It’s almost time for baseball to return, yet there are many questions left to answer across many ballclubs. In the last of our three-part series detailing pitchers and hitters, I’ll be covering the burning hitter and lineup questions that could (or should) be on your mind.
While some questions may not be answered until we’re well into the shortened season, thinking about these players and opportunities will help you dissect and analyze the news that rolls in throughout camp.
As our own Kyle Horton pointed out in his article on DH sleepers in the NL, the universal DH creates a major opportunity for Kevin Cron, who broke out in a big way in AAA last year, slashing .331/.449/.777 with 38 home runs in just 82 games, while showcasing fantastic plate discipline. While he wasn’t nearly as prolific in his 78 plate appearances with the major league club and struggled to manage the strike zone, he still managed to hit for power. The first base and DH slots will likely start out as a rotation between Christian Walker, Jake Lamb, and Cron (all of whom stand to benefit in some way from the universal DH), but if Cron can find anything that remotely resembles the 16.2% walk rate and 20.4% strikeout rate he had in the minors, he can wind up in the lineup far more often than not.
David Peralta enters the season with a (mostly) clean bill of health and a juicy spot in the lineup behind Starling Marte, Ketel Marte, and Eduardo Escobar. A healthy Peralta hit .293 with 30 home runs in 2018, and with a current ADP well past 200, he could be a really nice addition to any roster seeking batting average, power, and RBI.
Of the prospects that the Diamondbacks added to their player pool, the one who stands out as possibly having an opportunity is catcher Daulton Varsho. He’s one of the top catching prospects in the league, and 60 games in 66 days could have significant health impacts on catchers in general. While the young Carson Kelly is locked in as the starter behind the dish, Varsho could feasibly seize any opportunities that arise in a competition with journeyman veterans Stephen Vogt and John Hicks. While I don’t recommend rostering him in most formats to start the year, he is absolutely a guy I’d want on my watch list if opportunity happened to knock on his door.
For a few years now, the Braves had had an abundance of MLB-caliber outfielders, so the DH is likely a welcome addition to their lineup. I expect the Braves to initially platoon the spot with Adam Duvall as the righty, and Nick Markakis as the lefty. I don’t think either warrants a bench spot in mixed leagues at the moment, but if one were to overtake the other as the primary DH, that would be newsworthy in deeper formats depending on your team’s needs. Duvall has considerable pop with a lower batting average, while Markakis has impressive contact skills but light power.
Austin Riley and Johan Carmargo will duke it out for the third base job, though some sort of platoon is likely. Riley exploded onto the scene when he was called up, but really struggled to adjust down the stretch, striking out far too often and ultimately moving to a reserve role. For fantasy purposes, Riley’s power is quite intriguing, though his plate discipline needs growth for him to be a contributor. For Camargo, his well-rounded but limited profile is less appealing for our game. All that being said, whichever of these two is the starter on a given day will likely hit ninth, and probably is best deployed in NL-only formats.
Travis d’Arnaud finds himself in his fourth different uniform since the start of 2019, though this time he enters the year as the presumed starter behind the plate. Assuming he can find some of the magic he had last season with the Rays (16 home runs and a .263/.323/.459 line over 92 games), he should be a capable catcher to stream in favorable matchups or as a second catcher in formats that use one.
Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are the two most exciting hitting prospects the Braves squeezed onto the roster. However, with the number of outfielders already with the big club, it’s hard to envision a plausible path to playing time for either.
The 34-year-old Chris Davis was absolutely mashing the ball in spring prior to the pandemic. While recent history suggests his best days are behind him, there’s a non-zero chance that he is relevant in AL-only formats due to the generally favorable hitting environments for lefties in the AL and NL East.
Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco look like a straight-forward platoon at catcher. However, if one were to win the job outright, I think it would be Severino. For fantasy, he’s more of a guy to look to based on matchups as opposed to a locked-in roster spot.
It’s a bummer not seeing Cedric Mullins make the initial player pool. Having said that, if he were to find his way onto the roster, he’d instantly be one of the more fantasy-relevant bats in the lineup due to his power and speed.
Boston Red Sox
It wasn’t that long ago that Jose Peraza was a consistent base-stealer with a solid batting average. A disappointing 2019 led to a new uniform and an uncertain role. However, it seems for now that Peraza will platoon with Michael Chavis at the keystone, while also possibly giving Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield, or Mitch Moreland at first base, a break against tougher lefties like Blake Snell. If Peraza can make it onto the lineup card three or four times a week he could be a really nice bat to have available on your bench in deeper fantasy leagues. If he somehow finds a full-time gig, he should be on someone’s roster in virtually all league formats.
