Written by: Ray Butler
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It’s been a while.
More specifically, it’s been three months since I’ve published any of my own work on the site. Being a new dad is as hard! Teaching middle school math during a pandemic is no walk in the park, either.
But now I’m back… and I’m pumped to have finally had some time to really dive into offseason research and prep for what should be a HUGE 2021 season.
Consider this article a distant relative of my annual high-value active player list. Below, I discuss several players and prospects who I’m actively seeking to draft or trade for this offseason. What more needs to be said? While your league mates are contemplating their waiver wire moves in the fantasy football world, we’re building the foundation for what we hope to be a monumental fantasy baseball season next spring and summer. If you’re a prospective 2021 VIP member, this article is an example of just scratching the surface of what members will receive on New Year’s Day. LET’S GO!
Note: Players and prospects are listed in alphabetical order below.
Yordan Alvarez, DH, HOU. Age: 23
Let’s start with an easy one. Alvarez had an NFBC ADP of 39.60 prior to the MLB COVID shutdown in March. Of course, the 23-year-old accrued only 9 plate appearances during the shortened season before undergoing surgery on both of his knees (the patella tendon was repaired in his right knee while his left knee was arthroscopically ‘cleaned up’). Yes, Alvarez will always receive a penalty for being a Utility-only player, but an ADP of 88.3 in the #2EarlyMocks (albeit stakeless) is still a bit perplexing to me. Check to see if there’s a buy-low window in your dynasty leagues while also enjoying a Nelson Cruz-esque discount on a top-50 redraft player. I suspect the price will rise as Opening Day 2021 approaches.
Tejay Antone, SP/RP, CIN. Age: 26
I double dog dare you to look at Tejay Antone’s player page on Baseball Savant. The 26-year-old was utterly fantastic while splitting his time between the Reds’ rotation and bullpen, striking out 31.9% of opposing batters while allowing a paltry .163 opponent batting average. A general rule of thumb amongst pitchers: if your fastball/sinker isn’t going to miss many bats, at least don’t get crushed while using it. Antone’s sinker only induced a swinging strike rate of 6.6%, but a ground rate of 50.0% and an xBA of .231 means the pitch certainly served its purpose within the right-hander’s repertoire. How so? Antone possesses a pair of the sport’s most vicious breaking balls, including a slider (39.8% usage) with a 20.8 SwStr% (.153 xBA) and curveball (16.7% usage) with a 15.2 SwStr% (.102 xBA). When two pitches with those peripherals make up more than 55% of your total usage, success is inevitable. With Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani both slated to become free agents this offseason and Wade Miley (signed thru ’22) seemingly made of paper mâché, I’m optimistic Antone will receive every opportunity to succeed from the rotation next season. Dynasty shares here should still be relatively cheap, and the 26-year-old is being selected around pick 400 in early 2021 redrafts.
Jeimer Candelario, 1B/3B, DET. Age: 27
Candelario was a top-30 hitter (according to wRC+) and a top-110 fantasy player (according to Razzball’s Player Rater) during the sprint season, but the infielder seemed to fly completely off the radar to anyone who didn’t roster him in 2020. Now, early mocks for next season seem to indicate the 27-year-old should be available after pick 250 in most redraft leagues? Yes, please. A look under the hood indicates Candelario’s breakout 2020 campaign was legitimate, and there appears to be a bit of cushion that would allow for a positive ROI even if the infielder’s performance worsens a bit next season. I’m not in love with the ground ball rate as it has mitigated the power ceiling to this point of the infielder’s MLB career, but steepening his vertical bat angle (which should be a focal point of his training this offseason, IMO) could allow Candelario to elevate the ball with authority more frequently moving forward. The floor is what’s so appetizing here, but don’t discount some untapped potential in the power department, too.
Dylan Carlson, OF, STL. Age: 22
The window here is quite narrow. Simply put, make sure your league mate isn’t weighing Carlson’s first 119 MLB plate appearances too heavily. While it’s true the holistic 68 regular season wRC+ is a bit unsettling, it became clear the 22-year-old began to settle in versus big league pitching in the final weeks of the regular season and in the Wild Card round versus the Padres. While there’s an outside chance the Cardinals are stingy and attempt to recoup a year of service time from their prized outfield prospect in 2021, it’s far more likely Carlson is an every day outfielder for St. Louis throughout a more traditional campaign next season. Even if your opponents are valuing the outfielder as a top-25 prospect instead of the top-15 prospect he is, that’s a crevice worth exploring as you look to optimize the young talent on your dynasty league teams. The window appears to vanish in redraft leagues (#2EarlyMockADP of 167.4), which would mean I won’t be a consistent shareholder in that format next season.
