Fantasy Baseball season is here and everyone is always looking for that beloved fantasy baseball sleeper that will help lead their team to a title! Sometimes it’s a player coming off a down year with a suppressed average draft position (ADP), other times, a sleeper is someone who is just going entirely too late in drafts for whatever reason. I've already discussed my top 10 fantasy baseball busts so, in this article, I’ve pinpointed my top 10 fantasy baseball sleepers for the 2023 MLB season, with a nice spread of players ranging anywhere from inside the top 200 picks, to outside the top 400! While the MLB Offseason was highlighted by the likes of the game’s biggest names, a la Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto signing with the Dodgers, these under the radar fantasy baseball sleepers will be just as key as your early round picks for success this season. Without further ado, let’s dive into my top 10 fantasy baseball sleepers for you to target in your fantasy baseball drafts.
Pasquantino was a fantasy darling heading into 2023, with the hope that his power would develop a bit, and that he would maintain hitting for a plus average. He unfortunately suffers a shoulder injury, misses the rest of the season, and now he’s chopped liver? Albeit limited to just 61 games last season, his .190 ISO was better than his .155 mark in 2022, and he traded some grounders for fly balls. While his Statcast metrics may have been down a bit, his .279 xBA, .449 xSLG, and .350 xwOBA are still solid metrics! He should be fully healthy heading into 2024 and he’s going to hit in the heart of a Kansas City order with the likes of Bobby Witt Jr and others. Pasquantino has excellent plate discipline and he can provide fantasy managers with a .270-.280 average and 20+ home runs this year, and with that in mind, the notion that, on average, 15 other first baseman are going ahead of him in drafts is crazy!
The Rays got a good one in Pepiot. Throughout his time in the minors, Pepiot was a solid right-hander, posting quality ERA numbers and excellent strikeout numbers. The strikeouts have been a bit hit or miss at the major league level, but across 78.1 IP between 2022 and 2023, he’s posted a 2.76 ERA (4.76 FIP) with a 25.1 percent strikeout rate. He primarily relies on his fastball and changeup, but his slider took a big step forward in 2023, posting a .174 BAA and 32.6 percent whiff rate. For comparison, in 2022, his slider registered a .300 BAA and 27.9 percent whiff rate. If the Rays can get Pepiot’s slider to be a quality tertiary option, he could break out in 2024. Just last year we saw the Rays turn Aaron Civale into an elite strikeout arm!
|Civale 2023 (w/CLE)
|Civale 2023 (w/TB)
Pepiot is still pitching for a good team, and he already has two solid pitches in his repertoire. The key to taking the next step in fantasy is to unlock that slider to give him a true three pitch mix, and I believe in the Tampa Bay system being able to do this. Pepiot being drafted outside of the top 200 and losing some hype because he was traded away from Los Angeles makes him a great value in fantasy baseball drafts, even if Tampa Bay uses him behind an opener, something he’s used to from his time in L.A.
Frelick has some development still to occur at the plate, but he’s just 23 years young, and at his current price in drafts, he’s worth a flier. He’s never posted big time home run numbers in the minors, but he has a solid hit tool and should make a ton of contact at the plate. Ideally, he trades some grounders for line drives and fly balls, as well as make more hard contact, but hey, that will come! In his first taste of MLB action last year, he posted an 87 percent contact rate, 91.3 percent zone contact rate, and 5.6 percent swinging strike rate. That’s excellent! He plays in a home park that can help play up his power a bit, and he’s got some wheels on him, which is good for the stolen base upside. While I don’t expect him to be a 20-homer guy this year, his advanced feel of the batter’s box at a young age will push his average up, and those in OBP formats will love Frelick at his price point (16.6 BB% in 2023). A .255 average, .350+ OBP and a member of the 10/15 club is very attainable for Frelick, making him a steal at his current price, which is outside the top 60 players at his position. Oh, and there’s a very, very real chance that he hits in the heart of the order for Milwaukee this year, too, at least against righties.
