Gregory Polanco (OF-PIT) has tested positive for COVID-19, which explains why he has been absent from recent Pirates workouts. The 28 year-old's status for the immediate future is now in doubt, so thoughts (that I had, at least) that he could be a fantasy asset in a pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign in which the NL will utilize the DH full-time need to be put on hold. Forever ago, it seems (it was in February), I wrote that Polanco could be an overlooked fantasy contributor this season, so he should be on your radar as a possible add once he returns to action. Although he prefers to play his position, it sounds like Polanco will at least rotate into the DH role, which will help keep him in the lineup while saving him some wear and tear. And the shorter season should give him a better chance of helping out fantasy owners if he does begin the season healthy (after recovering from COVID, of course). After all, injuries seem to be the biggest factor that have prevented him from fully breaking out. While his track record suggests that he won't be an asset in the average department (think about .250), he still possesses an exciting blend of power and speed. He's currently available in nearly 85% of ESPN leagues, so make sure he's on your watch list.
Colin Moran (3B-PIT) appears poised to block prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes to start the 2020 campaign. With Hayes arriving late to Pirates summer camp for an undisclosed reason, Moran has solidified his hold on 3B entering the campaign, with management even saying he could see more at-bats against southpaws. Seeing as Hayes needed more time in the minors anyway to develop his hitting, it seems unlikely that he makes much of an impact this season. That leaves the Buccos with the 27 year-old Moran, who boasts a 97 career wRC+, including a 94 last season when he batted .277 with 13 homers and 80 RBI in 503 PAs. There's a chance he could continue to progress this season, but he's pretty mediocre at just about everything at the plate, and that includes his hard-hit rate (35%). There are plenty of other options out there at 3B if your starter lands on the IL and you're in a pinch.
Mitch Keller (SP-PIT) is widely available in fantasy leagues as the 2020 campaign approaches (he's on the wire in just over 76% of ESPN leagues), and, on the surface, that is understandable. His debut in 2019 was a disaster on some levels, as he compiled a 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP over his first 11 starts in the majors (48 IP). But even just quick glance under the hood suggests that he should take a big step forward in 2020. His K/9 was an elite 12.19. His BB/9 was an acceptable 3. His xFIP was just 3.47 and his SIERA came in a 3.78. He got hit hard, as opponents registered a 36% hard-hit rate and 29% liner rate against him, but the underlying metrics say that he was a victim of a bunch of bad luck. You can do far worse than making him a speculative add to be your final rotation arm in fantasy.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF-MIA) seems likely to receive regular playing time when the 2020 campaign opens. When I wrote that Cooper was a name to keep in mind back in February, one of my biggest caveats was playing time, as it appeared likely that the newly-acquired Jesus Aguilar would play 1B, leaving Cooper to compete for a corner OF spot. Now that the DH has become universal, Cooper has a clearer path to regular playing time. While his high groundball rate (52% in 2019) does give me some pause, he did post a solid 41% hard-hit rate - including a 54% hard-hit rate on flyballs and 58% on liners - en route to batting .281 with 15 homers and 50 RBI in 421 PA last season. He's widely available (in nearly 98% of ESPN leagues), so add him to your watch list or perhaps even consider him as a replacement if your starting 1B ends up on the IL for one reason or another.
Corey Dickerson (OF-MIA) is widely available in fantasy leagues (he's on the wire in just over 60% of ESPN leagues) even though he figures to be a solid contributor in 2020. He has a starting role in the Marlins OF and while his name isn't the sexiest out there in the fantasy world, he's a reliable source of production when he's been on the field. He spent considerable time on the IL last season, but logged a .304 average, 12 homers, and 59 RBI in just 279 PAs when he was able to play. That work rode on a career-average 76% contact rate, acceptable 20% strikeout rate, a sustainable 15% HR/FB, and a career-best 39% hard-hit rate. Especially in deeper leagues, he's worth the add if you need to fill your final OF spot or if you want one for your bench. And remember, the franchise did move the outfield fence at CF and RF in a bit during the offseason.
Caleb Smith (SP-MIA) could be positioned to be a significant fantasy contributor in a COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Recall that, in both 2018 and 2019, he put together strong 70 or so inning samples before injuries derailed each campaign. Fantasy owners will have to keep an eye on his health as the ramp-up to the start of the regular season unfolds (he did report dealing with a stiff neck during his first outing after team workouts resumed), but he should be owned more universally based on his potential in an abbreviated season. While his ERA seems likely to sit at about 3.50-4.00, Smith has the ability to record some punchouts (think 10+ K/9) and does call spacious Marlins Park his home (even if part of the outfield fence moved in a bit). If he's available in your league (he's on the wire in about 50% of ESPN leagues right now) and seems to be healthy as opening day approaches, why not pick him up?
