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Late-Round Fliers With Upside for 2024 Fantasy Baseball Drafts by Nick Mariano

Noah Schanuel - fantasy baseball prospects draft sleepers DFS MLB injury news

This premium article is part of our 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit and a free sample of the expert analysis loaded up in RotoBaller's Draft Kit. Enjoy this premium article for free for a limited time. All other Premium Tools can be accessed on the premium dashboard.

Hello, RotoBallers! Get that pickaxe ready as we prepare to dig deeper into the draft room and look for players that could pay off in the late rounds. You want to seek an upside with early indicators that'll signal whether to hold or drop for early waiver churn.

You might read "sleeper" when seeing "flier", and there's likely to be some crossover throughout the industry. There's also the fact that since we consider these late-round types as potential high-performers, they could qualify as another's "sleeper." I don't care how you want to label it as long as they do well! For today’s purposes, we’ll start the exercise with a minimum ADP around 200 according to NFBC data from January through early February.

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:

 

Late-Round Draft Fliers - Hitters

Catcher: Austin Wells (C25, NYY) – ADP: 332

Wells was a first-round pick by the Yankees back in 2020 and proceeded to hit 53 home runs in 291 minor-league games. His usual batting average isn’t stellar, most projection systems give him .230-.235 for 2024, but it won’t kill you. Unlike some powerful, lower-average types, Wells’ strikeout rate isn’t an albatross and usually hovers around 22-23%.

He went 5-for-41 (.128) in his first 11 games as he realized MLB pitchers were approaching him differently, attacking early with off-speed pitches and being able to hit corners more effectively. It’s logical for this to occur with the jump in skill level, but it’s another thing to actively face it and have to adjust yourself. This quote gathered from a New York Daily News piece highlights the process:

“I’m just used to getting a pitch per at-bat to maybe drive, so when I swing at a ball close to the end [of the count] and then they throw one off, they don’t have to throw me anything really over the plate,” he said. “So I think being a little bit more patient will benefit me.”

Wells did just that by going 11-for-31 (.355) with four HRs and three doubles in his final eight games. Let’s not project a crazy .484 ISO just yet, though it underscored why his bat was touted more than his defense. If his powerful lefty swing can emerge with the majority of C at-bats over Jose Trevino then we’ve got something.

First Base: Nolan Schanuel (1B40, LAA) – ADP: 512

Schanuel hit the ground running, going from being LAA’s 11th overall pick in the 2023 June Amateur Draft to suiting up in the majors after just 22 minor-league games. Not only that, the 21-year-old debuted batting leadoff ahead of Shohei Ohtani. Just another day at the office, eh?

His three collegiate years produced a .386/.516/.698 slash line and the 22 games in the minors yielded a .365/.505/.487 line. That all looks stupendous, but you can see the slugging dropoff. Jeff Zimmerman’s Mining The News series unearthed this quote regarding the power:

“That’s what this offseason was about for me,” Schanuel said. “I got my time in the big leagues, so now it’s about what I need to work on. I need to work on getting faster and unlocking that power with a wood bat. Just little things like that. But my time in the big leagues taught me what I need to get better at.”

But this has proven to be a polarizing topic throughout his (brief) post-collegiate career. Search “Schanuel power” on X, formerly known as Twitter (I love this bit), and you’ll see everyone chiming in.

However, everyone agrees that his bat, contact skills, and overall eye/approach are outstanding (even if his swing path is unorthodox). This is a flier for a reason. If he’s made gains this offseason then you’ll want some of that action.

Second Base: Davis Schneider (2B43, TOR) - ADP: 497

Schneider was a 28th-round draft pick from 2017 who languished in the lower levels for five years with strong walk rates, lots of fly balls, and little else before making it to Double-A in 2022. A 23-year-old at Double-A should do well, and he posted a .844 OPS and showed his usual discipline. His age-24 campaign opened at Triple-A and saw him crush 21 HRs with nine steals and a .275/.416/.553 slash in 87 games. This earned him a ticket to the bigs.

In 35 games (141 PAs), Schneider would smack eight HRs with a whopping 176 wRC+. Of 461 hitters with 100 or more PAs, only Schneider, Shohei Ohtani (180), Aaron Judge (174), Ronald Acuna Jr. (170), and Yordan Alvarez (170) were at 170 or higher. Now, do we think that is Schneider’s true company? No, that would be silly.

