The 2022 Yankees ended their season in what feels like a near-annual tradition: defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros. Perhaps feeling the pressure from a 13-year pennant drought, the team opened the checkbook for two-time All-Star Carlos Rodón, even after retaining Aaron Judge. The team now boasts perhaps the strongest rotation in the majors with a deep bullpen to boot. Their lineup, however, features more question marks than GM Brian Cashman is likely willing to admit. The reigning AL MVP projects to be the only Yankee hitter selected in the top 100 of fantasy drafts.
Amongst the uncertainty in the Yankees’ lineup is opportunity. Who has the potential to emerge for the Bronx Bombers? Which Yankees should you fade at their current average draft position (ADP)? Here are your 2023 Yankees Sleepers and Busts:
2022 stats (171 PA): .247 AVG, 21 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 3 SB
Unless the Yankees make a splash on the trade market, Oswaldo Cabrera will have every opportunity to win the job of primary left fielder. As such, there’s some definite appeal here in 15-team leagues. While left field is where he’ll see most of his time, Cabrera displayed the flexibility to play six positions during his first stint in MLB. Amongst a few lineup question marks, the 23-year-old switch hitter could seize near everyday at-bats if he builds upon his performance in 2022. Outside of potential playing time, does Cabrera have the profile worthy to be a fourth or fifth outfielder in deep leagues? Early indications suggest he’ll provide sneaky value.
While the rookie’s 44-game sample in the majors is too small to make sweeping inferences upon, he did hit 6 home runs, good for a ~20 home run pace. Despite middling exit velocities, Cabrera achieves power in a manner that should be sustainable with the friendly short porch in Yankee Stadium: pulled flyballs. In 91 games across Triple-A and MLB, he had a flyball rate of over 48%. If he had more MLB plate appearances to qualify, this rate would’ve put him in the top 10 of MLB hitters. He pulled flyballs 36% of the time in MLB, which is above league average and in line with his minor league numbers.
Moreover, the pull-happy approach allows Cabrera to make the most of his flyball tendencies. For a hitter who doesn’t make a ton of hard contact, his home ballpark is ideal for his fantasy profile. In fact, there’s a recent comparison of Yankee Stadium propping up a flyball-dominant hitter with a lot of soft contact. From 2016-2018, Didi Gregorius hit 20+ home runs and 70+ RBI all while posting some of the league’s lowest barrel rates.
Additionally, the Yankee LF showed signs of settling in at the plate. Cabrera scuffled in his first two weeks facing major league pitching. He didn’t hit a single home run and struggled to get on base. Upon acclimating to the majors, the versatile switch-hitter became a difference-maker for New York. Once the calendar turned to September, Cabrera slugged .476 with a 129 wRC+ the rest of the way. The improvement might have a simple explanation: comfort.
The sample size is small, but the narrative is compelling. As Cabrera settled in, his swing rate decreased. It’s possible the rookie became more comfortable waiting for his pitch after the initial excitement and/or nerves of being in the big leagues evened out. As a result of being more selective, he achieved better outcomes at the plate. Look for him to build upon this momentum in 2023. Cabrera is an under-the-radar name who could pay dividends in a season where outfield depth in fantasy is shallower than in years past.
2022 stats (57 PA): .306 AVG, 8 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB
Not to be confused with Oswaldo, Oswald Peraza also possesses deep-league sleeper appeal. Similarly to his closely-named teammate, Peraza is the current frontrunner for a starting role for the defending AL East champs. Unlike Cabrera, however, the shortstop projects to produce fantasy value with his legs. Peraza will have competition on multiple fronts for playing time entering spring training. As a result, early projection systems forecast less than half a season of at-bats.
While it’s entirely possible Peraza struggles out the gate and is replaced by Isiah Kiner-Falefa or eventually Anthony Volpe, he’s available with one of your final-round picks even in the 15-league NFBC Draft Champions format. Placing bets on young hitters with a path to exceed playing time expectations is typically a profitable way to spend your final draft picks. For those unfamiliar, what does Peraza bring to the table that’s beneficial for both the Yankees and fantasy managers alike?
