6 Post-Hype Sleepers (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Regardless of their readiness or role, MLB’s hotshot rookies will always get pushed off fantasy baseball draft boards. Luckily, drafters can instead snag young talent at a discount by taking post-hype sleepers.
Most post-hype sleepers were once shiny new toys, some as recently as last year. Since they didn’t excel immediately, fantasy managers got bored and shifted their focus to the next big thing. Let them overpay for the new wave on neophyte and take the second- or third-year pros who struggled out of the gate.
Featured in this same article last year, Dylan Bundy and Ian Happ embodied the post-hype spirit with breakouts at depreciated costs. Other success stories include Kyle Tucker, Corbin Burnes, and Dominic Smith made good on past pedigree.
These sleepers are far from foolproof, as some top prospects never make it. The risk is still mitigated since the following six players all have a consensus ADP after pick 250.
Nick Senzel (OF – CIN): 267.2 ADP
A mere three years ago, MLB.com placed Senzel ahead of Tucker, Fernando Tatís Jr., Bo Bichette, and Juan Soto as the No. 7-ranked prospect. Injuries and a crowded depth chart blocked his road to the majors. But he mostly held his own upon arrival, batting .255 with 12 homers and 14 steals in 104 games.
Then 2020 went far worse. He spent the offseason recovering from offseason surgery and missed a month of the shortened campaign with an undisclosed illness. Although Senzel ended the season with a .186/.247/.357 slash line, small sample sizes can deceive. He sported an .816 OPS in 16 games before going on the IL but recorded four hits (three singles and a double) in 11 games after returning.
Playing time doesn’t appear to be an issue as he looks to rebound. Reds manager David Bell has already pinpointed Senzel as his starting center fielder. Now fully healthy in spring, the 25-year-old has already socked two home runs.
Despite mundane early returns, he remains capable of making an impact in every category. If Senzel avoids any more setbacks, you might get a 20/20 campaign from your fifth outfielder.
Mitch Keller (SP – PIT): 313.5 ADP
In 2019, Keller posted a 3.19 FIP in 48 innings underneath a grotesque 7.13 ERA. It was the most obvious case of incoming positive regression we’ve seen in quite some time.
Last season, he seemingly righted the ship with a 2.91 ERA. Except this time, it came with a 6.75 FIP and more walks (18) than strikeouts (16).
Let’s throw out last year’s five starts altogether. He somehow tossed 11 consecutive hitless innings in his final two turns despite issuing 10 walks, eight in his final outing. Keller overcame a significant decline in velocity and swinging strikes in a season interrupted by an oblique strain.
Before tallying impressive stats below the surface in 2019, the righty recorded a 3.56 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 103.2 Triple-A innings. His slider and curveball are both exceptional offerings, so Keller’s success relies on his four-seamer. It should thus open some eyes to see him hit 98 mph on the radar gun this spring.
— Codify, Inc. (@CodifyBaseball) March 11, 2021
As long as he’s healthy, Keller should have a spot in a desolate Pittsburgh rotation. He’ll get to pitch in a spacious park in MLB’s weakest division, so you can do a lot worse for a bench flier.
Spencer Howard (SP – PHI): 330.3 ADP
Howard would be far more popular this spring if he never pitched last year. Perceived as a safe and polished prospect, the righty instead got roasted to a 5.92 ERA in six starts. He didn’t record a single out beyond the fifth inning and mustered a mediocre 9.8% swinging-strike rate.
Don’t overreact; those were just six starts from a prospect who had also made only six career starts above High-A (all Double-A). He’s also showing progress this spring. After averaging a 94-mph fastball velocity last year, he’s sat at 96-97 this March.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 5, 2021
Last year, opponents hit .429 against his changeup. Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, Howard said the pitch “left me for a bit” in 2020, but he’s rediscovered it in Clearwater, Florida.
“All of last year was just kind of crazy,” Howard said about losing the feel for his changeup. “Be it mechanics, my shoulder, being too focused on getting that perfect backspin, I don’t know. It was just something that happened.”
Bryce Harper told Zolecki that Howard is “going to be our guy.” He’s nevertheless not guaranteed to break camp in Philadelphia’s rotation, but the 24-year-old should soon get another opportunity at major league starts.
Scott Kingery (2B/3B/SS/OF – PHI): 348.4 ADP
We’d all like to erase 2020 from memory as soon as possible, but Kingery especially had a nightmarish season. Before Opening Day, he tested positive from COVID-19 and experienced “every symptom.” Upon returning, he had back and shoulder pain caused by overcompensating for difficulty breathing.
He ended up batting .159/.228/.283 in 36 games.
Kingery was also considered a post-hype sleeper in 2019, when he followed a dismal rookie campaign with 19 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 500 plate appearances. Even if he’s not locked into a starting role, versatility should once again lead to plenty of playing time across the diamond to deliver cheap power and speed to fantasy investors.
Along with an offseason for his body to recover, Kingery is also now wearing contact lenses. Even his good year came with a slightly above-average 101 wRC+ and an alarming 29.4% strikeout rate. Still, the 26-year-old is a rare upside play with power, speed, and multi-position eligibility available beyond the top-300 picks. There’s little risk to giving him another chance.
Carter Kieboom (3B/SS – WAS): 381.8 ADP
Well, Kieboom was a Kiebust through 44 games. Guess it’s time to call it a career.
Just for kicks, let’s see if a 23-year-old once lauded for his hit tool could still morph into a strong hitter. In 2019, Kieboom batted .303/.409/.493 in 109 Triple-A games before stinking in an 11-game MLB debut. Last year, he slugged .212 without a single homer or steal.
Drafters shouldn’t give up, mostly since the Nationals haven’t. They let Asdrúbal Cabrera walk and only brought back Josh Harrison on a one-year, $1 million deal, so Kieboom should get another chance at the hot corner. Washington’s 2016 first-round draft pick underwent LASIK surgery in the offseason, and Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long raved about the infielder’s early progress this spring. Now that Kieboom doesn’t need to squint to see the ball, fantasy baseball managers don’t need to squint to envision a quality depth piece.
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS – COL): 400.3 ADP
The fact that Rodgers graces nearly every post-hype sleeper list suggests some buzz remains after all. The ADP, however, does not reflect such intrigue. He’s still going undrafted in the typical 12-team mixed leagues while only occupying a bench slot in 15-teamers.
Depending on his status, this could be the perfect opportunity to take a low-cost gamble on a former top prospect with a path to playing time for the Colorado Rockies.
Rodgers’ hyped debut in 2019 was a dud, as he went 25 games without a homer or steal before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He certainly didn’t validate the post-hype sleeper label in 2020, collecting two hits in seven games.
All in all, we’re still dealing with a microscopic sample size of 102 big-league plate appearances. Rodgers flashed five-category upside in the minors, and he should have a chance to start at second base during his age-24 season.
Drafters will be awfully pleased if he reaches his goal and steals 20 bases this season while benefitting from Coors Field all year. Unfortunately, he’s already faced some ramifications from this quest. On Saturday, Rodgers suffered a right hamstring sprain on a stolen-base attempt. If he’s not available by Opening Day, it’d now be better to monitor his recovery from the waiver wire.
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