It’s extra silly when you consider all eight of his round-trippers came in his first 25 games via the 27.6% HR/FB rate, and he hit .370 to boot with a .500 BABIP. He went 2-for-35 (.057) and a 14:2 K:BB in his final 10 games. Did he learn a valuable lesson by getting counterpunched after a historically hot start? Will we see the fruits of that early in 2024? For now, he’s their starting 2B and has an everyday job.

Now, how many of you remember Ryan Schimpf? He was also drafted by the Jays (back in 2009) with a walk rate regularly above 10% and a fly-ball rate in the 50-60% range (per Fangraphs). He only lasted three years in the majors, 147 career games, with 35 HRs and a .195 AVG thanks to a 64.5% fly-ball rate. His Statcast fly-ball rate was 42%, with a poor 17% pop-up rate too. The 16.8% barrel rate was elite, but the strikeout rate sat above 30% and his xBA struggled to hit the Mendoza line.

Schneider’s barrel rate was 17.8%, his strikeout rate was 30.5%, and while he hit .276 with an obscene 1.008 OPS, his xBA was .214 in the small sample. Savant gave him a fly-ball rate of 38.4% with an 11% pop-up rate. He also pulled the ball half of the time, which had a slight edge to Schimpf. The idea here is early on I want to check if Schneider is paving his own path and becoming a more balanced hitter that can sustain success in the majors, or if he’s 2.0 Schimpf.

Third Base:

Jeimer Candelario (3B21, CIN) - ADP: 208
Brett Baty (3B34, NYM) - ADP: 407

Betting on Great American Ballpark has supplied ample profits over the years. Candelario had a brief pit stop in Wrigley last year but is largely going from pitcher-friendly Comerica in Detroit to hitter’s heaven in Cincy.

Candelario hit 22 HRs in ‘23 despite no real surge in barrel rate or exit velocity, but Statcast still gave him 20.9 xHR. Interestingly enough, they also said Candelario would’ve had 30 HRs if all games were played at GABP (the most out of any park for him). No other park had a mark higher than 25. I’m not going into 2024 expecting said surge to 30 HRs, especially since only half of his games are played at home, but GABP may simply help stave off expected regression.

David Bell, Cincy’s manager, said this of Candelario via MLB.com: "Between DH, first base, third base -- he’s going to be an everyday player. There’s plenty of playing time to go around there." Coachspeak must be taken with a grain of salt, especially in late January, but it’s nice to hear this amidst their incredible depth.

Shortstop:

Zach Neto (SS29, LAA) - ADP: 292
Masyn Winn (SS37, STL) - ADP: 442

Not only did Neto make his MLB debut at 22 with fewer than 50 professional games played in the minors, but he performed better than you likely remember. It took him a couple of weeks to swipe a base and about a month to pop his first HR, and then the second half of the season was marred by injuries.

His growth was lost in the shuffle of the midseason, but he hit a respectable .259 with a 112 wRC+ in his first 54 MLB games. Unfortunately, he then suffered an oblique injury and then a subsequent back injury almost immediately after his return from the IL. So let’s judge the healthy portion of his 2023 season, shall we?

Trim his ramp-up period off (remember he flew through the minors!) and his last 32 games before the injuries yielded a .273/.345/.535 slash line with eight doubles, six HRs, four swipes, and 33 R+RBI despite largely batting ninth. I won’t get carried away, but 32 games is roughly one-fifth of a season, which gives him a 30/20 pace when extrapolating that pace.

It’s never that simple and he’s still only 23 years old. Growing pains aren’t over and the adjustment game will continue between Neto and opposing pitchers. But the Halos saw him as MLB-ready very early and, when healthy, he sure looked the part. Don’t overlook him simply because the year-end line didn’t wow you.

Outfield: Giancarlo Stanton (OF74, NYY) - ADP: 299

I won’t spend a lot of time here but even with health problems and his consistency at the dish getting kicked off of a cliff…Stanton still has 55 HRs in the last two years. As recently as 2021 we had a guy hitting 35 HRs while batting .273 in a stout NYY order.

