Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: San Diego Padres

A quartet of Padres to avoid and target in 2024.

2023 was a disappointing season for the San Diego Padres to say the least. They entered the season with a team brimming with All-Stars after the big-money acquisition of Xander Bogaerts but were unable to capitalize on a division up for grabs.

They mostly fell flat on their face due to their 6-19 record in one-run games. Ultimately, they missed the postseason despite a +104 run differential and an impressive collection of talent that exceeded $250M in payroll.

While the pendulum of luck is expected to swing the other way in 2024, the team isn’t looking as strong as it did following key departures in free agency and via trade. Pitchers Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and Nick Martinez have signed contracts with other teams while Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell remains unsigned but is unlikely to return due to the immense contract he’s expected to fetch.

On the offensive end, Gary Sánchez is still an active free agent but the most notable departure was Juan Soto who was dealt to the Yankees via the biggest trade of the offseason. That leaves the Padres with a depleted pitching staff that has been bolstered by the additions of imports Yuki Matsui and Woo Suk Go and a lineup that is merely a shadow of its former self.

Loaded with high-end fantasy talent that has proven itself for many years, the team lacks the mid-tier talent that makes uncovering draft-day discounts a simple and easy process. As such, there aren’t many options that warrant sleeper designations, and making a case for avoiding Manny Machado or Fernando Tatis is a tall task that won’t be attempted. With the current standing of the roster, more moves are on the horizon, but we can’t account for that ahead of time.

I have done my due diligence to analyze the roster, the draft board, and the fantasy landscape to bring you a quartet of players who have an increased likelihood of performing outside of their recognized talent levels.




Luis Campusano


2023 Stats (174 PA): .319 AVG | 27 R | 7 HR | 30 RBI | 0 SB

A well-regarded prospect ever since being drafted 39th overall out of a Georgia high school, Campusano always had plenty of prospect hype and accompanying prospective potential for fantasy managers to dream on. Across three consecutive campaigns, he was one of the top prospects in baseball, let alone being one of the most promising catchers in the minors. Here’s where he stood according to MLB Pipeline’s historical prospect rankings from 2020-2022.

Year MLB SDP Catchers
2020 #50 #4 #4
2021 #45 #3 #3
2022 #45 #3 #7

Those high rankings were well-earned as Campusano batted .325 with 15 homers and a 148 wRC+ at high-A in 2019, hit .295 with 15 long balls and a 121 wRC+ at double-A in 2021, and followed up those successful campaigns with a .298 average, 14 dingers, and a 110 wRC+ at triple-A in 2022. His prospect rankings alone shouldn’t make him a fantasy baseball sleeper by themselves, but they do lend credence to his small-sample success in 2023 and its continuation in 2024.

Outside of his prospect pedigree, Campusano turned heads with his production on the field in 2023. His ability to make contact and to constantly output successful at-bats is certainly something to take note of as fantasy draft rankings are created.

The rudimentary, surface-level contact metrics favored the young catcher immensely, as he batted .319 and struck out just 12.1% of the time. Among players with at least 150 plate appearances, his batting average led catchers and was sixth in baseball, while his strikeout rate was third among catchers and 16th in MLB.

Diving a little deeper, Campusano was a contact machine, sporting a plethora of contact metrics that placed him in the top 25% of the league. Both his overall (81.9%) and out-of-zone contact (70%) rates were in the 89th percentile while his zone contact rate (88.7%) was close behind in the 85th percentile. Those metrics suggest he makes contact as much as anyone wherever the ball is thrown. Additionally, he was elite at preventing called strikes and not swinging and missing, as he owned one of the best CSW rates (24.1%, 94th percentile) in all of baseball.

From a Statcast perspective, he stands out even further. Despite overperforming his expected batting average according to Baseball Savant, he remained one of the best in the league in that category. Campusano ended the season seventh in xAVG among players with at least 100 batted ball events and was in elite company.

Pitcher List’s version of xAVG, which takes into account batted ball direction, also believed in Campusano’s ability to hit for a high average. It read out as .292 which placed him in the top 5% of the league. All of this is to say, the Georgia native will be a massive boon to fantasy teams’ batting average in 2024.

What makes Campusano so appealing outside of his ability to hit for a high average and avoid striking out is that he pairs it with decent power numbers and a propensity to make every at-bat count.

Pitcher List’s Ideal Plate Appearance Rate is a pretty self-explanatory stat. It attempts to account for how often a batter makes good contact when he comes to the plate. It factors in barrel rate, solid contact rate, and flare/burner rate to produce a percentage in which a batter produces a good plate appearance.

