by Ray Kuhn
At this point there really is no such thing as a true “sleeper” (especially as the definition has evolved and become less than crystal clear). Knowledge is readily available and consumed and sleepers have become players that people are high on and expect good things from in the coming season, compared to their prior year performance.
With that mind, instead of listing a sleeper from each team I am going to focus on a playerwho I feel has a good chance to exceed their draft day price. These are not necessarily exciting players, but options to keep an eye on. It is possible that they could go undrafted in some, if not all leagues, but the potential is there while the risk is not.
Let’s kick things off with the AL East:
Boston Red Sox – Blake Swihart – C
Of all the players in this article Swihart has the likeliest chance of being drafted based solely on his position. Catchers are difficult to find and that issue becomes magnified in deeper leagues and those that force you to start two. Swihart will likely be hitting towards the bottom of a deep lineup in which he will be protected, have RBI opportunities and also not much pressure. If he doesn’t hit as well as expected or his defense becomes more of a liability playing time may become an issue, but he is poised to start the season behind the plate.
Last season he had 288 at bats and hit a solid .274, which included a .303 average after the All-Star break. From a power perspective his 5 HR and 31 RBI don’t jump off the page, but even without any skill improvement a full season’s worth of at bats (450 if we are being conservative) means 8 HR and 50 RBI. I know these aren’t great numbers, but when you factor in the 47 runs that he scored last season, along with his four stolen bases, you have well rounded option for your second catcher.
Swihart doesn’t have a skill set that jumps off the page, but there is enough solid production to warrant a late round pick as you can do much worse. If anything he will score 65 runs and hit .270, which is better than a great deal of the alternatives.
Baltimore Orioles – Hyun-soo Kim – OF
We know there is going to be a regression coming from the hitter friendly climate in the KBO, but there is still enough here to make Kim a worthwhile investment. He is slated to start the year as Baltimore’s left fielder, joining a deep lineup. There was barely any attention paid to his signing and the pressure will be non-existent.
Last season he hit .326 with 28 HR and 121 RBI and even if his average takes .050 dip, which is sizable, Kim is still a .275 hitter with maybe 15 HR and 70 RBI. We know that he can be a run producer, but what I like the most about him as that he walked 101 times last season while striking out just 63.
New York Yankees – Aaron Hicks – OF
Hicks is one of those players who production has fallen far short of expectations thus far in his career. The former first round pick has spent parts of three seasons in the Majors hitting .225 in 247 games with 20 HR, 78 RBI and 26 stolen bases. The outfielder brings average power and elite speed to the table, and projects as a solid contributor if he puts it all together. Last season was his best with the Twins as he hit .256 with 11 HR, 33 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 97 games (390 at bats).
Hicks is slated to be the fourth outfielder for the Yankees, but both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran require rest and can’t be expected to play a full season. In the same role last season Chris Young had 318 at bats, but 400 is not out of the question for Hicks. The Yankees bought low on an improving 26-year old who brought his contact rate up to 80% last season and his line drive rate up to 23% (per Baseball HQ).
Tampa Bay Rays – Brad Miller – SS/OF
By trade Miller is a shortstop, and that is where he is projected to start the season. However he did play 35 games in the outfield last season so I would expect the Rays to take advantage of his versatility (he can also play 2B), although the acquisition of Corey Dickerson doesn’t help. The main issue with Miller is that he struggles against left-handed pitching, which at this point puts him on the verge of becoming a true platoon player. Over the last two seasons his OPS against is drastically better against right-handed pitching (.692 compared to .542 and .803 against .513).
Last season Miller hit 11 HR while driving in 46 runs and stealing 13 bases in 438 at bats. With average power and slightly above average speed he very easily could be a 15/15 player. The good news is that his OPS against left-handed pitching did improve from the first half to second half of the season (.372 to .625).
Toronto Blue Jays – Aaron Sanchez – P
I try not to read into off-season chatter, but it is worth noting that Sanchez gained 25 pounds of muscle with making a move to the rotation in mind (and Toronto appears poised to stretch the right-hander out this spring). In 2015 he appeared in 41 games (11 starts) and had a solid 3.22 ERA in 92.1 innings with 61 strikeouts. Upon a closer look his campaign was not as good thanks to his 1.28 WHIP, 44 walks and a 4.61 FIP. It was a far cry from his 2014 season that saw him record a 1.09 ERA (2.80 FIP), 0.70 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 33 innings.
In the minor leagues Sanchez struck out 356 batters in 366 innings, so I would expect that part of his game to rebound. The Blue Jays need help in their rotation, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sanchez make 25 to 30 starts.
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