If his offseason focus on flexibility/durability over strength pays off then passing on him in the final round or leaving him on waivers is going to feel silly. This upside doesn’t grow on trees. If the opportunity cost is merely a roster spot then do it.

Outfield: Ceddanne Rafaela (OF93, BOS) – ADP: 450

Rafaela has the tools that light up our fantasy eyes. The 23-year-old has plenty of pop and plus speed that makes him a menace in the outfield. He won’t draw many walks, but he blasted 20 HRs alongside 36 SBs in 108 minor-league games last year.

Rafaela then got 89 PAs in the bigs and flashed the potential (6 2B, 2 HR, 3 SB) while striking out 31.5% of the time. The Tyler O’Neill trade fills the outfield but Rafaela and fellow youngster Wilyer Abreu are both full of upside should injury/trade/demotion open a consistent door.

 

Late-Round Draft Fliers - Pitchers

Pitcher: Nick Lodolo (P70, CIN) – ADP: 250

We’re aiming for upside and those in shallower leagues have a higher bar to meet. Lodolo battled injuries and poor luck in 2023, slogging through a .435 BABIP and comical 2.62 HR/9 in seven starts before a stress reaction in his left tibia derailed things. His 6.29 ERA/1.75 WHIP was brutal, but the 3.78 xFIP and 3.46 SIERA makes it easy to write the small sample off. Remember he dominated the defending NL Champs in his second outing of the season!

The young southpaw didn’t let the poor fortune hinder his approach, as he struck out 47 in 34 ⅓ IP. The 22.3% K-BB rate was right there with his rookie year’s 20.9% mark. He had 13 strikeouts in 7 ⅓ IP during his abbreviated rehab assignment, so the injury itself doesn’t concern me going into 2024. I wish GABP wasn’t his home venue, but we can’t have it all. (Five of his seven starts in '23 were at home.)

But this means he only pitched ~40 innings in ‘23, about 55 if you count spring training. How far over 100 will they push him in ‘24, assuming no setbacks (which is a sizeable assumption!)? If they space out his starts then my fantasy teams will be sad. If he pitches up to his whifftastic potential and then gets shut down then I’m happy, because his roster space becomes “Lodolo + Late Waiver Pickup” instead of only his 100-120 IP.

Pitcher: Sawyer Gipson-Long (P103, DET) - ADP: 415

Okay, so maybe you play in leagues where “late” is much further than picks 250-300. Gipson-Long calls pitcher-friendly Comerica home and flashed plus Ks in 2023, leaning on a solid slider and changeup to help mask an average fastball. He posted a 2.70 ERA (3.16 FIP) with a 26:8 K:BB in 20 innings of MLB work, but his friendly schedule surely helped (CHW, LAA, OAK, KC).

The competition level may not have been pristine, but a 15.8% swinging-strike rate in the bigs remains intriguing. Of 245 SPs with at least 20 IP, that mark ranked fifth and his first-strike rate of 69.5% was tied for eighth.

Now, SGL rarely posted minor-league stats that popped and suddenly he was a 25-year-old pitching at Double-A, but we’ve seen crazier things click late. I’m not confident in DET’s rotation staying healthy, so give me some late shares of Gipson-Long and Ty Madden in 2024!

Pitcher: Erick Fedde (P115, CHW) - ADP: 469

Fedde’s roller-coaster career started with his being a first-round pick by Washington back in 2014. As you likely know, his MLB career never got going and he left for the KBO after 2022 with a career 5.41 ERA and a lousy 17.5% strikeout rate. At 30 years old, this is where the MLB storyline ends for most with those stats.

But not Fedde! No, he went to the NC Dinos and won the KBO’s pitching Triple Crown with 20 wins, 209 strikeouts, and a 2.00 ERA to claim their version of a Cy Young Award as well as their MVP. He’s listed with a 2.38 FIP, 2.29 xFIP, and an extreme 70% ground-ball rate. I’m not sure I’ve seen that mark even in video games.

