Can Matthew Boyd Break Out?
It's been awhile since the Tigers had a true ace, but Boyd is probably the closest thing they have to one right now, which is saying a lot given his 31-47 career record and 4.92 lifetime ERA. He did rack up an impressive 238 strikeouts last year, however, while posting the American League's fourth highest strikeout rate (11.6 K/9). He's done a fine job limiting free passes throughout his career as well (2.8 BB/9), but the main thing standing between him and elite production is his propensity for giving up the long ball. His 39 home runs allowed were the most in the AL last year, and his career 1.6 HR/9 rate definitely qualifies as "not great." If he can limit his homers and pitch well enough in the first half to earn a midseason trade to a better team, he could end up with surprising numbers. If you're looking for a mid late-round bargain, consider the Tiger lefty.
Jay Bruce is a Bargain
After a run as one of baseball's most consistent sluggers with the Reds from 2008 - 2016, Bruce has become a bat for hire over the past several seasons, playing for five teams in the past four years and being traded three times. Despite the constant changes of scenery, he's continued to hit wherever he's gone even as injuries have sliced into his playing time (he appeared in fewer than 100 games in both 2018 and 2019). Nearly 33, Bruce is the epitome of a veteran slugger who still hits for power but doesn't do much else, as evidenced by his career .245 batting average and low stolen base totals. Although he hit a career-low .261 last year with a .261 OBP -- easily the worst of his career -- he still popped 26 homers in just 98 games and slugged a robust .523 -- good for a career-best .306 ISO. His low average was the result of bad luck more than anything else, as his .200 BABIP was 78 points below his career rate despite his career-best 43.3 percent hard-hit rate. If he stays healthy, a sixth 30-homer campaign is certainly possible in his first full season in Philly, where he's surrounded by offensive talent and can take advantage of the homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park. His batting average should also rebound considerably, making him a solid outfield option in deeper mixed leagues.
Is Aaron Nola Still an Ace?
Nola took a big step back in 2019, disappointing fantasy owners who were expecting ace-level production. His 3.87 ERA was the second worst of his career, while his 4.03 FIP was his worst since his rookie season. He struggled at times with his control, resulting in a career-worst 3.6 BB/9 rate and a 1.2 HR/9 rate -- the second worst of his career. One the plus side, he completed 200 innings for the second straight year and posted the highest strikeout rate (10.2 K/9) of his career. His numbers were also inflated by a handful of rough starts at the beginning and end of the season. Over 24 starts from April 25 - August 30, however, he compiled a 2.89 ERA while limiting hitters to a .212 batting average. Accordingly, Nola is more than capable of better production in 2020, making him a worthy investment on draft day.
Is Zack Wheeler worth the money?
The Phillies bet big on Wheeler this offseason, handing him a five-year, $118 million contract to bolster their rotation. That may seem like a lot to some baseball fans given that he's never won more than 12 games, pitched 200 innings, or tallied 200 strikeouts in any of his five seasons. Even so, he's been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball during that time, keeping his ERA below four in four of those seasons and racking up nearly nine fWAR in the past two seasons combined. That's not an ace, but it's still a damn good pitcher, especially since he's been able to limit his home runs to 0.9 HR/9 throughout his career. He's also improved his walk and strikeout rates in each of the past two seasons -- an encouraging trend heading into 2020. While Citizens Bank Park is much tougher on pitchers than Citi Field, he should benefit from better run support and likely win more decisions as a result. Wheeler is thus a solid investment, both in real life and in fantasy.
Stay Away From Jordan Zimmermann
Zimmermann is in the final year of his five-year, $110 million contract, which can't end soon enough for Tigers fans. Zimmermann has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball since coming to Detroit, going 25-41 with a 5.61 ERA, 4.86 FIP, and 1.43 WHIP over 508 2/3 innings. He's only getting worse, too, as he went 1-13 with a career-worst 6.91 ERA last year, when he was worth negative WAR. Nearly 34, Zimmermann is nothing more than a shell of the two-time All-Star he was with the Nationals, which feels like a lifetime ago. The transition to the American League has not been kind to him, nor has he benefitted from playing on one of the worst teams in the Major Leagues. At this point in his career, he's not worth owning in any fantasy format.
Don't Discount Daniel Norris
Norris has been one of the more frustrating pitchers in baseball over the past half decade, drawing comparisons to Clay Buchholz because of his ups, downs, and overall inconsistency. While his career began with promise, he has failed to build off his first few solid seasons, posting a 4.96 ERA while going 8-26 over the past three years. Walks and homers have remained issues for him, as evidenced by his career 1.4 HR/9 rate and 3.1 BB/9 rate. But while his home run rate remained high last year (1.6 HR/9), he did show a big improvement in his walk rate, which he lowered from 3.9 BB/9 to a career-best 2.4 BB/9 rate. His 7.8 K/9 rate was a big drop from 2018's 10.4 K/9 rate, however, mitigating some of his success. He's shown he has the skills, though -- now he just needs to put it all together. With 2020 as his age-27 season, this could be the year.
