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Seth Trachtman

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2019 Category Sleepers: - HR

Friday, January 4, 2019


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2019 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2019 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the fifth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first two installments of the series were batting average and WHIP sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at possible home run sleepers. 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

 

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants

 

This probably isn’t the first time (or even the first year) you’ve seen Belt mentioned as a home run breakout candidate. The baseball gods haven’t been very nice to Belt lately, between concussion issues prior to last season, and then appendicitis and a knee injury in 2018. Now in the third year of a five-year, $72.8 million contract, Belt has averaged only 114 games since 2014 and 108 games over the last two years. Simply put, he’s injury prone.

 

That said, we continue to see evidence that he can be a potent power bat. Belt has taken part in the flyball revolution over the last three seasons, with an elite 46-plus percent flyball rate that peaked at 47.2 percent last season. For reference, Belt had never had better than a 44 percent flyball rate before the last three seasons, and his flyball rate was only 38 percent in 2015. We’ve seen the results in his power over the last two years, though that has been overshadowed by his injuries, with a combined 3.5 percent home run rate that comes out to 21 home runs over 600 plate appearances. Of course, Belt also hit 11 of his 14 home runs last season in the first two months before going on the DL with appendicitis. Betting on health at age 31 isn’t exactly worthy of risking your mortgage, but Belt’s current ADP of 332 in NFBC makes him the 34th first base eligible player and potentially undrafted in 12-team leagues. The upside remains far too great for Belt to hit the waiver wire, especially in more shallow leagues where you can afford to take greater risks.

 

 

Jay Bruce, OF/1B, Mariners

 

There’s a perception that Bruce is finished, strengthened by the fact that he was a salary dump in the Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano blockbuster trade between the Mets and Mariners. Judging by his elite flyball rate and strong September, I think it’s too early to write him off. He got off to a slow start last season and missed more than two months with a hip injury, but Bruce proved he was healthy in the final month by hitting .235-5-18 in 102 plate appearances. His 48 percent flyball rate for the year was his highest since 2009, though his eight percent home run per flyball rate was less than half of his career average. It’s certainly possible that the hip was hindering Bruce even before he went on the DL, but the strong late-season performance and exit velocity in line with his 36 home run 2017 season does provide some optimism he can bounce back.

 

As for his team situation, Bruce has been told he will still be with the M’s come spring training. While Safeco Field has been known as a pitcher’s haven during its existence. It’s actually far more favorable for left-handed power than Citi Field. We don’t know what type of supporting cast Bruce will have hitting around him if he does remain with Seattle, but it certainly seems like he could get a prime spot in the team’s batting order alongside Edwin Encarnacion, Mitch Haniger, and Domingo Santana, if the current roster remains intact. That’s further reason to buy low on what’s currently a 294 ADP in NFBC.

 

 

Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals

 

Acquired by the Cardinals from Seattle for Marco Gonzales in 2017, O’Neill was upstaged in the St. Louis outfield by fellow rookie Harrison Bader. Although O’Neill’s approach left much to be desired, the muscular outfielder hit an impressive nine home runs in only 142 plate appearances with the team. That added to another impressive minor league season in which he hit 26 home runs in only 273 plate appearances at Triple-A Memphis, giving O’Neill the fourth highest slugging percentage in all of the minors last season. It was also the fourth straight year that O’Neill hit at least 24 home runs in the minor leagues.

 

Currently, O’Neill’s ADP is only 311, making him the 77th outfield-eligible player to go in NFBC leagues. Part of that price is due to what appears to be a playing time obstacle behind Bader, Jose Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, and Dexter Fowler in the Cardinals outfield. That said, Martinez has been mentioned prominently in trade rumors, and Fowler is a major question mark after last season’s struggles. The batting average could be a problem considering O’Neill’s 7/57 BB/K last season, but the 23-year-old would seem to be 30-plus home runs in waiting with regular playing time. There’s far too much upside to allow O’Neill to end up on any waiver wire.

 

 

Franmil Reyes, OF, Padres

 

Speaking of upside, we come to Reyes. The Padres outfielder stands at an intimidating 6-5, 275 pounds, and he has the power to match. Despite his size, the power has grown slowly, but Reyes had a coming of age last year at 22 with 32 home runs in 525 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors. That followed up his previous career high of 25 home runs at Double-A San Antonio in 2017. The power increase last season was in conjunction with an unbelievable home run per flyball rate above 30 percent. For reference, Luke Voit, Christian Yelich, and Shohei Ohtani were the only players in the majors with a higher rate than Reyes’ MLB home run per flyball rate.

 

Reyes suffered a torn meniscus only 13 games into his Dominican Winter League season, but he should be ready for spring training. Despite his size, Reyes has actually been fairly durable during his pro career with at least 500 plate appearances in five straight seasons, so we shouldn’t be too concerned that the knee injury will start a trend. Of bigger concern is the limited margin for error in the Padres outfield, with a crowded set of talented outfielders that also includes Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, Wil Myers, and potentially even Francisco Mejia currently. That said, Reyes did more than enough to get a first crack at regular playing time, and 30-plus home runs almost seem like a formality if he can avoid an early-season slump.

