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USATSI

Sleepers are the best kind of Fantasy content to generate, because it's all upside. If you get it wrong, well, duh, that's what's supposed to happen when you're writing about the kind of late-round targets we're writing about. I'm targeting players going outside of the top 250 in NFC ADP as of early January, and guess what ... most players in that range aren't going to be great for Fantasy. 

But when you do get it right, it can change your Fantasy season. To have a chance to win a Fantasy championship, you need the likes of Spencer Steer (376.74 ADP in 2023) or Justin Steele (291.37) to hit to have a chance. I was in on Steer last year, and in my first round of sleepers from a year ago, I also had names like Spencer Torkelson, C.J. Abrams, and Braxton Garrett, all of whom were very, very helpful for Fantasy.

And yeah, there were misses, too, like Alek Thomas, Jesse Winker, and Joey Gallo. That'll happen. But, at least for this crop, the hitters matter a whole lot more than the misses. For my first round of sleepers each year, I like to focus on three flavors of sleeper pick, so to speak. I've got some post-hype prospects (or recent prospects), classic late-round fliers (outside the top 250 in ADP), and then some bounce-back candidates from names we used to care a lot about in Fantasy.

As we get closer to Opening Day, I'll start to whittle this list down, but I like to have a lot of darts to throw this early. Here are my favorites right now: 

Post-Hype Prospects
Projections powered by Sportsline
MIN Minnesota • #19 • Age: 26
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
499.15
2023 Stats
AVG
0.270
HR
11
R
35
RBI
41
SB
1
SO
80
Staying healthy has been a real issue for Kirilloff, who, of course, enters 2024 coming off shoulder surgery. However, that surgery was reportedly just a clean-up procedure that didn't find significant damage, so hopefully it's a minor issue for a young player who has had a very tough go of things since emerging as a top prospect a few years ago. Kirilloff did finally start producing at the MLB level last season, hitting .270/.348/.445 with underlying stats that largely backed up his 20-homer pace. He'll need to be even better in 2024 to be more than a fourth or fifth outfielder for Fantasy, but it may not be asking too much from a career .324/.381/.525 hitter in the minors – if he can stay healthy. That's always going to be the key for Kirilloff, so hopefully we get some good news out of Spring Training on that front. As a late-round outfielder, Kirilloff could emerge as a really useful four-category contributor.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #9 • Age: 26
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
261.88
I have real questions about whether Lux is ever going to hit lefties well enough to live up to his lofty prospect ranking (he's hit .214/.291/.296 with a 26% strikeout rate against them in the majors), but with an ADP outside of the top-250, I'm willing to give Lux the benefit of the doubt at the end of my drafts. He's coming back from a torn ACL suffered during last spring, and how he'll return from that is an open question, hence the late-round price tag. Lux has shown solid contact skills and good plate discipline, but hasn't taken the leap as a power hitter we've been hoping for – we were hoping to see that from him last year after he spent the offseason working to increase his bat speed with DriveLine baseball. Let's hope we get that delayed breakout this season.
MIL Milwaukee • #10 • Age: 23
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
291.54
2023 Stats
AVG
0.246
HR
3
R
29
RBI
24
SB
7
SO
37
2023 was a tough season for Frelick, as he eventually made his MLB debut despite struggling at Triple-A and missing time with a torn thumb ligament. He didn't hit particularly well in either the majors or Triple-A, and there are definitely concerns about whether his contact-first approach is going to play up consistently enough in the majors. The hope here is, a healthy spring can get Frelick going and he can turn into a better version of Steven Kwan. Frelick might top out in the low-teens in homers, but if he can pair that with a high batting average and 30-ish steals – he had 26 in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A – that's a pretty valuable player at the top of a lineup. If you need speed and average for your build, Frelick should be one of the names you highlight for a late-round pick.
