Fantasy baseball -- Deep sleepers to watch in 2019

Cincinnati's Phillip Ervin is having an eye-opening spring and has a chance to hit his way into a corner outfield role. Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Not all leagues are 10-team standard mixed.

There are 12-, 15- and 20-team mixed leagues, including those that draft as many as 50 players to a roster rather than the traditional 25. There are "only" leagues, in which the player pool is divided among only American or National League players. Nowadays, if you can think of a fantasy baseball format, there's probably a league for it somewhere.

Among my favorites are those AL- and NL-only 12-team leagues, where we're scraping the bottom of the barrel to find hidden value. Practically everyone even remotely relevant gets drafted in those, so you're challenged to unearth talent from beyond the All-Star tiers in the rankings. Doing the research on these effective no-names is one of my most enjoyable offseason exercises.

These gems I find I call my "Deep sleepers," since they're the types of players who actually fit the "sleeper" definition: They're players no one expects to contribute much, but whom I think can provide good results.

As has been the case in seasons past, my goal with these picks is for the players to earn at least $10 of fantasy value in "only" leagues. That might not sound like much if you do play in the aforementioned 10-team standard mixed, but it's still a threshold where the player could become a viable option for you as a midseason pickup. If you're in said league, print this list out and keep it tucked away for later.

Franklin Barreto, 2B, Oakland Athletics

His pro-career path reminds me a lot of Rougned Odor's -- hitters who were much more contact/line drive-oriented during their minor league days who subsequently sold out for power at the big-league level. Barreto simply hasn't enjoyed the amount of opportunity that Odor has to date, with only 57 games and 151 trips to the plate on his big-league résumé. Barreto's power metrics in that limited sample are awfully interesting, though: He has seven home runs, .208 isolated power, a 31.8 percent fly-ball rate and Statcast metrics showing a 41.5 percent hard-contact rate and 23.2 degree launch angle. Players like this require more time than others to fully adapt at the big-league level due to the extensive changes to their approach, and I'm unwilling to forget that Barreto was a top-40 overall prospect as recently as 2016, with much of the reason for that lofty ranking centering upon things that weren't his power potential. If the Athletics can squeeze him onto their roster as a utilityman come Opening Day, I think they'll find ways to use him enough to matter.

Price point in LABR: Second-round reserve pick.

Ty Buttrey, RP, Los Angeles Angels

If you read my "Not on my team!" column, you already know I'm not a big believer in Cody Allen's skill set, and therefore his prospects of holding a closer role for another 162-game schedule. Buttrey therefore seems like one of the most obvious -- and necessary -- handcuff candidates among setup men, after flashing 28.6 percent strikeout and 57.8 percent ground-ball rates in 16 appearances for the big club following his acquisition in the deadline Ian Kinsler deal. This isn't to say Allen shouldn't open the year in the role, as Buttrey could stand to polish his slider, which generated a 25 percent swinging-strike rate but he placed in the rulebook strike zone only 38 percent of the time, not to mention show that his improved overall control wasn't a mere small-sample blip. Buttrey seems to have future-closer stuff, though, and after Allen it's a wide-open race in the Angels' bullpen.

Price point in LABR: $1.

Steven Duggar, OF, San Francisco Giants

He's a speedy player with a hint of pop, and has an excellent opportunity this spring to carve out a prominent role for what is a Giants team precariously thin on quality outfielders. Duggar began his pro career as more of a light-hitting speedster, but the team worked with him on elevating his launch angle in the upper minors, to the point that he posted a 37.7 percent fly-ball rate in his career at the Triple-A level (2017-18) and 34.4 percent in his brief stint for the big club last year, giving him a chance at a double-digit home run output if he gets regular at-bats. Better yet: He has been batting leadoff in the games he has started this spring, and is the odds-on-favorite to capture that role on Opening Day should he claim the starting center field role, things that will only benefit him in terms of plate appearances and with them stolen base opportunities and runs scored. Duggar could be a sneaky 10/25 player in the best-case scenario.

Price point in LABR: $2.

Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds

While he finished last season with a mere .192 batting average in September, Ervin's second half to 2018 couldn't be characterized as anything but encouraging: He batted .263/.327/.441 with seven home runs and five stolen bases in 59 games following his mid-July promotion. He's off to a scorching start this spring, too, which is something he needed to do in order to lock down a role on a Reds team that is loaded with options in the outfield. Ervin fits the description of the modest-pop, good-speed performer whose main knock is a blocked path to playing time, but when it comes to scouting sleepers, take the skills over role every time. He'll have to force his way into the corner outfield picture due to his so-so defense, but he's a good player to stash at the back end of your team in an NL-only league, hoping he'll hit his way into the lineup.

Price point in LABR: Second-round reserve pick.

Domingo German, SP, New York Yankees

The news of the past week that both Luis Severino (shoulder) and CC Sabathia (knee, heart) will probably begin the season on the injured list has brought more attention to German, and if we were to re-do the LABR auctions of the March 2-3 weekend, I'd anticipate he'd fetch a price closer to $5 than $1. Still, German is no lock to stick in the Yankees' rotation, though he possesses enough raw ability to force the team into a difficult decision once the veterans mend come mid-April. No one was talking about his performance in his 14 starts last season, but in those, he had 26.2 percent strikeout and 15.5 percent swinging-strike rates, which ranked 33rd and 10th among 156 pitchers with at least 14 starts. German has the stuff to succeed, and he's now got the opportunity to exhibit it.

Price point in LABR: $1.

