Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves - Freeman has joked this spring about being in the best shape of his life, but in his case, he might mean it. Freeman underwent a cleanup procedure on his right elbow after the season and it was reportedly so bad that if the Braves had won game five of the NLDS, Freeman wouldn't have been able to play in the NLCS. While Freeman's overall numbers were excellent as always, we tapered off in the second half with just one month over a 120 wRC+. A 120 wRC+ is an outstanding number for most people but with Freeman being one of the elite hitters in baseball we expect higher numbers from him there. Also in the fantasy playoffs, Freeman posted a 95 wRC+ with a horrific .125 ISO over 72 SEPT/OCT at-bats. Freeman is once again going to be in one of the best lineup spots in baseball right after Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzie Albies so he should be able to eclipse the 100 RBI total again and be good for his usual .290 batting average and 27-30 HR floor.
Braves Bullpen - When the Braves broke camp in 2019, Luke Jackson was the Braves closer because the group was so week. 2020 should be very different now as Jackson (based on skill) should be the 6th or 7th inning thanks to a complete bullpen overhaul. The Braves added Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene at the 2019 trade deadline and then they re-signed Martin and also brought in Will Smith via free agency. Right now Smith is currently the highest-drafted Braves bullpen arm, and that's even with there being word out of Braves camp that Melancon is going to be the Braves closer to start the season. Brian Snitker is a creature of habit with how he makes his lineup and manages the bullpen, so if there's word that Melancon is the closer then there's something to it. Smith also is the only lefty that is a lock for the bullpen, so there's also an argument that he's best for the Braves being able to be used when needed as Snitker's closers are closers and mostly throw in save situations.
Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves - 2019 was an absolute nightmare for Johan Camargo. The idea entering the season was for him to be a super-utility player getting reps at corner outfield, shortstop, and third base, but it ultimately ended with him playing maybe once a week and ending up in AAA due to his play. He played well in Gwinnett, and showed some promise after being called back up but then suffered an injury that ended his season. After the departure of Josh Donaldson in free agency, third base is up for grabs as Camargo is set to battle Austin Riley or the starting third base job and it sounds like the team is leaning towards Camargo at least to start. Camargo has turned in plus defense at third base and in his one extended chance at playing in 2018 he posted a 116 wRC+ with 19 homers over 500 plate appearances. If he does win the starting job, I think I'd still project him around that 500 PA mark but considering he's completely off draft radars there's a chance at 20 homers with a .275 average that's essentially sitting on waivers at this point.
Nate Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays - Lowe has dropped 20 pounds entering the 2020 season and is looking to stick on the big league roster after a cup of coffee last year. He's looking to stick at the corner infield spots for the Rays, but the already crowded spots got even more crowded with the additions of Jose Martinez and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to provide even more depth at first base. Lowe's calling card is his power ad after hitting 27 homers across three levels in 2018 he followed that up with 23 homers last year, seven of which came at the big league level. Kevin Cash said that Lowe is going to get extensive work at both first and third base this spring, but ultimately he could fall into the MLB/AAA shuttle once again with the depth the Rays have. If he can land close to full-time ABs on either corner he is worth a late-round flier, but until then he's a reserve type of player to keep an eye on.
Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays - Adames had an extremely weird 2019 season and his time as the Rays SS could have an expiration date on it with Wander Franco rapidly ascending to the major leagues. Adams hit .303 on the road last year compared to just .204 at home despite similar batted ball rates in both home and away games. Adames' average exit velocity also bounces all over, typically hovering around 86-87 MPH but spiking as high as 91 MPH in June followed by an 85.5 MPH average exit velocity in July. His average exit velo as a whole took a slight jump last year, as did his average launch angle compared to his rookie season. Adames should get full ABs at SS this year and is an AL-Only type of guy at this point, but there's a little more there as well that could show him unlocking a little bit more for his numbers.