CIN Cincinnati • #41 • Age: 24
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
253.39
2023 Stats
INN
109.1
W
8
K's
120
ERA
3.87
WHIP
1.32
For a couple of months, it looked like Abbott might be ticketed for a top-150 ADP, as he posted a 2.35 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 65 innings in his first 11 starts. The league caught up to him to the tune of a 6.09 ERA over his final 10 starts, which was enough to drop him just outside the top-250 in ADP as of early January. The problem for Abbott is fairly straightforward: He's a flyball pitcher in a home park that is very conducive to home runs, and he didn't miss enough bats or generate enough weak contact to mitigate that fully. He'll need to take a step forward in at least one of those regards, and I think it's reasonable to expect some improvement from Abbott with regards to his strikeout rates, with four pitches he can get swings and misses on. It probably wouldn't hurt to trade some fastballs and curveballs for a few more changeups, especially against right-handed batters, who had an .800 OPS against him last season. The changeup was actually a super effective pitch for Abbott as a rookie, with a 39.4% whiff rate and .259 expected wOBA allowed, and if he can use that more to neutralize righties, that could fuel a pretty quick turnaround. Abbott is a young pitcher with a pretty good track record of health who just threw 162.1 innings, so there's a pretty clear path to a top-30 SP season with a few tweaks.
TB Tampa Bay • #45 • Age: 23
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
270.33
2023 Stats
INN
104.2
W
5
K's
129
ERA
5.59
WHIP
1.39
It's hard to know what to make of Bradley's rookie season, because the Rays kind of jerked him around. After a very impressive first run where he struck out 23 batters with just two walks in his first three starts, the Rays sent him back to Triple-A for a month, and things would never be as good again. Bradley struggled in both the minors and majors from that point on, and pinpointing adjustments to make to figure things out is a bit tougher, since both his fastball and cutter (which he used a combined 69.5% of the time) struggled with limiting hard contact. His curveball and changeup were both really good on that count, so prioritizing those pitches could certainly help. That being said, I'm hoping a more consistent role out of Spring Training will do wonders for Bradley on the mental side of the game, and it's generally not a bad idea to bet on talented pitchers figuring it out with the Rays. Last season was really the first time Bradley struggled as a professional, and I think he'll be better for it.
Classic Late-Round Targets
Projections powered by Sportsline
MIN Minnesota • #26 • Age: 31
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
282.70
2023 Stats
AVG
0.26
HR
24
R
72
RBI
66
SB
1
SO
106
Kepler has been around for a while and he's 30, so I understand the lack of interest here … but he was legitimately very good last season, in a way that I think might have been sustainable. Kepler has long been the kind of hitter who had to sacrifice to maximize his in-game power, and outside of one 36-homer outlier, he generally didn't do that often enough to justify the hits to his overall game. Last season, however, he took a big step forward as a power hitter, adding 2.8 mph to his average exit velocity while tightening up his launch angle. He had to trade some contact for that, but the overall improvement in his profile was well worth it, as Kepler posted both a career-high expected batting average of .271 as well as a career-high .503 expected slugging percentage. He's still a very pull-heavy hitter who is going to lose some batting average as a result, but he was on a 30-homer pace last season, and it looked legit. There may not be much difference between Kepler and someone like Anthony Santander besides a 10-round ADP gap.
BOS Boston • #5 • Age: 23
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
495.49
2023 Stats
AVG
0.28
HR
0
R
5
RBI
9
SB
0
SO
15
It just didn't seem like there was room for Grissom in Atlanta, but an offseason trade to the Red Sox should open a spot for him in the everyday lineup. Now it's up to him to take advantage of it, and his minor-league track record suggests he could be a very, very good player. Will he hit .336 in the majors like he has in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A? Probably not, but he has shown above-average contact skills in the majors, with a .287 batting average in 64 games that might not be much of a fluke. The question is how much he can contribute besides a solid batting average – he's not particularly fast (44th percentile sprint speed last season) and hasn't shown much pop, including just 11 homers in those 124 games in the high minors. However, Grissom is big enough to think there could be more pop than he's shown as he ages, and while 20 homers is a big ask, it's the kind of development prospect-hounds have been projecting on Grissom for a while. This is a bet on a player who is still just 23 and has shown real skills at the MLB level.
