Fantasy Baseball: 2016 Sleepers

by Danny Donahue

Seven potential bargains who should be available in the late rounds of Fantasy Baseball drafts …

Justin Bour, First Baseman (Miami Marlins)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 261

With 2015 being the year of the rookie, can you name the player who finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting? The answer is Justin Bour, who went from relatively unknown to the Marlins’ cleanup hitter.

Starting off the year in the minors, he made it to the majors in late April and immediately made an impact in the power department. To put it simply, Bour can flat out kill the ball, as seen here.

He finished with 23 home runs and an isolated power mark of .218, which is on par with well­-known masher Evan Gattis. To add to his case, Bour’s peripherals were solid as he walked in 7.6% of his plate appearances with a respectable strikeout percentage of 22.6%.

In addition, his batting average should stay around .260, given his near league ­average BABIP of .294 in 2015. The only drawback associated with Bour is that he struggles against lefties and is likely to platoon with offseason acquisition Chris Johnson to begin the season. But Johnson should not scare anyone. Bour has 30 homer, 100 RBI potential.

Not often is 30 home run power found late in fantasy drafts, and that is precisely what Bour provides. Keep him on your radar.

Rich Hill, Starting Pitcher (Oakland Athletics)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 382

Which starting pitcher put up the following numbers in his first three starts of 2015?

­ 7 IP, H, 0 ER, BB, 10 SO
­ 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 10 SO, W
­ 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 10 SO, W

Clayton Kershaw? David Price? Zack Greinke? No. These numbers belong to Rich Hill! Hill came out of absolutely nowhere to post these numbers in his first three starts with the Red Sox last September, shocking the baseball world and putting his name back on the map.

Prior to signing with the Red Sox late in the season, Hill had been pitching for an Independent League team called the Long Island Ducks. He returned to the majors at age 35 with a refined arm angle and an un-hittable repertoire of pitches that consisted mostly of a fastball and curveball with an occasional change up mixed in.

Obviously, this dominance is unlikely to continue as hitters will have more time to figure out the new and improved version of Hill. But for a late round pick in most drafts, he is an absolute bargain if he can provide an ERA somewhere in the 3.00’s with ten wins and a fair amount of punch outs.

Not only was he a low-­risk, high­-reward acquisition for Oakland at one year and $6 million, but could also be one for fantasy owners.

3. Ketel Marte, Shortstop (Seattle Mariners)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 305

​Need cheap batting average, runs and stolen bases for your team? Ketel Marte is your guy.

Debuting for the M’s last August, Marte quickly grabbed hold of the shortstop job, hitting .283 with 25 runs and eight steals in 57 games. Over a whole season, it is realistic to expect a .290 average, 85 runs, and 20 steals. That is the kind of production you’d expect out of Jose Reyes, who would normally be taken in the low 80’s of fantasy drafts, whereas Marte will still be available in the 200’s.

Seattle also appears to have confidence in the youngster, essentially handing him the starting job by shipping Brad Miller to the Rays this offseason. In an improved Seattle lineup, expect Marte to thrive in 2016.

The switch-hitter won’t provide any power to your team, but every winning fantasy squad needs players who can provide what Marte can.

4. Jumbo Diaz, Relief Pitcher (Cincinnati Reds)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 393

Reds manager Bryan Price announced that the closer job is J.J. Hoover‘s to lose. Don’t let that scare you, though. Hoover is not very good and will have a very short leash. The 28-year-old posted a 4.62 xFIP in 2015, and while he improved his HR/FB ratio (from 14.9% in 2014 to 10.3% in 2015), his strikeout rate decreased from 10.8 K/9 in 2014 to 7.3 K/9 in 2015 while his walk rate stayed constant. His strikeout-minus-walk rate of 8% ranked 124th out of 137 qualified relievers. That is not closer material. If given the closing job out of spring training, expect him to falter and for Jumbo Diaz to get his chance.

​Standing at 6­’4″ and weighing 315 pounds, Jumbo Diaz’s name perfectly describes him. Not only does it accurately describe his physical appearance, but also his fastball, which averaged 97 mph in 2015.

