Bold predictions are kind of just predictions amidst a global pandemic. No one, I mean no one, knows which players will get COVID-19, how many teams will need to tap way into their taxi squad, and if all 30 teams will even complete all 60 games.
However, this article is going to attempt to help those who play in dynasty leagues, as the roster churn that will almost certainly happen in redraft leagues is going to be much more challenging in those deep dynasty leagues, and you need to know which prospects you want to hold onto, even if they miss some time in 2020.
That doesn’t mean those in redraft leagues should click out of this article (please don’t) as I begin the article with six predictions for this 60-game season, and finish up with four longer-term predictions that impact those specifically in dynasty formats.
1. Sam Hilliard is most valuable NL rookie
I am unapologetically a Sam Hilliard stan. I selected him in the PitcherList draft/stash challenge, I was the high-man on him in our top-100 prospect list, and I picked him as the No. 6 hitting prospect to roster this season. So, there’s plenty of places for you to read how I feel about him spread out around this site.
Of course, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award is a stretch even for a believer like myself. For starters, the Rockies passionately hate prospects. Ask Brendan Rodgers, or Ryan McMahon, or Garrett Hampson, or Raimel Tapia, and you can understand why it’s risky to make this kind of prediction for a player with 27 career MLB games under his belt—even if he slashed a tidy .273/.356/.649(!) with seven home runs and four doubles, good for a 138 wRC+.
A big hurdle in Hilliard winning this award was cleared when Ian Desmond announced he was opting out of the 2020 season—but hopes were dashed nearly immediately when Colorado did what Colorado does, signing veteran Matt Kemp to take his place.
Roster Resource still pencils Hilliard in as the starting right fielder, and the addition of the DH in the NL could help him find more at-bats in this abbreviated season. Gavin Lux will be a strong contender for NL ROY, and Atlanta has a handful of pitchers (and Cristian Pache) who could compete as well, but I believe Hilliard’s chances are as good as anyone’s, especially playing at Coors Field in an abbreviated season.
Fantasy Takeaway: Hilliard has an ADP of 232 since May 1, and I’d love to have him as one of my final few picks in 10 or 12-team redraft leagues. For dynasty, he’s well worth the investment thanks to his power/speed combo, even if Colorado is hesitant to play him as much as they should.
2. Kyle Lewis is most valuable AL rookie
On one hand, this prediction doesn’t look all that bold when considering Lewis’ starting spot, his pedigree as a former top-15 draft pick, and his performance at the big league level last year. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine a reality where Lewis is the third, or even fourth, most valuable rookie on his own team.
Lewis will likely be flanked on the other corner by fellow prospect Jake Fraley (at least as long as Mitch Haniger is out) and the team also expects to start Evan White at first base, with rookie pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn potentially earning rotation spots as well.
Lewis was Seattle’s best prospect last year, however, smacking six home runs in 18 games in the MLB, along with a .268 average and a 127 wRC+. His 4.0% walk rate and 38.7% strikeout rate were massively concerning, and his 29.4% strikeout rate at AA suggests things may not improve much in that area in 2020.
However: Lewis has a ton of raw power in his bat, and while the speed that made him so enticing coming out of college has been mostly lost due to serious knee injuries, it has been reported that he is moving around better than ever—which could lead to more stolen bases than folks initially expected from him.
Luis Robert is obviously the frontrunner for the AL ROY award, and while it would take a lot to outperform a consensus top-3 prospect, perhaps Lewis will have another power-surge like he did late last season. In a 60-game season, that may be all it takes.
Fantasy Takeaway: Lewis is around ADP 400 at this point, making him rosterable in deeper leagues and AL-only formats. I wouldn’t have him within my top-250, but he’s not the worst dart throw in 12-teamers if you are looking for power upside late.
3. Isaac Paredes is Detroit’s starting 3B by August 15
Parades is 21 years old and has exactly zero experience above AA, but the dude flat out rakes—and considering the players ahead of him on Detroit’s depth chart, it’s not hard to imagine him getting real reps at the big league level this summer.
Paredes spent all of 2019 at AA as a 20-year-old, slashing .282/.368/.416 with 13 home runs, five stolen bases, a 133 wRC+ and nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (61). While the power has been slightly above-average at this point, he has enough tools to be a high-OBP, medium-power corner infielder with a little speed—and if the power develops he could easily live up to the Jhonny Peralta comparison he has heard so often, which would make him a great fantasy asset.
