Fantasy owners are going to be bombarded with articles in the coming months about rookies and impact prospects for the 2015 Fantasy season; some will be included in our upcoming Xclusive Edge Fantasy Baseball package. These are all great articles to read and I will be writing a few of them myself. The problem that often arises from these articles is that a certain group of these prospects are then incorporated into articles about “sleepers.” Soon, two or three different sites with three or four of the same “sleepers” or “rookies to watch” creates an unstoppable momentum. Before you know it, everyone in your league has targeted these “sleepers.” And there you go; the players end up being over drafted, and 162 games later those sleepers are in articles about the “2015 Fantasy Baseball disappointments.”
True “sleepers” are prospects that are drafted in the late rounds or not drafted at all but who could make a meaningful Fantasy contribution some time in 2015. These prospects are lesser-known and/or unlikely to break camp with their major league teams, and shouldn’t cost more than a timely waiver claim or late round flier.
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, Boston Red Sox
Rodriguez is the poster boy for this article. He has the upside to be better but is significantly less touted than fellow Red Sox lefty Henry Owens. The quality of his stuff improved a full grade after he was dealt to the Red Sox from Baltimore in the Andrew Miller trade last season. He twirled a .96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and racked up 39 strikeouts in 37.1 Double-A innings, and he had the Red Sox organization buzzing about what a steal they got.
After 120 Double-A innings in 2014, Rodriguez is slated for 30-40 tune up innings in Triple-A and could be ready for the majors in 2015. Given the limitations of the Red Sox pitching prospects and the uncertainty of the Red Sox’ mid-rotation starters, Rodriguez is likely to be the first prospect up for a rotation slot.
Rodriguez won’t be selected or even discussed during draft season, but by July he could be starting in Boston. He should have an impact in deeper leagues or as a streamer at no more than the cost of a free agent claim. That is a true sleeper.
Henry Owens, SP, Boston Red Sox
Owens has only 38 innings above Double-A, and in those innings he pitched to a 4.03 ERA. He has a filthy changeup and when his curveball is at its best, he can be unhittable. Owens probably won’t break camp with the Red Sox rotation, which should have him on the waiver wire in the majority of leagues. Owens has the potential to put up a strikeout per inning, and in certain matchups and double-start weeks he can be a nice streaming option.
Owens has been hyped before so he won’t be a complete mystery to casual Fantasy owners, but it’s unlikely that he is drafted in most leagues. It will be important to monitor his status early in the season because he won’t slip under the radar like Eduardo Rodriguez.
Daniel Norris, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Norris broke out in 2014, striking out 163 batters in 124.2 innings across three levels. He had the highest strikeout rate in the minors at 32.5 percent (11.8 K/9) of batters faced. His stuff looked phenomenal, with his fastball touching 97 mph and a plus slider that has room to get even better. His strikeout rates actually increased when he faced stiffer competition, while his peripherals stayed relatively the same.
Norris won’t be labeled with the “sleeper” tag by Fantasy analysts because he only pitched 22.2 innings in Triple-A last season. Norris could use 40-50 more Triple-A innings to start 2015, so a late June/early July promotion to Toronto is more likely. He has a brighter future than Marcus Stroman, and if he reaches his ceiling he should be the ace of the Jays’ staff, ahead of Aaron Sanchez, as early as 2016.
Alex Meyer, SP, Minnesota Twins
Meyers has struggled with shoulder issues and high walk rates the past two seasons, likely due to inconsistent mechanics. He works his low 90s sinker and knuckle curve off of his 95-plus mph fastball. He profiles as a 190 strikeout, number three starter, but if he can improve on the walks his ceiling is as a number two.
Meyers was due to be promoted to Minnesota in September of 2014, but shoulder fatigue convinced the Twins to shut him down instead. Meyers needs to improve his command in order to go deeper into games and he is expected to work on that in Triple-A to start 2015. There is a chance he is promoted sooner but you should expect an August promotion to the majors and a 165-inning season between Triple-A and the major leagues. You saw what Phil Hughes did in 2014, Meyers has significantly better raw stuff.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
The best athlete in the White Sox system, Johnson has the speed and power potential to put up a 15/15 season in the middle of the diamond. Scouts project Johnson to hit for some power but he hasn’t hit double-digit homers in a season yet. You can safely expect 20-25 steals with a chance for 30 or more if he can stay healthy.
The White Sox traded Marcus Semien and signed Emilio Bonifacio, presumably to clear second base for the future while giving Johnson time to develop more at Triple-A in 2015. Bonifacio, a utility player that is not well suited for a full time role – shouldn’t pose an obstacle to at bats for Johnson as early as the All Star break. You hear the term “cheap steals” thrown around a lot, Micah Johnson is the poster boy for that and he could provide 5-8 homers as well.
Devon Travis, 2B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Travis is similar to Micah Johnson because he can hit for power, steal some bases and play second base. The athleticism and base stealing potential is a tick below Johnson but he will hit for a better batting average, expect .290-plux in peak seasons, and he has more power, he could provide 20-plus HRs in career years.
There has been speculation that Travis could skip Triple-A, and make the Jays’ Opening Day roster after finishing 2014 as the Detroit Tigers best prospect. That would be a lot to ask of a prospect but it could happen. Rougned Odor struggled to make that leap for the Rangers in 2014 and Travis doesn’t profile to have the kind of potential that Odor does. I am skeptical but in AL Only leagues, as a middle infielder with a potential job, that’s why Travis is in this article. Expectations should be low but the lack of profile should result in an affordable price on Travis.
Ryan Rua, 2b/OF, Texas Rangers
Rua became a player to watch when he mashed 32 home runs and stole 14 bases while batting .247 at two levels of the minors in 2013. Analysts wrote him off because it was perceived that he sold out making contact for higher home run totals and the stats were downplayed because he was too old for the level. In 2014, Rua moved up in levels and worked on his weaknesses while he did it. He hit fewer home runs and stole fewer bases but he improved his batting average by almost 60 points, to .306. It’s impressive that he faced tougher competition but was able to significantly improve his contact rates while still walking at an impressive rate. You don’t see many prospects adjust and improve their approach like Rua did in 2014. Joey Gallo, a much more highly touted Rangers prospect, did it for half a season before he reverted back to his poor contact rates.
Rua was a second baseman then; he plays third base, outfield and even first base now but he could play second base again if the Rangers need him to. He has solid tools and positional flexibility, and the signs are there to believe that he is going to figure it out and adapt when he needs to. Ben Zobrist’s ADP in 2014 was 51 in standard leagues. He hit ten home runs, stole ten bases and batted .272. Rua could do that in 100 games with an ADP closer to 200 if he gets the at-bats. He’s well worth a flier and should be monitored at the very least. In AL Only leagues he should definitely be stashed.