Kikuchi left a lot to be desired in his rookie season with a 5.46 ERA and a 5.71 FIP over 32 starts, but several factors are in place for the 29-year-old to break out in 2020. In particular, the Mariners' commitment to a six-man rotation and the abbreviated season combine to make the MLB season mimic the NPB more closely. Kikuchi even specifically called out the longer season and shorter rest as reasons for his struggles last season, a notion that's supported by Kikuchi's unusually low velocity from last year. Although Kikuchi did perform worse by ERA on extra rest last season, his FIP decreased from 5.42 on four days of rest to 4.91 on five days of rest. A 4.91 FIP still isn't great, but it is another sign that Kikuchi should benefit from a six-man rotation. Combined with the fact that Kikuchi spent the offseason working on his mechanics, the conditions of the 2020 season could result in a huge step forward in Kikuchi's performance. Kikuchi still probably isn't worth targeting on draft-day, but fantasy owners should monitor his performance closely.
Murphy enjoyed a breakout season with the Mariners last year, posting a .858 OPS over 75 games. Murphy probably got a little lucky (maybe more than a little) considering his .044 wOBA - xwOBA and his .340 BABIP, but there's a lot to like under the hood of Murphy's 2019 performance. The most significant improvement for Murphy last year was his power, as he posted a strong 90.6 mph average exit velocity and a 44.8% hard-hit rate. That power helped fuel Murphy to the third-highest slugging percentage among catchers last season (min. 80 PA) and a .406 xwOBA on contact. Murphy's high strikeout rate and playing time concerns make him more of a DFS option than an option in full-season leagues, but if he's able to maintain his power gains then an OPS above .800 is within reach this year.
Seager (probably) isn't going to suddenly break out with a 1.000 OPS this season, but he's an excellent value pick this year. Besides an uncharacteristically and unlikely to repeat poor 2018 that saw him post a .673 OPS, Seager hasn't posted an OPS below .760 since his first full MLB season in 2012. Seager probably is what he is at this point, which means he should produce an OPS around .750 with a strikeout rate of around 20% this year. Not the most exciting numbers, I know. But Seager's production doesn't have to be elite at his 301 ADP. That's only four spots ahead of Brett Gardner and three spots behind Domingo Santana; there's no reason to invest in players with uncertain playing time and mediocre production with Seager still on the board. How high Seager should be drafted depends on how much fantasy owners value safety compared to upside late in drafts, but he should appeal to almost everyone after pick 300.
Tucker had limited opportunities for playing time until recently, but with Yordan Álvarez on the IL to start the season, Tucker figures to be the team's primary DH, at least at the beginning of the year. In addition to a solid but brief MLB stint last season, Tucker mashed in the minor leagues over the past two seasons with a combined .945 OPS. Even in the hitter-friendly PCL, a .945 OPS would have ranked 11th in the league last season. It doesn't hurt that Tucker was one of the youngest players in the PCL, either. At 22, Tucker was the second-youngest player in the PCL last year, giving him continued room for expected growth. If Tucker proves to be a strong offensive option as a primary DH to start the season, then he should earn regular playing time. That possibility has become significantly more likely since Alvarez was placed on the IL, making Tucker a strong pick at his 154 ADP.
With Tucker taking over as the team's DH, Reddick becomes cemented as the team's primary right fielder. As a result, Reddick should appeal to fantasy owners who value low strikeout hitters, and it doesn't hurt that he tends to post a solid home run rate (2.8% over the past three seasons) and steal a handful of bases every year. Kyle Tucker may take Reddick's job when Alvarez returns to the team, but Reddick's 543 ADP insulates him from that risk and allows fantasy owners to get a solid rosterable outfielder effectively for free, at least for the start of the season.
