You know those prospects who you hear about years in advance, the hype building and building until they finally reach majors ... only to fall flat on their faces? Well, what happens after the air is let out of the balloon? They're tossed aside, never to get a second look until they actually do something.
That's what this list is for, to remind you of what could have been and what still could be. I wouldn't say any of these players are high-priority sleepers for me. If they were, they'd have appeared in my Sleepers 1.0. But in a way, they're truer sleepers because they're no longer being elevated by hype.
You still have to account for that what-if scenario, that chance for a delayed payoff that indeed comes through on occasion. Just look at last year's list, which included Tony Gonsolin, Jesus Luzardo, Alejandro Kirk, Triston McKenzie and Nate Lowe.
It's possible your draft will end before you have a chance to consider any of these players (well, all but the first, who's kind of a special case), but they make for fine bench options in deeper leagues. And don't be surprised if any of them recaptures buzz with a big spring.
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He's the most high-profile of these players and a surefire pick in every league still, but the two-time consensus top prospect in baseball went from being a Round 3-4 pick last year to a Round 7-8 pick this year. Normally, it goes the other way. The concern is this: does Wander Franco impact the ball hard enough, with an 18th percentile average exit velocity, to generate power in a post-juiced ball league? For as impressive as his contact skills are, he slugged only .417, and his xSLG was even lower. The ADP is reasonable if that's what he continues to do, but he'll only be 22 this year. And his max exit velocity, which is often a better reflection of a player's power, was 85th percentile. A big step forward remains on the table for a player whose pedigree is second to none.
Riley Greene's disappointing rookie season might have been the single biggest inspiration for the new dimensions at Comerica Park. In case you missed it, the Tigers are moving in and lowering the fences for what was the deepest center field in baseball, and while the change isn't dramatic, it could be meaningful for Greene in particular. His expected home runs by venue last year showed Comerica Park in dead last, and most venues would have yielded twice as many as the five he actually hit, according to Statcast. These new dimensions would have given him another three, which is significant considering the 93-game sample. He still needs to elevate better, but growth is normally the expectation for a former top-five prospect entering his second major-league season. So many seem eager to cast him aside already.
Josh Jung was supposed to be the great hope at an increasingly thin third base position last year, but then he tore the labrum in his shoulder before the lockout even ended, and when he returned, he got only 31 games to prepare for his big-league debut. Big-league mistake, it turns out, because the 25-year-old got eaten alive, by sliders especially, striking out at an embarrassing 38.2 percent clip. Guess what? He's still the great hope at third base, which, as "increasingly thin" would imply, has gotten even thinner. The Rangers have already penciled him in for the job, and the hope is that rust contributed to his struggles last year. After all, strikeouts were never his issue in the minors, where Jung was a .322 hitter prior to last year.
Aaron Ashby was every analyst's darling pick last year, lauded for his superlative ground-ball and swinging-strike rates. Well, both diminished last year, as did his reliance on his best pitch, the slider. It doesn't help that his long-awaited move to the rotation was interrupted twice by shoulder issues, and he's already behind schedule this spring with shoulder fatigue. Between that and the Brewers bringing in Wade Miley to round out their rotation, Ashby is quickly becoming an afterthought in Fantasy Baseball drafts ... which might make now the perfect time to invest if you're the patient sort who knows your way around an IL spot. Attrition is a guarantee, and by the time Ashby is ready to go, the Brewers may well roll out the red carpet for him. Let's see more of that slider, jack.
So many of the players featured here were top prospects who disappointed as rookies. Jarred Kelenic is that twice over. His second year was even worse, giving him a career slash line of .141/.221/.313 in exactly 500 at-bats. E to the gad. My presumption is that scouts simply missed on him, that they didn't see him face enough breaking balls in the minors to know how helpless he was against them. But by now, that's everyone else's presumption as well. He's still only 23, so it's possible the Mariners brought him up before he was truly ready, particularly given the development he lost in 2020. Growth remains possible, and in between his big-league struggles, he still hit .296 with a .922 OPS at Triple-A Tacoma. Given the cost, there's no harm in taking one last swing at Kelenic, particularly since that's also what the Mariners are doing.
