Fantasy Baseball: 4 Post-Hype Sleepers
It feels intrinsically good to beat leaguemates to the punch for prospects who burst onto the scene. Puffing your chest out with pride for hitting on a youngster who blew up is fun, but winning leagues is more fun.
Gamers remember who won their league last year, and they probably don't remember who drafted a random 20th-round player who delivered 10th-round value. Sure, hitting on prospects is one way to finish atop your league. Another way, however, is hitting on post-hype sleepers who failed to immediately deliver on their promising potential. Additionally, with the buzz off of many post-hype sleepers while gamers search for the next big thing, the former make for low-risk, high-reward targets in drafts.
Below, four former highly-touted prospects get the nod as my favorite post-hype sleepers to target in fantasy drafts. Only one of the players featured has an average draft position (ADP) inside the top-200 players, according to FantasyPros as of February 19. Two of the highlighted players are being selected outside the top-300 players on average. To add a layer of context to the analysis, I've used Wayback Machine to capture and present ADP from 2018 and 2019 for the quartet of forthcoming players.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton is no longer a prospect, but the term prospect fatigue still feels fitting when applied to him. The second pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft was the top prospect in all of baseball at Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2014 season, as you can see in the prospect rankings section of his Baseball-Reference page. He remained first or second on each of those lists until he graduated from prospect status following a final appearance on the pre-2016 lists.
The expectations were lofty for the tooled up youngster, but he's rarely done more than tease his potential between bouts of struggles and injuries. Buxton got off to a slow start the first month of the 2017 season, but from May 2 through the end of the year, he smacked 16 homers, stole 26 bases in 27 attempts, and slashed .272/.325/.454 in 433 plate appearances, per FanGraphs. The combination of power and speed with a solid if unspectacular batting average was enough to cause gamers to dream on potential of much more, and, as you can see, they flocked to him in the early rounds of 2018 drafts.
His 2018 season was nothing short of a disaster. Injuries limited him to 28 games and 94 plate appearances. But it's not as if injuries were the only reason he was a colossal bust that year. Buxton struck out in an eye-popping 29.8 percent of his plate appearances and hit .156/.183/.200 with zero homers and five stolen bases. As a result of his lost season and struggles on the field, his ADP plummeted to barely inside the top-200 picks last year.
Buxton's 2019 season was, in some ways, a microcosm of his time in "The Show" to date. Injured list stints -- including a torn labrum in his shoulder suffered running into the outfield wall that ultimately required season-ending surgery -- limited him to 87 games and 295 plate appearances. In his injury-abbreviated campaign, though, he filled up the box score with 10 homes, 14 stolen bases and a tolerable .262 batting average. As a cherry on top, he struck out in only 23.1 percent of his plate appearances -- by far a career-low mark in the Majors.
Buxton's recovery from shoulder surgery is reportedly going according to plan with the hope being he'll be ready for Opening Day. He's participating in batting practice already in a limited fashion -- tracking pitches but not swinging the bat -- and taking part in "all the defensive drills and base running," according to Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.
As long as Buxton suffers no setbacks, he'll have a chance to build on his best offensive season to date right out of the chute. Buxton's 600-plate appearance pace last year was good for roughly 20 homers and 30 stolen bases. Only eight players stole 30 bases last year, and just three of those hitters reached or exceeded 20 homers.
The 26-year-old former top prospect's best days are likely ahead of him. He'll probably hit ninth in Minnesota's loaded lineup, and that'll cap his upside in runs and runs batted in, but the power and speed combo alone is worth reaching a round or two ahead of his ADP to scoop up. Furthermore, he shouldn't be a total dud in runs or runs batted in as part of a deep lineup with solid down-order talent in front of him and top-shelf talent wrapping around behind him to drive him in.
Danny Jansen, C, Toronto Blue Jays
2019 ADP: 219.3
2020 ADP: 293.2
Simply put, catching is tough. Catchers have a myriad of defensive responsibilities, and offense often takes a backseat to those responsibilities -- particularly for youngsters getting their first extended playing time in the Majors.
Danny Jansen struggled in his first full season with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019 after raking -- relatively speaking for a catcher -- in a 95-plate-appearance cup of coffee the year before. His campaign got off to a dreadful start. In his first 191 plate appearances last year, he hit a pathetic .166/.253/.237 with two homers.
Jansen turned his season around, though. As Ben Palmer of Pitcher List discussed last summer, Jansen changed his batting stance on June 23. A little over a week after implementing the batting stance change, Jansen discussed the change, as well as a change to his mentality with Arash Madani.
In his final 193 plate appearances of 2019, he hit .247/.306/.478 with 11 homers. Additionally, he cut his strikeout percentage down from 24.1 percent to 17.1 percent following the change, and he bumped up both his fly ball percentage and hard-hit percentage from 36.3 percent and 41.6 percent, respectively, to 44.8 percent and 43.5 percent.
Jansen's not resting on his laurels after a huge turnaround at the dish, as he's taken to working with weighted balls this offseason in hopes of identifying flaws in his swing and maintaining a consistent bat path, per a report from Gregor Chisholm for The Toronto Star.
