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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Bounce-Back Candidates – Hitters

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With the biggest draft weekend of the year upon us, four of our writers identified some noteworthy sleepers and bounce-back candidates for 2021. The 2020 season came with a lot of disappointing performances by players across the league, setting up the 2021 draft to be loaded with overlooked players likely to rebound. These are the players you should look to target in the later rounds of your draft. For more assistance preparing for upcoming drafts, be sure to check out our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Prep Kit.

Ty France – Second Base

Second base might be the hardest position to fill behind catcher and the Mariners’ 26-year-old is a great late-round option. While he was never a top prospect, France had a pretty amazing 2019 in Triple-A, where he slashed a ridiculous .399/.477/.770. That was good for a 196 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in an offense-heavy Pacific Coast League.

France will never lead the league in home runs, but what he does bring to the table is a knack for spraying line-drives. This is evidenced by his well above average 30.8% line drive rate in 2020. In the shortened season, France hit .305/.368/.468 in 155 plate appearances. Although he had a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play), StatCast mostly believed in his results giving him an expected slash line of .285/.329/.477. Keep an eye on him as a late-round roster filler.

-Andrew Edwardsen

Carlos Santana – First Base/DH

First-base is among the easier spots to fill in fantasy baseball. That means you should be hunting value, whether it be an elite player like Freddie Freeman or Jose Abreu well below their ADP, or a player like Santana a little further down draft boards. The new Royals signee is being drafted behind close to 20 other players at the position, despite the fact that he has a legitimate chance to bounce-back as a top-10 offensive first baseman. There’s no denying Santana left a lot to be desired in 2020 with a sub-.200 BA, but that’s far from the full picture.

Despite a low number of hits, Santana ranked 6th in all of baseball in walk percentage and walks per strikeout (BB/K). Additionally, his average exit velocity (88 mph) and barrel percentage (6.7%) were in line with his 2018 and 2019 figures. Still, Santana recorded a career-low BABIP indicating he was the victim of bad luck in a small sample. A .316 wOBA verus .344 pwOBA also suggests this is the case. A gaudy batting average resurgence isn’t likely but it’s fair to expect a bounce-back close to Santana’s expected BA (xBA) of .250 and expected SLG (xSLG) of .444. It’s worth noting that Santana had the 4th largest difference between his actual SLG and expected SLG among hitters with 100 balls in play. All in all, Santana offers an intriguing bargain first-base option.

-Tyler Paddor

Max Muncy – Infield

Once viewed as a prospect who never panned out with the Athletics, the Dodgers scooped up Muncy and the rest is history. Since 2018, Muncy ranks 23rd among all batters in fWAR and 15th in wRC+. Though 2020 was a step back, the utility infielder was a key cog in the Dodgers World Series run this past fall as he led the league in walks during the playoffs with 20, while the next best mark was 13. This was an unpleasant reminder for LA postseason opponents and the league of just how good Max Muncy is.

Despite a lackluster .316 wOBA, Muncy’s xwOBA came in at .364 and his pwOBA at .344, both well above average figures. Like Carlos Santana, Muncy still made solid contact in 2020 but experienced bad luck. He finished right behind Santana with the 5th largest negative difference between actual SLG and expected SLG. Also like the new Royals first baseman, Muncy’s average sat below .200 despite an expected BA of .233. The Dodgers infielder was still above average in terms of Hard Hit % (52nd percentile) and was well above average by Barrel % (81st percentile) showing his bat didn’t regress much, if at all. Staying consistent to himself, the Baylor product was also one of the best players in the league at drawing walks, ranking 11th in walk percentage.

Expect Muncy to bounce back as a high-OBP player that leaves the yard frequently. The cherry on top for fantasy owners is he comes with 3-position versatility, making Muncy a flexible option.

-Tyler Paddor

Nick Senzel – Outfield

Video from Baseball Savant

Senzel’s candidacy as a sleeper is much different than some of those on the rest of this list. Senzel is a post-hype prospect who has struggled with injuries in his career thus far, and spent some time on the IL with COVID last year. He struggled a bit in his first taste of the Big Leagues in 2019, slashing just .256/.315/.427 in 414 PA. He got off to a strong start, but struggled after August 10, which conveniently corresponded with a change in batting stance. Senzel also injured his shoulder later in the year, which could have contributed to the struggles.

In 56 PA prior to going down with COVID last year, he flashed signs of his top prospect pedigree, posting a .288 xBA, .516 xSLG, and .372 xwOBA along with promising strikeout and walk rates. Senzel had returned to his pre-August 2019 batting stance in 2020, and though his surface statistics through 56 PA didn’t jump off the page, he showed massive improvements from his 2019. After returning from COVID, he slashed just .080/.080/.120.

Given his lengthy injury history and subpar 2019 debut season, in addition to his post-COVID struggles, the price on Senzel is suppressed in 2021 drafts. None of the injuries seem to be a major long term concern, they’ve mostly been of the fluke variety. He’s also shown promise in a 43 PA sample this spring, slashing .324/.419/.541. Given the suppressed perceived value and the positive signs he’s showed in the small early sample last year and an even smaller Spring Training sample this year, Senzel is a great hitter to buy low on while you still can, particularly in keeper and dynasty leagues.

-Kyle Berger

Rhys Hoskins – First Base/Outfield

It seems like Hoskins is a player that is always being overlooked. For his career, he’s a .239/.366/.495 hitter with 91 HR in 1762 plate appearances. On a per-162 basis, that averages out to 36 HR, to go along with 99 runs scored and 102 RBI, both great marks for traditional fantasy leagues. Sure, the batting average is a bit of a drag, but he provides even better value in OBP leagues with his elite 15.3% walk rate. He’s currently coming off Tommy John Surgery, which likely further dampened his perceived value, but is expected to be fully ready for the season and has been participating in Spring Training games.

Since making his debut in 2017, Hoskins ranks 7th among all first basemen in home runs, 12th in total runs scored, and 12th in RBI, despite having less PA than the majority of the hitters ahead of him. Among first basemen with at least 1000 PA over that timeframe, Hoskins ranks 9th in OBP, though only Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Max Muncy, and Carlos Santana are still active. Muncy is also more valuable at second base from a fantasy perspective.

Given that Hoskins is, on average, the 19th first baseman off the board in fantasy, there’s a ton of room for value there. Even if his 2021 numbers fall perfectly in line with his career averages, he pays off in a big way at his ADP. His StatCast profile seen above provides further reason for optimism, as his xwOBA ranked in the 89th percentile of the league in 2020, and his barrel rate and walk rate each ranked in the 93rd percentile. If he can leverage that to take another step forward in 2021, perhaps he will finally be recognized as the offensive force that he has already shown he can be.

-Kyle Berger

Evan Longoria – Third Base

Evan Longoria is projected to be the San Francisco Giants’ starting third baseman to begin the season. After hitting at an average level in 2019 (100 wRC+, .322 wOBA, and .327 pwOBA), Longoria improved drastically as a hitter in 2020. You wouldn’t realize this if you went off of his sub-.300 on-base-percentage or .308 wOBA. You would if you noticed his much better .362 xwOBA and .341 pwOBA.

Longoria recorded his best max exit velocity (111.5 mph), average exit velocity (91.7 mph), and Hard Hit percentage (45.2) of the Statcast Era (2015-present) in 2020. He recorded a barrel percentage over ten percent for the first time since 2016. Longoria is likely to play every day even if he struggles some offensively early on, as he ranked in the 90+ percentile in outs above average in each of the last two years.

-Max Goldstein