Verlander's ADP has fallen a couple of spots to 16 since the start of July thanks to offseason groin surgery and a lat strain, but the 37-year-old is now fully healthy and expected to start on Opening Day. Verlander's very minor slide in ADP pushed him down to the fifth pitcher being drafted on average, and he's a strong pick anywhere after pick 10 in drafts. Few pitchers have been as consistently dominant as Verlander since he entered the league in 2005. Since 2007, Verlander has missed the 200-inning mark only once, posted an ERA below 3.00 four times, and posted an ERA above 3.50 only three times. Health appears the be the most immediate threat to Verlander's reign, but he only has to be healthy for 60 games this year and appears set to once again rank among the top fantasy pitchers.
Around The League
Matt Joyce (OF - MIA) - Matt Joyce was placed on the 10-day IL without a public reason on Wednesday. It seems likely that Joyce is facing a coronavirus-related absence, so his recovery timeline is unclear without additional details. Joyce was expected to start either in the outfield or at DH for the Marlins after slashing .295/.408/.450 with the Braves last season, but he's unlikely to be ready for Opening Day at this point. Even with some expected regression primarily from his .351 BABIP, Joyce should post an OPS above .750 again this season, making him a solid fantasy option in deeper leagues. With an 806 ADP, fantasy owners can afford to wait for updates on Joyce's health before investing in the outfielder and should monitor his progress over the coming days.
Mike Moustakas (3B - CIN) - Mike Moustakas was held out of the Reds' scrimmage on Wednesday with a tight groin. The Reds were reportedly being extra-cautious with their third baseman with manager David Bell saying that Moustakas would have played today in a regular-season game, so fantasy owners shouldn't be particularly concerned. Fresh off of a career year with a .845 OPS and 35 home runs, Moustakas should benefit from the home run friendly confines of his new home ballpark, especially considering that his strong play from last season was well-supported by a 40.7% hard-hit rate and a 10.3% barrel rate. Fantasy owners should expect Moustakas to post an OPS north of .820 again this season, with the upside to flirt with .900.
Kyle Hendricks (SP - CHC) - Cubs manager David Ross announced that Kyle Hendricks will be the team's Opening Day starter this season. That puts Hendricks in line for a home matchup against the Brewers on July 24 in what should be a favorable matchup for the 30-year-old. The Brewers ranked 15th in runs scored last season, with much of their production coming from their 250 home runs -- a total that ranked seventh in the league. The Brewers also struck out at a high rate, with their 1,563 strikeouts topping all but four teams. Given Hendricks's ability to limit home runs (2.4% career home run rate), and relatively poor strikeout ability (20.9% career strikeout rate), he should be able to suffocate Milwaukee's strengths while benefiting from the team's weaknesses. Additionally, Hendricks has historically benefited from pitching at Wrigley Field with a career 2.61 ERA at home compared to 3.70 on the road, and the split was even more severe last season. Fantasy owners should expect another solid overall season from Hendricks after he posted a 3.46 ERA last year and expect him to start the year on a high note.
Dee Gordon (2B - SEA) - Dee Gordon was held out of Wednesday's workout for an undisclosed reason. The Mariners will likely provide more information on Gordon's absence soon, but he may have tested positive for coronavirus. If healthy, Gordon enters the season as a backup utility infielder and speed option off of the bench, though poor play from either Shed Long or J.P. Crawford could allow Gordon to force himself back into regular playing time. Gordon managed to steal 22 bases in 117 games at 31 years old last season, so he's still a somewhat valuable fantasy asset for owners in need of speed as long as he plays.
Jacob deGrom (SP - NYM) - deGrom was optimistic about his chances of being ready for Opening Day on Wednesday, saying that he would've been ready to pitch if Wednesday was the start of the season and hopes to throw 85 pitches against the Braves next Friday. The Mets walked back some of deGrom's optimism in what was likely an attempt to manage fan expectations, but fantasy owners should expect the 32-year-old to pitch on Opening Day. deGrom is chasing his third straight Cy Young Award this year after posting a combined 2.05 ERA and 5.82 K:BB over the past two years, and fantasy owners should feel comfortable drafting deGrom at his seven ADP.
