Fantasy baseball sleepers and busts

Nelson Cruz, with 401 career home runs, has been a model of consistency during the past decade. Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is on its way back, with a matchup between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees on July 23 set for 2020's first action. With real games finally on the horizon, many fantasy leagues will be, at long last, holding their drafts over the weekend. Here at ESPN, we've held some expert mock drafts to help try to capture the current fantasy value of players after such a long layoff, but it's still just a matter of opinion, and there's not always a consensus to be found.

To that end, we've asked Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft and AJ Mass to offer up a few names that they feel might have been either underrated in recent mocks or perhaps been put on way too high a fantasy pedestal.

Let's start off with some of those forgotten fantasy options. Guys, give us the names of a player or two you feel might be going much later in drafts than they should.


Tristan Cockcroft: If you're going the dirt-cheap route when filling your outfield -- and in an ESPN standard league, you should -- Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun looks like the value to get in the final 6-8 rounds. He was a 21st rounder in our roto and 19th in our head-to-head categories mocks, but he has the statistical ceiling of a borderline top-100 player overall. Calhoun brings the rare combination of contact and fly ball ability, and he slashed .265/.328/.540 with 16 homers in 57 games following his late-July promotion.

Eric Karabell: Way back in early March, we wondered just how many plate appearances an older fellow like Washington's Howie Kendrick would be able to earn. After all, he hit .344 a season ago with power and middle infield eligibility, but it was over a mere 370 PA. Today, in a shortened season and with a universal DH, Kendrick should play every game and produce myriad runs. I have already made him my starting first baseman -- the position is not nearly as deep as you think -- in a few mock drafts and feel OK about it!

AJ Mass: I think Eric has nailed it -- and not in an ironic, Nicole Byer kind of way. In a 162-game season, I worry about the accumulation of injuries and the overall wear and tear of a six-month season and all that travel. In 2020's condensed version, the perfect recipe for success is drafting those forgotten veterans who may be looking to leave everything on the table and go out with one last big bang. That's why I'm loading up on the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in the late rounds of my drafts -- and I'm grabbing Nelson Cruz as early as Round 4. We're throwing darts anyway. Why not go with reliable ones?


Cockcroft: I know that Texas' new ballpark is expected to play more pitching-friendly -- perhaps significantly so -- than its predecessor, but I'm still not biting on Rangers starting pitcher Mike Minor, at least not at the price of a top-100 overall pick, which he was in both our roto and head-to-head points mocks (not to mention four picks away in our head-to-head categories). Look, I want K's, especially in a year like this where pitching specialization will be at its peak and workloads divided more than we've ever seen before, and Minor's whiff and fly ball rates worry me in the game's current environment. Keep this in mind: He had a 4.99 ERA and 4.84 FIP in the second half of 2019.

Karabell: I actually think Minor and his pal Lance Lynn are strong options, though top 100 is a bit pricey, I suppose. How about your Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton? People still believe they will find some newfound durability in this shortened season, but I do not see it. Judge is already dealing with various ailments. The Yankees have depth and I expect they will be more than likely to use it. Mike Tauchman could lead all Yankees outfielders in PA. No, really, he could, and so even in the "bust" section I found a way to discuss a sleeper option!

Mass: One of the takes I keep hearing is that the regionalized schedule makes it a near lock that the Indians are going to cakewalk into the playoffs. It's not necessarily a bad take, but it is way overinflating the love directed toward Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. I like them both and will happily have them on my fantasy staffs, but given the lack of real spread between the top tier of pitchers (due to potential workload restrictions and/or lack of wins), I'm not sure either or them is going to live up to the top-10-SP hype.