Identifying post-hype sleepers can be one of the best ways to find breakout players during your draft. Post-hype players are typically former prospects that don’t initially live up to expectations. This drives down their value in fantasy leagues the following season, making them excellent late-round targets. Yonder Alonso and Anthony Rizzo don’t fit the bill exactly, as neither player was hyped as a fantasy superstar. But both were considered decent prospects heading into the season, and owners that drafted them may not have been fully satisfied with their performances. Both players did show some promise during their first full year in the majors, and will be looking to build on that during their sophomore season.
It’s probably not entirely fair to say Rizzo disappointed. At 22-years-old, he hit .285/.342/.463 for the Chicago Cubs. The only reason for owners to be upset with Rizzo is that he didn’t make an impact until late-June. Still, that was enough time for him to make a dent on fantasy teams that waited for his promotion, or played the waiver wire. Rizzo also displayed excellent power potential, hitting 15 home runs in just 368 plate appearances. Between his time in the majors and Triple-A, Rizzo clubbed 38 bombs last season. Looking at Zach’s values, only ten other first basemen were capable of hitting 30+ home runs last year. Rizzo could certainly move into that territory playing a full season of games.
Of course, there are some reasons for concern. Rizzo’s performance was noticed by many, and he could shoot up draft boards way too quickly. It’s not uncommon for a prospect to experience success initially, only to go through growing pains in their second season (Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer stand out). One major area managers can look to exploit is Rizzo’s performance against lefties. Rizzo hit just .208/.243/.356 against same-handed pitching last season. He only had 101 plate appearances against southpaws, so the sample is admittedly small, but it’s definitely something to be aware of next year. Considering he’s one of the biggest offensive threats on the Cubs, managers will not hesitate to bring in their lefty-killing relievers to face him during the late innings. Rizzo might be extremely talented, but first base is incredibly deep. There’s no reason to reach for Rizzo next year as long as there are safer options on the board. Be aware of his potential, but don’t overrate him based on half a season.
Alonso is a much better fit for the post-hype sleeper tag. In a full season of production, Alonso hit a mediocre .273/.348/.393 in 619 plate appearances. He was still an above-average first baseman according to wRC+, but put up underwhelming fantasy numbers at the position. The big question is whether Alonso will hit for enough power to become a useful fantasy asset. Alonso seemed to be producing more power as he moved through the minors. His last two seasons in Triple-A, he slugged .470 and .486, so he’s definitely capable of improving.
At the same time, playing half of his games in Petco will severely depress his value. And while his power is sure to suffer in his home park, Alonso actually hit better in Petco than he did in other parks last year. At home, Alonso hit .276/.362/.398, and on the road he hit .271/.334/.389. Those lines are nearly identical. Even though Alonso doubled his home run total on the road (6-3), he actually had a higher slugging percentage at home. While his power numbers were less than ideal, at least he didn’t show significant splits at Petco.
In order for Alonso to emerge as a useful fantasy first baseman, the power he displayed in the minors must return. But even then, it’s going to be tough to hit 30+ home runs while playing in Petco. When the Padres dealt for Alonso, many said that his ability to spray the ball to all fields would help his numbers in his new park. Unless he can use that ability to hit for a .300+ average, he may struggle to differentiate himself from the pack. Still, Alonso is a former prospect, and will enter the season in a full-time role. If he can recover some of his missing power, he could still turn into a useful fantasy asset. Given that he’s unlikely to cost a significant draft pick next season, betting on improvement might be worth the risk.