While fantasy hockey and basketball leagues are approaching the midseason marks, the fantasy football league seasons are winding down and it’s never too early to turn our attention to the spring with the baseball season not too far away at all. Depending on the categories in your MLB fantasy league, strikeouts can have a significant weight since they contribute to wins, ERA, K’s, WHIP and K/9. We decided to help you get a head start with some underrated players that could really stand out in the strikeout category. Here is a look at the top sleeper picks for strikeouts in MLB fantasy leagues.
SP: Jose De Leon, Los Angeles Dodgers
Injuries prevented De Leon from getting as much major league experience as some predicted he would a year ago but he was very effective at hitter-friendly Triple-A Oklahoma City where he produced a 2.61 ERA and an 11.6 K/9 in 16 starts. De Leon’s elite changeup and command have helped his produce an outstanding 12.1 K/9 for his career and while he has struggled with giving up too many home runs at times he only needs a couple of minor adjustments to be that much more effective. Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Julio Urias are set to take the top four spots in the Dodgers rotation but if De Leon can crack their best five then he could be a legitimate MLB fantasy starter with high strikeout upside.
SP: Daniel Norris, Detroit Tigers
Norris showed flashes of his considerable upside a year ago when he produced a 3.38 ERA and more than one strikeout per inning with the Tigers. Norris improved his slider velocity by four miles per hour and raised his fastball velocity by one mile per hour. The result was an improved K/9 by more than two strikeouts compared to his 9.8 career-minor league mark. Norris also has a tendency to give up too many strikeouts but the upside is there for a starter with the potential to put up strong strikeout numbers.
SP: Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Reyes absolutely lit up the radar gun during his late season run in the Cardinals’ bullpen at the end of 2016 when he averaged better than 96 miles per hour with his fastball. Reyes delivered a 1.57 ERA and 10.2 K/9 between his starting and relief efforts and it was enough to put him on the radar for St. Louis heading in to this season. The Cardinals are more likely to use Reyes as a reliever than a starter but they could revisit that idea should they need help on the backend of their rotation at some point.
SP: Alex Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals
Another element working against Reyes joining the Cardinals rotation is the presence of Weaver, who is another young prospect looking to make his mark in their rotation. Weaver has excellent command of his low-90’s fastball and he has an outstanding changeup. The former first-round pick has a profile that closely resembles De Leon and while he struggled with consistency at times last season his strikeout rate was way up there with an 11.1 K/9 in the majors and a 10.0 K/9 in the minors between Double- and Triple-A. St. Louis will have plenty of options to fill out the back of its rotation and bullpen and both Reyes and Weaver could emerge as quality sleeper picks this coming year based on their high strikeout upside.
SP: Grant Dayton, Los Angeles Dodgers
If you’re looking for someone who can help you out in single-league (NL only) MLB fantasy leagues, Dayton is an interesting sleeper. The Dodgers unearthed a gem with him last season when they realized that the 28-year-old reliever was a hard-to-hit lefty. He posted a ridiculous 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, although he only pitched 26.1 innings in the Majors. However, his numbers in the minors support that he should be able to continue this performance. He produced a ridiculous 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.9 walks per nine innings through 52 innings of work between AA and AAA ball last year. He’s a career 2.79 ERA pitcher in the minors.
He showed as an excellent reliever and was a handful for right-handed batters. The Dodgers should have room for him to pitch about 70 innings of work next year.
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