Prospects To Target (Or Not) In A Shortened Season – American League
This isn’t an article I ever thought I’d have to write. Just look at the title with the words “Shortened Season” in it. For lack of better words, that flat out sucks to write. But this is where we are in this weird 2020 that feels like the script for the next Jumanji movie or Stephen King novel. Back in the spring, I wrote a few articles about which MLB prospects could make the biggest fantasy impacts in the 2020 season. Now it’s time to reassess and discuss which ones we should or shouldn’t be targeting in a shortened MLB season.
Unfortunately, that list of prospects we shouldn’t be targeting has some huge names on it now. I know we all want to have the big names on our rosters when the time comes for them to make their Major League debuts, but we have to be smart about how we approach them in this current reality we’re all stuck in. We still don’t know exactly what the season will look like, how many game will be played, or even where those games will be played. But if there is a season, it’s likely going to be in the 80-100 game range from the looks of it.
Instead of breaking this up by position as I did back in the pre-season, this time I’m going to go team by team, starting with the American League.
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American League Prospects To Target (Or Not) In A Shortened Season
Ryan Mountcastle (1B/3B/OF) and Austin Hays (OF)
These two are obvious and nothing has really changed with their outlooks through this baseball hiatus. With Baltimore headed for another year as a cellar-dweller, they’ve got no reason not to give Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays regular at-bats to see what they have with these two. For fantasy purposes, both are relevant and worth targeting for the back end of your roster. Both have shown the ability to hit for power and average throughout their minor league career, although, Hays has been much less consistent with his production than Mountcastle has.
Out of the two of them, Mountcastle is the one I’m higher on for 2020 leagues as he should be up very early into the season and has the offensive tools to return solid value, even though he doesn’t run very much. Hays is one that has the chance to be a similar type of hitter longterm, but with his inconsistencies over the last couple of years, I’m less convinced that he’s going to hit the ground running in Baltimore this season.
Boston Red Sox
Bobby Dalbec (3B/1B) and Jarren Duran (OF)
This situation is much less concrete than the one above in Baltimore (or below if you want to be all geographically correct). Even with the departure of Mookie Betts, this Boston lineup is still absolutely loaded without any real questionable positions outside of second base, a position neither of these two are able to play. But what about Jeter Downs? Yes, Downs has played some second base but I don’t envision the Red Sox bringing him up early in the season as the reports I’ve heard out of Boston signal that they’re more than okay charging forward with Michael Chavis and Jose Peraza handling the keystone.
The only two prospects here that I can see having any sort of fantasy value this season are Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran. However, it will likely take an injury or a slump from Mitch Moreland or Jackie Bradley Jr for that to happen. After a torrid stretch in the high-A Carolina League to start 2019, Duran came back to earth and was exposed in the Double-A Eastern League. With that said, he still has plus speed that could have some sneaky good value in fantasy if he happens into a full-time role this season.
With Dalbec, it’s all about the type of league you play in. He’s much more valuable in OBP leagues as his high walk rates have been able to salvage his OBP despite below-average contact skills and big-time swing and miss concerns limiting his batting average potential. The fact that he can play both corner infield positions helps and if he gets a starting role, that power could be an asset.
New York Yankees
With each passing day of this season delay, the chances of Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia playing meaningful roles with the Yankees diminishes. It sounded like both were at least in the conversation for the #5 starters spot following James Paxton undergoing back surgery, but this delay isn’t doing them any favors. At the time the news broke on Paxton, a 3-4 month recovery timetable was set which would have him back in pinstripes in June or July. And when will the season likely start if we have one? Yup, June or July. I still expect both Schmidt and Garcia to get time with the Yankees in 2020, but just not enough to warrant fantasy consideration without additional injuries to the current contingent of Yankees starters.
Tampa Bay Rays
Brendan McKay is the obvious one here and someone that was getting universally drafted in pre-season drafts. Everyone knows him as one of the top pitchings prospects in the game with one of the highest floors around (for pitching prospects). But with that said, his 2020 outlook was and still is very much an uncertain situation. Even though he pitched fairly well in his 2019 debut, Tampa Bay just has so many mouths to feed in that rotation that are all more established than McKay is. I know, shocker right? Tampa Bay has a logjam pretty much everywhere these days. I’m still very much in on McKay longterm and in dynasty leagues, but I don’t think he pitches enough innings to return the value he’s capable of producing in fantasy.
