It’s that time of year again, people. The 2023 fantasy baseball season ended over a month ago. The World Series ended a week ago. Free agency is officially underway, which brings the beginning of the offseason content storm from us fantasy baseball writers.
Honestly, I’ve missed it. I’ve missed taking the time to sit down and write out how I’m feeling about the happenings of the baseball world. I know I have a weekly podcast where I’ve been able to voice my opinions, but putting it in written form is just … different. This is my pride and joy. My bread and butter. The thing that (outside of my family) brings me the most joy in the world.
Ok, enough with the mushy “I missed you guys” talk. I just had to make sure you guys knew I was still thinking about you. You guys aren’t all that’s been on my mind, though. I’ve also been scouring the depths of the internet to find who I believe are the best sleepers for the 2024 season. This is the high-quality content you guys keep coming back for.
Fantasy Baseball Sleepers for 2024
Last season, I hopped on the Yandy Diaz hype train very early and never got off it. This season, I’m going to be doing the same with Goodman. Now here me out: It obviously comes with some risk. The 24-year-old is still a kid after all and only has 70 ABs worth of time at the major league level. Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen all I need to see.
In the minor leagues, Goodman put up what we in the business like to call “numbers”. Video game-esque numbers, if you will. In 262 games across three seasons and three different levels, Goodman slashed .280/.352/.572, which was good for a .924 OPS. That’s pretty damn good, man. Especially when you take into account the fact that he also amassed 144 XBH in that timeframe. That works itself out to a ridiculous 568 total bases in 262 games.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Blake, tons of guys put up crazy minor league numbers only to struggle at the major league level.” And you’re not wrong. I lived through the days of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin as a Seattle Mariners fan. It was not fun.
Yes, I am also aware of the fact that he hit just .200 at the major league level in his time there. You have to dig deeper than that to see what really has me excited about Goodman. Mainly, his batted ball data from his exceptional run in 2023.
One common denominator of successful rookies is they tend to have a line drive rate of 20% or more and a flyball rate of 45% or less. Guys like Matt McLain, Zack Gelof, Corbin Carroll, and Adley Rutschman all fit that mold in the minors before getting the call. Combine this with his good bat-to-ball skills (10.4% barrel rate) and above-average speed and Goodman becomes an elite option at Coors Field. Playing time may be tough to start the year but he should get more than enough bats to justify having him on your roster.
If there’s one outfielder I’m targeting later in drafts, it’s Parker Meadows. Current ADP numbers (yes I’m aware it’s still crazy early) have him going around pick No. 300. The fact that he was able to have as productive of a rookie season as he had and still fall that late is surprising.
Now look, I get it: He hit just .232 so on the surface there’s cause for hesitation. Thankfully, good research goes much deeper than just batting average.
You'll never forget your first MLB home run… especially when it's in #walkoff fashion.
— MLB (@MLB) August 26, 2023
In fact, Meadows falls into that same 20+% line drive rate, sub-45% flyball rate category we discussed with Goodman. Because of that, his xBA (.248) was considerably higher. Combine that with his impressive 88.5% zone contact rate and you start to see the makings of a player with elite batted ball potential.
Meadows played just 37 games at the major league level, but I want to focus on his final 15 games. During that stretch, he hit .286 with a .839 OPS. His 21.9% strikeout rate helped him limit bad ABs and led to him ending the season batting leadoff – something that will send him shooting up draft boards should he start 2024 the same way. Consistent at-bats with guys like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson batting behind him will lead to plenty of counting stats.
With his batted ball skills showing they can play at the major league level, it’s only a matter of time before Meadows’ XBH ability follows. In 113 minor league games in 2023, Meadows hit an impressive 53 XBH and stole 19 bases. Hitting leadoff with a great line drive rate, 90th percentile sprint speed, and a solid core batting behind him should lead to a great ROI for those who draft him in 2024.
Surprise, Blake wrote about a Mariners player. There is no shame in my writing game when it comes to this. Don’t worry, though, adding Bliss to this list isn’t out of biased fandom. This is strictly because this is a name you will be hearing a lot of in 2024 even if you don’t know it yet.
