Fantasy Baseball Rookies to Target in 2020: Top-10 Hitters
After several months of uncertainty and frustration, the 2020 MLB season has finally come into focus. We’re going to have a shortened 60-game season, universal DH, no minor leagues (excuse me while I dry my eyes), and expanded rosters. Those last two are what we’ll be focusing on today. With no minor leagues and only 60 games of Major League action, drafting prospects will be more difficult this season than it has been in year’s past. We have to factor in opportunity and proximity heavily when ranking the top fantasy baseball rookies for this shortened season. Everyone is going to want to draft Wander Franco, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, and others that have been added to the 60-man taxi squads, but the reality is that these three are highly unlikely to accumulate enough at-bats to make an impact in the fantasy world. However, the below 10 most definitely should.
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Top-10 Fantasy Baseball Rookies for 2020: Hitters
1. Gavin Lux (2B – LAD)
Surprised to see me rank Gavin Lux 1st here over a certain dynamic White Sox rookie? So am I, to be honest. While I still rank Luis Robert higher for dynasty leagues, the polish and floor of Gavin Lux makes me feel a bit more confident that he makes a significant fantasy impact in this shortened season. Lux excelled for the majority of his minor league career, showcasing his robust hit tool, plus power, and above-average speed along the way. His ascension to elite prospect territory was cemented in 2019 with his dominant showing in the Double-A Texas League and Triple-A Pacific Coast League, slashing a combined .347/.421/.607 in 113 games with 59 extra-base hits, 26 home runs, and 10 steals in 16 attempts.
While I’m not sure we see Lux’s 27 steals from 2017 in the Majors, his combination of hit, rising power, and approach gives Lux a higher fantasy ceiling and equally as high floor. This is a .300/25+ bat in the making that should be able to add double-digit steals as well, at least initially. Any concerns about his playing time should be firmly pushed out of everyone’s minds as well as the added DH spot should allow Lux to remain in the Dodgers lineup virtually every day.
Could Robert go bonkers and finish as the top fantasy rookie? Absolutely. But Lux is the safer bet in my eyes.
2. Luis Robert (OF – CHW)
Speaking of Luis Robert. As I mentioned, Robert likely possesses the highest fantasy ceiling of anyone on this list. With plus power and double-plus speed, Robert could throw up a 30/40 season down the road and it wouldn’t shock me much. The speed has never been questioned and Robert’s rising in-game power has made him one of the most coveted fantasy prospects of the last few seasons. As you can see below, that power continued to grow as the 2019 season wore on.
As majestic as the power/speed ceiling is, Robert’s hit tool comes into question due to his plate approach. Over the last two seasons, Robert has walked just 5.3% of the time while striking out 23.8% of the time across 759 plate appearances. That strikeout rate, in general, isn’t too concerning, but it’s the fact that Robert has a tough time picking up spin and chasing outside the zone that’s concerning.
You might not think this is an issue as Robert hit .328 last year, but Major League pitchers will likely attack and exploit Robert’s weaknesses from the get-go, much like they did with his teammate Yoan Moncada who hit just .234 in his two-plus seasons until breaking out to the tune of a .311 average in 2019. The upside here with Robert is off the charts, but 60-games is a very small window to adjust to how Major League pitchers will attack him. We very well could get a fantasy dynamo right out of the gate, but the concerns around the approach drop him to my #2 rookie for 2020.
3. Dylan Carlson (OF – STL)
We all know how frustrating the St. Louis Cardinals can be when it comes to their outfielders, but Dylan Carlson is no ordinary outfield prospect. This is one of the most talented outfield prospects in the game that proved to be nearly-MLB ready at the end of 2019. And with the added DH, the path to playing time for Mr. Carlson shouldn’t prove as difficult as it has for Tyler O’Neill over the last couple of seasons.
After three seasons toiling in the vicinity of .250 with only modest power, Carlson broke out in both areas last season, hitting .292 with 26 homers, 28 doubles, and even added 20 steals as well. While he’s around an average runner, expecting more 20-steal seasons in the future from Carlson is a bit foolish. However, what he did with the bat in 2019 is very much for real. At the plate, Carlson has above-average contact skills with at least plus raw power. He’s shown an advanced approach as well, posting an 11.0% walk rate while keeping his strikeouts in check at 21.7%. The upside here is a .280/.360/.525 hitter capable of around 30 homers and 10-15 steals annually.
With his proximity to the Majors, the added DH spot, and St. Louis likely contending once again, it’s very likely we see Carlson either in the opening day lineup or right after St. Louis gains another year of control. Either way, Carlson is going to play a ton this season and has the skills to make a significant fantasy impact right away.