Moving over to the hitting side of things, Kevin Padlo could weasel his way into some low-end value if there’s an injury or two in the Rays infield. After a mostly mediocre minor league career, Padlo broke out in the high minors last season to the tune of a .265/.389/.538 slash line with 21 homers and 12 steals in 110 games. I’m still not a big believer in the hit tool but if called upon to receive regular at-bats in Tampa, Padlo likely won’t be a black hole in that department and had the power to produce at a 25-homer pace. Just don’t count on the same speed output. Still, he falls into the wait and see department as several dominoes would need to fall for him to be starting with the Rays.
The same applies to Randy Arozarena in the outfield as well. After a strong showing in the high minors last season, Arozarena got a cup of coffee with the Cardinals before coming over to Tampa in the Jose Martinez deal this off-season. Unfortunately, this Tampa Bay outfield is quite crowded and there’s really no room for Arozarena to get consistent at-bats at the moment. If regular playing does open up, Arozarena would be worth a look for his ability to hit for a respectable average and run at around a 20-steal pace.
Don’t you dare move onto Toronto yet Eric! Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Wander Franco. The uber-est uber-prospect in all the land has been the topic of many Twitter questions when it comes to prospects that could make impacts in 2020. To put it simply, I don’t see Franco making that impact this season now that we’re going to lose at least two months of the season, possibly more. Before the season, I put Franco debuting at around 20-25% and now that’s much lower. Could he go all Juan Soto on us and get that surprise promotion earlier than we all expect? Absolutely could. But remember, the Nationals made that move out of necessity and it just happened to work out swimmingly for them. The Rays have the depth to minimize the need for a move like that to happen.
Toronto Blue Jays
For all pitching prospects that have yet to debut, Nate Pearson is my pick to make the biggest fantasy impact in 2020. A 6’6 behemoth, Pearson has the upside of a frontline arm and fantasy stud with off the charts strikeout potential. And not that the kid gloves are off, it shouldn’t be too long before we Pearson firing in triple-digit fastballs and slinging filthy sliders to Major League hitters. His strikeout potential alone makes him worth targeting and Pearson has the all-around arsenal, command, and control to hit the ground running. Heck, he could be a top-30 fantasy arm once he’s up. He’s that good.
Those in deeper leagues should keep Anthony Kay on your radar as well. His upside is more of a back-end starter with a lower ceiling, but he received a cup of coffee with Toronto last season and could get an extended run in the rotation in 2020.
Chicago White Sox
This White Sox team is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season. In addition to the veteran firepower in the lineup, there are several White Sox prospects that project to make at least some sort of fantasy impact as well. With all due respect to Gavin Lux, Jo Adell, and Jesus Luzardo, Luis Robert is my pick for top fantasy rookie in 2020. I know, going WAY out on a limb, aren’t I? While plenty of questions surround Robert’s ability to make consistent contact, recognize spin, and limit his strikeouts, his power/speed blend gives him massive fantasy upside. Even if he hits in the vicinity of .250, there’s legit 25/40 upside here longterm. I’m not saying he’ll play at that pace in his rookie season, but a 20/25 pace certainly is in play.
¡Mira cómo corre la pantera!
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 25, 2020
If you’re less of a risk-taker and like to play it safe, Nick Madrigal is the prospect for you. There’s minimal power upside with Madrigal, but he combines a plus hit tool with plus speed and a hatred for striking out. While the lack of power does limit his ultimate fantasy ceiling, Madrigal should be able to contribute solidly in the batting average and stolen base categories while playing arguably the weakest fantasy position outside of catcher.
On the mound, Michael Kopech is one of the biggest boom or bust pitching prospects around and is coming off Tommy John surgery back in 2018. The tall right-hander looks like an ace when he’s able to command his pitches, but consistently doing so has been the issue. At the very least Kopech has the arsenal, highlighted by his triple-digit fastball and 70-grade slider, to be one of the top strikeout arms on a per inning basis this season and beyond. But don’t be surprised if the ratios, especially his WHIP, are a tad higher.
