The following is Week 10 of the 10-part series of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). For the eighth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories.
We’ve already covered WHIP, home runs , strikeouts, batting average, ERA, stolen bases, saves, RBI, and wins. This week we’ll review runs sleepers. Now that we are onto the categories that are more playing time and opportunity based, I’ll mention more names for you to stow away as you prepare for your drafts. With offseason movement still rampant, the opportunity for many of these players is still very much to be determined.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category.
The generally accepted idea for runs scored is that the higher in the batting order, the more runs a hitter will score. Like RBI, looking at a team’s batting order and predicting changes can create an advantage for fantasy owners looking to beef up the runs scored category. Just how much? Look at the table below with results from the last three full seasons:
Runs per Game
As expected, hitting leadoff leads to the most runs scored. The decline of runs scored in the fifth spot on down the order seems staggering. Keeping the advantages of batting order opportunity in mind, the following are some possible sleepers for runs in 2022.
Luis Arraez, 2B/3B/OF, Twins
Arraez has been a valuable utilityman for the Twins since his promotion in 2019, cumulatively hitting .313/.374/.403 as a line drive machine with great contact ability. Among hitters with at least 500 plate appearances over that time, Arraez ranks second in strikeout percentage (9.1%) and fourth in batting average. The problem for fantasy managers is that those two skills are his only real asset, as Arraez has limited speed and has yet to develop power through his age 24 season.
There remains some hope Arraez will develop power down the line, but in the meantime, he has a chance to help in the runs category. He made 70 of his 108 starts in the leadoff spot last season, and was the team’s regular leadoff man down the stretch in September. Arraez scored 46 runs in his time as a leadoff man, which is terrific production prorated over a full season. There remain some threats for the lineup spot, specifically Max Kepler and Byron Buxton, but the fit is a good one that makes Arraez a solid two-category contributor with an ADP around 300 in NFBC leagues.
Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers
A former top prospect, it’s seemed like whenever Calhoun has taken one step forward in the majors he’s then taken two steps back. The injuries have been rampant since his promotion in 2017, as Calhoun has reached 300 plate appearances only once in his career as he enters his age 27 season. Now that the Rangers are looking to compete again, the leash could be shortened, but Calhoun has still shown enough flashes to believe in the upside.
While Calhoun’s career OPS is only .715 over 874 plate appearances, he had an outstanding .848 OPS in 2019, the season in which had his most playing time (337 plate appearances). Calhoun also started to get going early last year until suffering a fractured forearm in late June that sidelined him for about three months. Calhoun also spent more time in the leadoff spot (32 games) than any other place in the lineup and finished the year in that spot. After the additions of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, Calhoun will likely need to be at his best to maintain leadoff duty, but with an ADP around 425, he comes at a very minimal cost.
Tony Kemp, 2B/OF, Athletics
Kemp has been up and down between the minors and MLB since 2016, but he finally started to see regular playing time with Oakland last season. The diminutive utilityman made the most of it with an impressive .382 OBP and .800 OPS that is in line with what we’ve seen from him in the minors. Kemp also features above average speed that helped him steal over 30 bases three times in the minors.
While Kemp saw limited playing time in the No. 1 or 2 spots in the batting order, there’s a chance that changes this season in Oakland. The A’s lost Starling Marte and Mark Canha in free agency, and are set to be without the suspended Ramon Laureano at the start of the season. Additionally, there have been rumors the team would be rebuilding this year, with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman mentioned in trade reports. This will be a developing situation through Spring Training, but Kemp has a good shot to be in a favorable lineup spot if he remains in Oakland.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Giants
La Stella signed a three-year contract worth nearly $19 million with the Giants last offseason, but the first year didn’t go as planned. Injuries have been an issue for La Stella in the past, and leg injuries allowed him to play only 76 games with a disappointing .250 batting average. That’s a far cry from what we’d come to expect from La Stella after his 2019 All-Star campaign and strong follow up in 2020 with the Angels.
Despite the injuries and struggles with the Giants, La Stella hardly lost hold of the leadoff duties, making 33 of his 53 games in that spot. Though, it should be noted La Stella was used as a platoon player on a saber-centric squad, seeing only 26 of his 242 plate appearances against southpaws. La Stella is entering his age 33 season, but the hope is that he will rebound with better health. Such an opportunity would allow the gifted contact hitter to pile up runs for the Giants when he’s in the lineup.
Rafael Ortega, OF, Cubs
The Cubs late-season fire sale in 2021 created opportunities for several minor league veterans. Ortega was one of the players who benefited most, seeing over 300 plate appearances in the majors for the first time in his career at age 30. Ortega made the most of the opportunity, hitting .291-11-33 with 12 stolen bases in 330 plate appearances, showing off an impressive .823 OPS and 120 OPS+. Following the trade deadline in late July, Ortega saw most of his work as a leadoff man and hit .304-8-25 with nine steals and an .870 OPS in 54 games.
The MLB production is very much in line with what has been a long and productive career at Triple-A in which Ortega has hit .294/.368/.447 over more than 2,200 plate appearances. There could be more threats to the leadoff spot with the return of Nick Madrigal from injury, as well as the possibility of more additions after the trade deadline, but Ortega certainly impressed. His 320 ADP still looks very reasonable for the upside.
Myles Straw, OF, Guardians
There are no mysteries about Straw’s skillset. He got the opportunity to start regularly for the first time last year between Houston and Cleveland, and was able to do a fine job hitting .271 with 30 stolen bases and 86 runs scored while playing an excellent center field. That production could be difficult to top, but there is reason to think he can do it.
Over the first four months of the season as an Astro, Straw was mostly buried in the batting order and hit .262 with 44 runs and 17 steals in 98 games. His status changed after the trade, as Straw became Cleveland’s regular leadoff hitter and improved, hitting .285 with a .362 OBP, 42 runs, and 13 steals in only 60 games. He was easily on a 100 run pace with his new team, and there’s no cause to think Straw will be demoted from the leadoff spot in a team that has shown no aggression early in the offseason. His 141 ADP still offers enough room to profit.
Lane Thomas, OF, Nationals
Thomas looked like a potential fourth outfielder in St. Louis since his promotion in 2019, but he seemed to fall out of favor with the organization more recently. That was too Washington’s benefit, as they acquired him last season for the minimal price of Jon Lester and let Thomas swim as a regular over the final two months. He had a very successful run, hitting .270-8-27 with 33 runs in 45 games, doing more than enough to get another long look this spring.
Thomas got most of his starts as Washington’s leadoff man, including every one of his starts in September. Washington’s recent plans for the leadoff spot have been demolished after trading Trea Turner and seeing a major regression from former top prospect Victor Robles. The team seems to be in a bit of a rebuild, and haven’t done anything in the early offseason to threaten Thomas’ job. His so-so previous consideration as a prospect does provide some reason to pump the brakes on a full breakout season, but the opportunity to prosper should be there at his ADP around 253.