Sleeper. Undervalued. Overlooked. Whatever your preferred nomenclature is, if you’re going to capture your league’s crown, it’s simply common sense that you’re going to need to scoop up guys in your draft that provide a nice return on investment. The 12 players listed below can be had in the later rounds and have the potential to be difference-makers.
Matt Moore, SP, San Francisco Giants
Moore has yet to develop into the superstar many thought he would be back in his prospect days and early years with the Rays. It’s been for a variety of reasons, from inconsistency, to spotty control, to injury. The good news is that he’s still only 27 years old, and he’s in about as good of a situation as you could ask for heading into 2017. Moore posted an identical 4.08 ERA with both the Rays and Giants last season, but the ERA with San Fran was a bit misleading, as a couple clunkers – including one at Coors Field – threw it out of whack (his FIP with the Giants was 3.53). He also held a 9.1 K/BB ratio during his time with San Francisco, which would be his best full-season rate, and he dominated the Cubs in an NLDS start with 10 strikeouts and one earned run allowed over eight frames. The left-hander saw his velocity tick back up in 2016 as he further distanced himself from Tommy John surgery, with his average fastball having its most pep since 2012. Moore gets to face a pitcher instead of a designated hitter over a full season for the first time in his career, and he’ll call the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball home.
Daniel Norris, SP, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers’ future over the next few years looks a little cloudy with some aging players and management wanting to reduce payroll. However, one thing their fans can feel optimistic about is the step forward Norris took in 2016 and what his potential is when looking ahead. The left-hander didn’t join Detroit’s rotation on a permanent basis until last August, but overall he held a 3.42 ERA and 71/21 K/BB ratio across 68 1/3 innings in his 13 starts. Walks have often been a problem for Norris, but he kept them in check last year with a 2.9 BB/9 rate. He was able to improve his control while also throwing harder than he ever has, with his average fastball velocity up two miles per hour from 2014 and over one mile per hour from 2015. Another thing to keep in mind with Norris is how young he is. It seems as if the former top prospect has been around a while, but he won’t turn 24 until after Opening Day.
Sean Manaea, SP, Oakland A’s
Acquired at the 2015 trade deadline from the Royals in the Ben Zobrist deal, Manaea was asked to make just three starts at the Triple-A level last season before the A’s added him to their rotation in late April. It appeared initially that the tall left-hander was rushed along too quickly, as he put up a 6.02 ERA over his first nine starts and then went on the disabled list with a pronator strain in his forearm. However, he missed just two weeks of action and promptly took off upon his return, holding a 2.74 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 84/21 K/BB ratio over 95 1/3 frames the rest of the way. Manaea gave some credit to his rise to going back to his old changeup grip and also to throwing his slider harder. The southpaw is a big talent, as the only reason he slid to the compensation round in the 2013 draft was concerns about his hip, which he had surgery on but has had no issues with since turning pro. Manaea gets to make starts in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, and he should have better luck from a home-runs-allowed perspective in 2017.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bell has been considered a nice prospect for a few years now, but what had held him back a bit is his plus raw power not really showing up in games. That started to change last season, as the 24-year-old slugged a combined 17 home runs between Triple-A Indianapolis and the majors, topping his total from the previous two years combined. Bell was able to increase his power output while continuing to display stellar plate discipline. He was unfazed by his first look at major league pitching, walking more than he struck out at rates that were even better than those he put up in the minors. The Pirates are convinced that Bell is ready for a full-time gig, handing the switch-hitter their first base job going into 2017. While he had minor knee surgery in early February, it shouldn't affect his availability for Opening Day. He’s going to need to up his fly ball rate in order to take advantage of his power, but Bell looks to be a polished enough hitter to have success right out of the gate.
Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies
Rostering fantasy catchers often feels like a chore rather than something you’re eager to do. Even the ones that can hit usually have their warts. Murphy is no different, as he’s struck out in one out of every three of his plate appearances in the majors and piled up the strikeouts in the minors, as well. And, like most catchers, he doesn’t run a lick. What Murphy can do is hit the ball a long way. The 26-year-old sported a robust .327/.361/.647 batting line with 19 home runs and 59 RBI over just 321 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last season. He also popped five dingers in his brief time with the Rockies and has knocked eight out of the park in just 88 plate appearances in the majors to this point. Murphy combines his good raw power with a swing that produces a ton of fly balls, which is obviously a great match for a guy who plays half his games at Coors Field. He could begin the season in a timeshare with the offensively-challenged Tony Wolters, but Murphy should wrestle that job away in short order.
(Editor's Note: Murphy will begin the season on the disabled list with a hairline fracture in his right forearm.)
Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
The only reason Bundy made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster last season was because he was out of options, as the club understandably didn’t want to risk losing him on waivers. The former top prospect was plagued by elbow and shoulder issues from 2013-15, without making more than nine starts in any of those seasons. He started out 2016 in middle relief for the O’s, but by midseason he was pitching quite well and the team had a need which thrust him into the rotation. Bundy initially responded well to the challenge, posting a 2.76 ERA and 36/8 K/BB ratio over 32 2/3 frames in his first six starts. It wasn’t a surprise that he eventually hit a wall with a 6.00 ERA in his last eight outings, although he still struck out nearly a batter per inning. The 24-year-old was maintaining plus stuff after moving into the rotation with a mid-90s fastball and nasty curve, and he’ll be better positioned to handle a starter’s workload in 2017. Bundy is a fly ball pitcher at Camden Yards, so the home run ball could be a problem at times. There’s also obviously an unknown element here given how little he’s pitched the last few years. However, Bundy flashed the ceiling in 2016 that had once made him the top pitching prospect in the game, and he’s not going to cost you a premium fantasy draft pick this spring.
