A SOLID FANTASY OPTION
Pablo Lopez (SP-MIA) was far from a fantasy asset in 2019, as he finished the season with a 5.09 ERA, 7.7 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9 in 111.1 IP. But as his 4.37 xFIP and 4.44 SIERA suggest, he endured some bad luck that inflated his ERA and will make him easy to overlook as fantasy owners prepare for the 2020 campaign (whenever that might begin). Especially troublesome was a 66% strand rate (down from 75% in 2018) and a 14.6% HR/FB, although that figure was actually down a tick from 2018 (15.7%). Lopez did induce groundballs at a healthy 48% clip and surrendered a hard-hit rate of 37% that isn't ridiculously high. Although his stuff is solid but by no means overpowering, the 10.2% swinging-strike rate he managed last season wasn't bad. Lopez does mix up his 94-mph heater (41%) with a sinker that's just a tick slower (18%), an 86-mph change-up (22%), and an 80-mph curve (19%). What do we think he will do in 2020?
Although Lopez's aim to induce grounders will cap his strikeout total, he did show modest growth in that area last season, raising his K/9 from 7.1 to 7.6. He also showed improved control by trimming his BB/9 from 2.8 to 2.2. If Lopez can get his K/9 above 8 in 2020 - and we think he can, as we project him for 155 punchouts in 167 innings of work, roughly an 8.4 K/9 - he will be useful for the back end of fantasy rotations. And we think he records an ERA about 4.25 to go along with a WHIP of about 1.25. Playing for the lousy Marlins will no doubt deprive him of a few wins he deserves, but that's part of why I call him a #5 guy for fantasy rotations.
NOT EXACTLY CONFIDENCE-INSPIRING
Brandon Kintzler (RP-MIA) has been anointed the Marlins' closer to start the 2020 season. The 35 year-old righty spent the 2019 campaign with the Cubs, finishing the year with a 2.68 ERA, 7.58 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 17 holds, and 1 save (and 2 blown saves) in 57 IP (62 appearances). His 4.06 xFIP and 3.81 SIERA indicate that he benefitted from an inflated 80% strand rate (76% career) and suppressed .255 BABIP (.297 career), although he does help himself out by doing a decent job of keeping the ball in the yard (0.79 HR/9) and inducing worm-burners (55% groundball rate). With a low strikeout rate and a 7.8% swinging-strike rate, Kintzler is clearly not your prototypical closer, as he relies on inducing weak contact (82% contact rate) - but his 38% hard-hit rate allowed further highlights the good luck he enjoyed last season. What should we expect from him as Miami's closer?
In a word, probably not a lot. Playing for a rebuilding squad, he may not get many opportunities to shut the door. Although, as Shane Greene showed last season before he was traded from Detroit to Atlanta, there are times where a crappy team that will squeak out the games that it does win will translate to decent save totals. The Marlins bullpen behind Kintzler isn't exactly deep (Yimi Garcia, Ryne Stanek, and Drew Steckenrider are probably the most compelling arms there), so it's tough to imagine anyone really pushing him for the role unless he really falters. And we do expect some correction to the mean this year based on the disparity between his surface numbers and peripherals last season, projecting an era north of 3.50. If that's the case, it's tough to imagine him remaining the closer for the season.
Jesus Sanchez (OF-MIA) should make his MLB debut this season and he's a guy that fantasy owners should have on their radars. Moved from Tampa Bay to Miami as part of the Nick Anderson deal last year, the then-21 year-old began the year in Double-A and finished in Triple-A. His 316-PA sample in Double-A is the best overall snapshot of what he did last season, as he batted .275 with 8 homers, 49 RBI, and 5 stolen bases; he struck out at a 21% clip and walked at just under an 8% rate. Although Sanchez started slowly in Triple-A, batting just .206 with a lone homer and 5 RBI in 71 PAs with Durham, he began to settle in following his move to New Orleans, batting .246 with 4 longballs and 9 RBI in his last 78 PAs. In 2018, something similar happened when he moved from High-A (.301 average, 10 homers, and 64 RBI in 378 PAs) to Double-A (.214, 1 homer, and 11 RBI in 110 PAs), but Sanchez clearly adapted to the new level in 2019 before again being promoted.
The 6'3", 230-pound lefty-batter is ranked the #4 prospect in the Miami system and #80 overall in baseball, so experts think highly of him. Especially, Sanchez's hit and power tools both rate at 55 while all other facets of his game rate at 50 or 55 - he's a 55 FV guy overall. Scouts report that his swing is smooth and that he possesses excellent bat speed as well as a tendency to make hard contact, but he could use more plate discipline and tends to hit the ball on the ground a bit too often. While that can help his average, it suppresses his power output. He may get little more than a cup of coffee in 2020, but Sanchez should be a mainstay in the majors as early as next year, and scouts project him to be a perennial .280-25 type guy so long as he adds a little more loft to his swing. Just be ready to make the add if he rakes in Triple-A to start the year and gets the call. But also don't be surprised if he scuffles a bit as he adjusts to MLB pitching.
