Fantasy Baseball 2023: Hitting sleepers at each position
Just so we're clear at the top: When we use the term "sleeper" around here, we certainly aren't trying to imply that we've discovered a group of ultra-secret players previously known only to their employers and family members.
In fact, pretty much any engaged and attentive baseball fan will be familiar with the names listed below. We're designating them as mixed-league fantasy sleepers simply because they all seem undervalued relative to their likely 2023 production. No one is accusing you of overlooking these guys. Let's not get hung up on the terminology and instead appreciate the bargains.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds
The first and best reason to target Stephenson in drafts is that he can absolutely rake. The man slashed .319/.372/.482 with six homers across 50 games last season, numbers that were consistent with his excellent history in the minors. He'll give us pop, average and run production when he's in the lineup. Health was the issue last season, however, as he was sidelined by multiple catching-related injuries. This year, the plan is for Stephenson to catch something like 65 games and spend the rest of his time at first or DH. In fantasy, the best catchers are the guys who occasionally only catch because their hitting contributions are simply too valuable to compromise.
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Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Home runs are available up and down the ranks at first, so you shouldn't need to spend big at this spot for three-category production. Tellez hit 35 bombs last season and has been an exit velocity leader over multiple years. He had almost no luck whatsoever on balls in play last season (.215 BABIP), which helps explain the dreadful batting average (.219). He was also among the most shifted-against hitters in the game in 2022, so he figures to be a beneficiary of this year's rule changes. When Tellez gets hold of a pitch, he can simply obliterate a ball.
Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS/OF, San Francisco Giants
Estrada finished as a top-125 player overall in 2022, yet we're treating him as an afterthought for fantasy purposes in 2023. Nothing about his season reeked of unusual good luck, and the man just turned 27. If you miss out on the upper-tier second basemesn, it's nice to know that a potential leadoff hitter with 15/15 ability is waiting for you in the later rounds. Estrada's multiposition eligibility is a gift, too.
C.J. Abrams, SS, Washington Nationals
Abrams swiped 42 bags in 114 career minor-league games, so he has the potential to be dominant in at least one category — particularly in a much friendlier stolen-base environment. He also produced a .385 OBP in the minors, which offers hope that last year's chronic out-making won't continue. Abrams is a decent bet to hit leadoff for the Nationals, giving him some run-scoring upside as well.
Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Rangers
Injuries have prevented the Jung breakout from happening in prior years, but it's definitely due to occur at some point very soon. We saw a taste of his power upside last season, as he delivered five homers and 10 XBHs (and a million strikeouts) in 102 plate appearances. He made a splash in his MLB debut, as you might recall.
Jung slashed .326/.398/.592 in the high minors, with 19 bombs in 78 games just two seasons ago, cementing his prospect credentials. If he can simply make it to April at full health, he's going to be a problem for opposing pitchers.
Masataka Yoshida, OF, Boston Red Sox
We're talking about a $90 million member of the Red Sox here, so again, we're not exactly unearthing players entirely unknown to fantasy managers and MLB fans. Yoshida will likely occupy a privileged spot in the batting order, either at the top or in the middle. He was an on-base machine in his seven seasons in Japan — .419 career OBP, .449 last year — and he routinely reached the 20-homer plateau.
Yoshida's swing definitely passes the eye test:
Please enjoy Masataka Yoshida's first hit in a Red Sox uniform. pic.twitter.com/VkRtIZOb6X
— Red Sox (@RedSox) February 26, 2023
He actually walked nearly twice as often as he K'd last season (82 vs. 42), which is silly. If you're looking for a Brandon Nimmo-ish combination of run-scoring, average and moderate pop, Yoshida can certainly help.