While they have one of the top farm systems in baseball, most of the top Indians prospects are in the lower levels. In fact, their two biggest impact prospect this season were likely going to be relievers. Exciting right? While Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak are dynamic arms that I firmly believe could handle a 9th inning role down the road, rookie relievers aren’t exactly the breed that inspires a ton of excitement in fantasy leagues. On top of that, Clase got hurt early in Spring Training and now will miss the entire 2020 season after receiving an 80-game suspension for PEDs. This opens the door for Karinchal and his ridiculous strikeout rate to step up and provide some value in holds leagues this season.
While Detroit has several prospects that should play a role for them this season, all eyes are on the terrific trio of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. Both Mize and Manning are two of the top-10 pitching prospects in the game and Skubal now isn’t far behind after a breakout 2019 campaign. All three are expected to join Detroit’s lackluster rotation in 2020 with Mize and Manning likely being the first two up. Both logged 15+ starts at the Double-A level and will likely begin 2020 at Triple-A if there is a minor league season. If there’s no season, both are prime candidates to benefit from expanded MLB rosters and get an extended run in the Tigers rotation.
For fantasy purposes, I lean slightly to Manning over Mize due to the higher strikeout potential, but each should be considered top-50 or better fantasy starters once up. While ranking behind Manning and Mize in my prospect rankings, Skubal isn’t that far off in terms of talent and proximity to the Majors. The high-octane southpaw had a tremendous 2019 season, basically striking out anyone in his path and finishing with nine starts in the Double-A Eastern League. While it might not be quite as early, Skubal should be up later in the 2020 season as well and should provide big-time strikeout numbers at the very least.
As for the offensive talent in this system, the options are much less intriguing. Willi Castro made his Major League debut in 2019 but projects better as a second-division regular or backup than he does a fantasy asset. If he gets enough playing time, Castro could provide a decent enough batting average and a touch of speed as well for owners in AL-Only leagues. However, he’s not a recommended mixed-league option.
The same can be said for Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes as well. Paredes has flashed an above-average hit tool and raw power, but I’m not sure he’s more than a .280/20 type of hitter at peak. He’s my favorite of this trio for offensive fantasy value in 2020, but I’m not looking at him in anything less than a 15-team mixer. Ditto for Cameron, who has flashed plus speed, but is far from efficient on the bases and is merely a .260/10 threat at the plate.
Kansas City Royals
In a normal season, I wouldn’t anticipate any of these prospects making a big impact at the Major League season. But as we all know, the 2020 season will be anything but normal. At the plate, Khalil Lee is still a work in progress, but his speed has turned into a weapon now that he’s been more aggressive and smarter on the basepaths. Even if he is a below-average performer in the AVG and power departments to start, he has the potential to provide cheap speed in fantasy once he’s up.
As for the pitchers, Kansas City has a quartet of advanced college arms that could all receive time at the Major League level in 2020. For dynasty, Daniel Lynch is my favorite arm here, but for 2020 re-draft leagues, Brady Singer should be the first one contributing in Kansas City. The former Florida Gators ace has #3 starter upside with a plus fastball/slider combination. Kowar, Singer’s former teammate at Florida, would likely be the next man up as he’s the only other one here with Double-A experience. Neither Lynch or Bubic have pitched above the Class-A Advanced Carolina League. For fantasy, both Singer and Kowar would warrant mixed-league attention once they’re up. Lynch and Bubic would as well if they make it that far in 2020.
I’d like to say that one of the above trio will have fantasy value this season, but I just don’t see it. Both Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are coming off down 2019 seasons by their standards and neither are exactly knocking down the door to Minnesota. If there’s enough of a minor league season, MAYBE they contribute later in the season. Both could also be added to the Major League roster in bench roles if there’s no minor league season the Major League rosters get expanded a bit. Still, Minnesota has a pretty loaded lineup as is with no real weak spots top to bottom so it would likely take an injury for any of Lewis, Kirilloff, or Rooker to break through in 2020.
Forrest Whitley (SP), Jose Urquidy (SP), and Abraham Toro (3B/SS)
This is an interesting trio for me in fantasy. One is a highly-touted prospect that actually might be underrated at this point, and the other two have seen their fantasy stock rise over the last year to the point where I strongly believe each is overrated for 2020 and beyond. That’s not me saying that Jose Urquidy and Abraham Toro aren’t solid prospects, because they most certainly are. But neither has intriguing upside for fantasy and both project as low-end options at best for me.