Triston Casas, 1B/3B, BOS. Age: 20
Casas is the first of several Red Sox prospects you’re going to find on this list. Why? Simply put, an elite R&D department that once stood in the shadows of a Dave Dombrowski-led front office has since ascended into the spot light of the Chaim Bloom regime. While that fact has not yet impacted the win column at the big league level, we did see its effects at Boston’s alternate site this summer. This article includes Casas, Jarren Duran, Jay Groome and Tanner Houck. While Houck’s progress was evident once he debuted for the Red Sox this summer, it’s the development of the former trio that should make Red Sox fans giddy. Casas is the best of this bunch, and the best part of his awesome summer might be the fact Boston’s decision makers appear content to let the 20-year-old continue developing as a player who splits his defensive time between first base and the hot corner. I’m not sure 50-hit, 70-raw is even the 90th-percentile outcome here, and Casas has the approach and plate discipline to possibly force the Red Sox’s hand at some point next summer. Of course, it’s probably more likely an out-of-contention Boston team handles their most prized prospect conservatively and we don’t see the first baseman until 2022.
Jarren Duran, OF, BOS. Age: 24
Perhaps even more so than Triston Casas (discussed above), Duran’s progression this summer at the alternate site is a great sign of the work Boston’s R&D department is exerting amongst the Red Sox’s minor league system. 70-grade speed has always been the calling card of Duran’s profile, but the outfielder altered his approach and began impacting the ball with authority this summer. From a fantasy standpoint, this skillset becomes infinitely more intriguing if both the hit tool and power can peak at league average once (if?) Duran settles into a big league role. The outfielder has been a big riser on end-of-season prospect lists thanks to reports from the alternate site, but proceed with a bit of caution: there’s still tweener risk (not enough glove for center field, not enough bat for a corner spot) that lowers the real life floor and could slow Duran’s ascent to every day playing time at Fenway Park.
Jose Garcia, SS, CIN. Age: 22
68 MLB plate appearances—without seeing pitching above High-A beforehand—is way too small of a sample to pass judgement on a player’s true talent or potential at baseball’s toughest level. I know that, you know that. But not everyone does. A few times now, I’ve received an @ from followers wondering if I felt as though I had missed the mark on my Garcia evaluation. There are also popular prospect lists that still exclude the 22-year-old from its current top-100. I feel strongly as though this is a mistake we can take advantage of this winter. Had there been a minor league season, there’s a real possibility Garcia would be entering the 2021 season as a consensus top-50 prospect. Instead, the world was officially introduced to the shortstop when he was thrust into inconsistent playing time in the big leagues this summer after not officially seeing pitching above the Florida State level. It’s fair to question the hit tool a bit—namely the anxious approach—but Garcia is going to be an every day, big league starter in Cincinnati sooner rather than later. I doubt he breaks camp with the Reds in the spring as further experience versus minor league pitching will do him some good while the organization attempts to recoup an additional year of service time, but please make sure your dynasty league mate isn’t intimidated by 3 (THREE!) wRC+ Garcia posted in his first 24 MLB games. He’s still firmly a top-75 prospect in my eyes.
Hunter Greene, SP, CIN. Age: 21
Assuming a normal minor league season in 2021 (which is far from a given, FWIW), Greene will take the mound in an MiLB game for the first time since 2018. In and of itself, that fact alone will be enough for some dynasty players to trade the right-hander this offseason—if they haven’t already—for a slight discount. While it’s true that being away from ‘game’ action for two seasons certainly cuts against the grain when we envision linear prospect development, the truth isn’t quite as daunting. In actuality, Greene mostly had a ‘normal’ 2020 relative to his pitching prospect peers, completing 100.0 IP at the Reds’ alternate site while remaining healthy as he distances himself from Tommy John surgery in April 2019. The 21-year-old’s athleticism and raw stuff have been considered prodigious since before he was drafted, but an upper-90s fastball that struggled to remain on plane while Greene pitched in the Midwest League in 2018 led to a puzzling statistical output (66 hits and a 4.48 ERA in 68.1 IP). It’s not hyperbole to say the Reds have since implemented the best pitching development staff in the sport, so I suspect Greene’s fastball is already more data friendly than it was prior to TJ. I don’t really see the right-hander being on much of an innings restriction next season, so don’t be surprised if he finishes the campaign 1) ranked amongst the top pitching prospects in the sport, and 2) knocking on the door of a big league debut.
