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Preseason Sleepers Yet to Awaken - Hitters

If you are going to win a championship in your fantasy baseball league, you typically need to hit on at least a couple of sleeper selections during your draft. Anyone who took a shot on Ozzie Albies, Gerrit Cole, or Patrick Corbin have an enormous advantage on the rest of their league due to the value they were able to get later in the draft.

The thing with sleepers is that they all don't blossom at the same time and cutting a potential star loose too early could result in losing your league as much as hitting on one can.

Today, the focus is going to be on some preseason favorites to be 2018 sleepers on the offensive side of the diamond (pitchers will be highlighted next). These players generated a lot of interest this year either due to an amazing second half last season or an amazing showing in spring training. It is possible that some of these players still have it in them to bust out and be a difference-maker this season. Here are some preseason sleepers who have yet to awaken in 2018.

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Wake Up Already!

Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

Orlando Arcia quietly had a solid 2017 season for the Brewers, collecting 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases while batting a respectable .277 over 548 at-bats. This led fantasy owners to get excited about the prospect of Arcia improving to a 20/20 threat they could pick up towards the end of drafts this spring. The .309 wOBA and 85 wRC+ should have been a red flag to slow enthusiasm for the young shortstop coming into this year, but Arcia still seemed like a reasonable late-round gamble for the price you had to pay. There was a perceived lack of depth at the shortstop position coming into 2018 and if Arcia could improve slightly, he would make for a fine sleeper candidate.

Instead, Arcia is off to an extremely slow start this season, slashing .190/.227/.286 over 84 at-bats. This should not come a surprise if you look at the drop in his walk rate (4.5%) and increase in his strikeout rate (21.6%), both of which were already poor last season. He is chasing more pitches out of the strike zone, as shown by his 43.2% O-swing rate, which explains the increase in his swinging strike rate as well. Pitchers are likely prepared with a solid game plan on how to get the Milwaukee shortstop out and he has yet to adjust accordingly.

Arcia's contact rate is close enough to his career marks, but he is making the wrong kind of contact his season. His line drive rate has torpedoed to a mere 7.7%, while his ground ball rate has climbed to a career high 61.5%. That is not going to get the job done. The bottom line here is that all signs pointed to last year being somewhat of a mirage and the tag of "sleeper" was likely not warranted. Arcia has shown no signs on improvement and adjustment and it could be a long year for the kid if does not learn to be more patient at the plate and start making quality contact.

Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres

Manuel Margot's 2017 was almost a mirror image of the aforementioned Orlando Arcia's. The San Diego outfielder slashed .263/.313/.409 with 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases over 487 at-bats last season. His .309 wOBA and 92 wRC+ indicate a league average performance but at jut 23-years-old, it was exciting to see the flashes of potential. Everyone knew that Margot could swipe some bags, but the uptick in power would do wonders for this fantasy value.

This season Margot has gotten off to a .192/.241/.315 start with a home run and three stolen bases through 73 at-bats. He did miss time with bruised ribs that sent him to the DL to begin the year, which likely slowed down his momentum and contributed to his slow start. Margot is currently hitting too many ground balls and has been a bit pull-happy in the early going. Ground balls equal easy outs and easy outs equal poor statistics.

However, there are plenty of reasons to expect a turn around from the young outfielder. Margot has held a 30.5% hard contact rate this year and has started to hit the ball to the opposite field, which will be critical for him develop as a hitter and increase his batting average. He is hitting .333 over the last seven days and if he can turn some of those ground balls into a few more line drives, the turnaround could come swiftly for Margot. Consider him a buy-low candidate for now.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

Lewis Brinson came over to the Marlins in the deal that sent all-star Christian Yelich to Milwaukee. The stud prospect had struggled in his previous stints in the major leagues, but after a strong spring fantasy owners had high hopes for a breakout season with Brinson playing everyday in the young Miami outfield. He hit .328/.365/.586 with two home runs, seven doubles and a triple in 58 at-bats in March. That was spring training though, and those statistics do not mean a great deal.

