And two pretty well-known players with the ability for stardom. This week, we find two more 2016 Fantasy Baseball sleepers that have terrific upside. They might not be Steven Matz and Joey Gallo, but that could actually be a good thing… well, for one of them that is.
We’re heading to the AL Central for both players with one near the frosty border of Canada and the other much closer to steamy Mexico.
Jose Berrios, SP, MIN – Berrios is ready for the big time. He’ll turn just 22 this year but already has the polish, ability and maturity for the major leagues. The main reason we didn’t see Berrios last year was due to 161.1 innings pitched. Again, he was just 21 last year, and MLB teams are more cautious than ever with young arms, especially when increasing their yearly workload. Of course, the Twins also have an extra year of control with Berrios not pitching last year.
The proof of Berrios’ ability to develop was in his move to Triple-A last year. Players always need to adjust when reaching the next level, and Berrios could have easily taken a step back after giving up nine earned runs in his first two starting (10.2 IP). However, Berrios adjusted and took another step forward in his development. After those starts, Berrios posted a 1.94 ERA the rest of the way, including just three earned runs in his last four starts. In addition, Berrios struck out 32 batters in those starts and finished with a 27.7 K% overall and 9.87 K/9. Both of those marks, including a 23.0 SOBB, were his best since A-ball.
Berrios has quality speed on his fastball (92-95 MPH), and while that isn’t top of the charts, his excellent command and deception makes him very tough on hitters. His second and third pitches are quality with a nice slurve and a plus changeup that has been compared to Johan Santana’s. That is from the mouth of Stu Cliburn, the minor league pitching coach for the Twins, so it’s a huge compliment… but also comes with a grain of salt.
The one concern with Berrios is the allowed home runs, and that could be an issue early in his career, as is the case with many pitchers standing 6’0″ or less. That’s truly the only concern though, as his walk rates are terrific: 4.7 BB% and 1.67 BB/9 in Triple-A. That will help Berrios find early success and mitigate risk.
Berrios will be fighting for the final rotation spot in Spring Training, and given his ability, the job should be his. However, the Twins might send him back to Triple-A to reach Super Two status, even if he’s their best option. Either way, we will see Berrios in the majors this year, and whether it’s June or opening week of the season, he’s a high-upside pitcher you’ll want on your team.
A.J. Reed, 1B, HOU – Jon Singleton, you’re officially on notice. Singleton was the Astros’ future plan at first base with plenty of power potential. He hit .284 with 21 home runs in 131 Double-A games in 2012. In 2014 before his call-up, Singleton had 14 home runs, 37 runs and 43 RBIs in 54 Triple-A games while hitting .267… and then came the collapse. Singleton hit just .168 with a 37.0 K% in 95 games for the Astros.
He did manage 13 home runs, so the power potential was still evident. However, after the Astros started him back in Triple-A for 2015 and Singleton hit 22 homers in 102 games with a .254 average, he bombed again in the majors. Singleton hit just .191 with just one home run and had a 29.3 K% in 19 games. It may be cliché, but it’s now or never for Singleton with Reed ready to surpass him.
Reed has nearly the same power potential as Singleton, and he strikes out less (20.7 K% in Double-A last year). It’s also where Reed differs from Joey Gallo, being the “good thing” I mentioned at the top. Even with that upside, Reed only having 237 plate appearances above A-ball and none in Triple-A is part of the reason Singleton is getting first crack for the Astros in 2016. While the concern of rushing Reed is real, there is little concern over his hitting ability.
Reed gets his bat in the zone extremely well and his swing stays in the zone better than most. That allows for better quality hits, and it’s why his overall hitting ability could come close to his power potential. You can see that in his minors’ BABIP last year of .385 in High-A and .383 in Double-A. While having a mark that high may involve some luck, it actually shows how well he drives the ball and the amount of hard hits and line drives Reed delivers.
Back to Reed’s power, he hit 34 home runs with a .612 SLG% in his 135 minor league games last year (622 PAs). That included an OPS of 1.044 and average of .340, again showing his combination of power and high-upside hitting ability. Reed is everything the Astros are hoping Singleton can be.
Even if Singleton falters in the spring, there is a good chance that Reed finds himself in Triple-A to start the season. Just like Berrios, the Astros likely want to gain an extra year of control with Reed. Truthfully, unless Reed goes off in Spring Training, that’s likely best for his development and would lessen the risk of too much too soon. Again like Berrios though, Reed will see the majors this year, and you would be wise to stash Reed as one of the best 2016 Fantasy Baseball sleepers.
Main image photo credit: Bryan Green