4. Sam Hilliard (OF – COL)
My affection for Sam Hilliard in fantasy is well documented by now. Truth be told, that affection has only grown over the last month or two. Hilliard was already in the running for a starting gig in the Colorado outfield following his dynamic 2019 season that ended with a combined 42 homers and 24 steals in 153 games between Triple-A and the Majors. Now with the added DH spot and Ian Desmond opting out of the 2020 season, Hilliard’s chances of receiving everyday at-bats went from good to damn good.
Sam Hilliard. Wow.
Exit velocity: 105.4 mph
Distance: 455 pic.twitter.com/UF0Vc1bjkO
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 28, 2019
But Eric, it’s the freaking Rockies we’re talking about! Yes, I know. But this time, the opportunity for playing time is crystal clear. Well, as crystal clear as it can get in Colorado. Hilliard doesn’t have Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Ryan McMahon, or Daniel Murphy blocking him like Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers do. Hilliard should play nearly every day and makes for a great late-round target. Even if his average sits in the .250-.260 range due to his slightly below-average contact skills, Hilliard’s power/speed blend brings plenty of fantasy value to the table. Honestly, he could finish as a top-100 player in 2020 and it wouldn’t shock me.
5. Carter Kieboom (3B – WAS)
We already had an inkling that Carter Kieboom was going to be handed the reigns at the hot corner this season, but Nationals manager, Dave Martinez, basically set that in stone over the weekend saying, “I just think in a 60-game season that he’s going to go out there and play every day.” For the youngster to get a vote of confidence like that coming off a tough debut in 2019 is huge.
Kieboom is a player I got to see live several times in his Double-A days and it was very clear that he had what it takes to be an impact bat at the Major League level. Loud contact was routine in Kieboom’s at-bats, regardless of the ending result. With an above-average hit tool and around plus raw power, Kieboom has the potential to hit for both power and a fairly high batting average in the .280/25 range moving forward. With minimal speed, the bat is going to have to carry him, but there’s enough potency in Kieboom’s lumber to make a significant fantasy impact.
6. Nick Solak (2/3/OF – TEX)
Nick Solak is criminally underrated. I’ll scream that from the rooftops until I’m blue in the face if I have to. No part of Nick Solak’s game jumps off the page and smacks you in the face, but the guy can do it all and has produced at every single level he’s been at. No exceptions. Go take a look at his baseball-reference page. The lowest Solak has hit at any level in the United States is .266 and the lowest for any season is .282. That includes college, the minors, the Cape Cod League, and his brief stint with Texas last season.
While Solak doesn’t possess any plus tools, I consider him above-average across the board offensively with .280/20/20 upside if he decides to run that much. Even if the speed output is closer to 10 steals, Solak’s ability to chip in across the board while having multi-positional eligibility makes him a valuable late-round target that can help your fantasy team in multiple ways. His bat and versatility in the field should keep his name on the lineup card this season more often than not. Plus, it’s not like Ronald Guzman or Todd Frazier are locks.
7. Jo Adell (OF – LAA)
While his long-term fantasy upside is enormous, the warts on Jo Adell’s profile do give me some pause when considering him for 2020 redraft leagues. Adell’s calling card is his elite raw power that he showcased to all of us watching him take batting practice before the AFL Fall Stars game last October. There’s no doubt in my mind that Adell has the power and swing to threaten 40-homers on an annual basis. But at the same time, a rising groundball rate last season limited that power to the point where Adell didn’t leave the yard in any of his 27 PCL games to end the season. Someone with this type of power not hitting a single dinger in more than a month in the hitter-friendly PCL is a tad concerning.
Adell also struck out 32.8% of the time at the level, which was more than four times higher than his 7.6% walk rate. That walk rate is on par with his career level, but Adell’s strikeout rate was at 24.2% prior to reaching Triple-A. We also can’t ignore the fact that he barely ran at all last season despite having above-average to plus speed. Adell is fully capable of adding 20-plus steals to his immense power, but how much is he going to run moving forward, especially in 2020?
If we’re strictly talking ceiling and best-case peak scenarios, Adell has the upside to turn into a .280+/35+/20+ fantasy monster. But initial concerns around all three offensive tools could lead to a slower rise to superstardom than others we’ve seen recently. Adell will get a chance to play early on in this shortened season, especially if Mike Trout sits out, but we should temper our expectations out of the gate.
8. Alec Bohm (3B – PHI)
Alec Bohm’s rise to the Majors has been rapid. The #3 overall pick in the 2018 draft quickly proved that he was one of the most polished bats in the class and reached Double-A around one calendar year after being drafted. Along the way, Bohm has displayed an above-average to plus hit tool, plus power, and an advanced plate approach that led to a 10.6% walk rate and a 13.5% strikeout rate in 2019 to pair with his 30 doubles, 21 homers, and .305/.378/.518 slash line.
