In case you missed Travis Scherer’s recap of this draft/stash challenge, the overall point was to identify rookie-eligible players who, either because of their skill or the needs of their team, should get a fair amount of playing time in 2020.
It’s not meant to identify the highest performers necessarily, which is part of the reason you don’t see very many high profile prospects on my team. In fact, my roster only has player ranked among our Top 158 dynasty prospects, although I believe a few of these players are future big league regulars – and many of them will reach that potential in 2020!
Here are my 10 picks, with rationale and a general sense of what fantasy value they may have in 2020.
1. (Pick 11): Sam Hilliard, OF, COL
The most sought after players in this kind of draft, at least for me, are guys who have already had some success in the big leagues and are slated for starting roles in 2020. Although certainly not the flashiest prospect, Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard fit that bill to a tee, and I was happy to use my first-round pick on him.
Hilliard slashed a tidy .273/.356/.649(!) with seven home runs, four doubles, and two triples in 27 games for Colorado last year, good for a 138 wRC+.
Roster Resource believes he will start in left field right away in 2020, and while Ian Desmond and Raimel Tapia will provide some competition, his excellence last year (42 home runs and 24 steals combined between AAA and the Majors) should allow him to play almost every day and gives me a very solid anchor to start my team.
2. (14): Kyle Lewis, OF, SEA
This draft is unique, in the sense that trying to find players who are good enough and ready to play in the big leagues is already challenging, but also finding ones who are in good opportunities to keep their jobs long-term.
Players on really stacked teams like the Dodgers and Astros may not get as much run, whereas players on the Mariners/Tigers/Orioles are more likely to get a longer leash, which should lead to a victory in this format.
The combination of prospect pedigree and potential playing time led me to Lewis in the second round, at No. 14 overall. The slugger mashed six home runs in 18 games with Seattle last Fall, posting an excellent 127 wRC+ and cementing himself as the left fielder of the future.
Despite not accruing a single Triple-A at-bat, Lewis is currently penciled in as the Mariners starting left fielder on Roster Resource. An injury to Mitch Haniger that will likely keep him out past Opening Day makes it almost certain that Lewis will be seeing the field for the M’s right from the get-go, and while he may not finish the entire season in Seattle (particularly if he struggles) the rest of the team’s options (Jake Fraley, Tim Lopes, Braden Bishop, Jose Siri) don’t inspire a ton of confidence.
A last-minute signing could muck this up, but for now, I feel pretty confident that 100+ games from Lewis is not out of the question in 2020, giving me a solid 1-2 punch.
3. (35): Domingo Leyba, 2B/SS, AZ
Leyba is my third consecutive pick who hit well in a small big league cameo last year, but this draft happened before the mega Starling Marte trade, which will push Ketel Marte back to second base and significantly impacts Leyba’s potential playing time.
Leyba hit .280 with a nice 13.3 percent walk rate and a 108 wRC+ in 21 games with Arizona last year, but he has major strikeout issues and didn’t exhibit much power or speed. I think he could carve out a role as a utility infielder who fills in for Marte and/or Nick Ahmed from time to time, but unless there is an injury he probably won’t do a ton of starting next season. Still, this format counts games played, so if he does some pinch-hitting or pinch-running that will help me out.
4. (38): Sheldon Neuse, 2B/3B, OAK
Notice a pattern? Neuse is my fourth pick and my fourth consecutive hitting prospect who tasted the big leagues last year. Neuse didn’t have the same level of success as Hilliard, Lewis or Leyba, and his playing time situation is less settled than the other three, which is why he was still available in the fourth round.
Oakland has a handful of players competing for their second base job in 2020, including Tony Kemp, Franklin Barreto, Chad Pinder and Jorge Mateo, which makes Neuse’s path to playing time not look so great. He played second in 20 games with Oakland last year but is a third baseman by trade — a spot blocked by Matt Chapman.
Neuse did blast 27 home runs with an excellent .317/.389/.550 slash line in AAA last year, so it’s clear he’s ready for the big leagues. Where he plays, and how often, is yet to be determined — but I’m confident he’ll get a shot at some point which should result in some games added to my tally.
5. (59): Brandon Bailey, RHP, BAL
I finally broke a pair of streaks with my fifth-round pick, taking my first pitcher and my first pure minor leaguer in Orioles right-hander Brandon Bailey. I’ll fully admit to having a bias here, as Bailey and I are both alumni of Gonzaga University, and I recently had him on my Gonzaga podcast, so I’m rooting for him big time.
However, someone else tried to take him a few picks after me, so I wasn’t alone in thinking he was a worthwhile selection. The undersized right-hander with an excellent spin rate was the second player taken in the Rule 5 Draft, and is expected to compete for the fifth starter role in Baltimore. He posted a 3.30 ERA with a 26.7 percent strikeout rate in AA with the Astros last year and has consistently posted solid numbers as a minor league starter.
