Will Jose Berrios Become elite in 2020?
While much attention is on the addition of Josh Donaldson, adding to an already impressive lineup if the Twins are to get past the first round of the playoffs they need an elite starter they can trust in an elimination game. Berrios has put up good but not great numbers each of the past 3 seasons as he topped 200 innings for the first-time last season while posting a career low 3.68 ERA and career high 42% groundball rate. 2019 wasn't all positive though, which is why I still think this is big year for him. His K/9 dropped from 9.45 to 8.76, and his .248 batting average against, .299 babip and 36% hard hit rate were the highest marks of his career. It will be interesting to check-in throughout the spring as he saw a slight dip in fb velocity to below 93mph - and for anyone who saw his first outing over the weekend they will be pleased to note he touched 95 several time during this 2 scoreless innings . Berrios has the stuff of a frontline starter but needs to be more consistent - he was undone by 5 game allowing 5+ ER and hit hard in several other contests. Wins won't be an issue with the loaded offense so fantasy owners can look for 15 wins and I think a 3.25 ERA would be a nice sign of progression entering his 4th full season in the big.
Prospect Watch - Alex Kirilloff
After busting onto the scene in 2018 with a .970 OPS across 2 minor league levels, Kirilloff came back to reality a bit last year at AA posting a .756 OPS with a .283 average. I think the high average still says a lot as it was unrealistic to think he would continue to hit .350 as he progressed. As with many younger players advancing through the minors he saw a slight increase in his strikeout rate to 18% but he also increased his walk rate to 7.1% which, again is a promising sign for a young player. Known for his power, Kirilloff attempted 13 steals last year but was only successful on 7 of them - so I wonder if he will continue to be given the green right considering his speed does not grade out the greatest. He should start the season in AA once again, but a hot start could lead to a promotion to AAA. His prospects of making it to the big leagues are boosted since he played all of 2019 at 1B but also has experience in the outfield, and I envision him as a top call up (provided he hits in the minors) if one of the big sluggers goes down.
Is Luis Arraez a .300+ hitter?
Arraez was a key component last year bouncing around the diamond picking up starts at 2B,3B, SS and the outfield all while delivering a .334/.399/.439 line. Arraez demonstrated elite plate discipline in 366 plate appearances with the Twins last year (2.8% swinging strike rate, 9.8% walk rate 7.9% K rate) and based on his minor league track record I see no reason why he shouldn't hit .300 again this year, especially being slotted in as the primary second baseman. The key question, at least from a fantasy perspective is where else, exactly can the 22-year-old contribute? Other then scoring 54 runs it was a bit of an empty .334 average as he only hit 4 home runs and swiped 2 bases. He does generally hit the ball hard (12% soft contact rate) and did hit 20 doubles last year but I would like to see him hit the gaps a bit more often and attempt more stolen bases. If he is able to do that you are looking at a very strong option at 2B in fantasy - something along the lines of a .310 average, 100 runs scored, 40 doubles and 10 stolen bases - would be a strong ceiling I envision for him.
Can Marcus Semien Repeat his near-MVP performance?
The iron man of the Athletics (played all 162 games) Semien propelled the Athletics to the Playoffs and most likely won many players their fantasy league posting a whopping .285/.369/.522 line - numbers that jump out when comparing with his career marks (which in include those numbers) of .256/.323/.429. He blew out just about every counting stat also setting career highs in doubles (43), triples (7) home runs (33), RBIs (92) and runs scored (123). A casual glance at the numbers may make you think he was a beneficiary of the home-run surge last year, but I think Semien may have finally rounded into his own at the plate. He vastly improved his plate discipline, drawing walks as a career high 11% while striking out at a career low 13% while making contact at an 82% rate. I don't think he has quite the power surge this year as he did last year but his improved plate discipline should still allow him to turn in an 800+ OPS.
Will Frankie Montas to his Pre-PED suspension form?
When It was announced that Frankie Montas received an 80-game suspension last June this was a crushing blow to many fantasy owners as he had pitched like an ace putting up a 2.63 ERA, inducing groundballs at nearly a 50% clip all while getting swings (11.5% swinging strike rate) and strikeouts (9.66 K/9). He averaged 96.8mph on his FB, but his slider which was his second most thrown pitch was his real weapon as he held batters to .160 average against with 40 punchouts utilizing different speeds (84-92mph). He has made one appearance this spring, tossing a clean 1-2-3 frame. The suspension seems to be in the rear-view mirror, and I expect Montas to join Sean Manaea and Jesus Luzardo to form a potentially elite Top-3 rotation in Oakland.
