Walker lost nearly all of the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he has a real chance to produce solid fantasy value with the Mariners. Walker posted his best full season as a starter in 2017 with a 3.49 ERA and a 4.04 FIP, giving fantasy owners plenty of reasons to expect solid production this year. Walker finished 2017 largely looking like an average middle rotation starter. He posted a .371 xwOBA on contact, got hitters to strike out at a 21.4% rate, and walked batters at an 8.9% rate. Encouragingly, Walker began working a very effective slider into his pitch mix that generated whiffs at a 33% rate and boasted a .390 SLG. There's plenty of uncertainty surrounding Walker, but if he emphasizes his slider more and is able to return to pre-Tommy John form then he should be an above-average fantasy asset.
Injuries have held Brantley's career back, but the 33-year-old has played in 140+ games in each of the past two years and posted a strong .311/.372/.503 slash line last year. Brantley projects to be the same player he's always been in 2020: an elite contact hitter (90.8% contact rate) with solid power (88.7 mph average exit velocity) and a decent plate discipline profile. That means that as long as Brantley stays healthy, a .285 average and .450 SLG represent his floor. Also working in Brantley's favor is his presence in the Astros lineup. Even if Houston's offense takes a sign-stealing related step back in 2020, it figures to be one of the most productive offenses in the league, so Brantley's likely place in the top part of the order should serve him well for runs and RBIs. Expect Brantley to once again be a strong fantasy option as long as he stays healthy.
The Astros are likely to use James as a starter this season, and that should have fantasy owners very excited. James piled up strikeouts a ridiculous 37.6% rate last season in a relief role, a number supported by a similarly impressive 16.2% swinging-strike rate and a 64.2% contact rate. Even when hitters did make contact against James, he managed to keep it under control with a .337 xwOBA on contact (.371 MLB average) and a 4.7% barrel rate that ranked near the top of the league. James' arsenal includes a fastball that can exceed 100 mph, a wipeout slider, and a strong changeup, so he has more than enough to work with as a starting pitcher. It would be nice to see James cut down on his walks (13.2% walk rate last year), but few pitchers offer as much upside as James, and he should be a target for all fantasy owners this year.
Garneau is currently slotted behind Martin Maldonato on the Astros depth chart, but the 32-year-old should be on fantasy player's radars entering the season. In 35 games last season, Garneau displayed borderline elite plate discipline with a 21.4% o-swing rate and a 69.9% z-swing rate. Additionally, Garneau posted an 83.9% contact rate, giving him better than average strikeout and walk rates. It's a small sample size and Garneau still has plenty of problems -- he gets too far under the ball way too often, is lacking in the power department, and probably pulls the ball too much -- but if he can maintain his plate approach and get his launch angle under control, then he should be a decent fantasy option at a relatively thin position. DFS players should keep Garneau in mind when he plays (especially against lefties), and full-season owners in deep leagues should monitor his playing time.
The Mariners are likely to roll with a committee at closer to start the year, but Magill enters the season as the favorite to win the full-time closer job. Magill picked up five saves after a midseason trade sent him to Seattle last year, and his 1.35 ERA over the last month of the season should have fantasy owners optimistic coming into 2020. Magill effectively dropped his curveball in favor of his slider in September. Magill's slider is more effective at generating strikeouts and inducing favorable contact than his curveball is, so the pitch mix adjustment should continue to show positive results this year. Additionally, Magill posted a career-best 14.3% swinging strike rate last season, resulting in a strong 28% strikeout rate that should help him keep the closer job if maintained this year. Fantasy owners looking for a cheap reliever should buy Magill, and fantasy owners who want more early-season certainty should monitor the Mariners' bullpen as the season progresses before pulling the trigger on Magill.
Dee Gordon is 31, but he still ranks among the top 20% of the league in terms of sprint speed, and he's quietly added some power over the past couple of seasons (83 mph average exit velocity in 2019). At this point in his career, Gordon is a solid bet to post a decent batting average thanks to his 85.3% contact rate and speed, and he's still a threat to steal 20+ bases after swiping 22 last season. Gordon may find his playing time blocked by J.P. Crawford and Shed Long, but the 31-year-old should manage to carve out at least a semi-consistent role with the team. Fantasy owners looking for cheap steals and batting average can do a lot worse than Gordon, even if he isn't the 60-steal player he once was.
Around the League
Ryan Braun (MIL) - Brewers manager Craig Counsell announced that Braun will split time in right field with Avisal Garcia in 2020. Braun is quietly still a solid offensive player in Milwaukee, and the 36-year-old posted a .285/.343/.505 slash line last season. Importantly, much of Braun's production from last season seems to be sustainable. With a 91.2 mph average exit velocity, a 45% hard-hit rate, and a 9.8% barrel rate, Braun's underlying power numbers looked good last year and largely supported his .220 ISO. Braun may see his strikeout rate jump a bit after his contact rate dipped to 76.3% last year, but he's still a solid contact hitter who should post a strikeout rate near the league average mark. Since Braun is also expected to see time at first base next year, his lack of consistent outfield playing time shouldn't damage his fantasy value much.
Francis Martes (HOU) - Martes was suspended for the entire 2020 season after testing positive for PEDs for a second time. Martes entered spring training expecting to compete for the Astros' fifth starter job or a role in the bullpen, so his suspension bodes well for fellow pitchers Josh James, Austin Pruitt, and Framber Valdez, all of whom are vying for a starting job. This suspension probably closes the door on Martes's chance at being fantasy-relevant though, so owners hoping for a return to his former top-prospect form should turn their focus to other Astros pitchers.
Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) - Cespedes participated in the Mets' workout on Monday, though when he'll be ready to play remains to be seen. It's been over a year since Cespedes has seen major league action, but his 38-game 2018 season was somewhat encouraging. In 2018, Cespedes showed that he still has some power, posting a 90.8 MPH average exit velocity and a 10.2% barrel rate. That should be enough to keep fantasy owners interested in Cespedes' progress, but the 34-year-old hasn't played in more than half of the season since 2016, so he is still a significant injury risk even after he's fully recovered from his offseason ankle injuries.
Bo Bichette (TOR) - Blue Jays manager Charlie Monotyo reportedly expects to use Bichette as a leadoff hitter frequently in 2020. The top half of Toronto's lineup is young but could be very good next year. Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are expected to slot behind Bichette in the Blue Jays' lineup, which means that Bichette should be in line for a healthy dose of runs scored in 2020. Bichette takes solid contact skills (76.6% contact rate last year) into the leadoff role, but if he can cut down on his 38.6% o-swing rate, then his value will increase significantly. Still, this is good news for Bichette, and fantasy owners should expect a solid season out of the sophomore infielder.
Adam Frazier (PIT) - Frazier reportedly played through a fractured finger and a separated shoulder last season. Both injuries occurred before Frazier's second game of the season, and the injuries might help explain his 40 point dip in SLG. After seeing his average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate jump in 2018, Frazier saw all three metrics fall in 2019 as his home run rate fell from 7.8% to 3.9% and his extra-base hit rate fell from 9.9% to 8.2%. If Frazier's decline in power was indeed caused by injuries, then fantasy owners should expect an OPS around .780 in 2020. Frazier's power bump in 2018 was unusual considering his career to that point though, so fantasy owners should be careful buying into a full power resurgence in 2020, even if much of last season's struggles were injury-related.
Brock Holt (MIL) - The Brewers reportedly signed Brock Holt on Monday. Holt will likely take on a utility role in Milwaukee this year, and the 31-year-old should be a useful DFS option. With a 6.8% swinging-strike rate and a 90.8% contact rate, Holt is an excellent contact hitter with a relatively high floor thanks to better than average strikeout and walk rates. Holt's inconsistent usage may actually work well for his daily fantasy value, as his matchups can be better tailored to his strengths. Last year, Holt posted a .832 OPS against righties compared to a .557 mark against southpaws, so if the Brewers focus his starts against righties then he should see his overall numbers rise. Holt probably won't see enough consistent playing time to be worthwhile in most full-season leagues, but his ability to hit for average should have him on daily fantasy player radars this year.
Nick Solak (TEX) - Solak reportedly has a chance to start in center field for the Rangers with a strong spring training. Solak looked good as a rookie last year, and the 24-year-old lacked any clear significant weaknesses. With a 26.3% o-swing rate and a 64.8% z-swing rate, Solak's plate approach was advanced and should allow him to keep his strikeout rate low and his walk rate high. In the contact quality department, Solak posted an above-average .385 xwOBA on contact last year to go along with a strong 9.2% barrel rate, an 88.3 mph average exit velocity, and a 26% line drive rate. Furthermore, Solak offers some potential value on the basepaths. Indeed, Solak swiped 48 bags in four minor league seasons and managed an impressive 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed last year. Solak was essentially above-average in nearly every significant measure last year, and if he can maintain that level of production over a full season then he should be a lock for an .800+ OPS with a strikeout rate around 20%. Getting everyday playing time is huge for Solak, and fantasy owners should be all over him as drafts approach.
Jed Lowrie (NYM) - Despite reporting to spring training in a large leg brace, Lowrie reportedly had no physical restrictions in the Mets' workout on Monday. Lowrie missed nearly all of last season with knee issues, but the 35-year-old posted an OPS north of .800 in both 2017 and 2018. If Lowrie is healthy in 2020, then fantasy owners should expect more of the same from the infielder, who consistently strikes out at a sub-20% rate while offering decent power (9.6% extra-base hit rate over the past two years). Lowrie projects to be used as a utility infielder for the Mets this year, and the positional versatility should give him an added fantasy boost as well. Fantasy owners should continue to monitor Lowrie's health as the regular season gets closer.
Chris Davis (BAL) - Davis reportedly added 25 pounds of muscle over the offseason in an attempt to revitalize his career. Power was never a problem for Davis. Even last year, the 33-year-old posted an impressive .433 xwOBA on contact thanks to his 10.5% barrel rate and 39.2% hard-hit rate. The problem for Davis has been making contact in the first place. Davis owns a career 67.4% contact rate, an already poor number that was even worse last season at 62.9%. It's possible that some added muscle will have Davis making contact more often, and if Davis can get his contact rate up near 70% then he could be fantasy relevant, but that scenario seems unlikely.
Kevin Padlo (TBR) - The Rays have removed Padlo from baseball activities with an illness. Padlo lit up Double- and Triple-A pitchers last season to the tune of a .265/.389/.538 slash line, and the 23-year-old has a chance to crack the Opening Day roster for the Rays this year. Barring any more moves before the start of the season, playing time will be hard to come by at corner infield spots for the Rays though, so Padlo is unlikely to make an impact early in the year. Still, fantasy owners should keep an eye on Padlo this spring, as an impressive performance should have him playing a role in Tampa Bay this year.
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