2020 AL Batting Champ - Luis Arraez?
If you are looking for a slightly under the radar player to approach the .400 mark in a shortened 60 game Season, Luis Arraez may be your guy. He burst onto the scene in 2019 slashing .334/.399/.439 over 92 games for the Twins. Two years ago it was Willians Astudillo bursting onto the scenes with a high-contact, high average approach; although his was much more extreme in terms of plate discipline. What I like about Arraez is while he is a contact-oriented hitter his approach at the plate still allowed him to compile a 36:29 BB:K ratio last season while limiting soft contact off his bat (12%). Arraez rarely missed (2.8% swinging strike rate) when he swung last year and a deeper look at his minor league numbers shows a similar pattern - his lowest average at any stop in the minors was .309. While he does not profile as a power-hitter I think anyone would take his 25 extra base hits along with a .330 average in under 100 games. A 60-game season should see him hit easily above .300 and be among the leagues leaders in runs scored with a bevy of power hitters behind him in the Twin Cities. If that was not enough his flexibility to moved around the diamond provides opportunities for both him and your Fantasy squad he made appearances at 2B,3B,SS and the OF in 2019.
Fantasy Relevance from Trevor May?
Nearly 8 years ago now, Trevor May found himself as a top-flight Starting Pitching Prospect. While he struggled mightily from 2014-2016 mostly as a starter for the Twins, he has had two more successful seasons pitching in relief and lines up to be the Twins setup an this year. Setup guys are usually not worth highlighting for fantasy purposes but he is worth having on your radar if something happened to presumptive closer Taylor Rogers. The move to the bullpen has allowed May to dial up his average fastball velocity to 95.8 MPH, and his last two season have provide the lowest contact rate of his career (67% and 71%, respectively in 2018 and 2019). While his ERA in 2019 (2.94) doesn't exactly match his fip (3.73) May provides good strikeout totals (11.05 K/9) but the key to his success will be his control. He has had highly variable control throughout his career with his walk rate fluctuating from 4.34 BB/9 as a Rookie to a career low of 1.78 in 2018. May is certainly not a draft day pick - but as always one to watch if the incumbent closer struggles or gets injured.
Prospect Watch - Trevor Larnach
Trevor Larnach may not be the first farm player you think of on the Minnesota Twins - but his rapid ascent through the minors may land him in the bigs sooner then later. His inclusion on the Twins 2020 60-man roster isn't a guarantee he will see his first taste of pro ball this year, but it is worth noting he looked very strong during Spring Training back in March slashing .333/.467/.708 with 3 home runs in 30 plate appearances. A players power growth from the minor to major leagues is always intriguing to watch especially for some with raw power like Larnach. He has hit 32 home runs in his first two minor leagues seasons, but has not played above AA yet. With the minor league season not happening this year it remains to be seen the affect that has on him facing live pitching going forward as he did strikeout at a 27% clip in A+/AA while drawing walks in 12% of his PAs which is passable for someone moving through the system. His 5:3 BB:K ratio in limited spring at bats is nice to see but I still think 2020 is a longshot to make his debut unless the Twins are really in need of a bat.
2020 Rebound for Khris Davis?
During his first three years in Oakland Khris Davis was about as consistent as you will ever see in terms of expected production. From 2016-2018 he hit exactly .247 every season with 42+ home runs, 102+ RBIs and 85+ runs scored each season. His sub 10% BB rate and above 25% K rate each season was mostly overlooked thanks to the big power numbers - but 2019 was a different story. While injuries played a part in his line tanking to a career worst .220/.293/.387 there may be more to it then that. His babip (.262) remained steady but he saw a 7% decrease in flyballs and a 7% increase in groundballs - big problems for someone who relies on the home run ball to make a living. At this point in his career his strikeout tendencies are part of his game and he will need to hit flyballs at his pre-2019 pace if he wants to continue to remain fantasy relevant.
Prospect Watch - Sheldon Neuse
Neuse has a small cup of coffee with Oakland last season with a lackluster .250 avg and .599 Ops over 60 PAs. Neuse has quite the offensive transformation in the minors leagues between 2018 and 2019, both full seasons at AAA. 2018 saw him hit a meager .263 with 5 home runs with a 6% walk and 32% K rate - hardly numbers that will get you notice. During his Triple-A repeat year in 2019 he suddenly shored up his plate discipline (10% BB rate, 23% K rate) and inexplicitly hit 27 home runs - more in line with raw power upside which finally came to form. Mostly a third baseman, Neuse has been moved over to 2B with MVP candidate Matt Chapman firmly entrenched at the hot corner. Neuse's path to playing time in 2020 and beyond could be dictated by his defensive abilities at second base and some possible starts as the DH. Oakland has a bevy of options for the starting second base battle - and based on who makes the roster Neuse is someone to watch as a waiver wire add over the first few weeks of the season.