What's the ceiling on Sean Manaea?
After missing the end of 2018 and the majority of 2019, Manaea came back with a vengeance in September last year going 4-0 in 5 starts pitching to a 1.21 ERA and striking out opposing batters at a career high 9.1 K/9. The K rate is by far a career high, and its more interesting considering his average FB velocity hovered only around 89mph last year. Perhaps opposing hitters were not ready for his velocity drop-off as he limited the to a .145 average vs his fastball while overall delivering a nearly 12% swinging strike rate in his 5-start return last year. He got rocked in his first spring training start (6 ER in 1 and 2/3 IP) and a key for him will be to keep mixing and matching his slider (21%) and changeup (15%) to continue to fool hitters. Manaea once was considered a high end prospect, but he has never topped 160 IP in his career. I still think there is solid potential here to turn in a sub-4 ERA season but I will be curious to see how which strike out version of Sean Manaea we get in 2020.
Around the League
Carlos Martinez (P-STL)
Martinez started for the Cardinals and tossed 3 shutout innings, walking 3 and striking out 4. There is some speculation that Martinez may be trying to nab a rotation spot, especially with the announcement that Miles Mikolas will miss some time to open the season. Wherever Martinez lands it is hard to argue against him being an enticing fantasy option. While injuries have caused him to throw 160 the past 2 season combined Martinez has been about as consistent as they come having a sub 3.65 ERA each of the past 5 seasons with a solid 8.88 K/9. What I am most curious to see is how his FB velocity checks out. He consistently averaged 95 mph as a starter from 2013-2017 as a starter, dropped to 93mph in 2018 but got it back up to 95mph last year as a closer. With as hard as he throws it almost makes sense to have him in a closer role where he can throw a little harder and not worry about going 6 innings. He also dialed up his K/9 to a career high 9.87 and was able to induce groundballs at a 56.5% clip. There more value, or course if he breaks the rotation but I could see him ending up as a Top-5 NL closer if he holds that spot.
Zack Wheeler (SP-PHI)
Wheeler made his Phillies debut tossing 2 innings, allowing 2 ER while striking out 1. He only gave up 1 hit, a 2-run homer. Wheeler is expected to bring a nice 1-2 punch with Aaron Nola atop the Phillies rotation after the big offseason contract he signed. After missing all of 2015 and 2016 and struggling upon his return in 2017 (5.21 ERA) Wheeler has put together 2 solid campaigns and set career bests in 2019 in K/9 (8.98) and BB rate (2.30). His HR/9 was a bit higher than the year before, but he also had the 3rd lowest HR/FB rate (10/9%) among qualified NL starters. I see Wheeler improving upon his 3.96 ERA and sporting an ERA closer to his fip (3.48) from last year making him a very strong fantasy starting pitcher. The aforementioned 2017 season following the 2-year layoff is the only season he had an Era higher than 4 as well.
Yadier Alvarez (P-LAD)
Alvarez was designated for assignment Saturday following being scratched from his scheduled start. Alvarez was once a consensus top 50 Prospect in the league but hasn't been able to crack the big-league roster following a rash of injuries disciplinary issues. He only pitched in 2 games last year and was shelled for 6 ER in 3 and 2/3 IP. He has always flashed high strikeout (10.5 K/9) potential but walks have always been an issue (5.1 BB/9) over his minor league career. He is only 23 and can rip his fastball in the mid to high nineties, so I think there is still some potential here, but not for 2020 fantasy purposes. It's also worth noting (albeit a small sample size) he has only allowed 8 home runs in 210 minor league innings to date.
Chris Davis (1B-BAL)
Davis Launched his 3rd home run of the spring Saturday. Following back-to-back seasons where he hit rock-bottom by sporting OPSs of .539 and .601 with just 28 home runs over 874 plate appearances, Davis has smoked ball during the first week of spring training slashing .714/.800/2.000. 1 week of crushing the ball in spring training is of course not much to go on but I do like his 4:1 BB:K ratio he has thus far in the spring - somewhat encouraging considering he has struck out in over 35% of his PAs each of the past 2 seasons. His regression has been remarkable and with so many other corner IF options out there it is difficult to recommend him in any format; however I will be keeping an eye on him throughout the spring to see if the plate discipline holds - everyone knows the mammoth power he has showcased earlier in his career.
