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 five articles in the series were batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, and ERA sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at stolen base 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). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
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
Steven Duggar, OF, Giants
The Giants have been slow to make moves this offseason, especially in the outfield. That would seem like great news for their crop of young outfielders, including Duggar. The 25-year-old appeared in 41 games with San Francisco last season, splitting time between the leadoff spot and the bottom-third of the batting order.
Prior to the hiring of GM Farhan Zaidi, Duggar was viewed as the team’s center fielder in 2019. There’s little reason to think things have changed due to the team’s moves (or lack thereof) so far this offseason. While he’s never shown elite base stealing ability, Duggar has regularly run in the minors with 11 steals in 78 games at Triple-A Sacramento last season after swiping nine bases in 20 games at the Arizona Fall League. He finished with 10 steals in 44 games during an injury-plagued 2017 season and has yet to reach 20 steals in a single season as a pro. Still, the capability for 20 steals is certainly there, especially if Duggar can earn a regular spot at the top of the batting order. We can’t rule it out with a career .377 on-base percentage in the minors. That possibility is worth a flier in deeper mixed leagues, and Duggar isn’t even among the top 450 picks in NFBC ADP currently.
Garrett Hampson, SS, Rockies
Hampson is one of the more obvious steals sleepers this season, but he’s shaping up to be a possible difference maker. He got a cup of coffee with the Rockies late last season, appearing in 24 games and doing a great job with a .396 on-base percentage and two steals in 48 plate appearances. The former third-round pick’s minor league track record is far more impressive, with a .315 batting average, .389 on-base percentage, and 123 steals over three seasons. Last year he hit .311-10-40 with 36 steals over 110 games between Double- and Triple-A after swiping 51 bases at High-A in 2017.
While the Rockies signed Daniel Murphy, he’s expected to see significant time at first base. That means there will be ample at-bats at second base available for Hampson if he can win the job. His main competition entering the year is Ryan McMahon, who also has a great minor league track record but has yet to perform in the majors. Later in the year, top infield prospect Brendan Rodgers also becomes a concern, but Hampson certainly has the ability to hold off both of them with a quick start. There is significant risk here if you’re counting on Hampson, but with an ADP near 200 in NFBC, he seems worth the risk for the big upside at Coors Field.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Orioles
Like the Giants, Baltimore has been slow to make moves this offseason. It became apparent last season that the team would be entering a rebuild, and that’s good news for homegrown, young talent like Mullins and company. You won’t find Mullins on many prospect lists, but the center fielder played relatively well in 45 games with Baltimore last season after a career year between Double- and Triple-A, hitting .289-12-47 with 21 steals in 23 attempts over 109 games.
With long-time center fielder Adam Jones unlikely to re-sign in Baltimore, Mullins looks like the Opening Day center fielder in 2019, if not the long term. Despite just a .330 on-base percentage for his minor league career, Mullins hit in the leadoff spot regularly after he was promoted in August. That could change, of course, with a new manager and the speedy Jonathan Villar available, but the spot is favorable for Mullins’ stolen base and runs if it sticks. Mullins swiped only two bases in five attempts after he was promoted last season, but he stole 30 bases at Low-A in 2016 and was highly efficient in the minors last season. There are legitimate questions about whether Mullins’ bat will play at the highest level, but with a current ADP of 341 in NFBC, he’s a worthy speed flier late in mixed leagues.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians
Zimmer looked like a potential fantasy star when he was called up by Cleveland in 2017, hitting .241-8-39 with 18 steals in 101 games before his season ended due to injury. His early 2018 season wasn’t nearly as smooth, and he could miss a significant chunk of the 2019 season after major shoulder surgery last July with an initial 8-12 month timetable.