Encore for Marcus Semien
Semien has always been a solid, if unspectacular performer posting a a wrc+ of between 91-97 from 2014-2018 (the league average being 100). 2019 Saw Semien take his game to the next level as he posted a 137 wrc+ and thrust his way into the MVP conversation with career highs in home runs (35), RBI, (92) runs scored (123) and OPS (.891). Semien became much more patient at the plate with a career-low 7.2% swinging strike rate, while dropping his K rate 3% to 13.7% and walking at an 11.6% clip. His 41% hard-hit rate is by far the highest of his career and his ability to barrel more balls up (8.7%) led to the breakout offensive season. The plate discipline improvement puts him in rare territory as one of the players whose number of walks is very close to strikeouts. If he can keep that approach up he should turn in another strong offensive season.
Around the League
Yasiel Puig (OF-ATL)
The final big name of the 2020 Free Agent class has Signed as OF Yasiel Puig has signed a 1-year deal with the Braves. This makes sense as Nick Markakis has already opted out of the season and Freddie Freeman has not yet been cleared to enter camp. What sort of production the 29-year-old outfielder can provide remains to be seen. There is no denying his presence as a strong armed outfielder and his 2019 numbers ended up pretty solid. He slashed a combined .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs and 19 stolen bases - his third consecutive 20+ HR, 15+ steal campaign. During his tenure with the Reds before a trade he was more power oriented slugging .475 and hitting 22 of those home runs in 100 games. Following his trade to the Indians he hit .297 over 49 games with just 2 home runs but had 5 stolen bases and ripped 15 doubles. With Freeman as a big question mark still, Puig may be asked to hit in the top 4 spots in the Braves batting order and could be a cog in helping Atlanta make a playoff push in a shortened season. He does some of his best hitting in September where he has a career .869 OPS.
Robinson Chirinos (C-TEX)
Robinson Chirinos injured his right ankle when a teammate slid into it, putting his opening day status in jeopardy for the Rangers. Chirinos has put up solid if not at least consistent numbers for a catcher - posting a career .767 OPS with double digit home runs in 5 of his past 6 seasons. Despite a K rate hovering at nearly 30% he takes his share of walks (11%) and I would say is a Top-15 catcher, offensively from a fantasy perspective. This is a bigger blow to the Rangers - who do not have a lot of depth behind him. 37-year old Jeff Mathis could be in line for starts - although there are two interesting options including former first round pick Nick Ciuffo and former Red Sox top Prospect Blake Swihart. While both have struggled to hit in the bigs - they could be options if Chirinos is unable to go.
Jacob deGrom (SP-NYM)
deGrom left the Mets intrasquad game due to back tightness Tuesday and it was confirmed he is headed for an MRI Wednesday. In an already shortened season any amount of missed time could be crippling, especially for 2-time reigning NL CY Young winner. If deGrom is forced to missed anytime it would mean the Mets would be with out both him and Noah Syndergaard who is already done for the season after having Tommy John Surgery. Replacing his elite 11.3K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 numbers would not be an easy task and to replace as the Mets would look the more ground-ball oriented Marcus Stroman to be the ace of the staff.
Joey Bart (C-SF)
With Buster Poseys announcement that he will not play in 2020 many thought Joey Bart would automatically get the starting nod. Giants management has not determined if he will be the starting catcher, or even get meaningful playing time this year - but there is a case for both. Working against his favor is that fact that he has only 22 games of AA ball under his belt - although he did post a .912 OPS with 9 extra base hits. He has hit pretty well throughout his rapid ascent through the minors, but the Giants concern may be more around catching advanced pitchers in the high minors before having him command a major league rotation. With limited options to play minor league ball this year I could see a scenario where he get some major league at bats as the Giants designated hitter - and possibly a few starts behind the plate but I think the Giants will proceed with caution as Posey enters the home stretch of his career, at least behind the dish.