If that all sounds good to you, then you should be excited to hear (or read) that Campusano led all of baseball with an “ideal plate appearance” occurring 38.5% of his time to the dish. The five players trailing him were Luis Arraez (NL Batting Title, 132 wRC+), Ronald Acuña Jr. (NL MVP, 170 wRC+), Bo Bichette (2x All-Star, 125 wRC+), Freddie Freeman (2020 NL MVP, 163 wRC+), and Corey Seager (2x WS MVP, 169 wRC+). Once again, Campusano is in impressive company.

If you include Campusano’s ability to consistently hit the ball hard, as measured by his 92nd percentile, 33.3% hard-contact rate, the company becomes even more rarified. Just four players in 2023 with a minimum of 150 plate appearances produced hard contact a third of the time and recorded an ideal plate appearance a third of the time. They were Campusano, Acuña, Bichette, and Seager.

With such incredible contact metrics, elite company, and enticing prospect rankings, it’s easy to assume that Campusano is one of the most coveted catchers in fantasy baseball. Contrary to that belief, he’s only in consideration in two-catcher leagues. With an ADP of 196 in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, he is going off the board as the 17th catcher. That means, in 15-team, one-catcher leagues, Campusano is undrafted altogether. His late ADP provides a significant discount for fantasy managers who believe in his skillset as an elite-hitting backstop.

Steamer is projecting Campusano to bat .265 with 17 home runs in 2024. That production would make many fantasy managers feel comfortable drafting him around pick 200. However, with an unmatched ability to produce good contact, a tendency to make a lot of contact, and plenty of potential off which to build, Campusano is set to exceed expectations and should be drafted in single-catcher formats as shallow as 12 teams.


Yu Darvish


2023 Stats (136.1 IP): 4.56 ERA | 1.30 WHIP | 141 K | 8 W | 0 SV

Darvish has had a storied career since coming to MLB from Japan in 2012. He’s produced six seasons with at least 190 punchouts, has been elected to five All-Star teams, and has earned Cy Young votes in four separate seasons.

Entering his age-36 season in 2023, there were no signs that he’d slow down after posting a 3.10 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and a 25.6% K% across 194.2 innings in 2022. However, he seemed to hit a wall last year as he landed on the injured list twice and struggled to the worst full season of his career.

Luckily for fantasy managers hoping to stay loyal to the right-hander, silver linings are pointing to a rebound in 2024.

First, it’s easy to point to the disparities in his season-long ERA and his ERA estimators and suggest that Darvish was just unlucky last year.

Metric Rate
FIP 4.03
xFIP 3.92
xERA 3.74
SIERA 4.04

All four estimators suggest he pitched at least half a run better than the ERA he produced. These estimators are bullish on his bounceback because he was stuck with the second-highest BABIP (.319) of his career and below-average rates in HR/FB% (15%, 49th percentile) and LOB% (71.3%, 44th percentile). With positive ERA estimators and an unlucky HOTEL (HOly Trinity of Equating Luck), Darvish has a solid baseline off of which to build without making any changes to his approach.

The changes he should make to his approach are somewhat convoluted, but Nick Pollack does an incredible job of outlining them in his 2024 Padres SP Breakdown. Sign up for PL Pro to gain early access to his insights.

In short, Darvish continues to purvey a dominant repertoire. As seen below, all of his pitches bring something to the table.

Pitch CSW% CSW% Percentile PLV PLV Percentile
Slider 33.1% 77th 5.41 75th
Sinker 32.3% 84th 4.89 71st
4-Seam 23% 9th 5.06 71st
Curve 34.4% 75th 5.20 82nd
Cutter 23.8% 28th 4.86 17th
Splitter 26.2% 70th 4.57 18th

While not as dominant as his past self, five of his six pitches sport a CSW% or PLV in the top 30% of the league. With so many weapons to turn to on a given night, Darvish is bound to find success one way or another. He just needs half of his pitches to be at their best to carve up a lineup any day of the week.

If the Osaka native can turn his four-seamer into a pitch that induces more swinging strikes and can find a way to effectively utilize his cutter alongside his slider/sweeper, he will have no problem bouncing back. But therein lies the problem. Darvish isn’t currently utilizing his repertoire efficiently and effectively and his plethora of pitches leads to command issues as he attempts to gain the feel for six different grips.

