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Deep-League Sleepers (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Jul 21, 2020

Fantasy baseball has so many different options and settings that there are leagues for all levels of commitment. Normally, however, sleepers are a constant. They are the players who are undervalued compared to their asking prices, and they simply present a nice return on investment.

Over time, these sleepers generally become more popular. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where, the more we write about the same players (i.e. Mitch Keller), the more people put them on their radars. The more people with the same players on that radar, the higher the demand and asking price.

This is the next wave of sleepers. The tier behind the tier we have spent months — more than ever, this year — preparing to draft. There aren’t only casual leagues. There are also the ones dedicated to the fantasy baseball diehards. The leagues where the Christian Walkers and Sean Manaeas are already gone. The leagues where we have to look harder to find an edge over the competition. This is where we need the deep sleepers.

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Ian Happ (2B/3B/OF – CHC)
It’s so easy to forget about former prospects — Jorge Soler, anyone? In recent years, the Chicago Cubs have made it even easier because of the wealth of young position-player talent and the inability to commit to each one of them — Jorge Soler, anyone? It is, therefore, development time and volume that can give a player the critical push — Jorge Soler, anyone? It’s not fair to compare Ian Happ to any one former prospect as his drop in value embodies how quickly many are forgotten, but 2020 is the perfect season for his production to rise. Happ’s versatility gives the Cubs the same flexibility that the New York Yankees have with D.J. LeMahieu, and his improvements at the plate include a decreased strikeout rate, increased fly ball rate, and increased home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.

Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA)
Dylan Bundy has been a mainstay on most of my sleeper articles, and, while he might not be available in all deep leagues, he should be an immediate target if he has survived in yours. Simply put, the Los Angeles Angels need Bundy to deliver in 2020. They acquired him during the offseason as a key piece in a relatively weak rotation, and the change in team quality should do wonders for Bundy’s win potential. He’s a stable presence who has made at least 28 starts in three consecutive seasons, yet he’s young enough for growth — he’ll pitch this full season as a 27-year-old.

Jose Garcia (SS – CIN)
“Don’t forget about Jose Garcia.” It’s the note I wrote to myself and the comment I urge you to take seriously if drafting or digging for value in a deep league. “Value” is the operative word, however, as Garcia’s stock is quickly rising. Maybe he won’t deliver in 2020. Maybe he needs more time, and maybe there isn’t a spot for him. Whatever happens in the next month or two doesn’t erase what’s happening now. That is, people are taking notice of what Garcia could do, and they are buying him aggressively. Do the same. The Cincinnati Reds are not hiding the fact that Garcia should contribute this year, as he was invited to work out at the team’s Major League stadium. Again, do not forget about Jose Garcia.

Dustin May (SP/RP – LAD)
Dustin May has quietly become one of the more intriguing pitchers for the 2020 season, and it isn’t because of the shortened timeframe. May has tremendous upside, but his role was largely undefined at the beginning of Spring Training. Now, he not only has the opportunity to win a rotation spot, but he’s being groomed as a starting pitcher. That is invaluable in the long run, but there’s a sneaky play in his favor for this season. If May turns into the second pitcher who appears in a game behind an Opener, he has the inside track to get a win in said game. If this happens behind Walker Buehlerit’s certainly possible given the precautions taken to protect Buehler’s arm — May could be an underrated source of wins until he’s starting his own games.

Nomar Mazara (OF – CWS)
If Ian Happ is being targeted because of his post-hype status, then why not do the same with Nomar Mazara? He doesn’t necessarily get an upgrade from moving to the Chicago White Sox after playing in the hitter-friendly atmosphere of the Texas Rangers, but he certainly doesn’t lose any value, either. More importantly, he failed to reach 130 games in each of the last two seasons, but he still contributed at least 19 home runs in every one of his four years in Major League Baseball. A new team with a deep lineup might be all Mazara needs to come back to fantasy relevance.

Garrett Richards (SP – SD)
If the name of the game is “forgotten,” then it looks like too many fantasy owners are forgetting about Garrett Richards. It’s understandable why this happened. Richards has appeared in a total of 31 games over the last four seasons. In addition, his debut with the San Diego Padres was abysmal — an 8.31 ERA in three starts. The fantasy community has likely given up on Richards, but those taking a deeper dive in search of sleepers shouldn’t so quick to dismiss him. Richards once posted elite ground ball numbers and, even if his age and injuries cause a dip in overall effectiveness, we’ve seen pitchers survive by shifting their arsenal in Richards’ directions. Deep leagues almost always require pitching. Richards should strongly be considered to fill this void.

Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM)
Brandon Nimmo is nothing short of maddening. He made tremendous strides in 2018 to set himself up nicely for an encore, and then he completely failed to deliver the following year. Granted, injuries played a major role — and we can’t pretend like they still won’t — but he has the same potential now than he has in the past. The benefit is that Nimmo continues to be underdrafted in too many leagues. He likely won’t explode for home runs, but we don’t need such an explosion in a short season. He is an ideal fill-in for an outfield slot who should hit for a higher average than he did in 2019 while also not damaging any other categories. He also cut down on his soft hit percentage, which bodes well for his ability to take the next step with his game.

Nate Pearson (SP – TOR)
This is a fun one. Nate Pearson checks all the boxes for any type of article I would write. If we’re looking for sleepers, he’s on the list. If we’re looking for busts, he’s also a possibility. Sound counterintuitive? That’s exactly the point. Pearson is a top-flight pitching prospect who many believe could contribute right now. There’s the hype. The Toronto Blue Jays, however, know how valuable it would be to keep control of Pearson for another year. For that reason, they would benefit from holding back Person for at least a week when the season begins. There’s the opportunity for a bust. This is, however, a look at sleepers in deeper leagues and, quite frankly, if Pearson is available, you need to pounce yesterday. The only reason he isn’t owned is because of the aforementioned service time delay, but we should look at this as a buying opportunity more than anything else. Soon enough, Pearson will be too expensive.

Nick Solak (2B/3B – TEX)
Nick Solak has been tagged a sleeper by much of the industry since we were drafting in March, but his ownership percentage hasn’t necessarily spiked yet. This is likely because Solak lacks the name value and flare of some other prospects, and he has already debuted with his Major League club. The key to 2020 will remain volume and Solak wasn’t guaranteed the at-bats earlier in the offseason. With news that Willie Calhoun will miss Opening Day — and the versatility that Solak brings to the table — the door is wide open for increased playing time. There’s another hidden value to Solak, and it comes in the form of his new ballpark. Wherever possible, I have written about how small the outfield is now in Texas, but this isn’t necessarily going to help someone like Joey Gallo — whose immense power plays well in any park. We want to target the fringe power bats who can slide into a few more home runs. Nick Solak is suddenly much more enticing than people realize.

MacKenzie Gore (SP – SD)
This is probably the first time I have been able to write about MacKenzie Gore in a FantasyPros article. I can assure you, it won’t be the last. I’m as invested in Gore as anyone in the industry, and I have slowly acquired exposure to him wherever possible. The target is, of course, the long game. Gore has as bright a future as any pitching prospect we’ve seen in the past decade, but the ultimate question will be, “When?” 2020 was likely to feature Gore’s Major League debut at one point, but the delayed season puts it in jeopardy. Why target him, then? If we’re looking for one player who can show up late in a short season and immediately provide a boost, it’s Gore. He only works in a deep league because of the uncertainty that goes with each team’s taxi squad, but he’s the lottery ticket.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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