Sleeper is a dangerous term. One person’s fantasy sleeper is another’s no-doubt way-too-obvious breakout player, requiring no hype. Let’s just say that the four pitchers listed below have a great shot at earning a significant profit for fantasy owners.
• Taijuan Walker disappointed during his first year in the National League, although that came with a respectable 3.49 ERA despite pitching in a home park that increased run scoring by 20 percent, which was the third-most in MLB (his road ERA was 2.92). Chase Field has long been an extreme hitters’ park, but the introduction of a humidor this year could lead to drastic changes, with the strong possibility of it joining Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park and Petco Park as favorable for pitchers within the division. The Diamondbacks also added Jarrod Dyson to the outfield, and a full season from Ketel Marte at shortstop should be big boosts to a defense that played poorly last year.
Walker is seemingly always dealing with some sort of health issue (bone spurs in his foot two years ago, blisters last season), but his arm held up fine after introducing a slider, and he’s still just 25 years old. Walker has a strong pedigree and good stuff, yet his ADP has sunk to nearly 200 despite now entering his prime and in a situation that dramatically improved for pitchers during the offseason. –Dalton Del Don
• Mike Clevinger hasn’t actually locked up a rotation spot in Cleveland as of this writing, so he’s the sort of fantasy sleeper who might very well remain asleep. He doesn’t sound particularly worried about earning a role in the starting five, however…
The Indians have three primary candidates (Salazar, Clevinger and Tomlin) for the last two rotation spots. Said Clevinger: “I’m not even thinking about the bullpen. I want to throw 200 innings.”
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) January 19, 2018
Clevinger struck out an impressive 10.1 batters per nine innings for Cleveland last season, delivering an ERA of 3.11 over 121.2 frames (3.85 FIP). Control has been a persistent issue for him (4.4 BB/9), but his four-pitch arsenal is awfully tough to hit (12.4% swinging-strike rate). He’ll work in a winning environment this year, clearly, giving him a chance to be a strong contributor in both Ks and Ws. –Andy Behrens
• Dalton introduced the Arizona humidor theme in his pick, and I’m going to piggyback that with my Patrick Corbin selection. Walker and Corbin were similar in the component numbers last year — their FIPs were almost identical — but Walker is going 40 picks higher in Yahoo drafts, perhaps because of a bigger pedigree. Walker is the hipster pick, Corbin the more boring value pick.
Corbin was strong at home last year anyway, but the defense should be improved as the team phases out traffic pylon Yasmany Tomas. And no one has to expose an Arizona pitcher to Coors Field (Corbin was chewed up there) if they don’t want to; you’ll protect your ratios with that obvious move. Corbin enters his age-28 season as a stealth candidate, further removed from elbow surgery. Maybe he can approach that 2013 All-Star season again. Cigars for everyone. – Scott Pianowski
• Tyler Chatwood has never topped 158.0 innings in any professional season, so durability is a legit concern. But the Cubs don’t exactly need him to be Old Hoss Chatwood. If he can simply deliver 155-175 innings, he can help the fantasy community. His velocity and strikeout rate both improved last season for Colorado, and he produced one of MLB’s highest ground-ball rates (58.1%). He’ll benefit in a big way from the Cubs’ stellar infield defense. Chatwood has been excellent away from Coors Field over the past two years, we should note, posting a 2.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He costs you nothing at the draft table, but he should serve as a useful starter in nearly all formats. – Behrens