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays - Snell took a major step back from his Cy Young season in 2018 posting a 6-and-8 record with a 4.29 ERA. Snell's stuff still was as good as his dominant season with his fastball velocity and spin both sitting in the 95th percentile's or above and all of his expected stats on Baseball Savant all rate as extremely elite as well. He was barreled upon only 4.7% of his batted balls which was in the top 10% of the league. Snell was hurt by the home run ball though with 14 homers allowed in just 100 innings last year, compared to 16 homers over 18 innings in 2018. With a reduced price entering 2020 he's an excellent rebound candidate to end up with an ERA in the low 3.00's with a K% that is among the best in the league.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Miles Mikolas, St Louis Cardinals - received a PRP injection in his right forearm and will be shut down for 3-to-4 weeks. Mikolas has been dealing with soreness in his flexor tendon and this procedure could cost him all of the first months of the season. Mikolas had an outstanding 2018 in his return to the majors from Japan but had a huge fall-off in 2019 to a 4.16 ERA with a 9-and-14 record. All of his xstats on Baseball Savant took a huge step back as batters saw a 7% jump in their hard contact against him. The curious case of Mikolas in 2019 was what happened to his slider. In 2018 the pitch generated a 23.7 pVal and in 2019 it earned a -1.3 pVal. His swing and miss rates and chase rates dipped a slight amount, but not enough to have this kind of dropped tied to it. Mikolas' hard contact rate jumped by 10% sliders which in turn caused his xSLUG on the pitch to jump from .286 in 2018 to .440 in 2019. Without elite swing and miss stuff, Mikolas is going to rely on generating weak contact and we'll need a bigger sample size to determine where he'll end up. The step back in performance plus him missing the first month makes me hesitant to have him on draft radars as of now.
Alex Reyes, St Louis Cardinals - Reyes has been the recipient of some positive buzz early in spring after a bullpen session the other day and an interview where he talked about how he was finally feeling 100%. He's also working on a starter's schedule early this spring. It seems as if we've been hearing about Reyes for years as he's long been one of the highest upside pitchers in the minors but has run into an injury stretch lately, some of that being self-imposed after punching a wall and breaking his hand. The Cardinals rotation is filled with question marks after Jack Flaherty. Dakota Hudson has a ton of warts, Adam Wainwright is fighting father time, Kwang-Hyun Kim hasn't thrown yet in the majors, Carlos Martinez's role is still undetermined, and the aforementioned Mikolas being out possible the first month. There's a non-zero chance that Reyes could snag a rotation spot out of spring training and if he does he should immediately be on radars as a late-round upside. The Cardinals Front Office has said that they are going into Spring Training with zero expectations for Reyes, so he has a real chance to carve out a role with a strong spring.
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees - Judge was held out of batting practice on Tuesday with what was described as "maintenance on his right shoulder", but the good news is that he's participating in all other spring activities at this point. The Yankees have described the situation as not very serious, so we'll have to just take their word for now. We all know that Judge has the upside of a first-round pick but he's coming off back-to-back seasons of playing under 120 games for the Yankees. Even while battling injuries in 2019 he ranked in the 100th percentile for exit velocity and hard-hit rate and also was in the top 4% of batters in xSLUG. This was his third straight season of having at least a 16% barrel rate, and two of those three seasons he topped 20% in barrel rate. He's always going to post strikeout percentages over 30%, but few batters can make the kind of contact with that ball that he does when he does make contact.
Brock Holt, Milwaukee Brewers - Holt signed a deal with the Brewers and should be a utility man for Milwaukee this year. The Brewers are going to need to find some way to replace the production of Mike Moustakas at third base and Roster The resource currently has Eric Sogard penciled in as the leadoff man for the team while playing third. Holt isn't much, but there's a chance that he could cut into that time there and if he hits leadoff there's some NL value with Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and Keston Huira slotted in behind him. Maybe if we see some positive news on Holt's front over the few weeks of Spring Training we can give him a small boost, but for right now this ultimately is just a depth move.
Nick Solak, Texas Rangers - Solak is going to get a chance to win the centerfield job for the Rangers this spring according to the team. Solak burst onto the ML scene with a strong final 33 games in 2019 slashing .293/.393/.491 with five homers and a pair of steals. In the short sample, Solak posted a strong 9.2% barrel rate but just a 6.3-degree launch angle leaves a good amount to be desired. A lot of this can be chalked up though to him having just a 13.8% FB% in those 33 games while posting a 52.9% GB%. Hitting five homers on such a low fly ball rate though could paint the picture that with a higher boost to his FB% he should be due for a decent amount of power, though staying that efficient would be tough.
