2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Oscar Gonzalez Headlines Frank Stampfl’s Sleepers 2.0
After last season ended, I revisited many of my predictions and found that maybe I was being too careful with my sleeping calls. I mainly targeted boring veteran players who I thought would outperform their average positions in the draft. Obviously, I still believe that the names below will outperform their ADP, but this time I wanted to pick players with a bit more potential.
As I said in Breakouts 2.0, things have changed in the last few months. I did additional research and discussed all issues with Scott White and Chris Towers. Fantasy baseball today plus we have new data points. I don’t want to overreact to spring practice or the World Baseball Classic, but as I’ll point out, I think spring matters to some players. Below you will find six more players that I have either been targeting for the entire off-season or will be targeting in the future.
Also, be sure to check out Sleepers 1.0 which is updated with new information and ADP.
To be honest, I’m surprised Oscar Gonzalez isn’t causing more excitement this season. It’s loaded with tools and makes a bunch of contacts. What’s not to like? Gonzalez hit .296 with 11 home runs in 91 games last season, but I think there’s a lot more in the tank. According to Statcast, Gonzalez ranked 91st percentile in top exit speed and 88th percentile in spring speed, while only hitting 19.6% of the time. Despite hitting too many balls off the ground last season, Gonzalez clearly has brute strength and often pulls the ball. This bodes well for a powerful breakthrough and is confirmed by the 31-homer season in 2021 in the Minors.
Gonzalez’s detractors will point to an absurd 48% chasing rate, which could lead to more strikeouts and a lower average going forward. Well, he did it last year and still kept his strikeout rate below 20% and he was great with non-fastballs. Even if opposing pitchers try to challenge Gonzalez this season without out-of-bounds fastballs, he hit .283 against break pitches and .277 against speed last year. Finally, we haven’t yet seen sprint speed translate into steals at any level, but it’s possible new rules promoting stolen bases could get Gonzalez to 5-10 steals. I nominate Gonzales as my OF3 or OF4 and immediately sing the SpongeBob SquarePants soundtrack after this happens (see below).
Cleveland Guardians right fielder Oscar Gonzalez has the theme song from SpongeBob SquarePants as his walk music 😂
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 7, 2022
The Diamondbacks made a splash this offseason by sending Dalton Varshaw to the Blue Jays in exchange for Lourdes Gurriel and former prospect Gabriel Moreno. Although Moreno’s star has faded a bit, he still has potential. He hit .315 last year, hitting just 16.9% of his time in Triple-A. He did the same with the Blue Jays. In Moreno’s 25 major tournament games, he hit .319, batting just 11% of the time. So why did he turn a little pale? Lack of power. Moreno hit just four home runs in 87 games between Triple-A and the Majors. He may have heard rumors this offseason that Moreno hit two home runs this spring in just 17 at-bats.
Gabriel Moreno (2)
Spring training 🌵
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Pitcher: Mark Church
Date: March 8, 2023 pic.twitter.com/qnAWjkZ8kA
— Arizona home runs (@Arizona_HRs) March 9, 2023
Hitting too many ground balls was part of Moreno’s problem, but as you can see in the clip above, he has the ability to increase his throwing angle. Until last year, starting angle was not a problem for Moreno in junior high. There are game time issues with Carson Kelly still on the roster, but if Moreno hits and can call a decent game, things will change quickly. If all goes well, Moreno is expecting an Alejandro Kirk-type outcome this season. Focus on him as a catcher of the second point, regardless of the format.
If the new offensive environment continues from last season, Fantasy managers will likely need strength this year. Frankly, there aren’t many home runs available later in the draft. That’s why I set my sights on Jorge Solera. I know I know. All were once burned by Soler. He was either injured or performed poorly for most of his career. The difference is that for most of his career, Soler was worth something in checkers. Now he’s averaging out of the top 300 picks.
When I look at Soler, I see Christian Walker’s script from last season. The Soler Bats in the middle of their lineup will play every day (when healthy) and have already proven their edge in the past. This is very similar to the situation with Walker last year. In addition, Soler is only one year short of one of the core members of the World Series Braves team. In 55 games with the Braves in 2021, Soler hit .269 with 14 home runs and .882 OPS. He then hit three more homers in the postseason. Even last year, when he was clearly playing the offense, Soler posted an average exit speed of 91.2 mph, matching a top exit speed of the 99th percentile. There are still skills. We just need Soler to stay on the field. I will take this game outside the top 300.
He may have been out of baseball for so long that people forgot about him. Kenta Maeda underwent surgery on Tommy John in September 2021. He is now 18 months from surgery and has no pre-season restrictions. This is actually the same schedule that Justin Verlander had with his Tommy John surgery and we all saw what Verlander did last year. Of course, Maeda isn’t Verlander, not even close. But he’s a solid pitcher for the Fantasy. During his career, Maeda has a 3.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP with 26.6% strikeouts and 13.5% swing strikes.
2020 and 2021 were clear exceptions in Maeda’s career. He posted a 2.70 ERA in 2020 and a 4.66 ERA in 2021. Expect something in between and you’ll profit from a pitcher outside the top 300 pitches. I always thought that Maeda has another level. Admittedly, he probably won’t reach that level around age 35 after Tommy John surgery, but the speed of the whiff has always been impressive. I’m targeting Maeda as a relief pitcher that I’ll add to my lineups as an in-game pitcher or a two-start pitcher at the start of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he also returned to mandatory start territory.
You will often hear that spring training statistics don’t matter. This does not apply to the last two sleepers on this list. Spring training matters for prospects, positional fights and those who have something to prove. Hayden Vesnesky meets each of these criteria. Vesneski was traded to the Cubs last season and made his debut at the end of the year. In 33 innings of work, he posted a 2.18 ERA, .94 BOOK with 33 strikeouts in just seven walks. Vesnesky is armed with a solid team and an erase slider that has an average hit rate of 0.119 and a hit rate of 16.2%.
It was announced in early spring that Kyle Hendrix would not be ready for the start of the season, leaving an opportunity for Vesnesky in the rotation if he called for it. I would say that by this point he had done everything in his power. He threw 8.2 innings this spring, allowing one unearned run with 11 strikeouts on two walks. Vesnesky threw four perfect pitches against the Dodgers over the weekend. I don’t think he has an ace, but with that slider and strong defense, Vesnesky could be a SP3 or SP4 in fantasy. Like Maeda, he is out of the top 300 picks.
Speaking of spring training, this last name falls into the category of “something to prove.” Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, a pitcher named Matthew Boyd hit 238 strikeouts in one season. Of course he did, hitting 39 home runs in the 2019 season. Boyd came in this spring with the opportunity to return to the Tigers’ rotation, and for now, he’s done everything in his power to get the job. In three spring starts, Boyd has 17 strikeouts in just two walks. Of course, of the four hits he allowed, two were home runs. There would be no other way for me.
As Scott recently pointed out in this spring training review, there are a few things playing in Boyd’s favor right now. He usually fought home runs in his career. Welcome to the era of juiceless balls! With a less resilient ball and humidors in every stadium, home runs were down last season, which should help a pitcher like Boyd. On top of that, he’s gone back to a previous grip change, which is already paying off this spring. I’m not saying you need to reach for Boyd, but I would consider using my last pick on him, especially in H2H points leagues. On CBS, Boyd is eligible for RP, which is kind of a cheat code in that format.