3B Sleepers and Busts for 2020

Value = Early and Late Rounds; Lack Thereof = Middle Rounds

Third base is one of the deepest positions in fantasy this year. It would make sense to say that it would be hard to go wrong here, but because there is so much depth, every other team is also taking advantage of that depth. Third basemen could get gobbled up quickly and you want to make sure you get one or more that will set you apart from the rest of the competition. That’s where these sleepers and busts at third base will come in handy. The definition of sleeper and bust seems to be elusive from year-to-year, so I will be reviewing players from a wide range of ADPs (sorted from lowest to highest) that I believe are being drafted too high or too low.

 

Sleeper: Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Indians – ADP: 18.6)

 

It seems strange to call a player being drafted in the second round as a sleeper, but it is what it is. Many fantasy players were scared off by Jose Ramirez‘s disastrous first half to 2019. He had a .218/.308/.344 slash before the All-Star break, but he had a .327/.365/.739 slash after the All-Star break. This is an extreme Jekyll and Hyde scenario, so what went wrong in the first half and right in the second half?

 

Jose Ramirez‘s 2019 Batted Ball Splits

 

As we can see, Ramirez tried to hit the ball to all fields in the first half of the season, and this led to significantly softer contact. When he began pulling the ball more in the second half, you can see the hard contact rate start to jump up. I think that Ramirez had a strategy in mind for the first half of the season to hit the ball to all fields, and when that wasn’t working out, he went back to pulling the ball. Look at that, he’s back to normal.

Not only is that awareness as a player reassurance for me, but the numbers in the second half are absolutely ridiculous. You have a solid 35/35 player (in a full season) with a high average and great plate discipline. There is a reason that Ramirez was drafted early in the first round last year, and the fact that you could draft him in the middle-to-late second round is unbelievable.

 

Bust: Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs – ADP: 44.8)

 

Kris Bryant has a very extensive profile that I will try to condense into some bite-sized information here. He won the NL MVP in 2016, and while 2018 was an injury-laden disappointment, he bounced back in 2019 with a line startlingly reminiscent of his 2016 season. The good things about Bryant that I expect to continue in 2020 are his great plate discipline and his batting average. I think that the batting average takes a slight dip from 2019’s .282 to somewhere in the high .260s. He has outperformed his xBA consistently from year-to-year, but it has been steadily declining. It has to eventually catch up to him, right?

 

Kris Bryant‘s BA vs. xBA

 

He doesn’t hit breaking balls well at all, and even though the majority of Bryant’s game outperforms his expected stats, he also got lucky on offspeed stuff.

 

Kris Bryant‘s BA vs. xBA by Pitch Type

 

On top of that, the 31 homers he hit in 2019 seem too good to be true. He doesn’t really make that hard of contact, even though he hits the ball in the air pretty consistently. This profile should eventually lead to a dip in batting average like I’m predicting. An analogous case to the extreme fly ball tendencies without the hard contact skills to back it up would be a Rhys Hoskins type. I certainly think that Bryant will be better than Hoskins in 2020, but there are a half of a dozen rounds splitting the two in drafts.

Bryant has a very thin line to walk to make drafting him this early worth it. Judging by his overperformance, things could fall out from under him at any time, and you don’t want to be caught with him on your team when it happens. On top of that, the numbers don’t point to him having a higher ceiling than what he has already shown. It is a no upside/high downside play. However, he is a really solid player if nothing else changes, but I wouldn’t want to take that risk until about two rounds later.

 

Bust: Manny Machado (San Diego Padres – ADP: 57.4)

 

The third baseman taken right after Kris Bryant is Manny Machado. In Baltimore, Manny Machado was shaping up to be a superstar. When he left them to play for the Dodgers, he had a .963 OPS! Then, everything fell apart. Yes, I’m going to bring up the Camden Yards vs. Everywhere Else splits.

 

 

It is no coincidence that Machado is basically the same player that he was away from Camden Yards as a San Diego Padre. Moving from a hitter-friendly park to one significantly less so will result in a drop in output nine times out of ten. Knowing that, you need to ask yourself: should I take a guy with a .273/.338/.487 slash, below-average plate discipline, and a handful of steals this early? The answer to that should undoubtedly be no once you see my sleepers that are drafted after him.

If we need to take this further, you can likely expect that the power production will maintain from last year. He hits the ball with really loud contact and in the air as much as he hits it on the ground. On the other hand, the steals may evaporate completely, as he only went 5 for 8. The average will also likely stay where it’s at, seeing as how Machado doesn’t hit the ball on a line as often as someone that would output the batting averages he had in Baltimore would.

This feels like an extremely roundabout way to say that Machado is likely to be the exact same player he was last year.