Jose Peraza (2B - BOS) - Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke suggested that Jose Peraza beat out Micheal Chavis for the team's starting second base job. Peraza comes into the season off of a rough 2019 that saw him post a .631 OPS with only seven stolen bases over 141 games, but he's just a year removed from a .742 OPS and 23 stolen bases. Encouragingly, Peraza appears to be in line for a bounceback year in 2020; at .268, his BABIP was 33 points lower than his career average, and his .272 wOBA was 19 points lower than his (still not great) .291 xwOBA. Combined with Peraza's strong contact skills (95% z-contact rate last season), a relatively mild bounceback in his ball-in-play results should allow Peraza to get back to a 20-plus stolen base rate, and his OPS should get back up comfortably over .700. That makes Peraza an attractive option late in drafts with his 313 ADP, especially now that he has effectively guaranteed playing time.
Masahiro Tanaka (SP - NYY) - Yankees manager Aaron Boone said on Wednesday that he'd be surprised if Tanaka is ready for his first start of the season. Tanaka suffered a concussion on July 4, and although he hasn't felt any symptoms since being released from the hospital on July 5, he didn't throw his first bullpen session until Wednesday afternoon. Still, Tanaka's bullpen session on Wednesday was reportedly encouraging, and he's scheduled for another bullpen on Sunday before throwing against live hitters sometime next week. It seems highly unlikely that Tanaka will miss more than one start at the beginning of the season at this point, but Jonathan Loaisiga is likely to start in Tanaka's place if the 31-year-old misses any time.
Austin Meadows (OF - TB) - Austin Meadows was placed on the 10-day IL after testing positive for coronavirus on Wednesday. Meadows broke out with a .922 OPS last season, but his chances of following up that performance this year will be delayed. It's not clear if Meadows is experiencing symptoms, so his timeline is unknown. Given that Meadows will have to test negative twice before returning to the team, it seems unlikely that he'll be ready for Opening Day. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Manuel Margot are the two most likely options to replace Meadows in right field if the 25-year-old misses any time, but hopefully Meadows has a quick and easy recovery.
Franchy Cordero (OF - KC) - The Padres traded Franchy Cordero to the Royals on Wednesday. Cordero should have a chance to play center field for the Royals this year in a move that should excite fantasy owners. Cordero struggles with strikeouts and has a worrying injury history, but the 25-year-old boasts a tantalizing combination of power and speed that should have him on the radar of DFS players in particular. Across parts of three MLB seasons, Cordero owns a 91.3 MPH average exit velocity, a 45.3% hard-hit rate, and a .526 xwOBA on contact, all of which are strong enough to make Cordero a 30 home run hitter, even with a strikeout rate north of 30%. Cordero also stole more than 20 bases twice in his minor league career and posted a sprint speed that ranked in the 89th percentile in the MLB, so double-digit steals should be a possibility as well. Bubba Starling figures to be Cordero's primary competition for playing time in Kansas City, and Cordero's lack of a clear starting job makes him mostly a factor for DFS players, but this trade is a boon for his fantasy value as it pushes him towards playing time opportunities.
Evan Longoria (3B - SF) - Evan Longoria is reportedly dealing with a moderate oblique strain that has kept him out of the team's previous two intrasquad games. As a result, Longoria appears headed for the IL, but the amount of time he'll miss is unclear. If Longoria is forced to miss time, then Wilmer Flores is the most likely option to fill in at third base. A quietly above-average hitter with an OPS+ of at least 105 in each of the past four years, Flores should provide close to or potentially slightly above what Longoria would from a fantasy perspective. Fantasy owners should expect an OPS around .750 with a strikeout rate below 20% out of the combined Giants third basemen this season, but Longoria's uncertain timeline makes both players undraftable in all but the deepest full-season leagues.