The question becomes whether Zimmer is worth waiting on. Based on Cleveland’s roster at the time of this writing, the path to at-bats looks extremely favorable. After losing Michael Brantley, their current outfield options include Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, and possibly Jake Bauers. There’s nothing in that list that should block Zimmer from playing time when he’s healthy, as the former first-round pick impressed in 2017 and has a career .370 on-base percentage in the minors while also swiping 38 or more bases twice. The worst case here is likely a half season worth of regular playing time, with 15-20 steal ability, with the possibility for much more if he returns early – like the real chance of returning during spring training. Zimmer’s batting average could be a hindrance, as he’s shown in his brief MLB career, but with an NFBC ADP outside the top 550, he’s basically free speed until we get a better report regarding his shoulder status.
Single League Sleepers
Jorge Mateo, SS, Athletics
This pick takes some imagination after a nightmarish 2018 season. A former Yankees farmhand, Mateo hit just .230/.280/.353 at Triple-A Nashville last season, adding validity to the doubts regarding his hit tool. Despite his inability to get on base, Mateo did still swipe 25 bases in 131 games, but the offense simply won’t cut it at the major league level.
Mateo’s minor league history still keeps him on the radar for steals-needy AL-only owners, however. Mateo became a top fantasy prospect in 2015 when he stole 82 bases between Low-A and High-A, and he also finished with 52 stolen bases, mostly at Double-A, in 2017. He’s seen some work in center field in the past, but Oakland left Mateo at shortstop permanently last season. It’s still possible Mateo could have a role as a utilityman sooner than later, and there’s enough speed to keep him on the radar for 2019.
Roman Quinn, OF, Phillies
Multiple injuries, including a fractured foot last September, haven’t allowed Quinn’s career to go according to plan. Still, the speedy outfielder did get some attention late last season after swiping 10 bases in 50 games, and the history shows that he has more to provide. Quinn had a total of 24 stolen bases in only 78 games between the minors and Philly last season, and he’s swiped at least 30 bases four times in his minor league career.
Unfortunately, added to his long history of injury (Quinn has reached 400 plate appearances only once in his seven-year pro career) is a difficult path to playing time in Philadelphia. The switch-hitting outfielder is currently behind Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams in the Phillies outfield, and the team still seems to be in the running for Bryce Harper. Quinn does have a very respectable .353 on-base percentage for his minor league career, and enough speed to help off the bench in NL-only leagues even if his starts are difficult to come by next season.
Corey Ray, OF, Brewers
The fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Louisville, Ray is no mystery if you follow prospects closely. The center fielder had a breakout season at Double-A Biloxi last year, hitting .239-27-74 with 37 steals in 135 games. It was a great improvement for his power numbers, with a slugging percentage that increased by more than 100 points, but the steals were also welcome after swiping 24 bases at High-A in 2017.
With an outfield that currently includes Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun, there’s no clear path for at-bats. Based on Ray’s lack of plate discipline, there should also be no hurry. Ray’s eye is a major weakness, fanning 176 times in 600 plate appearances last season, and he’s yet to hit better than .239 as a pro. The power, speed, and defense should be enough to make him a regular starting center fielder down the line, but spending much of 2019 at Triple-A is in the cards while Ray’s eye continues to develop. That said, Milwaukee remains a team looking to contend again this season, and Ray will almost certainly got his shot late this season. Not only is he an excellent keeper prospect, but he’s also a late-season option for steals in NL-only leagues.
Myles Straw, OF, Astros
Leave it to the Astros to find Straw. A former 12th rounder from JUCO, Straw has become a very interesting outfield prospect. He got a very brief taste of the majors late last season after an amazing season between Double- and Triple-A at age 23, hitting .291/.381/.353 with 70 steals in 131 games. That followed two seasons in which he posted on-base percentages above .400, and Straw had 38 steals between High-A and Double-A in 2017.
Straw probably isn’t a future regular due to his lack of power. There are concerns major league pitchers will be able to knock the bat out of his hands, as they did in the past to similar speedsters like Joey Gathright and Billy Burns. That said, Straw has proven to be a skilled baseball player who knows how to draw a walk, and potentially adds the defensive ability to keep him on an MLB roster as a fifth outfielder. The stolen base total that he showed last season looks like an anomaly based on his minor league history, but Straw runs well and will be a cheap source for 20 steals in AL-only leagues if he can keep a roster spot for most of the season.