It’s slim pickings in the outfield again in 2024. Despite eight elite outfield-eligible names routinely going off the board in the first round of drafts (and sometimes even nine if it’s a points league and you’re after Yordan Alvarez’s plate discipline skills), there’s a steep decline at the position after the second tier. The middle rounds are filled with both lackluster options and unproven talent. Sometimes both at the same time. Sorry Esteury Ruiz (ADP 118), you’re making my bust list. So, even if you do end up with one or two upper-end players, chances are you’ll be scavenging the player pool by the later rounds. Most especially if your roster requires five outfielders. But even with some serious position scarcity, there are several late-round high-upside options. Below I write about three outfield sleepers worth targeting in your upcoming drafts. I’ve included ADPs which are based on NFBC’s 30-day average.
Outfield Sleepers for 2024 Fantasy Baseball
Riley Greene OF Tigers ADP 167
2023: 99 G/51 R/11 HR/37 RBI/7 SB/.288 AVG
I generally try not to include top-200 players on sleeper lists, but I’ll make an exception for Riley Greene. Let’s say he’s got great breakout potential that can far exceed his average draft position. This is partly based on a very solid performance last season that included a slash line of .288/.349/.447. The counting stats were kept a bit low because he only played in 99 games. But his power/speed combo (11 home runs and seven steals) and good run total (51 runs and a 119 wRC+ while we’re at it) were enough to help fantasy managers who rostered him in times of health.
The case for the lefty, though, is much more about the underlying numbers than actual results. He made huge improvements in every batted-ball metric. His average exit velocity, in particular, jumped over two miles per hour, from a decent 89.5 to a near-elite 91.6. It now sits in the 85th percentile. His hard-hit rate (82nd), sweet-spot percentage (74th), and barrel rate (also 74th) aren’t far behind. As you might imagine, these improvements took his expected stats to a whole new level. He had an xBA of .289, an xwOBA of .365, and an xSLG of .499. The latter two were significantly above what we saw play out in 2023 (.344 WOBA, .447 SLG).
This suggests that an increase in power is certainly not far-fetched. Can he get closer to the 24 home runs he hit in 124 games across two levels in 2021? He was only 20 years old then. He’s 23 now. Power numbers tend to naturally improve during that time.
And fine, I know there’s some serious injury concern. In just two seasons we’ve seen a broken foot, a stress reaction in his leg, and Tommy John surgery (non-throwing arm) just five months ago. But none of these outfield sleepers are without flaws, and the injury history seems more than baked into his ADP already. The truth is, no one in this draft range can offer power/speed potential while actually helping you in average most of all. Young upside like that, like Evan Carter (ADP 126) and Jordan Walker (ADP 115), is going about 40 picks earlier. With Greene just as likely to cash it in, I’ll gladly take the value.
Kerry Carpenter OF Tigers ADP 213
2023: 118 G/57 R/20 HR/64 RBI/6 SB/.278 AVG
Since being called up to the majors at the end of 2022, Kerry Carpenter has done nothing but produce solid numbers. In 149 career games (essentially one full season), the 26-year-old has a slash line of .273/.334/.474. He’s produced an impressive .808 OPS and hit 26 home runs.
The left-handed hitter particularly improved last season. His average and OBP were higher, his K rate went down (28.3% to 25.1%), and his walk rate went up (5.3% to 7%). And the season got better as it went along. A late surge — that earned him a spot in the everyday lineup — culminated with a monster August during which he hit nine home runs and drove in 20 in 28 games. And, in the final five weeks, Carpenter started to take advantage of his speed (ranked 70th percentile on Statcast). All of his six stolen base attempts (all successful) came during that time.
The underlying numbers back it up, too. Last season, he ranked better than average in all batted-ball metrics (average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and sweet-spot percentage all grade out mid-60s percentile or better). And the expected stats were generally in line with the results (xBA .258/xSLG .460).
Is there some concern that his platoon splits could lead to less playing time and fewer plate appearances? Sure. But it’s worth noting that those numbers improved a little too (.657 OPS against lefties vs. .598 in 2022, .235 average vs. .217) if only in a small sample size. And fine, we know Comerica Park grades out as the worst place for a home run hitter, but that just makes his .311/.365/.443 slashline with a .809 OPS at home in 2023 all the more impressive.
Real talk: the right fielder has been solid from the get. At worst he’ll have a strong-side platoon in the middle of an improving Tigers lineup. There’s no reason to believe he can’t further improve on his plate discipline based on minor league numbers (career 19.5% K rate/8% BB rate). He has the potential to steal double-digit bases. And as a former 19th round pick, this has all the makings of some serious non-pedigree bias. At a cost of just a 213th overall pick, the value seems way too good to pass up. Outfield sleepers are scarce. Grab him before everyone else catches on.
Nelson Velazquez OF Royals ADP 281
2023: 53 G/35 R/17 HR/34 RBI/0 SB/.235 AVG
Lost in the noise of the trade that brought Cole Ragans to Kansas City was another deal that is looking almost as promising. The Royals acquired Nelson Velazquez about a month later, right at the 2023 trade deadline. There was even less fanfare as the then-24-year-old had struggled in his first taste of the majors as a part-time player the year before (.205/.286/.373 over 77 games). Last season, though, was quite a different story. In 53 games, 40 with his new team, the righty hit an impressive 14 home runs, slashed .235/.302/.586, and compiled an .888 OPS. If you tack on his 80 games in the minors, his 5-category spread would look like this: 84 R/33 HR/74 RBI/9 SB/.237 AVG.
Not bad. I know that average is a little wonky, but his .253 career minor-league mark is at least a little better. And his xBA in the majors was right in line (.255). In fact, while we’re at it, this would be a good time to note his other expected stats. They tell us that his astounding slugging percentage was pretty much legit (xSLG .575), and his wOBA (.369) was even a little lower than it should have been (xwOBA .374). Granted it’s a small sample size, but if he had qualified with at-bats we’re talking about an xSLG in the 98th percentile and an xwOBA in the 94th! Hot streak or not, that’s eye-opening.
What about the batted-ball metrics? Also pretty dang impressive. The 21.4% barrel rate is particularly so. It would rank 2nd in the league behind only Aaron Judge. The hard-hit rate (49.1%) and average exit velocity (91.0 MPH) would not be very far behind either (89th percentile and 77th, respectively).
Why, then, is he being drafted just outside of standard 12-team league drafts? Aside from the lack of track record, it’s contact skills. Even in the minors, the 25-year-old struggled to keep his K rate under 30% (as high as 35.8% in 2022). And during his 130 Major League games, he hasn’t (30.1%). But last season he improved to a 28.5% rate overall.
Put it all together and it seems like the upside wins by a large margin. The Royals seem committed to playing him in 2024. His only competition at centerfield is Kyle Isbel. And though his defense is a work in progress, he has experience at all outfield positions. He even honed his skills in the winter league in Puerto Rico. Roster Resource lists him as the starting DH. So either way he ought to get his at-bats. If the K rate comes down just a bit further, we could see some serious home run totals, an average that won’t kill you, and possibly some stolen bases sprinkled in. Not many outfield sleepers in this range. Seems very worthy of a last pick in standard leagues.
For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.