ALL UPSIDE WITH KELLER
Mitch Keller (SP-PIT) endured a rough MLB debut last season, tossing 48 innings (11 starts) in which he accumulated a 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. Oof. But... one doesn't have to look very deep to find some positives. Take, for example, the 12.19 K/9. Nice! The reasonable 3.00 BB/9. How about the 3.47 xFIP and 3.78 SIERA? Wow, dude was super unlucky. Opposing batters managed a .475 BABIP against him, contributing to a strand rate just under 60%. The gopher ball, fortunately, wasn't a huge issue (1.13 HR/9 and 13% HR/FB), especially given that 2019 was the year of the dinger. In general, opposing batters didn't exactly tee off against him, as they managed a 36% hard-hit rate, although an inordinate proportion of the batted balls were liners (29%) and few were grounders (39%). By now you know I'm going to recommend him for 2020.
Yes, do it. Pull the trigger on Keller as early as the middle rounds of your draft. We have him just outside of the top 60 SP options, around the likes of Kenta Maeda and Jake Odorizzi to cherry-pick a pair of names. Keller was the Pirates' top prospect entering last season and remains so entering the 2020 campaign, which may not say a lot now that I think about it. But he was a top 30 prospect in all of baseball last year and remains in the top 40 as the start of the new season approaches. The pedigree is there and the peripherals tell us more about last season than do the bloated ERA and WHIP. We project him for roughly a full season in the majors, finishing with an ERA in the low-mid 4s, a WHIP about 1.30, and a K/9 about 10. He won't rack up a ton of wins playing for the Pirates, but those are tough to count on from anybody (see deGrom, Jacob). While other fantasy owners overlook Keller, confidently draft him as a mid-rotation arm who has the potential to do much more.
PASS ON KELA
Keone Kela (RP-PIT) is a risky closer option for fantasy owners in 2020. It seems like he has been in the league forever (he did make his debut back in 2015), but he'll turn only 27 this season and despite expectations that he would settle in as a closer for the Rangers that only happened in 2018 before the team shipped him off to Pittsburgh, where he served as a set-up man for a guy whose name won't be mentioned here. With that player out of the picture, Kela has the chance to reestablish himself as the solid closer that he was a couple of years ago in Texas. There are some reasons that he shouldn't be viewed as a bargain in 2020 drafts beyond his playing for an awful franchise, which might work to his advantage in that the few games the Buccos win likely won't be by wide margins. His 2.12 and 10.01 K/9 in the 2019 season seem solid enough, but he posted his usual meh walk rate (3.3 BB/9) while managing a 90% strand rate thanks, in large part, to opposing batters managing just a .225 BABIP against him.
Kela's 3.81 SIERA and 4.28 xFIP from 2019 should be on your mind if you consider drafting him. His inflated strand rate will certainly dip toward his 77% career average as the BABIP corrects toward his .268 career clip. And while that 10 K/9 seems solid enough, Kela's 10.7% swinging-strike doesn't exactly jump off the page at you. He may have realized that his 97-mph heater (negative pitch value) wasn't fooling many batters, as he tossed his plus curveball more often than ever before (43.5%). And while opposing hitters did manage only a 27% hard-hit rate against Kela, they also didn't hit many soft tappers (13.5% soft-hit rate), generating plenty of medium contact that can do damage when placed well.
Kevin Newman (SS-PIT) will start the 2020 campaign as the Pirates' starting SS after batting .308 with 12 homers, 64 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 531 PAs as a rookie last season. The then 25-year-old made tons of contact (87%), not striking out often (12%) and rarely swinging and missing (6.6% swinging-strike rate). Based on his minor-league track record, Newman's .333 BABIP doesn't appear especially inflated, although his 27% hard-hit rate isn't exactly inspiring. Fortunately, he did play to his plus speed by recording a 49% groundball rate, which should help to keep his average up. With a nice rookie campaign behind him, what do we think Newman does in 2020?