Toro is a 50-hit, 50-power, 45-speed infielder with no clear spot to playing time of the left side of Houston’s infield with Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa manning third and short. Yes, Correa is a walking IL stint waiting to happen, I get it. But even then, I don’t envision Toro bursting onto the fantasy scene due to his average-at-best offensive skillset. Sure, maybe he’s a .270/20/10 type down the road, but that’s likely his ultimate offensive ceiling and one that probably won’t get reached. Basically, he’s decent, but not anyone I’d target in standard mixed leagues, even with a full-time gig.
As for Urquidy, he screams #4 starter to me. His changeup is easily a plus offering and the command and control he’s shown can also be considered plus or close to it, but the rest of Urquidy’s arsenal isn’t anything to write home about. His fastball sits around 93 with some movement, but Urquidy has struggled to develop either his slider or curveball into a reliable weapon. Should Urquidy be drafted in deeper mixed leagues? Yes, he should. He’ll be in Houston’s rotation to start the season after all. Just don’t go overboard here.
Speaking of going overboard, I’ve seen many people doing just that when discussing Whitley’s future value. Not in a good way either. Yes, his 2019 season was a disaster from start to finish, but Whitley wasn’t 100% healthy and was dealing with Houston trying to change his mechanics a bit. I’m urging all of you to close your eyes and clear your mind of all the bad things that happened during Whitley’s 2019 campaign. Erase all the home runs he allowed, the ridiculously high walk rate, and the bloated ratios. This is still one of the best pitching prospects in baseball with the potential for four above-average or better offerings.
With that said, Whitley is one prospect that I’ve said over and over again wasn’t going to be up until at least two months into the season. He needs more time in the minors to regain his footing and return to the Whitley we all knew and fell in love with as a pitching prospect before 2019. With this shortened season, I’m not expecting Whitley to make any substantial fantasy impact, unfortunately. He’s best left on the waiver wire in all leagues.
Los Angeles Angels
Following a subpar showing at Triple-A last season, Jo Adell was one that would benefit from additional seasoning at the level before joining the Angels outfield. That might not exactly be what people that drafted him wanted to hear, but it’s the truth. Adell slashed a meager .264/.321/.355 in his 27 Triple-A games with a big fat goose egg in the home run column. There’s massive upside here with the ability to hit .280-.290 with 40 homers and 15-20 steals at peak, but Adell isn’t a finished product quite yet and likely won’t be another prospect to tear the cover off the ball initially. But with his immense offensive talent, it wouldn’t shock me either.
Not too far behind him is one of the most underrated outfield prospects in my top-100, Brandon Marsh. While he hasn’t dazzled statistically yet, Marsh is a highly-talented outfielder with the potential to develop into a 55-hit, 55-power, 60-speed player down the road. When watching him live out in the Arizona Fall League back in October, Marsh impressed me at the plate and in the outfield with his strong arm. Hard contact was a routine occurrence for him. After spending most of 2019 at Double-A, Marsh isn’t too far off from contributing in Los Angeles or Arizona or wherever the Major League season will be played this year.
As with Detroit above, Oakland also has plenty of prospects set to contribute this season, headlined by a pair of sultry southpaws. Jesus Luzardo is arguably the best pitching prospect in the game not named MacKenzie Gore. He’s also the odds on favorite to be the top rookie pitcher of 2020 and is being drafted as such with an ADP inside the top-100 in Fantrax leagues. That’s crazy to me.
Sure, we had some rookie hurlers excel recently with Chris Paddack and Zac Gallen, but they’re more of an anomaly than an expectation. Most rookie arms take time to get acclimated to the Major League level before they blossom into the stars they have the potential of becoming. While I do believe Luzardo has the combination of stuff and command produce right away, I’d be lying to you all if I thought using a top-100 pick on him was risky as bleep.
Puk, on the other hand, has a more stomachable ADP outside the top-200. That’s a much better value 130 picks later. While I’ve been the low-man on Puk for the most part, there’s no denying his electric stuff and sky-high strikeout upside. It’s the command and control that has held me back a bit. Comps are something I usually struggle with, but the name Robbie Ray keeps flashing in my mind when it comes to Puk. Someone that can provide a ton of strikeouts, especially since he’ll be in Oakland’s rotation to start the season, but likely with some higher ratios. But hey, even a 4.00/1.40 line can return value at Puk’s ADP when it comes with an elite strikeout rate.