Pablo Lopez, SP, Miami Marlins

Those who read my annual "Kings of Command" column might recall Lopez as the pitcher who narrowly missed the cut due to not having faced enough major league hitters. If you lump in his Double- and Triple-A contributions before his June 30 big-league debut, however, he had a 2.75 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 22.4 percent strikeout and 6.0 percent walk rates in 22 starts last season, numbers that give him the look of a low-risk prospect at minimum cost. Lopez is already off to a strong start this spring, including four perfect innings in his most recent outing this past Saturday, a good sign for a pitcher whose 2018 ended early due to a shoulder issue. While he has more work to do improving his curveball in order to truly break out at the big-league level, he has a good enough three-pitch array to be at least a matchups candidate in 2019.

Price point in LABR: Second-round reserve pick.

Brandon Lowe, 2B, Tampa Bay Rays

How did Lowe make the list? (Speaking of which, Lowe rhymes with how.) He possesses the combination of patience and pop that you like to see in a prospect, with a 10.8 percent walk rate and .236 isolated power between Double- and Triple-A combined in 2017-18, and a 10.8 percent walk rate and .217 isolated power in his 43 games for the Rays in the final two months of last season. Lowe's Statcast metrics backed his power potential up, as he had a 43.5 percent hard-contact rate and 10 "Barrels" on 92 balls in play, and he was an at-least-adequate fielder for the team at second base and in left and right field. The Rays could find these traits useful even in a reserve role initially, but what if Joey Wendle can't repeat his 2018 contact rate or either Kevin Kiermaier or Tommy Pham again misses time due to injury?

Price point in LABR: $1.

Tyler Mahle, SP, Cincinnati Reds

Call this one more of a hunch than a stats-driven pick, as Mahle's 10.18 ERA in his final six starts of last season, coupled with his calling a hitting-friendly environment his home, gave him the look of a "no thank you" player for 2019. Here's what I saw: A pitcher who had a 3.83 ERA and 23.5 percent strikeout rate in his first 21 turns, during which time he registered at least 94 mph with his fastball 24 percent of the time. Mahle has been throwing hard again this spring, frequently hitting 95 mph with the pitch, with that added life giving him a better chance of at least providing matchups value to deep-mixed and NL-only teams. He's the likely No. 6 man behind a rotation that includes a trio of injury risks (Anthony DeSclafani, Sonny Gray and Alex Wood), and is well worth a stash based upon his heightened chance of making fill-in starts in 2019.

Price point in LABR: Fourth-round reserve pick.

Wade Miley, SP, Houston Astros

The Astros have made it a habit of unearthing pitching gems, and the fact that they invested in Miley, who is six games under .500 with a 4.26 ERA and 18.4 percent strikeout rate in an eight-year big league career, makes me think that they saw something exploitable in his late-2018 resurgence for the Milwaukee Brewers. During that time he went extremely cutter-heavy, throwing the pitch 45 percent of the time in 13 post-All-Star-break starts, with the result by far the best performance of his career against right-handed hitters: .240/.300/.345 triple-slash rates, the first time he had ever held them beneath a .400 slugging percentage or .300 wOBA (.288). That raised Miley's statistical floor significantly, to the point that he's a much, much safer matchups consideration for fantasy than people perceive -- perhaps even an every-start option in deep-mixed and AL-only, but probably not more since he misses so few bats. One more thing that was big for him: The move from Milwaukee's Miller Park to Houston's Minute Maid Park, while not necessarily perceived as such, represented a huge improvement for him in terms of park factors.

Price point in LABR: $4.

Matt Strahm, RP, San Diego Padres

I don't like to buy into "best shape of my life" spring training stories, but when a pitcher like Strahm admits that he wasn't fully healthy last season and feels much more so this year, with the ability to handle the chores that come with a full-time rotation spot, I'm willing to listen. Improved confidence in his stuff alone might be enough for him to thrive in 2019, especially since he flashed four above average-performing pitches in a relief role last season and has a 3.12 FIP and 27.9 percent strikeout rate in eight career big-league starts as is. Strahm has enjoyed a lights-out start to his spring, and he's in the middle of a wide-open battle for three rotation spots with the Padres.

Price point in LABR: $2.

Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Through seven professional seasons, the past four of which were largely played at the Triple-A level, Walker has never received an extended opportunity to prove himself, nor earned high grades on any of the prospects ranking lists. He possesses two traits that should appeal to fantasy managers, though: Scorching Triple-A stats, slashing .279/.344/.494 in his career at that level while averaging 28 home runs per 162 games played there, and a near-guarantee of being on the Diamondbacks' Opening Day roster due to his being out of minor league options. Walker suffered the misfortune of being stuck behind Chris Davis (when he was good) in Baltimore, then Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona through this stage of his career, but with Goldschmidt now traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, Walker's primary competition for at-bats in the desert are Jake Lamb and possibly Wilmer Flores. Walker should get a chance to hit his way into the everyday lineup, and he has a lot of upside for a player constantly overlooked.

Price point in LABR: $1.

Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians

Chalk this one up as potentially a "one-year-early" pick, as deep sleepers often are, but all indications are that Zimmer is making great strides in his return from July right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and has an outside chance at resuming playing in games before spring training concludes. Considering the Indians' lack of outfield depth, he could force his way into the picture sooner than later, and don't forget that he was once a more highly regarded prospect for them than any of the options they currently have out there. Zimmer does, after all, have 10 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 135 career big-league games, despite having struggled mightily making contact during that time. Even a slight improvement coupled with better luck in the health department could make him quite the bargain power/speed pick.

Price point in LABR: $2.

Other deep sleepers to consider: Yusniel Diaz, Robbie Erlin, Jace Fry, Trevor Rosenthal, Caleb Smith, Myles Straw, Daniel Vogelbach, Luke Weaver.