His hit tool is a plus (55 grade), but his lack of hard contact and significant soft contact (20%) lead us to think that his BABIP will dip a little and, with it, his average. He didn't even rip the liners he hit last season, logging just a 27% hard-hit rate on those batted balls, which he produced at a 22% clip. The modest power he flashed last season when he did loft flyballs (28% of batted balls, 34% hard-hit rate) indicates that he should put up a homer total in the mid-teens in a full season of action. And, of course, perhaps his greatest asset for fantasy - his plus speed - should help him swipe a total of bags that might approach 20. We have him down for about .280 with 14 dingers and 18 steals in his sophomore campaign, which could be useful off the waiver wire if your starting SS goes down to injury or disappoints. If you do find yourself having to add him to your roster, you'd be totally justified if you gritted your teeth and uttered a frustrated "Newman!"
LATE-ROUND VALUE IN ANDERSON
Brian Anderson (3B/OF-MIA) put together a respectable 2019 campaign, batting .261 with 20 homers and 66 RBI while chipping in a handful of stolen bases in 520 PAs. I wrote about him twice last preseason, and I wasn't too bullish on him entering the campaign based on his second-half slide to wrap up his 2018 rookie season. He ended up being about what I predicted, maybe a little better - a bench bat for fantasy purposes. He was above average overall, as evidenced by a 114 wRC+, but his strikeouts climbed nearly 3% to 22% while his walk rate dipped nearly 1% to 8.5%. His BABIP, moreover, dropped from .332 from his rookie year to .305 as he slashed his high groundball rate (52%) to 45% while boosting his flyball rate from 28.5% to just over 35%. His HR/FB nearly doubled to just over 16%, which may actually be truer to what he can do based on a 6% spike in his hard-hit rate to 44%, although his hard-hit rate on flyballs was a touch lower at 41%. What do I think of Anderson for 2020?
I actually think that given some of the peripherals suggest, he could be a nice late-round pick in 2020. The BABIP was likely a bit on the low side, especially given his significantly improved hard-hit rate, so something about .270 seems right. The homer spike was legit based on the increased pop and the fact that his HR/FB from 2018 was just over 8% - pretty low. Provided Anderson is able to stay on the field, he should also contribute a homer total in the low-mid 20s; his 2019 campaign ended prematurely thanks to a broken bone in his hand sustained on a HBP, but he is on track to be ready on opening day. Not a stud, but certainly a solid 4th outfielder and a viable back-up to plug in at 3B should an injury require a replacement. In short, Anderson's 2019 campaign convinced me that he does possess late-round value in 2020.
SHOULD BE SOLID
Corey Dickerson (OF-MIA) has a new home for the 2020 season after missing chunks of a 2019 campaign split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as he spent considerable time on the IL because of a shoulder strain and then a fractured foot. He appears to be a full go in spring training as he looks to build upon the .304 average, 12 homers, and 59 RBI that he posted in just 279 PAs last season. There were indeed some positives about his 2019 campaign, among them a career-high 39% hard hit rate, a sustainable 15% HR/FB, and an acceptable 20% strikeout rate. Dickerson's 76% contact rate was right around his career average, and he continued to lace plenty of liners (25%) while lofting lots of flyballs (39%) and posting a nice average, albeit in limited playing time. What should we expect out of him in 2020?
It's all contingent on him staying healthy, but it's worth noting that he did play 135-plus games each year 2016-2018. We do like Dickerson to put together a productive season in 2020, with a solid average (we're calling for the .270s) with just over 20 homers. Those aren't great numbers by any means, but he does have the potential to do more. The lefty should benefit from the right-field fence moving in at Marlins Park, and he has posted an average north of .280 in each of the last three seasons. You could do far worse with your late-round draft picks.
WAITING FOR SANCHEZ
Sixto Sanchez (SP-MIA) is widely regarded as a top 50 prospect and is, according to MLB.com, the #22 overall prospect and the #8 pitching prospect. And for good reason. He possesses elite fastball velocity for a starter (averages 97mph), solid control, a decent slider, and an excellent change-up. As a 20 year-old in Double-A last season, Sanchez recorded a 2.53 ERA, 8.48 K/9, and 1.66 BB/9 in 103 IP (18 starts). He does have a track record of injury issues that prevented him from topping 100 innings in a campaign until last year, and the Marlins carefully managed his workload with that history in mind. His 2.92 xFIP reflects a 6% HR/FB suppressing his ERA a bit. Part of the low homer totals as well as the uninspiring strikeout rate no doubt stems from Sanchez's fastball, which scouts say has the potential to be more potent than it currently is; the heater has sinking/tailing movement rather than ride, which leads to just an 8% swinging-strike rate on the pitch. On the other hand, his change-up is Sanchez's calling card while his slider mainly moves horizontal but has plus spin. While the stuff hasn't translated to eye-popping strikeout totals as of yet, he has induced groundballs at a healthy rate in the minors, including at a 46% clip in 2019.