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians

 

Cleveland has made some changes at first base this year, shipping Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso elsewhere in favor of Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers. It looks like cost was part of the equation, considering the Indians also cut payroll by letting Andrew Miller and Cody Allen walk in free agency, as well as trading catcher Yan Gomes. However, Bradley’s presence at Triple-A could also be a reason the team was so willing to move their first base power.

 

Bradley hit more than 20 home runs for the fourth straight season in the minors last year, finishing the year hitting .224-27-83 in 549 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A.  His batting average has been a problem for much of his career, but Bradley has also faced older competition over the last few years. The 22-year-old former third-round pick is likely to get another half season at Triple-A after seeing 32 games there last year, but Cleveland was impressed that he lost 30 pounds last offseason. Although he’s made strides over the last two years, Bradley’s high strikeout rate is still a problem the team hopes he can address with a 27 percent strikeout rate last season. Still, the path to at-bats in Cleveland is at least a bit better now than it was at the end of the 2018 season, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Bradley is a regular with a double-digit power contribution in the second half.

 

 

Michael Chavis, 3B/1B, Red Sox

 

It’s a little curious that a high revenue team like the Red Sox has seemingly settled at first base with a Mitch Moreland/Steve Pearce platoon going into 2019. That combo was certainly enough for Boston during the second half of last season and into the playoffs, but the Red Sox had only a .794 OPS at first base last season. Regardless of the reasoning, like Bradley above, the path to at-bats for Chavis is a little easier as a result.

 

Chavis’ stock did take a hit last year after being suspended 80 games in early April for PEDs. Even so, he went a long way in proving his 2017 breakout season wasn’t a fluke, hitting .298-9-27 in 194 plate appearances over three levels. That was after the former first-round pick hit .282-31-94 between High-A and Double-A in 2017. Now with a slugging percentage above .500 in consecutive seasons, the power is quite obvious, and Chavis’ ability to play either infield corner gives him multiple paths for at-bats this season if Moreland, Pearce, or Rafael Devers get injured. You might have a wait a couple months, but this is another worthy prospect stash.

 

 

Tom Murphy, C, Rockies

 

I’ve listed Murphy here multiple times over the years, and at this point I’m honestly at a loss over what the Rockies are doing with him. He first appeared in the majors in 2015 but has yet to see 100 plate appearances in a single season despite appearing in the majors for four straight years. Still, Murphy has hit 10 home runs in 210 career plate appearances with the Rox, and he has a career .902 OPS in 875 plate appearances at Triple-A. He’s hit a whopping .286-47-146 at hitter-friendly Triple-A Albuquerque and has continued to be one of the most powerful catchers in the minors. The Rockies did give Murphy a string of regular playing time last year in mid-June and again in late July, but he was mostly shuttled back and forth again.

 

Perhaps Murphy doesn’t have Tony Wolters’ defense or handle pitchers as well as Chris Iannetta, but he’s never had a negative defensive WAR and graded just below average in Baseball Prospectus’ catching stats. Yet, Murphy started only 19 games behind the plate last season while primary starter Iannetta had one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, according to oWAR. Granted, Murphy lacks plate discipline, as shown by his 3/44 BB/K in Colorado last year, but it’s long past time he should see regular at-bats in Colorado or traded to another organization that will give him that opportunity. If Murphy remains in his current situation, the optimist can say that the opportunity for playing time has never been closer considering what’s playing in front of him.

 

 

Chris Shaw, OF, Giants

 

The hot stove has been slow again this offseason, but it’s clear San Francisco is in rebuilding mode. They’ve yet to do anything significant in the outfield after hiring Farhan Zaidi to guide baseball operations. As we stand currently, the only surefire outfield starter is center fielder Steven Duggar, with some combination of Shaw, Austin Slater, Mac Williamson, and Mike Gerber in the outfield corners. It would be a shock of Zaidi didn’t do something to address that long-standing weakness, but for now Shaw has a clear path to at-bats.

 

Shaw struggled in his MLB debut, hitting only .185-1-7 in 62 plate appearances, but he hit more than 20 home runs in the minors for the third consecutive season. The former first-round pick profiles much better at first base defensively, and his plate discipline is lacking, as evidenced by his 21/144 BB/K in 422 plate appearances at Sacramento last year. His 34 percent strikeout at Triple-A and 37 percent strikeout rate in the majors is a red flag, especially for Shaw’s batting average. However, Shaw already has a full season under his belt at Triple-A and is clearly one of the most interesting options among the Giants outfielders as we stand now. He’s a 20-plus home run option, albeit with a poor batting average and on-base percentage, if the playing time comes to fruition. While we don’t have NL-only ADP yet, Shaw is barely on the radar in NFBC mixed leagues, going 165th among outfielders.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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