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals - Turner has talked with manager Dave Martinez about the possibility of him hitting third this year behind Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. Turner said that he originally talked to Martinez in January and thought he was joking, but as it turns out he was serious. The tough part here would be regarding Turner's stolen base potential as that's the category that everyone is currently chasing in this era of baseball. Turner's RBI opportunities would get a nice boost and but it's going to be hard to play the game of figuring out his SB/R if he does move down in the lineup. Runs should still be solid with someone as good as Juan Soto hitting right behind him, but after that is when the lineup starts to tail off a bit.
Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres - There are some rumors out in the universe that the Padres are shopping Wil Myers with one team tied to him being the Red Sox. Good thing the Red Sox cleared all that money! Myers currently is slated to be a bench bat for the Padres and likely would get mostly regular at-bats in corner outfield spots and at first base. The big thing here is that this would clear room for Franchy Cordero to officially get everyday playing time with the departures of Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, and Hunter Renfroe over the last six or so months. Cordero is a stat cast daringly with barrel rates right at 13% or high in both 2017-18 when he received regular playing time before his lost season last year too with an elbow sprain. This kind of batted ball profile with full-time, uncontested ABs could be well worth a flier at the end of drafts. Even if Myers isn't dealt, Cordero still provides some value in the NL league with deep mixed league interest.
Josh James, Houston Astros - Brent Strom said that Joshua James is looking great so far as the team tries to figure out who the fifth starter on the team is going to be. This should be something that all fantasy owners should keep an eye on as his stat cast page is beautiful. 97th percentile for fastball velocity. 84th percentile fastball spin. 98th percentile strikeout percentage. xBA and SLG both in the 99th percentile. While his average exit velocity was in 11th percentile for last season, his barrel rate against him was in the top 10% of the league (in a good way). Out of the bullpen, James struck out 100 in 61.1 innings last season but allowed 10 homers on a 16.9% HR/FB rate. With a barrel rate sitting as one of the elites in the league, it's fair to expect some positive regression for his HR/FB rate that sat at 16.9% last season as it feels like he caught some bad luck last year in terms of homers. He's 100% someone you need to target late in drafts.
Brad Peacock, Houston Astros - Peacock has effectively been ruled out of the fifth spot in the rotation after showing up to camp and having some setbacks with his nerve issue in his neck. There's still some hope with Peacock that he'll be able to be a full-go to start the season in the bullpen for Houston. Peacock battled through injuries last year, posting his worst season since 2015 with a 4.12 ERA over 91 innings. We saw a decline in Peacock's raw stuff last season so it'll be interesting to see how much of that was tied to his injury issues because at 32 we shouldn't be seeing his stuff decline this earlier when he isn't a pitcher who is super-fastball reliant.
Seth Lugo, New York Mets - Lugo is dealing with a broken toe and will be out of action for a few days before getting a padded cleat to wear. There's no issue here with him being ready for the start of the season and he's slated once again to be a high leverage arm for the Mets. If you're thinking that Edwin Diaz struggles this year (I'm not one of those), Lugo likely has the best shot at getting the ninth inning should Diaz ever get relieved of his duties. Lugo struck out 104 batters over 80 innings last season and ranks among the league's best in K%, xBA and xSLG. Batters only barrel Lugo on 5.3% of contact and he also does a fantastic job of limiting walks at a 5% rate last year. With his strikeout rates, there's a solid argument for him to be one of the top non-closers rostered, and if he finds his way into some saves his value will skyrocket.
Jimmy Nelson, Los Angeles Dodgers- Nelsob could end up working in a relief role for the Dodgers according to Andrew Friedman. Nelson is still going to be in the mix to help fill out the rotation for the Dodgers, but the amount of players in contention for that spot plus Nelson's recent injury history makes him a long shot to land that spot. Provided Nelson still has the same swing and miss stuff, he could team up with Blake Treinen to make an outstanding bridge to Kenley Jansen.
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