After the end of last season, I recap many of my predictions and find that maybe I played it too safe with my sleep calls. I was mostly targeting boring veteran players who I thought would go above their average draft position. Obviously, I still think the names below will exceed their ADP, but I wanted to pick players with a little more upside this time around.
As I pointed out in Breakouts 2.0, things have changed in recent months. I did more research and spoke to Scott White and Chris Towers Fantasy baseball today In addition, we have new data points. I don’t want to overreact to spring training or the World Baseball Classic, but, as I’ll point out, I think spring matters to some players. Below you’ll find six more players I’ve either targeted throughout the offseason or will be targeting moving forward.
Also, be sure to check out Sleepers 1.0, which is updated with new information and ADP.
Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t more excitement for Oscar Gonzalez this draft season. He’s loaded with tools and makes a bunch of contacts. What’s not to like? Gonzalez hit .296 with 11 home runs in 91 games last season, but I think there’s a lot more in the tank. According to Statcast, Gonzalez ranked in the 91st percentile in maximum exit velocity and the 88th percentile in spring velocity while striking out just 19.6 percent of the time. While he hit too many ground balls last season, Gonzalez clearly has raw power and pulls the ball often. That bodes well for a power breakout and is backed by a 31-homer season in 2021 in the minors.
Gonzalez’s detractors will point to an absurd 48% strikeout rate, which could lead to more strikeouts and a lower batting average going forward. Well, he did that last year and still held a sub-20% strikeout rate and did a great job of handling non-fastballs. Even if opposing pitchers try to challenge Gonzalez more this season with non-fastballs out of the zone, he hit .283 against breaking pitches and .277 against offspeed last year. Finally, we haven’t seen sprint speed translate to steals yet at any level, but perhaps the new rules promoting stolen bases can put Gonzalez in the 5-10 steal range. I draw Gonzalez as my OF3 or OF4 and immediately sing the SpongeBob theme song after it happens (see below).
The Diamondbacks made a splash this offseason, sending Daulton Varsho to the Blue Jays in exchange for Lourdes Gurriel and former top prospect Gabriel Moreno. While Moreno’s star has dipped a bit, he’s still full of potential. Last year he hit .315 while striking out just 16.9% of the time in Triple-A. He did much of the same with the Blue Jays. In Moreno’s 25 games in the majors, he hit .319 while striking out just 11% of the time. So why has it faded a bit? The lack of power. Moreno hit just four home runs in 87 games between Triple-A and the majors. Perhaps he heard the whispers this offseason, as Moreno has hit two home runs in just 17 at-bats this spring.
Hitting a lot of ground balls has been part of the problem for Moreno, but as you can see in the clip above, he has the ability to increase his launch angle. Before last year, launch angle wasn’t really an issue for Moreno in the minors. There are timing concerns with Carson Kelly still on the roster, but if Moreno hits and can have a decent game, things will turn around quickly. If all goes well, there is an Alejandro Kirk-type result for Moreno this season. Target him as an upside second catcher regardless of format.
If the new offensive environment from last season holds true, Fantasy managers will likely need strength this year. Honestly, there just aren’t many home runs available later in the draft. That’s why I’ve targeted Jorge Soler. I know, I know. Everyone got burned by Soler at some point. He’s either been hurt or underperformed most of his career. The difference is that for most of his career, Soler cost something in drafts. It now falls outside the top 300 picks on average.
When I look at Soler, I see a Christian Walker script from last season. Soler bats in the middle of the lineup and will play every day (when healthy) and has proven his worth in the past. It’s a very similar situation to Walker this time last year. Additionally, Soler is just a year removed from being a major contributor on a World Series Braves team. In 55 games with the Braves in 2021, Soler hit .269 with 14 home runs and an .882 OPS. He would then go on to hit three more homers in the postseason. Even last year, when he was playing clearly hurt, Soler posted an average exit velocity of 91.2 MPH to go along with a maximum exit velocity of 99 centimeter. The skills are still there. We just need Soler to stay on the field. I will take this bet out of the top-300.
Maybe he was out of baseball so long that people forgot about him. Kenta Maeda underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2021. He is now 18 months removed from surgery and is unrestricted to start the season. It’s actually the same timeline that Justin Verlander had with Tommy John surgery and we all saw what Verlander did last year. Of course, Maeda is no Verlander, not even close. But he’s a serviceable Fantasy pitcher. In his career, Maeda has a 3.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP with a 26.6% strikeout rate and 13.5% swinging strikeout rate.
2020 and 2021 were both clear extremes in Maeda’s career. He posted a 2.70 ERA in 2020 and a 4.66 ERA in 2021. Expect something in the middle and you’ll benefit from a pitcher who falls out of the top 300. I’ve always thought there was another level to Maeda as well. Granted, he probably won’t reach that level as a nearly 35-year-old coming off Tommy John surgery, but the feel rates have always been impressive. I’ve been targeting Maeda as a bench pitcher who I’ll put in my lineups as a starter or two early in the season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he returns to the starting area as well.
You’ll often hear that spring training stats don’t matter. This does not apply to the last two layers on this list. Spring training matters to prospects, position battles and those with something to prove. Hayden Wesneski meets each of these criteria. Wesneski was traded to the Cubs last season and made his debut late in the year. In 33 innings of work, he posted a 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP with 33 strikeouts to just seven walks. Wesneski is armed with solid command and a wipeout slider, who had a .119 batting average to go along with a 16.2% swinging rate.
It was announced early in the spring that Kyle Hendricks would not be ready for the season opener, which left an opening for Wesneski in the rotation if he claimed it. I’d say he’s done his best so far. He has thrown 8.2 innings this spring, allowing one unearned run on 11 hits with two walks. Wesneski pitched four perfect innings against the Dodgers last weekend. I don’t think he has ace upside, but with that slider and a strong defense behind him, Wesneski can become an SP3 or SP4 in Fantasy. Like Maeda, he falls out of the top 300 picks.
Speaking of spring training, that adjective falls into the “something to prove” category. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, a pitcher named Matthew Boyd posted 238 strikeouts in a single season. Granted, he did that while allowing 39 home runs in the 2019 season. Boyd entered this spring with a chance to rejoin the Tigers’ rotation and, up to this point, has done his best to to win this job. In three spring starts, Boyd has 17 strikeouts to just two walks. Of course, of the four hits he’s allowed, two have been home runs. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Scott recently pointed out this spring training, there are a few things playing in Boyd’s favor right now. He often struggles with houses in his career. Welcome to the age of the juiced ball! With a less tight ball and humidifiers on every pitch, home runs were down last season, which could help a ballplayer like Boyd. In addition, it has returned to an earlier shift handle, which is already paying off this spring. I’m not saying you should reach for Boyd, but I would consider using my last pick on him, especially in H2H point leagues. At CBS, Boyd is RP eligible, which is a bit of a cheat code in this format.