Whether it’s baseball or football, sophomore players are my favorite targets in fantasy drafts. In a sense, sophomores are post-hype sleepers. We get excited for them as rookies and then shift our attention to the next class of rookies the following year. We know how hard it is for hitters to adjust to Major League pitching in their first season. Still, we’ll draft a rookie over a guy who already has that first year under his belt because we want the shiny new toy. Rookies are fun to roster, but I have more fun winning championships than overpaying for a guy who is most likely going to struggle throughout the season. Instead of trusting players with no MLB experience, here are 3 Sophomore Hitters to Draft in 2022.
2022 Sophomore Hitters to Draft
Wander Franco, SS/3B, Tampa Bay Rays
One of the most anticipated debuts over the last couple of years happened last summer, and Wander Franco did not disappoint. In his first MLB game, Franco mashed two extra base hits, including a game-tying home run as his first big league hit. It was everything we had anticipated from Franco. But even he couldn’t escape the first-year struggles that rookies experience. After that first game, Franco hit a bit of a slump. Excluding his debut on June 22nd, he only hit .230 with 2 HRs and a .285 OBP in the rest of June and the whole month of July. If you drafted Wander Franco last year, you had to wait until nearly half of the season was gone to use him, and even then you couldn’t trust him in your lineup. There were just better hitters to draft than Wander Franco last year.
Once August rolled around, Franco started to get his groove back. In 41 games from August 1st through the rest of the season, he hit .323, which included the bulk of his historic on-base streak of 43 games. As impressive as he was down the stretch, he still needed time to adjust to Major League pitching and didn’t flash the power/speed combo that he has been touted for. In total, he hit .288 with 7 home runs, 39 RBI, and 2 stolen bases in 281 ABs in 2021. His K rate was only 12%, although his walk rate was also low at only 7.8%. This goes to show that his 80-grade hit tool was no joke. Plus, if he can increase his launch angle from the 9.7% it was in 2021, he’ll easily get to 20-25 home runs. Throw in 10-15 steals with a BA around .300 and you have a five-category contributor.
With a current ADP of 43.68, Franco isn’t going to be cheap. But, taking someone with his tools and potential in the 4th round is a gamble I’m willing to take. He could very easily take off in his sophomore year and become a first-rounder in 2023. I don’t see him having a “sophomore slump”, and would be confident having him as my starting SS or 3B. He is one of the better hitters to draft, regardless of age.
Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
This will technically be Carlson’s third year in the league. He got a taste in 2020 and finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season. He showed improvements last year, but I think he has more to give us in his sophomore year. His current ADP sits at 151.24 and he isn’t even on some people’s list of hitters to draft. Going behind guys like Joey Gallo, Kyle Schwarber, and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., I’d much rather have Carlson at his price. We’ve seen those three guys’ best seasons already, but Carlson has been building towards his.
In 2020 and 2021, Carlson slashed .255/.328/.425 with 21 HRs and 81 RBI in 652 ABs. Nothing spectacular by any means, but nothing to scoff at either as a young player. Following the All-Star break last season, he continued to build off of his early success. He hit 11 of his 18 total HRs and drove in over half of his season’s RBIs. His average was up to .277 over that time, with a .343 OBP and .505 SLG. I really like the way he has continued to progress in his time at the Major League level.
During the 2019 season, when Carlson spent time between AA and AAA, he showed the kind of potential he has. Yes, it was only one year in the minors, but he showed what his ceiling could be. After never hitting more than 11 HRs or stealing more than 8 bases in a season, Carlson went off for 26 HRs and 20 SBs in 2019. He had a slash line of .292/.372/.542 while spending time at both levels.
The potential is there for Carlson to establish himself as a top 100 hitter as a sophomore in 2022. He’s hitting in the middle of a good lineup in St. Louis and can contribute in all five categories. Carlson is one of the better hitters to draft with intriguing upside around the 12th round.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds
When looking for hitters to draft, we rarely start with the catcher position. We all need one, but it’s the least sexy position to draft. You either have to reach for the top one or two guys, gamble on the upside in the middle tiers, or start streaming week-to-week. Stephenson falls into that second option for me. He’s going at a decent price (202.04 ADP) and I like what I saw from him last year in his first full season. Plus, he won’t have to split time with Tucker Barnhart behind the dish since he was traded to the Tigers this offseason.
The thing I like about Stephenson is his approach at the plate. He was 89th percentile in chase rate and 83rd percentile in whiff percentage. His K-BB% was very good at 8.5%, but it would be nice to see his launch angle increase from 7.4%. Great American Ball Park is a good place to play your home games, so I think Stephenson will hit more HRs than he is currently projected for. He should hit in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup, which is always a plus for a catcher’s value.
Stephenson is currently the 7th catcher off the board, but any catcher after Salvador Perez and J.T. Realmuto has a chance to finish 3rd. I’d let someone else pick every other catcher going above Stephenson, and take him around pick 200. He has the upside to finish higher than that, and has a safe floor with his contact skills. Now that he presumably will have the bulk of starts at catcher for the Reds, I believe he will be one of the better options at catcher in his sophomore season in 2022.
It’s tough to judge how any player will do after their rookie season. Usually, the best hitters figure it out in year two, which provides great value in fantasy drafts. These 3 sophomore hitters will outperform their current draft price, so invest while the price is still too low.
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