Nick Senzel, Josh Naylor lead 2021 sleepers
Fantasy baseball draft season is in full swing! The first field of play of spring training is Sunday, and that means managers can see all the top talent firsthand. Managers can also spot potential clients and players under the radar who could potentially be making real noise in fantasy circles this season. Every manager loves to be the manager who saw the breakout before the rest of their opponents. That's why we're here to give you this advantage as we near opening day.
Our 2021 MLB Draft Guide is packed with an arsenal of content - from position rankings, ADP reports and seasonal projections to mock drafts, projected lineups and draft cheat sheets. We are more proud than ever of what we have put together and look forward to sharing it with you in the coming weeks. Regardless of the format or size of your league, we are confident we can provide the tools you need to secure this championship hardware.
We recently looked at the overall rankings for 5x5 formats with mixed leagues. This week we're introducing a number of sleepers that should be on managers' radar ahead of the 2021 season.
Cavan Biggio, 2B / 3B / OF, Toronto Blue Jays
By Christopher Crawford
Biggio has more than held its own in its two seasons with an OPS of 0.798 in 159 games. His talent suggests that more is to come. Biggio, 26, as of April, was one of the most selective players in baseball in 2020, ranking in the 92nd percentile of the walk percentage over the shortened campaign. Once at the base he threatens to steal and he has yet to be caught stealing while stealing 20 bases in the past two years. He's still using his strength, but it keeps developing every year and his momentum and strength suggest a 25 homer season is within reach. He's never going to get a great average in part because he's willing to count and hit with two strokes, but his combination of power and speed should make up for that. It's a must see in OBP leagues, but even in a traditional format, there's a lot to like about Biggio's 2021 potential.
Nick Senzel, OF, Reds
By Matthew Pouliot
The hype machine that got out of hand when Senzel stood on the threshold of the majors two years ago came to a standstill just in time for the infielder-outfielder's coming-out party in 2021. Senzel didn't get much of a chance to play during a tumultuous 2020 season, but when he was on the field, he reduced his strike rate and hit more flies, enabling him to use his homer-friendly ballpark in Cincinnati. He remains one of the fastest players in the game and there is potential for him to put together a 20 HR-20 SB season. He may have to fight bats first, but from here, he seems like a far better choice than Shogo Akiyama and Aristides Aquino. For someone who could end up in mixed league drafts, it offers a lot of advantages.
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Josh Naylor, OF, Cleveland
By Seth Trachtman
Despite his status as a former first round player, Naylor has often been overlooked behind better prospects. Nevertheless, he consistently scored with the minors and showed an excellent approach on the plate. He hit a much more impressive .314 / .389 / .547 for his career in the minor league .288 / .351 / .439 and in Triple-A. Naylor's eye has long been one of his strengths, with a 12% strike rate in 2018 and 2019 as a minor leaguer between double and triple A. It took Naylor some time to repeat his strong contact rate, but we saw over 104 record appearances between San Diego and Cleveland last season. While only hitting .247-1-6, Naylor had an impressive 11.5% strike rate which could soon lead to better results in the batting average division. In fact, his statcast data showed a .278 XBA, an indication that we should expect an improvement soon. He's about to hit a big chance for a low-budget squad and could be a sneaky Eric Hosmer-esque .280-20-90 batsman in the middle of the Cleveland batting order.
Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Seattle Mariners
By George Bissell
After a lackluster US debut, Kikuchi focused on simplifying his mechanics and adding an editor to his repertoire in the final off-season. He logged the time on Driveline Baseball and developed a shorter arm path that synchronized his delivery and catalyzed a massive speed spike. His mechanical overhaul made an immediate impression when Kikuchi averaged 95 mph on his four-seam fastball during the shortened 2020 campaign, up from 92.8 mph in 2019. And his brand new cutter averaged 92 mph compared to an 86 mile slider last year. Kikuchi's increased speed increased the strikeout rate, swinging strike rate, and ground ball rate while solving his ubiquitous home run problem. Despite these positive developments, Kikuchi struggled to consistently throw strikes, resulting in a bloated ERA of 5.17 in 47 innings (nine starts) last year. His cryptic surface stats may not reflect this, but Kikuchi took a colossal step forward over the past season. Poor control increases the risk that he will continue to be under-challenged from a running prevention standpoint, but all signs of a possible outbreak throughout the season are there.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
By Ryan Boyer
Tellez was reluctantly great in 2020. That wasn't the case for the first 10 games of the season when he pitched a low OPS of .501. But in his last 25 competitions? Tellez scored a robust .346 / .395 / .667 stroke line while completing seven home runs. But wait, there's more. Tellez also had an exit speed of 90.7 mph which was in the 79th percentile and a .353 xwOBA which was in the 80th percentile. Still not convinced? Okay good. How about the fact that the first baseman almost halved his strike rate, from 28.4% in 2019 to 15.7% in 2020? Tellez has always made a lot of contact with the minors, so his improvement in this area may be at least somewhat sustainable. The Blue Jays' off-season additions don't give him much margin for error, but Tellez should see regular starts against right-handers. He is an up and coming racquet in a good young offensive and practically free in fantasy leagues.
Jared Walsh 1B, Los Angeles Angels
From D.J. Short
Walsh wasn't on the fantasy radar after posting an OPS of 0.605 with a K / BB ratio of 35/6 in a small sample on his first exposure to MLB pitching in 2019, but that changed last year September. The 27-year-old scored in nine games with nine homers, 26 RBI and an OPS of 1,113,337. During this time he was successful in four games in a row. It's easy to get lost in the randomness of a small sample, but a change in his swing mechanics gave Walsh a massive improvement in his contact rate. He knocked out just 15 times in 108 record appearances after hitting 35 times in 87 record appearances in 2019. Walsh also used more of an all-field approach without losing much of the barrel percentage. With a concrete explanation for his breakthrough, he could move up in fantasy leagues if he had the chance of regular bats.
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