Even still, Darvish’s position on the draft board makes him an enticing target. In Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, he has an ADP of 217, making him the 63rd starter taken in drafts. Just going based on his placement at 41 on The List, that ADP is an absolute steal. If you predict he’ll pitch closer to his ERA estimators and his Steamer projections (175 IP, 4.14 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24.2% K%), it’s also a pretty steep discount. A few changes to the way he attacks hitters and a clean bill of health will help Darvish recover his ace status and would make that ADP look laughable.

With poor luck in terms of health and ERA as well as a nonoptimal approach with a deep repertoire, it’s not surprising that 2023 was a down year for Darvish. With better luck in the ERA and health departments as well as an optimized arsenal, he’s poised for a renaissance in 2024. With an ADP after pick 200, Darvish is a fantasy baseball sleeper heading in 2024.



Ha-Seong Kim


2023 Stats (626 PA): .260 AVG | 84 R | 17 HR | 60 RBI | 38 SB

Following back-to-back MVP-caliber campaigns in the KBO, Kim transitioned to MLB with high expectations. He failed to live up to them in his debut season, but his glove made him one of the better second basemen in baseball in 2022.

Last year, Kim reached his full potential by maintaining his slick fielding, improving his production at the plate, and stealing teams dizzy. He earned his first Gold Glove Award, ranked inside the top 10 in baseball with 38 stolen bases, and posted a career-high 112 wRC+. Awards voters honored him with the recognition he deserved as he finished 14th in NL MVP Award voting.

Now, he’ll look to build off that campaign and his expectations in fantasy circles might be even higher than they were when he entered the league in 2021. In Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, Kim has an ADP of 81, making him the seventh second baseman, eighth third baseman, and 12th shortstop off the board. That’s a lofty draft price for a player who accrues most of his WAR via his glove.

It’s difficult to suggest Kim will slow down on the bases after going 38 for 47 in steal attempts while posting a Statcast-measured Sprint Speed in the 79th percentile. However, with new manager Mike Shildt in town, there’s a possibility that Kim doesn’t receive the green light as often. Even if he does rack up another 30 stolen bases in 2024, it may be the only area of fantasy production that he can be counted on to provide.

Outside of a solid 0.60 BB/K ratio and a pretty impressive 82.2% contact rate (90th percentile), there aren’t many positives in Kim’s offensive profile. The main knock against him is that he’s incapable of impacting the ball with authority. Statcast metrics that account for power production (Average Exit Velocity, Max Exit Velocity, Hard-Hit Rate, Barrel Rate, Expected Slugging Percentage) all rate Kim in the bottom 15% of baseball.

Metric Rate Percentile
Avg EV 86.2 mph 7th
Max EV 108.5 mph 15th
Hard-Hit% 26.7% 3rd
Barrel% 4.2% 11th
xSLG .359 13th

These metrics pull from a lot of the same batted ball data but they all tell us the same thing—Kim does not have pop in his bat. Those metrics make it difficult to buy into him at his ADP next year and mean the chances that he hits 17 balls out of the park again are extremely slim. Statcast’s expected home runs place him at 13, suggesting his power potential is more in line with the 11 he hit in 2022 than the 17 he hit last year.

While Kim’s lack of hard hits is certain to drag down his home run total, it’ll also place a cap on his production in the batting average department. His wheels and knack for making contact suggest a player that could bat close to .300. However, due to his hard-hit rate being so putrid, the career-high .260 batting average he put up in 2023 is likely his ceiling. Below is the list of players who produced a hard-hit rate below 30% accompanied by their batting averages.

Player Hard-Hit% AVG
Luis Arraez 25.2% .354
TJ Friedl 27.4% .279
Whit Merrifield 24.1% .272
Jeff McNeil 27% .270
Steven Kwan 18.8% .268
Andrew Benintendi 26.8% .262
Ha-Seong Kim 26.2% .260
Andrés Giménez 27% .251
Isaac Paredes 28.3% .250
Myles Straw 23.1% .238

Of the 10 players on this list, just three had expected batting averages north of .250. Kim’s xAVG according to Statcast was .243 while Pitcher List’s version of the stat, which takes batted ball direction into account, suggests he was closer to a .236 true-talent hitter.

All in all, if Kim is likely to be closer to 10 home runs than 20 and his batting average is likely to fall below .250, there aren’t many avenues by which he can provide fantasy production. Additionally, we may see a reduction in steals due to the managerial change in San Diego and Kim entering his late 20s. On top of that, his run production numbers are likely to crater as the lineup around him has gotten considerably weaker with the departures of Juan Soto and Co.

Kim would be a fine target as a rabbit if he was drafted closer to pick 200. His ADP inside the top 100 is unappealing due to the fact fantasy managers will need to guarantee he repeats his 2023 success in 2024. Drafted ahead of proven talents Gleyber Torres at second base, Nolan Arenado at third base, and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Kim will be a fantasy baseball bust in 2024.