ONLY IN DESPERATION
Jacob Stallings (C-PIT) is getting a tiny bit of attention as the 2020 campaign approaches because he will serve as the Buccos' primary catcher. In a 210-PA sample last season, the then-29 year-old held his own, batting .262 with 6 homers, 13 RBI, and 26 runs scored. Okay, none of that is super exciting. He makes contact at an okay clip (76%) and doesn't strike out a ton (19%) while taking a few walks (7%). His 34% hard-hit rate isn't exactly impressive either, and his 48% groundball rate helps out his BA while suppressing his power output. On the plus side, Stallings did post his highest hard-hit rate (37%) on the 34% of batted balls that he lofted into the air. So, uh, yeah... none of that's super encouraging. But he did bat .350 with a pair of doubles in 22 spring training PAs. Exciting, huh?
So, if your primary catcher goes down and you need a warm body that likely won't hurt you, Stallings could be your guy. We project him for an average in the .250s to go along with about 15 or so dingers in a primary catching role. And because his calling card is the defensive side of the game, he should get plenty of PAs. File Stallings' name in the back of your mind just in case (fingers crossed it doesn't happen) your main C that you hopefully didn't invest too much in is sidelined.
NOT BLOCKING HAYES
Colin Moran (3B-PIT) underwhelmed in 2019, as he replicated his .277 batting average from 2018 while hitting a career-high 13 homers and driving in 80 runs in a career-high 503 PAs. The former #6 overall draft pick (Marlins, 2013) enters the 2020 campaign at age 27 with prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes nipping at his heels. In some significant ways, Moran took steps backward in 2019, as his strikeout rate jumped nearly 6% to 23% (thanks in part to a swinging-strike rate that climbed from 9% to 12%) while his walk rate fell more than 2% to just 6%. His hard-hit rate was a career best at... not quite 35%. His .341 BABIP was a bit high, which means that some correction would bring his average down a bit. We have Moran projected for a snooze-inducing .263 average, 15 homers, and 60 RBI in nearly a full season of PAs. I don't know why he'd be on your fantasy roster.
Which raises the question of why I bothered to write a blurb on him. Honestly, I just wanted to build on my previous write-up about Ke'Bryan Hayes and show how the guy currently occupying the position isn't doing much more than keeping the seat warm. Given that Moran comes in below average for the hot corner both offensively and defensively, it's simply a matter of Hayes showing that he is ready for the big time.
KEEP CRUZ ON YOUR RADAR
Oneil Cruz (SS-PIT) is a bit of a long shot to reach the majors in 2020, but his name is one to file away for 2021. The 6'7", 210-pound shortstop (yes, you read that right) is MLB.com's #63 prospect overall, sits just outside the top 10 at his position (just ahead of Marlins SS prospect Jazz Chisholm), and is ranked #3 in the Buccos' system behind only SP Mitch Keller and 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (for what it's worth, Fangraphs has him at #2 behind Hayes). At age 20, Cruz spent last season pretty much split between High-A and Double-A, batting a combined .298 with 8 homers, 34 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 292 PAs. He missed roughly two months of the season as he recovered from a foot fracture and did most of his work after returning to action. And for what it's worth, he hit .217 with a homer, a pair of doubles, and 4 RBI in 24 spring-training PAs in which he struck out 11 times.
Cruz's minor-league track record shows that he will whiff (26% last season) but will also take his share of walks (11% BB rate in 136 Double-A PAs). Although, as one might guess, his hit tool currently grades low at just a 30 per Fangraphs (future 40), his raw power grades significantly higher at 70 (80 future). As his homer totals from last season indicate (just 1 in Double-A), he's still working to apply his power in-game and has a game power grade of just 30 right now, although scouts put the future at 60. While his speed isn't overwhelming (it grades at 60), he'll steal a few bags (think about a dozen per season during his early years). It will be interesting to see what Cruz does in the high minors in his age-21 season.
Tom Murphy (C-SEA) emerged last year and showed enough promise that the Mariners traded Omar Narvaez to Milwaukee on the heels of his own breakout season. After not catching on in Colorado (sigh), in his age-28 season Murphy hit .273 with 18 homers and 40 RBI in 281 PAs in 2019. Despite posting an amazingly average 38% hard-hit rate overall, he did loft 47% of his batted balls, making hard contact on 42% of those. And he aims to maximize his swing-for-the-fences approach by pulling 51% of batted balls. As one might guess, his power-oriented game comes with plenty of swing-and-miss, as 31% of his PAs ended with a whiff last season. Given that and that his .340 BABIP is due for some correction to the mean, his average is unlikely to finish north of .250 in 2020. So, make no mistake about it - Murphy's calling card is his power and you're likely not going to get much else out of him. But at a time when the C position doesn't exactly offer a ton of great fantasy options, he's as good of a choice as anyone else if you pass on the first 5ish at the position. We have him down for a BA in the .240s to go along with just over 20 dingers. But he could easily give fantasy owners more big flies if he logs more than 400 PA.
