Baseball is officially back with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Spring Training kicked off on March 17th and with the entire offseason jammed packed into one month, it’s going to get chaotic. While we were awaiting news on the end of the lockout, Underdog Fantasy released their MLB best ball contests, the Dinger and the Bunt. If you’re new to MLB best ball I suggest checking out our Primer/Strategy article, it will teach you the fundamentals of Underdogs format. In this article, I will be highlighting my sleepers, breakouts, and busts on Underdog for 2022. Projections are courtesy of Derek Carty’s, The Bat and Bat X.
J.T. Realmuto, PHI IF
The cover boy for the article is the first sleeper on my list and it’s all because of his ADP. According to projections, he is the 64th ranked player and has an ADP in the 150s and 160s, which is lower than when the tournaments were first released. Last season he finished as the 110th overall player, scoring 1097 FPTS. The universal DH rule is now in effect which projects Realmuto for more than 100 ABs than he did last season. He’s projected for 23 HRs, 75 RBIs, 81 Runs, and a total of 1217 FPTS, while continually going past the 14th round. For comparison, Salvador Perez is projected for only two more fantasy points than Realmuto and is going around pick 90. The 31-year-old still hits the ball hard with a Max Exit Velocity and HardHit% in the high 70 percentiles and has 90th percentile speed, swiping 13 bags last season. He’s extremely undervalued in this format and a bonus if you’re trying to fill out a Phillies stack.
Joey Votto, CIN IF
Votto will be entering his 15th big league season and will be turning 39 late in the season. The Reds traded away Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to Seattle, taking two big bats out of the lineup. His projections tell a different story, as he’s ranked as the 39th overall player. He projects for 30 HRs, 85 RBIs, 82 Runs, and scoring a total of 1274 FPTS. His ADP has been steadily dropping since the Reds started their fire sale and it currently sits at 110.4. Whether it’s the age or the trades(or both), he’s going overlooked in drafts. Last season he finishes as the 49th ranked player hitting 36 HRs, 99 RBI, 73 Runs, and scoring a total of 1274 FPTS. The 39-year-old can still mash with upper 90th percentile ratings in Avg Exit Velocity, Max Exit Velocity, HardHit%, x SLG, and Barrel %. There are few quality options to stack with him, but he makes for an ideal one-off in the middle rounds of drafts.
Oneil Cruz, PIT IF
If you want to categorize Cruz as a breakout rather than a sleeper, I wouldn’t blame you. He was called up extremely late in the season and only played in two games for the Pirates in 2021. He shined in those games, hitting his first career home run and on a 0-2 changeup out of the zone that he golfed out of the park and while registering the hardest exit velocity from a Pirates player in the Statcast Era. He’s expected to get the chance to be an everyday player in 2022 and is the 210th ranked player. His projections have him hitting 14 HRs, 54 RBIs, 56 Runs, scoring a total of 880 FPTS. He’s a sleeper for me due to his cost. He is currently going at the end of drafts(20th round). He could struggle with plate discipline but that isn’t something we have to worry about in this format unless it affects his playing time. The best part is he can easily be grabbed which makes him a cheap addition to a Pirates stack.
Eduardo Rodriquez, DET P
In 2020, Rodriquez was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, linked to the coronavirus, which caused him to miss the entire 2020 season. He came back in 2021 vowing he was fully healthy and had a decent year finishing as the 35th ranked pitcher on UD. His underlying stats suggest that he was even better in 2021 than we thought. He had an ERA of 4.74 but an expected(xERA) of 3.50. This offseason, he left Boston and signed with Detroit, due to their spacious confines is a park upgrade for him. Projections have him as the 18th ranked pitcher but according to his 106 ADP he’s the 33rd overall pitcher. Another year removed from, myocarditis, I expect him to get a longer leash when he pitches in 2022. Detriot gave him a 5-year 77M dollar contract to be their Ace. He is in the 90th percentile for limiting his opponents in Avg Exit Velocity and HardHit%. He’s my most exposed pitcher currently and is a great value in the middle rounds.
Jesus Sanchez, MIA OF
The former top prospect showed off his huge power potential in his limited time in the big leagues, hitting 14 HRs in 64 games and ranking in the top 9% of the league in Max Exit Velocity. His season would look a lot different if he hadn’t been sidelined for a month due covid related problems. However, he encouraged fantasy owners when he returned in August, hitting 11 HRs in 40 games to end the season. He’s expected to be an everyday player for the Marlins in 2022 and is currently ranked as the 146th overall player. He projects for 21 HRs, 67 RBIs, 63 Runs, scoring a total of 1017 FPTS. He’s very undervalued with an ADP in the 180s. The Marlins recently signed Jorge Soler which makes Sanchez a cheap option for Marlins Stacks.
