As a fantasy baseball manager, identifying outstanding values can be the difference between winning your league and serving as an also-ran.
Perhaps most valuable are the players who have little to no draft day cost (either as late-round pick in a snake-order draft or a one-dollar player in an auction) but put up excellent seasons nevertheless. Here are my favorite end-game value picks for 2020, who, based on their Pitcher List ADPs from the six Early Mocks, are going at pick 250 or later. Shout-out to Smada plays fantasy for compiling these ADP numbers!
*Note that the Pitcher List Mocks were designed as 12 team leagues, with three OF, two UTIL, nine Ps and lasted 23 rounds (two bench spots), so I will be spotlighting 12 hitters in this article and 11 pitchers in a follow-up. Although player ADPs will change, potentially dramatically, in the coming months, the list below hopefully provides a starting point as you consider what late flyers to take in your drafts. Happy prospecting!
Catcher – Carson Kelly, 25, Diamondbacks (ADP: 286.7)
On a per-game basis, Carson Kelly was already stud in 2019, and showed promise to reach greater heights in 2020 with increased playing time. In 365 plate appearances, Kelly put up a 46/18/47/0/.245 line (.348 OBP). His underlying numbers show the emergence of a strong power/plate discipline profile, a rare combo at any position and even more-so at catcher.
In 2019, Kelly put up an outstanding 13.2% walk rate and .232 ISO, while striking out at a (nowadays) very manageable 21.6% rate. Furthermore, Kelly sported some strong Statcast numbers, with 8.9 Barrel%, an 89.0 mph average exit velocity and a 40.4% hard hit rate. Kelly also had better-than-average plate discipline with an O-Swing% of 25.0% and a Swinging Strike rate of 8.6%.
Kelly should have the lion’s share of playing time at catcher for the D-backs this season, a 60/23/70/0/.250 season is within view, putting him close to the production of a Yasmani Grandal but at a fraction of the cost.
First Base – C.J. Cron, 30, Tigers (ADP: 275.0)
The top names on the 2019 Barrel% Leaderboard read as such: Nelson Cruz, Gary Sanchez, Joey Gallo, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, annnnnnd…you guessed it! One of these players is not valued like the others, so use that to your advantage on draft day. C.J. Cron is a Statcast darling, pure and simple, who could put up his best season yet in 2020 due to a full slate of playing time in Detroit. His blood red Baseball Savant page says it all: Cron ranked in the upper quarter of the league in exit velocity (91.0 mph), hard hit rate (44.6%), xwOBA (.366), xBA (.277) and xSLG (.548) in 2019. While Cron has primarily played in a platoon role in his career, sharing playing time with Albert Pujols in Anaheim as well as with Marwin Gonzalez and Willians “La Tortuga” Astudillo last season in Minnesota, he appears to have a clear path to full-time, cleanup-hitting PT in 2020 with the Tigers. Look for Cron’s 2020 to resemble or even exceed his 2018 production with the Rays, when he went 68/30/74/1/.253.
Second Base – Tommy Edman, 25, Cardinals (ADP: 250.7)
Tommy Edman pairs a solid hit tool (82.6% contact rate, 8.3 swinging strike%) and the skills to play multiple defensive positions with blazing sprint speed (29.4 ft/second, 97th percentile in MLB) and base-stealing acumen (15 steals with only one caught-stealing for the Redbirds in 2019, plus nine steals in nine attempts in AAA).
The biggest threat to Edman’s production, and what is likely driving his cost down, is a potential lack of playing time. While Roster Resource currently projects Edman as St. Louis’ starting left fielder, the Cardinals have a conga-line of talented young outfielders (Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and Dylan Carlson, to name a few) who could vie for PT in left field, not to mention high-salaried veterans (Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler) blocking him at third base, second base and right field, respectively. Even if the Cardinals opt to go with another option in left field, Edman should still see plenty of playing time to make an impact for fantasy owners, considering his defensive versatility.
At the very least, Edman should get 3-4 games a week as the Cardinals cycle through rest days for their vets and he has the upside of a full-time. The bottom line: Tommy Edman is the kind of cheap speed worth buying, as his contact skills supplement his speed and provides a nice floor for his offensive value while his defensive flexibility will help secure his playing time. A 12-15 homer, 20 steal season with a .275 batting average seems well within reach for 2020 and would yield a nice return on a miniscule draft day investment.
Third Base – Brian Anderson, 27, Marlins (ADP: 261.0)
On the surface, Brian Anderson’s 57/20/66/5/.261 2019 season for the lowly Marlins last season appears unspectacular in every way. This mediocre stat line belies the skill improvements he made in 2019. Anderson’s power growth, plus some new developments for the Marlins, have him primed to return excellent value as a late round pick.
In 2018, his first full season in the bigs, he displayed solid contact and promising plate discipline but had uninspiring power numbers, hitting just 11 bombs in 670 plate appearances. In 2019, Anderson made significant improvements as a power hitter, increasing his barrel percentage on batted ball events three ticks to 8.9 from 5.8 and increasing his launch angle from a ground-ball heavy 8.7 degrees, to a more fly-ball-friendly 11.1 degrees. These gains, combined with a 3.4 point increase in his hard hit percentage to 45.7 (86th percentile in MLB), led him to exceed his 2018 home run total by 9 in 150 fewer plate appearances.