Out of the trio of hitters I listed, Sean Murphy and Jorge Mateo are two of my favorites to provide sneaky late-round value in deeper mixed leagues. Murphy is a plus defender, and due to that fact, will likely have a longer leash than most rookie catchers. He can also hit a bit too with at least an average hit tool and power. The upside might not be more than .275/15 but that could make Murphy a borderline top-10 catcher in fantasy. With Mateo, it’s all about the speed. He’s a legit double-plus runner and that speed should be an asset in fantasy if he’s given a chance to run (pun intended) with the second base gig here in 2020. Mateo’s offensive tools lag behind but he shouldn’t be a detriment in the AVG and HR categories.
If you came here looking for me to gush some more about Jarred Kelenic, I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed. He’s still the greatest thing since sliced bread but with a shortened season, I’m very much doubting that we see an extended Kelenic stint in Seattle in 2020. Is there zero chance he gets called up? No, I won’t go that far. However, with all the outfield options Seattle already has and the fact that they’re likely not a contender in 2020 makes me think they’re going to let Kelenic dominate in the minors this season and then come up early in 2021. Julio Rodriguez is even further away so don’t expect him either.
While the dynamic duo might not become fantasy stars this season, two other Seattle outfielders have the chance to provide late-round value, one due to his power, the other due to his speed. Kyle Lewis has endured a very tumultuous professional career since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft, including suffering a devastating knee injury in 2017. He might not be a middle of the order force in the making, but Lewis fits the profile of a slugging corner outfielder that slots in the 5/6 slots in the order with .250-.260/25 potential.
On the opposite end of the fantasy spectrum, Jake Fraley combines a sneaky-good hit/speed profile and has added 15-homer pop to his skill set as well over the last year or two as well. With it sounding like Dee Gordon will be used in more of a backup/utility role this season, both Fraley and Lewis are penciled in to start in the outfield corners for Seattle this season and have the potential to return some late-round fantasy value.
Moving into the infield, Evan White is someone I targeted frequently at the end of fantasy drafts as a bench/CI bat. I’ve often comped White to a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt for his ability to hit for average, power, and even chip in 5-10 steals annually as well from the first base position. His numbers in the Double-A Texas League last season were impressive when you factor him his home ballpark is the offense-stimying Dickey-Stephens Park which is arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in the minors. Even hitting in that environment for half his games, White posted a .293/.350/.488 slash line with 18 home runs in 92 games. Whenever the season starts, White will likely be manning first base in Seattle after signing a contract extension in the offseason.
When it comes to arms, the immediate options are less exciting. However, those of you in AL-Only leagues or deeper mixed leagues should keep an eye on Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn as both could begin the 2020 season in the Seattle rotation (Sheffield) or be up very early in the season (Dunn). Neither possesses big-time upside to make an impact in standard mixed leagues though.
But you know which Seattle prospect arm does have that type of mixed league upside? Logan Freaking Gilbert. And yes, I’m sure that’s his actual middle name. With a dynamic four-pitch arsenal where three (Fastball, slider, and change) will flash plus in any given start, Gilbert has blossomed into one of the 10-15 best pitching prospects in baseball with the upside of a high-end #2 starter. It sounded like he was even being considered for a rotation spot out of spring training too, which shows that the Mariners deem him close to being ready. If you have deeper benches, Gilbert is a great stash so you don’t have to fight your league for him on the waiver wire when he gets called up.
Nick Solak (2B/3B/OF)
The only prospect that I expect to make an impact in Texas this season is the criminally underrated Nick Solak. While he doesn’t have any standout plus tools, one could say that Solak is above-average tools across the board offensively and his performance as a professional has done nothing to combat that notion. In his three full years as a pro, Solak has never had an average below .282, OBP below .362, or slugging below .450 while flashing both 20-plus homer pop and 15-20 steal speed.
The delayed start to the season has actually hurt Solak’s value a bit. He was slated to start in left field after Willie Calhoun went on the IL with a broken jaw, but now Calhoun should be ready for the start of the season, whenever that is. Calhoun’s return moves Solak back into a utility role, however, I still expect Solak to play close to every day. He can play second, third, and in the outfield corners and it’s not like Texas has studs at their infield corners with Ronald Guzman and the aging Todd Frazier. Don’t look past Solak this season.
Media Credit: Baseball-Reference, MLB Pipeline, Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire
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