Dustin Pedroia has had a great career and while it’s not necessarily over yet, I’d be very surprised if his story contains a 2020 chapter.
For the guys who were added to the player pool, Bobby Dalbec stands out as a guy who could make an impact if given an opportunity. He’s a classic power-hitting corner infielder who is still trying to develop his hit tool, though it’s worth noting he made considerable strides with his plate discipline in AA and AAA last season. If he does make his way into the lineup, it would likely be at first base.
Jason Kipnis seems like the Opening Day starter at second base right now for the Cubs, and it’s easy to forget that he has at least 17 home runs and seven stolen bases in each of the last two seasons. The batting average isn’t what it used to be, but the veteran could easily stay in the lineup at either second base or DH for the majority of the season. NL-only and uber-deep league managers should take note.
Competition for the second base job comes via heralded rookie Nico Hoerner. He’s the Cubs top prospect and while he doesn’t have a single standout tool, he’s very well-rounded and is excellent at putting the ball in play. In a full season, I’d expect something like 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases with a .280-ish batting average. That doesn’t quite blow folks away, but it’s a solid contribution. He’s particularly interesting in points leagues if he were to land a regular role.
There’s a decent chance that the Cubs are finally finished with their “bat Kyle Schwarber first” experiment that they’ve been running for the last few years. Over the last three seasons, Schwarber slashed .212/.309/.461 as a lead-off hitter, and .266/.351/.586 in the fourth or fifth spots. The Schwarber that bats first is a semi-interesting power bat, while the Schwarber that bats in the middle of the order is a monster. Early reports suggest that Schwarber won’t be a full-time DH, and that actually makes some sense with the team’s roster construction, and the fact that Schwarber has just a 76 wRC+ against lefties, compared to a 125 wRC+ against righties over his career. That’s a very meaningful split, and should be noted by fantasy managers in their drafts. Thankfully, there aren’t that many intimidating southpaws in the AL or NL Central, so it shouldn’t be a huge hindrance to his playing time.
Steven Souza Jr., Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, and David Bote will all probably rotate in all over the place. As far as fantasy baseball is concerned, the one I’ll likely watch with the most interest is Souza, who isn’t that far removed from a 30 home run, 15 stolen base campaign. A locked-in role for him isn’t particularly likely, but if he gets one there could be quite a bit of potential to make a big impact.
Catcher Miguel Amaya and outfielder Brennan Davis are both high-level prospects who landed in the player pool, but the Cubs have a hard enough time making playing time for the guys currently on the roster, so I don’t expect significant playing time for either one.
Chicago White Sox
The everyday lineup for the White Sox seems more or less locked in, but it’s worth pointing out that top prospect Nick Madrigal did make it into the player pool. Second base is currently manned by Leury Garcia, but he hasn’t logged significant time there since 2014. While Garcia has hit at least .270 for three straight seasons, Statcast put his wxOBA at just .274, which was in the bottom 3% of the league. If the White Sox make a run for the division Madrigal would be an appealing addition.
Nomar Mazara is a lot younger than you probably think he is, and has put up better numbers than you probably think he has. Guaranteed Rate Field won’t be as friendly as his old park, but there’s still considerable promise in his bat. He should be able to pile up the RBIs if he can land in the sixth or seventh spot in the order behind a really strong top half of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, and Eloy Jimenez.
Many outlets are reporting that breakout slugger Aristides Aquino has lost much of the goodwill he built up in his epic home run spree after struggling to adapt down the stretch. I’d be surprised if he is able to carve out any meaningful playing time in a very crowded outfield.
While the Reds did add a few prospects to their player pool, I expect the vast majority of the playing time to go to the guys already on the main roster, with the first shot at opportunities going to Josh VanMeter and Philip Ervin.
Another team with a roster that is, health willing, already basically set. The one position that could be a competition is right field between Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, Delino DeShields, and Jordan Luplow. Ultimately, I think there will be a platoon here, and I’m not sure any of these upstanding gentleman will need to be on a fantasy roster in mixed leagues.
Nolan Jones is the top prospect to make the player pool, but don’t get too excited—a lot would need to happen for him to get a real opportunity to take major league at bats.
