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Adbert Alzolay: 2022 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

adbert alzolay fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers

When looking for sleepers in fantasy baseball, there is a certain type of player I usually search for. I have found that some of the best successful sleeper picks turn out to be either established players coming off of down years (think Marcus Semien) or young, under-the-radar guys who have shown improvement and have the opportunity to play and keep improving.

This is where Adbert Alzolay fits in. The Cubs' #1 prospect in 2018 has had his ups and downs since his debut in 2019, but he has the makings of being a difference-maker for the Cubs and for fantasy owners late in drafts.

Let's look at what makes Alzolay an intriguing draft sleeper heading into the 2022 season.

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Pitch Mix

The most glaring improvement Alzolay made last year was in his slider usage.

Going from a 6.7% usage rate in 2020 to 39.8% in 2021, the slider became Alzolay’s primary pitch, and perhaps his most dominant. Hitters only managed to have a .181 BA, .317 SLG, and a .242 WOBA against the slider, and I expect those numbers to continue to improve now that it is cemented as Alzolay’s go-to pitch. The ability to strike guys out is also a skill that needs to be there for a successful fantasy pitcher, and Alzolay has shown that his ability stacks up with some of the best in the game.

While he didn’t throw enough innings to qualify last year, his 9.17 K/9 in 125 innings in 2021 is right there with the likes of Walker Buehler (9.19 K/9) and Luis Castillo (9.21 K/9). He really has shown flashes of pure excellence, including a seven-inning, five-hit, two-run game against St. Louis where he struck out six and walked none.

That’s not to say he hasn’t had his troubles either. He's had trouble limiting hard contact, ranking in the 36th percentile in average exit velocity and lefties specifically had over .700 expected slugging against his fastball. His sinker wasn't lights out either, with a .542 xSLG against in 2021. The sinker was Alzolay's second most utilized pitch, using it 27% of the time after not even having a sinker in 2019. He began to phase the sinker out as the 2021 season went on, as he threw it just 14.3% (9.2% against lefties) of the time in September after throwing it 29.9% (24.6%) in August.

Whether the answer is to just eliminate the sinker or to try to improve on it, this will undoubtedly be a big factor in his success in 2022 and beyond. He's still only 26, so it's not unreasonable to think that he can still add a few more MPH on his fastball, refine the sinker, and settle into a good pitch mix led by that dominant slider. Making these improvements may just be enough to keep hitters off-balance enough to make Alzolay a reliable fantasy pitcher, whether that be as a starter or reliever.


Rotation or Bullpen?

One of the other questions with Alzolay is in regard to his role in the Cubs' pitching staff. After getting injured in mid-August, the Cubs moved him to the bullpen when he returned in September, and frankly, he was fantastic in that role. In seven games coming out of the bullpen, he had a 1.76 ERA in 15 innings, with 16 strikeouts and two walks. While obviously a small sample size, it wouldn't be smart to ignore what the Cubs did with him and how Alzolay responded to it.

There have been some durability questions so far in his career and it may make more sense to not expect six to seven innings from him every time out there as a starter. Ending up as the closer isn't out of the realm of possibility either. While the Cubs have some other options including Manuel Rodriguez, Rowan Wick, and Codi Heuer, there are no clear-cut answers in the Cubs bullpen. If Alzolay finds himself in the bullpen again and continues to dominate, he will absolutely be given save opportunities. That being said, given the Cubs' current rotation and overall situation, there is no doubt that Alzolay will start the season in the starting rotation and be given every opportunity to improve and sustain success as a starter.


When to Draft

As a late-round pick this year (going around pick 260 in drafts as of now), the best-case scenario here is Alzolay taking another step in the right direction and giving you a really exciting starter with a lot of Ks at the end of your rotation. The worst-case here is probably that he gets moved to the bullpen, and still acts as a pretty solid source of Ks and a win here and there if he throws multiple innings in relief. All in all, a very worthy gamble.

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