The key for Davis is him gaining catcher eligibility this season. He only played a couple of innings behind the dish last year, and with Endy Rodriguez’s injury being a season-ender, Davis is going to come into spring training as a catcher. Pittsburgh will surely add someone behind the dish, but Davis should be given a chance to play everyday and get the appearances needed behind the dish. When he doesn’t catch, he can DH or even play in the outfield if needed, and the raw power Davis possesses is elite. He posted 17 extra-base hits (7 HR) in 225 ABs last season, while posting a respectable seven percent barrel rate and 41.4 percent hard hit rate. Davis will need to cut back on the strikeouts and improve against non-fastballs, but all of the tools are there for Davis to be an intriguing fantasy catcher. Also, his 72nd percentile sprint speed from last year gives some optimism for stolen bases behind the dish as well, and in a full time role, is Davis hitting .230 with 15 HR and 10 SB unattainable? I don’t think so, and those numbers from someone you can play [hopefully] eventually play at catcher is a steal at his current price, especially if he gets that eligibility sooner rather than later. The sooner he gets the catcher tag, the bigger value/steal he becomes.
UPDATE (2/12): There was always a risk that this was going to happen, and Pittsburgh did bring in a veteran backstop to help behind the dish. Yasmani Grandal inked a one-year deal with Pittsburgh, but for just a couple of million dollars, I'm still a firm believer in Davis getting the lion's share of the starts behind the dish. Early on, it might be closer to a 50/50 split to ease some of the burden on the talented youngster. While Davis won't be getting catcher eligibility within the first month of the season like we were hoping (depending on your league's requirements), it shouldn't be long afterwards that he gets to the magic number. You may need another catcher for a couple of extra weeks than we originally anticipated, before you can run Davis out there as your team's backstop.
Someone has to close games in Oakland, right? I mean, they are going to win some games this season! Lucas Erceg is also in the mix, but with a strong spring, Miller has the stuff to be an electric, shutdown closer. He’ll need to harness the command a bit, as last year’s 11.5 percent walk rate is simply too high, but he misses bats, limits hard contact, and posted a .185 xBA last season. His cutter needs refinement, or scrapped entirely, and if he were to be the team’s closer, he can be a two-pitch guy and ride his excellent fastball and slider to strikeouts galore. His slider posted a 48 percent whiff rate and .133 BAA last season, and when paired with his fastball that can reach triple-digits, watch out.
Health-willing, Miller has the stuff to be a dynamite closer, and even if he isn’t racking up a ton of saves for Oakland, he could be an elite per inning option, as high strikeout marks have followed him through his short professional career. Remember, you don’t need to be on the best team in the game to be a solid fantasy closer!
Between AA, AAA, and the MLB last season, Miller logged 49 innings, so he should be able to handle 60 IP for the Athletics this year, but he doesn’t exactly have a clean medical history, including missing nearly four months with forearm tightness last season.
After not pitching at all in 2022, Maeda returned to form in 2023, in that he posted a quality strikeout rate, a FIP right around 4.00 and a respectable ERA. He missed some time in the early months, but upon returning from that injury, he posted a 3.36 ERA and 29 percent strikeout rate over 88.1 innings pitched. If we dive into it further, in the “second half of the season,” Maeda was excellent!
Amongst qualified starters, Maeda’s 10.35 K/9 was 12th-best in baseball, his 28.2 percent strikeout rate was the 10th-best, and his K-BB% was 13th-best! Maeda returned to form, and the Detroit offense could be a bit surprising in 2024. With a slight park upgrade for him, that stands to help his fantasy value, and he remains in the pitcher-friendly AL Central. While most of his metrics ramined on par, one thing I’ll be watching closely to begin the season are some of his batted ball metrics. His 32.6 percent ground ball rate was far and away the lowest of his career, but I like Maeda to strike out over a batter per inning with a sub-4.00 ERA and double-digit wins.
