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Mike Zunino - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers

There are three distinct tiers at the catcher position entering 2019. Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto stand alone as one and two. Behind them in no particular order are, Salvador Perez, Wilson Ramos, Willson Contreras, Buster Posey, and Yasmani Grandal. However, by season's end Mike Zunino may find himself in that discussion as the 12th catcher off the board with an ADP of 246.

Acquired by Tampa Bay in the offseason, Zunino could exceed his draft value more than anyone at his position. More so than prospects unproven in the majors, such as Willians Astudillo and Francisco Mejia, who are going ahead of him. With catcher being as weak as it is, owners should be bold and draft the biggest boom or bust player, potentially in all the Majors.

Zunino was by no means a sleeper last year, coming off a 2017 season hitting .251/.331/.509 with 25 bombs and a .840 OPS. However, due to his disappointing 2018, he will be sneaking under a lot of owner’s radars entering this season. However, even in a year where Zunino only hit .201/.259/.410, he still mashed his way to 20 homers, tied for fifth amongst catchers. The discrepancy between the two seasons was almost exclusively down to a drop of BABIP from .355 to .268. His batted ball profile was essentially identical, giving hope that he can recapture some of his 2017 form this season.

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Power Upside Too Good To Ignore

When Zunino makes contact, he smacks the stuffing out of the ball. According to Fangraphs his soft contact rate last year was 17.8%, his medium contact sat at 42.7%, and he had a hard contact rate of 39.6%. As a reference, in 2017 when Gary Sanchez had 33 HR, he had a hard-hit rate of 35.5%. Also, during his down year last season, Zunino still had an elite .209 ISO, down from a .258 ISO in 2017. Zunino clearly has the most raw power out of any catcher across the league.

The problem that’s plagued the former Mariner throughout his career is that he doesn’t make contact nearly enough. Over his career, his average K% is 35.8, and he whiffs on 17.1% of pitches he swings at. His contact percentage is also well below league average (80%,) at 65.9%.

The hope will be that a change of scenery helps the former 2012 third overall pick. It’s not encouraging that he is trading T-Mobile Park that averaged 0.984 HR a game, for Tropicana Field, that only allowed 0.880. However, Zunino’s numbers on the road last year were better across the board than they were in Seattle. He had an .563 OPS at home and a .761 OPS on the road. The Trop also averaged more hits, runs, doubles, and triples last season.

If the definition of a sleeper is someone an owner can draft late who far exceeds his value, then look no further than Mike Zunino. The worst case scenario is that he struggles and still finishes near the top of HR at catcher. However, if he can beat up on AL East pitching, and make more contact with the baseball, he could provide an owner with a lot of production from a position where little is expected.

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