Undoubtedly the most difficult team to predict, the Rockies will be without Ian Desmond (who opted out for 2020) but have added veteran outfielder Matt Kemp. There are a whole lot of moving parts to this team’s roster, so I’ll do my best to give each one a little attention.
For the new DH slot, I expect Daniel Murphy to get most of the PAs. That said, they could also use the spot to rotate in several of their outfielders like Kemp, Ramiel Tapia, and Sam Hilliard. The latter two are the most appealing for fantasy. Hilliard is a well-known prospect with a tantalizing power-speed combination, though he’s been fairly strikeout prone so far, and will need to limit the third strikes to unlock his potential. Tapia has less power and speed than Hilliard, but his currently superior hit tool makes him a more stable asset. One of these two will need to lock down a job before being signed by fantasy managers, though.
After a late surge, Garrett Hampson has fallen back into the good graces of the fantasy community, and appears to be the starting second baseman. A hot Hampson is capable of hitting for a high average and stealing plenty of bases with serviceable pop, and he ought to be drafted in most leagues. If Hampson can’t re-create his late season successes, it could cause the Rockies to look to top prospect Brendan Rodgers, who would instantly be a highly coveted player for his batting average and power.
JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes, Christin Stewart, and Cameron Maybin are all likely to rotate in the outfield. I’m the highest on Reyes, who is the best of these four against right-handed pitching, and hit .304 last season as the primary lead-off bat at the end of the season. Maybin has a very similar profile to Reyes, and in a perfect world would hit in the one and two spots. Jones and Stewart struggle with batting average, but with the Tigers trying to see exactly what the two younger outfielders can bring to the table during their rebuild, they should each make their way into the lineup on a regular basis.
Jeimer Candelario is slated to be the starting third baseman, but Dawel Lugo (acquired as part of the J.D. Martinez trade) will try to force the Tigers to create a platoon or to give him the job outright. Journeyman Jordy Mercer could also get thrown into the mix either at third or by moving Niko Goodrum to third and taking over at shortstop.
A healthy Astros team has just one spot that could be up for grabs, and it’s in right field. Incumbent Josh Reddick is a very serviceable and dependable outfielder, but upstart Kyle Tucker will do his best to take the job away from him. Both are left-handed, so a platoon isn’t terribly likely. Instead, Tucker will have to try and show off his power and speed like he did in AAA last season by hitting 34 home runs and stealing 30 bases in 125 games. In a full season with a full-time role, Tucker could very well pile up 25 dingers and 25 steals, so any hint that Tucker will get the lion’s share of playing time is worth acting on immediately.
Abraham Toro was going to make the big league roster even without the expansion, and has a good hit tool and decent speed. That said, his role will most likely be too limited to make a fantasy impact.
Kansas City Royals
Bobby Witt Jr. making the player pool is neat. He’s all but certain to end the season without an at bat, though.
I suppose if there’s something to watch, it’s Maikel Franco. It’s been a rough few seasons for him and perhaps the fresh start with low expectations could do him good. My hope is that he can move into the top half of the lineup.
Los Angeles Angels
What will they do with Shohei Ohtani? No one knows that, of course, but it will be one of the biggest developments that everyone should be watching.
Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher are primed to platoon the lead off spot with La Stella getting the strong side of it. If La Stella starts out like he did in 2019 (.295/.346/.486 over 80 games before injury struck), he could win that job outright, and force the multi-positional Fletcher elsewhere.
I bet you heard that Mike Trout is having a baby and that means he may miss up to two weeks. First of all, congrats to Trout. He’s a heckuva guy and will certainly be a heckuva father. Secondly, the more shallow your league, the less you should care about the missed time. In 15-team and AL-only leagues, it can be very difficult to cover the production Trout can provide for two weeks. In 10-team leagues, it’s actually quite doable with some research and waiver wire maneuvers. Plan accordingly at the draft table.
Jo Adell is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but he looks to be behind Brian Goodwin and Fletcher for the semi-open right field spot. Any additional opportunities for starts in the outfield will likely go to him, though, as his potential with the bat is through the roof.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, and Edwin Rios are the most likely to occupy the DH spot for the Dodgers. Pederson and Hernandez offer more versatility and will probably get more overall playing time than Rios, though the Dodgers will still likely shield Pederson from tough lefties and Hernandez from tough righties.