For this year, Detroit is rolling out some combination of Jeimer Candelario, Brandon Dixon, Willi Castro and Dawel Lugo at third base, which is grody, to say the least. The team may, incorrectly, believe that Spencer Torkelson will be an option there, but realistically this is Paredes’ position to lose, and I believe he will take the reins sooner rather than later.
Potentially much sooner.
Fantasy Takeaway: If Paredes is available in your dynasty league, pick him up ASAP. In very deep redraft leagues, he might be worth a dart throw as well, especially with Detroit’s depressing third base situation.
4. Five 2020 draft picks make MLB debut
In a normal year, this prediction would get me terminated from any baseball writing gigs. Players drafted in June almost never make their MLB debuts the same season, and this year they would have to do so without playing a single game in the minor leagues. The last time a player did that was Mike Leake in 2010, and it has happened just twice since 2000 (Xavier Nady was the other) and only 21 times since the draft was installed in 1965.
However, as you’ve probably noticed, 2020 is not a normal year. And while I’m not quite bold enough to predict exactly which five it will be, I do think the COVID-19 pandemic, the 60-man taxi squad rules and the prevalence of recent draft picks on those squads means we will see some new prospects getting into big league games far sooner than usual.
Of course, service time manipulation is alive and well (it’s still baseball after all) and there are plenty of teams who may not take this season seriously enough to give up a year of control to help earn a playoff spot in a year that will forever have an asterisk next to it. The counter to that is the potential for teams to look toward the future, namely the 2021 labor negotiations that are almost certainly going to abolish, or at least seriously alter, the current rules which allow teams to keep prospects down in the minor leagues and hamper their future earnings.
It is hard to know exactly how many prospects will get a chance to debut, as we don’t know which teams might be willing to gamble on that rule changing, and which teams will be desperate enough to potentially give a kid with no MiLB experience a shot.
COVID-19 is likely to impact a ton of players throughout the season, but if a team has enough cases that they need to turn to a June pick in order to field a team, it is possible they just shut things down.
With all that in mind, here are a few names I’d definitely keep an eye on who might fit these requirements—good enough to play this year, play for a team that could say ‘screw it’ and try to compete, and a team with the foresight to anticipate changes to the service time rules: Reid Detmers (Angels), Austin Martin (Blue Jays), Max Meyer (Marlins), Emerson Hancock (Mariners), Nick Gonzales (Pirates), and of course Spencer Torkelson (Tigers).
Fantasy takeaway: FYPD should always prioritize college players, in my opinion, and while you shouldn’t bank on anyone in particular helping you out this year, keep an eye on some of the more advanced arms and bats – this year could be a wacky one.
5. Jackson Rutledge throws meaningful innings in 2020
This is Bold with a capital B here, as Rutledge is a 2019 draft pick who has only thrown 37.1 professional innings, and none of them have been higher than Single-A. However, the Nationals are certainly going to be in the mix for a World Series repeat, and with Joe Ross already opting out of the season, Washington’s starting pitcher depth is in a somewhat vulnerable position with just a few days before the season is going to kick off.
Washington’s top four (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez) are solid, but injuries or of course COVID-19 could take any of them out for an extended period of time, which could force Washington—who I suspect will be competing unless they get off to a horrible start—to turn to their best available pitchers on the taxi squad to step up and help.
Rutledge would be among those candidates, despite his lack of experience. The 17th overall pick in 2019, Rutledge had a 39/15 K/BB ratio in his 37.1 innings down the stretch last year, posting a 2.30 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in Single-A.
I guess we can touch on his stuff too, which is absolutely electric. In fact, electric almost doesn’t feel like a strong enough word. Standing six-foot-eight, Rutledge brings a 97 mile per hour fastball that easily touches triple-digits, along with a slider that has earned 70 grades by some scouts, and a curveball that is well above-average. His changeup is lacking, as is his command, but the stuff is there for him to be a true ace.
He likely won’t put it all together enough to be an immediate impact guy in 2020, but Washington could push him onto the big league club if they are desperate for arms.