Michael King


2023 Stats (104.2 IP): 2.75 ERA | 1.15 WHIP | 127 K | 4 W | 6 SV

It may be tough for fantasy managers to accept King as a bust heading into 2024, but the exciting right-hander has too much working against him.

After struggling as a starter in 2020, King moved to the bullpen full-time in 2021 and became one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. 2022 was his peak as he recorded a 2.29 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a 33.2% K% across 51 innings. He saw his success carry over into 2023, and by the end of the season, he had worked his way back into consideration for the rotation. That’s where he got fantasy managers excited for the future.

Across eight starts from August 24th through the end of the season, King maintained the abilities he showed in shorter stints out of the bullpen across starts ranging from 2.2 innings to seven full frames. In that time, he posted a 1.88 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a 31.4% K% across 38.1 innings. The right-hander was now ticketed for a full-time job in the rotation in 2024 and hinted at ace-level upside.

The Yankees pounced at the chance to sell high on him and made him the headliner in the package that helped them acquire Juan Soto from the Padres. Now he’ll be counted on as the number three starter in the San Diego rotation but will carry with him the expectations of an ace.

Those expectations have been prevalent in the draft room as well. King has an ADP of 152, making him the 41st starter taken in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December. While he certainly has more upside than the pitchers he’s sandwiched in between (Jordan Montgomery and Merrill Kelly), the downside doesn’t seem to be accounted for.

King has incredible stuff, but it’s worth wondering if he’ll be able to keep it up across a full season with the workload of a starter. The 104.2 innings he tossed last year were a career-high by more than 40 innings. It’s fair to expect King to be capped somewhere around 130-140 IP. That volume is fine if a pitcher performs like an ace throughout the season. That’s where things start to get iffy.

Outside of that small sample to close out the 2023 season, King has consistently struggled as a starter at the Major League level. To discount his success from that eight-start run that got everyone so hyped, five of the teams he faced were the Nationals, Tigers, Brewers, Red Sox, and Royals. His xFIP was 3.09, which is more indicative of a solid pitcher akin to the likes of the pitcher being drafted around him. His leg up over Montgomery and Kelly is his ability to punch out boatloads of batters, taking him out of Toby territory.

The strikeout rate he produced during that stretch and in his time as a reliever is unlikely to stick. Not only will he have to adjust his pitch mix to get through an order multiple times and will lose some effectiveness on his pitches as he’s stretched out towards 100 pitches, but he also displayed reduced bat-missing ability as a starter last year.

Despite a strikeout rate north of 30%, his swinging strike rate fell below 10% as a starter. As a general rule of thumb, SwStr% can be used to approximate K%. It’s very rudimentary, but it’s an easy, yet flawed, way to tell if a pitcher has gotten lucky in the strikeout department. King’s SwStr% of 9.7% during his electric stretch of starts leads to an estimated strikeout rate barely north of 24%. That’s much more in line with the Tobys being drafted around him.

Let’s say everything comes together and the change of scenery and transition to the rotation goes smoothly. Does Steamer’s projection of a 3.89 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a 24% K% across 137 innings seem reasonable? Does it tamper your excitement and expectations following his eight-start stretch to close out the season? That projection seems in line with expectations and there should be plenty of wiggle room both positively and negatively. However, if we go back to his ADP, the fantasy outlook becomes less rosy.

If his direct competitors in the draft room are Montgomery and Kelly, he stacks up pretty nicely against them in terms of ratios and punchouts on a per-inning basis. Nevertheless, he lacks the volume the pitchers with his skillset need to provide to be fantasy-relevant. The 50-inning disparity between him and other Hollys (Tobys with strikeout rates closer to 25%) will leave fantasy managers grasping for more.

King is a fine lottery ticket to gamble on, but there’s too much risk in his profile at his current ADP. 50 picks later in the draft would be a much more comfortable area to draft him, but around pick 150, fantasy managers are putting too much pressure on him to repeat his late-season run, carry over his success from the bullpen, and transition flawlessly to San Diego and the rotation. His lack of innings and expected reduction in success combined with his placement as a near-top 40 pitcher makes King a fantasy baseball bust for 2024.



Jake Crumpler

A Bay Area sports fan and lover of baseball, Jake is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in English Literature. He currently writes fantasy articles for Pitcher List, is the lead baseball writer at The Athletes Hub, and does playing time analysis at BaseballHQ. Some consider his knowledge of the sport to be encyclopedic.

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