Luke Voit (1B-NYY) could be a great value pick in 2020 fantasy drafts. After an impressive 2018 stint (.322 average, 15 homers, and 36 RBI in just 161 PAs), he was heavily hyped entering the 2019 season. However, the then-28 year-old disappointed with a .263 average, 21 dingers, and 62 RBI in 510 PAs, as he made a pair of trips to the IL as a result of an abdominal strain and a sports hernia. As spring training began in 2020, we heard the cliché "best shape of his life" line based on a revamped offseason workout plan through which he aimed to enhance his speed and agility. It's just spring training, but the results were pretty whatever: a .267 average, a homer, a double, and 2 RBI in 32 PAs, with 10 strikeouts. In 2019, his hard-hit rate did dip from 47% in his small sample from 2018 to 39% while he struck out at a slightly higher clip (28%) and bumped his walk rate over 3% to 14%. Voit's contact rate was an anemic 67% (down from 69% in 2018) while his swinging strike rate climbed to almost 16%. Because of these flaws, we don't expect him to put up a high average (anything north of .250 would be surprising), but he should be at least a solid source of power (we have him projected for a homer total in the mid-20s). Provided he stays on the field, I think this is the baseline; especially since he calls Yankee Stadium home, he could easily hit 30 bombs. At a time when 1B is seemingly at an all-time low for fantasy, Voit could be worth a late-round stash.
Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B-ARI) followed up his promising 2018 campaign with a breakout 2019 season in which he hit .269 with 35 longballs, 118 RBI, and 94 runs scored in 699 PA. He posted a career-best 41% hard-hit rate, sacrificing a little contact (down to 77% from an 80% career average) and whiffing a bit more often (his 12% swinging-strike rate was a career high). Yet, his average remained reasonable and his strikeout rate sat just under 19%. In fact, his .283 BABIP was a tad on the low side (.296 career), which suggests that his average could come up with a little correction to the mean there. On the other hand, Escobar has firmly shifted his approach to flyballs (45%) and seems intent on going for power as his pull rate reached 44% last season, his highest in a meaningful big-league sample size. We are confident that he can offer a final line in 2020 somewhere between his solid 2018 and excellent 2020: an average in the .260s, a homer total in the high-20s, and solid RBI and run totals as he bats in the heart of the Arizona lineup.
Scott Kingery (3B/OF-PHI) rebounded from a disappointing 2018 campaign to show some promise in 2019, as he finished with a .258 average, 19 homers, 55 RBI, 64 runs, and 15 steals in 500 PAs. We like him to build on that as he enters his age-26 season. And the Phillies think enough of him to indicate that he may bat leadoff to being the 2020 campaign, at least until Andrew McCutchen returns. After Kingery posted an anemic 27% hard-hit rate in his rookie season, he raised that to an excellent 46% last year while keeping his flyball rate at 40% and lifting his liner rate 2% to just over 26%. The higher quality of contact did, however, come at the expense of quantity of contact, as his contact rate dipped 3% to just 73% while his swinging strike rate ticked upward from 13.6% to 15.1%. Consequently, his strikeout rate climbed from 26% to 29%. He did, however, show a bit more patience at the plate as his walk rate rose from 5% to almost 7%. Given the strides he showed last season, we anticipate that Kingery will show even more improvement in 2020, as we have him projected for an average in the .260s, a homer total in the mid-20s, and about 20 stolen bases. Given his 70-grade speed and a possible spot atop the Philadelphia lineup, he could easily provide a few more steals and score a bunch of runs.
Willy Adames (SS-TB) enters the 2020 season at age 24 and on the heels of a sophomore campaign in which he showed some progress. I think he can build on it this season, which makes him a late-round value at the glutted SS position. Last year, Adames batted .254 with 20 homers, 52 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 4 stolen bases in 584 PAs. None of those figures jump off the page at you, but consider this: He trimmed his strikeout rate from 29% in 2018 (323 PAs) to 26%. He raised his hard-hit rate from 35% in 2018 to 42% last year. He maintained his 30% flyball rate while cutting his groundball rate from 52% to 47% and raising his liner clip from 18% to 23%. He raised his contact rate from 74% to 76% while trimming his swinging strike clip from 12% to 11.4%. Do I think that Adames absolutely breaks out in 2020? Probably not - he never was a top-tier prospect and he doesn't really have a single standout tool. But I do like him to build on what he did last season and push toward the top 10 at a stacked SS position.