Keon Broxton, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Broxton was on some sleeper lists last spring and started in center field for the Brewers on Opening Day, but the club quickly bailed on him after he got off to a 0-for-16 start with 11 strikeouts. He smashed the ball at Triple-A and eventually found his footing in the majors after his final promotion in late July, sporting a .294/.399/.538 batting line with eight dingers and 16 stolen bases over his final 169 plate appearances before a broken wrist ended his campaign. Broxton will be healed up heading into 2017, and he’s in line to be Milwaukee’s Opening Day center fielder for the second season in a row. The 26-year-old strikes out a lot, which is no doubt going to result in some lengthy slumps. However, he also draws a lot of walks (14.8 percent walk rate with the Brewers), has a little pop and can really run. The Brewers have top prospect Lewis Brinson knocking on the door, but Broxton should have a longer leash than he did last year. He’s an excellent late-round target.
Andrew Toles, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Toles’ path to the major leagues is certainly an atypical one. He was dismissed from the University of Tennessee and was released by the Rays prior to the 2015 season because of behavioral issues. After not playing organized baseball at all that year, Toles was scooped up by the Dodgers last winter and went on to bat .331/.374/.511 with seven homers and 23 stolen bases for them across three levels in the minors. He also flourished in his opportunities with the big club, putting up a .314/.365/.505 line during the regular season and then hitting .364/.423/.455 in 11 postseason contests. That fine work means Toles should be in line to start in left field against right-handers next season, and he could also see time in the leadoff spot. We’re almost surely going to see some regression with that .385 BABIP, and it was disappointing that Toles stole only one base last season after his robust stolen base totals in the minors. However, there’s still room for him to be an average asset even with a BABIP correction, and he would seem to be a good bet for 20+ thefts with regular at-bats. Toles also should provide a handful of bombs. A late-round flier is all it will take.
Mike Foltynewicz, SP, Atlanta Braves
Many have pointed to Foltynewicz’s lack of command and control as reasons why a move to the bullpen at some point seemed inevitable. However, he showed real signs of improvement in 2016 to the point that he could be a rotation mainstay for the Braves. The big right-hander has bettered both his strikeout and walk rates each year he’s been in the league, peaking at a 21.1 percent whiff rate and 6.7 percent walk rate in 2016. He’s been able to make strides in those areas while still maintaining the velocity that has consistently made him one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game. Foltynewicz remained volatile in 2016, mixing in some clunkers with his gems. As a fly ball pitcher whose command can waver, the potential for blowup starts is still there. That said, Foltynewicz is also a 25-year-old with big velocity who could have a breakthrough season if the command clicks on a consistent basis. That’s the kind of guy I like spending a late-round pick on.
Jose Peraza, SS/OF, Cincinnati Reds
We’ve been hearing about Peraza for a while now, as he signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela and was included on prospect lists not long after that. He was traded a couple times before reaching his 22nd birthday, but Peraza got his first chance at extended playing time at the big league level in 2016 and fared very well down the stretch once he was placed in the lineup regularly, hitting .366/.387/.484 with 11 steals over his final 39 games. Peraza has virtually no power, but he instantly became one of the fastest guys in the National League when he arrived, and he wound up swiping 21 bases while receiving just 256 plate appearances. If he can hone his technique a bit, Peraza could eventually be a guy who challenges for the stolen base title. He also does a great job of putting the bat on the ball, which, combined with his speed, gives him a nice average upside even though his hard-hit rate is low. Peraza has earned an everyday job, and he's been handed the keys to second base following the trade of Brandon Phillips. He's steadily moving up draft boards.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Seattle Mariners
A revamped swing has changed the trajectory of many hitters over the years, and Haniger is hoping to be the latest success story. The former compensation round pick began tweaking his approach late in the 2015 season in the minors, and he says it’s helped him recognize pitches better and drive the ball to all fields with authority. Haniger put up an outstanding .321/.419/.581 batting line with 25 home runs and 12 stolen bases last season between Double- and Triple-A, earning a shot in the majors with the Diamondbacks. While he struggled overall in his brief time with the big club, he popped five homers and showed a nice walk and hard-hit rate. Haniger was traded to the Mariners over the winter and while it’s a downgrade in hitting environments for him, he’s now slated for everyday at-bats in right field. It’s very difficult to predict the outlook for a potential late-bloomer like Haniger, but I see a guy with plus power who hits a lot of fly balls and who can also run a little. He’s certainly a late-round flier type, but a possibly interesting one.
Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres
Fellow Padres outfield prospect Hunter Renfroe is the one who raked in his first brief go-round in the majors last September, but Margot is the one out of the two I’m more excited about for fantasy purposes in 2017. Picked up from the Red Sox last winter in the Craig Kimbrel trade, Margot has been viewed as a top-50 prospect for a few years now. He’s breezed through the minors at a swift pace, showing elite defense in center field, plenty of speed on the base paths and a high-contact rate at the plate. Margot put up a nice .304/.351/.426 batting line with six home runs, 55 RBI and 30 stolen bases for Triple-A El Paso last season before the Padres summoned him late in the year. The 22-year-old has a little pop, but he hits a ton of balls on the ground and isn’t likely to belt many homers while calling Petco Park home. However, Margot has consistently racked up steals and rarely struck out (he had an excellent 11.3 percent strikeout rate at El Paso). He’s bankable for stolen bases and is a pretty good bet for average in fantasy leagues, making up for his lack of power. My biggest concern with Margot is that the Padres could go the cheap route and keep him in the minors for a while next season. If he cracks the Opening Day roster, he’s a guy I want to pencil into my fantasy lineup.