD)
Danny Jansen nearly stole this spot, but a standout spring may elevate his value enough to rightfully lose the post-hype level. (To be fair, this same fear applies to Bundy.) Let’s instead highlight Mejia, the 19th catcher in terms of consensus ADP despite finally coming to life last summer.
Don’t bank on the second-half version sticking around in full force. Too high a launch angle without the hard hits yielded a .229 expected batting average and .285 expected wOBA on Statcast. Yet let’s remember that Mejia was often lauded as baseball’s best hitting prospect behind the plate when working through Cleveland’s farm. While yet to brandish his contact skills in San Diego, he hit .295 with a 17.7% strikeout rate in the minors.
The metrics don’t support a rise in last year’s .265 average, or even a repeat. Then again, we’ve only seen 320 career plate appearances out of a 24-year-old who should have earned a full-time 2020 role. He’s a nice gamble for managers in 12-team mixed leagues who defer catchers until the end.
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS – COL)
A trendy sleeper last year, Rodgers couldn’t carve out a spot in Colorado’s lineup. In scarce opportunities, he didn’t tally a home run or steal in 25 games. Before he could right the ship, the infielder underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.
This seems like a good time to remind everyone that Rodgers is still a top hitting prospect who plays for the Rockies. The 23-year-old batted .350/.412/.622 in Triple-A last year and had previously displayed some proclivity on the basepaths. He’ll need to prove healthy just to top Colorado’s waiting list, but it’s not hard to envision a Daniel Murphy injury, Garrett Hampson flop, or midseason Nolan Arenado trade paving the path to playing time.
Jorge Mateo (2B/SS – OAK)
The rare post-hype sleeper yet to step foot in the majors, Mateo looked like the next Billy Hamilton — back when that seemed like a good thing — when swiping 82 steals across two Single-A levels in 2015. The buzz stalled and eventually cratered when he sported an anemic 62 wRC+ for Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate in 2018.
For the same squad last year, he batted .280 with 19 homers and 25 steals. Count the power bump as a product of last year’s environment (exasperated to comic levels in Triple-A), but the impact speedster is still fighting Franklin Barreto for a starting job at second base. Both are likely to make the squad since they’re out of options, so either one meets the post-hype level. Mateo, however, could make a bigger impact in steals if given the opportunity.
Freddy Peralta (SP/RP – MIL)
Peralta will probably remain the ultimate tease. Despite his 30% strikeout rate and 3.96 FIP, he’s gotten clobbered to 4.79 ERA in 163.1 career frames. The Brewers nevertheless plan to use the 23-year-old in some capacity, as they awarded him a four-year, $15.5 million extension.
It should be in the bullpen. Last September, he struck out 20 of 38 batters faced as a reliever. If a new slider becomes a usable piece of his arsenal, Peralta could emerge as a 100-strikeout weapon from the pen, perhaps piggybacking off an opener.
Alex Reyes (SP/RP – STL)
Once arguably baseball’s premier pitching prospect, Reyes has since undergone season-ending Tommy John and tendon surgeries in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Health is a major question mark, and his role is also a mystery. But Miles Mikolas is hurt, so maybe he gets a chance to start. Or better yet, maybe moving Carlos Martinez back to the rotation gives the 25-year-old Reyes a window to winning the closer’s role in 2020. It’s a major long shot, but one that could pay off in an NL-only or deep draft and hold.