Rookie Gavin Lux shows a lot of promise but to keep the job he’ll need to stay sharp, as Hernandez and Chris Taylor are waiting in the wings if opportunity knocks. They could also move Max Muncy to the keystone and let Rios or Bellinger play first base if they feel the need. The flexibility in the infield and outfield for the Dodgers gives them at least two or three options at pretty much every position.
Jon Berti could find time as a super-utility bat for the Marlins, capable of filling in for Isan Diaz at second, Miguel Rojas at shortstop, Corey Dickerson in left, or Lewis Brinson in right. He’s a big time stolen base threat and will get plenty of games against the Mets, who he once robbed a base from four times in a single game.
JJ Bleday and Jazz Chisholm are the two top prospects in the player pool, though the former hasn’t appeared above A+ and the latter hasn’t even spent a full season in AA. With the Marlins unlikely to compete for a playoff spot, it’s not particularly likely that either sees the field in 2020.
Ryan Braun is more likely than he has been in several seasons to stay healthy due to the shorter schedule, and the comfy new DH spot he can take up. He continues to hit the ball awfully hard, and is even more enticing as a late round outfielder than he has been in years past. That DH spot also means he won’t steal too much time from new addition Avisail Garcia, who also hits the ball really hard, and could do a lot of good things in Miller Park.
Switch-hitting Justin Smoak could be the everyday first baseman. He’s been better against lefties than righties over his career, and the options to fill in for him against righties on the Brewer bench are all right-handed. If anyone does take time from him, it’d be hard-hitting Jedd Gyorko.
The Twins have 11 starting-caliber players and just nine places to put them, which is great them for and a bit frustrating for fantasy managers.
At least to start the season, it looks like the Twins are going to let Mitch Garver out of the strict platoon he saw in 2019. His primary backup is Alex Avila, who is also left-handed. The only person who could take starts away from him against lefties is personal favorite Willians Astudillo, who will fight for playing time at catcher, third base, and in the outfield. Go get ’em, La Tortuga.
Marwin Gonzalez is probably more of a bench guy than he was in the last few seasons with the depth of this roster. He had an off-season knee surgery but should be healthy by the time games start up again. After only playing in 114 games in 2019 and no obvious opportunities, he’s probably just a reserve guy in very deep leagues.
Unlike the Brewers, the Twins used mostly prospects to fill their reserve player pool. Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff, and Trevor Larnach all made it in and represent the bright future the Twins may have ahead of them. We aren’t likely to see that future in 2020, though, as there are more than enough starters to cover most foreseeable scenarios.
New York Mets
The DH and corner outfield jobs will likely be some combination of Yoenis Cespedes, Dominic Smith, and J.D. Davis. All three are potentially relevant in leagues depending on the amount of playing time they get, though if I had to bet on one to have the most production, it’d be Davis. He makes excellent contact and has a better track record of getting into the lineup over the last few seasons. It is very tough to tell what the Mets will do with Cespedes and Smith, which is the same situation for these two as 2019…and 2018…and 2017.
Brandon Nimmo and his career 15.2% walk rate makes the most sense as the primary center fielder and lead-off hitter for the Mets, though good health has eluded him in recent years. If he is platooned or protected, look for Jake Marisnick to step in, though he almost certainly wouldn’t bat first—that role would probably go to Jeff McNeil or Amed Rosario.
I think conventional wisdom says Rosario would be best for fantasy as a lead-off guy, and I expect the overall impression of him would go up if he was. For whatever reason, though, he was much more effective as the eighth hitter in 2019, hitting .367 with a .955 OPS in 109 PA with five stolen bases. He’ll likely bat ninth this season.
Older veterans that you might not have realized are still playing make up the majority of the player pool, such as Melky Cabrera, Eduardo Nunez, and Gordon Beckham. Andres Gimenez is also in there, but I don’t think he (or any of these guys) will make a big impact.
New York Yankees
At this very moment, Giancarlo Stanton is projected to be ready for Opening Day and will start at DH. That means there are meaningful battles at first base, third base, and in the outfield.
At first, Luke Voit is the presumed starter and is backed up by lefty Mike Ford. The fact that the lineup is heavily right-handed combined with Ford’s strong showing in limited time last season means a platoon is possible, though not necessarily likely. 25-year-old Miguel Andujar is healthy now as well and based on his glove work is probably limited to first base in a perfect world, so he could push for time here as well.