Sanchez is expected to at least get a cup of coffee in 2020, but may get more than that. Given his pure stuff and relative proximity to the majors, Sanchez could earn a promotion earlier than expected if he forces management's hand by translating more of his stuff into whiffs. Even then, his innings are likely to be managed given that last season's 103 IP was a career high, and his injury history. Some experts believe that he could be Miami's best pitcher since Jose Fernandez, who jumped from High-A to the majors and excelled in doing so at age 20. Odds are that Sanchez will more realistically be ready to make an impact in 2021, but have him on your radar this season in case the Marlins make another bold move with a youngster.
Rowdy Tellez (1B-TOR) didn't exactly impress in his first extended exposure to big-league pitching at age 24 in 2019, but there were some signs that he could be fantasy relevant in 2020. His .227 average and 28% strikeout rate in 409 PAs were no bueno, and his 7% walk rate could use some improvement. However, he did flash significant power by muscling out 21 homers and finishing with a .222 ISO. His strikeout rate mainly sat in the high teens during his minor-league career, so it's possible that his big-league rate dips into the lower 20s even as he walks a bit more often, perhaps reaching the healthier 8-9% range that he called home in the minors. Now... the batted ball profile is sexy. A 42% hard-hit rate. 24% liners. 38% flyballs. He just has to elevate his contact rate a bit (71%), chase a little less often (39% O-swing%), and trim the swinging-strike rate (14%). Easier said than done, but he's only going to be 25 this season and could have the starting 1B job for the Jays to start the season. We project him for a .250 average and 27 dingers. That seems completely reasonable - and he may very well hit a few more longballs than we expect.
Jonathan Schoop (2B-DET) will play for his 4th team in 3 seasons in 2020 when he puts on a Tigers uniform that represents a rich past but a depressing present. Spending his age-27 season in Minnesota last year, Schoop batted .256 with 23 longballs, 59 RBI, and 61 runs scored in just 464 PAs as he only played in 121 games despite never landing on the IL. More and more, his tremendous 2017 campaign (.293-32-105) is appearing to be an outlier, as he has otherwise batted below .270 and hit 21-25 homers in each big-league season in which he's put together more than 400 PAs. And surprise, surprise - that aligns with what we project for him in 2020 (.250s with mid-20s homers). He's shown no real growth as a hitter, still walking very little (4%) while actually striking out a bit more often last season (25% in 2019, 23% career) and making roughly league-average hard contact (39%) and not exactly ripping many liners (just under 20%). Alarmingly, his swinging-strike rate reached a career-worst 17.7% last season while he continued to chase balls outside the zone at an elevated clip following a dip in his O-swing% in his 2017 career-year (42% last season, 36% in 2017 - the only time his O-swing% has been south of 40% in his big-league career). We have him barely inside the top 20 for 2B in 2020, which is about right. You'll get slightly above league-average production out of him, but don't expect anything more.
Hunter Dozier (3B/OF-KC) emerged from an underwhelming professional career to date to put together a solid 2019 campaign at age 27. Across 586 PAs, he batted .279 with 26 homers and 84 RBI, whiffing at an acceptable 25% clip while drawing walks at an equally alright 9% rate. The .339 BABIP appears a little on the high side given his track record which indicates that a BABIP about .310-.320 should be expected. It appears that he did, however, make much of his own luck by recording a nice 45% hard-hit rate and averaging 91mph on his batted balls. His 15.6% HR/FB doesn't seem at all anomalous given his ability to drive the ball. Ultimately, it wouldn't be wise to expect such a solid average again - something in the .260s seems about right - but the power output should be about the same - about 25-30 dingers. And while the Royals are a dumpster fire overall, his RBIs should be safe with the likes of Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield hitting in front of him.
