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Consensus Sleepers from 25+ Experts (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 9, 2021

With Spring Training here, we’re officially neck-deep into fantasy baseball draft season. All fake baseball GMs are currently in the process of deciphering what they should make of the shortened season production from each player, who the big winners and losers of the offseason were, and who will win the spring position battles. The sheer number of players that qualify as potential sleepers every year is vast, which always makes it difficult to figure out who you should hone in on. That’s why we’ve polled 27 experts on which hitters and starting pitchers have the best chance of being true difference makers. 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 9.

Top Consensus Sleepers (Poll of 27 Experts)

Alex Kirilloff OF MIN 4 H175 H145
Jarred Kelenic OF SEA 4 H157 H127
John Means SP BAL 4 SP63 SP73
Aaron Hicks OF NYY 2 H148 H155
Brandon Nimmo OF NYM 2 H142 H153
Drew Smyly SP ATL 2 SP78 SP101
Jordan Montgomery SP NYY 2 SP73 SP77
Sean Manaea SP OAK 2 SP70 SP67
Taijuan Walker SP NYM 2 SP87 SP91

Players who received one vote were: Andrew Benintendi, Andrew Vaughn, Austin Riley, C.J. Cron, Daulton Varsho, Gavin Lux, Hunter Dozier, Leody Taveras, Mark Canha, Mitch Haniger, Myles Straw, Nick Senzel, Raimel Tapia, Tommy La Stella, Trey Mancini, Adbert Alzolay, Chris Sale, Domingo German, Eduardo Rodriguez, Elieser Hernandez, Freddy Peralta, Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, Marcus Stroman, Matt Moore, Mitch Keller, Nate Pearson, Spencer Howard, Triston McKenzie, Yusei Kikuchi

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

Alex Kirilloff (OF – MIN) 
“Everyone is talking about Jarred Kelenic as the minor leaguer who will come up after a few weeks and be an impact fantasy player, but I actually think it’s going to be Kirilloff. The youngster has slashed .317/.365/.498 in his minor league career, and even though he hasn’t played above Double-A yet, it seems clear his bat is ready for the majors, as he’s never had worse than an 18.5% strikeout rate at any level. The Twins will likely send him down to start the season, but Jake Cave isn’t going to lock down the left field spot. Once he comes up, I expect him to hit consistently, and he’s an afterthought in drafts right now.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

“Already considered a top-20 prospect, Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff is poised to have one of the strongest fantasy seasons among rookie hitters. The 23-year-old actually debuted in the playoffs last year but has yet to log an official plate appearance in the regular season. He possesses an extremely strong hit tool; he can use the whole field, turn on pitches with authority, and he’s able to handle both velocity and breaking pitches. Minnesota opened an everyday spot for him by non-tendering Eddie Rosario this offseason, so it’s looking more and more likely that we see Kirilloff roaming left field for the Twins come Opening Day.”
– Brendan Tuma (FantasyPros)

“Before their was Jarred Kelenic, the best OF prospect was Alex Kirilloff. If the starting markets were reversed, AK might already be a household name. He’s bigger, he’s further ahead in his development, he has a lost season to stamp his disappointment on, and he comes pretty cheap for having massive upside. He also has what should be a regular role in a good lineup right out of the gate. It’s a swing or miss pick that won’t burn you if you get caught looking on the outside black.”
– Andy Singleton (Expand The Boxscore)

John Means (SP – BAL) 
“After finishing as an AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2019 with a 3.60 ERA over 155 innings, Means experienced a dreadful jump in ERA (4.53) and an obscene HR rate (2.5/9) last season that may cause alarm for fantasy managers. However, in a small sample size, ERA is susceptible to extensive variation, and a deeper dive displays clear signs that he has sleeper potential in 2021. Means increased his fastball velocity while boosting his strikeout rate from 19% to 24% and lowering his walk rate from 6% to 4%. The southpaw was one of 14 pitchers in the big leagues with at least 40 innings and a WHIP below 1.00. Following a rugged beginning to the 2020 season, he flourished in his final four outings. Means performed to a 1.52 ERA, 30/3 K/BB, and 0.634 WHIP in 23.2 innings. The Baltimore Orioles’ ace will look to build upon those last four starts on his way to being the biggest fantasy pitching sleeper this season.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

