Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
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The 2020 season will be different from any other fantasy season you have ever encountered.
If you are dynasty focused, you will not see a lot of your prospects or your taxi squad on the field this year. If you have been saving up and building a winner, there is no guarantee that you will finish the season at the top of your league standings. On top of all the uncertainty, there is one factor that hurts the most, and that is the loss of a developmental season. There’s a chance some of your favorite prospects are losing a vital year of experience and development that could garner long term effects throughout the sport. As players get older and advance physically, the mental aspect and the experience on the field will now lag behind. We may not see those effects for some time, but when we look back in five years and try to remember what happened to someone we once touted or loved, we may understand what a missed year meant and the negativity that occurred from it.
As someone whose focus is more geared towards redraft, there is a unique angle to all of this. A silver lining if you will, but it also tells a cautionary tale. With the expansion of active rosters and ‘taxi squads’, some of the top prospects across baseball are getting a chance to train, practice and potentially play meaningful innings with their respective big-league squad. Players who were maybe years away from sniffing big league camp are now on the same field with today’s superstars. For example, Andrew Vaughn, Riley Greene, Bobby Witt Jr., Robert Puason, Noelvi Marte, Travis Swaggerty, CJ Abrams, Jose Garcia and many, many more who have barely scratched the surface of their minor league experience, are seeing time on the field with top MLB talent around them. There is something to be said for the value that could be gained during these few weeks. No, these players will not be on your television on Opening Day, but just hanging around a big-league clubhouse for a short, preseason period leads to invaluable information that could be absorbed and should be taken advantage of moving forward.
Now looking at the 2020 season on its own, as many dynasty formats leagues are doing, the strategy on how to draft a competitive roster alone is going to be tough. Figuring out the value of prospects might be even harder, but I think it can be broken down into a few factors that I will highlight below.
We will start with pitching. Over the last few years, the leagues I partake in have moved to quality starts instead of wins, and in one league, W+QS, a combination of the two. In these leagues, a rookie pitcher often will have their innings cautiously watched and managed, resulting in fewer innings per start and a lesser chance at a qualifying quality start. That fact, paired with the potential implosion of ratios, had led me away from draft and stashing or acquiring a prospect arm in previous seasons. In 2020, there are a few different ways to evaluate the same arms that are normally fades throughout my preparation.
If your league format is Wins oriented or changing to Wins as a category for 2020, there is potential value in prospect arms. With starters being stretched out or preserved due to the circumstances, middle relief is going to be a major part of your fantasy strategy throughout the sprint season. Entering a game in the fourth or fifth inning full of juice could lead to great ratios, strikeouts and—you guessed it—plenty of Wins. Take a young budding starter like Nate Pearson. If he breaks in this year as a middle reliever getting two to three innings of work once or twice a week, that is a big advantage for the Blue Jays and your fantasy team. The same can be said for some of the bigger names like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, MacKenzie Gore, Clarke Schmidt and others. It is going to be interesting to see how many of these guys break camp on the active roster and how many win starting jobs throughout this short season.
Another factor to consider is potential injuries. A short, ten-day stint on the injured list is about 15% of what looks to be a 66-day season. Any pitcher with an injury will likely be slow tracked back to the field, and this is excluding any potential run-ins with COVID-19. A lot of pitchers who miss a start or two are worth dropping in redraft leagues, and the potential for a prospect getting a few starts, even in a limited capacity, could be valuable as well. Of course, this could be seen as a potential negative as well. As we’ve already seen, Jesús Lúzardo has already dealt with the virus and missed valuable preparation time. He could miss at least one time thru the rotation as he fully prepares to take the ball every fifth day for the Athletics. He’s sure to be nasty once he makes his 2020 debut, but the loss in volume will almost certainly affect his overall value for the sprint season.
Lastly, scheduling matters, not only for prospects but across the fantasy landscape. If MacKenzie Gore is pitching middle innings for the Padres, they happen to face the Rockies in Coors seven times this year. For those doing the math at home, that’s 11.6% of their total games this season being played in Colorado. That goes for all Padres pitchers, but a prospect who could see numerous mid-game appearances heightens the chances they see time in undesirable pitching environments. Knowing that pitchers in the NL East have to visit the AL East ballparks, historically known for their short porches and powerful lineups, is a reason I may steer clear of Spencer Howard or Kyle Wright, for example. The AL Central seems to have the best schedule, with low-risk ballparks and games against the Royals, Tigers and Pirates helping pitchers tremendously.