Jay Groome, SP, BOS. Age: 22
Jay Groome is a 22-year-old pitching prospect who has totaled 66 competitive innings pitched since being drafted as a prep arm in 2016 (!). That fact alone has been enough to scare a lot of dynasty players away, but now is the time to BUY. The southpaw was up to 95 (91.8 mph average velocity) at the alternate site this summer, but the arsenal is undoubtedly headlined by a devastating curveball that was the driving force of most of Groome’s strikeouts versus other Red Sox minor leaguers. If nothing else, it’s simply exciting to see the 22-year-old log ‘meaningful’ innings while staying healthy for an extended period of time. This isn’t the profile of an ace, but Groome should fit comfortably in the middle or back of Boston’s rotation once he’s deemed ready to debut. His impending addition to the Red Sox’s 40-man roster this winter will only affirm that notion.
DL Hall, SP, BAL. Age: 22
For the longest time, I remained steadfast in keeping Hall ranked ahead of Grayson Rodriguez (who’s discussed below) in my prospect rankings, based mostly on data I was given by folks on the org side of the sport. The latter has since leapfrogged the former, but it’s certainly not an indictment of the southpaw. Folks are taken aback by a FanGraphs player search that shines a light on Hall’s 15.6 BB% while pitching in the Carolina League (High-A) in 2019—despite the fact he was 20-years-old for most of the season. In actuality, we should be equally—if not more—interested in the K% (33.5%) and ERA (3.46) he posted in the same season despite the walks. This summer, Hall’s fastball sat at 96-98 mph with refined breaking balls at the Orioles’ alternate site. He will pitch most of next season as a 22-year-old. While the southpaw isn’t likely to be the most efficient starting pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball, even Hall’s floor—assuming health—would make him a big league starting pitcher. The ceiling would make him a perennial All-Star.
George Kirby, SP, SEA. Age: 22
Since the moment he’s been drafted, folks have been tempted to compare George Kirby to Shane Bieber. Unspectacular velocity, meh arsenal, elite command. Of course, because Bieber only surpassed a K/9 of nine at one stop throughout his minor league career, that comparison would also bank on a huge uptick at the big league level. You’ll make more money than you’ll lose by blindly fading those comparisons whenever they’re made about a pitcher of this archetype, so it’s awesome to know Kirby has recently ascended to a new, unexplored dimension of his development. The right-hander was sitting 95-99 (T99) at the alternate site, which is a testament both to Kirby’s work and ethic and evolution as well as the advancement that’s occurred in the Mariners’ R&D department. Assuming the velocity uptick hasn’t come at the expense of the 22-year-old’s command or secondary pitches, Kirby’s most likely outcome is no longer the ‘high-end SP4’ I labeled him as this preseason while evaluating his then-current profile. Instead, the right-hander is no longer the undoubtable third wheel in a system that also includes Logan Gilbert and newly-drafted Emerson Hancock. Kirby has been a notable riser on end-of-season prospect lists and he’ll certainly ascend my 2021 preseason top-200. He could debut at some point next season, so make sure your opponents are in-tune with his improved value.
Alejandro Kirk, C, TOR. Age: 22
Kirk had 20 batted balls after making his surprising MLB debut down the homestretch of the regular season. 10 of those batted balls had exit velocities of at least 95.0 mph. This echoes the ridiculous batted ball data the backstop posted last season throughout the minor leagues and this summer while at the alternate site. The 22-year-old is certainly an unfinished product behind the plate, and I find it unlikely he ever catches 120 games in any big league season. But with an automated strike zone on the horizon and the Blue Jays’ (already shown) willingness to get his bat in the lineup, it’s become feasible Kirk is able to maintain catcher eligibility in the fantasy world throughout at least the first half of his career. I don’t necessarily agree with his #2EarlyMock ADP of 326.4 as I think Kirk will almost certainly start next season in the minor leagues; I’m also not going to go out of my way to acquire catchers in dynasty leagues at the expense of higher-value positions. However, Kirk’s bat is truly elite, and now is a good time to lean into the notion that the importance of framing will likely be drastically diminished following next season. The price tag shouldn’t be gargantuan, so why not take at acquiring the most fun catching prospect in the sport?