To start, the middle-infielder has the defensive skills alone worthy of a starting spot. Given the Yankees’ proclivity to prioritize defense last season, Peraza should have an inside track at playing time given IKF’s struggles. When he does play, he’ll be an asset for stolen bases. New York’s third-ranked prospect, stole 33 bags in 38 attempts in Triple-A last season. In addition, Peraza has an advanced feel for the strike zone that should allow him to be a league-average hitter with more power potential than most late-round middle infielders.
Oftentimes the simplest way to find sleeper value is by finding players who could shatter their playing time projection. This, however, is easier said than done. In Peraza’s case, if he wins the Opening Day job, he’ll begin to quickly rise up draft boards. In the meantime, he’s well worth a late-round flier. You might just find yourself with a near-everyday shortstop who steals bases, hits 15 homers, and plays in one of the league’s best lineups.
2022 stats (313 PA): .250 AVG, 38 R, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 17 SB
In a 2022 postseason where most of their bats were quiet, Harrison Bader was a bright spot for New York. The trade deadline acquisition won over any skeptical Yankee fans by blasting five home runs with a .333 avg in nine playoff games. Bader has long been interesting from a fantasy perspective. The Bronxville native entered the league with an intriguing blend of power and speed, but struck out too often to fully take advantage. Over the last two years, however, Bader cut his strikeout rate from an untenable 32% in 2020 to 19% in 2022. With improved contact skills and a more friendly home park, the center fielder projects to be a top-200 pick. Outfield is thin this season, but it would be prudent to avoid Bader’s elevated cost.
Bader improved his strikeout rate, but it may be at the expense of his best asset: barrels. Despite putting the ball in play more, his Barrels/PA declined each of the last two years. Simply put, he’s making more contact, but registering fewer of the highest-quality batted balls. The Statcast portion of his PL Player Page paints a disappointing picture:
In addition to Bader’s batted ball data trending in the wrong direction, his health is also of concern. He’s yet to register a full season of games outside of an abbreviated 2020. His most recent injury, plantar fasciitis, shelved him for half the season. It’s a potentially ominous sign for the speedster’s stolen base output. Bader enters the year healthy but could be more conservative on the base paths in order to avoid the IL. After a torrid postseason, Bader’s fantasy profile is on the rise amongst drafters. However, it might be best to let someone else bet on a long-awaited breakout season.
2022 stats (63.2 IP): 2.54 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 65 K, 7 W, 20 S
Before diving in, a quick disclaimer. The Yankees’ top reliever may be the choice for “Bust” here, but it’s more an argument against paying inflated prices for closers.
Clay Holmes proved to be one of 2022’s biggest surprises. He stepped into the closer role after an Aroldis Chapman injury and notched 20 saves. Equipped with a bowling ball sinker that touches 97 mph, Holmes is a ground ball aficionado. Not only did he generate a 77% groundball rate, he was second only to Devin Williams in limiting barrels. Despite this, 2022 proved to be a tale of two halves for the reliever.
The 2022 All Star stumbled in the second half, hitting the IL with lower back spasms and pitching to a 4.84 ERA. A late-season slide typically leads to a drop in ADP. For Holmes, however, this does not seem to be the case. The NFBC format typically elevates closers, but Holmes is already sitting in the top 130 of ADP. As the season approaches, expect most closers to see their draft cost continue to rise. Expect Holmes’ status as the Yankees’ closer to drive up his stature in other formats as well.
Is paying the premium advisable? Historically speaking, probably not. Individual reliever performance varies more year over year than other positions. In today’s game, projecting the number of save opportunities for less established closers is often guesswork. The Yankees have a well-established track record of assigning the ninth inning to one arm. Holmes’ role as the everyday closer is secure to start the year. If Holmes were to struggle even slightly, however, it would be a challenge for New York not to turn to a committee. Jonathan Loáisiga, Tommy Kahnle, Wandy Peralta, and Lou Trivino all could challenge for the occasional save opportunity. Even if Holmes doesn’t struggle, it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the sinkerballer only get 80% of the team’s saves.
It may feel uncomfortable on draft day, but given the many variables involved in closer value, it makes sense to avoid reaching for saves. In Holmes’ case, the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen might work against him getting a full slate of save opportunities.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)