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 2016.
For the second year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. We’ve already covered WHIP, home runs strikeouts, batting average, and ERA, and this week we’ll be reviewing hitters who can help with stolen bases. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers per each category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).
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
Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
Last year’s starting shortstop on the South Side, Alexei Ramirez, still isn’t signed, and there’s been almost no talk of him returning to the White Sox. The organization has known for some time that Anderson would be their shortstop of the future, yet he’s received minimal press this offseason while the team makes moves elsewhere. The plan seems to be giving Tyler Saladino a try in spring training, but the upside of that plan is minimal considering he produced a .602 OPS in 254 plate appearances in his major league debut, and similarly produced a .704 OPS at Triple-A Charlotte last season.
The real question isn’t if we’ll see Anderson in 2016 but when? He made some progress with his plate discipline at Double-A Birmingham last season, and still managed to hit .312 with 37 extra-base hits and 49 steals in 125 games. The 2013 first-round pick has now hit above .300 in consecutive seasons and has the range to handle shortstop defensively, if not the reliability after committing 25 errors in 110 games. The White Sox are unlikely to push Anderson, but there’s a clear argument that he’s the best option in the organization at shortstop entering 2016. Even if Chicago decides to keep him at Triple-A to start the year, a midseason call-up is likely. He has 40 steal upside, but 15-20 will be sufficient for most fantasy owners in mixed leagues if he can carry his batting average over to the majors.
Nori Aoki, OF, Mariners
Maybe mentioning a 34-year-old hitter in a stolen base sleepers article is unorthodox, but Aoki still has something left and is being criminally undervalued in early drafts. His current ADP in NFBC drafts is 336, putting a three-category asset near the end of mixed league drafts. He was acquired by Seattle to take over left field in 2016, and has a great chance to hit leadoff for the M’s. The vast majority of his major league time has been as a leadoff hitter, starting 415 games and producing a .354 OBP in the leadoff spot. Aoki has hit between .285-.288 in each of his four major league seasons, and attempted to steal in 12 percent of his opportunities last season, the most since his first season in the States. He missed significant time to a fractured leg and concussion last season, but remains a viable option to get back to 20-plus steals in the leadoff spot, along with positive value in batting average and runs.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Dodgers
The Dodgers head into the season with Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez as their second base plan, but they also quietly added Johnson from the White Sox in the Todd Frazier blockbuster trade this offseason. He represents a viable backup plan if Utley can’t rebound from last season’s struggles, which is a fair possibility at age 37.
Johnson began last season as the White Sox starting second baseman, but struggled until getting demoted to Triple-A in mid-May. However, Johnson picked up right where he left off in 2014 after the demotion, hitting .315 with 28 steals in only 78 games. During the 2014 season, a hobbled Johnson hit .294 with 22 steals in 102 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Previously, he stole 84 bases in mostly Low-A and High-A in 2013. The 25-year-old is limited by his lack of versatility, never playing a position other than second base during his pro career, but there’s clear 20-plus steal upside if he finds regular at-bats. He’s worth a stash, especially as a handcuff for Utley owners.
Jose Peraza, 2B, Reds
The Reds are undergoing a rebuild in 2016, which looks drastic given the trade of Todd Frazier and youth that they’ll be employing in the starting rotation. Brandon Phillips was also rumored in trade discussions earlier this offseason, but vetoed a move to Washington. Cincinnati still has time to move the veteran second baseman if he’s willing, which would immediately open second base for Peraza.
Peraza is now on his third organization since July, starting last season with Atlanta before getting traded to the Dodgers in the Hector Olivera/Alex Wood deal. The jury is out on how much he will hit at the highest level, but there’s no doubting he’s been an exemplary contact hitter and speedster in the minors. Last season he hit .293 with 33 steals in 521 plate appearances at Triple-A, and he hit .339 with 60 steals between High-A and Double-A in 2014. He’s shown minimal power, to say the least, in his time in the minors with a career .387 slugging percentage, but it’s clear the Reds are high on him as the centerpiece in the Frazier trade. It would be surprising if the Reds didn’t find a spot for him by May, and 30-plus steal ability is worth owning in most leagues.
Mallex Smith, OF, Braves
Acquired from San Diego last season in the Craig Kimbrel trade, Smith continues to be one of the minors’ top leadoff prospects. He hit .306 with 57 steals between Double-A and Triple-A last season after swiping 88 bases the previous season. He spent most of last season at Triple-A as a 22-year-old, showing that he could perform against more advanced pitching.