Marco Luciano, SS, SF. Age: 19
If you knew ahead of time who the ‘next’ top overall prospect in baseball would be, wouldn’t you act on that information as quickly as possible? Assuming a full 2021 season with typical prospect graduations and performance fluctuations, Luciano should be considered the betting favorite to assume the throne by next summer or fall. The shortstop is already a top-5 or top-10 prospect on many fantasy-focused prospect lists that have been released since the conclusion of the sprint season, so the window here is obviously small and not meant for most roster constructions in dynasty leagues. However, if you play in a league without many prospect slots or you’re looking to consolidate some of your prospect talent as your team begins to approach its contention window, Luciano is the perfect target. If my prediction is wrong, I bet it’s because the Mariners handle Julio Rodriguez more conservatively than we’d like next season.
Tyler Mahle, SP, CIN. Age: 26
Relative to stuff, opportunity and price tag, Mahle is currently my favorite pitching target in 2021 redrafts. If you’ve done some basic research and the 26-year-old doesn’t tickle your fancy, you’re probably a bit turned off by his 10.4 BB% (3.97 BB/9) during the sprint season. That rate made his K-BB% a less spectacular 19.4% (33rd amongst pitchers with at least 40.0 IP in 2020) than the 29.9 K% would lead you to believe. But if you dive deeper, the walk rate becomes more interesting. If you eliminate relievers and other noise, Mahle’s four-seam—a pitch he threw 54.9% of the time during the sprint season—had the 12th-highest BB-dBB% amongst all pitchers who threw at least 300 four-seams in 2020. In short: there appears to be strong evidence Mahle deserved a bit better in the walk department than his 2020 outcomes suggest. Even if there’s no positive regression in the free passes the right-hander allows, I’m strongly buying the elite xBA (.188, 90th percentile), Whiff rate (33.8%, 85th percentile) and an xERA (3.33) that was even better than his ERA (3.59). The Reds were a bit finicky with Mahle’s role at the start of the season, omitting him from the Opening Day rotation in favor of Wade Miley. But with Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani both unrestricted free agents this offseason, the 26-year-old should locked and loaded in Cincinnati’s rotation to begin the full 2021 season. From a price tag standpoint in the fantasy world, Mahle reminds me a bit of Shane Bieber pre-2019; you’ll likely be drafting him as your third or fourth starter in 15-team leagues, but he could flirt with being the best SP on your team before things are said and done. I’ll be pot committed here.
Corbin Martin, SP, ARI. Age: 24
A friendly reminder that Corbin Martin still exists. The right-hander should be fully-recovered from Tommy John surgery this offseason (he’s pitching in instructs) and next spring, and while he’ll certainly be on an innings limit while pitching for an out-of-contention Diamondbacks team, it’s inevitable his value will be higher post-2021 than it currently is now. The 24-year-old possesses four analytically-intriguing pitches that have already shown an ability to miss big league bats, but below average command (and a loss of control at times) will continue to hinder this profile unless further development occurs. Still, the right-hander boasts the raw stuff (and the opportunity, once the reins are taken off) to plateau as a middle-of-the-rotation big league starter if everything breaks right. He’ll be a tremendous, late-round flier in Best Ball and Draft Championship leagues this winter.
Luis Matos, OF, SF. Age: 18
Another prospect whose official breakout was simply delayed by the lack of a minor league season in 2020, Matos is reportedly up to 195 pounds and spent most of his summer at the Giants’ training facility in Scottsdale. ‘Explosive’ is the first word that comes to mind here, as it’s obvious the outfielder is employing his newly-added muscle to further enhance his batted ball profile. Two things worth monitoring here: we need to see how/if the added bulk (albeit good weight) affects his speed, and I’m slightly concerned a (currently) relatively flat vertical bat angle and lack of spine tilt will hinder his ability to elevate the ball frequently. If your league mates are willing to move the outfielder for the price of a non top-100 prospect, it’s a move you should sprint to make this offseason. Matos will be 19 by Opening Day next spring, so I’m hopeful he sees the majority of his reps in full season ball in 2021.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, PHI. Age: 34
The reason you were tempted to scroll past McCutchen’s name is the same reason we’ll continue to profit by drafting him. The 34-year-old was my most rostered player in NFBC leagues during he sprint season, and his standing as the 72nd-ranked player at the conclusion of 2020 easily out-earned his Main Event ADP of 204.42. Nothing is changing about the outfielder’s outlook in 2021—he’ll still be the every day leadoff hitter in a strong lineup—yet his #2EarlyMock ADP was 207.4. I don’t know. All I can say is continue to draft McCutchen. I’ll meet you at the ticket window. PS: My affinity here will be slightly altered/diminished if the designated hitter really is eliminated from the National League in 2021.
