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Consensus Sleepers from 30 Experts (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 11, 2020

Don’t sleep on Josh James’ enormous potential this season

We’re officially in the MLB Draft season, folks! The fantasy landscape changed significantly thanks to a very hectic offseason that saw a plethora of names wind up on different squads, impacting depth chart situations all around the league. The landscape figures to change even more though thanks to a large influx of young talent entering the player pool as well. Which players going deep in drafts figure to benefit the most from these changes?

To solve that question, we’ve polled 30 experts on which hitters and starting pitchers had the best chance of finishing far ahead of their draft cost and asked each pundit to explain who their favorite sleeper is heading into the season. Here’s what they had to say.

Want to see all the votes? Click here to view which experts participated and who they voted for.

Note: Hitter and pitcher ADP values are as of March 10.

Top Consensus Sleepers (Poll of 30 Experts)

Josh James SP/RP HOU 4 SP78 SP82
Dansby Swanson SS ATL 3 H132 H165
Mitch Keller SP PIT 3 SP64 SP76
Nick Senzel 2B/OF CIN 3 H134 H132
Dylan Cease SP CWS 2 SP90 SP116
Garrett Richards SP SD 2 SP82 SP115
Jordan Montgomery SP NYY 2 SP119 SP101
Jose Urquidy SP/RP HOU 2 SP59 SP65
Justin Upton OF LAA 2 H107 H122
Zach Plesac SP CLE 2 SP126 SP106

Players who received one vote were: Tom Murphy, Joey Lucchesi, Lewis Brinson, Jon Duplantier, Miguel Andujar, Alex Wood, J.P. Crawford, Kyle Gibson, Trent Grisham, Andrew Heaney, Brian Anderson, Zach Eflin, Luke Voit, Nathan Eovaldi, Jonathan Schoop, Michael Kopech, Mauricio Dubon, Adrian Houser, Jorge Alfaro, Wade Miley, Jo Adell, Dylan Bundy, Austin Hays, Yonny Chirinos, Luis Arraez, Austin Riley, Mike Tauchman, Avisail Garcia, Ian Happ, Wil Myers, C.J. Cron, Nick Madrigal, Domingo Santana, Nomar Mazara  

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Q. Who is the player you expect to be this year’s biggest fantasy sleeper and why?

Josh James (SP/RP – HOU) 
“James, who has a 2.20 ERA in four career big league starts, has the inside track for the final starting spot in the Houston Astros’ rotation. The Astros have completely remade his delivery this offseason, attempting to trim his 13.3 percent walk rate. James lights up the radar gun with pitches reaching 100 MPH and posted a 14.7 K/9, whiffing batters at a superb 37.6% strikeout rate, including an elite 16.2 swinging-strike percentage. The right-hander is an intoxicating late-round sleeper who is being drafted as the 109th pitcher in fantasy drafts. James has immense potential with 200+ strikeouts and is a budding ace this season.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

“This fire-balling 26-year-old should have ample opportunity to break into the Astros’ rotation early in the season and may even have the job on Opening Day. Josh James has posted truly elite strikeout numbers over the last two seasons at the highest levels — as a reliever in Houston he posted a 37.6% K-rate across 61.1 innings. While his walk rate (13.2%) left a little to be desired, he still has a top offense behind him, which should lead to wins. James has enormous upside and is currently being drafted as the 109th pitcher off the board.”
– Bill Dubiel (RotoBaller)

“I was hoping that Josh James was going to get a spot in the Astros’ rotation last season, but he was injured in spring training and ended up starting the year in the bullpen. He remained there all season and there were thoughts that James was destined for a career in the pen. This offseason, the Astros decided to revamp his delivery and give him a shot at winning a rotation spot. James had a 37% strikeout rate last season and I can easily see him getting 10+ wins and 150+ Ks if he becomes the team’s fifth starter.”
– Dr. Roto (FullTime Fantasy)

Dansby Swanson (SS – ATL) 
“In a healthy first half of the 2019 season, former No. 1 overall pick, Swanson, batted .270 with 17 HRs and seven steals. Extrapolated across 650 healthy ABs, his batting line stands at .270/29/12 with solid production in runs and RBIs, as well. Swanson hits the ball hard, cut down his strikeout rate to 20%, and has the speed to steal 20+ bases if given the green light. Entering his age-26 season healthy with an ADP of 270, Swanson is primed to have a huge season and will be a top-50 draft pick heading into 2021.”
– Michael Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

Dansby Swanson was putting it together last year and showed a pretty sizeable leap in xwOBA from .278 to .347. He also cut down his chase rate by about 9%. Overall, you might look at last year’s line as kind of bland, but keep in mind he was limited by a heel injury sustained in late July, which may have held him back. I think there really could be something here for the former first-rounder.”
– Ryan Amore (Pitcher List)

