Non-Elite Prospects With Sneaky 2020 Redraft Value

Written by: Ray Butler

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“Who are some off-the-radar prospects who will explode in the big leagues this season?”

If you write about or publicly discuss prospects in any way, shape, form or fashion, there’s a really good chance you get asked this question multiple times every offseason. Heck, most of the time, I’m able to mark it off my weekly prospector Bingo card.

I’ve never addressed it, but that’s an insane question. It’s literally a prospector’s job to identify a prospect—any prospect—who could make a notable impact at the big league level during an upcoming season. There’s a reason an ‘off-the-radar prospect destined to explode as a big leaguer’ is an oxymoron in the prospect world. There’s a good chance you’ve already read about every minor leaguer who could make a newsworthy MLB impact in 2020. Those players will be featured on any valid, well-sourced/researched top-100 or top-200 list throughout the prospecting industry this preseason.

The prospects included on this list—in all likelihood—won’t be multi-win players at the big league level in 2020. They are, however, worthy of your attention in the end-game of 50 round Best Balls and 40 round Draft Championships. Seeing as those are formats in which most league winners walk with a full pocket, I’d say these are players you should be squarely on your radar this preseason.

In alphabetical order, let’s dive in.

Will Craig, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh. Age: 25

I can only assume we’re a Starling Marte trade away from the Will Craig era officially beginning in Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old hasn’t been included on my top-200 prospect list since 2017 for reasons that appear both in live looks and the stat lines, but I’m not naive enough to believe there won’t be value as a 4th or 5th outfielder in NFBC formats if Craig can seize the everyday left field job for the Pirates. The expectation would be something like .240/25 HR throughout a full season of consistent at-bats, which is more valuable than you’d think once attrition rears its ugly head in leagues in which 75-100 outfielders are started weekly.

Jake Cronenworth, INF/RP, San Diego. Age: 26

I know the introduction of this article focused primarily on Best Ball and Draft Championship formats, but I want Cronenworth in each and every one of my daily leagues this season. I tweeted it the night he was dealt to San Diego as the afterthought of the Tommy Pham trade: Cronenworth is the perfect candidate for the new, extra roster spot allotted to MLB teams beginning in 2020. A two-way player capable of basically anywhere on the diamond while also being serviceable from the bullpen, the 26-year-old should be a prime candidate to break camp with the Padres this spring. It might take him a little while to become eligible as both a position player and relief pitcher on fantasy platforms, but once he does, he’ll become one of the few players in the big leagues with the ability to positively impact both your offensive and pitching statistics on a weekly basis.

Tucker Davidson, SP, Atlanta. Age: 24

I don’t like Davidson’s 2020 outlook as much as I love Kyle Wright’s (scroll down for his write-up) 2020 outlook, but my gut tells me the left-hander will play a role in Atlanta at some point this season. The way I see it, Davidson is currently the 7th best starting pitcher within the Braves’ organization, behind Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson (Sean Newcomb will reportedly battle with Wright and Ian Anderson for the fifth spot in the Braves’ rotation, but I suspect his optimal role is in the bullpen). Anderson is not currently on the 40-man roster and has only made five starts in Triple-A; of course the right-hander will eventually slot into the Braves’ starting rotation, but I believe it’s likely that Davidson, Wright and Bryse Wilson (and maybe even Patrick Weigel) will all receive opportunities before Anderson this season. I loved what I saw from Davidson last season in my Southern League looks, and he’s worked hard this offseason to add additional velocity to his already-underrated fastball. The long-term role is a little less clear, but I’m fairly confident the 24-year-old will log innings from Atlanta’s rotation at some point this season.

Daniel Johnson, OF, Cleveland. Age: 24

Are you aware Greg Allen is currently listed as the Indians’ starting right fielder on FanGraphs’ RosterResource? Jake Bauers is listed as their starting left fielder. Delino DeShields, Jordan Luplow (who you should do a bit of research on), Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Naquin (currently rehabbing from knee surgery) currently serve as secondary outfield options in Cleveland, but this situation strikes me as favorable for Johnson in the near future. Added to the 40-man roster this offseason, the 24-year-old—at minimum—should become the strong side of a platoon with a valuable arm from right field at some point this season. There’s still a lot of rawness within Johnson’s profile, but coming off a season in which he posted 19 home runs, 12 stolen bases (note the 55% success rate) and a .290/.361/.507 slash between Double-A and Triple-A, the outfielder’s skillset extends to enough categories that he’s either a late-round dart throw in Best Balls/Draft Championships or an appetizing waiver add post-promotion in weekly leagues. Keep an eye on Yasiel Puig’s destination in free agency. If he re-signs with the Indians, it would likely keep Johnson at bay a little longer than we’d like.

Dean Kremer, SP, Baltimore. Age: 24

Kremer has a microscopic, fun cult following throughout the dynasty world that will bask in the glory of the right-hander’s impending big league debut this season. Yes, this is the Orioles. Yes, they still play in the daunting AL East. But the 24-year-old’s stuff is viable enough to hit the ground running once he receives an opportunity at baseball’s highest level. Baltimore lacks much rotation depth both at the big league level and throughout the top levels of the minors, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Kremer receives his first MLB opportunity fairly early in the 2020 regular season—especially since he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. He’s currently one of my favorite late-round dart throws in Best Balls and DCs.