I've pointed out how Comerica Park's new dimensions should benefit Riley Greene. Well, Spencer Torkelson was another consensus top-five prospect who fizzled in his first action for the Tigers last year, and those changes could only help him, too. But frankly, the case for him is even simpler than that. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft and breezed through the minor-league system. With that sort of pedigree, the what-if scenario doesn't require much imagination. His exit velocity readings were acceptable. His strikeout rate was manageable. At a deep position like first base, it's easy to ditch him for newcomers like Miguel Vargas and Triston Casas -- and I'm excited about them, too. But once they're gone, particularly if it's just for a bench spot, Torkelson makes for a fine just-in-case pick.
If C.J. Abrams is going to live up to his potential as a top-10 prospect, which is what he was almost from the time the Padres drafted him sixth overall in 2019, he has to run. It's as simple as that. It's not his only tool, but it's his loudest one -- and the one that sold Fantasy Baseballers on him. The 22-year-old played 90 games in the majors last year and swiped ... seven bases. Yikes. So now we're all in seeing-is-believing mode, which is fair. But between his 91st percentile sprint speed and the new rule changes designed to promote more base-stealing, well, it wouldn't be surprising to see Abrams' stolen base total blow up this year. He began running more after coming over to the Nationals, if nothing else.
I've been banging the drum for Alex Kirilloff since the spring of 2021, but even I have to admit my resolve has waned a bit. But with his cost this low, now isn't the time to back down, especially since, as I've always maintained, his success is contingent on the health of his wrist. He took his most drastic steps toward addressing the issue last August, having surgery to shorten the bone, and he's reported to camp with the wrist in "as good of a spot as [we've] seen," according to GM Derek Falvey. For those short spurts when the wrist has been right, Kirilloff's quality of contact has been off the charts, and in between IL stints last year, the career .323 minor-league hitter batted .359 with 10 homers and a 1.106 OPS in 35 games at Triple-A St. Paul.
What's especially curious in Nolan Gorman's case is that the hype hasn't just died down for Fantasy Baseball. The Cardinals basically stopped playing him down the stretch last season, and he seems like an afterthought heading into spring training. There's no place to play him, and there's no urgency to find a place. I can't recall a time when the bloom came off the rose so quickly for a prospect as highly touted as him -- one who was hyped as a premier power bat from the time he was 19 and whose promotion last May came after weeks of wishing and hoping. Still, you could count on one hand the number of second basemen with as much power potential as Gorman, which makes the 22-year-old a worthy what-if case.
Simply using up prospect eligibility is enough to take the shine off some players, and Roansy Contreras crossed that magical innings threshold while delivering some ho-hum numbers last year. But there's still a lot to like in the underlying data, like the impressive spin rate on all three of his pitches (fastball, slider and curveball), which helped account for his 12.5 K/9 in the minors the past two years. It hasn't quite translated to the majors yet, but his 12.6 percent swinging-strike rate was identical to Aaron Nola's and puts him just a sneeze away from some of the absolute best bat-missers. Contreras is sort of where Triston McKenzie was a year ago. He has the arsenal. He has the fly-ball tendencies well suited for today's hitting environment. His success mostly relies on him staying healthy and cutting down on the walks.
If you tuned out after two months last year, you may be under the impression MacKenzie Gore lived up to the hype and is no longer a sleeper of any kind. At that point, he had a 1.71 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.1 K/9, and his past misfires were quickly becoming a distant memory. But alas, the roller coaster ride continued. His velocity slipped, and he struggled to locate his fastball, which were the same symptoms that reduced him from the top pitching prospect in baseball to a borderline top-100 guy in 2021. It all culminated in an IL stint for elbow inflammation, and he never got a chance to pitch for the Nationals after coming over in the Juan Soto deal. It's possible the April and May version shows up again, but it's clear most people are over it.
Though he was once a rising star and Rookie of the Year runner-up, it's fair to say expectations are virtually nonexistent for Mike Soroka after 2 1/2 years spent recovering from two separate ruptures of his Achilles tendon. The procedure doesn't have the greatest track record in other sports but hasn't been explored as much in baseball. Plus, Soroka is (somehow) still only 25, which should help his body to bounce back (re-tear aside). In his only full season in the majors (the ridiculously hitter-friendly 2019), he had a 13-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, thriving more on ground balls than whiffs, and his minor-league track record is stellar. He'd fit nicely at the back of the Braves rotation and appears to have the inside track on the job.