 

Bust: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays – ADP: 59.2)

 

Going just barely behind Machado is Vlad Guerrero Jr. Technically, Guerrero will be a first baseman in 2020, but he will be eligible at third base for almost all fantasy leagues. Two things of note before we dive in: this goes in direct contrast with my bold predictions piece, and that’s three busts in a row ordered by ADP. Regarding the first, that’s basically what Guerrero is. He is an extremely high upside play, but if you draft him to be that, I’d say it’s “a bold strategy, Cotton” (to quote the comedy classic, Dodgeball). The second point should reveal that the third base position is top- and bottom-loaded. I’m not a huge fan of these guys going in the middle, but I think there is a lot of promise with the superstars (Arenado, Bregman, Ramirez, Rendon) and the sleepers that we’ll talk about later.

I would sound like a broken record saying that Vlad’s 2019 rookie season was a pretty big disappointment relative to the unprecedented prospect hype. By all accounts, his .272/.339/.433 slash was pretty middling, and yet, he is still being drafted in about the same place as last year. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that it’s almost identical to Machado’s 2019 slash. Of course, Vlad has way more upside than Machado and is just beginning his career.

At the end of the day, Guerrero was fairly inconsistent with his contact. He had among the hardest hit balls in the MLB last year, but he ranked 107th in average exit velocity across the league. On top of that, the hard contact he did have wasn’t being utilized to its full advantage. He hit the ball on the ground half the time and in the air only 20% of the time.

His plate discipline was a huge skill of his coming into the majors, but it did wane a little bit. Another downside to contend with is the absolute zero for steals and the average Blue Jays lineup around him. Guerrero has a really, really, really bright future ahead of him, but drafting him here is expecting him to make those necessary improvements and adjustments right out of the gate in an already shortened season.

 

Sleeper: Matt Chapman (Oakland Athletics – ADP: 91.6)

 

Matt Chapman is seriously being slept on going this late. To start this off, I’ll repost the table from my ADP review piece here. It tells the whole story.

 

 

Alonso has an ADP of 25.8, a whopping 66 picks earlier than Chapman. To top it off, Chapman’s average exit velocity was 2.0 MPH faster/harder than Alonso’s, and his hard hit rate was 6.5% more common than Alonso. It’s almost as if Chapman is better at what Alonso is best at. Yes, Alonso hit 53 homers, and Chapman only hit 36. However, this is just as much an argument for Alonso regressing in power slightly as much as it is an argument for Chapman gaining some ground in power results.

 

Matt Chapman‘s Stats by Pitch Type in 2019

 

As if it couldn’t get any better, Chapman pretty much hits all pitches equally (above). This adds a further challenge for pitchers trying to face Chapman. And if you’re worried about Chapman’s 2019 being unrepresentative of his skillset, his average exit velocity was actually 93.0 MPH in 2018 compared to 92.6 MPH in 2019 (both absolutely elite); his hard hit rate still sat at an elite 47.8% compared to 2019’s 48.7. His slugging percentage only differed by .002 points, and the plate discipline numbers are equally as comparable. It’s not out of the question that Chapman is drafted in the first four rounds next year, and this year you have a chance to draft him near pick 100!

 

Bust: Eduardo Escobar (Arizona Diamondbacks – ADP: 111.6)

 

To a certain degree, it’s understandable why Eduardo Escobar is going in this range. He did have a .269/.320/.511 slash with 35 homers and a handful of steals in 2019. This season was definitely an outlier for Escobar, particularly in the power output. The underlying numbers don’t really support this boost in power production. He had an average exit velocity of 87.8 MPH, which is the highest of his career. It’s not that much higher, though, and it’s still pretty abysmal. To put that in perspective, it’s in the 29th percentile for the league. His maximum exit velocity ranked 249th across the league (lower than his average exit velocity), so it’s not even like he had inconsistent power that resulted in intermittent crushed balls (i.e. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.). This is definitely consistent with his hard hit rate being in the 17th percentile for the league. There is absolutely nothing to write home about in terms of Escobar’s power. I would be shocked if he hit on a 25 homer pace this year. The humidor’ed Chase Field isn’t even a hitter-friendly park anymore! I can’t make sense of it!

The few positives of Escobar’s game are his average plate discipline and average batting average. Neither are absurdly good or justify this draft position, but they were not an outlier in 2019 like his power was. I think a .270 hitter with a couple steals and a 25 homer pace is the absolute best you should expect out of Escobar, and that is certainly not on the level of other players in this range.

 

Bust: Yuli Gurriel (Houston Astros – ADP: 130.8)

 

I realize that it’s an uphill battle calling a guy who hit .298/.343/.541 with 31 homers last year a bust at this ADP, but Yuli Gurriel is likely still a bust this late, especially considering that three of my sleepers are drafted after him. There are plenty more players on top of those two that will probably do just as well as him, but you can draft them several rounds later.

…And that’s just it; I don’t think that Gurriel will be “bad” in 2020, but I think that he will be replacement-level and (below) average. The one positive of Gurriel is that he makes contact the majority of the time. You won’t get a lot of strikeouts, but you won’t get a lot of walks either. Then, how do his contact skills measure up, since it is such a big part of his game?