We all know that this won’t be the KBO, but Fedde didn’t chance into a strong year. Brian Bannister, Senior Pitching Advisor for the White Sox, gave us insight on how Fedde grew with an encouraging MLB comp:

Relief Pitchers:

James McArthur (P 135, KC) – ADP 380
Chris Martin (P 216, BOS) - ADP 600
Brock Stewart (P 269, MIN) - ADP 700
Kody Funderburk (P 451, MIN) - ADP: 750)

McArthur’s seasonal 4.63 ERA is a sham, so let’s pull the layers back on that. The six-foot-seven reliever had an MLB debut to forget, surrendering seven runs to the Guardians in one inning. He had a month in the minors to stew on that before another poor five-game stint in August arose (6 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 4 K). Great, why are we talking about him then?

Well, McArthur rose from the ashes like a phoenix in September, logging 16 ⅓ scoreless frames with just five hits allowed alongside 19 strikeouts and zero walks. Zero! His hot streak was rewarded with four saves, two holds, and a win. We know the Royals signed vet closer William Smith but McArthur was their best reliever to end ‘23. He’ll at least get a chance to enter the closing conversation by carrying that success into spring.

Martin was Boston’s most consistent reliever, posting a 1.05 ERA over 51 ⅓ IP with a lowly 4% walk rate and solid 51% ground-ball rate. He keeps the ball low but doesn’t issue free passes. The Red Sox are reportedly floating Kenley Jansen in trades as they seemingly embrace their lot as a semi-competitive-at-best team. Regardless, Martin helps you with ratios and would be a favorite for saves if Jansen, 36, gets dealt or has more back troubles in ‘24.

And then there’s the Twins with their surprisingly deep ‘pen. We all know about Jhoan Duran. Some of you might’ve rostered Griffin Jax at times in ‘23 as he kept most of the gains shown in 2022. But Stewart and Funderburk showed exceptional form as well, both ranking in the top-15 for K-BB% out of 458 RPs (min. 10 IP).

Louie Varland actually topped the chart, posting a 17:1 K:BB over 12 relief innings in September. His role is unclear, as he was allegedly promised a path back to starting, but Rocco Baldelli says his incredible success in the ‘pen will force them to revisit that. Don’t forget these guys on draft day, especially if you’re down with JB’s FrankenAce approach.



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The 2024 NFL Combine has come to a close, as many draft-hopeful prospects cemented their draft stock over the weekend headlined by a record-breaking 40-yard dash from Xavier Worthy. Heading into the event, the running back position had very little separation between top prospects. In a year where there is no “transcendent talent” or projected... Read More


Biggest Winners Of The 2024 NFL Combine: NFL Draft Prospect Analysis

As the 2024 NFL Draft edges closer, talents are stepping into the limelight at the Scouting Combine and attempting to seize their moment in front of the draft's key decision-makers. This annual event isn't just a showcase; it's a golden ticket for hopefuls to climb the draft order, provided they excel in their specific skill... Read More


DeVon Achane - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL DFS Picks, Injury News

Next Gen Stats Review: 2023 Running Backs

Many know Next Gen Stats for the fastest ball carriers in the NFL, which tracks a player's top speed in miles per hour (mph) on a given play. DK Metcalf had a 73-yard touchdown score that registered 22.23 mph, with Chase Brown (22.05) and Tyreek Hill (22.01) making a reception as the only three players... Read More


Breakdown Of Dynasty Fantasy Football Leagues

Dynasty fantasy football leagues have been around for years, but with each new NFL season comes more people joining these types of leagues. If you are a redraft fan who doesn’t want the fantasy season to end, dynasty might be right up your alley.  The Senior Bowl has happened, NFL Draft excitement is ramping up,... Read More


Ja'Marr Chase - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS and Betting Picks

Top Fantasy Football Rebound Candidates For 2024 Including Patrick Mahomes, Josh Jacobs, and Drake London

We may be in the heat of basketball season, but we're discussing a different kind of rebound today. Some of the most talented athletes in the world have suboptimal seasons but there's often a bounceback year in the near future. The talent isn't waning, the circumstances surrounding them have been altered. Below we dive into... Read More


Jayden Reed - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Wide Receiver Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

There should be a lot of changes atop the wide receiver group in fantasy football next year. Players like Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and Cooper Kupp will all fall in drafts, while Puka Nacua will fly up drafts boards in 2024. Nacua will go from undrafted in 2023 to a likely top-20 pick this upcoming... Read More