John Means dealt with arm fatigue in an unusual ramp-up to the 2020 season, as well as his dad’s passing. I’m willing to ignore his 2020, except for his added velocity towards the end of the season (which was also being reported in Spring Training 1.0). While he didn’t consistently pitch into the sixth inning until early September, Means struck out 21 batters over his final two starts. I think he will be eager to prove himself over a full season and the Orioles will treat him as an ace. That means he should be able to pitch around 170 innings, which will be an outlier once starters’ innings are drastically reduced after 2020. The solid ratios and strikeout upside over that many innings leads me to believe he has a shot at breaking out.”
– Carmen Maiorano (FantasyPros)

Jordan Montgomery (SP – NYY) 
“Montgomery has an ADP of 258 overall (77th among starting pitchers) and is currently 73rd among all starting pitchers in the latest expert consensus rankings. He was unlucky last season and pitched better than his 5.11 ERA suggests. The 28-year-old avoided hard contact and posted a SIERA of 3.84, which was well below his ERA in 2020. He owned an impressive 5.22 K:BB and his 3.65 XFIP was second among all Yankees starters. Despite pitching half the time at hitter-friendly Yankees Stadium, Montgomery should be able to keep his ERA down and could be a late-round bargain at his price for upcoming 2021 drafts.”
– Brad Camara (FantasyPros)

Jordan Montgomery primarily uses a four-pitch mix (sinker, changeup, curve, and four-seamer), three of which elicited a double-digit swinging strike rate. He displayed decent command and above-average control with a 24.4% strikeout rate and 4.7% walk rate. Montgomery is one of my top sleeper starting pitchers in 2021 outside of the top-60 pitchers.”
– Corbin Young (FantasyData)

Jarred Kelenic (OF – SEA) 
“Seattle Mariners’ top prospect Jarred Kelenic is discounted in drafts because it is more than likely he won’t break camp with the big league club. However, we also expect he’ll spend a minimum amount of time in the minors before getting called up. Various projections estimate 350 ABs, 15 HRs, and 8-10 SBs. At that pace, this is absolutely a player we want in our starting lineups when he does arrive. Take the discount, exercise a little patience, and reap the benefits.”
– Mike MacGregor (Draft Buddy)

Jarred Kelenic is being underdrafted, folks. Like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Kris Bryant, and others before them, projection systems simply do not project superstardom upon arrival, no matter how talented the prospect. Kelenic is a pure hitter, and whether he is up on Opening Day or at the end of April, you are going to want him on your team. You can’t lose your draft in the 20th round, but you sure can win it.”
– Michael Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

Drew Smyly (SP – ATL) 
“In 2020, Smyly had the highest K/9 of any starter and ranked only behind Shane Bieber and Jacob deGrom in xFIP and supported it with a boost in velocity and spin rate. The biggest concern in 2021 about the southpaw is his innings limit. In five starts in 2020, he only accumulated 26 innings, but dealt with a finger injury that placed him on the IL and likely hindered his pitch count. Now on a year deal in Atlanta, the Braves still won’t use him like a workhorse, but we could see several efficient five-inning starts. At an ADP of SP78 and 254 overall, Smyly isn’t a top-200 player, but he’s certainly a no-brainer at his price.”
– Jordan Eisen (Field of Vision Sports)

Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY) 
“Any player that is projected to bat third in the New York Yankees’ lineup offers fantasy value and Hicks is that player. His ADP presently has him as the 152nd hitter being drafted in fantasy baseball leagues. If you can live with his .240 batting average, I’m projecting 20-25 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases in 2021. With Judge hitting in front of him and with Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit hitting behind him, Hicks is going to see a lot of good pitches to select from this season.”
– Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire)