John Means, SP, BAL. Age: 27
The window is a bit narrower here than I’d like, but Means’ 3.09 xERA in 43.0 IP throughout the sprint season means he deserved far better than the 4.53 ERA he posted. I’m also extremely encouraged by a sustained eye-opening velocity uptick (91.7 MPH average fastball velocity in 2019, 93.8 MPH average fastball velocity in 2020), which led to a 10.7% increase in Whiff% during the 60-game season. The changeup was more hittable than the 2019 version, but the southpaw’s curveball became a true weapon that should be utilized a bit more than 12.6% of the time (its usage in 2020) moving forward. The nearly-seven percent jump in K-BB% (13.0% in 2019, 19.9% in 2020) is affirmation that Means continues to improve and develop while at the big league level, despite the unlucky jump in ERA during the sprint. The market appears to be a bit higher on the 27-year-old early in the 2021 redraft process (#2EarlyMock ADP: 216.2) than I suspected it would be, but the the left-hander still possesses top-150 potential.
Jordan Montgomery, SP, NYY. Age: 27
I really, really hope we don’t mush Jordan Montgomery into failure next spring. Our Estee Rivera wrote about the southpaw in early August, and Montgomery’s performance affirmed Estee’s building excitement…. except for his ERA. A 3.86 xERA and and upper-echelon contact suppression was masked by an ugly 5.11 ERA. Heck, the 27-year-old even struck out 47 in 44.0 IP while posting a 19.7% K-BB. Now safely distanced from Tommy John surgery (June 2018) and equipped with an arsenal headlined by an elite changeup (23.2 SwStr% and .211 xBA in 2020) and a filthy curveball (14.7 SwStr%, .220 xBA in 2020), Montgomery has the potential to settle into the middle of the rotation for one of the best teams in baseball beginning in 2021. With James Paxton possibly headed elsewhere in free agency and Luis Severino likely to be brought along slowly following TJ in February, I’m not currently concerned with Montgomery being left without a rotation spot in favor of Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt or another contending arm. Be sure to suppress this impending hype train so we can still draft the 27-year-old around pick 300 next preseason.
Joe Musgrove, SP, PIT. Age: 27
I hate myself. I really, really do. Joe Musgrove is the Adalberto Mondesi of pitchers. If you lower the minimum innings pitched to 30, Joe Musgrove posted the 10th-highest strikeout rate of any pitcher in the big leagues during the sprint season (33.1 K%). Is K-BB% your thing? Musgrove’s 23.5% ranked 20th. The wins were and will continue to be hard to come by, but the ERA was under 4.00 and the WHIP was a moderate 1.24, which is notable when you consider his horrid start to the season. We all have Joe Musgrove fatigue, and a lot of people jumped off the bandwagon after the right-hander posted a 6.75 thru his first three sprint starts. After missing nearly a month due to a triceps injury, Musgrove finished his campaign with a 2.16 ERA (0.92 WHIP) and 38 strikeouts in 25.0 IP in his final five starts. That plays. The right-hander appears as though he’ll be available around pick 200 in redraft formats prior to the 2021 season, which is about 15-20 spots lower than his 2020 Main Event ADP of 184.61. Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Cristian Javier and Zach Davies are all—on average—being selected a bit higher than the 27-year-old in the #2EarlyMocks. I’ll take Musgrove over each member of that quartet. Enjoy a high likelihood of sorrow and pain with a non-zero chance of joy and euphoria? Draft Joe Musgrove 2021.
Luis Oviedo, SP, CLE. Age: 21
This train should have left the tracks in 2020, but Oviedo’s official return to relevance was pushed to 2021 following the cancellation of the minor league season. The right-hander pitched through a back injury in the Midwest League in 2019, with his sinker plummeting to the high-80s instead of the 92-95 T98 he’s produced at instructs recently. I’m not in love with the arm action as he’s often late which hinders his command and leaves him susceptible to arm ailments, but the arsenal consists of four average-or-better pitches. Oviedo is rarely found on prospect lists that go as deep as 400-500. This is an inefficiency. I trust the Indians to eventually shorten the 21-year-old’s arm action, and good health should lead to a surge throughout the minor league season next year.
Ryan Pepiot, SP, LAD. Age: 23
A “who?????” inclusion on this list that will officially plant his flag across the prospect world in 2021. The Dodgers’ third round pick in 2019, Pepiot sat in the low-90s with an adequate breaking ball and a plus changeup during his first professional summer. But the Dodgers gonna Dodger, and the right-hander was sitting at 95 mph at the alternate site with a movement profile that’s more model friendly. Of course, an optimized fastball means an already-plus changeup becomes an even bigger weapon. Pepiot will likely be a top-200 prospect for me next preseason, and it’s possible—assuming normalcy—he makes his big league debut at some point in 2021.
