Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2017 Category Sleepers: SO

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2017. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2017 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the third year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, and home run sleepers. In the fourth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing pitchers who could be sleepers for strikeouts. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill.  Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.

 

Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.

 

 

Mixed League Sleepers

 

Jose De Leon, SP, Dodgers

 

Also mentioned in this section last season, De Leon didn’t get as much major league time as hoped in 2016 due to early-season shoulder and ankle issues. He was still impressive when he was on the mound during the year, with a 2.61 ERA and 11.6 K/9 in 16 starts at hitter-friendly Triple-A Oklahoma City. His major league debut was hit or miss, pun intended, with 12 earned runs allowed in 17 innings over four starts, though he did have 15 strikeouts.

 

De Leon’s elite changeup and command have helped him produce an amazing 12.1 K/9 for his minor league career, among the elite starters that we’ve seen in recent memory. Unfortunately, he’s had issues keeping the ball in the park over the last two seasons, and allowed five homers in his limited major league innings last season. It’s an issue De Leon will need to fix in order to crack LA’s loaded starting rotation that is more than set with Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Julio Urias in the top four spots. The strikeout upside is still worth stashing, and it’s not impossible that De Leon could still be traded this offseason as the Dodgers look at adding a second baseman. For now, he’s a stashable, high upside player whose price will be miniscule considering the Dodgers’ depth.

 

 

Daniel Norris, SP, Tigers

 

Norris’ 2016 season was a mix of good and bad. While he missed significant time with back and oblique issues and also spent time in the minors, his major league results were terrific in 69.1 innings. The former top prospect had a 3.38 ERA and more than one strikeout per inning, finally carrying over some of his minor league career 9.8 K/9 to the majors. With nearly the same number of major league innings as 2015, Norris’ K/9 increased by more than two strikeouts. One clear reason why was a significant increase in velocity, with his fastball showing more than one mph increase, while his slider velocity increased by four mph.

 

As with Jose De Leon, Norris has had issues keeping the ball in the park with a 1.3 HR/9 in 136 major league innings. That’s a major concern for his ERA, but the lefty’s huge velocity increase does resemble what we saw from fellow lefty and former Tiger Robbie Ray in 2015. That’s an exciting prospect going into 2017 if Norris can have better luck with health.

 

 

Alex Reyes, SP, Cardinals

 

Not everyone is sleeping on arguably the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, but this is still a good opportunity to discuss the 22-year-old’s price and role heading into 2017. Reyes lit up the radar gun during his late-season run with the Cardinals, averaging better than 96 mph on his fastball while producing a 1.57 ERA and 10.2 K/9 between starting and relief. That followed up a minor league season in which Reyes struggled at Triple-A Memphis, with an ERA of 4.96 ERA in 14 starts, but also had a 12.8 K/9 in 65.1 innings. For his career, Reyes has a 12.1 K/9, equal to that of Jose De Leon.

 

There are clear differences between Reyes and De Leon, obviously, as Reyes has really struggled with his control to this point. He has a 4.6 BB/9 in the minors, which was just a touch better at 4.5 in St. Louis last season. It’s a stretch to say that Reyes wasn’t ready for the majors, but it might not be excessive to say that he’s not ready to be a major league starter. Reyes failed to average six innings per start in his five major league outings, and that’s unlikely to improve much as long as his walk rate is so high. The Cardinals are also likely to put Reyes on an innings cap given his age, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Reyes spends a significant portion of the year in the bullpen.

 

This might seem like a knock on Reyes’ value, but it’s actually an opportunity in mixed leagues that allow bench spots. Predicting that Reyes will get some time in the bullpen or shutdown late in the season, you can potentially bench him for another starter and maximize the value out of his starter innings, thus garnering more value out of his active spot on your roster if your alternative is adequate. For the sake of projection, let’s predict that Reyes spends 20 out of 26 weeks in the season as a starter, making 23 starts and throwing 132 innings with a perfect 10.0 K/9. You’ll be able to bench him for six weeks, adding onto his 147 strikeouts and potentially filling a roster spot with 190-200 strikeouts given the average replacement starting pitcher in standard mixed leagues. There’s risk in making such a bet on effectiveness from a young pitcher with poor control, but the upside in this scenario adds intangible value to his draft day price.

