SAN DIEGO PADRES:
Tommy Pham (OF - SD) - Tommy Pham has gone 20/15+ for three straight seasons, yet this spring he will play for his third team in the last three years. Soon to be 32 years old, Tommy Pham has gone from a 16th round selection as a high-schooler in the 2006 draft to one of the top power/speed options for fantasy baseball owners in 2020. Pham's power and speed tools haven't necessarily come out of nowhere - he flashed both as various levels in the minor leagues but usually not in the same season - but with regular playing time these tools have flourished. While the Cardinals arguably sold low on Pham, the Rays seemingly sold high and avoided paying him deserved raises in arbitration heading into his walk year next season. The question with Pham will be whether he can replicate the 25 stolen bases he has tallied two of the last three seasons on a Padres team that stole just 70 total bases in 2019. The shift to Petco Field certainly won't do Pham any favors, but he has also spent his entire year playing in similar pitcher-friendly parks, so there shouldn't be significant changes in his production related to park factors. The best news for Pham is that his power upside is certainly legit, ranking among the league's best with a 106.9 90th percentile exit velocity and 448.8 90th percentile distance on his fly balls. Those numbers are important because they indicate a player's ability to reach their raw power potential, rather than boosting their power stats on other factors like favorable hit location based on stadium design, etc. Looking towards 2020, Pham looks to be in position for another big year as a primary run producer in an improved San Diego lineup.
Emilio Pagan (RP - SD) - The National League's best bullpen got even better over the weekend as the Rays traded Emilio Pagan to the Padres for Manny Margot. Pagan served as Tampa Bay's closer for part of the season in 2019 and has the underlying raw stuff to be an impactful late inning arm on the opposite coast. While Pagan probably won't challenge Kirby Yates for saves, barring injury, Pagan will be a value addition in leagues that track holds and his presence is a boost for Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and any other Padres starter who the team may manage innings with in the incoming year since those are the pitchers which will be more reliant on getting help from the bullpen behind them.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS:
Is Soler Power Sustainable?
Finally healthy and finally given an opportunity to play everyday, Jorge Soler broke out in a big way in 2019, crushing 48 home runs and managing to drive in 117 runs despite a relatively inefficient Royals offense. So how repeatable in Soler's 2019 season in 2020? The power ability is absolutely real - his 46.8% hard hit rate paired with 90th percentile measurements on fly balls of 110.6 exit velocity and 449.7 home run distance are in a class nearly by himself. Power of that magnitude is rare and it's transcendent of any ballpark factors that might normally hold a player back. In other words, Kauffman Stadium doesn't have a huge impact on Soler since his raw power ability is so great. His 28.1% HR/FB rate may still be difficult to replicate, but even if it regresses, I would still expect a number somewhere in the mid-20's. Right now Soler looks like a great bargain at 82nd overall in NFBC formats.
Brady Singer - A Name To Watch In KC
The Royals' first round selection from the 2018 draft, Brady Singer, has been crusing through the minor leagues and should have an opportunity to contribute at some point in 2020, even if he doesn't break camp on the major league roster. Singer headlines an all-star draft class for the Royals in 2018 and figures to be a long-term staple in the team's rotation for years - or at least until they can no longer afford to pay him. While Singer hasn't shown the ability to miss a lot of bats, he's been successful with a polished repertoire and plus control - two traits that are hard to find in young starting pitchers. Singer is a heavy ground ball pitcher that relies more on location than overpowering opposing batters, but after posting a respectable 3.57 xFIP at AA last year, Singer is poised to show what he can do in spring training. From a pure business sense, Singer probably doesn't have much of a chance to open the year in the rotation, but in formats where you can stash rookies without using actual roster spots, Singer needs to be one of the first guys you draft if you're looking for impactful 2020 rookie arms.
Dont' Sleep On Kyle Schwarber
Nick Castellanos drew most of the buzz for the Cubs from August 1st through the end of the season, but Kyle Schwarber actually posted similar numbers, and in some cases even better numbers, than the now-departed free agent. From August 1st:
Schwarber: .304/.394/.649, 14 HR, 38 RBI, .423 wOBA, 13.1% K-BB%
Castellanos: .321/.356/.464, 16 HR, 36 RBI, .408 wOBA, 16.5% K-BB%
While this was only a two month sample size, there remains plenty to be excited about surrounding Schwarber heading into 2020. Still just 26 years old, Schwarber's 38 home runs from a year ago were a career high and his underlying 90th percentile metrics are rock solid - specifically his 108.5 exit velocity and 454.6 home run distance. He remains a nice buy, particularly in OBP leagues.
