It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates. We’re barely into the offseason, but it’s a great time to start discussing some players to watch as we look toward 2015.
Over the next 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers per each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). Since we are still waiting on the hot stove league, 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
Anthony DeSclafani, Marlins
DeSclafani didn’t look great in his major league debut last season, with a 6.27 ERA in five starts and eight relief appearances. Those final numbers don’t tell the whole story in a limited sample size of 33 innings, as DeSclafani had a terrific 5.20 K/BB ratio and 1.4 BB/9.
The former sixth-round pick has made a smooth climb up the minors since the Blue Jays drafted him in 2011. After being acquired in the Marlins’ firesale trade prior to 2012, he has a sub-4.00 ERA at three different levels with a sub-2.0 BB/9 until getting to Triple-A last season. His control became more of an issue in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but DeSclafani still had a 3.49 ERA and nearly one strikeout per inning in 59.1 innings. His career minor league WHIP stands at 1.24, and his minor league control certainly carried over to the majors. The roomy backdrop in Miami should help DeSclafani keep the ball in the park when he cracks the major league rotation for good, which could be the beginning of the season if the team isn’t active this offseason. While fellow prospect Andrew Heaney gets most of the attention among the young Marlins starters, DeSclafani is talented in his own right and capable of a sub-1.30 WHIP as a potential late-round pick or early-season pick up.
Robbie Erlin, Padres
Erlin’s follow up to his strong rookie performance was a disappointment, with elbow issues for much of the year. While Erlin’s ERA (4.99) and WHIP (1.40) inflated, his perpiherals were actually better in his sophomore season. Erlin had a strong 3.07 K/BB ratio and 3.69 FIP while showing better control.
The lefty is still only 24, and has the best minor league track record you could ask for with a career 3.35 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 1.8 BB/9. He’s had his share of issues while pitching at hitter-friendly Triple-A home ballparks, but PETCO Park doesn’t fit that description. Erlin is likely to get another opportunity next spring with the Padres’ new sabermetrics-minded front office, and new GM A.J. Preller was formerly the Director of International and Professional Scouting in Texas, the team that drafted Erlin in 2009. With strong control while making his home starts in a pitcher’s Mecca, Erlin could really see some hype if he has a good spring.
Rafael Montero, Mets
The young Montero has the stuff and pitchability to be considered a sleeper in nearly any category. For the sake of profiling his polish, we’ll discuss his WHIP potential. Montero had a strong first major league season with the Mets, producing a 4.06 ERA in eight starts and two relief appearances. He drove down his ERA late in the year with a 2.96 ERA during his stint over the last two months.
Looking at last year’s limited time, you wouldn’t consider Montero to be a WHIP helper. However, that’s a shortsighted assessment for a pitcher who dominated in the minors at all levels with a career 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 8.6 K/9. He ran into more control issues the last two years at Triple-A Las Vegas, but still produced a 3.31 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in that hitter’s haven.
Much of Montero’s success with the Mets was dependent on his changeup, which wasn’t always working. Still, he showed incredible upside when he was effective, allowing one run or less in four of his eight starts. It’s fair to expect Montero’s control to progress quickly from his 4.7 BB/9 last season, and he should be a pleasant surprise for owners who are fixated on last year’s major league numbers.
Vidal Nuno, Diamondbacks
NL-only owners already know what Nuno is capable of contributing, as he was terrific after being traded for Brandon McCarthy in early July. The lefty made 14 starts with Arizona, posting a 3.76 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 3.45 K/BB ratio in 83.2 innings. His outstanding second half helped him finish with a 1.26 WHIP, already a positive for mixed leaguers.
There is some skepticism regarding his ability to continue helping, fueled by his mediocre fastball and struggles with the Yanks. Those concerns aren’t unfounded given his struggles to keep the ball in the park, but Nuno’s strong control made him a great minor league pitcher. He has a career 2.84 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 1.7 BB/9 rate, and was more effective in the upper minors than the low minors. Nuno’s ability to throw strikes makes him an interesting end-game addition for WHIP, and hopefully he will have more luck in the win department soon, as well.
Yusmeiro Petit, Giants
The world saw how valuable Petit was to the Giants in his four relief appearances during the playoffs, as he posted a 1.42 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 12.2 innings. Petit was also one of the Giants’ more valuable pitchers during the season, filling in as a starter at various times and really finding himself over the final stretch. During the second half of the season, Petit was incredible with a 3.44 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 9.71 K/BB ratio in 55 innings.
