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Slumber party: 10 sleepers for 2017 fantasy drafts

Hedges, Gurriel, Nola could provide solid production at low cost
March 16, 2017

Getting the expected production from a handful of studs can only carry a fantasy squad so far.Championship-winning owners usually hit on at least a couple sleeper selections during the middle or late rounds of their drafts, securing players who can push an already strong roster over the top. Without requiring

Getting the expected production from a handful of studs can only carry a fantasy squad so far.
Championship-winning owners usually hit on at least a couple sleeper selections during the middle or late rounds of their drafts, securing players who can push an already strong roster over the top. Without requiring a substantial expenditure, the following 10 men possess the potential to make a massive impact on 2017 mixed-league rosters.
2017 Fantasy Player Preview: Full rankings
Positions listed denote players' season-opening fantasy eligibility in most leagues.
Austin Hedges, catcher (Padres): The bar for mixed-league relevance at the catcher position is not especially high. For example, Brian McCann was a viable option in one-catcher leagues last season while hitting .242 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though Hedges has struggled over 178 big league plate appearances so far (.161/.206/.236 slash line), he raised his stock with a .326 average, 21 homers and 82 RBIs in just 82 games at the Triple-A level last year. Expected to be the Padres' No. 1 backstop, the 24-year-old could quickly gain a lineup spot in mixed formats by tapping into the skills he displayed on the farm in '16.
Steve Pearce, 1B/2B/OF (Blue Jays): The Blue Jays did not generate major headlines when they signed Pearce to a two-year deal in December as the slugger -- who owns a lifetime .852 OPS against southpaws (.728 vs. righties) -- seemed destined to end up on the short side of a first-base platoon with Justin Smoak. But Pearce became a mixed-league sleeper when general manager Ross Atkins noted in February that the club would be pleased to see him emerge as its regular left fielder. Having posted a solid .810 OPS vs. right-handers since the outset of '14, the 33-year-old could tally 25 homers and 75 RBIs if he accrues 500-plus at-bats in '17.

Kolten Wong, 2B/OF (Cardinals): Considered a breakout candidate at '15 draft tables, Wong has fallen off the fantasy radar in the span of two seasons. But those who give the 26-year-old one more chance may find themselves with a middle infielder who offers balanced production. If he can have enough success against same-sided hurlers to stay out of a platoon role, the left-handed hitter could compile more than 15 home runs and 20 steals.
Yulieski Gurriel, third baseman (Astros): Sure, Gurriel did not make a memorable first impression in the Majors when he hit .262 with three homers across 130 at-bats last season. But most players would struggle to find their top form after a whirlwind tour that involved relocating to the United States, signing with Houston and making four Minor League stops in less than one month. With the benefit of attending Spring Training and having a settled role on the '17 Astros, Gurriel could flash the form that led to an astonishing .500/.589/.874 slash line over 49 games in the Cuban National Series during 2015.

Tim Anderson, shortstop (White Sox): True, Anderson likely needs to improve upon last year's 0.1 BB/K ratio to take a step forward after a solid debut season. But if he can accomplish that goal -- hardly unreasonable for a 23-year-old with only 431 big league plate appearances to his name -- Anderson could create more opportunities to flash the speed that enabled him to swipe 49 bases as a Minor Leaguer in '15. And while he is unlikely to duplicate his .375 BABIP from '16, the fleet-footed youngster could produce another above-average BABIP mark by playing to his strengths and keeping the ball on a low trajectory again (24.9 percent fly-ball rate in '16).
Mitch Haniger, outfielder (Mariners): Haniger was one of the most productive hitters in the Minors last season, posting a .321 average with 25 homers and 94 RBIs across 458 at-bats. While his big league debut was hindered by poor batted-ball luck (.256 BABIP), the slugger showed intriguing power by ripping five round-trippers across 109 at-bats. Now set to serve as Seattle's regular right fielder, Haniger could compile 25 homers and 75 RBIs as part of a potentially productive lineup.

Mallex Smith, outfielder (Rays): While he struggled when facing lefties (.299 OPS), Smith showed the skills to be a difference-maker vs. righties (.819 OPS) during a '16 rookie year shortened by a fractured thumb. Now a member of the Rays, the 23-year-old is likely to open the season in a reserve role behind an outfield trio of Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr. and Colby Rasmus. But with Rasmus and Souza each having logged inconsistent results during injury-plagued '16 seasons, the opportunity could soon arise for the speedy Smith -- who recorded 16 stolen bases across 215 plate appearances last year -- to take over a regular role.
Francisco Liriano, starter (Blue Jays): Liriano was dropped in many leagues as he struggled over 21 starts (5.46 ERA, 5.5 BB/9 rate) with the Pirates a season ago, but he turned things around when he was reunited with catcher Russell Martin following an August trade to the Blue Jays (2.92 ERA, 2.9 BB/9 rate). Having posted a 9.3 K/9 rate overall in '16, the veteran still has the skills to help mixed-league teams when he keeps his walk rate in check.

Aaron Nola, starter (Phillies): Nola looked the part of an ace early last season, posting a 2.65 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP over his first 12 starts. While he struggled mightily across his next eight outings (9.82 ERA, 2.06 WHIP) before being shut down with an elbow injury, his decline can be heavily attributed to his .464 BABIP in that span. As evidenced by his 3.08 FIP in '16, the 23-year-old has the skills to be a difference-maker in mixed leagues if he enjoys improved health this season.
Hector Neris, reliever (Phillies): Wise owners are always motivated to find new save sources who have the ability to make an impact in more than one category. With a more impressive skill set than Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez (4.85 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in '16), Neris could slide into the ninth-inning role during the initial weeks of this season. And after posting outstanding ratios (2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) with an 11.4 K/9 rate last season, the right-hander could potentially impact four categories as the bullpen anchor on an improving Phillies club.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.