It seems the term sleepers has been overdone. In fact we have writers on staff who resist even having that term used in conjunction with their articles. It stems from a couple of things. The first is overuse. We’ve heard the term sleepers since we were in fantasy diapers. The second is the vague meaning behind the term. Sleepers can mean something very different to different people. To some it means a relatively unknown player who could break out and provide serious fantasy value. To others it simply means any player who they believe will outproduce their draft day investment. Whether you like the term or not, that’s what we’re here to talk about. We surveyed our staff to get their thoughts on the top pitching sleepers for the coming season.
We didn’t give them many specifics. We just asked for the one pitcher they liked most to break out in 2019 and a sentence or two to support their choice. As you’ll see, the results varied wildly. As in many cases though, the process of crowdsourcing proved valuable. Rather than one opinion, you’ll get a general feel for how the fantasy community at large views these potential pitching sleepers. That can be very important information as you head into your drafts.
Let’s get to it. Here are the top pitching sleepers of 2019 fantasy baseball as chosen by the very best that FantraxHQ has to offer.
Spring Training games are underway! It’s time you got your fantasy baseball season started as well. Leagues are already forming at Fantrax.com, so head on over and get your league started today.
Top Pitching Sleepers of 2019
For each of our staff members below, you can see their full body of work by clicking on their name and make sure to follow them on Twitter.
Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Woodruff was all over the place in 2018. He got called up and sent down several times, and was used as both a starter and reliever. He doesn’t come with the pedigree of other top pitching prospects, but things really seemed to click down the stretch last year. He added a full mph to his fastball in 2018 and used it to his full advantage in the second half, posting a nice 11.81 K/9. Some of that strikeout rate and velocity likely comes from more work in the pen, but his confidence has to be at high levels with the dominance he showcased in the playoffs. In 12.1 postseason innings, spanning four appearances, Woodruff gave up just two runs and struck out 20 batters against just three walks. He’s fighting for a rotation spot this spring, but he could produce nice value even if he works from the bullpen. Could the next Josh Hader be right on the same Milwaukee Brewers staff?
Caleb Smith, LHP, Miami Marlins
I already looked at five pitching sleepers for 2019, where you can see longer reports on five young arms I’m interested in. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll go even deeper here. Smith missed the last three months of last season with shoulder surgery, so until we see his stuff come back, he’s a huge risk. He had a solid 2018 season before injury, though, and Smith needs only beat out Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards for a back-end spot in Miami. The Marlins won’t win him many games, but Smith’s got a pitcher-friendly home park and some strikeout upside. It’s not easy to find swing-and-miss arms at the back end of drafts. Smith has proven to be one.
Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2018 Stats: 196.2 IP – 179 SO – 3.62 ERA – 1.30 WHIP – ADP #299 (FantasyPros.com)
In 2018, Gibson set career highs in innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA and had a .01 higher WHIP than his prior best. Looking deeper inside the numbers, 2018 was his best K/9, K% and batting average against with an xFIP of 3.91 compared to an ERA of 3.62, suggesting it wasn’t a fluke or luck. His Fantasy numbers were within range of how he actually pitched. The best place to point to explain the improvement is his ability to get swings-and-misses with his slider. He struck out 84 batters in 2018 with his slider, compared to a previous high of 64 in 2015, at a percentage of 46.9% compared to a previous high of 39.3%. Even with some regression, Gibson should finish 2019 with at least 150 strikeouts with a chance for more. At an ADP just inside of #300, thats the cost of a late round flier with the potential to be a must-start weekly consideration. That’s a sleeper to me.
Trevor Richards, RHP, Miami Marlins
Trevor Richards is easily my favorite later round pitching target. In most home leagues he will go undrafted. Do not let that happen in yours. Instead, use your last pick to secure him on your team. Richards has an elite changeup and began to throw it over a third of the time in July. From then on he pitched to a 4.02 ERA, with a 4.11 FIP, but saw big gains in the strikeout vs. walk department. His strikeout rate jumped from 20.5 prior to July, to 25.8 percent after, while the walk rate improved from 10.5 to 9.5 percent. His hard-hit rate dropped from 42 percent prior to July 3rd, to 35.8 percent. It costs next to nothing, but I highly recommend taking a flier here.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Jimmy Nelson is slated to be fully healthy for 2019, and even if he doesn’t hold all of the skill gains from his 2017 breakout, there’s enough room for some regression to still yield a mid-3.00s ERA and 1.20s WHIP. He finally had a reliable third pitch, spurring career bests in his strikeout and walk rates. The depth of the bullpen can maintain leads for him even in five-inning outings if the Brewers want to be cautious with his workload early on.
Hunter Strickland, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Hunter Strickland may really benefit from a change of scenery, and with Edwin Diaz gone in Seattle, he is a fine late-round pick for saves potential.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Josh James’s ADP has moved up several spots since I wrote about him in January so he’s losing some of his sleeper appeal which is value. I still think him and Shane Bieber are strong targets despite the rise in ADP, but someone going even later than that is Jimmy
An injury usually creates a price discount and that’s what we have here with Nelson. The Brewers pitcher injured his shoulder sliding back to the base late in the 2017 season and he missed all of 2018 as a result. Nelson had some very good numbers in 2017: 3.49 ERA, 3.15 xFIP, 10.21 K/9, 2.46 BB/9, 20.8 K-BB% & 11.4 SwStr%. He stuck out 199 batters in 171.5 innings while keeping the ball on the ground 50 percent of the time. Keep an eye on his spring as he’s already thrown one successful bullpen session.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Boston Red Sox
I feel like E-Rod has been a sleeper for a few years now, but this feels like the year he finally puts it all together. He put it together for stretches last season and finished with a career-high 10.1 K/9 and a career-best 3.82 ERA. If he can continue to build off those gains while learning from two of the best southpaws in the game in Chris Sale and David Price, Rodriguez could be poised to finally take that next step and emerge as a top-25 fantasy starter this season.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
Skaggs was cruising along in the first half with a 2.57 ERA over 98 innings before injuries derailed his season. He tossed just 27.1 innings in the second half and was pounded with a 9.22 ERA. If he can just stay healthy, he has the command and stuff to be very good over 150 or so innings. That’s pretty great for the 71st starter off the board.
You buying into any of these pitching sleepers? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
Fantrax is one of the fastest growing fantasy sites of 2018. With multi-team trades, designated commissioner/league managers, and drag/drop easy click methods, Fantrax is sure to excite the serious fantasy sports fan – sign up now for a free year at Fantrax.com.