The 31-year-old has the stuff to excel in the closer role for the Reds, especially if he can keep the ball in the park. Jumbo had a 16.4% HR/FB rate this past year, which put him among the league leaders in that category. Given that the league average is 10%, that number was a tad fluky, but it still needs to improve.

While homers were a problem with Diaz, strikeouts are his strength. In large part to his blazing fastball, he had a 14.4% swinging strike rate, which put him near the top of the leaderboard amongst relief pitchers. He also had an xFIP of 3.20, suggesting that if his BABIP and HR/FB decrease to the league average, his ERA will also decrease to a similar number.

Price’s early declaration that Diaz isn’t the favorite to be the closer should ensure that he falls in fantasy drafts and allows you to pick up a late-round steal.

5. Jerad Eickhoff, Starting Pitcher (Philadelphia Phillies)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 341

Acquired from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal, it took a little while for Jerad Eickhoff to get going in a Phillies uniform. However, he started to figure things out in his last four starts, especially in his final two:

­ 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, BB, 10 SO, W
­ 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, BB, 10 SO, W

While Eickhoff had a low BABIP (.257) last year, he still had a solid FIP of 3.25. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin already confirmed that the 25-year-old is likely to begin the season in the Phillies’ rotation and he should have a long enough leash to work through any early season issues.

With the Phillies expected to lose 90+ games in 2016, wins will not be easy to come by for the young right-hander. However, for a late-round pick, you could do worse than Eickhoff, who is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.

6. Carter Capps, Relief Pitcher (Miami Marlins)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 301

​Armed with a 98 mph fastball, Carter Capps has always had the stuff needed to succeed at the major league level. But it wasn’t until 2015 that it all came together for him, largely thanks to a new, unusual delivery.

Although an elbow injury prematurely ended his season, Capps emerged as one of the best young relievers in baseball while posting video game-­like numbers. He had an ERA of 1.16, 16.84 K/9 and an 0.806 WHIP.

A.J. Ramos currently occupies the closer role in Miami, but his 2015 campaign was a tale of two halves. He had a 1.81 FIP in the 1st half of the season, compared to 4.65 in the 2nd half.

During Ramos’ subpar second half, it is important to note that Capps was on the disabled list. Had he been available, he could have already cemented his role as the Marlins’ closer.

The Marlins have already made it known that Capps will have a chance to win the job this spring. Even if Ramos begins the year as the closer, expect him to be on a short leash. And regardless of whether he opens 2016 as the closer, target Capps in your fantasy draft. Given his numbers this past season, he does not need saves to be valuable to your team.

7. Hyun­-soo Kim, Left Fielder (Baltimore Orioles)
Roster Resource’s current 5×5 Fantasy Rank: 328

​In one of the most underrated moves of the offseason, the Orioles inked Korean outfielder Hyun­-soo Kim to a two-year, $7 million deal in December. Kim’s 2015 stats in the Korean Baseball Organization were extraordinary:
.326/.438/.541 28 HR, 121 RBI, 11 SB

While it must be noted that these numbers will not be the same in the MLB, it does not mean that Kim cannot be an asset to your fantasy team.

For example, look at Jung­-ho Kang’s transition between the two leagues. In his final year in the KBO, he hit .356 with 40 homers. In his rookie season in the MLB, Kang hit .287 with 15 homers and was looking more and more comfortable at the plate when a leg injury ended his season.

While Kang has more power than Kim, their transition and subsequent decline in numbers could be similar. Expect the left-handed hitting Kim to bat anywhere from .270­-.300 with double-­digit home runs and a solid amount of runs scored. Even if he slots 9th, he’ll have Dexter Fowler, Manny Machado and Chris Davis hitting behind him in the Orioles’ lineup.

Only baseball geeks know about Kim, and while he might not post the numbers Kang did in 2015, he can have a similar impact for the O’s. Show your inner baseball geek and grab Kim late in your upcoming draft!

Honorable Mentions
Scott Schebler, Left Fielder (Cincinnati Reds)
­ Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman (Baltimore Orioles)
­ Curt Casali, Catcher (Tampa Bay Rays)
­ Aaron Altherr, Right Fielder (Philadelphia Phillies)
­ Raisel Iglesias, Starting Pitcher (Cincinnati Reds)