Spring training is well underway and we’re getting ever closer to the start of the regular season. Hope springs eternal for every fanbase — okay, maybe not all fanbases — upon hearing their slugger has arrived in the proverbial “best shape of his life,” or that their ace added a tick of velo on their fastball.
Fantasy draft season is also in full swing. Before getting to my sleepers and busts, I’d like to take a short detour. With all of the great tools and data in the Statcast era, it sometimes feels like true sleepers and busts no longer exist. Before spring training, most diamonds in the rough are already uncovered via the troves of valuable data made possible by Hawk-Eye (and formerly Trackman). While this data creates more confidence in the fantasy content you consume, your fellow league mates can also read these same articles. How, then, can you get a leg up on your competition? The answer is Pitcher List 6.0.
If you haven’t perused the new player pages and features on Pitcher List yet, you’re missing out. With the new player pages on the site, you can find past articles, GIFs, advanced stats, player archetypes, and more all in one place. The player pages can help you quickly validate whether you want to take the plunge on a deep sleeper or fade a potential bust at his ADP. Now that you know about a true game-changer for your upcoming drafts, here are my 2021 sleepers and busts:
NOTE: All ADPs are FantasyPros Consensus from March 25th
Trey Mancini’s remarkable recovery from cancer and admirable return to the field is one of the game’s best stories. His story is so inspiring that it is easy to forget how productive he was in 2019. Mancini was one of 2019’s top breakouts, tallying 35 homers with 109 runs and 97 RBI.
While some believe the home run output to be an anomaly given his lower launch angle and flyball rate, Mancini exhibits other peripherals that show the performance was no fluke. The O’s first baseman hits a ton of line drives with an exit velo and barrel rate in the 71st percentile.
Put simply, Mancini makes quality, hard contact. Furthermore, in the age of hitters selling out for power, Mancini’s 2019 spray chart is a thing of beauty:
Mancini currently falls outside of the top 20 at first base in consensus ADP. He is particularly a value in Yahoo leagues, where he is going at pick 209. The Baltimore Oriole provides potential four-category value at a position where his lack of stolen bases is the norm. To add icing on the cake, Mancini carries outfield eligibility and will bring the perk of added roster flexibility.
First base is a position where you need to enter the draft with a plan. If I don’t end up with a top-tier stalwart at the position, I often find myself willing to wait out the mid-round guys in anticipation of scooping up Mancini.
While I’m not suggesting you should expect Mancini to outperform the above players, his projections are similar despite expecting fewer games played. In short, I’ll bypass first base for middle infield and starting pitching from picks 75-100 knowing I can get Mancini if none end up falling.
Clint Frazier has an everyday spot locked up in the Yankees lineup and has every making of a post-hype sleeper. The former fifth overall pick showed promising flashes in 2020 and is primed for more in 2021. Despite this, he hasn’t seen his fantasy stock rise as much as you might expect. His ADP currently situates him behind fellow up-and-comers in Ryan Mountcastle (156) and Dylan Carlson (167).
Although Frazier experienced early career hiccups, he’s shown signs of maturing as a player. The bat speed has never been in question. However, some may believe that the swing-and-miss in his game caps his upside. These concerns are alleviated a bit when learning Red Thunder cut his chase rate to 17.8% in 2020. Frazier may take big hacks, but he has a strong grasp of the strike zone. As a result, Frazier finished 2020 with a 93rd percentile walk rate of 15.6%.
Why does Frazier have sleeper appeal? Above all, it’s the wealth of run production opportunities he’ll have in the Yankees lineup. Despite hitting in the lower third of the order, Frazier will have RISP chances aplenty with the likes of Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres slated to hit in front of him. Furthermore, he hits the ball hard, evidenced by an 82nd percentile barrel rate. Have I mentioned he plays half his games in a hitter’s haven? It wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest if Frazier exceeds his Bat X projection of 21 homers.
Frazier’s ADP slots him in the 14th round of a 12-teamer. While he won’t be an asset in stolen bases, Frazier’s upside exceeds that of some OFs going 40-50 picks in front of him such as Alex Verdugo and Tommy Pham. If you find yourself with outfield spots to fill in the mid-rounds, Frazier can return more value at his ADP than most drafters are giving him credit for.
Andrew Vaughn has been, hands down, the player I’ve targeted most this draft season. As we get closer to Opening Day, I expect Vaughn’s consensus ADP of 235 to continue to rise every day, especially as it has become practically certain he’ll be on the White Sox 25-man roster to open the season. Even before Eloy Jiménez went down, Tony LaRussa was singing Vaughn’s praises while Ken Williams affirmed he would not be held back to manipulate his service time.
As Chicago scrambles to come up with a new solution in left field, it’s even becoming possible Vaughn will gain outfield eligibility at some point. While early in draft season you could get Vaughn for pennies on the dollar, if you really want him, you might have to make the leap soon after pick 150. Despite a rapidly ascending price, you should remain eager to draft Vaughn.
Vaughn is a polished hitting prospect with power and an advanced approach at the plate. He’ll turn 23 during the first week of the season and has shown he’s ready for major league pitching. In an albeit limited sample, Vaughn has 14 hits this spring for a .269/.377/.462 line. Perhaps more promising are the rave reviews veterans have about the slugger. Lucas Giolito referred to Vaughn as “the full package” and even predicted his first spring homer. Jose Abreu, no slouch at the plate himself, stated Vaughn is ready to play in the majors right now.