Andrew Benintendi (OF – KC) 
“Benintendi gets a fresh start in Kansas City after underwhelming for the past two seasons in Boston. The former MLB Rookie of the Year runner-up averaged 18 home runs and 20.5 stolen bases with a .280 batting average in his first two full seasons with Boston before tailing off in his third year with only registering 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He bottomed out in 2020, recording a putrid .103 batting average in 39 at-bats before missing the last two months of the season with a right ribcage strain. The 26-year-old is healthy and primed for a bounce-back season with his new squad. Benintendi has 20/20 potential as the everyday left fielder for the Royals.”
– Jacob W. Dunne (New Life Fantasy)

Elieser Hernandez (SP/RP – MIA) 
“When interviewing Marlins reporter Craig Mish last week, I asked who was getting the ‘buzz’ in camp. he quickly responded Hernandez. Currently going at SP78 (ADP 260), Hernandez is coming off an impressive 2020 that saw him strike out 34 hitters in 25 IPs with just five walks and a 1.01 WHIP. Everyone is focused on Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez. Meanwhile, Hernandez may be the better return on investment.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Gavin Lux (2B – LAD) 
“I was tempted to go with Jarred Kelenic here, but it just feels wrong to call him a ‘sleeper,’ so let’s go with a top-notch prospect who has already taken some lumps at the major league level. Judging by his ADP, many fantasy managers seem to have already moved on from Lux, but that seems incredibly premature for a supremely talented 23-year old who has only played 42 major league games. He is only one year removed from a 2019 season in which he hit 28 home runs and stole 12 bases over 136 games between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Dodgers, and he showed the ability to hit for a plus batting average in the minors, too. With Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announcing that Lux will play regularly, the time is now to buy in to a player who could be an early-round fantasy pick by this time next year.”
– Andrew Seifter (FantasyPros)

Mark Canha (1B/OF/DH – OAK) 
“Canha boasts 30 HR and .400 OBP potential and is there for the taking late in drafts. While he only hit five home runs in the shortened season, Canha hit 26 HRs in 126 games in 2019 and has had an OBP of .385 or more in each of the last two seasons. Set to hit at the top of the Athletics’ lineup, he has a shot to surpass 100 runs. His multi-position eligibility is a bonus, too.”
– Jason Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

James Paxton (SP – SEA) 
“Paxton is out of the Gotham spotlight and is back with the club that drafted him in the fourth round in 2010. Signed to a one-year contract with plenty of incentives, The Big Maple worked hard in the offseason to strengthen his core. Over the last four years, he boasts a K/9 of over 10, well worth the draft day value.”
– Todd D Clark (The Fantasy Fix)

Tommy La Stella (1B/2B/3B – SF) 
“Since the start of 2019, La Stella is batting .289/.356/.471 with 21 homers, 80 runs, and a microscopic 7.3% strikeout rate in 135 games. While the unforeseen power spike from 2019 predictably dipped, he improved his wOBA (.355) and wRC+ (129) in the shortened 2020 with the help of an enhanced 11.8% walk rate. Those contact skills have fueled reports of him leading off for the Giants, who signed the 32-year-old to a three-year contract. Skilled contact hitters tend to get overlooked these days, so there’s value in snagging a probable .280-.290 hitter with multi-position eligibility.”
– Andrew Gould (FantasyPros)

Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA) 
“Kikuchi didn’t appear to improve last season based on the surface stats with a 5.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but the underlying numbers showed a better pitcher. He increased the velocity on his fastball by 2.5 miles per hour to 95 and saw a big increase in his swinging strike rate. He had a 3.30 FIP and allowed only 0.57 HR/9 after allowing 2.0 HR/9 in his first year. Another year getting used to the majors will help.”
– Adam Ronis (Fantasy Alarm)

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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