Corey Seager (SS-LAD) was good but not great in first full(ish) season following Tommy John surgery, as he finished the campaign with a .272 average, 19 dingers, 87 RBI, and 82 runs scored in 541 PAs. That's certainly not the level of production that fantasy owners expected based on what he did in 2016-2017, but we do expect him to do more in 2020. His .303 BABIP was over 30 points below his career average despite him logging his career-average 42% hard-hit rate. Seager did shift some liners (down 2% to 22%) and grounders (down 4% to 39%) to flyballs (up 6% to 39%), which may help to explain his BABIP dip. And it appears that even though a higher proportion of his batted balls were elevated, a lower percentage of those (12.3%) than is the norm for him (15.2%) made it out of the park. Seager did log a 45% hard-hit rate on flyballs, which does come in at about 5% below his career average there. All of that said, it wasn't at all a bad first campaign following TJS. With that behind him, we expect the 26 year-old to continue his development into one of the league's best young SS, a top-10 fantasy option that that position that hits for average (.280+) while approaching 30 homers.
Andrew McCutchen (OF-PHI) lost most of the 2019 campaign to an ACL tear, but should be a fantasy asset when he returns in 2020. He's started spring training slowly and it was recently reported that he would begin the season on the IL. Prior to last year's season-ending injury, he was having himself a decent campaign, with a .256 average, 10 homers, 29 RBI, and 45 stolen bases in just 262 PAs. The average was suppressed by a .299 BABIP that comes in well below his career average (.325), so the average should improve with some correction to the mean this year. His 37% hard-hit rate aligned with his career average, although McCutchen's 18.3% liner rate was the lowest of his career and his 45.1% groundball rate was his highest yet. Those aren't good trends for a guy who moving into his mid-30s. Fortunately, his strikeout rate sat at 21% - in line with what he's done the past few seasons - while his 16.4% walk rate was the best of his career. We expect McCutchen to rebound to about what we've come to expect from him in recent years - an average in the .260s, a homer total in the mid-20s, a fair number of runs scored atop the Phillies lineup, a few less RBI given his table-setting duties, and perhaps a handful of steals. Not the stud he was, say, five years ago, but certainly valuable if you can snag him at a slight discount because his recent injury causes him to go overlooked.
Daniel Johnson (OF-CLE) put together a pretty good 2019 campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A, batting a combined .290 with 19 homers, 77 RBI, 76 runs scored, and a dozen stolen bases in 547 PAs as a 23 year-old. Given Cleveland's ongoing struggle to shore up its outfield, especially center, Johnson could get an opportunity in the majors sooner rather than later. Scouts have long expressed concerns about his bat, especially his ability to translate his 55-grade raw power into game power because of bat control issues, but he was able to do so more effectively last season without really hurting his average. Encouragingly, he showed more patience at the plate and a greater willingness to take a walk than in seasons past (9% walk rate) while actually trimming his strikeouts from the 23% clip he recorded at Double-A in both 2018 and 2019 to just under 21% in his 380 Triple-A PAs. However, while he does possess plus speed (graded out at 70), that he was only successful in 12 of his 22 SB attempts last season indicates is concerning. And he's never swiped more than 22 in a season (accomplished twice, in 2017 and 2018). Ultimately, there's some good and bad here, but why not keep an eye on him as a potential 20-20 type should he flash his potential when he inevitably gets the call this season?
Franmil Reyes (OF-CLE) dropped 20 pounds during the offseason yet reportedly feels just as powerful at the dish. The 24 year-old slugger is coming off a campaign split between Cleveland and San Diego in which he batted .249 with 37 bombs and 81 RBI in 548 PAs. While his strikeout and walk rates stayed nearly the same as they were in 2018 (28.5% and 8.6%, respectively), he raised his already stellar hard-hit rate to an elite 47.5% while trimming his groundball rate 5% to 44% and raising his flyball rate about the same to 34.5%. That's what we want to see for a big man with little (if any) speed. If he can push that flyball rate even closer to 40% in 2020, that would be ideal, as he mashes (55.5% hard-hit rate) balls that he does elevate. And while Reyes' average will naturally suffer as a result of the whiffs that come with his power, the .279 BABIP that suppressed his BA in 2019 was unlucky given his tendency to hit the ball hard. Expect that BABIP to rebound toward .300 this year, helping his average sit at a more reasonable .260 or so while he mashes about 35 homers, with a strong chance for more.