At an ADP after 200, Vaughn is the perfect target for those who missed out on the top ten first baseman. Projection systems usually struggle to accurately project rookie production. As a result, Vaughn is being undervalued and sits low on draft boards.
At the end of your draft, you should be looking for upside and Vaughn has it in spades. If playing time is an issue or the production isn’t there (I’m confident neither will be an issue), you can easily find adequate replacements for your corner infield or utility spot. A power bat who can also hit for average is a rare find at the end of drafts. I expect Vaughn to be one of 2021’s ultimate value picks on draft day.
Cavan Biggio seems to be a popular name on bust lists this year, so I hate to pile on, but he’s a player I’m not willing to gamble on him at his current draft-day price.
To be clear, Biggio does have some appeal. First, he’s shown a willingness to steal bags, a trait that is becoming rarer each year. Second, he’ll contribute runs and RBI at a position (2B) that is the weakest in fantasy. Despite this, I can’t convince myself he’ll live up to his ADP in 2021.
Biggio is adequate in most areas for fantasy purposes, but a master of none. He’ll likely chip in 20 homers with 10 steals — which would be great if it didn’t cost a fifth or sixth-round pick. Furthermore, given his high frequency of fly balls, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be an asset in batting average. To make matters worse, his batted ball data does not paint a portrait of an above-average hitter.
However, what is perhaps most concerning is the uncertainty around Biggio’s place in the Toronto lineup. Biggio may be in the top third given the preponderance of right-handed hitters on the Jays. It’s also possible he finds himself all the way down at 7 or 8. This would put a damper on Biggio’s runs and stolen bases, the two categories where you’re expecting the most from him.
Given his lackluster Statcast profile and uncertain lineup placement, Biggio makes sense as a player to fade this draft season. When making a top 60 pick, I want to be sure of a player’s role and that they possess elite-level skills. Unfortunately, Biggio doesn’t quite fit that bill. Although he has a relatively safe floor, there appears to be a very slim path to a high ceiling.
While the Jays should have an electric offense in a friendly offensive park, Teoscar Hernández is another popular bust candidate. While Hernández was one of 2020’s biggest surprises, there isn’t much convincing evidence that he wasn’t just on an extended hot streak.
He’s always been an intriguing player that combined hard contact with some speed. However, Hernández’s inability to cut down on strikeouts has limited his potential. Despite a tremendous .294 xBA and .608 xSLG that might suggest he’d turned a corner with his approach, Hernández still struck out a 30% clip while managing a career-low walk rate of 6.8%.
How, then, did Hernández put together a career year? He was aided by a career-high BABIP (.348) and an unsustainable 32.7% HR/FB rate. Some might argue Hernández is primed to run high BABIPs due to how hard he makes contact, but with no improvements to his plate discipline, I’m not buying in. Over the course of a full 162-game season, the strikeout rate would likely bring Hernandez’s stats tumbling back down to earth.
In addition to Hernández’s all-or-nothing approach, I also harbor some concerns about playing time. His play in the outfield by most defensive metrics is a liability. If he gets off to a cold start at the plate, would it be out of the question for Randal Grichuk to find some additional time in the outfield?
At an ADP of 80, there are too many question marks for me to draft the Jays right fielder. The opportunity costs are significant, with OF-eligible players like Nick Castellanos and teammate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. going later. The plethora of outfielders available with a higher floor and similar ceilings make Hernández not worth the risk.
Unlike Biggio and Hernández, Mike Yastrzemski is a player who may be a bit of a surprise on a bust list. Yaz backed up a surprising 2019 with an even stronger 2020. In fact, he was one of 2020’s best draft day bargains with a .297/.400/.568 line. In 161 career games played, he’s tallied 21 homers with 103 runs and 90 RBI. These numbers would translate to quite a valuable full season line at his current draft cost. I’m hesitant, however, of Yaz’s ability to repeat this type of line in 2021.
To begin, a minor concern I have is that it is relatively rare for players to sustain age-30 breakouts. Since he’s only spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues, we might perceive him to be a still-maturing player, and thus overestimating his upside over 162 games. A larger concern of mine, however, is that those drafting the Giants cleanup hitter are doing so with the expectation he’ll be a batting average contributor.
Taking last season’s .297 at face value is a big mistake. Yaz managed to run a .370 BABIP despite a below-average exit velo; this screams small sample size anomaly. In fact, he significantly outperformed his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA in 2020. His actual stats would likely have regressed in a longer season. His .254 xBA seems a little more realistic of what we can expect moving forward, although The Bat X is more pessimistic at .239.
Moreover, San Francisco has not decided whether or not they will cover the right-field archway in 2021. For those unaware, many have credited the cloth covering over the archway in right field (which blocked off the usual cross breeze) as to why Oracle Park played uncharacteristically hitter-friendly last season. As a result, the lefty could see his power production and splash hits into McCovey Cove impacted if the covers are removed.
If you can’t count on Yaz for batting average or to add any more than a few steals, you’ll need him to be an above-average provider of runs, homers, and RBI to live up to his ADP. While I believe in his ability to be a productive accumulator, there are several quality outfielders still on the board after round 10 that can match his production at a much cheaper cost.
Photos by KA Sports, Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)