Fantasy Baseball: Jeffrey Springs, Ricky Tiedemann looking to make an impact on second-half sleepers list

Sleepers are, by definition, supposed to be relatively low-probability picks for Fantasy Baseball. So, when I look back at my preseason sleepers list, I’m not necessarily surprised to see misses like Ty France or Alejandro Kirk as bounceback candidates who never bounced, nor am I surprised to see young guys like Edward Cabrera or Sal Frelick who just haven’t quite figured it out. 

In the preseason, I was targeting players with an ADP outside of the top 250 for my sleeper picks, and the thing about that range of the draft is, if you hit on just a couple of names – like, say, Jackson Merrill – it could have an outside impact on how your season goes. Obviously, doing any kind of mid-season update doesn’t give us quite as easy a way to figure out who counts as a sleeper, but I think it’s still a worthwhile exercise to try out.

So, let’s do it again. Mid-season sleepers, focused on players with a roster rate below 50%. In some cases, just below – Colt Keith (a repeat from the preseason) is 49% rostered as of his writing – and in some cases, well below 50%. But the point is, if you’re looking for some players to stash on your bench with some difference-making upside, I think these 10, one at least from each position in Fantasy, fit the bill. 

Second-half Sleepers

Bo Naylor, C, Guardians 

The bust rate for top prospect catchers is astronomically high, so the fact that Naylor is a recent top prospect rightly doesn’t shield him from criticism in Fantasy circles. And he’s been pretty awful this season, sporting a .267 wOBA that the underlying data actually suggests he has been lucky to have so far. 

But I’ll admit, this is a player whose talent I still want to bet on. This is a 24-year-old catcher who hit .255/.379/.507 with rare power and speed at Triple-A, and then hit .237/.339/.470 as a rookie in the majors despite getting off to a dreadful start last year. These slow starts are becoming a concern – and with nearly as many PA as his entire rookie season, it’s fair to say this season is more than just a “slow start.” But Naylor is showing signs of life lately, hitting .262/.300/.477 since the start of June, and while I think he’s probably better suited as a No. 2 catcher in a categories league, there’s definitely still top-12 upside if he gets hot. 

Brandon Drury, 1B, Angels 

Most of the players I’m going to write about here are younger guys, for a simple reason: It’s a lot easier to project upside on a younger, unproven player than someone who’s been around for a while. But the thing about Drury is, he’s already had the breakout we’re hoping to see from most of the other names here – remember, this is a guy who hit .262/.314/.495 between 2022 and 2023, with 25-plus homers in each season. He hasn’t been nearly that good this season, and at 31, it’s certainly possible the underlying skill set has just collapsed. 

But his max exit velocity is actually the highest it’s ever been despite his overall quality of contact regressing, so I’m willing to mostly write it off as a product of a slow start and then a hamstring injury that cost him more than a month of action. He’s only played eight games since coming back, so he’s still clearly getting his legs back under him, but I’m willing to bet on Drury being that low-.800s OPS bat he’s been the past couple seasons moving forward, and a solid starter in all Fantasy formats. 

Colt Keith, 2B, Tigers 

Drury is a good example of what we’re hoping Keith can turn into, actually. Maybe with a bit more athleticism and a bit less swing-and-miss, but the profile should be similar in the long run if it all works out. And we’re starting to see a bit more of it lately, as Keith enters play Monday with four homers, nine RBI, and a .946 OPS over his past 12 games. 

Keith doesn’t have huge raw power, and his home park is going to make it tough to maximize what he does have if he doesn’t focus on pulling the ball, but he’s done a pretty good job of that overall outside of a June slump – his pull rate has been over 40% every month outside June. There’s 20-plus homer, and 10-plus steal potential with a good batting average here, and the best days of Keith’s season are definitely ahead. 

Jake Burger, 3B, Marlins

Burger hasn’t sustained all of the contact gains he made upon getting traded to the Marlins last season, but there are still reasons to be optimistic about him reemerging as a must-start Fantasy option. Because, while his 26% strikeout rate isn’t much better than last year’s mark, his whiff rate has gone way down, from 34.1% to 28.5%. He’s making more contact when he swings, but his swing decisions haven’t been quite as good – he’s swinging at pitches in the strike zone 68.2% of the time, down from 70.8% a year ago, while his chase rate has climbed about the same amount.

I think that probably explains a lot of Burger’s regression – his quality of contact is down, but I think that’s probably mostly explained by swinging at the wrong pitches. He’s starting to heat up in the early going in July and still has really strong quality of contact metrics, so maybe the turnaround is already happening. At his best, Burger has been a rare source of cheap power who doesn’t tank your batting average, and I could see him going on a run like that here in the second half. 

Jacob Wilson, SS, Athletics 

Wilson is having an absolutely bonkers season down in the minors. It’s only been 37 games between Double-A and Triple-A, but the 22-year-old has hit better than .400 at both levels, while striking out just three times in his first 15 games at Triple-A. He’s tapping into some power lately, with his average exit velocity at Triple-A nearing 87 mph – a low number, to be sure, but close enough to average that he might not be a total zero in the power department.

The problem here is that this just isn’t a profile with a lot of success stories at the major-league level. We’ll occasionally see guys run strikeout rates south of 10% in the minors, but they rarely make an impact in the majors, and the ones who do were able to hit for power in the minors. The key here will be whether Wilson’s seven homers and .250-plus ISO so far this season is just a hot streak or if it might represent something close to average raw power. If it’s the latter, there could be a Steven Kwan outcome here, albeit with significantly less speed – Wilson has just six steals in 68 career games as a pro. 

