Last week, we looked at the five rookie outfielders with the highest potential for impact in 2018 — given enough playing time. Today, we’ll dig a little deeper for some sleeper players that could also make significant waves during the coming season.
Willie Calhoun, IF/OF, Rangers: Calhoun, a former second baseman, is more likely to see time as a left fielder or designated hitter. His all-bat-no-hit profile lowers his real-life value but doesn’t hurt him in fantasy. In fact, if he plays enough games at second base, he has added value due to versatility.
He’s a smallish player but he hits the ball hard. He went deep 27 times at double-A in 2016 and followed that up with 31 long balls in triple-A last year. Calhoun, 23, also rarely strikes out so he puts a lot of balls in play. His willingness to use the whole field could help hit for average (along with the power) at the big league level. The Rangers got themselves a good one in last year’s trade with the Dodgers.
Jorge Mateo, IF/OF, Athletics: Everyone seems kind of down on Mateo this year and, honestly, it seems to have more to do with his move from the Yankees to the Athletics (ie. prospects have a brighter shine when associated with New York) than anything he did (or didn’t do) in 2017. The fleet-footed infielder-outfielder potentially has a ton of defensive value with the ability to play both shortstop and center field — if he can become even average at the two spots.
He also stole more than 50 bases last year (and also topped 80 at one point) so he can be a real threat on the bases; he just needs to get on-base more consistently and tone down the aggressiveness. Mateo showed more pop in 2017 and slugged 12 homers — with 60 of his 142 hits going for extra bases. Triple-A will be a good test for him in 2018 and, if all goes well, he should get a shot at The Show at some point.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Brewers: Brinson has now been traded twice and was the big ticket item coming back from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich swap. He has some excellent raw power but he hasn’t been tapping into it as consistently in game situations since cutting down on the aggressiveness he showed early in his career when 30% strikeout rates were commonplace for him. Strikeouts are more acceptable in the juiced ball ear we’re once again living through so he might begin to grip-and-rip a little more for the Marlins. I don’t expect Brinson to be a high-average hitter but he gets on base enough to be an offensive threat. The lack of established support in the lineup could hurt his overall numbers in the short term but he definitely has a lot of potential.
Jake Bauers, 1B/OF, Rays: The Rays have undergone a well-publicized (perhaps unfair?) labelling as the Marlins-lite for their recent roster decisions that saw a number of veterans get jettisoned (due to their payroll implications). The moves, while not popular with (dwindling?) fanbase, could open up significant opportunities for young players like Bauers. Not highly talked about, this young hitter nonetheless has a chance to be an impact player for his ability to get on base, hit for a decent average and slug a ton of extra base hits.
He even runs the bases better than one might expect and was 20-for-23 in steals in 2017 at the triple-A level. Bauers can play the corner outfield and first base — two places the Rays have gaps for 2018 (I don’t have much faith in C.J. Cron or Brad Miller). This young hitter is MLB-ready and probably a better hitter than a number of players that are going to make the opening day 25-man roster but the Rays will no doubt want to avoid the super-two cutoff for Bauers.
Anthony Alford, OF, Blue Jays: I’ll never be accused of driving the Kevin Pillar bandwagon so I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of Alford but the offseason moves seem to diminish Alford’s chances of having a significant impact in The Show in 2018. And the club has also built up some real outfield depth at the triple-A level with the likes of Alford, Teoscar Hernandez (an MLB-ready hitter), Dalton Pompey, Dwight Smith Jr., and Roemon Fields (although the last three may be more fourth or fifth outfield types, which still have value). Alford has a chance to positively impact the team on both sides of the ball and on the base paths. If he can stay healthy — and this might be a big if with his concussion history — Alford has all-star potential and could be a 20-20 player.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.