Last year, via the War Room Talk podcast, I made known that I thought Jonathan Villar was a worthwhile deep sleeper, last pick in the draft or first guy off the free agent wire type. His floor was a source of speed to be supplanted by uber-prospect Orlando Arcia. This was the consensus sentiment. However, I saw more than that and was targeting him at the end of drafts and in dynasty leagues.
Villar had made significant adjustments in a limited sample in Houston in 2015 and was traded to Milwaukee where he would get everyday playing time. My projection of 10 home runs and 35 steals with a .260 batting average was extremely ambitious at the time, but grounded in a change in approach at the plate. While I was able to realize that Villar had made significant changes to his contact profile, even my optimistic projection pales in comparison to Villar’s breakout season.
In this featured article, I will identify deep sleeper candidates, who could come from nowhere to be positive contributors to your fantasy squads at nominal costs.
Nick Franklin – Tampa Bay Rays – Despite being only twenty-five, Franklin has been written off and does not even bear the title of post-hype sleeper. With a career triple-slash of .218/.309/.386, it is easy to see why Franklin has fallen off the fantasy radar. He’s a total afterthought in the realm of fantasy.
However, in a sixty game sample last season, Franklin did something last season that Villar did in his fifty-three game stint in 2015 – he made a gigantic leap in the amount of contact that he made and it paid off in results.
In 2015, Villar’s contact percentage jumped from 69.8% to 77.6%, improving against pitches both in and out of the strike zone. Villar also laid off more pitches out of the zone (30.4% in 2014, 27.4 % in 2015), which helped him reduce his swinging strike rate by over 3% and his K% by 5%.
In comparison, Franklin’s contact rate surged from 66.8% up to 78.3% last season and also improved against pitches inside and outside the zone. Franklin swung 3% less at pitches outside the strike zone and managed to drop his swinging strike rate by 6.4%. These changes resulted in his strikeout rate falling off a cliff – dropping nearly 12% down to a respectable 22%.
If you paced out the production, Franklin would have hit 17 home runs, stolen 17 bases and triple-slashed .270/.328/.443. Just thirteen players reached 17 homers and 17 steals. Only eight of those players hit .270 or better with 17 or more homers and steals. While there is danger in pacing out statistics, it goes to show that Franklin could be a unique and valuable piece if the changes stick and playing time swings in his direction.
Now, there is good news and bad news with Franklin. The good news is that in 5 games started formats, he qualifies all over the diamond (1B/2B/SS/OF). Unfortunately, in formats that require 10 or more starts, Franklin will only qualify in the outfield.
No, that was not the bad news. Unlike Villar last year, Franklin is not assured a MLB starting job going into the season. All the changes in the world become meaningless without opportunity. However, Franklin may actually have become Tampa’s new Ben Zobrist, playing all over the field from day-to-day and even within the same game (although not nearly as effective defensively as Zobrist). If that is the case, then a clearly defined position or starting role may be unnecessary. He is presently listed as Tampa Bay’s designated hitter, but that can change with signings and trades.
Franklin also does not have Villar’s speed as a carrying tool. There is no carrying tool, which can produce a top-50, much less a top-20 type finish. If he manages to the at-bats in Tampa Bay or elsewhere via trade, Franklin can, however, be a dirt cheap fantasy utility knife with a chance at a .270 BA and a 20 homer, 20 steal season, which he was not long ago predicted to be.