Along with Anderson’s power growth, the Marlins have added three credible big league bats in Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar. These new acquisitions should improve a lineup that ranked second-to-last in MLB in runs in 2019, and should enhance Anderson’s run scoring and RBI outlook for his number three spot in the lineup. Moving in the fences a smidge at Marlins Park won’t hurt either. With health, a 80/27/85/5/.270 line is an achievable upside for Anderson in 2020–Marcell Ozuna numbers for a rock-bottom price.
Shortstop – Paul DeJong, 26, Cardinals (ADP: 267.8)
That a 30-home-run-hitting Shortstop at a peak age could last until the final rounds of drafts is more a statement of the wealth of talent at the position than of doubts about Paul DeJong’s ability to play baseball. Owners must have been delighted with DeJong’s 2019 production, as he went 97/30/78/9/.233. While DeJong’s 2019 exit velocity and hard hit rate didn’t light up his Statcast page, he has shown more impressive power skills in the past, and maintains a fly-ball lean and 18.5 degree launch angle that supports his ability to exceed last year’s home run total in future seasons.
Other reasons for optimism about DeJong include his improved plate discipline (he increased his walk rate while cutting his strikeout rate in 2019) and his projected spot in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. While doubters may point to DeJong’s second half struggles, he had some rotten luck as evidenced by his .210 BABIP during that stretch. There’s no reason to doubt DeJong’s ability to repeat last year’s production, and I’d be pumped to get him at the end of my draft.
Corner Infield – Yandy Diaz (1B/3B), 28, Rays (ADP: 273.3)
Perhaps his struggles in the Divisional Round will soften the playoff tax Yandy Diaz looked primed to incur with a two homer Wild Card Game against Oakland. Diaz took significant steps forward in 2019 and gave fantasy owners reason for optimism for further growth in 2020, but he remains a low-cost purchase on draft day.
Diaz began to unlock his power potential in 2019 after his trade to Tampa Bay, hitting 14 home runs in 79 games. He sported an elite (92nd percentile) exit velocity (91.7mph), while inching his launch angle upward to 5.7 degrees and increasing his fly ball rate. Diaz combines above average plate discipline and contact skills, posting a 25.3 O-Swing% and a 10.1% walk rate while putting up a 79.3% contact rate on a 9.3% swinging strike rate, which provides a high floor for his performance as the Rays’ everyday third baseman. If he continues to make incremental increases to his launch angle, Diaz can tap into his power upside next year while maintaining a plus batting average. Although he won’t help your team in the running game, his skills suggest he could put up a .275/80/25/80 line in 2020 with the potential for more homers if the Rays’ Devil Magic works its wonders.
Middle Infield – Didi Gregorius (SS), 30, Phillies (ADP: 296.2)
Didi Gregorius’s reputation for using Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field is well-known. Fortunately, Citizen Bank Park also offers inviting dimensions to lefty pull hitters, so Didi shouldn’t see too much of a power-drop off with the Phillies. While his 2019 left much to be desired, his struggles can be mostly attributed to his rounding back into form after returning from Tommy John surgery, and it feels reasonable to label 2019 as a lost season. Expect Didi to bounce back to a stat line resembling his 2016-2018 seasons, where he averaged 578 plate appearances, 77 runs, 24 home runs, 81 RBI, 7 steals and a .277 batting average. Because you can draft impactful bats like Didi and Paul DeJong essentially for free, waiting on Shortstop seems like a worthwhile draft strategy in 2020.
Outfield – Adam Eaton, 31, Nationals (ADP: 250.0)
Having rostered Victor Robles last year, I was waiting with bated breath for Adam Eaton’s annual injury so Robles could ascend to his rightful place atop the Nationals’ potent lineup as was foretold. Ever the contrarian, the rascal Eaton logged an excellent full season as he embodied the platonic ideal of the number two hitter.
Through this ordeal, I learned that Adam Eaton is actually pretty good, and definitely a nice value going into 2020. Sure, he doesn’t stand out in any one skill, but this masks the fact that he’s solid across the board. He has good plate discipline and a reliable hit tool, as he ranked above average in O-swing (28.2%), contact rate (84.2%), swinging strike rate (6.8%) and xBA (.277). His sprint speed ranked in the 81st percentile in baseball and he’s logged outstanding success rates on steals the last two seasons (83% and 90% in 2019 and 2018, respectively).
When you look closely at my assumption of his injury prone reputation, you see a torn ACL in 2017 and a bone bruise bruise in his ankle in 2018. Significant injuries, yes, but apparently not chronic and not as concerning as the recurring soft tissue injuries to which some players regularly fall prey. Add it all up and Eaton has logged at least 650 plate appearances in three of the past five seasons. If he can continue with his healthy ways in 2020, a late round pick will yield a nice profit as he puts a season line like 90/13/50/15/.280.
