Every year, you have your sleepers and breakout players. Here’s a guide to some you should watch out for.
Through one month of the Major League Baseball season, let’s take a look at some of the top early-season producers who were probably overlooked in even some of the deepest leagues. Some of the players listed below have been mentioned in my previous articles. If you haven’t made a move for some of these players by now … what are you wanting for?
1. Christian Walker 1B Arizona
Walker has been filling up fantasy stat lines all season (.316 average, 7 home runs, 16 Runs, 15 RBI, 1.018 OPS). The story of Walker’s career is that he was blocked in two organizations after being a fourth-round pick from the University of South Carolina. Walker has been a terrific power bat from his days in college. What has held him back is the traditional view of right-handed-hitting first basemen (they are low-priorities). Walker put up great numbers in the minors for years with Baltimore, but was stuck behind the likes of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. In Arizona, it was, rightfully, Paul Goldschmidt before Goldschmidt was traded. With the early-season injury to Jake Lamb, Walker has taken the job and run with it. If you were smart in an auction league, you grabbed him for $2 or $3 before the season.
2. Luke Voit 1B New York Yankees
Voit and Walker are separated in age (they are both 28) by a total of 43 days. That’s only the beginning of their similarities. Like Walker, Voit is mashing (.283 BA, 8 HR, 21 Runs, 25 RBI, .935 OPS), was undervalued as a righty first baseman, and was blocked in his previous organization (St. Louis). St. Louis traded him to the Yankees for Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve. Since then all Voit has done is hit 22 HRs in 234 at-bats. The Yankees will make room for his power bat even when they get bat to full health.
3. Yandy Diaz 1B/3B Tampa Bay
Diaz is the rare former Cuban player who wasn’t paid a huge signing bonus and given huge expectations coming into MLB. The Rays made a wise trade to pick him up this offseason in the Jake Bauers deal. Diaz is a masher (.289 BA, 7 HR, 18 Runs, 16 RBI, .985 OPS). More importantly, he provides position flexibility and batting order flexibility (he bats either first or fourth constantly). Matt Duffy returning from the injured list in the future won’t have much impact on playing time for Diaz.
4. Dwight Smith OF Baltimore
After beating out some underwhelming candidates for a position in the Orioles outfield, Smith (.267 BA, 5 HR, 17 Runs,19 RBI, 3 SBs, .803 OPS) has been given regular starts and has provided a nice blend of power and speed. At age 26, he’s a former first-round pick with Toronto who was bypassed along the way. While I don’t expect him to hit 30 HR and steal 25, he could end up with productive numbers hitting at the top/middle of that lineup on a every day basis.
5. Renato Nunez 3B Baltimore
In four seasons from age 19 to 22, Nunez hit 89 HRs in four minor league seasons with the Oakland A’s. His problem has always been plate discipline, which is a bugaboo for anyone in the Oakland organization. He was eventually waived, claimed by Texas and then waived again before being picked up by the Orioles. In 305 ABs with Baltimore, he has 13 HR and his numbers are solid across the board this season (.276, 6 HR, 18 RBI, .822 OPS).