Third base is rather deep this year for fantasy baseball purposes, but Suarez is currently going outside the top 20 at the position, making him an afterthought at the position. However, there’s a lot of value to be had with the veteran slugger. While his new home park may actually be a downgrade in terms of home runs, it’s a big boost for hits overall, and with Suarez’s hard contact metrics, I’m not concerned about the power. Suarez played in all 162 games last season, and health willing, should do so again and provide stability at third base for the Diamondbacks. Suarez only hit 22 home runs, but had 96 RBI and he posted a double-digit barrel rate for the fifth straight season. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives was the same as 2022, and that number is up from the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In his new home park with a better supporting cast, Suarez is a tremendous value at third base. He won’t help with batting average, but a .230-.240 average with 25 home runs and 85+ RBI would be a steal outside the top 20 at his position.
An unfortunate injury ended Campusano’s 2023 campaign early, but with the pace he was on prior to the injury, if he sustained that the rest of the way, how high would he be going in drafts? He only appeared in 49 games last season, but the then 24-year-old slashed .319/.356/.491 with seven home runs, seven doubles, 30 RBI, and 27 runs scored. His .319 average was strong, and the .300 xBA supports that, alongside a 7.7 percent barrel rate, 40.6 percent hard hit rate, and 91 percent zone contact rate. As pitchers adjust, his 39.5 percent O-Swing rate and nine percent swinging strike rate could push his strikeout rate up into the mid-teens, but throughout his time in the minors, he’s always kept the strikeout rate in check. He was hitting .359 over his final 67 plate appearances last year, and as he continues to develop, the power will come. Even without Juan Soto, this San Diego lineup has some nice pieces, and Campusano should hit just outside the heart of the order. I expect the power to develop a bit this year, and while he won’t hit .319 again over a full season, he’s going too late in drafts for the offensive numbers he can provide behind the dish. What if I told you that you get 15+ home runs and a .270+ batting average from your catcher, whom you can draft after everyone else in your league has their starting catcher? Well, here you go!
Will we ever see 2019 Moncada again? Unfortunately, I doubt it, especially when you consider the fact that his days of stealing bases are long gone. However, once Moncada got fully healthy last year, the numbers returned. Over his final 189 plate appearances, he slashed .288/.333/.492 with eight home runs, 12 doubles, 22 runs scored, and 24 RBI. Sure, he struck out 33.3 percent of the time and rode a .406 BABIP, but during that time, he posted a 14 percent barrel rate and 43 percent hard hit rate! Prior to August 1, he had just a 6.1 percent barrel rate and 35.1 percent hard hit rate! It’s been reported that Moncada could see time at first and second base this season, which would give fantasy managers multiple positions to deploy Moncada in their lineups. He’s practically free in drafts right now, so he’s a low risk pick late in drafts that could result in a .250-.265 average with a home run total in the mid-to-upper teens.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It was feasible that O’Neill would never be a fantasy sleeper after his 2021 campaign. In that magical season, he slashed .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs, 89 runs scored, 80 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. Despite striking out a bunch, he made a ton of hard contact, highlighted by a 17.9 percent barrel rate and 52.2 percent hard hit rate that season. However, since that elite fantasy campaign, O’Neill has been limited to just 168 games over the last two seasons, serving time on the injured list for shoulder, hamstring, back, and foot injuries. Durability has been a concern for O’Neill to say the least, but he continues to make hard contact, and his contact metrics overall have trended in the right direction since 2021.
O’Neill gets a massive boost in his home park, as Fenway is a top-three stadium in the MLB for right-handed hitters. There’s a lot of positives to bet on with O’Neill here, and his strong defensive metrics should help lengthen his leash should he get off to a slow start. O’Neill only turns 29 in June, and it’ll be a contract year for him, if you want to take a walk down narrative street.