Gio Urshela’s 132 wRC+ in 132 games made a good enough impression in 2019 to start out as the primary third baseman, backed up by the aforementioned Andujar. However, Andujar’s 130 wRC+ in 149 games in 2018 was equally as impressive. The main difference here is recency bias and, more importantly, glove work.
In the outfield, seemingly every spot has a question mark. A healthy Aaron Judge is the obvious right fielder, though a healthy Aaron Judge isn’t a given. Ditto that for Aaron Hicks, the projected center fielder, who missed most of 2019. Both are currently trending towards being ready for Opening Day, barring setbacks (which have notably plagued both men in recent history). 37-year-old Brett Gardner has been the healthiest of the three over the last few seasons, but is probably more of a platoon guy at this point in his career. In the event any were to need time off to rest or heal, a combination of Andujar, Mike Tauchman, and Clint Frazier would step in. The amount of fantasy relevance they would have likely falls in that order.
In the player pool, there really isn’t much in the way of bats with a fantasy impact. I suppose infielder Matt Duffy, in a full time role, would have limited deep league or points league value due to his contact ability and high batting average in a strong offense. A lot needs to happen though for that to become a story.
Most of the roster is pretty well set and established, so don’t expect too much news out of Oakland’s camp unless something unexpected happens (which, quite frankly, should almost be expected).
The recent trade of Jorge Mateo to the Padres makes it a two man battle for the second base job between Tony Kemp and Franklin Barreto. Barreto is the one with the power and speed to excite fantasy players, and I like his chances to carve out a larger role if he can manage his strikeouts. While Kemp doesn’t do much damage with his bat, he doesn’t strike out much, and that’s comforting to real-life managers. Chad Pinder could also get some time at second due to his impressive numbers against southpaws.
Seth Brown raised eyebrows with strong performances in AAA and in Oakland last season, and was having a great spring before the shutdown, though there aren’t really any obvious places to put his bat in the lineup. If one thing is working to his advantage, it’s that he’s one of the few lefties on the roster, meaning he might get some time against tougher righties over someone like Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, or Khris Davis if any of the three were to fall into a slump.
In the player pool, the only news I really could find was that 17-year-old Robert Puason made it in (but has no chance of taking any big league swings), and that one-time hyped prospect Dustin Fowler is in. He might be worth flagging on your watch list in AL-only leagues.
The infield of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Didi Gregorious, and Jean Segura is all set, and Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen have the corner outfield spots locked down. Barring health issues, these are the guys you’ll see five or six times a week. I’d also be willing to bet that seasoned slugger Jay Bruce is going to be the regular DH. Josh Harrison and Neil Walker will likely spell anyone who needs a break in the infield, and can even spell a corner outfielder on occasion.
Center field has a bit more intrigue, with Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn each vying for the spot. Quinn is a switch-hitter while Hasely is a lefty, so there’s some decent platoon potential if neither takes a strong enough claim. Nick Williams did make it on the roster, but it’s quite telling that he had been optioned to AAA right before the pandemic.
In the 60-man player pool, the one name that stands out is corner infield prospect Alec Bohm. He was pretty good in AA last season and while he hasn’t had a ton of time in the minors, the 23-year-old first round pick has a strong enough hit tool to get a shot if playing time opens up at DH, first, or third. He’d certainly be worth picking up in such a scenario in deeper leagues.
It’s definitely looking like a transitional year for the Pirates, who have by far the longest odds to win the deep NL Central. There aren’t really any positional battles of note, though it will be interesting to see if youngster Cole Tucker can carve out any playing time in the infield. He’ll need to improve his quality of contact however to make a fantasy impact.
On the prospect side, Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes both made the 60-man player pool, though only the latter is someone I’d expect to get into the lineup. The current third baseman for the Pirates is Colin Moran, who actually hit .277 over the last two seasons and piled up 80 RBI in 2019. Hayes has the skills to push for playing time if the organization wants to give him any, though I wouldn’t expect that to happen, especially early on in the season.
San Diego Padres
Two new additions and former teammates will be fighting for the starting second base gig in Jurickson Profar and Jorge Mateo. While the two have different profiles, they do share similar histories in that they were both once highly-regarded prospects who have since lost their shine. Mateo’s tools are considerably louder than Profar’s, as Mateo has the chance to be a 20-20 guy in a full season, where Profar is more like a 20-10 guy. Both still have a ways to go though with contact ability and batting average. I’d expect the switch-hitting Profar to start out with the stronger side of a timeshare, though Mateo’s ability to adapt to MLB pitching and limit strikeouts will most likely be the driving factor in whether Mateo takes over. For Profar to keep the job, he’ll need better luck, as his 2019 downturn seems largely luck-related, as his Statcast numbers were nearly identical to his 2018 numbers, if not better.