Alex Kiriloff, MIN OF
If you were to look at Kiriloffs numbers from 2021, they might mislead you. He hit for a .251 AVG and .423 SLG but his expected statcast numbers had him at a .291 xBA and .541 xSLG. His depressed numbers could be attributed to injuring his wrist in May, tearing a ligament, and continuing to play until opting for surgery in July. It’s remarkable if you think about it, he had a tear in his wrist and still put up those expected numbers. He is currently ranked as the 137th overall player and projects for 19 HRS, 65 RBIs, 67 Runs, scoring a total of 1025 FPTS. He currently has an ADP of 158 which has been steadily climbing since drafts were released. If he can stay healthy there’s no telling what his true potential could behold. The Twins have recently signed Carlos Correa, which adds another option to pair Kiriloff within Twins stacks.
Patrick Sandoval, LAA P
There could be an argument that Sandoval already broke out in 2021, but he only pitched 87 innings and started 14 games. I believe that 2022 will be his breakout year and it’s because he debatable has one of the best pitches in baseball with his changeup. It was a revelation for him last season as he relied less on his fastball and more on the changeup, throwing it 29.6% of the time. His changeup generated a 51.4% wiff rate and allowed batters to just a .139 BA against. He had a swinging strike rate of 15.2% putting him in elite company with names like Max Scherzer and Robbie Ray. The Bat projection doesn’t fully agree with my take as he is the 57th ranked pitcher but he has an ADP in the 180s and 190s and I like his upside over other options in that range like Luis Severino, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Jordan Montgomery. He is a lock for a rotation spot, and I am excited to see what he can do over the course of a full season.
Willy Adames, MIL IF
He was quoted early in his career that he would be wearing nonprescription to help him see better while batting in Tampa Bay. Struggling at home was a theme for Adames during his time with Tampa Bay. Before he was traded to Milwaukee in May of 2021, he had a .156 AVG, .229 OBP, .328 SLG, .557 OPS, .172 ISO, and a 61 wRC+. The trade was a revelation for him as he hit for a .236 AVG, .335 OBP, .467 SLG, .802 OPS, .172 ISO, and a 113 wRC+. Alright I know that was a lot of numbers, but once he was free of Tampa Bay, he started to come alive and become a more consistent hitter both at home and away. He’s also undervalued in these drafts with an ADP between the 140s and 150s, yet projections have him as the 72nd ranked player. He projects for 26 HRs, 78 RBIs, 78 Runs, scoring a total of 1185 FPTS. In 2021, was in the upper 80th percentile for Max Exit Velicity and in the 70th percentile for HardHit% and Barrel%. I think a full season in MIL will improve many of his stat cast metrics.
Lance McCullers, Hou P
McCullers is coming off one his best seasons in which he posted career-best in ERA, IP and Strikeouts. Sadly, his season ended early when he suffered a flexor tendon strain in Game 4 of the ALDS. He was initially expected to make a recovery and expected to be ready for 2022 Opening Day, but he admitted the injury was worse than first reported. He was quoted saying the injury was “much worse than we were putting off … I had a pretty good strain in my flexor tendon in my forearm, it was off the bone quite a bit.” When you combine that with the lockout and players not being allowed to use team doctors, it’s impacted his recovery. He’s expected to miss the start of the season and there’s currently no timetable for his return. Projections only have him for 17 starts this season and he’s ranked as the 125th pitcher. With his ADP in the 140s, I don’t recommend taking him.
Jack Flaherty, STL P
Flaherty is another arm that will miss the start of the season with an arm injury. He has been diagnosed with bursitis, inflammation of a bursa, after receiving a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection. (a bursa is a closed, fluid-filled sac that works as a cushion and gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body). This is said to be in connection with his injury last season that sidelined him for two months with an oblique strain. He is ranked as the 46th pitcher in 2022 and I still think that’s too high. His ADP is in the 100s now which has been falling from his early 80s ADP he had previously, but I still am out on him at this price. He may need to drop 30-50 more spots before I consider pulling the trigger. His numbers are also a bit concerning with a big drop in SwStr% and allowing a 41.5% HartHit%.
Unvaccinated Mets and Yankees Players
Okay is this a cop-out? Maybe. But this could be a serious factor for unvaccinated Mets and Yankees players. The city lifted vaccine requirements to enter indoor facilities on March 7 but kept in place the mandate that disallows unvaccinated employees from working. Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday he expects to eventually roll back the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for private sector employers, but won’t make any exceptions for star athletes. An interesting thing about this whole situation is that unvaccinated players from visiting teams are allowed to play in New York. It doesn’t sound like the mandate will end soon as Mayor Adams answered a question related to Brooklyn Nets PG Kyrie Irving not being able to play in home games with, “Kyrie can play tomorrow. Get vaccinated.”
Adalberto Mondesi, KCR IF
I’m not going to downplay the upside that Mondesi has. If he is healthy, he has 20HR-20Steal potential, but he has only had more than 300 PA in one of his five seasons. His biggest weakness is the fact that he swings at everything. He had the SwStr% of 20.1% in 2021, which was second-worst behind Javy Baez. Projections have him ranked as the 156th overall player and he currently has an ADP in the 110s. He projects for 17 HRs, 49 RBIs, 68 Runs, scoring a total of 990 FPTS. I wouldn’t blame you for betting on talent and taking a shot at his upside, but I will likely have little exposure to him at his current price.