After last season ended, I recapped a lot of my predictions and found that perhaps I played it too safe with my sleeper calls. I mostly targeted boring veteran players whom I believed would outperform their average draft position. Obviously, I still believe the names below will outperform their ADP but I wanted to choose players with a little more upside this time around.
As I pointed out in Breakouts 2.0, things have changed over the past few months. I've done more research, and talked things out with Scott White and Chris Towers on Fantasy Baseball Today plus 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 for certain players. Below you'll find six more players I've either targeted all offseason or will target moving forward.
Also, make sure to check out Sleepers 1.0, which is updated with new information and ADP.
Frankly, I'm surprised there isn't more excitement for Oscar Gonzalez this draft season. He's loaded up with tools and makes a bunch of contact. What's not to like? Gonzalez hit .296 with 11 home runs in 91 games last season but I think there is much more in the tank. According to Statcast, Gonzalez ranked 91st percentile in max exit velocity and 88th percentile in spring speed while striking out just 19.6% of the time. While he hit too many ground balls last season, Gonzalez clearly has raw power and pulls the ball often. This bodes well for a power breakout and is supported by a 31-homer season back in 2021 in the minors.
Gonzalez detractors will point to an absurd 48% chase rate, which could lead to more strikeouts and a lower batting average moving forward. Well, he did that last year and still maintained a sub-20% strikeout rate and he did a great job handling non-fastballs. Even if opposing pitchers try and challenge Gonzalez more this season with non-fastballs out of the zone, he hit .283 vs. breaking pitches and .277 vs. offspeed last year. Lastly, we haven't seen the sprint speed translate to steals yet at any level but perhaps the new rules promoting stolen bases can get Gonzalez in the 5-10 steals range. I'm drafting Gonzalez as my OF3 or OF4 and immediately singing the Spongebob Squarepants theme song after it happens (see below).
Cleveland Guardians right fielder Oscar Gonzalez has the Spongebob Squarepants theme song as his walk-up music 😂— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 7, 2022
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 dimmed a bit, he's still loaded with potential. Last year he hit .315 while striking out just 16.9% of the time at Triple-A. He did a bunch 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 he 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 blasted two home runs in just 17 at-bats this spring.
Gabriel Moreno (2)— Arizona Home Runs (@Arizona_HRs) March 9, 2023
Spring Training 🌵
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Pitcher: Marc Church
Date: Mar. 8, 2023 pic.twitter.com/qnAWjkZ8kA
Hitting too many ground balls has been part of the problem for Moreno but as you can see in the clip above, he has the ability to raise his launch angle. Prior to last year, launch angle wasn't really a problem for Moreno in the minors. There are playing time concerns with Carson Kelly still on the roster but if Moreno is hitting and can call a decent game, things will change quickly. If everything works out, there is an Alejandro Kirk type outcome for Moreno this season. Target him as an upside second catcher regardless of format.
If the new offensive environment holds from last season, Fantasy managers will likely be in need of power this year. Frankly, there just aren't many home runs available later on in drafts. That's why I've been targeting Jorge Soler. I know, I know. Everybody's been burned by Soler at some point. He's either been hurt or has underperformed for most of his career. The difference is that for most of his career, Soler actually cost something in drafts. Now he's going outside the top 300 picks on average.
When I look at Soler, I see a Christian Walker scenario from last season. Soler bats in the middle of his lineup is going to play every day (when healthy) and has proven his upside in the past. It's a very similar situation to Walker this time last year. Plus, Soler is just one 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 clearly playing hurt, Soler posted a 91.2 MPH average exit velocity to go along with a 99th percentile max exit velocity. The skills are still there. We just need Soler to stay on the field. I'll take that gamble outside the top-300.
Kenta Maeda SP
MIN Minnesota • #18 • Age: 35
Perhaps he's been out of baseball for so long that people forgot about him. Kenta Maeda had Tommy John surgery in September of 2021. He's now 18 months removed from surgery and has no limitations heading into the season. It's actually the same timetable Justin Verlander had with his Tommy John surgery and we all saw what Verlander did last year. Of course, Maeda is no Verlander, not even close. But he is a serviceable pitcher for Fantasy. In his career, Maeda owns a 3.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP with a 26.6% strikeout rate and a 13.5% swinging strike rate.
2020 and 2021 were both clear outliers 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 profit from a pitcher going outside the top-300 picks. I've always thought there was another level for Maeda, too. Admittedly, he probably won't reach that level as a near-35-year old coming off Tommy John surgery, but the whiff rates have always impressed. I've been targeting Maeda as a bench pitcher who I'll throw in my lineups as a matchup play or two-start pitcher early in the season. It wouldn't surprise me if he works his way back into must-start territory as well.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #19 • Age: 25
You'll often hear that spring training stats don't matter. That's not the case for the final two sleepers on this list. Spring training matters for prospects, position battles, and those who have something to prove. Hayden Wesneski meets each of those criteria. Wesneski was traded over to the Cubs last season and made his debut late in the year. In 33 innings of work, he put up a 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP with 33 strikeouts to just seven walks. Wesneski is armed with solid command and a wipeout slider, which had a .119 batting average against to go along with a 16.2% swinging strike rate.
It was announced early in spring that Kyle Hendricks would not be ready for the start of the season, which left an opening for Wesneski in the rotation, should he claim it. I'd say he's done everything in his power to this point. He's thrown 8.2 innings this spring, allowing one unearned run with 11 strikeouts to two walks. Wesneski actually threw four perfect innings against the Dodgers this past weekend. I don't think he has ace upside but with that slider and a strong defense behind him, Wesneski can become a SP3 or SP4 in Fantasy. Like Maeda, he's going outside the top-300 picks.
Matthew Boyd SP
DET Detroit • #48 • Age: 32
Speaking of spring training, this last name 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 an opportunity to rejoin the Tigers rotation and, to this point, he's done everything in his power to earn that 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 in this spring training roundup, there are a few things now playing in Boyd's favor. He's routinely struggled with home runs in his career. Welcome to the de-juiced ball era! With a less bouncy ball and humidors in every ballpark, home runs were down last season, which should help a fly ball pitcher like Boyd. On top of that, he's gone back to a previous changeup grip, which is already paying off this spring. I'm not saying you need to reach for Boyd but I'd consider using my last pick on him, especially in H2H points leagues. On CBS, Boyd has RP eligibility, which is a bit of a cheat code in that format.