Michael Kopech (SP-CHW) could be a fantasy contributor as he returns from Tommy John surgery in 2020. He is throwing in spring training and should be ready to start the season with no restrictions. While he is likely to begin the season in Triple-A, he is expected to get the call to the majors at some point during the campaign. When, of course, will largely depend on how quickly he returns to form in the wake of TJS. His calling card, of course, is his 70-grade heater, so his velocity will be something to watch this spring. As will his control, which has always been a point of concern with him. Although Kopech kept his BB/9 at just 1.26 in his 14.1 IP stint in the majors prior to his elbow injury in 2018, that figure was 4.27 in 126.1 Triple-A innings prior to his promotion. Another issue is his tendency toward giving up flyballs, which never really bit him hard in the minors in terms of homers. But that was a problem in his limited time in the majors, as he surrendered 45% flyballs and opposing batters mustered a 19% HR/FB. Making roughly half of his starts in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field will do him no favors if he continues to induce so few grounders (39% in Triple-A in 2018 and 41% in Triple-A back in 2017). At just 23, Kopech is still developing and so it's unreasonable to expect big things out of him this season, especially as he continues to develop a third pitch to complement his explosive fastball and plus slider. For 2020, expect him to rack up some Ks, but the ERA and WHIP may not be pretty.
Jake Odorizzi (SP-MIN) enters his age-30 season coming off a career year in which he recorded a 3.51 ERA, a career-high 10.08 K/9, and a 3.00 BB/9 that was a significant improvement on the identical 3.83 rate he logged in 2017 and 2018. One of the keys to his success was certainly a career-best 12.7% swinging-strike rate. But don't get fooled into paying for a career year during your 2020 fantasy drafts. Odorizzi's 4.33 xFIP points to a 8.8% HR/FB suppressing his ERA, as he was among the relative few who somehow avoided the homer bug that plagued the league in 2019. Amazingly, that happened despite him surrendering a career-worst 42% hard-hit rate to opposing batters while inducing groundballs at only a 35% clip - the balance was divided between 21% liners and 44% flyballs. Expect some correction to the mean in 2020 as more of the many flyballs he allows land on the wrong side of the fence. An ERA in the low-mid 4s to go along with just over a whiff an inning is still useful, though - just don't overpay for it.
Zack Wheeler (SP-PHI) heads to Philadelphia after a solid if unspectacular tenure in New York. He finished his time with the Mets last season with a 3.96 ERA, 8.98 K/9, and career-best 2.30 BB/9 in 195.1 IP (31 starts). His 4.06 xFIP indicates that his ERA was pretty true to his performance, as he was slightly unlucky in both BABIP allowed (.311) and strand rate (71%), while his 10.9% HR/FB allowed was likely a tad on the lucky side. While Wheeler's improved control is a great sign of growth, his swinging-strike rate finished at 10.4%, just under his career best from 2018 (10.7%), and so long as that remains the case it will be difficult for him to record much more than a strikeout per inning. On the plus side, he allowed hard contact at a 31% clip that isn't far off his career average (29.5%). Unfortunately, he's trading a pitchers' park in Citi Field for more of a hitters' park in Citizens' Bank Park, and so the modest HR/FB rates that he recorded during his time in New York are likely to climb a little. And it won't help Wheeler's case that his groundball rate had dipped from 47.5% in 2017 to 44.2% in 2018 to 43.2% in 2019. We have him inside the top 50 SP for fantasy, projecting an ERA right around 4 and about a strikeout per inning. Nothing great, but a solid mid-rotation arm.
Our Player Projections model was created and is maintained by our founder and lead Statistician Anthony Perri. Using advanced and cutting edge Sabermetric indicators, which now include velocity indicators on batted balls, our player projections are trusted for accuracy by several Major League Baseball front offices. Over the past 21 years, we have correctly forecast the statistical direction on over 7 out of 10 professional baseball players for their upcoming season. If you are ready to Dominate your Fantasy Baseball Draft, click here to register today.