Baseball itself is on the IL, my friends.
It’s almost unsettling to think that fantasy drafts are either still happening, or could be scheduled for the near future, despite the fact that MLB’s originally scheduled Opening Day has come and gone. The reason for this is well known, and no one is disputing the fact that there are more important things to worry about than a delayed start to the 2020 baseball season.
However, if you’re reading this, it’s because baseball still matters to you. We could all use a little bit of baseball right now. Many fantasy drafts have yet to happen, and there are many just getting underway with MLB’s announcement that Opening Day would be pushed back “at least two weeks,” with rumors swirling that the season could start as late as the end of June or even July.
The delayed start due to the coronavirus pandemic does present some draft-day values that have to be considered, as many players that had taken a tumble down draft boards earlier in the spring due to injury could see much of their original value restored. Additionally, those who drafted earlier in the spring are likely stuck with the sunk cost of an early draft pick spent on players like Chris Sale or Noah Syndergaard, both of whom will miss the 2020 season entirely due to Tommy John surgery.
Here’s a look at a few names that should see their ADP rise the longer the season remains on hiatus.
Justin Verlander was slated to miss up to six weeks after undergoing right groin surgery. Barring any setbacks, Verlander should be full systems go by the time the regular season comes around. Whether this injury was a fluke occurrence or a sign of Father Time catching up to him remains to be seen.
At age 36 in 2019, Verlander posted a career-high 12.11 K/9 to go along with a sterling 2.58 ERA. Considering that came on the heels of a career-low.218 BABIP and career-high 88.4% LOB%, expect some regression. If you’re also concerned that the HR/9 rose from 1.18 the last two years to 1.45 in 2019, then prepare for even more regression. Nonetheless, Verlander should remain one of the game’s best pitchers, and his ADP is unlikely to slip beyond 15.0 overall with news that he should be fully recovered in time for Opening Day.
Shohei Ohtani was always going to be available as a DH by March 27th. However, the original prognosis had him staying away from the mound until mid-May. Now, it’s entirely possible that Ohtani will be playable as both a batter and a pitcher when the Angels play their first game. The sample size is admittedly limited, but during ten games started in 2018, Ohtani registered a 3.65 SIERA and a 10.97 K/9 backed by a 15.2% SwStr%.
For context, that would have ranked as the sixth highest swinging-strike rate in 2019, just behind Jacob deGrom. Yes, I know – it was ten starts and I’m cherry-picking stats here. But Ohtani throws in the upper 90s, and there is no denying he’s a talented hurler. The Angels spent a fortune to compete this year, and a shortened season may make Ohtani a steal as the 37th starting pitcher taken according to ADP.
Griffin Canning was a popular breakout candidate during the winter and early spring until an MRI revealed elbow inflammation that had many concerned Tommy John was coming. However, the Angels and Canning opted for rehab over surgery, and recent reports tell us he is already close to resuming a throwing regiment.
Canning was going undrafted in many news after the UCL injury was announced. Now, you could potentially be securing the talents of a top-50 pitcher with the 298th pick in your draft. At that price, he’s worth the flier whether he pitches this year or not. As a rookie, Canning put together 17 starts with a 13.8% SwStr%, 9.56 K/9, and K-BB% of 17.3%
The flame-throwing southpaw went down with a mild shoulder strain that would have resulted in sending him to the bullpen by Opening Day. There are no assurances that A.J. Puk will find himself in Oakland’s rotation by the time the season starts, but the delayed start certainly helps his chances. The original innings limitations will also be less of a concern. A starting pitcher who consistently posted a K/9 over 12.00 in the minors isn’t usually available at pick 240, but that’s right around where Puk is going according to ADP.
This one is more of a hunch, but the Brewers made the NLCS with Josh Hader as a high-leverage weapon out of the bullpen and Corey Knebel available for mop-up duty in the ninth inning. Knebel underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2019, but with so many questions surrounding Milwaukee’s starting rotation, Hader may be more valuable to the team as a fireman they can use when needed rather than the man designated for a single inning to end the game.
Knebel saved 39 games in 2017 with a 14.92 K/9, and it cannot be overstated how good he was that year. In addition to a 1.78. ERA, he also set the MLB record for most consecutive appearances with at least one strikeout by a relief pitcher at 45 games. An injury to his hamstring sabotaged his 2018 season, which effectively vaulted Hader to the role of closer out of necessity when Knebel couldn’t find his groove and end up being demoted to Triple-A. Knebel was announced as the closer heading into the 2019 season, and he looked like a draft-day value before a torn UCL ended his comeback shortly after Opening Day.