Despite the acquisition of Josh Rojas last season, the Mariners still have question marks at second base. This is where Bliss’ star starts to shine a bit brighter. After he showed flashes of his ability in Arizona’s farm system, he’s managed to show out even more in Seattle. In 47 games with Triple-A Tacoma, Bliss hit .251 with 19 XBH, 35 RBI, 37 runs scored and stole 20 bases. That’s the type of all-around output you look for in a guy who can compete at the next level.
Bliss finds much of his success from a very smooth, quick swing that finds him on the right side of a lot of ABs. While he was predominantly a pull hitter previously, Bliss has since started using more of the field which has unlocked a lot more of his potential. He has the speed to contribute on the basepaths immediately, the patience to sit back on breaking pitches, and enough power to go yard 10-15 times over the course of a season.
Currently, Bliss is a part of the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. In 19 games with the team he’s hit .239 with three XBH, eight RBI, 15 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. The batting average isn’t great, but his patience at the plate is notably there. He’s been walked 14 times already and his .368 OBP gives a lot to be excited about.
Should Bliss find his way to the majors before June, there’s a real chance he puts up double-digit home runs and steals. He gives me big Whit Merrifield vibes and should have sneaky value over the course of the season at a fairly thin second-base position.
I know this list is mostly rookies and a prospect so far, but how about we add in a guy most have forgotten about due to injury. With a current NFBC ADP of 208, Shane Baz seems primed to be the pitcher everyone will regret not drafting come All-Star break time. Now, I get it: A pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery is always a bit worrisome and does come with that risk factor. Look at a guy like Jacob deGrom. He’s a prominent name in the sport and also a prominent name in the elbow injury department. For Baz’s sake, though, we’re going to work under the assumption he’s 100% healthy and will be healthy all season.
Baz has made nine total big league starts in his career. Three in 2021 and six in 2022. We are going to throw out his final start where he was pulled in the third inning and it was announced he needed Tommy John. Outside of that start, Baz had a 2.61 ERA, 3.16 xFIP, and 46 strikeouts across 38 innings. His 30.7% strikeout rate showed he can get guys out, and he can do it with dominance. For reference, that strikeout rate over the course of a full season would have been the fifth-best amongst qualified starters in 2023, just behind Freddy Peralta.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 18, 2022
While he is a four-pitch guy, he does most of his damage with an overpowering fastball and a disgusting slider. His fastball touches triple digits and lives at the top of the zone with an average speed of 96 MPH. His slider is more of a gyro slider which sits around 90 MPH and doesn’t feature much horizontal movement. What it does do, though, is have a wicked break to it right at the end that does a great job of fooling hitters. He’s thrown 207 sliders in his career during 63 at-bats and he’s given up just 10 hits while striking out 22.
Needless to say, Baz has “Future Ace” written all over him. He has the pitch mix, speed and movement to challenge any hitter and he plays in an organization that has always excelled at getting the most from their pitchers. He’s being drafted in the same range as guys like Brayan Bello, Lucas Giolito, and Bryan Woo. Baz is not only better than them, but he has the potential to be a top-20 starting pitcher should everything click. Don’t let his injury prevent you from drafting a potential league winner in the 15th round.
It can be tough to consider a guy who played 76 games this season a “sleeper” just a month after the season ended. But honestly, Wallner still seems to have found a way to fly under the radar in 2023. Overshadowed by the likes of Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa, and Jorge Polanco, Wallner showcased some of the best quality contact of any player this season.
Let me preface this by saying Wallner does strike out a pretty fair amount. And by “pretty fair amount” I mean north of 30% of the time. So as I type this I guess maybe that’s why he’s overlooked. Understandable. Honestly, though, there are plenty of reasons to find ways to be OK with that. Especially when you notice that he has a barrel rate of 18.8%. Had he gotten enough ABs to qualify, that would have been the second-best number in baseball to only Shohei Ohtani.
