One of the most common questions fantasy writers get -- particularly those who delve into prospects -- is who are some sleepers that have a chance to help them in both redraft and dynasty leagues.
It’s difficult to define what makes a prospect a “sleeper.” If you are a person who follows prospects scrupulously, then you may be well-versed on the overwhelming majority of potential MLB players. While following minor leaguers seems to be growing in popularity exponentially, it’s fair to say that there are numerous baseball fans who don’t pay close attention. So, whether a prospect is a “sleeper” is really subjective.
So, with that caveat aside, here’s a look at some prospects that aren’t getting much hype that have a chance to contribute when the 2020 season gets underway, starting with the AL and NL East.
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Michael Baumann, RHP, Baltimore Orioles -- Baumann was selected by the Orioles in the third-round, and the 24-year-old has pitched well in his 59 minor-league appearances with a 2.82 ERA and 291 strikeouts over 297 innings against 117 walks. The former Jacksonville University hurler consistently sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he’s been clocked in the high 90s at moments. It also offers some life, making it a true plus pitch. He has a slider that gets similar grades, and he’ll also mix in an average change and curve for good measure. Baumann’s control isn’t elite, but he’s around the strike zone enough. He should make starts with the Orioles in 2020, and he could miss enough bats for fantasy relevance as a streaming option.
C.J. Chatham, SS/2B, Boston Red Sox -- Chatham was drafted in the second-round out of Florida Atlantic with the expectation that he’d be a “glove-first” infielder, and while he is a quality defender, he’s better with the bat than anticipated; hitting .298 in his 266 professional game and .302 over 86 at-bats for Triple-A Pawtucket. There’s very little power in the 25-year-old’s bat, but he makes hard contact to all parts of the field, and he does a decent job of avoiding strikeouts. He has slightly above-average speed, so he should be able to steal double-digit bases, if given the opportunity. It would likely take an injury or two for Chatham to get the call, but if he does, he’s worth monitoring as a middle-infielder who can hit for average and not kill you in the steals category.
Nick Nelson, RHP, New York Yankees -- Nelson was limited to just 89 2/3 innings in 2019 in part because of shoulder issues, but when he was on the mound, he impressed with a 2.81 ERA and 114 strikeouts. A fourth-round pick out of Gulf Coast State Community College in Florida, Nelson has three pitches that can miss bats: A 93-96 mph fastball, a hard curveball, and a cutter/slider that bears into the hands of left-handed hitters. The issue with Nelson is control, as he can struggle to locate his secondary pitches and does issue some self-inflicted damage. Still, his ability to miss bats should be legit, and he has a chance to be a solid fantasy option if/when the Yankees promote him in 2020.
Kevin Padlo, 3B/1B, Tampa Bay Rays -- The Rays picked up Padlo from Rockies way back in 2015 in the Jake McGee-Corey Dickerson deal, and the 23-year-old had a breakout season for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham with a .927 OPS and 21 homers in his 110 games. There’s easy plus power in his right-handed bat, and he’s really improved his selectivity on the plate; meaning he should draw his fair share of walks as well. He stole 35 bases in 2015, but he’s lost some speed over the years, so Padlo is more like a 10-to-15 thefts player. That’s still solid for a corner infielder, and while he’s going to strikeout, the homers and steals should be enough to compensate for a mediocre batting average. If Padlo hits to start 2020 like he ended it, he’s going to get a chance to play before the year finishes.
Santiago Espinal, 2B/SS, Toronto Blue Jays -- Espinal is a former Red Sox prospect that was traded to Toronto in the deal for Steve Pearce in 2018, and the right-handed hitting infielder has made steady improvement in his time in the Blue Jays’ system. He doesn’t have elite power -- asking for more than 10-12 homers is asking too much -- but he hit 27 doubles in 2019, and he continues to develop in that category. The reason he has fantasy relevance, however, is the hit-tool, and his smooth, line-drive stroke allows him to make hard contact to the pull and opposite-field. The 25-year-old has plus speed, but he doesn’t get great jumps; he’s 44-of-68 in his steal attempts and went just 12-of-25 last year. Espinal may not be an everyday-player, but if he does get a chance, his potential to hit for a high average makes him someone worth monitoring in deeper formats.
Kyle Muller, LHP, Atlanta Braves -- The Braves are loaded with pitching prospects that could play in Atlanta in 2020, but one of the more “underrated” arms in the system is Muller. The southpaw’s 22 starts with Double-A Mississippi saw him post a 3.14 ERA and 120/68 K/BB ratio over 11 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-6 southpaw has a curveball that grades 60 on the 20-80 scale -- or plus -- and he’s far from a soft-tosser with a fastball that’s been clocked as high as 97 mph. He’ll also show a competent change, and he’s getting better at locating all three pitches in his arsenal for strikes. There are arms that Muller will have to usurp to pitch for the Braves in 2020, but the stuff is just about ready to go, and at the very least he’s an arm that you should keep an eye on this summer.
Lewin Diaz, 1B, Miami Marlins -- The Marlins picked up Diaz from the Twins in the deal that shipped Sergio Romo to Minnesota, and with all due respect to Romo, there’s a very good chance this is a deal that Miami looks back on fondly. The 23-year-old is tapping into plus power from the left side, and hit 27 homers over three different levels in 2019. He also has shown the ability to hit for average, and he’s improving his selectivity at the plate. The Marlins don’t have an obvious long (or short) term answer at first, and Diaz should get a chance to finish the year with Miami. The power should be there when he gets that opportunity.
Kevin Smith, LHP, New York Mets -- No relation to the director. Smith was a seventh-round pick out of Georgia in 2018, and he’s quickly established himself as one of the best arms in the Mets’ system. He gets extension from his 6-foot-5 frame, and that along with a good amount of spin helps a low 90s fastball play up. His best pitch is his hard, biting slider, and it’s an effective pitch against hitters from both sides of the plate -- although it’s significantly better against lefties because of his arm slot. He throws those pitches along with a solid change for strikes, and his command isn’t far behind his control. Some believe Smith profiles best in the bullpen, but if the Mets give him a chance to start, he has a chance to put up quality numbers in a rotation role.
Damon Jones, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies -- Saying that Jones has improved his stock over the past two seasons is an understatement. He was an 18th round pick out of Washington State, and he posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and struck out an impressive 152 hitters against 59 walks in his 114 1/3 innings. There are two plus pitches at his disposal, starting with a fastball that hits 96 mph and offers deception from his arm angle. His best pitch is his curve -- gets double-plus grades -- but he also has a solid slider, and he is starting to gain feel for his change. Jones will never be described as a “command artist” but he throws enough strikes to project as a starter. It may not come until 2021, but Jones has a real chance to contribute in 2020, and he could help in deeper leagues if that occurs.
Wil Crowe, RHP, Washington Nationals -- Calling Crowe a sleeper is a stretch; he’s one of the top pitching prospects in the system and was a 2017 second-round pick. Having said that, it does feel like the former South Carolina ace isn’t getting quite enough respect as a potential helper for 2020. The 25-year-old has four usable pitches, and two of those pitches -- his fastball and change -- flash plus on a consistent basis. The 6-foot-2 right-hander also has a solid slider, and a curve that isn’t far behind. Crowe throws strikes with all four offerings, and the command improves each year. He’ll be playing behind one of the best teams in the National League if he does get the call-up, and he should be able to put up some decent rates with chances to pick up wins if that takes place.