Tommy Pham will likely get his fair share of DH at bats, though he could also step into the outfield, and let a guy like Franchy Cordero get some swings. Cordero missed most of 2019 with injury, but put up some really interesting numbers in Statcast in 2018 with a .273 xBA and a .502 xSLG. If he can go back to hitting the ball hard now that he’s healthy, he could wind up being a sneaky waiver wire find. Josh Naylor would also likely be in the mix at DH due to his 70-grade raw power and strong plate discipline.
In the player pool, several young prospects made the cut, but are not likely to make their way to the roster. One guy to watch is Taylor Trammel, who at one time was the Reds’ top prospect. His growth has slowed considerably in the high minors but he’s quite willing to take a walk, and if he can crack the lineup at some point would instantly be worthy of fantasy attention due to his speed.
San Francisco Giants
While the Giants do have several positions possibly up for grabs this summer, the fantasy impact of those battles is probably limited to NL-only formats. For example, former perennial breakout candidate Brandon Belt could give up playing time to Pablo Sandoval or Wilmer Flores against lefties. It has been some time since these names were mixed-league relevant, but in deep formats where finding plate appearances is a challenge in and of itself, there’s a little bit of intrigue here.
As of this very moment, speedster Billy Hamilton looks like the starting center fielder, but that no longer means what it once did. While Hamilton has improved his walk rate in each of the last two seasons, his tendency towards incredibly weak contact severely hampers his ability to get on base. In 2019, he posted a paltry .289 OBP despite a 9.1% walk rate due to an elevated strikeout rate, and his inability to square up the ball. While stolen bases are a premier skill in fantasy baseball, real baseball is geared towards contact. A sub-.300 OBP may not be tolerated for very long by the Giants, which could push Mike Yastrzemski into center. Rumors of a Yasiel Puig signing also could greatly impact the outfield, and my guess is that Hamilton would move to the bench.
The middle of the infield could also shuffle up quite a bit with Mauricio Dubon, Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, and Donovan Solano each getting starts here and there, though Dubon and Crawford are most likely the regulars.
Several big names in the prospect world appear in the Giants player pool, such as Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and Marco Luciano, though Bart is the only one that appears to have a legitimate chance to pick up some playing time in 2020. He was excellent in his AA debut in 2019, and the Giants didn’t really bring in any established backups to Buster Posey. Even so, I wouldn’t anticipate enough at bats to warrant a draft selection in any mixed league (unless it’s a dynasty, of course).
The only particularly interesting question at this point for the Mariners is whether or not Jarred Kelenic will get any playing time, though the answer is probably “no.”
Besides that I guess there’s some AL-only interest in whether Austin Nola can get catcher-eligibility back, and I think the answer is definitely “yes.” This is a really lefty-heavy lineup so Nola could wind up gaining positional eligibility as a few spots by the time 2020 is over just to get his right-handed bat in the lineup. He’s mostly relevant though as a catcher. I’m not sure you’re deploying him at any other position unless you’re in an AL-only or extremely deep league and facing several holes in your lineup.
I wanted to try and drink some Dee Gordon kool-aid, but couldn’t find any to drink. Shed Long showed some moderate power and speed in his MLB debut last season, and should lead-off and start at second base, and pretty much the entire bench is capable of filling into a corner outfield spot if needed.
St. Louis Cardinals
After years and years of logjams in the outfield and corner infield, the Cardinals finally have a DH slot to give some guys a chance to play. An aging Matt Carpenter is the most likely DH on a day-to-day basis, though against lefties I wouldn’t be shocked to see someone like Tyler O’Neill get a look.
Speaking of O’Neill, he’s in contention for the left field gig with Dylan Carlson, one of the Cardinals’ top prospects. I think Carlson is the more exciting of the two options and has a much higher ceiling, though both can provide a bit of power and speed with the job. If one player wins the job outright, the other would also seemingly have a chance to DH here and there, and also give a breather to Dexter Fowler, who the Cardinals have been known to protect due to his lengthy injury history.
The Cardinals are actually somewhat thin with regards to established talent in the infield both on the bench and in the player pool, and there really aren’t any other players in the pool or on the bench that I could project being a draft-day target.