Gerrit Cole (SP-NYY)
Cole was solid in his second spring start for the Yankees, tossing 2 scoreless innings allowing 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 4. With injuries to the Yankees staff piling up by the day Every 5th day where Cole starts will be increasingly important that he is able to provide a solid outing. Expectations are sky high following an AL leading 2.50 ERA / 2.64 fip, with an MLB leading 326 strikeouts (13.8 K/9) and a minuscule 2.0 BB/9. I would consider him the 2020 AL Cy Young Frontrunner, especially now that he is now the undisputed Ace of a staff. The 2.50 ERA may be a bit hard to completely sustain as he did have a career high 83.3% strand rate, so I could see his ERA be a hair higher if this normalizes, but make no mistake he should be the first or second pitcher off fantasy draft boards this year.
Carter Kieboom (3B-WSH)
Kieboom picked up a start at 3B and went 0-1, drawing 2 walks and scoring a run. Kieboom is making the transition to 3B to replace Anthony Rendon and hasn't gotten off to a particularly thrilling offensive start this spring (1-9) but has a nice 6:3 BB:K ratio - nice growth for a young player. Many eyes will be on the defensive switch to 3B but Kieboom mightily struggled in a cup of coffee last year (.128/.209/.282) in 11 games but his quick ascension through the minors leagues and solid hitting last season (.902 OPS at AAA) should translate well to the big leagues. Look for growing pains early, and I would expect Kieboom to break camp with the Nationals provided he is able to have a few nice hitting performances and shows his defensive prowess at 3B.
Gleyber Torres (SS-NYY)
Torres hit his first home run of the spring Saturday. With Mookie Betts leaving for the NL if you are looking for a new challenger to face Mike Trout for AL MVP, I think Torres is your guy. He has mashed 62 home runs in his first 2 seasons while cutting his K rate 4% from his 2019 Rookie season. His .275/.338/.511 career line doesn't exactly scream MVP, but I think 2020 is going to be a banner year for Torres - I could see him posting upwards of a .900 OPS and being a key offensive cog in the Yankees lineup. He scored 96 runs and drove in 90 last year - and my bold prediction in 2020 has him posting 100+ in each of those categories this year.
Andrew McCutchen (OF-PHI)
The Phillies announced that McCutchen would start 2020 on the Injured List, as his recovery from his torn ACL won't quite make him ready for the start of the season. As he enters his 12th season in the league it will be interesting to see is he can make it back to 100% health this season. While he only hit .256 last year for the Phillies in 59 games, his 16% BB rate was a career high and the Phillies lineup noticeably struggled to find someone to set the table once he got hurt. I am not quite sure he will hit double-digit steals this year, but his steady eye should ensure he slots into the 1 or 2-hole for the Phillies when active. I think a .260/.360/.450 line, numbers all below his career marks, would be roughly what he should be able to contribute this year and depending on when he returns he could be a great source of runs scored if the big Phillies bats behind him can turn the corner.
Lewis Brinson (OF-MIA)
Brinson went 0-3 in the Marlins spring game Saturday. He had been off to a hot start going 4-7 with 2 solo home runs and 4 runs scored, and notably has not struck out this spring yet. He had been billed as a 5-tool player, but the youngster has not yet delivered since being the key return in the Christian Yelich deal. He has posted a K rate of nearly 30% in 700+ PAs while only drawing walks at a 5% clip. His speed/power combo has not been on display as he inability to get on base (career .238 OBP) has limited him to just 6 steal attempts in his young career. Brinson has one of the lower line drive rates in the game (17%) and has not been able to capitalize on his speed to grab extra bags when he has managed to hit the ball in the outfield. Brinson will turn 26 this season, and he should earn a spot on the Marlins roster - but this could be his final year to prove he can capitalize on his toolset.
Ross Stripling (P-LAD)
Stripling tossed 2 shutout innings Saturday allowing just 1 hit. Stripling has now tossed 3 scoreless frames this spring, and while his spot on the Dodgers roster is not in question It has not been decided as to where he will slot in. Stripling has provided great results bouncing between the rotation and pen for 4 seasons with the Dodgers posting a career 3.51 ERA with a strong 8.8 K/9 and a near 50% groundball rate. While Stripling has carved out himself a great MLB role it's a little tougher to figure out where he slots in fantasy wise. He doesn't profile as someone who can pick up saves pitching in relief so you are really looking at strikeouts and the occasional win when he comes out of the pen. I expect Stripling to bounce back-and-forth again this year and with as reliable as his career numbers are he is a nice late round add, especially for a Dodgers team that profiles to score a ton of runs.