Nearly 40 years ago, Thomas Boswell wrote the seminal baseball book Why Time Begins on Opening Day. I often think of that book title when the new baseball season is beckoning. It brings the promise of chilly mornings and evenings turning into sunny spring days and warm summer nights with a ballgame regularly on the TV or radio (or phone) as the background music. Maybe that’s why baseball is so romanticized in movies and books.
Since this is my first article for FantasyPros, I’ll give you a little background on myself. I’ve been playing fantasy baseball since 1990, and that league is going strong as ever. It’s a National League-only league with modified rotisserie rules. Shoutout to my brothers in VURBL. May those jokes still be only funny to the 12 of us. I also play dynasty and redraft H2H.
While I started out in fantasy analysis three years ago via the Familia FFB podcast and website focusing on football, it’s easy to fall back into baseball content. It’s home, as I also spent eight years in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office. So, bringing knowledge of the machinations of a pro sports franchise helps me in my analysis.
That’s just a quick bit about the author. We’re here for Deep Sleepers to help you win at this fantasy baseball game. The players in this weekly feature are taken from FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR), and they will have a ranking outside the top 200. Faithful readers will see a handful of players who could outperform that ranking or have good matchups coming up.
Deep Sleepers & Waiver Wire Pickups (2023)
I’m a big fan of prospects, but veterans bouncing back will get fair play when appropriate. It’s time for some Deep Sleepers.
Ezequiel Tovar (SS – COL) ECR: 202
Tovar is my darkhorse for NL Rookie of the Year. It’s a combination of opportunity – no one else projects as an everyday SS in the Rockies’ organization – and the Coors Field impact on his bat. Colorado’s top prospect hit .319 with a .927 OPS across the top two levels of the minors, and finished the season with the big club. On the last day of the season, Tovar hit a homer off a future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw. Yes, SS is loaded, but Tovar can at the very least fit in the UT spot and if he stays with the big club he’ll compile stats on a team that’s determined to have him learn at the big league level.
Anthony Rendon (3B – LAA) ECR: 204
That magical 2019 season sure feels like a long time ago. Rendon mashed 34 homers with 126 RBI and scored 117 runs, hitting .319 with a 1.010 OPS. He even walked (80) almost as many times as he struck out (86). The past two seasons have been marred by injuries, as he’s played just 115 games and hit only 11 HR. Toward the end of spring training he sat down with the Los Angeles Times, and he talked about how around January he started to feel like he was no longer rehabbing an injury and solely training for the season ahead. Rendon will hit high in a lineup fronted by Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. A return to health in his age-33 season may not turn back the clock to four years ago, but Rendon could become a revelation and rise up ECR as the season progresses.
Michael Conforto (OF – SFG) ECR: 218
Players coming off shoulder surgery often have power be the last thing that comes back to them. Sometimes not until the second year after surgery (similar to ACL tears in football). Well, Conforto hit four homers in 47 spring training at-bats, and is being counted on in a Giants lineup that is going to need a big year from him if the team by the Bay will compete with the Dodgers and Padres. Conforto slotted in at #2 for the Giants in their opener, so if he’s healthy the outfielder could be a waiver wire find this early in the season.
Miguel Vargas (1B,2B,3B – LAD) ECR: 224
There is a bit of rookie excitement and comeback-from-injury optimism here in the early going. Vargas is in the former, and prospect hounds fell hard for him when he hit .304 with a .915 OPS and a 71-76 BB-K rate at AAA. Vargas is ready for the Show. He’ll move to second base and will gain eligibility there soon, and as long as he hits, he’ll have a spot in the lineup. Facing the Diamondbacks followed by the Rockies, Vargas could get hot against lesser pitching staffs – once he’s past the first couple Arizona starters. He’s coming off a fractured finger that slowed him at the beginning of spring training, so don’t be hasty and drop him if he gets off to a slow start.
CJ Abrams (2B,SS – WSH) ECR: 225
Speaking of slow, Abrams is anything but. Some scouts have given his foot speed an 80 grade, and he stole 42 bases in 483 minor league at-bats. Abrams stole six bags in 44 games after he was traded last year to the Nationals, who have nothing to play for but to see the development of players like Abrams. He’s hitting out of the nine hole now, but could move up as the season goes on. Abrams will be running plenty, and if he legs out some hits he’ll become a factor in batting average. While he may not score or drive in a ton of runs, those steals alone are plenty of reasons to keep him rostered.
Jesse Winker (OF – MIL) ECR: 230
Another comeback story, Winker had separate neck and knee surgeries that hampered him on the way to 14 homers in 456 ABs in 2022. He’s still just 29 and moving from cavernous Safeco Field to the more hitter-friendly environment in Milwaukee. Look at what that did for Willy Adames, and it was only 2021 when Winker put up a .950 OPS and pounded 24 homers in Cincinnati. Even battling injuries, Winker still walked 84 times, which was third in the AL last year. Keep an eye on his playing time. If he’s in there regularly, he could be a keeper for the season.
Tyler Anderson (SP – LAA) ECR: 232
How is a 2022 NL All-Star so far down in ECR? After posting a 15-5 record and setting a career high with 178.2 innings pitched, Anderson took his talents about 30 miles south on the 5 Freeway to Anaheim. Is he a one-hit wonder who peters out away from the Dodgers’ exacting pitching plans? Or did he find something and will continue his career renaissance in Anaheim? Anderson doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters (138 last year), but he could get off to a good start against the Oakland A’s in the first series.
Anthony Volpe (SS – NYY) ECR: 236
The Yankee hype train appears ready to give Volpe near-Jeter status. The 5-9, 180-pound rookie who stole 50 bases and clobbered 21 homers across the top two levels of the minors last year has the Bronx faithful salivating about Volpe. He backed it up with with a .309 average and .415 OBP this spring to earn the full-tilt excitement.
Evan Phillips (RP – LAD) ECR: 245
Phillips was the best arm in the Dodger bullpen in 2022, and will be counted on heavily this year. The main question is how often is he going to close? Manager Dave Roberts has said he won’t name a closer to start the season, though Phillips will have opportunity to turn those 19 holds last year into saves this year. His microscopic 1.14 ERA and 0.76 WHIP do more than adorn his baseball card. They show his effectiveness in the late innings, and a preliminary pickup now could be big for your fantasy team.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like Maximizing Your Potential in Multi-Lineup Contests – to learn more.
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