Brinson has struggled mightily this year batting just .167/.231/.281 with three home runs and a stolen base. All three of those home runs came against his former team in the span of three days. Credit to Brinson for sticking it to the team that traded him, but if you take that series away, you are left with a severely deficient outfielder that needs to be sent back to the minors. He has a 35.3% strikeout rate compared to just a 5.7% walk rate this season.

He is simply a different player in the major leagues than he showed in the minors. He is pounding 58.6% of batted balls into the ground and has lost the ability to hit to the opposite field (15.3% compared to an average of 30% in Triple-A). Brinson would hardly be the first player to stumble in the majors after dominating Triple-A, and he certainly won't be the last. The bottom line here is that there is nothing to indicate the young outfielder is prepared to turn this around and he should be nowhere near your fantasy roster while he is attempting to figure it out.

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians

Jason Kipnis decided to sell out for power in 2017, belting 12 home runs in just 336 at-bats. He did so at the expense of batting average, as the Indians' second baseman hit just .232 during that stretch, but still manged to swipe six bases. Kipnis made this change back in 2016 when he collected 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases over a full season. Injuries cost him a large chunk of playing time last season, but a strong spring combined with talk of Kipnis trying to increase his launch angle (buzz word) had fantasy players excited for a cheap power source sleeper at second base. The veteran slashed .346/.424/.769 with six home runs in March, which fed into those already believed in the power surge Kipnis had displayed over the last two seasons.

2018 has not gone the way the Indians or fantasy owners were expecting for Kipnis. The former all-star has yet to hit a home run in 107 at-bats and is hitting just .178. It would be easy to point to his .247 BABIP as a way to explain his low batting average but he held a .256 BABIP through 336 at-bats in 2017 so it can't necessarily be counted on to increase dramatically. However, Kipnis has held a strong 38.5% hard contact rate and his other metrics have held steady aside from his comical zero percent HR/GB rate, which is guaranteed to increase his power output as the season goes on. The bottom line is that Kipnis has been unlucky so far this season and you would think his season will begin to turn around sooner rather than later. Although with Kipnis hitting just .160 over the last month you can afford to wait this out with him on the waiver wire.

Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Josh Bell is coming off an impressive first full season in the major leagues, hitting 26 home runs and 90 RBI. His .338 wOBA and 32.6% hard contact rate go a long way to confirm that it was not a fluke either. His 19.1% HR/FB was likely not sustainable, but hardly a enough of a red flag to discount Bell's performance. Take that information and bake in some natural growth and experience and fantasy owners had a nice sleeper option at first base. If Bell continued to develop as a hitter and learn the league he could have the potential to hit .300 with close to 30 home runs in the majors. That is the thing with rookies though, they can go either way. Some develop quickly and some need time to adjust over time. This is popularly known as a sophomore slump.

Bell's 2018 season has not gone according to expectations. The young first baseman is slashing .232/.293/.321 wit just one home run so far this year. His walk rate has fallen from 10.6% to 8.1% while his strikeout rate has risen to 20.#% from 18.9%. That is not the direction fantasy owners waned to see those numbers go. Predictably Bell's HR/FB ratio has dropped to 3.7%, which is actually a bit low, but his contact rate and chase rates have remained rather consistent from last season. In fact, most advanced metrics suggest Bell is a similar player to last season as far as contact is concerned. According to Fangraphs, pitchers have started to throw Bell a steadier diet of breaking pitches this season. It is still too early to tell if this is an adjustment in scouting or just the brand of pitchers Bell has encountered so far in the season.

Overall, the young first baseman seems to be suffering from a bit of bad luck, scouting adjustments, and possibly some tough umpires. Bell has the tools and the talent to turn this season around into the campaign many were expecting, but you may want to let those growing pains happen on your waiver wire in standard mixed leagues. Just be prepared to grab Josh Bell if he starts to show improvement because a hot streak is inside of him, waiting to break out.


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