David Bote - The Future 3rd Baseman for the Chicago Cubs
The trade rumors continue to swirl around the Cubs Kris Bryant, especially since whatever team lands him will have two full years of control. A trade of Kris Bryant has seemingly been on the team's front office radar for awhile, as evidenced by David Bote's 5 year, $15 million extension the team gave the third-year utility man after his rookie season in 2018. It's all but assumed that David Bote would be Kris Bryant's immediate replacement at the hot corner for the Cubs, when or if a trade is completed. Bote made strides in his batting EYE last season, improving it to 0.47 from 0.32, and while he still has a way to go before we can consider that to be a strong area of his game, the fact remains that league average batting EYE in 2019 was just 0.37. One area in Bote's game that needs to improve before he will be considered a legitimate fantasy asset is lowering his GB/FB rate, which was 1.86 in 2019. His 36.9% hard hit rate falls below league average, so all those ground balls aren't helping his overall batted ball profile, although interestingly, his 90th percentile home run distance was 450.8, which falls near the upper end of that stats range for all qualified hitters. Bote still needs more seasoning, but at age 26 he's just entering his prime. In deeper formats, he's worth taking a flier on with the hope he lands an everyday job.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Justin Verlander (SP - HOU) - At age 36, Justin Verlander managed his best season yet. Verlander posted a career best K-BB% (30.5%), 3rd best ERA (2.58), 2nd most wins (21), lowest BABIP (.218), best contact rate (68.8%), and best SwStr% (16.1%). Interestingly buried behind those numbers, however, is a 1 MPH drop in fastball velocity, reducing his Fastball/Change velocity differential to 8 MPH. This is notable because while the counting stats are rock solid, his batted ball profile shifted last season and hitters pulled his pitches 44% of the time, up from 37% the year prior. This shift likely factored into his substantial increase in home runs allowed and since HRs are excluded from the BABIP calculation, possibly why his BABIP wasn't reflective of his 41% hard hit rate allowed. Verlander is still missing bats, so any cracks in the foundation are neatly hidden by the strikeouts. Perhaps the velocity dip and batted ball profile shift are anomalies, but as pitchers age, we tend to see more velocity changes. What's going to happen if he dips another 1-2M MPH this year?
Rhys Hoskins (1B - PHI) - Hoskins' 46.5% hard hit rate is absolutely elite, but if you look at his 90th percentile flyball outcomes, he has an average exit velocity (103.5 MPH) and below average distance (422.3). Those metrics fall closer in line to overall league averages and less like the ranges seen among qualified hitters for overall 90th percentile outcomes, an indication that his top-level power output ceiling is much lower than his overall 46.5% hard hit rate suggests. Digging deeper, we see that his groundballs are rated with a 50% hard hit rate, while his flyballs are only being labeled as hard hit about 39% of the time. Given his 35 degree median launch angle, that spells bad news and translates to be more pop-ups. Hoskins has been working on his swing this winter, so there's an opportunity to change the path he's on, but based on 2019 performance alone, he feels a little like fool's gold.
Madison Bumgarner (SP - SF) - It's amazing how back-to-back injury plagued seasons (on fluke injuries - not chronic) can so negatively change a player's view in the court of public opinion. Three years ago, Bumgarner was view as one of the game's brightest stars. Fast forward to 2020 after he signs with a team in another pitcher friendly ballpark in the same division and Bumgarner is largely getting thrown out with the scraps. Now 30 years old, Bumgarner managed to throw 200 innings in 2019 for the first time since 2016 (the last year in a series of 6 seasons with 200+ IP). Bumgarner's 11.6% swinging strike rate hasn't trended upward like the rest of the market, but it was still the second highest mark of his career and translated to 24.1% K rate, which was above his career strikeout numbers. Huge strikeout numbers have never been Bumgarner's M.O., but because of his durability and availability, we often saw 200+ strikeout totals from him. Based on his injuries, there's little reason to worry they are the chronic variety, meaning he has a legitimate opportunity to for yet another workhorse season. Buy him at his discount.