Outfield – Trent Grisham, 23, Padres (ADP: 250.8)
If you’re lucky, your fellow drafters will think of Trent Grisham as nothing but a goat after his devastating error for the Brewers in the 2019 NL Wild Card game. Let them think that, then laugh your way to the bank after you pick him up for $1-2 on draft day. Grisham possesses a rare collection of power, eye, and speed tools which should make him a profitable outfielder in 2020. A less-heralded rookie than the likes of Vlad Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez and Keston Hiura, Grisham still enjoyed success in 2019. Between AA, AAA and the majors last season (148 games, 624 PAs), Grisham put up a 32/13 season. He owns excellent sprint speed (93rd percentile, 29.1 ft/s) and, while he may never again reach the 37 steals he put up in High A in 2017, he’s had a solid success rate of 74% in the minors, so he profiles as someone who will run effectively enough to continue getting green lights in the majors. 10-15 steals is definitely in-play.
While he did strike out in 26.2% of his MLB plate appearances, Grisham recorded a 17.7% and 13.9% in AA and AAA respectively in 2019, which indicates he should improve in that area 2020. His MLB plate discipline numbers were strong, he logged a 22.0% o-swing and an 8.1% swinging strike rate, which were both significantly better than league average.
In OBP leagues, Grisham should be especially valuable, he never put up an OBP lower than .346 at any stop in the minors and reached his best mark of .471 in 34 games at AAA this year. While the Padres crowded outfield means he likely won’t log full-time playing time in 2020, he should at least start out on the strong side of a platoon and could win regular playing time with a fast start to 2020. With his rare combination of skills and 500-550 plate appearances, an achievable stat line of 70/20/70/12/.250 (.355 OBP) would make him an excellent profit at the end of drafts.
Outfield – Alex Verdugo, 24, Dodgers (ADP: 299.2)
When I cheat on Pitcher List by listening to Eno Sarris and Derek Van Riper on their fantastic Rates and Barrels podcast, I’ve heard Eno sing the praises of the hit tool as perhaps the most valuable skill for a young player to possess as it may be the hardest to develop later in one’s career. This is wonderful news for Alex Verdugo owners, as the hit tool is strong with this one: he logged an outstanding 13.0% strikeout rate (top 7% in the league) and a miniscule 6.6% swinging strike rate.
Far from a slap hitter, Verdugo maintained these excellent bat-to-ball skills while increasing his exit velocity, hard hit rate and launch angle in 2019. Perhaps the most encouraging part for Verdugo’s playing time next season was the fact that he showed he could hit lefties, posting an impressive .327 batting average and 110 OPS+ against them. These gains may save him from being platooned and could help him take hold of an everyday role in right field for the Dodgers in 2020. While I wouldn’t bet on seeing him in the home run derby this year, Verdugo should be on your short list of late-round batting average assets to target, and a 70/18/70/6/.290 line with upside for more will do nicely for your team in 2020.
Utility – Joc Pederson (1B/OF), 28, Dodgers (ADP: 253.2)
A 253 ADP for a player who hit 36 homers last year?! Not bad for a strong-side platoon player.
Indeed, Joc Pederson is a slugger (83rd percentile exit velo, 76th percentile hard hit percentage, 73rd in MLB in 2019 with 35 barrels) who feasts on fastballs without completely selling out and ruining his batting average. Roster Resource projects Pederson to lead off against righties, so with the Dodgers’ outstanding lineup, he should see plenty of fastballs again in 2020 and end up around 500 plate appearances, which should give him the chance to make another run at 30-35 homers with healthy counting stats on a per-start basis.
Utility – Ryan Braun (OF), 36, Brewers (ADP: 333.3)
Yes, Ryan Braun is old. Yes, he has some nagging injuries (calf, back) that have caused him to miss time each of the past three seasons. But last year was his healthiest and most productive season since 2016, when he showed he can still crush baseballs, logging an 87th percentile average exit velocity and an 85th percentile hard hit rate. Braun’s 70/22/75/11/.285 line in 144 2019 games was outstanding per-game production. He recorded 6.9 barrels per plate appearance, which ranked 79th in the MLB out of hitters with at least 150 batted ball events, higher than valued sluggers such as Francisco Lindor, Rafael Devers, and Charlie Blackmon.
Giving Braun regular rest days (he actually avoided the IL completely last season), the Brewers have wisely managed his playing time in a way that maximizes his production. This trend will likely continue in 2020 with the Brewers playing baseball’s version of musical chairs, rotating Braun, Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak between left field and first base (Smoak, of course, will only start at 1B) to manage Braun’s workload. Due to these regular rest days, Braun’s ideal spot on your fantasy team would be as your #1 bench bat, but you can feel confident slotting him into your lineup every time he starts for the Brewers in 2020, and another season with similar production to 2019 is very much in play.
(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)
Do you think the team changes for Joc and Verdugo help or hurt their value? Explain.
Poor Joc Pederson is back on the Dodgers for now, but I definitely think this trade boosts Verdugo’s value, as he should now have regular playing time going into 2020. Definitely monitor Verdugo’s health though, as he still appears to be rehabbing from the upper body injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season.