2022 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, Breakouts, and Busts

An evaluation of average draft position to help you dominate your fantasy baseball draft


Written by: Jake Floriolli

[Source: Mark Blinch - Getty Images]


The last weekend of draft season is here as Spring Training comes to an end. With the arrival of Opening Day next week, the dust is finally starting to settle on ADP and fantasy managers are busy doing their final preparations for drafts.


With every Spring Training comes overreactions from limited sample sizes; whether it be increasing velocities, low batting averages, or small injuries. Understandably, it can be difficult to know when to be reactionary and when to let things play out.


So let me help you decipher the abundance of news and simplify your draft-prep with one last piece of advice: 2022 fantasy baseball sleepers, breakouts, and busts.


Sleepers:


Lourdes Gurriel Jr., TOR, OF (ADP of 140.21): Gurriel Jr. may be the cheapest way to invest in the loaded Toronto Blue Jays lineup this season and may actually be the most profitable fantasy baseball draft pick as well. In the second half of 2021, Gurriel Jr. slashed .296/.360/.529 with a walk rate of nearly 9% and a strikeout rate of only 17%. Additionally, Gurriel Jr. is one of only 13 hitters to post a less than 20% strikeout rate and greater than 10% barrel rate over the last two seasons. And take it for what it is worth, but Gurriel Jr. so far has drawn four walks with just two strikeouts this Spring. A big breakout could be coming this season. Invest while you can.


Luke Voit, 1B, SD (ADP of 231.84): Voit has finally been freed from the New York Yankees and looks to be in line for regular playing time in 2022 with the San Diego Padres. Injuries have not been kind to Voit as he has failed to play in more than 118 games in any season, however, power production has never been an issue. In 2020, Voit hit 22 homers in only 56 games with a .277 batting average, but injuries lead to a disappointing 2021. These 2020 numbers should not be expected, but clearly Voit has the same, if not more, power potential than a plethora of first baseman going ahead of him in drafts.


Zach Eflin, SP, PHI (ADP of 454.66): Eflin missed most of last season with a knee injury, but is now at full strength and is expected to start the season in the Phillies rotation. In the shortened 2020 season, Eflin showed great promise with a 3.97 ERA and 10.68 K/9 in 59 innings. A 3.30 xERA, 3.39 FIP, and 3.23 xFIP all indicate that Eflin may have even been unlucky in 2020. Now fully healthy and still just 27 years old, Eflin could be a solid fantasy contributor in 2021. You’ll want to pick and choose when to use Eflin, but if he is able to stay healthy, Eflin could easily post a high-three ERA while averaging one strikeout per inning.


Honorable Mentions: Julio Rodriguez (SEA, OF), Mike Zunino (C, TB), Jorge Soler (ATL, OF).



Breakouts:


Dylan Cease, SP, CWS (ADP of 80.40): After forgettable 2019 and 2020 seasons where he made a combined 26 starts, Cease was able to drastically lower his walk rate while generating more strikeouts last season. With the combination of throwing his curveball more often and finding the zone more frequently, Cease generated a 22.1% chase percentage with the curve in 2021, which was an absurd 16.4% increase from 2020. The improvement in strikeout rate is here to stay for Cease if he continues with his current pitch mix, but Cease’s underlying metrics indicate that he can provide good ratios as well. An ERA at or below 3.50 with 200 strikeouts next season is within reach for the up-and-coming ace.


Bobby Witt Jr., SS/3B, KC (ADP 83.52): We’ve all heard the hype around Bobby Witt Jr. by now, but the kid is raising expectations every day with his current Spring Training performance. With a slash line of .407/.448/.741 in 10 games with two homers and a steal, Whitt Jr. is forcing his way onto the Opening Day roster for Kansas City and looks like he’ll be making an immediate impact. With good power and speed skills, a 25/25 season is within reach if everything clicks for Witt Jr., but don’t expect an eye-popping batting average. Are we sure Witt Jr. can’t provide similar, if not better, statistics than Cedric Mullins who is being drafted 45 picks earlier?


Carlos Rodon, SP, SF (ADP of 103.85): Rodon officially broke out last season with a 2.37 ERA in 132.2 innings, however shoulder inflammation resulted in a poor ending to his 2021 season and speculation about whether he was fully healthy heading into 2022. After a Spring performance last week where Rodon was hitting 98 MPH, all concerns are in the rearview mirror. If Rodon actually is fully healthy, he has already proven that he can be a top 5 starting pitcher in fantasy. Rodon being drafted after pick 100 overall is pure insanity and might be the best value in fantasy drafts right now.


Honorable Mentions: Tyler O’Neill (STL, OF), Michael Kopech (CWS, SP/RP), Yasmani Grandal (CWS, C).


Busts:


Mookie Betts, OF, LAD (ADP of 15.35): You wouldn't know it with an average draft position of 15th overall, but Betts is coming off a season where he just posted a career-high strikeout percentage and career-low batting average. Additionally, Betts has only eclipsed 30 homers once in the last 5 seasons. A realistic projection for Betts in 2022 is 25 home runs and 15 steals with a .270 batting average. Certainly Betts will still be good for a high number of counting stats as a member of the Dodgers, but with underwhelming batted-ball metrics and decreasing stolen base production, I expect more out of my first or second pick.


Randy Arozarena, OF, TB (ADP of 66.98): If you have read my work earlier in the off-season, then you probably already know how I feel about Arozarena. With a career-high BABIP last season and Statcast expected stats such as a .220 xBA, xWOBA of .302, and xSLG of .366, it is clear that Arozarena is due for regression in 2022. He struggled heavily against the fastball last season and saw a major decline in both wOBA and hard-hit percentage in 2021. Arozarena is going as the 20th outfielder off the board, but is closer to 30th in my ranks.


Framber Valdez, SP, HOU (ADP of 145.56): Valdez is a groundball pitcher who just lost a good defensive shortstop behind him in Carlos Correa. Additionally, Valdez has consistently struggled to strike out an average of one batter per inning and both his xERA and FIP suggest that his 3.14 ERA last season was nothing more than luck. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Valdez was also in the 25th percentile or worse last season among starters in average exit velocity, walk rate, hard hit percentage, and chase rate. Valdez is a mediocre pitcher and should not be going ahead of the next 15 starters who go after him in drafts.


Honorable Mentions: Shane Bieber (CLE, SP), Tim Anderson (CWS, SS), Jake Cronenworth (SD, 1B/2B/SS).


Statistical and Visual References: Baseball Savant, NFBC, Fangraphs, Twitter.

*ADP from March 1st to present*



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