Oswald Peraza, SS, NYY. Age: 20
This is simply a continuation of my consistent efforts to make you aware of an extremely underrated prospect. Peraza is good; a large portion of the dynasty world doesn’t know it yet, and the 2020 minor league season being axed extended your buy low window for the 20-year-old. The shortstop will almost certainly be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason, and my chips have been shoved to the center of the table regarding his emergence in 2021. Add him now.
Hedbert Perez, OF, MIL. Age: 17
I. Am. So. Excited. About. Hedbert. Perez. The outfielder made my prospect obsession list this spring, and I remain convinced he was set to explode onto the prospect landscape before the minor league season ceased to exist. Fast forward a few months—after the Brewers decided to include Perez, who has yet to officially debut in the minor leagues, on their alternate site roster—and the reports, data and video are quite astounding. The 17-year-old is strong and solid but also explosive and twitchy. The bat speed is evident (as is the all-fields power), and the barrel stays in the zone for a crazy amount of time. At this point, the safe assumption is it’s only a matter of time before this special skillset begins to fill-up box scores on a nightly basis. The stock here is quietly rising, but the 17-year-old is still underrated or completely unrostered in many dynasty leagues around the fantasy world. Remedy that issue if it pertains to your league.
Tommy Pham, OF, SD. Age: 32
Pham—who will be 33-years-old on Opening Day next spring—probably seems like an odd inclusion in an article like this one, especially since I’m suggesting he’s currently an appetizing buy-low option in dynasty league formats. This is more of an OBP-league inclusion than anything else, but Pham—who missed a large chunk of the sprint season following hamate surgery and recently underwent another surgery after being stabbed—will likely be a bit underrated across the board during draft season this winter and next spring. This notion will be furthered if the DH in the National League is here to stay, especially since the outfielder should continue batting in the middle of a stacked Padres lineup on an every day basis. It appears speed will evaporate especially quickly after pick 100 in redraft leagues in 2021, but Pham is an ideal candidate to fill that void in that range depending on your early-round roster construction.
Alejandro Pie, SS, TB. Age: 18
This is simply a ‘coming of age’ inclusion for a ‘this is what they look like’ prospect. There’s been absolutely no mainstream news regarding Pie in 2020. He wasn’t invited to Spring Training, he didn’t make the Rays’ 60-man roster, etc. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. The shortstop has been training in the Dominican Republic, and a once 6-foot-4, 175 pound frame has transformed into something closer to 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. It’s a shame that Pie likely won’t debut stateside until he’s 19, but this is a profile that has aroused me for over a year now. There’s so much we don’t know, including whether the teenager will stick at shortstop, how the currently-plus speed will translate as he continues developing physically and if he’ll ever access the extent of his perceived plus raw power in-game. I just know I want to make sure I’m rostering him until we find out. That journey will hopefully begin in 2021.
Zach Plesac, SP, CLE. Age: 25
Plesac pitched well enough throughout the sprint season that he’ll be a consensus top-100 pick in redraft leagues in 2021. But that’s not high enough. Any amount of research will tell you that—waddaya know—Plesac threw his worst pitch less and his best pitches more in 2020. What a noble thought! The right-hander cut his four-seam usage by 13%, replacing it with increases in slider (25.9 SwStr%, .129 xBA) and changeup (18.9 SwStr%, .206 xBA) usage. The usage optimization—paired with a focus on mechanical repeatability and improved command—led to a true breakout from the 25-year-old, who finished the season as the 64th-ranked fantasy player. Detractors will claim they need a bigger sample of success before investing a top-100 pick on Plesac, but I think it’s just as likely he takes another step forward in 2021 than head in the opposite direction. He’ll be completely comfortable with his evolved pitch usage, and he’ll still be pitching for a good team that allows its starting pitchers to pitch deep into games. I doubt I draft Plesac as the staff ace of any of my fantasy teams next season, but I’ll have no qualms riding with him as my SP2.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, BAL. Age: 21
Much like Marco Luciano is included in this article because he should be considered the favorite to be the top overall prospect in baseball a year from now, Rodriguez is here because I strongly believe he’ll be the top pitching prospect in the sport twelve months from now. Reports from this spring were absolutely magnificent, and the budding stardom was cemented by his performance at the alternate site. I ranked him aggressively on my 2020 midseason prospect list, I’ve hyped him on our podcast and now I’m reminding you for a third time. Consider it a present that “Grayson Rodriguez is elite and has bonafide ace potential” is not yet a universally-accepted fact throughout the prospect world this offseason. Since Baltimore isn’t likely to legitimately compete in a full 2021 season, I assume the right-hander will bide his time for a big league debut throughout next summer.