To summarize, three factors to keep in mind for prospect pitchers will be:
- Potential for middle relief ratios, strikeouts, and wins, or starting and seeing short outings
- Risk of getting hurt and being shut down, or seeing increased volume due to the injuries of others
- Scheduling advantages and disadvantages
My top ten pitching prospects for 2020 (remember this is ONLY for 2020 redraft);
- Jesús Lúzardo (Oakland Athletics)
- AJ Puk (Oakland Athletics)
- Spencer Howard (Philadelphia Phillies)
- Nate Pearson (Toronto Blue Jays)
- Kyle Wright (Atlanta Braves)
- Clarke Schmidt (NY Yankees)
- Dustin May (Los Angeles Dodgers)
- MacKenzie Gore (San Diego Padres)
- Casey Mize (Detroit Tigers)
- Matt Manning (Detroit Tigers)
- Forrest Whitley (Houston Astros)
- Brady Singer (KC Royals)
Despite the fact he might miss a start or two, Lúzardo has the best skills and opportunity of any arm on this list. Puk will begin the season in the Athletics’ rotation, and he’ll likely remain even once Lúzardo joins the rotation. Howard will be a big leaguer early this summer, and he could be the second best starter for the Phillies this season if Zack Wheeler opts-out before the end of the season. Pearson should also be an early-season promotion, and the strikeout viability is obviously present even we don’t see him last five innings too often this summer. Wright should either be a starter or long reliever for the entirety of the sprint, let’s hope he commands his arsenal better than he did last season. Schmidt will likely need an injury to be a valuable fantasy arm this summer, but he’s in the same organization as James Paxton, so. Dustin May will be a long reliever to begin the season, and he should be the first pitcher bumped to the rotation if a starter goes down with injury or the virus. If the Padres are planning on contending for a Wild Card slot, Gore should be a part of their rotation plan early in the season. Mize and Manning will both be MLB starting pitchers as soon as the Tigers are content with the extra service time they’ve accrued. With José Urquidy still not in camp, Whitley could be the Astros’ solution to a Josh James or Framber Valdez blunder. He could also debut if the rotation suffers an injury. Singer has looked fantastic during Summer Camp, and there’s a decent chance he debuts towards the end of the season.
*Note: José Urquidy was excluded from this list due to the fact he still hasn’t reported to camp with less than a week remaining before Opening Day.*
Prospect bats will be affected by some of the same factors seen above, specifically injuries and scheduling. However, three other factors are specifically geared towards position players for 2020. Those are positional depth, the DH in the National League and a prospect’s spot in the batting order. This is true for any redraft strategy for this year. Paying attention to five factors can help you decide who to draft and which prospects to stash for the coming season.
With all the uncertainty that seemingly surrounds each team’s roster, there could be scenarios that prove advantageous for many young players. We will start with the potential for injury or missing time due to COVID-19. There have been numerous players who have already backed out of playing due to COVID-19 concerns or have not yet reported due to the disease. Freddie Freeman and Joey Gallo are among the bigger names to have reportedly contracted the disease, and we certainly haven’t seen the last of big-name players to test positive for the virus this summer. That hunch will likely open-up time for young players at some point during the 60-game season. Numerous bats may end up making an impact due to illness, and it pays to pay close attention to news breaking from camps and throughout the season. The same rings true for injuries. Any stint on the injury list will open up opportunities for others to get hot and take their spot. So, keep your eyes peeled to news outlets for potential league-winning prospect bats that receive additional chances.
The stadium factor is a big one this year, and just as it may be a negative for some pitchers, the value could be tremendous for hitters. As mentioned above, the Padres play seven games in Coors this year, bumping the value of their hitters ever so slightly. The NL East teams play in Fenway, Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium on their AL East tour, obviously giving Nationals stars Trea Turner and Juan Soto major bumps in value but also making the prospects in the division enticing as well. Gleyber Torres gets 10 games against the Orioles, who he obliterated to the tune of 13 home runs and 20 RBI in 66 at-bats in 2019. Finding scheduling advantages like this could produce league winners, and that is the case for prospects as well.