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Nick Madrigal (2B-CHW) may begin the 2020 season with White Sox, but even if he does not club GM Rick Hahn expects him to play in the majors at some point in the 60-game campaign. If he does start the season with the big club, he would presumably back up current 2B starter Leury Garcia. The 23 year-old is an exciting fantasy prospect given his high contact-oriented approach at the plate and his speed, but it seems that he may not be a fantasy asset in 2020. Most likely, he's just worth keeping an eye on as he effectively auditions for a starting role in 2021. As a 22 year-old last season, he batted .331 in 134 Triple-A PA after hitting .341 across 180 PA in Double-A and .272 in 218 High-A PA (the latter was suppressed by a .269 BABIP). He did not strike out at a higher clip than 3.7% (!) at any of those levels while walking in at least 7.8% of his PA at each stop. And across those three levels during his quick climb, he only mustered 4 dingers but did swipe 35 bags. Power is everywhere in today's game and steals are not, so Madrigal's ability to get on base and swipe bags is tantalizing. He's widely available in fantasy leagues (he's currently rostered in only 21% of ESPN leagues) in case you want to see if he contributes more than expected this year, but I'd say it's more reasonable to expect him to be an asset next season.
Adalberto Mondesi (SS-KC) reportedly looks good as summer camp progresses, which is great news after he underwent left (non-throwing) shoulder surgery in the fall and was eased into spring training. Mondesi's fantasy owners will have to hope that the optimistic reports coming out of Royals camp culminate in a productive 2020 campaign, as he underwhelmed in 2019 after breaking out the year prior. In an injury-shortened campaign, Mondesi batted .263 with 9 homers, 62 RBI, and 43 stolen bases in 443 PA. For those who drafted him last season, the stolen bases were the saving grace, as the rest of that line was pretty whatever for fantasy purposes, especially since the SS position is pretty stacked. It was little surprising that his average dipped from 2018's solid .276 clip has his strikeout rate climbed over 3% to 30% and his hard-hit rate dipped from a nice 43% in 2018 to 38% last year and his line-drive rate ticked downward from 21% to 19%. Hopefully you didn't overpay for the steals in 2020 because I'm not optimistic that he will do much beyond that area.
Yoan Moncada (3B-CHW) recently returned to White Sox camp after testing negative for COVID-19 (he had been on the IL because he contracted the virus). He has performed only strength and conditioning exercises with the coaches so far and has not appeared in game action. He previously described his activity at home during the stoppage as "limited." Yikes. The 25 year-old is coming off a 2019 campaign that saw him bat .315 with 25 dingers, 79 RBI, and 10 stolen bases across 559 PA, but even before recent developments many believed that he might regress in 2020. After all, that average was bolstered by a .406 BABIP while his 20.2% HR/FB was nearly double what it was in 2018. On the other hand, he did pretty much replicate his reduced (27%) strikeout rate from the first half of the season after the All-Star break, and his 40% hard-hit rate was a career best. Ultimately, it's doubtful that he produces an average north of .300 again while his power output from last season is more repeatable.
Anthony Santander (OF-BAL) has been sidelined recently at Orioles camp, but management believes that he can be ready to play Opening Day. He put together a solid 2019 campaign that secured him a spot in the Orioles' starting lineup for 2020, provided he is healthy. And he should be at least a 4th-OF type in fantasy. In 405 PA last season, he batted .261 with 20 longballs and 59 RBI, posting a 97 wRC+. For a guy who lofts plenty of flyballs (43%) and often hits those hard (39% hard-hit rate on flies), he doesn't strike out a ton (21%). His .285 BABIP was probably about where it should be given his average speed and batted-ball profile, so he should be a guy who produces a neutral average for fantasy purposes while providing some pop. Not an exciting guy, right now at least, but he's 25 and he assembled a solid line in his first sizable sample in the majors last year. Put Santander on your watch list in case you need a replacement OF and/or he builds on last season's work. He's currently available in just about 92% of ESPN leagues, so he should be on your FA wire.
Jay Bruce (OF-PHI) could be a sneaky good addition from the waiver wire in fantasy leagues this season. Only 2% owned in ESPN leagues because he batted just .216 in 333 PA last season with the Mariners and Phillies, the 33 year-old did bash 26 homers. It's worth noting that elbow issues which relegated him to pinch-hitting duty late in the season likely hurt his production. He's now preparing for a shortened 2020 campaign that will see him reportedly serve as Philadelphia's primary DH, at least against righties. If you need some more pop in your lineup, you could do far worse, as he did log a career-best 43% hard-hit rate last year to go along with a career-high 54% flyball rate. Such a seeming swing toward trying to hit longballs bodes well for a guy who will play half his games in Philadelphia. Just don't expect his batting average to be good, as he has a .245 career clip and hasn't topped .260 since 2013.
