Fantasy baseball sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2018 season

MLB


The draft is the most exciting date on the fantasy baseball calendar, as the decisions you make during the draft set the table for your season.

Are you prepared to find the hidden gems that will set your team apart? Have you scouted the next superstar waiting to rise to the top of the Player Rater? Can you navigate the player pool and avoid the busts that will leave you with regrets all season long?

Below, our experts predict the players they consider to be sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2018 season. Here’s a quick guide to what we mean by these categories …

Sleeper: A player set to exceed the value implied by his average draft position. Each analyst has provided an early-round sleeper, a midround sleeper and a sleeper you can find at the end of your drafts.

Breakout: A player poised to enter the upper echelon of the fantasy game via a big step forward, reaching a new level of play for the first time in his career. Our analysts have picked an early breakout player who could deliver first-round value, a midround sleeper who could return value of a top-50 player and a rookie who could jump straight to fantasy stardom.

Bust: A player who will disappoint relative to his average draft position. Our experts have picked players set to disappoint as expected first-round selections, disappointments in the early to middle rounds and rookies who won’t live up to expectations.

Yoan Moncada: Moncada boasts power, speed, plate discipline, a middle-infield starting spot and a place near the top of a potentially interesting lineup, all at age 22. OK, he could have been better last year, but he was still a rookie. This is a 20-homer, 30-steal profile, at least, and even if he hits only .260 or so thanks to the strikeouts, that makes him a top-100 player with the potential for considerably more, considering he can contribute in every offensive category. The breakout is still coming! — Eric Karabell

Manuel Margot: Margot always profiled as a leadoff option with stolen base potential, and then in his rookie season, he swatted 13 home runs in 126 games as well. The Padres should score many more runs than they did in 2017, and Margot at the top is key as a potential five-category option. Margot was not supposed to hit for much power, but the underlying figures show that his rookie power was legit. Margot is certainly capable of more than 30 stolen bases, with expected gains in batting average and runs pending as well. — Eric Karabell

Bryce Harper: Harper has achieved historic numbers, with 150 home runs before turning 25, but he is a risk in Round 1. Durability is a problem, but the numbers are inconsistent as well. Sure, Harper could hit 50 home runs … but he has topped 30 once in six seasons. He could win a batting title … but he has hit .275 twice. Finally, Harper attempted all of six stolen bases last season. It would not be surprising if Harper matches his 2015 MVP campaign and tops Mike Trout in value … but it is fair to point out that Harper has reached expectations in only one of his six seasons for fantasy. — Eric Karabell

Byron Buxton: Some might claim he already “broke out,” as Buxton’s .300/.347/.546 slash rates, 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 57 games played after the All-Star break made him a top-40 performer in terms of fantasy baseball earnings, but to this point of his career, including that stretch, he has been a wildly unpredictable performer. One of the reasons I believe in Buxton’s strong finish — and note, I expect him to regress to closer to a .260 batting average but with similar power/speed — is that a significant tweak to his batting stance fueled much of it. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Willie Calhoun: There’s always a rookie who comes from nowhere to put forth near-Rookie of the Year numbers, and the ones I typically draft possess high floors, likely to translate smoothly to the big leagues, and are rarely noticed. Calhoun fits the bill: He’s a virtual lock to start — or at least be on the strong side of a platoon — in left field for the Texas Rangers, and he was one of three players in pro ball last season with at least 30 home runs and an 85 percent contact rate (along with Francisco Lindor and Joey Votto). — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Alex Reyes: While I like Reyes’ skill set a lot — he’ll be someone I acquire in dynasty formats — his 2018 role is uncertain, as it’s his first year following Tommy John surgery, and he has never exceeded 111 1/3 innings in a single pro year. Coming off a year in which the multi-inning reliever was back in vogue, especially during the postseason, Reyes makes a heckuva lot of sense to the St. Louis Cardinals in a Chris Devenski-esque role as he works his way back. That, unfortunately, is a role of limited fantasy appeal. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Matt Duffy: Here’s a guy who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 behind Kris Bryant. In 2016, he was traded to the Rays for the stretch drive but almost immediately got hurt and then had to sit out all of last season due to surgery. All signs point to Duffy being 100 percent healthy headed into 2018, and Tampa Bay has doubled-down on the third baseman, having traded Evan Longoria to the Giants. If everything clicks, we could have 20-20 production from a guy who might not even show up on some fantasy draft lists due to the goose egg in stats he had in 2017. That’s not too shabby. — AJ Mass

Luis Castillo: In his final five starts of the 2017 season, Castillo had a 1.86 ERA, a .158 BAA and a 12.1 K/9. He has a fastball that averages 97.5 mph and clearly was able to adjust to the majors after his leap from Double-A in June after a rocky start (4.05 ERA, .243 BAA in his first seven starts of the season). Sure, he could flame out like far too many young arms before him. However, it’s also not unrealistic that he’ll finish the season in the top five in strikeouts, with an ERA around 3.00 and at least a dozen wins under his belt. I’d call that a breakout. — AJ Mass

Tyler Chatwood: We always upgrade hitters in a big way when they go to Colorado, so why do we not treat pitchers leaving the thin air with similar levels of excitement? Over the past two seasons, Chatwood’s road ERA is lower than that of Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. Heard of those guys? I’m not saying he is on that level, but for those of you who draft an ace to lead your staff and then wait on pitching … Chatwood should be on your radar. — Kyle Soppe

Elvis Andrus: None of his production from last season is going to help you this year, so be careful about how high you draft him. Andrus’ stock skyrocketed last season thanks in large part to 20 homers … or, you know, three more than he hit in the previous three seasons combined. He has been successful on less than 71 percent of his stolen base attempts the past four seasons, so I worry that both his ceiling and his floor aren’t as high as most seem to be assuming. — Kyle Soppe

Alex Bregman: It’s easy to find power in today’s fantasy baseball landscape. Everything else seems to come at a premium. As such, a player who can do “everything else” while essentially keeping up with the power guys is incredibly valuable. Enter Bregman, who was fantastic during the second half of last season, finishing with a post-All-Star break wRC+ on par with names such as Arenado, Judge and Lindor. He’s delivering on his prospect promise and should take another step forward in 2018. — Leo Howell

Shohei Ohtani: Could Ohtani deliver an SP1-caliber season as a pitcher in 2018 while chipping in above-average contributions as a hitter? Yes, it’s possible, but it will mean good health and a quick transition to a new team in a new league on a new continent. Yet that’s likely the value at which he’ll be drafted, leaving little upside and confirming that his novelty and versatility will inflate his price beyond what his volume and skill can likely deliver in his first MLB campaign. Dynasty leaguer? Buy away. Redraft leaguer? Steer clear if he’s going in the top 100. — Leo Howell



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