Just as positional depth will be a factor in baseball this year, so too will it be in fantasy. Having players that qualify at multiple positions will allow you the flexibility on days when your top players are resting. In a season that will feature six off days in 66 days, managers will take advantage of the entirety of their active rosters. While he is only eligible right now as a UT in fantasy, Nick Solak of the Rangers will likely see time at second base, third base and left field this summer. A player who can be slotted at three positions with a strong bat is exactly what you should be looking for, especially among prospects. Mauricio Dubon is another example, as he should be getting reps at both middle infield slots and centerfield for the Giants this year. The same goes for Nico Hoerner in Chicago, just to a lesser extent. If you feel strongly about a prospect and he has multi-positional eligibility, feel free to pull the trigger.
There have been numerous articles discussing who will gain the most from the designated hitter coming to the National League, and while there are many good answers, the best answer is not who that DH will be, but rather who will potentially fill that spot in the field. Prospects who may not have seen at-bats will now be in line to earn a spot in the lineup, and a player who is strong defensively has a very good chance at finding himself in a substantial role. Once considered a strong prospect, Ian Happ will now see everyday reps in the outfield in Chicago with Kyle Schwarber mans the DH spot. Brendan Rodgers or Garrett Hampson should see more time at second base now that Daniel Murphy will be the DH in Colorado and Ryan McMahon will slot in at first base. There will be numerous moving parts to every roster, but the key is to stay in tune with the news and find those opportunities.
Lastly, the spot in the batting order will be a major factor for fantasy production. Especially in a shortened season, the players at the top of the lineup will have more opportunities to produce. In shallow leagues, Austin Hays could be preferable to Gavin Lux as the former hits at the top of his respective order. While the latter possesses superior skill, the difference between 270 at-bats and 230 at-bats could be tremendous in terms of counting stats in a 60-game season.
To summarize, five factors to keep in mind for prospect hitters will be;
- Risk of getting hurt and being shut down -or- seeing increased volume due to injuries of others
- Scheduling advantages and disadvantages
- Multi-positional eligibility
- The National League DH
- Position in the batting order
My top ten hitting prospects for 2020 (remember this is ONLY for 2020 redraft);
- Luis Robert (Chicago White Sox)
- Nick Solak (Texas Rangers)
- Gavin Lux (LA Dodgers)
- Austin Hays (Baltimore Orioles)
- Evan White (Seattle Mariners)
- Mauricio Dubon (San Francisco Giants)
- Kyle Lewis (Seattle Mariners)
- Dylan Carlson (St. Louis Cardinals)
- Sam Hilliard (Colorado Rockies)
- Nick Madrigal (Chicago White Sox)
- Jo Adell (Los Angeles Angels)
- Ryan Mountcastle (Baltimore Orioles)
Robert won’t be immune to growing pains, and he’ll bat towards the bottom of the White Sox’s order. Despite that, he’s easily the most talented player on this list relative to 2020 playing time. Solak should just about be an every day player, and he could be one of the better sticks in the Rangers’ lineup this summer. Lux slots as the second baseman in Los Angeles, but he’ll bat near the bottom of the order. And if manager Dave Roberts sticks to his track record, Lux should see plenty of off-days this summer. Hays was great last September, during Spring Training and in Summer Camp. He’ll bat at or near the top of the Orioles’ lineup while also manning centerfield. Evan White will be the Mariners’ every day first baseman, and I expect him to be a compiler throughout the sprint season. Dubon is the lite version of Solak, with three positions of eligibility (2B, SS, OF) before everything is said and done. Lewis has some painful swing and miss concerns, but the opportunity is certainly present as the Mariners’ every day left fielder. Carlson will inexplicably begin the summer at the Cardinals’ alternate site, so can we really trust St. Louis to play him every day once he debuts? Hilliard is a hot name in the redraft world, but he’ll begin the season as a bench player in Colorado. If Madrigal isn’t on Chicago’s Opening Day roster, he’ll be promoted after the first week of the season. The power will be extremely limited, and the volume will also be lacking at the bottom of the White Sox’s lineup. Still, the batting average and stolen bases should be nice. Adell could have the least opportunity of anyone on this list, but the talent is undeniable. Mountcastle has already been assigned to minor league camp, but he should debut at some point this summer. He could be an underrated first baseman down the home stretch.
Best of luck navigating the 60 game sprint of 2020. I’m hopeful this article will serve as a guide, not only for prospects, but throughout this unique redraft process.
Follow P365 Staff Writer Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of NBC Sports Chicago and the respective photographer