Tampa Bay Rays
There are a ton of different looks the Rays could show teams with respect to the lineup. Much like they’ve done with their rotation and bullpen, the Rays have cobbled together a surprisingly deep roster using fairly unconventional means. Generally, most of the shuffling will be at first base, third base, DH, and maybe even right field.
At first base and DH, we could see any two of Ji-Man Choi, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Nate Lowe, Jose Martinez, or (occasionally) Yandy Diaz. The first three are all left-handed, while the latter two are right-handed, so I expect some heavy platooning.
At third base, I think Yandy Diaz will start most games, though Lowe did manage to sneak in a handful of appearances there, and the Rays are not at all afraid to get weird.
In right field, I think Hunter Renfroe is at the top of the list but Tsutsugo, Martinez, and fellow former Friar Manuel Margot could all possibly see time. Margot is also a candidate to start in center field if Kevin Kiermaier’s intense defensive playing style causes him to miss a bit of time.
With such a crowded roster, it’s hard to imagine a whole lot of playing time for the guys in the player pool, though the top prospect in all of baseball, Wander Franco, is theoretically waiting in the wings. Weirder things have happened than a 19-year-old with no experience above A+ ball cracking the major league lineup, but it’s not something I’d count on. Vidal Brujan, who is also highly regarded in the prospect community, is slightly more likely to make it up to the Show, but I’d also file that under “highly unlikely”.
The departure of Nomar Mazara to the South Side opens up a little bit of space in the outfield and DH rotation for the Rangers, which now looks to be shared by Shin-Soo Choo, Danny Santana, Nick Solak, Willie Calhoun, and Joey Gallo. I think it’s safe to say that Gallo and Choo are pretty much locked into the primary right field and DH roles, respectively, with Solak and Calhoun fighting over left field, and Santana looking like the primary center fielder. The Rangers will likely shuffle things around quite a bit throughout the season based on hot and cold streaks. The most likely way that all five of these players take the field at the same time is if Santana takes over at first base, which he did at times in 2019. If there’s one of these five that’s the most likely to draw the short straw in playing time, it is my unpopular opinion that it would be Calhoun, who has had a few opportunities to seize a full time role and has been unsuccessful each time. It’s also worth noting that Santana and Solak are the only two of that group who can bat from the right side. All five of these players should be drafted in most 12-team leagues.
The Rangers system is notoriously light on popular prospects, and unsurprisingly, there isn’t much excitement in the 60-man player pool. If I had to speculate as to what guy would be the most exciting for fantasy managers if given an opportunity, it would probably be outfielder Leody Taveres for his speed. At this point, though, he’s not really on my radar in any redraft format.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have an exciting young roster, but interestingly enough I think the only fantasy-relevant position battle is at DH between Derek Fisher, Rowdy Tellez, and Anthony Alford. Fisher and Alford both have promising power and speed, though the former has struggled with strikeouts at the major league level, while the latter has struggled to stay on the field. If either are fully healthy and can take a step forward in their development, they could be interesting backup outfielders in deeper leagues. Tellez is more of a classic lefty masher who will post a low batting average but hit for decent power. I’d love to see Fisher and/or Alford overcome their struggles and flash their power and speed, but I’ll be taking a very cautious approach to either one, even in this shortened season.
The rest of the roster is pretty well settled, and the player pool is mostly true back-ups with the exception being Jordan Groshans, who is a top-100 prospect that is unlikely to see the field in 2020.
Ryan Zimmerman’s opt-out for 2020 made the everyday lineup for the Nationals a little bit more clear as now Eric Thames is the de facto regular at first base. The addition of the DH further clears things up by giving Howie Kendrick a position to play.
I think signs are pointing to Carter Kieboom getting a shot to start at third base, meaning the one guy left out is infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, who was excellent in stints for the Nationals last season despite a very slow start as a Ranger. The two could platoon here and there, especially if Kieboom struggles out of the gate. If he doesn’t, expect Cabrera to give breaks to Kieboom, Kendrick, and Starlin Castro a few times a week. Either Kieboom or Cabrera, if given a full-time role, is worth rostering in many formats, though Kieboom is the one with the highest upside.
With the outfield locked in with Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, and Victor Robles, there really isn’t much to watch for most fantasy owners looking for big news, as the player pool for the Nats is geared towards veteran depth.
(Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire / Adapted by Justin Paradis)