Similar to Escobar, the power spike in 2019 is something that you shouldn’t count on holding up in 2020. He went from ISOs in the low-.100s to a .243 ISO. Yet, his average exit velocity was exactly the same as it was in 2018. He didn’t really hit the ball consistency with more hard contact or barrel up more balls than he usually does. By all measures, his power profile is about the same as it has always been, and it’s pretty lackluster at that. In fact, he outperformed his xSLG in 2019 by .119 points! To be fair, he started elevating the ball a little more. This might actually be a negative though. One thing that I think Gurriel can come close to reproducing is his average in the .290s, but if he starts hitting more fly balls with his weak contact, that is going to fall away too. There’s practically no upside and all downside here.

This isn’t even mentioning that the majority of his production came in two months of 2019! For the rest of that season, he was pretty lackluster. Even though this is later in the draft, it’s not so late that you can draft a guy based on two months of outstanding production.

 

Yuli Gurriel‘s OPS by Month in 2019

 

Sleeper: Justin Turner (Los Angeles Dodger – ADP: 150.6)

 

I don’t think many people would doubt the skill and talent of Justin Turner. I mean, he hasn’t had an OPS below .832 since 2013, and in two of the last three years, it was well into the .900s! The issue with Turner is that he has trouble staying on the field due to various injuries. It’s not as bad of a case as, say, Rich Hill. Turner has played a decent chunk of games in the past few seasons, but he just can’t manage to make it from Spring Training to the end of September. In 2019, he had a plethora of injuries ranging from his hamstring to his ankle to his back. I would totally understand if you didn’t want to draft Turner as your starting third baseman in a full season (or this season for that matter), especially given his age. However, you could likely draft him as your backup third baseman at this ADP. The downside is that he gets injured, and you drop him. Although, that could be less likely in this season because of the universal DH. The Dodgers could try to keep him healthy by having him only hit. The upside is that he only has 60 games to get through, and you have a high-.800s bat on your team. If you don’t believe that’s possible, just look at how he rates out in practically every hitting metric on Baseball Savant.

 

Justin Turner‘s Batted Ball Graph

 

Sleeper: J.D. Davis (New York Mets – ADP: 170.0)

 

Honestly, what more is there to say about J.D. Davis that hasn’t already been said? PitcherList contributor, Alexander Roche, wrote a Going Deep piece on him that I highly recommend. From the piece, Roche writes, “Davis had a higher exit velocity and hard hit rate than Mike TroutRonald AcunaCody Bellinger and Mookie Betts in 2019. That doesn’t mean I expect him to be an MVP candidate this year, but he hits the ball with the best of them. If he can post a .285/30/90/90, his current ADP of 170 is an outrageous bargain.”

It’s true that Davis has been sort of a Statcast superstar over the past year. He finished within the 90th percentile in every hitting metric, except Barrel % wherein he was in the 80th percentile. What makes it even better is that the expected stats completely supported it! While this is the first season that Davis has put it all together, he is only 27 and entering his fourth major league season. He was very similar to Roche’s predicted line of .285/30/90/90 in the minors, so I don’t believe that this breakout is completely unfounded. He certainly won’t be MVP caliber. At this ADP, you don’t need him to be, and he will almost definitely return top 10 value at the third base position with the potential to finish even higher.

The only concern for Davis that has driven his ADP so low was playing. I say “was” there because the addition of the universal DH for the 2020 season has pretty much solidified his position in the Mets’ daily batting lineup. There is absolutely no reason that Davis should be drafted this low.

 

Sleeper: Giovanny Urshela (New York Yankees – ADP: 226.2)

 

Speaking of playing time, that’s probably the biggest concern with Giovanny Urshela. His competition at third base is Miguel Andujar, who is returning this season from shoulder surgery. That alone works in Urshela’s favor. On top of that, Andujar was getting reps at left field in the initial Spring Training for 2020. Judging by Boone’s comments and actions referenced in the article, it sounds like Andujar is the guy on the outside at third base. I would argue that Urshela is the starting Yankees third baseman with Andujar playing more of a utility role. It also helps Urshela that he has a slight edge over Andujar defensively.

Then, what does that mean for Urshela as a productive bat for your lineup? For one, he finished 2019 with a .889 OPS with the expected stats not far off from where he finished. He hits in the high-powered Yankees lineup, so it goes without saying that he will consistently rack up runs and RBI on top of his base hitting skills. Urshela hits a ridiculous amount of line drives, which yields him a pretty high batting average floor. He also hits every type of pitch consistently well, so he doesn’t really have a weak spot for pitchers to attack with their arsenals.

 

Giovanny Urshela‘s 2019 Outcomes by Pitch Type

 

There really aren’t many glaring issues with Urshela’s (already pretty safe) hitting profile. In the Yankees’ lineup, he could easily have a combined 200 runs and RBI with a .290 or higher batting average. That’s an incredibly solid player to draft this late, and as I mentioned, it seems like the playing time concerns should be almost eradicated based on the treatment of the two players in the first round of Spring Training.

 

Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire (Justin Berl and Brian Rothmuller) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Lucas Zenobi

Lucas Zenobi is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a life-long Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His other interests include film, music, and any and all things Pittsburgh.

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