DFV Sleeper Series Part I: Cooper Hummel
This is Part I of the DFV Sleeper Series. The players highlighted and the respective analysis are tailored toward the Ottoneu FGPTS format, however all of these names have the potential to impact other formats as well, and in general, I am excited to see what they do for their big league clubs in 2022. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting my favorite deep sleepers who are either getting drafted in the single digits or going undrafted completely in early Ottoneu auctions.
Cooper Hummel might be the biggest reach of all my sleepers, but I absolutely love this guy, so he’s going first.
Hummel is the FIFTH best catcher by wOBA according to Steamer ranked one spot ahead of Sal Perez. That’s right I said CATCHER. Hummel currently does not have C eligibility in Ottoneu, however, he started there 9 times last season including 5 starts after being traded to Arizona in late July. He also played catcher in 5 games in the AFL which included 4 late-game sub-ins. Assuming he hits, it looks like Arizona plans to get this man innings behind the plate, and whether it be 5 starts or 10 games, I see a path to the coveted C/OF eligibility status in Ottoneu.
Let’s put the C eligibility dream on pause for a moment and take a look at the bat. Hummel is a switch hitter with a nearly identical profile from both sides of the plate. He’s shown strong plate discipline across the minors which jumped to elite status in 2021 as he posted a career-best K/BB finishing with more walks than strikeouts (63 BB, 61 K). Alongside the plate discipline skills, Hummel has displayed significant power growth at every stop of the minors finishing each of the last 2 seasons with a .200+ ISO.
After posting a .418 wOBA in AAA last year, Steamer is projecting Hummel for an impressive .340 wOBA as a rookie. Keep in mind even a .330 wOBA would produce above replacement level in the OF while you wait for the C eligibility to kick in. Over 400 PA, I have him valued as a $6 OF and $9 C in FGPTS which is what I consider to be his best-case scenario. Just for reference, that’s a $9 OF (similar to Hunter Renfroe) and $13 C (similar to JT Realmuto) over a full season’s 600 PA. At his current auction price of $0–1, there is plenty of room for him to return good value even if he doesn’t quite reach the 400 PA or .340 wOBA thresholds.
Ok, but the Diamondbacks already have two catchers in Carson Kelly and Daulton Varsho. How does this guy get playing time? Hummel is already on the 40-man roster and Roster Resource has him breaking camp with the MLB club. Kelly, Varsho, and Hummel all have similar wOBA projections across the various systems, and Hummel’s Steamer projected .340 wOBA is actually higher than any systems project the other two backstops. Although I am hopeful Hummel achieves C eligibility, I expect most of his catching duties will be as a late-inning defensive replacement. I can see him coming in to spell Kelly or Varsho in blowouts or even pinch-hit for Kelly vs RHP. Kelly only hit a 66 wRC+ vs RHP last season while Hummel has shown near-identical splits in the minors. In a dream scenario, he could earn a few starts behind the plate depending on the health of Kelly/Varsho if the MLB coaches consider his defense passable.
Outside of catcher, the D-Backs lineup is stacked with vs RHP platoon bats like Pavin Smith, David Peralta, Josh Rojas, Seth Beer (Varsho had reverse platoon splits last season but it’s possible there’s a timeshare opportunity with him too) which could mean a full-time share of PAs for Hummel vs LHP. It’s also possible Christian Walker gets benched vs RHP which would pave way for more Hummel Time in the OF or in the corner infield where he started 11 games last season (7 GS at 1B, 6 at 3B). Even under the current roster construction, Arizona has a ton of platoon bats and defensive flexibility that can help Hummel find PAs, and once injuries start rolling in, he‘s poised to get consistent opportunities at various positions.
Alright, so what’s the catch? Potential C eligibility and .340 wOBA bat yet nobody is hyping this guy? Well, to be frank, Cooper Hummel is really old. He’s been an old prospect at every level he’s played since being drafted. He also had to endure the lost 2020 season after playing in AA as a 24-year-old in 2019. That means he played 2021 in AAA as a 26-year-old and is hoping to make his MLB debut at a ripe 27 which in the baseball realm is more than just old. That’s brown banana kinda old.
His frame is also a bit on the smaller side (5’ 10”, 198 lbs) with a body type eerily similar to last year’s sleeper catcher Max Stassi. Both of these factors (age + size) combined are probably why he’s off most prospect lists and fantasy radars. There is no doubt a 27-year-old prospect with a small frame should be looked at with skepticism, but his numbers were big last year, especially if they play at catcher, and I want him on my roster while we figure out if his plus bat is the real deal. I’m particularly interested to see what his exit velocities look like at the MLB level to validate the minor league power breakout. I don’t expect top power numbers but anything above 50th percentile EV would be enticing.
One last thing to consider on Hummel is that the MLB lockout is still ongoing. If the Diamondbacks go out and grab a corner OF or 1B or DH before the season, it is going to put a damper on my hopes and dreams of Hummel getting consistent playing time.
Cooper Hummel is by no means a safe sleeper, but I still think he’s a solid gamble to hold through Spring Training (or whatever that ends up being) to see if he breaks camp with the club. At a minimum, it will be worth monitoring whether or not Arizona gives him time behind the plate. The hope is that he hits above replacement as an OF while you anxiously await catcher eligibility status. At the end of the day, Hummel’s upside is hard to beat at his current price of $1, and I am seeing plenty of less interesting names get nominated over him toward the end of auctions.
P.S. Here is an older write-up by Kyle Lesniewski which includes an interview with Hummel about his approach to advanced metrics and desire to be an MLB GM after his playing career. This is where I first learned about Hummel and started to fall in love.