Spencer Turnbull (SP-DET)
Turnbull pitched earlier this week in the Tigers instrasquad game and was perfect through the first 8 batters, striking out 4 before giving up several extra base hits and existing as he hit his predetermined pitch count. His 2019 surface line is admittedly pretty ugly - a 3-17 record with a 4.61 ERA, and 1.44 whip but I think there is potential for him to have a pretty nice year if he can put a few things together. Control was an issue last year. Despite making 30 starts he only logged 148 innings, while hitting a league leading 16 batters and owning a 3.6 BB/9. His inability to pitch deep into games certainly hurt him although his 3.99 fip paints a slightly more optimistic view. Turnbull was at his best in 2020 when he threw pitches with more movement - he has a 32% whiff rate on his slider and curveball, with his slider being his most effective pithing as he held opposing batters to a .226 average against. If Turnbull can become more efficient with his pitches I could see a sub-4 ERA season as he bridges the gap to young Tigers Starters waiting for the call.
Keston Hiura (2B-MIL)
If you are looking for a shortened season breakout player - look no fewer then the Brewers 2B who posted a .938 OPS with 19 home runs in 84 games during his MLB debut has summer. Hiura rose quickly through Milwaukee's farm system, hitting at every level and that continued last year. Among MLB 2B with at least 300 Plate Appearances, Hiura showed some of the best power at the position posting a league leading 8.3 Barrels per PA and a 50% hard hit rate at the keystone. If he wants to elevate his hitting in year 2 he will need to improve upon his 30% K rate as his free swinging way (17% swinging strike rate) could lead to prolonged slumps.
Zach Godley (SP-BOS)
It is reported that Godley has signed with the Red Sox. He has had a pretty inconsistent career to this point struggling with his command (career 3.7 BB/9) and its been mostly downhill following a solid 2017 campaign that saw him pitch to a 3.37 ERA with a career high 9.6 K/9 over 155 innings. With all the turnover in Boston's rotation due to various reasons Godley has a shot to make meaningful starts this season. He has been at his best when he throws his curveball effectively - a pitch he used 40% of the time last season, and one he hold opposing batters to a .240 clip against. His other key will be keeping the ball on the ground - last year he posted his highest career fip (5.20) which matched against his lowest groundball rate (43%). He had back-to-back season of a 50% groundball rate with Arizona something he will need to bring back to stay in The Red Sox's rotation in 2020.
Miguel Sano (1B/3B-MIN)
Sano was cleared to return to Twins camp Wednesday this is good news for the power-packed Minnesota lineup as Sano is on a heelS of a career 2019 that saw him hit 34 home runs and lead the league in hard hit % (57.2%). The story is the same for Sano - insane power (94.4 exit velocity, 21.2 barrel % - both top 1% of the league) but big-time swing-and-miss ability (36.2% K rate). If he can approach the .247/.346/.576 line he put up last year I think the K rate will be tolerated. Perhaps most interestingly for 2020 is that Sano will shift from 3B to 1B to open up playing time for the newly acquired Josh Donaldson; which at least for this season gives him an added position of fantasy flexibility.
Tyler Glasnow (SP-TB)
Glasnow tossed 49 pitches covering 3 and 1/3 innings in his return following being held out after testing positive for COVID-19. A fully healthy Glasnow will team with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell to form one of the scarier trios of starting pitching in Baseball. Glasnow was lights out in 2019, particularly in April where he pitched to the tune of a 1.75 ERA, racking up 34 strikeouts over 6 starts. A forearm injury cost him most of the season after that, although he did return in September pitching between 2-4 innings over 4 games but once again looked electric striking out 21 over 12 innings. Glasnow always kept Tampa in the game as they only lost 2 of the games he started, and he only allowed 3 ER one time throughout the season. He has big time strikeout potential with a 33% K rate last year and his 97-mph fb coupled with an 83-mph curveball left batters guessing and looking silly more often then not. His curveball was nasty - he had a 44% whiff rate with 45 strikeouts and .177 batting average against. If Tampa turns him loose on a normal pitch count I like him as a darkhorse 2020 CY Young Candidate - although most of the competition may be from his rotation partners.
Anthony Rizzo (1B-CHC)
Rizzo underwent an MRI Wednesday and it revealed a rib injury on his left side. With just over a week until opening this would be a blow for the Cubs is Rizzo were forced to miss any time. The 30-year old has been one of the steadiest players in the league since 2013 playing 140+ games every season and has turned in 20+ home runs every season while maintaining some of the nicest BB:K ratios you will see for a power hitting first baseman (career 11% walk, 15% K rate) while playing gold glove defense for the Cubs. The Cubs have not had to routinely think about another option at 1B in nearly a decade, although early reports indicate Kris Bryant and backup catcher Victor Caratini could pick up starts in Rizzo's absence.