As I mentioned in my NL DH article, the universal DH in the National League is a major boon to Bohm’s value and playing time in 2020. Without the DH, fitting Bohm into the lineup would require some moving parts and someone playing out of position. Now, Bohm can slot in at DH for the most part while also playing some on the infield corners. His ability to hit for both a high average and power makes Bohm very desirable in our fantasy world and his advanced plate approach and polish make him a fairly safe option as well.
9. Austin Hays (OF – BAL)
Honestly, I’m not a big Austin Hays supporter in general. However, there are three reasons why the Baltimore outfielder makes this list.
- Ability to chip in across the board offensively
- Appears to be locked into a starting gig
- Is the favorite to leadoff for Baltimore in 2020
Those last two are key. Sure, it’s not like Hays has Murderer’s Row behind him, but hitting leadoff means more runs scored and more at-bats in general. And in a 60-game season, every extra at-bat has added importance. Although Hays has yet to sniff his 2017 .329/32/95 line, he’s still combined for 29 home runs and 15 steals in 162 combined games in the minors over the last two seasons. Albeit, those came with a .235 average in 2018 and a .248 average last season. Hays also added four homers and two steals while hitting .309 in 21 games with Baltimore last season.
Ultimately, I think Hays is going to settle in somewhere in the middle of his 2017 and 2018/2019 batting average as a .270ish hitter to pair with that sneaky-good power/speed profile that could produce some 20/10 seasons. A .270/20/10 pace this season with a solid amount of runs scored is certainly worth a look in the final rounds of fantasy drafts.
10a. Evan White (1B – SEA)
When it comes to prospects, Evan White is one of the more underrated names around. Why is that? Well, White has never put up the big power numbers we’ve come to expect from first basemen, and honestly, I’m not sure he ever will. While White does have above-average to plus raw power, he doesn’t profile as your typical 30-plus homer masher at the position. But what he does do is bring a rock-solid all-around profile that is quite intriguing for fantasy purposes. You also have to factor in that he played the entire 2019 season at arguably the toughest hitter’s park in the minors and still put up .293/.350/.488 line with 18 home runs in 92 games. That’s impressive even if it doesn’t blow you away.
In addition to the power I already mentioned, White has the contact skills to hit for a high batting average as well, likely in the .275-.295 range to pair with around 25 homers annually. That’s not all either. Unlike most first basemen, White is an above-average runner that can add 5-10 steals to his offensive production. A .280/25/5 line would make White a top-10 fantasy first baseman and we should see that ascension start on opening day after White’s contract extension this offseason.
10b. Nick Madrigal (2B – CHW)
Since I couldn’t make a big case for either White or Madrigal being #10 on this list, I’m just gonna go ahead and include both. We all know the knock on Madrigal. He possesses very little power and even approaching double-digit homers over a full 162-game season is farfetched and likely impossible. Without question, that limits his overall fantasy ceiling, but that doesn’t mean Madrigal can’t provide solid late-round value due to his strengths elsewhere.
Madrigal is a plus or better runner and a plus contact hitter with some of the best strike zone awareness you’ll ever see. After striking out just 5.2% of the time at Oregon State, Madrigal actually improved that mark to 3.0% after being selected 4th overall in the 2018 draft. His ability to hit north of .280 with 25-plus steals still has value, even if it only comes with a handful of home runs. Madrigal will likely be up early in the season as well, so those looking for a speed boost in the final few rounds should look his way.
10c. Kevin Cron (1B – ARI)
I’m really pushing it calling this a “top-10” aren’t I? However, I just couldn’t plop Kevin Cron’s name in the honorable mention section as he could be a big power asset if Arizona gives him everyday at-bats. I’ll keep this brief as I already discussed him in my NL DH article recently, but Cron beats out Jake Lamb for the DH spot, he 100% needs to be drafted in 12+ team leagues this season. No doubt about it. Cron is a .260/35 masher in the making that can also produce solid OBP marks as well. C’mon Arizona, do the right thing here. Don’t follow suit with your prospect-hating division rival to the north.
Andrew Vaughn (1B – CHW), Joey Bart (C – SFG), Ryan Mountcastle (1B – BAL), Mauricio Dubon (2B/SS – SFG), Brendan Rodgers (2B – COL), Nico Hoerner (2B/SS – CHC), Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (OF – TB), Shogo Akiyama (OF – CIN), Sean Murphy (C – OAK), Jarred Kelenic (OF – SEA), Wander Franco (SS – TBR), Bobby Dalbec (3B – BOS), Drew Waters (OF – ATL), Cristian Pache (OF – ATL), Jake Fraley (OF – SEA), Kyle Lewis (OF – SEA)
Media Credit: Minor Graphs by Prospects Live, MLB Pipeline, Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire
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