Tarik Skubal, SP, DET. Age: 24
Please notice that Skubal is the only Tigers pitching prospect who debuted in 2020 who is on this list. The left-hander was by no means great during the sprint season, but he also wasn’t as horrendous as the surface stats suggest. Most notably, the 4.33 xERA was more than an entire run better than the 5.63 ERA, and a 20.0% HR/FB would have ranked third worst amongst qualified starting pitchers. It’s true that suppressing home runs is at least partially a skill that pitchers possess, but Skubal allowed a microscopic 0.43 HR/9 throughout his minor league career. Frankly, I’m nowhere close to ready to write the 24-year-old off as a home run laden pitcher after 32.0 big league IP, and I’m hopeful for at least a bit of positive regression in 2021. The southpaw had three pitches (fastball, changeup, slider) that posted a swinging strike rate of at least 14%, which translated to an appetizing 27.6 K%. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, Skubal’s 19.4% K-BB would have ranked 20th amongst starting pitchers, higher than Lance Lynn, Kyle Hendricks and Aaron Civale amongst many others. I can only assume the 24-year-old will make my high-value active player list next preseason, and I suggest you work hard on a buy-low in your dynasty leagues this winter. Assuming health, Skubal is a strong candidate to out-earn his 275.8 #2EarlyMock ADP even if the Tigers are finicky with his service time.
Austin Slater, OF, SF. Age: 27
2020 Austin Slater gave me a lot of ‘2019 JaCoby Jones’ vibes. A statistical breakout in a sample small enough to stay off the mainstream radar. The 27-year-old was mostly employed as a lefty-masher in the weak side of a platoon early in the season, but—after missing time on the injured list with a groin strain—he finished the season leading off frequently regardless of opposing pitcher. Despite possessing sprint speed that only ranked in the 73rd percentile during the sprint season, Slater’s eight stolen bases would tie him for 12th most in the league in 2020. He accomplished this feat (not to mention also hitting 5 home runs) despite only accruing 104 plate appearances. Like Jones, the statistical breakout for Slater has already happened. Fantasy players will enjoy profiting from a modest draft day price in 2021 drafts, especially if he continues to be available after pick 300.
Drew Smyly, SP, FA. Age: 31
Smyly was extremely good in a small sample (26.1 IP) for the Giants during the sprint season, but he wasn’t good enough to be immune to what should be a very frustrating offseason for free agents. Add a history of injuries and the fact he hasn’t thrown more than 114.0 innings since 2016 to the notion he’ll likely still be looking for work after the new year? I suspect his 317.6 #2EarlyMock ADP will further plummet in early NFBC and Fantrax drafts. We’re not shooting for the moon or breaking the bank to acquire Smyly this offseason regardless of format, but the 31-year-old will be a pitcher I quietly look to scoop-up in Draft Championship or Best Ball formats prior to Spring Training. As the offseason progresses, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the southpaw’s ADP descend to ~400 or so instead of the recency bias-fueled ADP we’re witnessed in the #2EarlyMocks. I could easily see Smyly being one of my most rostered players in NFBC leagues next season. Keep an eye on his eventual suitor; he struggled mightily to suppress hard contact in 2020, but I suspect those issues were partially mitigated by the spacious confines of Oracle Park.
Lenny Torres Jr., SP, CLE. Age: 20
Torres made the VIP portion (#201-250) of my preseason prospect list in 2019. Then, he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2019 before ever throwing a competitive pitch. Now healthy once again, the right-hander recently topped-out at 97 mph versus live batters at Indians instructs. A sandwich round pick in 2018, Torres is a superb athlete who features a three-pitch arsenal including a fastball, slider and changeup. There’s still some rawness within this profile thanks to the 20-year-old being a cold weather prep pitcher who’s only thrown 15.1 competitive IP since being drafted three summers ago. However, we continue to bet on elite athletes, especially when they’re buried on prospect lists. If the Indians can assist a healthy Torres in improving his command, he’ll be a top-200 prospect next offseason.