It’s an outlier skill set, but Wilson is showing signs that he might be able to make it work at the MLB level. Now, it’s just a question of when the A’s will give him an opportunity in the majors. He can only hit .450 for so long before it becomes pointless to keep him in the minors. I’d bet we see him soon, especially with the A’s getting a .549 OPS from the shortstop position this season. 

Jhonkensy Noel, OF, Guardians 

Noel represents the exact opposite of Wilson, as the prototypical hulking slugger. But the thing about him is, while strikeouts will likely always be a problem, he’s actually been quite young for his time in the minors, with 207 career games at Triple-A before his 23rd birthday. In those 207 games, he has, of course, struck out 212 times (a manageable but not ideal 24% of the time), but he has also crushed 45 homers, including 18 in just 65 games in 2024. 

He’s shown the power and contact issues so far in his brief time in the majors, and there’s definitely some risk here that he just doesn’t hit enough to matter for Fantasy. But there’s also significant upside here, where Noel manages an acceptable enough .250 average and emerges as a legitimate 30-homer bopper, ala Franmil Reyes during his time with the Guardians. In that lineup, that would make him a must-start Fantasy option. 

James Outman, OF, Dodgers

As a note: I wanted to put Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker here, but he’s struggled enough in his time at Triple-A that I’m not sure he’d be likely to get recalled anytime soon even if the Cardinals didn’t already have a logjam in the outfield – one that is only going to get worse when Lars Nootbarr and then Tommy Edman return in July. 

So we’ll go with another hyped outfielder who flamed out earlier this season. Outman made it to mid-May before being sent down, after posting an OPS below .550 for the first month and a half of the season. However, he remains a high-end athlete (87th percentile sprint speed) and plus defender in the outfield, and he went down to Triple-A and did exactly what he needed to, hitting .279/.393/.531 at Oklahoma City. There were still too many strikeouts (26%), but it was a manageable number, especially with how much Outman walked. Now he’s gotta do it in the majors, but the thing is, we’ve seen that before – Outman hit .248 with 23 homers and 16 steals last season, emerging unexpectedly as a must-start Fantasy option. The talent is still there for him to surprise us again. 

Ricky Tiedemann, P, Blue Jays

Tiedemann is working his way back from ulnar nerve inflammation in his left elbow, another in a long line of injuries that have tripped the top prospect up on his way to the majors. But he’s making real progress lately, moving his rehab to Triple-A Buffalo, with a plan to throw around 80 pitches, which means he’s working back up to a real starter’s workload. Tiedemann was a consensus top-30 prospect entering the season, and he’s looked like that guy since moving his rehab to Class A Dunedin, striking out 15 batters and walking just two over eight innings of work. 

Tiedemann still has a lot to prove, and it’s possible his body just won’t be able to hold up to a full-time starter’s role. But the stuff looks every bit the part, and if he can stay on the mound and continue his success at Triple-A, we very well may see him in the majors at some point this summer, and he very well may be a difference maker when he does get the call. 

Jeffrey Springs, P, Rays

We had an FBT listener email the show this week asking whether there would be room for Springs in the Rays rotation when he is ready after Shane Baz’s promotion this week. And all I’ll say to that is what I always say when such questions come up: Life, uh, finds a way. The Rays didn’t have a spot for Baz in the rotation until they made one last week, jettisoning Aaron Civale after a failed experiment that lasted less than a year. This is a team with Zack Littell and Ryan Pepiot both sporting ERAs north of 4.40 right now, so it probably wouldn’t be too tough to make room for Springs.

So, now it’s up to Springs to force the issue. Springs had Tommy John surgery last April after it looked like he might be making the leap to ace-dom with 24 strikeouts, four walks, and only one run allowed in his first three starts of the season. We have a limited track record of him pitching at that level, of course, which is why Springs is far from a must-stash pitcher even as he has begun his rehab assignment. But that rehab assignment has progressed to Triple-A already, where he has 19 strikeouts and one walk with a 2.70 ERA in 13.1 innings of work. He has yet to throw 50 pitches in an outing, so he’s probably at least a few more starts away from making his return to the majors, but that still might happen within the next couple of weeks. Springs isn’t necessarily a safe bet, but he’s a high-upside one who could give us high-end production over the final few months if he can stay healthy. 

DL Hall, P, Brewers

Given how Hall has pitched on his rehab assignment, I’m beginning to wonder if he was just never healthy even before he went on the IL with a sprained left knee back in April. In every start he has made at Triple-A, his velocity has been higher than any of his MLB starts, and it was up to 94.3 over his past four starts – two mph up from where he was back in April.

Hall’s four-seamer was a real weapon as a reliever last season, but he had just a 10.5% whiff rate with the pitch in April, barely one-third what it was last season. Some regression in the move from the bullpen to the rotation is to be expected, but Hall just didn’t look like he could be effective in the low-90s; the hope is he can be a bit better in the mid-90s. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag in the minors overall – 1.98 ERA, but 10 walks in 13.2 innings of work – but I’m excited to see what he might be able to do with a bit more velocity whenever he gets the chance again. That could come soon, as the Brewers have only confirmed he’ll make one more rehab start. 

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