It can certainly be argued that “sleeper” is an antiquated term at this point. If you’re in a league that’s at least semi-serious, everyone should recognize the guys listed below. However, for one reason or another, these players could wind up going overlooked or at least chosen later than they should be. That presents some value potential, which is obviously key if you want to win. Don’t forget about these 15 names.
Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds
The Cuban defector’s first impression with the Reds was uneven, as he showed flashes of brilliance but put up a 5.90 ERA across his first 29 innings with the big club. Things really picked up after the All-Star break, though, as Iglesias posted a 3.39 ERA and 77/19 K/BB ratio over 66 1/3 frames, which included a three-outing stretch where he struck out at least 10 batters in each game. Iglesias often had trouble pitching deep into games initially, which no doubt was related to the fact that he was a reliever in Cuba. However, he started getting better in that regard as the season went along, and his body should be much better prepared for a starter’s workload in his second campaign.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks
The D’Backs had a few players break out offensively last season, but Lamb wasn’t one of them. The 25-year-old finished with a pedestrian .716 OPS with six homers over 390 plate appearances, and he was particularly bad after returning from a foot injury, hitting .249/.313/.358 over his final 97 contests. I’m betting on the talent, though. Lamb didn’t turn 25 until after the season and is a career .321/.408/.552 hitter in the minors, having entered 2015 as a top-100 prospect. The third baseman didn’t put up big home run totals on the farm – his 15 in 2014 between Double- and Triple-A is his high – but he possesses good raw power and plays in a favorable park for hitters. Lamb is in line to handle the hot corner against righties and has breakout potential for 2016.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins
Realmuto entered the 2015 campaign seemingly without any real prospect of extended playing time at the major league level. However, the disappointing Jarrod Saltalamacchia was quickly shown the door, paving the way for Realmuto to take over behind the dish with the Marlins. The 25-year-old held his own, sporting a .259/.290/.406 batting line with 10 home runs, 47 RBI and eight stolen bases. Encouragingly, he was really strong down the stretch when many catchers (and young players) fade, hitting .338/.353/.538 with three dingers in the final month. Realmuto batted .299/.369/.461 with eight homers and 18 stolen bases at Double-A in 2014, and the possibility of double-digit homers and steals from a catcher is certainly enticing. He makes a lot of contact, giving him a chance to hit for a decent average in spite of a relative lack of patience. Realmuto makes for a nice target as a second catcher in mixed leagues.
Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox
It would be understandable if some fantasy owners have soured on Bradley. He’s received a bit of hype over the last couple years and for the most part has flopped at the major league level, at least as a hitter. However, the hitter Bradley has shown he can be in the minors finally made an appearance late last season, as the young outfielder batted .276/.361/.564 with nine home runs and 40 RBI over the final two months. That strong finish at the plate, combined with his elite glove in center field, means Bradley will be penciled into the Red Sox’s lineup, at least against righties, in 2016. Yes, Bradley’s career average in the majors pre-2015 was below .200, but don’t forget that he’ll turn just 26 in April and boasted a .294/.391/.460 line on the farm. I’m not giving up hope of him hitting for average in the big leagues, and he could also sock double-digit homers and chip in with some steals.
Daniel Norris, SP, Tigers
Norris cracked the Blue Jays’ Opening Day rotation last season as a 21-year-old but found himself back in the minors after an inconsistent month. His next opportunity didn’t come until August after he was shipped to the Tigers in a deal that sent David Price to Toronto. Norris missed time with a strained oblique but pitched well down the stretch for Detroit when able to toe the rubber, holding a 3.68 ERA and 27/7 K/BB ratio across 36 2/3 frames. The southpaw revealed after the season that he needed surgery to remove a malignant growth on his thyroid, but he’s cancer-free now and will enter spring training with no health concerns. Norris can have control problems at times, but he’s a lefty with a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a minor league track record that says he misses a lot of bats (9.9 K/9). He offers tons of upside from where you can probably get him in your draft.
Ketel Marte, SS, Mariners
Marte played all of last season at a ripe 21 years of age, but that didn’t stop the Mariners from promoting him to the majors in late July. He certainly held his own at the big-league level, batting .283 while chipping in with eight steals across 247 plate appearances. Marte doesn’t draw many walks, but he makes a ton of contact, giving him a chance to hit for average at a young age. The shortstop batted .308 over the last two seasons at Double- and Triple-A and also stole 49 bases over that time. His sleeper appeal would be boosted if he bats at or near the top of the batting order (he hit leadoff in all of his starts in 2015), but even from the bottom of the lineup, Marte offers an interesting average/speed combo.
Rich Hill, SP, Athletics
It’s unusual to see a 36-year-old on a sleeper list, but Hill’s career arc has been unusual. The left-hander was a nice-looking pitching prospect 10 years ago, but he flamed out as a starter after a few years before spending a couple up-and-down seasons as a lefty specialist. Hill was given a chance to start for Triple-A Pawtucket late last season and was superb, posting a 2.78 ERA and 29/9 K/BB ratio over 32 1/3 innings. That earned him a chance with the big club, and he continued his improbable run with a 1.55 ERA and 36/5 K/BB ratio over 29 frames in four September starts. The A’s thought enough of Hill’s late-season streak that they handed him $6 million on a one-year deal over the winter. The southpaw is obviously a wild card in 2016 since he didn’t start for five years, and his previous control issues could pop up at any time. However, Hill’s curveball is still nasty, and he’ll call one of the most pitcher-friendly parks home.