Daulton Varsho, C/OF, ARI. Age: 24
Almost always, ‘prospect purgatory’ refers to pitchers who notably underperform during their first stint as a big leaguer, lose prospect status (or narrowly retain it for an offseason), and subsequently fall into a category of player in which they’re not really hyped by the fantasy industry or prospect industry. While there are several pitching prospect who fit this description this offseason (Casey Mize, Spencer Howard and Nate Pearson were all lackluster/horrific in 2020 and will graduate early in ’21), Varsho embodies this term from a position playing perspective. Possessor of a 76 wRC+ in his first 115 big league plate appearances, Varsho is a victim of the service time exemption implemented during the sprint season. No longer a prospect and not yet an established big leaguer, the 24-year-old will enter the 2021 season undervalued in dynasty leagues and off-the-radar for general redrafters. His 246.4 #2EarlyMock ADP for the 2021 season compares roughly to Francisco Mejia and Danny Jansen’s ADP prior to the 2020 sprint season. In redraft leagues, we don’t care how much he’ll catch next season; even when he’s not behind the plate, he’ll likely slot in center or left field for a bad Diamondbacks team. Volume is key when evaluating a catcher who could impact the stolen base category in the fantasy world. In dynasty formats, nothing has changed for Varsho’s outlook since I forecasted a .280 AVG/.350 OBP/20 HR/20 SB ceiling last preseason in my prospect list. Even if he eventually loses catcher eligibility, those numbers (or a step below those numbers) will play superbly as an outfielder. This could be the cheapest Varsho’s fantasy stock will be for the next decade.
Christian Walker, 1B, ARI. Age: 29
First base is going to be a mess again in 2021. Walker just finished the sprint season as a top-100 fantasy player (88th according to Razzball’s Player Rater) after sporting a Main Event ADP of 218.05. Lesson learned, right? Apparently not. Walker’s #2EarlyADP was 201.2, which means he was drafted behind the likes of Nick Madrigal, Clint Frazier and Wander Franco among many others. The 29-year-old’s Launch Angle flattened a bit during the shortened season, and the drop in Barrel % is no fun either. Even if a suboptimal ground ball rate continues to suppress Walker’s power, the on base skills and run producing ability will continue to make the first baseman a steal around pick 200 of redrafts. Want a crash course on finding high-value candidates for future seasons? Walker was drafted as 1B24 in Main Event leagues prior to the 2020 season. He finished the season as the 10th-ranked first baseman. He was the 17th first baseman off-the-board in the #2EarlyMocks despite the ink still drying on a .271 AVG, 69 R+RBI 60-game season in which his hard hit rate ranked in the 89th percentile. PS: In a lot of ways, this methodology could also be applied to Renato Nunez.
Ryan Weathers, SP, SD. Age: 20
So, the Padres definitely let the cat out of the bag during this postseason’s NLDS, but Weathers is simply a different pitcher than the one we evaluated in 2019. The mechanics are smoother, the lower half and arm action are more intertwined, and a pitcher who sat 90-92 a calendar year ago was sitting 95-96 at the alternate site long before he was called-up to make his MLB debut. The southpaw employed a four-seam/slider/sinker combination versus the Dodgers in the playoffs, but I’m hopeful the changeup (an offering Weathers has leaned on frequently throughout the minor leagues) pairs with the slider to form a formidable duo of secondary pitches. While I’m still doubtful Weathers will be a top-100 prospect in my 2021 preseason list (I need to get my hands on more data—most notably a hopeful improvement with his extension—before making that determination), the left-hander will certainly be ranked higher than 206th, which is where I ranked him during the 2020 preseason.
Evan White, 1B, SEA. Age: 24
“The best time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” White’s batted ball profile was elite during the sprint season… when he made contact. The 24-year-old’s 41.6 K% was one of the more peculiar rates amongst any player in the big leagues during the sprint season, especially since there was no indication (statistically or in-person) White might struggle to make consistent contact versus big league pitchers. Perhaps even more damning, the first baseman failed to surpass the Mendoza line against any pitch type during his rookie season. White never posted a strikeout rate north of 23.0% at any legitimate stop throughout the minor leagues, and the plate approach didn’t invoke thoughts of concern in any of my live looks at the 24-year-old. With 200 MLB plate appearances now under his belt, I’m expecting a notable step forward in contact rate in 2021, which should allow the superb batted ball and barrel profile to shine through much more than it did during the sprint season. The early redraft price is hovering around 300, and there are dynasty leagues in which White will be available for a fringe top-100 prospect this offseason. Take advantage of these price tags leading up to the 2021 season.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Gene J. Puskar and the Associated Press