Zac Lowther, SP, Baltimore. Age: 23

Double tapping Orioles pitching prospects in an article about making a positive impact in 2020 redraft leagues; I’ve never been more terrified. While Kremer will bring underrated strikeout viability to the table, Lowther’s pitchability and deception could lead to the southpaw becoming a sneaky asset in the WHIP and ERA categories. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 23-year-old’s first MLB stint reminds us a bit of John Means’ 2019 campaign: the stuff wasn’t elite, a little luck was involved, but at the end of the season, we couldn’t deny the impact he had at the backend of our fantasy rotations. In my mind, that’s what Lowther becomes this season.

Joe Palumbo, SP, Texas. Age: 25

The Rangers’ offseason additions of Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles really turned the lights off on Palumbo breaking camp as a rotation arm in the AL West. Instead, the southpaw will now rely on injury-related attrition or—perhaps more intriguing—a trade to truly attain legitimate value throughout the fantasy world this season. He was hindered in 16.2 big league innings pitched last season thanks to inconsistent command, but Palumbo’s impact raw stuff means—if everything ever clicks—there’s mid-rotation upside here. I suspect Kolby Allard will be somewhat of a trendy, preseason dart throw at innings pitched and serviceable ratios in 2020, but it’s Palumbo who has the superior stuff and much greater upside.

Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati. Age: 23

Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox was the best thing that could have happened…. for Tyler Stephenson. I recently said this on the Draft Champions Podcast (episode released soon), but I’ll repeat it here: After they missed on Grandal, the Reds lack of action in a catcher market that included Robinson Chirinos and the underrated Jason Castro—amongst others—tells me they believe Stephenson can play a role in Cincinnati at some point of the 2020 season. Once promoted, it’s unlikely Tucker Barnhart (2.4 fWAR in 590 career games) will pose much of an obstacle. The 23-year-old holds his own behind the plate, but the savory hard hit rate and on base skills are why you’ll be interested from a fantasy standpoint. In a perfect world, Stephenson is the second catcher on a lot of Draft Championship teams by the 4th of July.

Logan Webb, SP, San Francisco. Age: 23

Ugh. The signings of Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Tyler Anderson (and perhaps even Tyson Ross) really threw a wrench in our 2020 early-season Logan Webb profits. Following the plethora of veteran signings, the 23-year-old will almost certainly begin the upcoming campaign in Triple-A. As far as what remains intact for Webb’s hypothetical big league impact in 2020, how confident are you that a rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Gausman, Smyly and Tyler Beede remains healthy and adequate for 162 games? The surface stats of the right-hander’s maiden 39.2 IP at the big league level last season weren’t impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but a look under the hood shows a pitcher capable of missing both right and left-handed bats (with his slider and changeup, respectively) with promising command metrics. When you factor-in Webb’s track record of inducing ground balls at an elite rate throughout his minor league career, we’re suddenly discussing an awfully intriguing pitcher who should throw at least a portion of his 2020 workload at the big league level.

Kyle Wright, SP, Atlanta. Age: 24

My favorite inclusion on this list is also the highest ranked. Every time I revise my 2020 prospect list (published next month for non-VIP members), I find a reason to move Wright up a few spots. You can study the profile months, but Wright’s outlook basically boils down to this fact: if you believe in him, you better grab him—in any and every format—before Opening Day 2020. Tasked with out-dueling Sean Newcomb and Ian Anderson (I discussed the pitfalls of his 2020 outlook above) for the fifth spot in the Braves’ rotation, there’s no question this is an extremely important season in Wright’s professional career. Luckily for the 24-year-old, I believe he’s currently the odds-on favorite to secure the final rotation spot in Atlanta—for multi-faceted reasons that extend well beyond Wright himself. If I’m correct and the right-hander is given the first crack at taking the ball every fifth day, monitoring the early returns of his pitch usage, spin efficiency and command will likely serve as the preludes to his season-long viability. I say it every time I discuss Wright and I’ll leave you with the thought now: the 24-year-old’s possesses some of the best pure stuff in all of baseball.

Just missed:

Corey Abbott, SP, Chicago Cubs. Age: 24

Something you absolutely need to know about Abbott before being overly optimistic about the 2020 outlook. The Cubs’ organizational ‘depth’ at starting pitcher is chalked full of seemingly unspectacular names: Adbert Alzolay, Jharel Cotton, Alec Mills and Colin Rea. But each member of that quartet holds an important trump card in comparison to Abbott: all four are already on the 40-man roster. That’s not a complete non-qualifier for the 24-year-old in regards to this season, but it will make the path tougher than it should be. In the end, the 40-man red flag was enough to keep Abbott excluded from the above list. I do, however, think the 24-year-old has potential to take a stranglehold on a rotation spot in Chicago once he finally receives an opportunity. I’ll likely pass on the right-hander in Best Balls and Draft Championships, but he’ll begin the season on my Watch List in leagues with weekly waiver moves.

Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/OF, Minnesota. Age: 23

It sounds cliché because they play in the same organization, but Blankenhorn could be this season’s Luis Arraez: a relatively unknown prospect with a skillset that could very easily translate to early-career success at the big league level who seizes a window of opportunity and runs with it. But despite being added to the Twins’ 40-man roster this offseason, Blankenhorn will need some help to make that prediction become true. The 23-year-old is capable of playing both second base and left field defensively, but Minnesota currently has Arraez, Eddie Rosario, Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave who are capable of playing those positions at the big league level. It’s because of the big league depth that Blankenhorn lands in the ‘just missed’ portion of this list, but he’ll be an auto-add for me in most of my redraft leagues if he receives a legitimate opportunity at the MLB level this season.

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Brian McLeod and MiLB.com

 

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