Around the League
Justin Verlander, SP, HOU
The delayed start to the MLB season could mean that Verlander won't have to miss any time, as he was originally expected to miss Opening Day with a lat strain. Verlander, 37, has been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball throughout his career, making 30-plus starts in every year except one since his rookie season in 2006. He's led the majors in innings four times during that span, including last year with 223. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is expected to lead Houston's rotation again in the wake of Gerrit Cole's departure this offseason via free agency.
Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, LAA
Already a top fantasy commodity because of his ability to hit and pitch, Ohtani will be even more valuable in the coming season due to its delayed start, as he was not expected to pitch until mid-May. Accordingly, Ohtani will be able to contribute a larger portion of innings, which will hopefully be more than the 51 2/3 he managed as a rookie and zero he threw last year. While the 25-year-old has established himself as one of the AL's top hitters in his first two seasons, it remains to be seen if his right arm can withstand the rigors of a full MLB season. Even so, the shorter season should bump his ADP up a few spots.
Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE
Lindor's future with the Indians is up in the air after the star shortstop broke off contract extension discussions with the team earlier in the week. Lindor, who is under contract through 2021, has established himself as one of the best players in baseball since finishing second in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year vote to Carlos Correa. He's been an All-Star and received MVP votes in each of the past four seasons, winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers as well. Now 26, Lindor is in the prime of his career and seems interested in testing the open market when he becomes eligible for free agency in two years. The Indians know they won't be able to afford him, however, and may seek to trade him this year while his trade value is still high.
Trey Mancini, OF/!B/DH, BAL
Mancini is another player who will benefit from the delayed start to the season, as he continues to recover from last week's surgery to remove colon cancer. There is no timetable for Mancini's return, although it will likely be awhile before he can resume baseball activities and rebuild his strength. The 27-year-old has blossomed into one of the Orioles' best players over the past several years, batting .275/.334/.480 with 83 home runs and 233 RBIs over the past three seasons. He's expected to be their top power threat again this year after belting 35 home runs and 38 doubles while hitting .291 with a .364 OBP last year. Mancini's situation will be one to monitor closely over the next few weeks.
Marcell Ozuna, OF, ATL
Prior to the suspension of Spring Training, it had been a rough spring for Ozuna, who'd managed just two hits (both singles) in 24 at-bats over nine exhibition games. Even more alarming was his 12 strikeouts in that span, a sign that things are not quite right for the new Braves outfielder. Perhaps the time off will do Ozuna some good as he readies for his first season with Atlanta, coming off two solid seasons with the Cardinals. While he has been unable to replicate his monster 2017 production in his other seasons, Ozuna has proven to be a reliable source of around 20 homers, 80 RBIs and a solid batting average, making him an asset for most fantsay rosters.
Jonathan Villar, OF, MIA
Villar is expected to man center field for the Marlins this year, a position he hasn't played since 2017. Villar will likely lose some of his fantasy value as a result, as his power/speed combination while playing middle infield made him a premier fantasy option. Last year, Villar smacked a career-high 24 homers while stealing 40 bases and batting .274. Those numbers will likely drop a bit in Miami, however, which is a much tougher place to hit than Camden Yards. Villar is still a strong fantasy option, albeit not as appealing at a new position in his new digs.
Michael Conforto, OF, NYM
Conforto, who was in danger of missing Opening Day with an oblique strain, will likely be available for the start of the season now that it's been pushed back 2 weeks. The 27-year-old has emerged as one of the Mets' best young everyday players since David Wright and Jose Reyes, slugging 109 homers with an .834 OPS over his first five seasons. After dealing with injuries in his first several seasons, he's remained relatively healthy over the past two years, missing just 20 games combined over the past two years. After reaching career highs with 33 homers, 92 RBIs and 90 runs last year, Conforto is a must-own in all fantasy formats.
Max Scherzer, SP, WSH
Scherzer, who was dealing with muscle fatigue prior to the suspension of Spring Training, will get a few extra weeks to rest before the season is scheduled to kick off on April 9. Scherzer, 35, was limited to 27 starts last year -- his lowest total for a full season -- by two separate stints on the injured list. He was still highly effective when healthy, though, leading the majors with a 2.45 FIP and a 7.4 K/BB ratio. After throwing an additional 30 innings during Washington's World Series run, Scherzer could certainly benefit from some additional time off.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, STL
Goldschmidt, who was dealing with right elbow soreness before Spring Training closed down, hopes to be ready for the start of the season. He has been one of the most durable players in baseball during his career, playing at least 155 games in each of the past five seasons, including a career-high 161 in his first season with St. Louis last year. While his power numbers remained strong with 34 homers and 97 RBIs, his .260 average was his worst since his rookie year and 32 points below his career mark. His .302 BABIP was likely to blame, however, as that was 46 points below his career average.
Johnny Cueto, SP, SFG
Cueto is expected to be the Opening Day starter for the Giants, whenever Opening Day does indeed occur. Cueto, 34, was limited to just 13 starts and 69 innings between 2018 and 2019 by Tommy John surgery. During his last full season in 2017, he went 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. He didn't provide much hope for a rebound this spring, either, allowing nine earned runs and 13 hits in 6 1/3 innings before Spring Training was shut down. Cueto does not seem to be the pitcher he once was and can be avoided in fantasy.