At the very least, I could see him operating out of the bullpen, where his fastball/slider combination would be absolutely devastating. I believe he’s a starter long-term, but for this condensed season, Rutledge could come in handy right away.
Fantasy takeaway: Rutledge is a dynamite dynasty prospect to own, and while it is a longshot he becomes a useful fantasy piece in 2020, he could end up throwing down the stretch. Regardless, his value changes very little.
6. Erik Swanson leads the Mariners in saves
So technically Erik Swanson is no longer a prospect, having thrown 58 innings in the big leagues last year, but he’s close enough and I want to share my thoughts on him as a fantasy asset in 2020, but not in the way many might expect.
As one can plainly see, Swanson’s big league cameo last year did not go well. He posted a 5.74 ERA with a 5.96 FIP and a ridiculous 2.64 HR/9 rate in 27 games—including eight starts and 19 appearances out of the bullpen.
The numbers out of the bullpen are what I want to focus on, however, as they were actually pretty good. Swanson posted a 3.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 9.85 K/9 rate in those 19 appearances, even earning two saves in the process.
His walk numbers did come up a bit, and his 4.75 FIP in relief is concerning, but Swanson certainly fits the mold of a “failed starter turned successful reliever,” a la Ian Kennedy, Bud Norris, and many others.
Swanson boasts a 60-grade fastball that ticked up out of the bullpen and a solid slider that grades out as potentially plus. The big issue last year was his changeup, a pitch he threw about 15 percent of the time as a starter but less than three percent of the time in relief. Considering that pitch had a -3.9 pVAL on the year, this is great news.
I have no idea if the Mariners will let Swanson close this year, with Carl Edwards, Yoshihisa Hirano, Matt Magill, and a healthy Austin Adams all in the mix. COVID-19 obviously makes nearly anything possible, and Swanson’s two-pitch mix, experience in the bullpen, and lack of success as a starter could be the perfect recipe for him to excel out of the ‘pen in 2020 and beyond.
Fantasy takeaway: In AL-only leagues, I wouldn’t mind having Swanson as a handcuff, particularly in leagues that are SV+HD. He’s not worth rostering in standard leagues, however, until Seattle’s closer situation is more established.
7. Drew Rasmussen is a top-100 prospect by next year
Last year, I made a bold prediction that Tarik Skubal would be a quick-to-the-big-leagues bullpen arm. At the time, he was completely unheralded and while I didn’t get the prediction exactly right, I feel good about predicting big things from him before his big breakout in 2019.
I decided to push my luck this year by predicting big things from another unheralded, hard-throwing prospect with a history of injuries, Brewers right-hander Drew Rasmussen.
Rasmussen came from baseball powerhouse Oregon State University, where he pitched well as a freshman in early 2016 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. He returned to throw well enough in a partial 2017 season to get drafted 31st overall by the Rays, but they didn’t like his medicals and refused to sign him—which looked smart after a second Tommy John surgery wiped out his entire 2018 season at OSU.
The Brewers still took a shot on him in the sixth round in 2019, and he rewarded them with an excellent campaign, throwing 74.1 innings last year, mostly at AA, and posting a 3.15 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and an 11.57 K/9.
Rasmussen possesses a blazing 99 mile per hour fastball and a wicked, hard slider that flummoxed opposing hitters last season, as seen here:
This three pitch sequence from Drew Rasmussen last September is why I'm unrealistically high on him going forward. I know @PitcherList will love it. Heaters up, breakers down. @AlexFast8 @HoothTrevor @ShellyV_643 @CalebJanowski pic.twitter.com/WfIpQW7eB3
— Andy Patton (@andypattonSEA) April 6, 2020
He has a ‘show-me’ changeup as well, but considering his command issues (3.86 BB/9) his injury history, and Milwaukee’s tendency to push their pitching prospects into bullpen roles, it seems likely he will end up as a reliever at the next level, albeit a dang good one.
If that changeup develops, Rasmussen could easily be viewed as a viable No. 3 starter and an easy top-100 prospect. If not, he’s got top-tier closer written all over him. Either way, I’m in on him in a big way going forward—although it’s fair to be wary of the injury history.
Fantasy Takeaway: I’m picking up Rasmussen in most dynasty leagues that have room for prospects, as I’m a big believer that the ceiling is really high, and the floor is of a top-end reliever, giving him nice value regardless.
