Fantasy Baseball: Post-hype sleepers offer potential value this draft season

Fantasy baseball managers are a fickle bunch. We want our prospects to be promoted early, and we expect them to have instant success when they arrive. Those who fail to meet expectations are cast to the wayside before they have had a chance to recalibrate and show their true talent. In reality, the evolution of a successful pro is rarely linear. Most young players endure a setback or two before enjoying sustained success, which means that managers who give post-hype sleepers a second or third chance could find a diamond in the rough. Here are a few names who should not yet be dismissed.

Jarred Kelenic, OF, Atlanta Braves

This one is too easy. Once one of the most touted prospects in baseball, Kelenic was awful in 2021-22 before surging out of the gate last season (1.003 OPS in April). Unfortunately, he quickly came crashing back to Earth and logged a .670 OPS after May 1. The outfielder got a new lease on life in the offseason when he was traded to an Atlanta team that led the majors in runs scored last season and returns all its key players. This feels like the 24-year-old’s make-or-break season.

Eloy Jiménez, OF, Chicago White Sox

Jiménez fared well in his initial two seasons and seemed to be on the fast track to stardom. But injuries mounted over the next three campaigns, and he heads into his sixth season with just one 20-homer or 70-RBI campaign on his resume. The 27-year-old would be well-served to reduce his groundball rate, but even without making that change he still has 30-homer potential for the cost of a late-round pick.

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Gavin Lux, 2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

A notable prospect when he debuted in 2019, Lux collected just 18 homers and 14 steals across 273 games in the next four seasons before missing all of last year due to a torn ACL. The 26-year-old is back at full health and will be the starting shortstop for a Dodgers team with a stacked lineup. Lux needs to take a step forward with his power skills, but he can already hit .280 with plenty of R+RBI.

Luis García, 2B, Washington Nationals

It’s hard to believe that García is just 23 years old. After all, he is heading into his fifth major league season. Beyond playing in plenty of games at a young age, García hasn’t done anything to attract the attention of fantasy managers, but he has solid contact skills and could reach the 15 plateau in both homers and steals this year. I wouldn’t draft García in a 12-team league, but he’s someone to monitor in April.

Brett Baty, 3B, New York Mets

Is it too early to call Baty a post-hype sleeper? Possibly. But there was plenty of buzz about the youngster last season and this year he can be acquired for the cost of a final-round pick. Baty fell flat on his face during his initial big league trial, batting .212 with a .598 OPS. And he didn’t make any progress when given a fresh opportunity down the stretch, as he logged a .514 OPS after Sept. 1. But when he was out of the limelight, Baty posted a 1.013 OPS in 26 Triple-A games and showed improved power by going deep 10 times. The Mets are building toward 2025 and Baty is a key part of that plan.

MacKenzie Gore, SP, Washington Nationals

Gore was once debated as baseball’s best pitching prospect, which makes his career 4.45 ERA and 1.42 WHIP especially disappointing. Add in the fact that he pitches for a rebuilding club, and the once-coveted lefty is now a complete afterthought in shallow leagues. But on a positive note, Gore has already shown an ability to rack up whiffs (10.0 K/9 rate in 2023), and he could follow a similar path of former Nats prospect Lucas Giolito, who endured disappointing initial results before finding his footing and enjoying a few excellent seasons.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Griffin Canning, SP, Los Angeles Angels

Canning may have turned a corner in the second half of 2023. Although hindered by a .346 BABIP, the right-hander logged respectable ratios (3.91 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) along with an excellent 11.6 K/9 rate and a 2.4 BB/9 rate. Canning could finally break out in his age-27 season by repeating his stretch-run skills across 30 starts. But managers will be wise to temper their expectations for wins, as the Angels appear to be one of baseball’s weakest teams.

Robert Stephenson, RP, Los Angeles Angels

Expected to be a quality starter when he entered the majors way back in 2016, Stephenson became a full-time reliever in 2019 and posted mediocre ratios (4.48 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) across 174 appearances during the next four seasons. His struggles continued with the Pirates at the outset of ’23 before he finally figured things out as a member of the Rays during the final four months of the campaign (3.10 ERA, 0.88 WHIP). Now a member of the Angels after signing a lucrative three-year contract, Stephenson could recover from a current bout of shoulder soreness and eventually supplant Carlos Estevez for the closer’s role.

José Leclerc, RP, Texas Rangers

Managers need to dial back on the longtime belief that Leclerc lacks the control skills to be a successful reliever. The right-hander will never be someone with a low walk rate, but he can succeed with rates similar to the 10.6% and 12.0% marks he logged in the past two seasons. LeClerc saved just four games last season and will not be coveted in drafts but could become a 30-save closer by holding off veteran David Robertson.