Written by: Ray Butler
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
For months, it felt like this article would never need to be published.
Alas, Opening Day of the most unique MLB season in recent memory is less than 48 hours away. I’ve already published a 10,000 word primer preparing you for the sprint. Now, I thought I’d dive into the world of hot takes and deliver my boldest predictions for the upcoming fantasy season.
If you’re a fan of our content, good news: every player discussed below made my high-value active player list, sent to VIP members on New Year’s Day and published on the site in early March. In a lot of ways, this is simply the final destination for a lot of players I’ve consistently hyped since the conclusion of the 2019 season.
Read my high-value active player lists: Infielders (here), outfielders (here), pitchers (part one here), pitchers (part two here)
At the bottom of this article, you’ll find my season-long team predictions, including division winners, World Series participants and winner, award winners and futures I’ll be investing in.
Let’s get it.
Jason Castro is a top-10 catcher
A culmination of an offseason chalked full of Jason Castro hype in my redraft content ends with an inclusion on my bold prediction list. In part-time duty for the Twins last season (275 plate appearances), the 33-year-old enjoyed huge gains in several intriguing batted ball categories, setting career-high marks in Barrel %, Exit Velocity, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and Hard Hit % amongst others. Now, Castro will receive consistent playing time behind the plate in Anaheim while hitting behind the likes of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani in a lineup that shouldn’t struggle to produce runs. We don’t have to worry about defensive shortcomings limiting the volume here (Castro was an above average framer with a solid pop time last season), which is a key component when looking to project any player aggressively during the sprint season. Simply put, I firmly believe Castro is a better fantasy player than a ton of catchers who are being drafted before him. While the batting average won’t help you maintain the 80th or 90th percentile thresholds, the power and run-producing ability will be incredibly valuable relative to the backstop’s price tag. For reference, Christian Vazquez is currently—on average—the 10th catcher off-the-board in Main Event drafts. Much further down the board, Castro is C22. The latter will be a true weapon in the fantasy world this summer, especially in two-catcher leagues.
Justin Turner is a top-10 third baseman
I tweeted this recently……
60-game season projections, according to @DerekCarty‘s THE BAT:
Player 1: .285/.355/.465, 28 R, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 1 SB, 56.56 ADP since July 1st
Player 2: .285/.366/.492, 33 R, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, 154.88 ADP since July 1st
Same positional eligibility. pic.twitter.com/kbLM3XMGcI
— Prospects 365 ⚾️ (@Prospects365) July 11, 2020
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is Player 1. Justin Turner is Player 2. Turner is penalized due to age and recently injuries, but how can you not absolutely crave the third baseman’s sprint season outlook? The 35-year-old will bat near the top of perhaps the best lineup in baseball. He offers an appetizing average floor, double-digit home run upside (in a 60-game season) and a ridiculously high volume of run-producing opportunities. He’ll also be afforded the luxury of DH’ing at points this summer, which will hopefully keep him healthy and fresh for a regular season that spans just over two months. Despite this, Turner is currently the 20th third baseman off the board in Main Event drafts leading up to Opening Day. For reference, Yoán Moncada is currently 3B10 in the same format. Look at the projections above one more time, then ask yourself why you haven’t been targeting Turner more frequently this draft season.
Andrew McCutchen is a top-20 outfielder
This is the perfect storm. Last season, McCutchen appeared well on his way to completing his third consecutive campaign of a >120 wRC+. Then, in early June, the outfielder tore his ACL, subsequently ending his season and putting his status for Opening Day 2020 in serious question. In early offseason drafts, I grabbed McCutchen in the 200-250 range, acknowledging he would likely sit on my bench at the start of the season until he was fully healthy. As soon as baseball was shutdown amid COVID-19, it quickly became apparent the 33-year-old would be ready to rock and roll whenever Opening Day finally rolled around. I was mostly ecstatic, since this meant I could simply plug the outfielder into my fantasy lineups and enjoy a positive ROI throughout the season. I assumed his post-shutdown ADP would skyrocket, likely pricing me out as I look to target other priorities in the 150-175 range.
Except, the increase never happened.
McCutchen has hovered in the ~200 range practically all offseason. I don’t get it. He’s leading off for a fantastic lineup, he hits for power and his batting average isn’t a black hole. Furthermore, he should be at or near the top in runs scored throughout the sprint season. You know the summer motto: volume is king. The 33-year-old is currently the 49th outfielder off-the-board in Main Event Drafts. I think he’ll finish more than 100 spots higher on various player raters at the end of the season. McCutchen is healthy, the Phillies are good and volume rules everything around me. Bonus prediction: Bryan Reynolds (OF52) is also a top-20 outfielder this during the sprint season.
Trent Grisham is a top-40 outfielder
Allow me to say it one more time: the baseball world will know Trent Grisham’s name by the end of the summer. After a grip change on the bat, the former first round pick finally popped in the minor leagues last season, slashing .300/.407/.603 with 26 home runs, 12 stolen bases and nearly as many walks (67) as strikeouts (72) in 97 games and 441 plate appearances between Double-A and High-A. The outfielder forced his way to a big league promotion, posting a 92 wRC+ with six home runs in his first 51 big league games. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), most fantasy players remember the outfielder as the player who made the game-changing error in the NL Wild Card game last fall, capping the Nationals’ comeback and subsequently ending the Brewers’ season. During the offseason, the Brewers traded Grisham and Zach Davies to the Padres for Luis Urías, Eric Lauer and a PTBNL. The Padres like the 23-year-old so much, they just traded away Franchy Cordero, a player who was once considered the center fielder of the future in San Diego. Grisham will open the season as the Friars’ every day centerfielder while likely slotting at second in the lineup, which will sandwich him between the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Tommy Pham. While legitimate stardom could abound in OBP leagues thanks to consistent, double-digit walk rates, Grisham should near a 25 HR/10 SB pace with an unspectacular but passable batting average this summer. He’s been the 68th outfielder selected in Main Event drafts, on average. It’s not worth its own prediction, but I believe Austin Hays (currently OF75) will be a top-40 outfielder, too.