 

 

Luke Weaver, SP, Cardinals

 

Weaver is another young Cardinal worth mentioning, and could compete with Reyes in spring training for a rotation spot. Weaver is a great young prospect and former first-round pick whose profile better resembles Jose De Leon. Like De Leon, Weaver has great command of a low-90’s fastball and outstanding changeup. Also like De Leon, Weaver had trouble keeping the ball in the park during his first major league go-around with seven long balls allowed in 36.1 innings.

 

Despite last season’s issues, there is real excitement from his strikeout rate growth. Weaver had an 11.1 K/9 in the majors and 10.0 K/9 in 83 innings between Double- and Triple-A before that time. He’s also shown nearly perfect control since being drafted in 2014, with a 1.6 BB/9 in the minors. The right-hander could have been mentioned in the WHIP Sleepers article for that outstanding walk rate, but the strikeouts that he showed with the Cardinals last season make him just as exciting in that category. The similarities to De Leon are also present with Weaver’s difficulty in finding a rotation spot next season, as he will likely battle Michael Wacha and Reyes for the No. 5 job in spring training. With only one start at Triple-A, Weaver could get some more seasoning early in the season but has the upside and pitch efficiency to be a strong strikeout option when he’s in the majors.

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Grant Dayton, RP, Dodgers

 

The Dodgers discovered that they had a dominant left-handed reliever on their hands last season in Dayton, a 28-year-old rookie. He had a gaudy 13.3 K/9 in 26.1 innings with the Dodgers after posting an incredible 15.8 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 between Double- and Triple-A in 52 innings. The strikeout rate did represent a huge jump for Dayton, but he does have a career 11.5 K/9 and 2.79 ERA in the minors.

 

So what took so long for a former college pitcher drafted by the Marlins in 2010? Only the Marlins can answer that question, but the Dodgers sure do seem happy to have Dayton. He dominated right-handers in his debut nearly as well as lefties, which should give Dayton an opportunity to pile up 70-plus innings in 2017. If the improvement is real, we’re looking at a 100-plus strikeout reliever.

 

 

Trevor May, SP, Twins

 

New Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey has stated that May could be headed to the rotation in 2017, so it’s time to salivate. May struggled in the pen last season, with a 5.27 ERA in 42.2 innings, but he also had a dominant 12.7 K/9 and 3.53 K/BB ratio. The 6-5 right-hander was also semi-effective as a starter in 2015, with a 4.43 ERA and 7.9 K/9 in 16 starts.

 

While May’s control was inconsistent in the minors, the strikeout rate speaks for itself. He had a 10.5 K/9 for his career, and his lowest K/9 at any level was 8.9 at Triple-A. It’s clear that May has upside in the rotation, and the Minnesota rotation isn’t exactly deep at the moment. Despite his struggles last season, May is worth watching closely in spring training as he likely battles for a rotation spot.

 

 

Alex Meyer, SP, Angels

 

Speaking of young Twins starters, Meyer enters the fray with the Angels after being acquired along with Ricky Nolasco from Minnesota last season. The lanky right-hander has had injury issues throughout his career, including last season, when he fought through shoulder issues. It’s not a shock that the Twins lost patience with Meyer given his arm injury history, poor control, and struggles during his trial as a reliever during 2015.

 

With all the blemishes, there’s still a case to be made for Meyer as a flier in AL-only leagues. His fastball still averages better than 95 mph, and Meyer has a career 10.4 K/9 in the minors. He hasn’t showed anything close to major league control, but as Aaron Sanchez proved last season, improvement can happen quickly. The hope is that the change of scenery will do him some good. At worst, Meyer is a pitcher to watch during spring training.

 

 

Matt Strahm, P, Royals

 

Strahm made a terrific contribution for the Royals in the bullpen last season, with a 1.23 ERA and 12.3 K/9 in 22 innings. The jump was especially impressive considering that he jumped from Double-A, where he threw 102.1 innings as a starter. Strahm had a 9.4 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 at Northwest Arkansas, and has a career 10.9 K/9 in the minors built on his mid-90’s fastball from the left side.

 

Royals manager Ned Yost has said Strahm will compete with Chris Young for the fifth rotation spot in spring training. Considering how poorly Young pitched last season, that’s a favorable opportunity for Strahm. His control has improved rapidly over the last two seasons, though his high walk rate in the pen with KC is a concern going forward. Regardless, he’s a pitcher to watch in spring training given the upside that he showed in his major league debut. If Strahm does crack the rotation, he will be worth owning in most AL-only leagues.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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