The acquisition of Ender Inciarte leaves Smith’s status in flux for the time being. The rebuilding Braves have a set outfield with Inciarte, Hector Olivera, and Nick Markakis at this point, but Inciarte and Markakis have been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. Given the team’s focus on developing for 2017 with their new stadium opening, it seems likely they’ll get some development out of Smith in the majors in 2016. The elite speed should make him a must-stash in all leagues, with 50 steal upside right around the corner.
Single League Sleepers
Orlando Arcia, SS, Brewers
While Jean Segura still sits as Milwaukee’s starting shortstop, Arcia is considered their future. He had a strong year with Double-A Biloxi in 2015, hitting .307-8-69 with 25 steals in 129 games while facing older competition at age 20. His numbers were similar at High-A in 2014, when he hit .289 with 31 steals in 127 games. The brother of Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, Orlando is widely considered Milwaukee’s best position prospect and now one of the best shortstop prospects in the game.
It remains to be seen what the Brewers will do with Segura, and it’s likely that the rebuilding Brewers will give Arcia at least a half season of time at Triple-A. Though, there are plenty of teams looking for shortstops, especially one of Segura’s talent level. Arcia could be a solid addition for double-digit steals during the second half.
Wynton Bernard, OF, Tigers
Bernard stands out in a Tigers farm system with limited talent, and he’s a story to cheer for in his own right. A former 35th round pick in 2012 by the Padres, Bernard was released by San Diego before the 2014 season and scooped up by the Tigers. He’s turned his baseball career around since joining Detroit, hitting .323 with 45 steals in 131 games at Low-A in 2014 and .301 with 43 steals in 135 games at Double-A last season.
It’s notable that Bernard has been older than much of his competition, turning 25 last September. Still, his speed and batting average make him a clear candidate as at least a fifth outfielder in the majors. The Tigers added him to their 40-man roster last season, and he will likely start 2016 at Triple-A waiting for an opportunity behind Anthony Gose and Cameron Maybin. There are serious doubts about his ability as a major league regular, but Bernard can certainly add cheap speed in single leagues if he’s called up.
Reymond Fuentes, OF, Royals
A former first-round pick in 2009 with Boston, Fuentes has paid his dues. He was traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2010, then shipped to KC last offseason. His projection as a future regular has mostly deteriorated, but Fuentes performed very well at Triple-A Omaha last season, hitting .308-9-46 with 29 steals in 107 games.
He’s been almost a sure thing for 20-plus steals each year of his minor league career, and could compete for a roster spot in spring training in 2016. Unfortunately for Fuentes, the return of Alex Gordon doesn’t leave as much opportunity to ascend as it did a few weeks ago, but the team could still have a bench spot open. Fuentes’ speed still makes him an interesting stash in deeper AL-only leagues.
Tony Kemp, OF/2B, Astros
A fifth-round pick in 2013, Kemp’s ability screams utilityman. He had another highly productive year in 2015 between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .308 with 35 steals and 56/65 BB/K in 541 plate appearances. He spent most of his time at second base, but also found work in center and left. Those numbers built on his .316 batting average and 41 steals at High-A and Double-A in 2014.
It’s obvious Kemp doesn’t have a future in Houston at second base with Jose Altuve around, but the comparisons still aren’t far off as a poor man’s Altuve standing at 5-6. Houston’s outfield looks jam-packed for now after adding Carlos Gomez at the trade deadline and seeing Colby Rasmus accept his qualifying offer. Kemp could still be the team’s first call if something happens to an outfielder or Altuve, and the speed makes him a clear pick up for AL-only owners when he’s in the majors.
Roman Quinn, OF, Phillies
The outfield in Philly isn’t set in stone, aside from center field with Odubel Herrera. Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche showed some ups and downs last season, and neither seem to be players the team will plan around. The good news for Phillies fans is that the organization does have some intriguing options, among them Rule 5 draft choice Tyler Goeddel, former Rangers prospect Nick Williams, and Quinn. A converted shortstop, Quinn is coming off a strong year at Double-A Reading, hitting .306 with 29 steals in only 58 games. He missed significant time with a hip injury, but had a breakout year offensively.
Given that Williams got a full year of Double-A under his belt and Goeddel would have to be sent back to Tampa Bay if he’s not kept on the roster, Quinn has a steep hill to climb in order to break camp with the team. Still, he’s one of the position players that Philadelphia has high hopes for in 2016, and could be a midseason call-up. As a regular, the speed is certainly worth a look in most leagues.