Nick Solak (DH-TEX) could be a sneaky good add in fantasy leagues, especially since OF Willie Calhoun appears unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. In his brief 135-PA MLB debut last season, Solak batted .293 with 5 homers, 17 RBI, and a pair of stolen bases. The performance pretty well reflected his Minor League track record - a solid average, some pop, and a few steals. His walk rate (11%) was also in line with his past performance, as was his 21% strikeout rate. While his 29% hard-hit rate won't jump off the page at you, he does make very little soft contact (13%) and is groundball oriented (53%). What this means is that his power output may be limited but the average should be solid (think .280 and a half-dozen dingers in an abbreviated 2020 campaign). He currently doesn't have a regular spot in the field, but it appears that the Rangers are looking to get him time at 1B and OF as the season approaches - and Calhoun's expected absence will give him an OF spot. He's now available in most fantasy leagues (about 79% of ESPN leagues), so make sure he's at least on your watch list.
Lance McCullers (SP-HOU) missed the entire 2019 campaign as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but should not be overlooked entering the 2020 season. Despite the flashes he's shown in the past, he's somehow available in about 13% of ESPN leagues. Perhaps the shine has worn off a bit because of injury issues (he's never topped 130 innings in the majors since he made his debut back in 2015), but the good news is that fantasy owners only need him for about 10ish starts in 2020). When he's been on the field, he's been useful for fantasy, as his career K/9 is about 10 and his ERA is 3.67 (3.43 xFIP). He does issue his fair share of walks (3.5 BB/9 career), and control is certainly a concern as he comes off Tommy John. The good news is that he's had extra time to prepare for the season with the delayed start and should be a strong contributor out of the gate in 2020. Armed with nice velocity (95mph average heater) and a deadly 86mph curve that he threw 46% of the time in 2016-2018, McCullers records excellent swinging-strike rates (13.5% in 2018) that could help him develop into a solid #2 fantasy starter. If he's available in your league, I recommend you do something about that. If you need to bolster your rotation, you might be able to arrange a favorable trade.
Rich Hill (SP-MIN) should begin the 2020 campaign healthy and in the Minnesota rotation. He should therefore be more widely owned than he currently is in fantasy leagues (he's available in over 55% of ESPN leagues). In 13 starts with the Dodgers last season, Hill tossed 58.2 innings in which he posted a 2.45 ERA, 11.05 K/9, and 2.76 BB/9. While his 3.41 xFIP and 3.64 SIERA indicate that he benefitted from some good fortune (the 89% strand rate was high while his .275 BABIP allowed was low), Hill showed that he still has something to offer fantasy owners even though last season was his final one in his 30s. The talent has always been there for Hill, but the main thing holding him back has been health - he completed just over 130 innings with the Dodgers in 2017 and 2018, but he has otherwise only topped that mark once in his career - back in 2007 with the Cubs (195 IP). Healthy as preseason workouts ramp up in preparation for a shortened season, Hill should be at least a solid mid-rotation guy for fantasy as he will make about half his starts at Target Field. And you're not adding him to make a full slate of over 30 starts - you'd be looking to get about ten or so out of him and it's possible that he can manage that before a blister or something sends him to the IL.
MacKenzie Gore (SP-SD) appears likely to make perhaps a handful of starts in 2020, so he should be firmly on your radar in fantasy. The 21 year-old southpaw performed well in both High-A and Double-A last season, compiling a 1.02 ERA (2.76 xFIP), 12.48 K/9, and 2.27 BB/9 in 79.1 IP in High-A before holding his own in a brief Double-A stint, posting a 4.15 ERA (3.82 xFIP), 10.38 K/9, and 3.32 BB/9 in 21.2 IP at that level. Rated as San Diego's #1 prospect per Fangraphs and the #3 overall prospect in baseball, Gore has the stuff and, so far, a track record to suggest that a bright future lies ahead of him in the majors. Odds are he'll make an audition in 2020, and I wouldn't want to miss out on what he could do. He's currently available in over 90% of ESPN leagues, and I would consider adding him if he's on the wire in yours.
Josh James (SP-HOU) and his big arm have finally arrived at Houston's summer workouts, and he recently threw 64 pitches in an intrasquad game. The flamethrower (97mph average heater last season, albeit mostly out of the bullpen) possesses elite swing-and-miss stuff (16% swinging-strike rate and 14.67 K/9 last year) but does have a track record of control issues (5.14 BB/9 last season). But his minor-league career suggests that he could be a fantasy asset as a starter. In his last year as a full-time SP - 2018 - he made 17 starts in Triple-A (92.2 IP) in which he posted a 3.40 ERA (3.29 xFIP), 12.92 K/9, and 3.79 BB/9 before making six appearances in the majors (3 starts) in which he logged a 2.35 ERA (3.46 xFIP), 11.35 K/9, and 2.74 BB/9. Given his talent and apparent preparedness to handle a starting role as the season approaches, James should be more widely rostered than he currently is (he's now rostered in 46% of ESPN leagues).