TB Tampa Bay • #8 • Age: 29
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
274.0
2023 Stats
AVG
0.231
HR
21
R
58
RBI
68
SB
7
SO
119
I just can't quit Lowe. I had him as a bounce-back sleeper last season, and I'll give myself partial credit for that one – he was much better in 2023 than 2022, and looks like a must-start Fantasy option when he's on the field. Sure, you'll probably have to sacrifice some batting average, but he was on a 30-homer pace last season in his 109 games. His back issues did cost him a month last season, but he returned and was even better than before the injury, hitting .254/.353/.483 with a 33-homer, 195-run-plus-RBI pace before a foul ball off the knee ended his season. The injury concerns are real, but they don't appear to have sapped Lowe's skills, and if he manages to stay healthy, he's going to be a pretty obvious value at his price; even if he misses time, he might still be.
MIN Minnesota • #20 • Age: 28
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
452.47
2023 Stats
INN
5
W
1
K's
8
ERA
5.4
WHIP
1.4
We got a microscopic sample size from Paddack last season, as he pitched just 18.1 innings between the minors and majors (playoffs included) in his return from Tommy John surgery. But what we saw was pretty promising, as he struck out 41% of the 32 batters he faced in the majors. Obvious caveats apply since Paddack was pitching out of the bullpen, but his fastball velocity was up to 95.5, 0.7 mph up from his career high, and he was racking up big whiff numbers with both that pitch and his changeup. Paddack's career has been defined mostly by disappointment, as he has struggled to find a consistent third pitch, and we don't really have any evidence that the time away helped him find that third pitch. But he's an obviously talented pitcher who showed enough in his very small sample size last year to be worth placing a cheap, late-round bet on.
PIT Pittsburgh • #30 • Age: 21
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
444.54
There isn't really much disagreement about whether Skenes is major-league ready right now – it's just a question of how long the Pirates want to leave him in the minors. The first pick at the top of a historically loaded draft class, Skenes struck out 45% of opposing batters while walking just 4.3% in the SEC during his draft season. You might find some nerd-squabbling about just how good Skenes' fastball is, given that it's a flat, tailing pitch, rather than the riding fastball that is preferred in the modern game. Still, it's a high-90s pitch he can control well, and his slider is viewed as a pro-ready weapon, as well. We don't know when Skenes is going to be in the MLB conversation, but it's not out of the question it could be as early as Spring Training. If not, it still looks like a question of "when" not "if" Skenes makes his debut, and he has impact potential from Day One. Whenever Day One is.
Bounce-Back Candidates
Projections powered by Sportsline
TOR Toronto • #30 • Age: 25
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
262.22
2023 Stats
AVG
0.25
HR
8
R
34
RBI
43
SB
0
SO
45
Kirk still made a ton of contact in 2023, he just mad significantly worse contact pretty much across the board. And the problem was particularly apparent against fastballs, as he went from a .297 expected batting average to a .252 xBA in 2023. He wasn't notably worse against either breaking balls or offspeed pitches, per BaseballSavant.com, but the drop in production against fastballs was enough to draft the entire profile down. It's possible that opposing pitchers simply found a hole in Kirk's swing against hard stuff at the bottom of the zone and mercilessly exploited it, but I'm not willing to write off a player who showed the kind of upside Kirk did in 2022, especially when he's being drafted as a low-end No. 2 catcher now. In pretty much all of my two-catcher leagues, Kirk is going to be a priority target.