Shohei Ohtani (SP - LAA) - The Angels have indicated that they would like two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani to return to the Angels rotation in mid-May. MLB changed and clarified a rule this off-season that will allow Ohtani to remain on the Angels active roster as an offensive player while he rehabs as a pitcher in the minor leagues. It's tough to know what to expect from Ohtani after he underwent Tommy John Surgery at the end of September 2018. Now 17 months removed from the procedure, Ohtani figures to be handled carefully even one he's back in the major league rotation. The dynasty outlook for Ohtani as a pitcher is certainly brighter than as a hitter, but for 2020, his hitting ability should definitely be valued more.
Brenden Rodgers (SS - COL) - Top infield prospect for the Rockies, Brenden Rodgers, isn't expected to be ready to return from labrum surgery until mid-May. His absence should open up and opportunity for both Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon to begin the year, but the playing time for all three players will become much murkier once Rodgers returns. Obviously, any regular in the Rockies starting lineup will be interesting from a fantasy perspective, but Rodgers has significant plate discipline issues he needs to work on and he lacks elite power or speed. Rodgers has been out since June.
Byron Buxton (OF - MIN) - Former top prospect Byron Buxton underwent labrum shoulder last August and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli suggested that the oft-injured outfielder will out until mid-March. Buxton is a polarizing force in most fantasy baseball circles because when he's healthy, he has shown the ability to be extremely dynamic. When he's healthy. With an ADP of 159 in the NFBC, Buxton will need to be healthy to return value at his current price. With that said, he's still just 26 years old and his underlying power metrics are positive, even if his hard hit fly ball top line outcomes are pedestrian, at best. He has post-hype sleeper potential.
Dylan Bundy (LAA - SP) - One of the trendiest picks in fantasy drafts this spring will undoubtedly be Dylan Bundy. There's a lot to like about Bundy now that he's out of Baltimore, from finally being free to reincorporate his cutter to a much more pitcher-friendly home park, Bundy has a lot of positive vibes. There's onviously a lot to like with the right-hander - ranging from his strong SwStr% at 12.9% to excellent better-than-average 73% contact rate - but consistency has always been the struggle for Bundy. Given his SwStr%, there's opportunity for more strong in the strikeout category, but be wary of simply buying Bundy on the hope prayer that a change of scenery will be an instant improvement. Natural improvement should result from his depressed 71% strand rate.
Jason Kipnis (2B - FA) - Veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis is reportedly nearing a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs. Kipnis is about four years removed from his last true fantasy relevant season, seeing massive degradation in his batting average and speed contributions over recent years. Some that that might have been due to injury while some might also be due to age. Either way, it's a low-risk gamble for the Cubs on a guy who is from the area. Kipnis likely won't carry much fantasy value unless he first wins an everyday job, but his plate approach remains above average with a 0.45 EYE and he did see a slight uptick in his hard hit rate last season to 36.7%, although that still falls below average.
Wade Davis (RP - COL) - Rockies manager Bud Black told reporters that he expects Wade Davis to be his primary closer in 2020. Davis was flat out awful in 2019, saving 15-of-18 games, but doing so with an 8.65 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. Davis dealt with injuries during the 2019 campaign, which could be a contributing factor, but Davis' long history of injuries also brings into question his ability to stay healthy for an entire season. Scott Oberg remains the handcuff and has pitched better than Davis across the board over the last year. Right now he would be the odds-on favorite as the most likely handcuff to take over as full-time closer among all MLB handcuffs heading into the season.
Kevin Pillar (OF - BOS) - The Red Sox are reportedly close to signing with the Red Sox. The right-hander split time between the Giants and the Blue Jays last season and finished with a career high 21 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Pillar has been a model of consistency throughout his career - both good and bad - averaging 152 games per season each of the last 5 years with either 14 or 15 stolen bases in each of the last four. He's also been remarkably consistent in the batting average category, ranging from .252 to .266 since 2016 with little growth in his below average plate approach (batting EYE's range from 0.18 to 0.35 over that stretch). Pillar is a nice piece for the Red Sox and for fantasy purposes he will be relevant in that lineup, but be careful not to overpay for his modest contributions in, albeit, each of the five standard categories.
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