Nick Senzel (2B/OF – CIN) 
“Many questions, mostly due to playing time and durability concerns, surround Senzel. However, his ADP reflects these concerns and he’s worth the gamble at his current cost. When looking for a sleeper, post-hype top prospects are usually a place that I like to start (last season, I was all in on Austin Meadows). Senzel’s 162-game pace last season (.256, 19 HRs, and 22 SBs) shows his dual-threat ability and his playing competition may light a nice fire under him that we can all benefit from for a low cost.”
– Jason Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

“I love a good post-hype sleeper and Nick Senzel fits the bill. A former top-10 prospect in baseball, Senzel didn’t exactly wow in his first taste of the big leagues, but he did flash the same 20-20 potential he showed in the minors. He didn’t come close to the .300 batting average that he regularly put up in the minors, but that could change now that his shoulder is healthy and he has more experience facing big-league pitching. If he puts it all together, we’re looking at a five-category stud who could hit near the top of a loaded lineup in a great offensive environment.”
– Andrew Seifter (FantasyPros)

Justin Upton (OF – LAA)
“After a down year filled with injuries in 2019, Upton looks to be a forgotten man in early drafts. His ADP is currently sitting on the wrong side of 200 despite the fact that he averaged 87 runs scored, 32 home runs, 93 runs batted in, and 10 stolen bases in the three years prior to 2019. With an improved Angels lineup that added Anthony Rendon this offseason, Upton’s production should return if he can stay healthy.”
– Mike Maher (FantasyPros)

“It’s mind-boggling to me that Justin Upton is being drafted outside the top 200. One injury-plagued year doesn’t obviate the fact that he’s been one of the most consistent fantasy bats of the last decade. He’s still only 32 years old and should hit in the middle of the Angels’ lineup with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani flanking him. At his current price, I expect to wind up rostering him in many leagues.”
– Kyle Bishop (RotoBaller)

C.J. Cron (1B – DET) 
“My sleeper pick for the 2020 season is Cron. Over the last two years, he has averaged a home run every 19.25 plate appearances. Despite this vulgar display of power, major league teams and fantasy owners alike continue to devalue him. Cron is falling past the 20th round in most drafts and will be playing for his fourth team in as many years. He is now in Detroit, where he should play first base and hit cleanup. The lineup and ballpark leave something to be desired, but the opportunity is there for him to put up big numbers given a full allotment of at-bats. Cron has the kind of power that plays anywhere. The 30-year-old finished sixth among 250 qualified hitters in Brls/PA (barrels per plate appearance) and 21st in xSLG (expected slugging percentage) last season. He improved his SwStr% (swinging-strike rate) from 13.9 in 2018 to 11.8 in 2019 while also increasing his hard-hit percentage from 36.6 to 44.6 percent. Those gains did not show up in his actual batting average, which remained at .253 year over year. However, his xBA (expected batting average) rose from .251 to .277. Cron can easily hit 30 homers and bat .260 if he can remain healthy. Those are thresholds that, even with last year’s altered baseball, were reached by just 38 hitters in 2019. Cron is an ideal fit for a corner infield spot given his price point and high floor.”
– Mick Ciallela (Fantrax)

Lewis Brinson (OF – MIA) 
“Brinson is a three-time, top-30 prospect with 25/20 potential who is one of the top outfield defenders in the game and has twice (in the minors) had an OBP over .400 (career .352). I have faith in James Rowson taking over as hitting coach, the fences being moved in a little, and Brinson generally benefitting from another year of experience and maturity. I could be wrong — we’re looking at a player with a .183 batting average, 13 HRs, and four SBs over what’s essentially a full-season of at-bats in his three MLB stints … but I don’t think I am. He has skill, he’s in a great situation with an incredible hitting coach, and it looks like he’ll have one more chance to put everything together.”
– Nando Di Fino (The Athletic)

Mike Tauchman (OF – NYY)
“Forced into the lineup as an injury replacement in 2019, Tauchman quietly returned borderline elite fantasy production before his season ended early with a calf strain. He produced a rock-solid .277/.361/.504 triple slash over 87 games, racking up 13 homers and six steals. Over a full season, his 5×5 stat line from last year projects to a .277-86-25-88-12 pace per 162 games. Spring injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge along with the continued health struggles of Aaron Hicks have pushed Tauchman into the Yankees’ Opening Day plans, which means he simply needs to be in your fantasy draft day plans as a late-round target.”
– Wayne Bretsky (BretskyBall)

Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA) 
“Maybe I’m a fool and Heaney is just the next Chris Archer, but I can’t quit him. While he got battered to a 4.91 ERA in 18 starts, he also registered the same strikeout rate (28.9%) as Luis Castillo and an identical swinging-strike rate (14.1%) to Chris Sale. He ranked 17th in K-BB% (21.5) and 25th in SIERA (3.87) among all starters with at least 90 innings pitched. You can’t bet on strong ratios, but the elite strikeout stuff makes him well worth the gamble at his 198 ADP.”
– Andrew Gould (FantasyPros)

Kyle Gibson (SP/RP – TEX) 
“Gibson’s being selected outside the top-100 starting pitchers and he’s been the victim of recency bias. He struggled mightily from the middle of June until the end of the year and that’s the product of him reportedly losing 25 pounds during the season while dealing with ulcerative colitis. Now that he’s at full strength and has that under control with his new club, the Rangers, he’s a bounce-back candidate. In the righty’s first 13 starts spanning 75.1 innings last year, he ripped off a 3.70 ERA, 3.86 SIERA, 1.17 WHIP, 5.5 BB%, 24.8 K%, 47.8 GB%, and 13.8 SwStr%, according to FanGraphs.”
– Josh Shepardson (FantasyPros)

Jorge Alfaro (C – MIA) 
“This is more about providing quality output at a very shallow position than thinking Alfaro will be fantasy baseball’s biggest sleeper. He will be 27 in June, making him eligible for his peak power years. He has been a highly touted, albeit maligned prospect for years and still carries a big bat. He will always strike out a ton, but manages not to sacrifice the batting average. Last season, only eight catchers had 20+ home runs and only 10 had a .270 batting average or better. Alfaro scratched the surface for both (18/.262) and plays a ton of games with no one looking over his shoulder. He has the upside to finish as a top-five catcher in 2020.”
– Andy Singleton (Expand The Boxscore)

Avisail Garcia (OF/DH – MIL) 
“You may remember three years back when Garcia was an All-Star and batted .330, but even last year he batted .282 with 20 homers and 10 steals despite missing 40 games. By the way, he did that with pitcher-friendly Tampa Bay as his home ballpark. Now that he is moving to one of the best home parks in the majors, a jump to 30 homers and 15 steals over a full season is well within the realm of possible outcomes. Add in the fact that he is a Statcast superstar and a jump to .320 and 35 homers is even possible. At the very least, we are getting a solid average with both power and speed late in drafts.”
– Bobby Sylvester (FantasyPros)

Domingo Santana (OF – CLE) 
“Santana keeps finding his way onto my fantasy teams. He’s being selected as the 203rd hitter per FantasyPros and has an average ADP of over 300 per current NFBC data. Santana has a clear pathway to at-bats in the Cleveland outfield and I think his ADP would be higher had he not been limited by an elbow injury in July of last year. He has consistently posted double-digit barrel rates over his career and even chips in with decent steals totals. Sure, a 30% strikeout rate is sketchy, but he posts consistently high BABIPs (career .357) and has a career .259 batting average. He’s rounding out plenty of my outfields in 2020.”
– Heath Capps (Fake Teams)

Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA) 
“I think Bundy has a chance to have a massive season now that he’s on the Angels and under better tutelage. Bundy’s fastball, though lacking in velocity, had the 11th-best spin rate of any fastball in the game last year. However, he has never thrown it high in the zone, where high-spin fastballs are typically most effective and generate the most swings and misses. He and the Angels are committed to that approach this year and with his dominant start to the spring, he might go from completely ignored to impact fantasy starter.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Austin Hays (OF – BAL) 
“Hays intrigues me as a late-round pick. He was a sleeper before the 2019 season started after coming off a nice end to 2018. However, injuries derailed him before the season and he never got a true chance in 2019 until late in the year. He showed flashes of his power and speed game again, hitting four home runs and stealing two bases in 21 games. Hays is projected as the team’s starting center fielder and if he stays healthy, I see a 20/15 type season or better out of him.”
– Joe Bond (Fantasy Six Pack)

Michael Kopech (SP – CWS) 
“Well known in the dynasty community, Kopech has a very real chance to be one of the best redraft values in fantasy baseball. He has top 10 pitcher talent and looks completely recovered from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in September of 2018. Kopech’s ADP would likely be much higher if not for a couple rain delays interrupting two of his first four starts and his final inning (when he was charged with six earned runs) being when he suffered the elbow injury, which would ultimately be deemed to require Tommy John. His K/9 numbers figure to be among the league leaders and his wins and peripherals should put him in the top-25 starting pitcher mix.”
– Raju Byfield (Win My Fantasy League)

Thank you to all the experts for naming their consensus sleepers. You can view each expert’s picks below and be sure to give them a follow on Twitter for more great advice. Also, please check out our podcast, which is also available below.

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