MIA Miami • #7 • Age: 30
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
421.05
2023 Stats
AVG
0.245
HR
1
R
52
RBI
25
SB
13
SO
122
With Anderson, I think we do have an obvious explanation for why 2023 was such a disaster: He just wasn't ever healthy. That's not technically true, of course, because Anderson was hitting .318/.348/.432 through the first 10 games of the season, with five steals before suffering a sprained left knee. He came back after just over three weeks and was just a disaster, hitting .240 with one homer and only eight steals over his final 112 games. Anderson dropped from 77th percentile in sprint speed in 2022 to 45th in 2023, a pretty obvious sign that he just wasn't healthy. Now, we're talking about a 30-year-old who relied on his athleticism more than most players, so it's possible he never gets back to his pre-2023 levels again. But if I'm looking for speed and average late, I'll be looking to the guy who hit .318 with 53 steals between 2019 and 2022.
BOS Boston • #17 • Age: 28
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
264.99
2023 Stats
AVG
0.231
HR
9
R
27
RBI
21
SB
5
SO
67
I was a pretty big O'Neill skeptic each of the past two offseasons as Fantasy players tried to chase his massive 2021 season, but I find myself drawn to him at his massively reduced price point this season. Injuries have been a problem for O'Neill, but he's also had a bit of bad luck in his profile, posting an expected wOBA over .330 each of the past two seasons but with an actual mark below .315 in each. It can be easy to overstate the impact of a new home park on any individual player, but it's worth noting that over the past five seasons, right-handed hitters at Fenway have outperformed their expected wOBA by 12 points collectively; at Busch Stadium, O'Neill's former home park, RHB underperformed wOBA by 15 points. It's a decent landing spot if you're hoping for a bounce back.
LAA L.A. Angels • #48 • Age: 24
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
247.22
2023 Stats
INN
148.2
W
4
K's
168
ERA
4.48
WHIP
1.35
Alright, we got out over our skis on Detmers last year. More specifically, I got out over my skis on Detmers, who was on basically every one of my teams as my SP2 last draft season. My expectations aren't that high this time around, but … I still think there's a lot to like about his profile. We got the leap in strikeout rate we were hoping for last season, but he struggled with limiting hard contact and with runners on base, leading to an inflated 4.48 ERA. Despite a jump in fastball velocity, Detmers' fastball actually played worse in 2023 than it did in 2022, which was the primary reason his breakout went off the rails. Another issue? Detmers was legitimately awful against left-handed hitters, surrendering a .294/.378/.504 line against them; he was dominant against them in 2022, as you'd expect from a lefty who throws in the mid-90s with a slider as his primary putaway pitch, so I'm not really sure what to make of that. If that was more of a small-sample size blip than an Achilles heel, he could take a big step forward just with some natural regression. I'm willing to bet on that when he's this cheap.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #40 • Age: 30
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
283
Roto
201
Roto (RP)
NR
H2H
181
H2H (RP)
NR
2023 Stats
INN
89.1
W
4
K's
79
ERA
6.65
WHIP
1.65
Severino was pretty much hopeless last season. He managed to stay mostly healthy after coming back from a lat strain to open the season, but the Yankees might have wished he hadn't, because he rarely gave them a chance to win when he pitched. The weird thing was, there wasn't an obvious physical explanation for his struggles – his velocity and movement profiles were similar enough to 2022, when he was pretty much as good as ever. That's not to say Severino just got unlucky last season – he wasn't fooling anyone, and he was getting crushed as a result. He earned every bit of that 6.65 ERA. But it does suggest the possibility of an explanation for his struggles that goes beyond the physical. The mental side of the game is awfully tough to prognosticate, obviously, but there is one potential explanation for Severino's struggles: What if he was tipping pitches? A piece from The Athletic in early January cited at least one scout who believed Severino was doing exactly that. The Yankees weren't able to fix that issue, but if the Mets can, it could help Severino get back on track. I'm not necessarily expecting that, but just like it made sense for the Mets to make a one-year bet on Severino at $13 million, it makes sense to throw a late-round pick at him, just to see if he can rediscover his former form.