Raimel Tapia out-earns Garrett Hampson… and Sam Hilliard
That’s right. Breathe it in.
Listen. You probably read this prediction and immediately thought I’m going this route based on the premise Garrett Hampson and Sam Hilliard will both underwhelm this summer. You wouldn’t be entirety wrong, but I really think this is about Raimel Tapia’s impending breakout. The 26-year-old transformed his body during the offseason, adding approximately 20 pounds of muscle thanks to a dietary change and a training program. He also re-worked his swing and approach, with a focus on laying off pitches out of the zone while utilizing quicker timing mechanisms. In turn, the exit velocities have increased while the chase rate has decreased. When Ian Desmond opted out of the 2020 season, the fantasy industry became excited because it *ensured* every day playing time for Sam Hilliard. In actuality, it cleared the path for Tapia to ascend to uncharted heights during the sprint season. Pair the 26-year-old’s new offensive attack plan with the fact Hilliard and Hampson aren’t projected to play every day, and you arrive at a bold prediction that actually makes a whole lot of sense. Oh, and Tapia (ADP: 414.20) is being drafted more than 150 picks after Hilliard (254.40) and more than 200 picks after Hampson (171.87) and in Main Events.
Corbin Burnes is a top-30 starting pitcher
Surely you didn’t think I was going to write an entire bold prediction article without including Corbin Burnes. If you’re unaware of the backstory here, Burnes posted an 8.82 ERA in 49.0 big league IP last season. Then, I wrote an entire article this offseason dedicated to the notion the right-hander still has ace potential. As you can probably guess, the reactions were quite mixed.
During Spring Training, it appeared Burnes was on his way to securing a spot in the backend of the Brewers’ rotation. After the shutdown, the 25-year-old has picked up where he left off. Now, he’s officially made Milwaukee’s Opening Day rotation and will pitch the second game of the season in Chicago versus the Cubs. Burnes accomplishing this feat is confirmation bias in and of itself; now, it’s all about the right-hander utilizing his ridiculous arsenal effectively versus big league hitters. I thought long and hard about titling this bold prediction “Corbin Burnes in this season’s Lucas Giolito”, but I wanted to contextualize it as much as I could. Dinelson Lamet is currently the 30th starting pitcher off-the-board in Main Event drafts, and I believe Burnes will ascend into that tier (or higher) by the end of the summer.
Trent Thornton is the most valuable starting pitcher on the Blue Jays
Hyun-jin Ryu was the big offseason signing. Nate Pearson is perceived as the future and will probably debut this summer. Matt Shoemaker, Tanner Roark and a currently-injured Chase Anderson are all veteran names that can fill a rotation with experience and craft. But I believe Trent Thornton will be the best of the bunch this summer. The 26-year-old was once perceived on the outside of rotation discusses thanks to pitchers like Shun Yamaguchi and Ryan Borucki, but Thornton’s effectiveness in Spring Training and Summer Camp—paired with Anderson’s injury and the Jays’ desire to manipulate Pearson’s service time—has ensured him a spot in Toronto’s Opening Day rotation. Already armed with an awesome slider and splitter (both are pitches he should throw more this summer), Thornton also re-worked his changeup this offseason in hopes of better combatting left-handed hitters (4.41 ERA allowed in 81.2 IP vLHB). A fantastic raw spinner of the baseball, I’m hopeful Thornton has worked to improve the spin efficiency of a fastball that should achieve more vertical and horizontal movement than his output last season. The tools for mixed league viability are present here, and I think a mixture of Ryu posting a mediocre first season in the AL East, Pearson underwhelming a bit in his debut campaign and Thornton taking a notable step forward lead to this bold prediction hitting pay-dirt. The 26-year-old has not yet been selected in a single Main Event draft, and he’s been the 241st pitcher off-the-board in other NFBC formats, on average.
Division Winners: Twins, Rays, Astros, Reds, Braves, Dodgers
Division Runners-Up: Indians, Yankees, Athletics, Cardinals, Mets, Padres
Wild Cards: Angels, White Sox, Cubs, Nationals
World Series: Rays vs. Dodgers
World Series Winner: Dodgers
MVP Winners: Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts
Cy Young Winners: Mike Clevinger, Jacob deGrom
Rookies of the Year: Nick Solak, Spencer Howard
Futures Investments (In Order of Preference)
Tampa Rays YES to make the playoffs (-150)
San Francisco Giants UNDER 24.5 wins (-130)
Oakland Athletics YES to make the playoffs (-130)
San Diego Padres OVER 30.5 wins (-120)
Boston Red Sox UNDER 30.5 wins (-140)
Spencer Howard to win NL Rookie of the Year (+2800, sprinkle)
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Featured image courtesy of site graphic designer Dorian Redden. Follow him on Twitter (@dRedden26) and Instagram (@d26gfx)