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2015 Fantasy Baseball: Off The Beaten (Base)Path — Hitter’s Edition

I don’t even know what a ‘Sleeper’ is any more. I do know that it’s an overused term in our game and one that’s really hard to define. With so many different league sizes and scoring formats, it’s hard to classify any player as an under the radar ‘sleeper’. Mixed league, AL/NL only, 10-team 5×5, 20-team 6×6, points leagues…on and on we go.

Today I’m going to take a look at the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR)  from our friends at FantasyPros, and I’ll highlight some late round targets currently outside the top 250 according to the ECR. In a 10-team mixed league that has already drafted, these guys are nearly universally available, and if nothing more, at least worth adding to your ‘watch’ lists.

When I did this exercise last season it included Alex Wood, Tyson Ross, Michael Morse, and Oswaldo Arcia to name a few. I’ll highlight starting pitchers in a separate post, but for today I just want to talk about some bats that I think are going to be fantasy relevant sooner than later. If you have any thoughts or feedback, find me on twitter @RyNoonan. Let’s dig in.

Scooter Gennett, 2B Milwaukee Brewers

Scooter was destined to play baseball. You aren’t going to be an accountant with a name like Scooter. Gennett just makes the cut here as he’s currently the 250th player in the ECR, but I anticipate that creeping up as the spring continues. It’s looking more and more likely that Scooter will hit near the top of the Brewers lineup, possibly in the 2-hole between Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun. With Rickie Weeks out of the picture, Gennett has a clear path to regular at-bats and if those are at the top of the lineup, sign me up.

He’s not strong in any single category, but he’ll chip in across the board in a standard 5×5 roto league and profiles as a plus in both runs and batting average. Gennett isn’t very patient at the dish, walking in about 4.5% of his major league at-bats, but his line drive rate (25%) is encouraging when trying to gauge if his batting average is sustainable. He’s currently the 23rd ranked 2B at FantasyPros, but he’s in my top-20 and will rise even further if my batting order suspicions here are confirmed.

Dexter Fowler, CF Chicago Cubs

It’s difficult to fly under the radar in Chicago’s Northside right now, but Dexter Fowler has managed to do so according to his current 273rd ranking on FantasyPros. Set to hit leadoff and man center field, Fowler is a great late buy this draft season. He’s an extremely patient hitter, with a career walk rate of 12.5%, and streaky when he’s swinging. He’s in yet another friendly hitting environment after coming over from Houston in the offseason and offers a decent power/speed mix, which isn’t always easy to find this late in drafts. He’s especially valuable in OBP leagues due to his gaudy walk rate, but he should give you 25 HR+SB’s and score a bunch of runs if he sees north of 500 plate appearances like he’s projected to do. Fowler is worth an extra dollar or two late in your auction.

Justin Smoak, 1B/DH Toronto Blue Jays

If you listened to our First Base Preview, you know my affections for The Smoak Monster. Since recording, the Blue Jays added Dayan Viciedo to chip in at DH, but I’m not overly concerned. The Blue Jays don’t want Smoak to hit against righties, and his fantasy owners don’t either. The park factor bump for Smoak is huge here, going from Seattle to Toronto. If we take a snap shot of Smoak last season and look at his ability to hit left-handed pitching outside of Safeco, it’s hard to not be encouraged. His slash line is .333/.388/.489 with a wRC+ of 154. I know that’s a small sample size, but it shows his situational value, something that smart fantasy owners can exploit now that Safeco is no longer his home. Mike Podhorzer featured Smoak in his xHR/FB rate underachievers’ piece over at Fangraphs, and noted Smoak’s year over year batted ball distance trend. Keep an eye on him, and if you’re a DFS player he’s someone to watch closely as his platoon issues will keep his price low on most days.

John Jaso, C Tampa Bay Rays

I heart catchers that don’t catch and you should as well. There are so many advantages to targeting a non-catching catcher, mainly because the wear and tear of catching is avoided, thus the constant days off are avoided as well. Jaso is back in Tampa Bay and projected to hit second after three seasons in the AL West (1 in Seattle and 2 in Oakland). His AL West stints were very successful in limited at-bats with a weighted runs created metric roughly 21-30% above league average. That’s useful. He’s likely to platoon in Tampa but feels like a safe bet for 450 at-bats as the team’s primary DH against right-handed pitching. He also gets a bump in OBP formats, and he’ll cost you nothing on draft day. Jaso’s ECR is 358 as he’s the 20th catcher off the board. But he’s inside my top 15, and I’m perfectly fine with him as my starting mixed league catcher.

David Freese, 3B Los Angeles Angels

We’ve got a *BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE* alert here, folks. I give Freese credit because instead of just saying that, he said he spent the offseason ‘redistributing his weight’ and came to camp with a ‘resculpted body’. Alright then. He’s like a wordsmith. From a fantasy perspective I’m more interested in the fact that he’s likely to hit 4th or 5th in the Angels lineup now that Josh Hamilton is out. After a slow start to the 2014 season after breaking his finger, Freese finished the season strong. He hit .281 with eight home runs and 41 driven in over the final four months with a wRC+ of 115. That’s nothing that should have you blowing out a shoulder to reach for him on draft day, but he’s better than his current ECR, which has him as the 34th third baseman and 366 overall.

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