Knebel was scheduled to begin facing live hitters in late March, so it’s entirely possible that you can acquire the closer for a playoff-caliber team for free since he’s going undrafted in most leagues. If nothing else, he’s worth a stash with one of your final picks just to see what happens.
Miles Mikolas experienced flexor tendon soreness in February; he received a PRP injection and was shut down throwing for a week; the injury was ultimately expected to sideline him until mid-April. Mikolas should be fully healthy by the time the season begins. He isn’t the pitcher who registered a 2.83 ERA in 2018, but he’s probably better than the one who posted a 4.16 ERA in 2019. Consider him a fine ratio stabilizer with the upside for wins playing behind a solid St. Louis lineup.
Mike Clevinger had a lot of helium coming into this draft season. Then, knee surgery pushed his debut to April; his ADP dropped, but with MLB’s season postponement, he’s now being drafted at 35th overall as the 10th starting pitcher overall. If he slips to the late fourth or even fifth round due to his recent injury, consider him a steal. A starter with Clevinger’s stuff, a 2.71 ERA, and 12.07 K/9 is a clear-cut top-24 talent.
Alex Verdugo suffered a stress fracture in his back, but he should be fully healthy sometime in May. Traded to the Red Sox this offseason in the big deal that landed the Dodgers Mookie Betts and David Price, Verdugo has long been blocked at the big league level. The former second-rounder boasts a strong hit tool and contact skills, and most projections have him hitting close to .300 for the Red Sox.
Verdugo’s power profile will probably prevent him from hitting much more than 2o home runs, assuming he ever hits even that many, but he should be able to rack up counting stats hitting near the top of the order in Boston. He’s going undrafted in most leagues, but he could easily produce a similar stat line to what Bryan Reynolds did in 2019.
Aaron Judge is the first in a trio of Yankees that should all be healthy by the time baseball resumes. A stress fracture to his ribs has kept Judge indefinitely shelved. He was most certainly going to miss Opening Day, but the later this delay pushes the start of the season, the most likely Judge will be ready to go. His current ADP places him just inside the top-50 picks as the 16th outfielder taken in drafts, sandwiched between Austin Meadows and Whit Merrifield.
The shortened season should make Judge a value at that ADP. His floor (30+ homer power, an OBP over .380, an average above .270), plus tons of counting stats in one of the league’s best offenses, might be Meadows’ ceiling. In case you forgot, Judge hit 52 bombs in 2017.
Judge’s teammate in the outfield, Giancarlo Stanton may benefit most from a shortened season. Behemoths like Stanton and Judge may not have the body type to consistently withstand the rigors of a full MLB season. Judge played 155 games in 2017, but he hasn’t topped 112 since. Stanton, who will turn 31 later this year, has topped 140 games just four times in ten years.
Stanton’s current ADP (73rd overall, 20th outfielder taken) makes him a considerable draft day value when you consider his calf strain should be good to go in another month (or two?). When healthy, the guy consistently puts up a 25%+ HR/FB to go along with a career .547 SLG. Taken almost two rounds after Judge, Stanton could easily offer top-1o outfielder value for a top-20 price.
Few players on this list saw their ADP drop the way James Paxton’s did when he underwent back surgery in February, and it was announced the procedure would likely sideline him until June. However, there now exists a possibility that he will be ready to take the mound again shortly after play resumes. If so, his current ADP (146, 41st starting pitcher drafted) makes him a screaming value. Paxton is due to hit the IL seemingly every year, but his 2020 stint may have fortuitously occurred before the season even starts.
Assuming Paxton can make it back healthy in June and stay that way through the end of the year, you’re getting arguably a top-10 fantasy starter for less than top-40 draft day value. In 2019, Paxton boasted an 11.11 K/9, 3.93 SIERA, and a K-BB% of 20.7% that was down a few ticks from previous seasons. If you’re in the middle of a slow draft right now and just lost Chris Sale or Noah Syndergaard, make Paxton a primary target if he’s still on the board.
Injuries are never fun. If your draft has been pushed back, all of these players should be high value picks at their current ADP. Consider taking a chance on at least one of them and reap the rewards if we ever get to buy peanuts and Cracker Jack again in 2020.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)