Overall, Petit struggled in his 12 starts if we look at his 5.03 ERA. As usual, he was homer-prone with 11 home runs allowed in only 68 innings, but Petit also showed a level of dominance with a 9.8 K/9, 6.73 K/BB ratio, and 1.13 WHIP. That resulted in a very respectable 3.59 FIP, and Petit did make some progress as a starter late in the season.
Petit’s results in relief during the regular season were incredible, with a 1.84 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 10.8 K/9 in 49 innings. While he could start the season in relief again, the former top Mets and Marlins prospect will likely see his fair share of starts in 2015 as the team’s swingman.
Vance Worley, Pirates
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is a genius. Worley is just one of several Pirates pitchers he has fixed since 2010, and arguably his greatest triumph. The Twins all but gave away Worley late in spring training, but “Vanimal” was terrific with the Pirates after showing nearly perfect control with four walks in 46 innings at Triple-A. Worley remained in the rotation from mid-June until the end of the season, posting a 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 1.8 BB/9 with the Pirates.
Worley was an effective mixed league pitcher during his rookie season with the Phillies in 2011, with a 3.01 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. The difference now is Worley’s polish, with a BB/9 that was a full walk lower in 2014 than it had ever been previously in his major league career. Worley didn’t falter at all as the season progressed, and should have a rotation spot reserved for him going into next season. The only concern at this point is the potential loss of Russell Martin, who is highly acclaimed at framing pitches and generating free strikes for his pitchers.
Single League Sleepers
A.J. Cole, Nationals
If you follow the minor leagues closely, you probably know all about Cole. He quietly had another strong minor league season with a 3.16 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A. With average fastball velocity, Cole’s strikeouts have declined in the upper minors. His K/9 was a respectable 7.5 last season, though that’s a far cry from his career 9.1 K/9. His polish and pitchability haven’t gone anywhere, however, as Cole had a 2.1 BB/9 last season. That matches his career BB/9, and shows a pitcher who could contribute in WHIP upon his major league arrival if he’s able to keep the ball in the park.
Liam Hendriks, Blue Jays
It would seem that fantasy owners would really be scraping the bottom of the barrel investing in a pitcher with a career 3-15 record and 5.92 ERA in 188.2 innings. Still, Hendriks has shown some flashes as a spot starter, especially in his brief work last season with a 3.29 K/BB ratio and 1.9 BB/9 in 32.2 innings between Toronto and Kansas City. The Royals sent him back to the Jays following the season, and it’s not a surprise that Toronto would want him back. Hendriks is a soft-tosser who has shown impeccable control in the minors, with a career 1.4 BB/9 that was down to 0.8 in 143.1 innings last season. The margin for error is slim, but Hendriks will almost certainly get another shot at some point in 2015 and shows the control to be a potential deep sleeper.
Jacob Turner, Cubs
Looking at the Cubs’ current roster, Turner’s opportunity for starts could be very tough to come by. He’s the team’s sixth starter, at best, and that’s with Felix Doubront and Dan Straily on his tail. We also have to consider that many expect the Cubs to make noise in free agency this offseason. That said, Turner could benefit from the addition of manager Joe Maddon as much as anyone. Known for playing defensive shifts, Maddon’s Rays ranked in the top 10 in opponent BABIP each year from 2008-2014. Tampa Bay’s personnel certainly had something to do with that number, but it would be crazy to suggest Maddon’s propensity to play shifts didn’t play a role. Enter Turner, a pitcher with a .311 BABIP for his career and .360 during his struggles last season. He was terrible with a 6.13 ERA and 1.60 WHIP between the Marlins and Cubs, but Turner had a fair 2.15 K/BB ratio and 4.16 FIP for the year. The return of his control (2.6 BB/9) shows added WHIP potential if Maddon’s shifts do help a team that ranked ninth worst in opponent BABIP last season. Turner clearly isn’t the pitcher some projected when he was drafted ninth overall in 2009, but last year’s peripherals and more time with the Cubs’ renowned coaching staff makes him an interesting arm to watch.
Joe Wieland, Padres
Wieland’s last two years have been a nightmare while he’s recovered from elbow problems, but he finally took the mound for the Padres in September. The results weren’t pretty, but the important part is that his velocity has returned. Added in the same trade that brought the aforementioned Robbie Erlin to San Diego in 2011, Wieland is similarly skilled but throws right-handed. Like Erlin, Wieland’s calling card is his control with a career 1.6 BB/9 in the minors. Also like Erlin, Wieland has had home run issues during his brief major league time. While we wait for those home run issues to solve themselves, Wieland’s pinpoint control brings very interesting upside with a career 3.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in the minors. PETCO Park makes him more attractive if he’s able to somehow crack the rotation.