Cory Spangenberg, 2B, Padres
A former first-round pick, Spangenberg wasn’t terribly productive for the first three months last season while splitting time between second and third base, hitting just .254/.304/.356. However, the light appeared to come on after he returned from a knee injury in mid-August, as he put up a .294/.373/.460 batting line over his final 41 games as the regular second baseman. Spangenberg is in line to serve as the regular at second, at least versus righties in 2016, and he could also be the Padres’ leadoff hitter. The 25-year-old stole just nine bases over 345 plate appearances last season, but he put up some big stolen base totals in the minors and also hit .294 on the farm. Spangenberg could offer a solid average and a good number of steals as a late-round draft pick and might also have a nice runs total if he bats at the top of the order.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles
Schoop probably would have grown past "sleeper" status had he not hurt his knee last season, which put him on the shelf for two months and kept his counting stats down. Even though he had 160 fewer plate appearances in 2015 than he did in 2014, he slugged just one fewer homer, smacking 15 over the boards in just 321 trips to the dish. There are drawbacks to Schoop's game, no doubt. He has put up an ugly 203/23 K/BB ratio so far in his big league career and has shown no signs of improvement in that area. He also offers fantasy owners nil in the stolen base department. However, the power is real and it is only enhanced with Schoop calling Camden Yards home. The 24-year-old is a good bet for 20+ homers as long as he stays healthy and won't cost you a premium draft pick.
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Glasnow is the first player on this list that’s likely to begin the season in the minors, but savvy fantasy owners will be willing to spend a draft pick on him anyway, and wait for the payoff. The 22-year-old continued his dominance in the minors last season, posting a 2.39 ERA and 136/43 K/BB ratio over 109 1/3 innings across three levels. That last level was at Triple-A, where he held a 2.20 mark with 48 whiffs over 41 frames. Glasnow is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, with a fastball that touches the high-90s to go along with a nasty power curve. At 6-foot-8, Glasnow’s mechanics can get out of whack and lead to control issues at times, but he has the swing-and-miss stuff to get out of trouble. Ryan Vogelsong is in line to be the Pirates’ No. 5 starter, but he’s just keeping the seat warm for Glasnow, who could be promoted once the club leaves him in the minors long enough to slow his arbitration clock.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, Royals
Dyson has served as the Royals’ primary extra outfielder over the last few seasons, but the club seems adamant about giving him a regular role in right field in 2016. While the 31-year-old is quite limited as a player, he has the potential to be a difference-maker in fantasy leagues if given a starting job. Dyson has averaged 31.5 stolen bases over the last four seasons, which is pretty incredible when you consider he’s averaged just 271 plate appearances per year over that span. Dyson in a regular role would probably be the favorite to lead the American League in steals, which obviously would make him incredibly valuable for fantasy owners even if he hits .250 with no power.
Tyler Duffey, SP, Twins
Duffey was kind of buried in the loaded Twins’ farm system, but he forced his way into their plans with a terrific showing last season. The right-hander posted an excellent 2.54 ERA and 122/30 K/BB ratio across 138 frames between Double- and Triple-A to earn a promotion in August. His success continued with the big club, as he boasted a 3.10 ERA and 53/20 K/BB ratio over 58 innings down the stretch. Duffey was mostly a two-pitch pitcher with the Twins, featuring a low-90s fastball and fantastic curveball. He’ll have to start incorporating the changeup more, especially to left-handed batters, but his curveball is a plus pitch, and he’s had superb control throughout his pro career. Duffey should have a spot in the Twins’ rotation locked up and could return value as a late-round selection.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros
The Astros used the first pick of the second round in the 2014 Draft to take Reed, and they’re surely glad they did. The former Kentucky Wildcat has dominated in the minors thus far, putting up a robust .340/.432/.612 batting line with 34 homers and 127 RBI between High- and Double-A this past season. He’s in line to begin the 2016 campaign at Triple-A, although it’s certainly possible that he forces the Astros’ hand with a big Grapefruit League showing. Even if Reed does start the season in the minors, he doesn’t have much blocking him right now with the disappointing Jonathan Singleton slated to open the year at first base with the big club. The Astros are a proven playoff contender now and can’t afford to wait around should Singleton scuffle early on. Reed is one of the best power-hitting prospects in baseball, and his time is near.
Rymer Liriano, OF, Brewers
It seems like we’ve been waiting a while for Liriano to do something at the major league level, so it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 24 years old. The former top-50 prospect spent all of last season at Triple-A, putting up a nice .292/.383/.460 batting line with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Liriano still strikes out a bunch, but he’s starting to show a better eye at the plate. What’s never been in doubt is an intriguing blend of power and speed, and in 2016 there would seem to be a potential opening with the big club that would allow him to show off those skills. Ideally, Liriano would settle into a corner outfield spot with the Brewers, but those positions are currently anchored by Ryan Braun and Khris Davis. The good news is that he also has experience in center field and that spot is wide open for Milwaukee. Liriano would offer some upside for fantasy owners if he gets a shot.
John Lamb, SP, Reds
Lamb did a lot to rehabilitate his value last season, as his stuff started to come back with Tommy John surgery getting farther away in the rear-view mirror. The left-hander posted a 2.67 ERA and 117/36 K/BB ratio over 111 1/3 Triple-A innings in 2015 and got his chance in the majors with the Reds when the Royals sent him there in the Johnny Cueto trade. Lamb’s 5.80 ERA over 10 starts for Cincinnati wasn’t anything to write home about, but his 58/19 K/BB ratio across 49 2/3 frames was quite impressive. The southpaw should have a rotation spot with the Reds locked up in 2016, and while Great American Ball Park and a rebuilding Cincy club are unlikely to do him any favors, Lamb could be an underrated source of strikeouts in fantasy leagues.
(Editor's note: Lamb had back surgery and will likely not be ready for Opening Day.)