Baltimore recently signed veteran Wade LeBlanc, which could make Bailey’s path a little tougher, but I really think he’ll stick around at the very least as a long reliever — which should soak up innings and give me nice value in the fifth round.
6. (62): Andrew Knizner, C, STL
An aberration in the fifth round aside, I went back to my roots with a hitter who has big-league experience in the sixth round. This pick looked pretty good before the Cardinals went ahead and re-signed Matt Wieters, pushing Knizner into the third catcher role and seriously crushing his playing time potential.
Knizner is a 24-year-old behind a 37-year-old in Yadier Molina and a 33-year-old in Wieters, however, so his odds of making an impact at the big league level are still pretty good, considering his .276/.357/.463 line at Triple-A, along with 12 home runs in less than 300 plate appearances.
Catchers are not the safest pick in a draft like this that relies on games played, but Knizner seems like a decent bet to appear in 25 contests at a minimum, and potentially quite a few more if injuries or old age finally impact Molina and/or Wieters.
7. (83): Willi Castro, SS, DET
Round 7 and your boy stuck with what he knows, taking a minor league hitter with big-league experience. Castro nearly crossed over the prospect threshold, racking up 100 at-bats with the Tigers last year down the stretch.
He didn’t look particularly great, hitting .230/.284/.340 with a home run and a 30.9 percent strikeout rate, and the team’s recent re-signing of Jordy Mercer has further clouded his potential playing time in the Motor City.
However, Detroit has nothing to lose playing their younger guys to get some experience, and Castro looked really good in AAA last year while spending some time at second and third in addition to shortstop. He could play his way into a utility infielder role in 2020, with the potential for more as this team tries to evaluate what they have in their younger players during this ugly rebuild.
8. (86): Art Warren, RHP, SEA
Decided to start going pitcher heavy at the tail end of my draft, feeling like I was running out of hitter options that had a realistic chance of playing regularly. I settled on Mariners reliever Art Warren in Round 8, which is fairly bold considering he’s not listed as a part of the team’s bullpen on Roster Resource, and wasn’t even before the team signed Yoshihisa Hirano.
Warren did throw 5.1 big league innings last year, allowing just two hits, two walks, and no runs while striking out five. The 26-year-old has a track record of success in the minor leagues, did well in a brief cameo last year and is competing for a spot in what might be the worst bullpen in all of baseball.
With competition like Matt Festa, Dan Altavilla, Gerson Bautista, and Zac Grotz, I feel pretty confident Warren will carve out a role on this team, and could challenge for 40-50 total innings pitched. Based on this scoring format, that would seem to be an excellent value in the eighth round.
9. (107): Alex Faedo, RHP, DET
One of the ways I diverged from most of the rest of my fellow drafters was my ignoring many of the high profile prospects who I felt weren’t locks to get serious playing time this year. I realized by Round 9 I had taken so few players who would even be on Top-250 prospect lists, and figured I’d rectify that with Alex Faedo.
Faedo plummeted down lists after a disappointing 2018 season, but he went a long way toward rebuilding some of that value with a strong 2019 campaign in AA, posting a 3.90 ERA but with very strong peripherals (3.57 FIP, 2.96 xFIP) along with a 1.12 WHIP and a 134/25 strikeout to walk rate.
Faedo is behind Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal in Detroit’s pitching prospect hierarchy, and might even be behind Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser and Joey Wentz in terms of reaching the big leagues, but I do see him working his way up to the show at some point in 2020. STEAMER likes him for three starts, I would guess he makes 4-5 assuming Detroit unloads Matthew Boyd and possibly Ivan Nova or Michael Fulmer at the trade deadline.
Probably my riskiest pick, as it also wouldn’t surprise me if he spends the entire year in AA/AAA, but he’s too talented and too ready for the big leagues to leave on the board.
10. (110): Kyle Zimmer, RHP, KC
I used STEAMER for a lot of my picks, and Zimmer was the last guy remaining on my board who actually projected for more than a handful of games/innings, so I figured what the hell and snatched him up. He’s obviously an extreme injury risk, having missed the majority of the last five years with a multitude of ailments, but as of now he seems like a good bet to begin the year in Kansas City’s bullpen.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Zimmer was quite bad in the big leagues last year, posting a comical 10.80 ERA with 22 earned runs, 19 walks, and 18 strikeouts in his 18.1 innings pitched.
However, performance doesn’t matter in this exercise, and Zimmer will get a decent leash to try to resurrect his career as a middle reliever for the hapless Royals in 2020. As long as he stays healthy (huge if) and pitches better than a 10.80 ERA (much more likely) he could rack up 40-50 innings — which would be the steal of the draft in Round 10.
Featured image by Michael Packard