In 2023 he leaned much more heavily into the pull-hitting fly ball approach as well. This is key for players with big-time power. The easiest way to rack up those home run numbers is to pull fly balls. But you obviously have to have the power to do so. If you’re someone with minimal power trying to do it like, let’s say, Daulton Varsho, you end up struggling.
Instead, Wallner took his 18.8% barrel rate and 48.1% hard-hit rate and destroyed flyballs. A 48.9% flyball rate combined with a 47.4% pull rate had Wallner hitting dingers at a 22.2% HR/FB rate. This puts him in the same range as Luis Robert Jr.(23%), Pete Alonso (22.8%), and Max Muncy (21.8%). Should he find a way to get 500 ABs in 2024, he becomes one of the top power hitters in the league and is currently being drafted 294th. Just be cautious, his low zone contact rate and high K rate mean he will trend closer to Muncy in both power and batting average.
Vinnie P feels like a really odd one to put here, I’m going to be honest. When I’m doing my research and working on who I feel is and isn’t worthy of the “sleeper” tag, I already have somewhat of an idea of who I’m going to target. But if you had told me that Vinnie was currently being drafted as the 17th first baseman in 2024 drafts, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Much of this has to come from recency bias. We do live in a “What have you done for me lately?” world and with Vinnie spending the season hurt, the answer to that is he’s done nothing. Because of that people have forgotten just how good the Italian Stallion really is. Let’s make it easy and use his career totals since he’s played a combined 133 games at the major league level. That’s a big enough sample size to matter.
First of all, Vinnie is one of the few players in baseball who walks about as much as he strikes out. He has a career walk rate of 10.8% and a strikeout rate of 11.6%. Not too shabby. He has a smooth, compact swing and a 90.6% zone contact rate to thank for that. Because of that, he whiffs just 16.3% of the time and profiles similar to someone like Adley Rutschman whose sweet spot %, whiff rate, and zone contact rate are all within 1% of the Italian Breakfast.
Vinnie Pasquantino – Kansas City Royals (7)
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) May 10, 2023
With him currently being drafted as the 17th best first baseman, keep in mind that those of us on the expert rankings committee almost all have him as a top-10 at the position guy. This is what real draft value looks like. So while Pasquantino may not really feel like a sleeper based on past success, heading into the 2024 season it looks like he’s going to be one of the best values you’ll find.
OK, so as you are reading this, Naylor is being drafted as the 12th catcher according to the NFBC ADP. Can a player currently going as what is technically a C1 in 12-team leagues be considered a sleeper? Technically no …but also, yes. I believe Naylor has the potential to end the season as a top-five at the position player. Like everyone else on this list, I have my reasons.
First, when I analyze players, prospect pedigree does play a small role in how I feel. Highly-rated prospects are highly-rated prospects for a reason. So when they come up and do well it boosts both their floor and ceiling for me. Naylor is an interesting case, though, because he didn’t necessarily come out and light the world on fire. But as a top prospect, he was always going to get a slight advantage. So when he turned in the second half that he did, nobody should have been surprised.
I want to focus on his final 53 games. It’s a small sample size, but if you’ve followed my work you’d know I always say that sample sizes are what you make of them. If you want them to be good, they can be good. If you want them to be bad, you can find reasons why they’re bad. Naylor’s final 53 games, though, were pretty damn impressive: 12 doubles, 10 dingers, a 19% strikeout rate and a 14% walk rate all while hitting .265 with a .914 OPS. That is exactly what you wanted to see from Naylor. He even used that rare catcher speed and stole five bases as well.
He finds success from his excellent eye for the strike zone and bat-to-ball skills. An 88.8 zone contact rate and 7.8% swinging strike rate had him consistently on the ball. He’s not the type to have massive power, but his 9.4% barrel rate showed good quality contact is something he’s capable of for an extended period. Now take into account the fact that he’s just one season removed from stealing 20 bases and you start to get yourself into the good Daulton Varsho territory. Someone who was top-3 at the catcher position at one point while struggling in batting average. My bold prediction for 2024 is Naylor is a 20/15 catcher while hitting close to .275 and if he does that, he becomes potentially the best draft pick you’ll make come draft day.
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