Avisail Garcia (OF-MIL) is getting some hype in fantasy circles as the 2020 campaign approaches, and for good reason. In 530 PAs last season, he hit .282 with 20 homers, 72 RBI, and 10 steals. He produced hard contact at a career-best 40% clip while posting a career-low 46% groundball rate. Garcia's 6% walk rate and 24% strikeout rates were both right at his career averages, and his 17% HR/FB was also right about where it should be (16% career). He did that work in Tampa Bay, and he's now taking his talents to a far more hitter-friendly park in Milwaukee, where we expect him to assemble what would be a career year - an average in the .270s, a homer total in the mid-20s, and about a dozen steals. Not off the charts by any means, but useful for fantasy. The big caveat with Garcia is health, as he's only logged more than 500 PAs in a campaign three times since he made his debut back in 2012. Last year, he missed time with an oblique strain while, in 2018, hamstring issues sent him to the DL (that's what it was called then!). Garcia has always had potential and has flashed what he can do for fantasy owners multiple times in his career, so if you draft him expect solid production when he's on the field but expect an IL stints or two.
Luke Weaver (SP-ARI) should be a nice value pick in 2020 fantasy drafts. The 26 year-old missed most of the 2019 campaign with right (throwing) forearm tightness, but he returned to make a brief appearance at the end of the season and has been building up for regular-season action in spring training. When he was on the field last year, Weaver was showing signs of progress, as he posted a 2.94 ERA, 9.65 K/9, and 1.96 BB/9 in 64.1 IP (12 starts). His 3.84 SIERA and 3.87 xFIP point to some good fortune going his way, with a 79% strand rate, 9% HR/FB, and .292 BABIP all slightly in his favor. However, the improved control from 2018 when he recorded a 3.56 BB/9 in 136.1 IP with the Cardinals, as well as the career-best 10.4% swinging-strike rate, both generate optimism. Part of Weaver's progress in 2019 might be connected to his cutter usage, which was up to a career-high 14%, a jump from just 5% in 2018. We like him to finish the 2020 season with an ERA just under 4.00 while striking out about a batter an inning, but he could do more given a full season to build upon the progress he showed last year.
Chris Paddack (SP-SD) impressed in making the jump from Double-A to the majors last season, as he tossed 140.2 IP (26 starts) in which he recorded a 3.33 ERA, 9.79 K/9, and 1.98 BB/9. Advanced metrics - such as a 3.83 SIERA and 4.05 xFIP - suggest that he did benefit from some good luck, with the meager .237 BABIP that opposing batters recorded against him perhaps the most obvious culprit. The then-23 year-old who had logged all of 37.2 IP in Double-A ball did a good job of recording punchouts and minimizing walks, but he tended to get hit hard (42% hard-hit rate) and gave up plenty of longballs (1.47 HR/9, 14.6% HR/FB). Especially since he calls PetCo Park home, that HR/FB should dip a bit, especially as he develops his curveball to complement his plus-combination of heater and change-up, the latter of which is especially good. Reports indicate that he has focused on that curve this spring, so fantasy owners can fairly expect Paddack to build on his strong rookie season. The Padres limited his innings last year and ended his campaign early, but expect him to go 180+ IP this season; we project him for an ERA about 3.80 to go along with a K/9 of 10 or so. Confidently draft him as a #2-3 fantasy starter with a chance for him to push toward ace status.
James Karinchak (RP-CLE) is a non-closer to keep an eye on - if not roster - to start the 2020 campaign. With Brad Hand set to begin the season as the Indians' closer, Karinchak will likely be a source of holds at best, although depending on how the season progresses for all parties involved - including how the Indians do, if they keep Hand, and how Karinchak performs - he could end up closing some games during the last couple months of the season. And his track record indicates that he has the arm for it. The 6'3", 230-lb 24 year-old righty boasts an 80-grade heater that averaged 97-mph in his brief 5.1 IP debut last season that he pairs with a plus (55-grade) 85-mph curve to mow down batters. In just 35.2 IP at four different levels last season, Karinchak whiffed 82 batters. Yeah. His control, as one might guess, isn't always stellar, as he posted a BB/9 north of 5 at several stops in his short MiLB career. He did, however, kept that to 1.69 in his brief MLB debut last season and posted a 1.8 clip in 10 Double-A innings last year, although a 6.75 BB/9 in 17.1 Triple-A IP is sandwiched in there. But the stuff is tantalizing and strikeouts are valuable in all fantasy formats. Add him for the strikeouts and view any holds (likely) and saves (a maybe) as a cherry on top.