8. Lucas Erceg becomes a stellar two-way player
It’s becoming quite clear that two-way players will be more popular in the near future. Shohei Ohtani will remain the exception to the rule, as someone who is legitimately great at both, but players like Michael Lorenzen, Jake Cronenworth and Jared Walsh all have a place on big-league rosters, and I think we will see all three of them on the mound and in the field (or at least DH’ing) this season.
Another name to potentially keep an eye on in that realm is Brewers’ third base prospect Lucas Erceg. Erceg has been a top prospect in Milwaukee’s system as a slugging corner infielder, but the past two seasons have exposed some obvious flaws in his swing. With far too many pop-ups and a dramatic increase in strikeouts, most believe Erceg won’t be anything more than a platoon bat or pinch-hitting specialist.
However, Erceg ran his fastball up to 95 as Menlo College’s closer, and though he would have a lot of work to do to be a viable relief option in the big leagues, it would certainly make him more valuable. The loss of a minor league season limits his chances to work off a mound against live hitters, but perhaps he will use his time on the taxi squad to throw against his teammates.
Erceg could have a future as a 26th man who can come in as a pinch-hitter against tough righties and also as a relief arm, which would be a nice, flexible use of a roster spot for Milwaukee.
Fantasy takeaway: Erceg is still a mid-level prospect worth rostering in deeper dynasty leagues, but if he heads to the bump he could have some added value.
9. Taylor Jones has multiple 25+ home run seasons
Unless you are a prospect diehard (welcome) then you probably have not heard of Jones, a former 19th round pick by the Houston Astros in 2016. A corner infielder who is probably limited to 1B/DH at the next level, Jones is blocked by a ton of talent in Houston—but the addition of the DH in the NL could make him a more appealing trade target, and the profile fits as a late-bloomer who could be a really nice sleeper for those who are paying attention.
Jones crushed, I mean crushed, the ball last year. He had an average exit velocity of 91 miles per hour and hit 48% of his balls over 95. His 35.7% hard-hit rate was indicative of this, and—perhaps most importantly—Jones showed the ability to get some lift on the ball, with an excellent 27.1% line drive rate in 2019 at AAA. His sky-high 18.3% HR/FB rate was thanks in part to the super balls the PCL was using last year, but Jones proved he can put really solid wood on the baseball and can generate plenty of barrels and fly balls as needed.
Jones also stands an imposing six-foot-seven and 225 pounds, and while his swing is (understandably) long, it has not hurt him in the strikeout department—in fact his 21.1% strikeout rate last year was exceptional for a guy with his build and raw power, and his 12.8% walk rate indicates a guy with an above-average knowledge of the strike zone and patience at the dish.
All this is to say that Jones is a guy who could easily produce a .250 or so average with 25+ home runs annually, if given everyday at-bats. That almost certainly won’t happen in Houston, however, so there’s probably not a need to rush out and snag him in dynasty leagues just yet.
Fantasy takeaway: If Jones finds his way into a situation where he can get semi-regular or regular playing time, he’s worth a dart throw in deeper leagues. For now, he might be worth adding to the watchlist in most dynasty formats.
10. Zach Wolf becomes closer of the future in Miami
Arguably my boldest prediction, Wolf was an 18th round pick by the Marlins in 2018 out of Seattle University—the same school that birthed the aforementioned, out-of-nowhere prospect darling Tarik Skubal. Perhaps SU will go 2-for-2 with Wolf, who posted a nice 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 26% strikeout rate in 2019 at Single-A as a reliever—while also racking up 15 saves with strong peripherals.
The fact that he’s getting saves already is a good sign the Marlins want to see what he’s capable of in a late-inning role, so perhaps he’ll continue to move up the chain while remaining in the ninth inning.
Of course, Wolf is just five-foot-eight with a relatively flat fastball and fringey secondaries, so at this point he has some work to do to reach that high ceiling. Still, if you are in a very deep dynasty league, he’s at least worth keeping an eye on. Miami could use more late-inning studs, and Wolf is a guy who could rise through the system quickly.
Fantasy takeaway: Wolf shouldn’t be rostered except in the deepest NL-only dynasty leagues, but he’s a name to watch when the minors return in 2021.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)