Everyone loves a sleeper. I’d say this is an indisputable fact — or close to it. Not all sleepers are the same, though, and I find the post-hype sleeper to be the most rewarding type to peg correctly. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for tools being actualized and promising prospects figuring it out after struggling initially. While the season isn’t even a week old yet, let’s check in on a few post-hype sleepers who are off to a good start.
Mike Moustakas 3B, Kansas City Royals (CBS- 45%, Yahoo!- 16%, ESPN- 24.4%)
The days of gamers going overboard based on a small sample size postseason outburst seem to be a thing of the past. Having said that, Moustakas teased his upside by belting five home runs in 55 plate appearances during the Kansas City Royals magical postseason run. He stayed true to his high contact ways posting only a 16.4% K but adopted an even more aggressive approach with just a 3.6% BB. His batted ball profile doesn’t lend itself to a high average, but his ability to make contact at a high rate should prevent him from being a total drag in the category.
Royals manager Ned Yost seems to be a believer in Moustakas’ postseason hitting prowess. He’s opted to slot the former highly touted prospect number two in the order. The third baseman rewarded his manager’s faith on Opening Day by reaching base three times. He singled, walked and swatted a homer. Moustakas recorded his second extra base hit in the club’s second game and was held without a hit in game three. Again, this is a tiny sample size — miniscule in fact — but he has just one strikeout in 14 plate appearances and has given his manager zero reason to drop him in the order. His unexpected assignment of two-hole hitter provides him a hearty value boost. If you’re in a 12-team mixed league or larger that utilizes a corner infield spot or multiple utility spots, Moustakas should be owned.
Travis Snider OF, Baltimore Orioles (CBS- 46%, Yahoo!- 11%, ESPN- 7.4%)
Snider was popular around these parts in the preseason. Mike Podhorzer highlighted him in a piece titled 2014 Batted Ball Distance Surgers, Paul Sporer selected him as a breakout candidate, in part, based on a projected increase in playing time and he was peppered across multiple Bold Predictions lists. The common thread across all of the articles was an infatuation with his power. In 2014, he ranked in the top 10 in average fly ball and homer distance, per Baseball Heat Maps. A trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Baltimore Orioles would not only award him a clearer path to playing time, but it also awarded him a more homer-friendly ballpark to call home. Lunchbox has yet to deliver a tater in 12 plate appearances spread across three games, but that’s about the only complaint (an irrational one at that) his fantasy owners can harbor.
The left-handed slugger has four hits, three walks and just two strikeouts through his first 12 plate appearances. More importantly, however, is that after opening the year hitting fifth in the order, manager Buck Showalter shot him up to third in the order. Even his most ardent supporters — of whom I’m one — couldn’t have expected such a cushy lineup assignment this early in the year. It could be short lived, but if Snider is able to sew up the three-hole, it would be a boon to his run production output. Last year, number three hitters totaled 21,489 plate appearances, 2,643 runs and 2,794 RBI. Comparatively, number five hitters totaled 20,529 plate appearances, 2,218 runs and 2,421 RBI. Those are sizable gaps in runs scored and RBI. Snider has historically been a better hitter against right-handed batters than lefties, so a drop in the lineup against a southpaw shouldn’t come as a shocker. In fact, it should be expected. If he sees the bulk of his plate appearances hitting third as opposed to fifth, though, he’ll not only be a great source of power but also a helper in runs and RBI. He’s currently under owned and should be scooped up in all but the shallowest leagues.
Trevor Bauer SP, Cleveland Indians (CBS- 82%, Yahoo!- 43%, ESPN- 11.4%)
Many expected Bauer would move through the minors quickly after being selected third overall in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft and stick in the bigs. Those expectations didn’t exactly come to fruition. Prior to last year, he’d totaled just 33.1 innings in the majors. Only 16.1 were pitched for the club that drafted him. The Arizona Diamondbacks shipped him to the Cleveland Indians prior to 2013, and he did little that year to make his former club rue the decision. Last year, though, he was brilliant in seven Triple-A starts before holding his own in 26 starts for the Indians. The control Bauer demonstrated was the best of his career, though, it was still below average. At the least, his improved strike throwing and continued ability to miss bats provided optimism for future fantasy baseball relevance. However, his surprising uptick in velocity last year was reason to dream for more than just fantasy relevance.
The first chance we had to monitor Bauer in games was spring training this year. In six starts he totaled 27.2 innings, striking out 26 batters and walking only one. Obviously, his control problems were solved. That’s how we’re supposed to value spring stats, right? Snark aside, it’s safe to say Bauer made a conscious effort to throw strikes and avoid free passes in the spring.
The 24-year old made his first start that counted Thursday, and five walks in six innings pitched isn’t the type of work that inspires confidence in him pounding the zone. He threw 111 pitches, 65 strikes and 12 first pitch strikes to 23 batters, according to ESPN’s box score for the game. Beyond the walks, the UCLA product was excellent allowing zero hits, zero runs and striking out 11. The Houston Astros had no answers for him. Furthermore, after nibbling and racking up more than 50 pitches and four walks through the first two innings, he settled in nicely. Bauer’s first start of the year epitomizes the good and the bad with him. His ownership rate is higher than the two post-hype hitters highlighted above, and he, too, should be rostered in all but the shallowest of leagues. The occasional clunker where he’s failing to locate his pitches can be tolerated if he’s going to continue to mow down hitters at a silly rate. And given Indians pitch coach Mickey Calloway’s work with the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, I like the odds of Bauer’s talents being maximized.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.