The promising conclusion to last year, a clear path to playing time, and further work on maintaining or building on his offensive gains land him 15th in my catcher rankings. His ADP at FantasyPros as of February 19 puts him at the 20th catcher off the board, so I'd suggest reaching a bit earlier to secure his services. He's a fringe starting option in 12-team mixed leagues using a single catcher, and he's a high-end second catcher in two-catcher leagues with the upside to post first-catcher caliber numbers.
Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
2018 ADP: 408.3
2019 ADP: 232.3
2020 ADP: 326.6
Willy Adames fits the bill as the poster child for gamers looking past a once heralded prospect for the next big thing. He was ranked as a top-25 prospect each of his last two years eligible prior to 2017 and 2018 at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com. But following a promising, if unexciting, first full season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and a solid half-season with them the year prior, Adames' ADP has fallen more than 100 picks.
He also now has shortstop Wander Franco, the top prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com, climbing the minor-league ladder behind him. Shortstop's deep-ish, so perhaps Adames' ADP dip isn't entirely a product of Franco -- sort of -- breathing down his neck. I add this sort of stipulation because the 18-year-old top prospect in baseball concluded last year at High-A and hasn't even played a game in the upper minors yet. MLB.com lists his estimated time of arrival as 2021, so it's entirely possible -- if not probable -- Franco spends the entire season honing his craft in the minors.
As for Adames' 2019 season, it featured plenty of reasons for optimism, including a better second half as he adjusted to how pitchers were attacking him. In 333 plate appearances in the first half, Adames totaled a .237 batting average with 10 homers, a 7.5 percent walk rate, 27.9 percent strikeout rate, 28.2 percent fly ball rate, and 41.8 percent hard-hit rate. In 251 plate appearances in the second half, he hit .278 with 10 homers, a 8.4 percent walk rate, 23.9 percent strikeout rate, 32.9 percent fly ball rate, and 42.6 percent hard-hit rate.
Adames stole only four bases last year after stealing six in far fewer games in 2018, but his above-average speed creates hope for an attainable double-digit stolen base season. Baseball Savant defines Major League average speed as running a sprint speed of 27 feet per second on a "competitive" play, and Adames' sprint speed of 28.3 feet per second ranked tied for 121st out of 568 qualified players. Also, Adames managed to steal 10 or more bases in the Minors in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and had a full-season pace to flirt with that threshold in 2018 with six stolen bases in 85 games played for the Rays.
Adames belongs in the top-300 picks. He's a nifty, cheap middle infield option near the end of 12-team mixed league drafts with upside that belies his ADP.
Dylan Bundy, SP, Los Angeles Angels
2018 ADP: 174.5
2019 ADP: 311.8
2020 ADP: 314.3
In 127 appearances (103 starts) in the bigs, Bundy owns a 4.67 ERA, 7.8 percent walk rate, 22.9 percent strikeout rate, 1.33 WHIP, and 4.28 Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA). That's hardly the level of production the Orioles thought they'd be receiving from the right-handed high school pitcher they popped with the fourth pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, who immediately earned rave reviews from numerous notable prospect mavens and outlets. Having said that, the Orioles haven't exactly been the model franchise for developing top pitching prospects into even middling rotation options, let alone top-of-the-rotation starters.
A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Bundy to figure it out. Injuries have stripped him of the top-end velocity he possessed as a high school pitcher and earlier in his prospect years, but his secondary pitches are tantalizing. In addition to throwing a four-seam fastball that sits in the low-90s, Bundy spins a pair of breaking balls -- a slider and curve -- and rounds his repertoire out with a changeup. The righty's changeup and slider are his most impressive pitches by plate discipline numbers.
Last year, his changeup coaxed a swing outside of the strike zone 48.7 percent of the time and resulted in a swinging-strike rate of 18.1 percent. His slider generated a swing outside the strike zone 41.6 percent of the time and netted a swinging-strike rate of 22.2 percent.
While I don't know the MLB averages for swing percentage outside the zone or swinging-strike percentage on those specific pitches, FanGraphs has the outside the zone swing percentage average in 2019 at 31.6 percent and swinging-strike percentage average at 11.1 percent. Bundy's changeup and slider give him a pair of filthy put-away pitches when he gets hitters to two strikes.
Overall, Bundy tallied a 35.7 percent swing on pitches outside the zone and 12.9 percent swinging-strike percentage, marks that ranked tied for the eighth-highest percentage and tied for the 14th-highest percentage among starters who pitched a minimum of 160 innings last year, respectively. Despite his elite ability to miss bats and convince hitters to fish out of the strike zone, his 23.1 percent strikeout rate last year was almost identical to the league average of 23.0 percent. The 27-year-old righty's stuff has the potential to pile up more punchouts, and a new organization and new coaches could be the key that unlocks his potential.
I'm in the driver seat of the Bundy bandwagon and view him as a fringe top-50 starting pitcher, which is in stark contrast to his ADP making him the 99th starting pitcher selected in drafts. But all it takes is one leaguemate being similarly optimistic and reaching a bit above his ADP to spoil your plans. With that in mind, I'll likely be aggressive in drafts and spend a pick around upwards of 100 earlier than his ADP to avoid getting sniped and missing out on a starter who'd still be a massive value in prior rounds.