Prospects to Target (Or Not) In A Shortened Season – National 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. We still don’t know exactly what the season will look like, how many games 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.
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.
After tackling the American League a few days ago, we shift over to the National League today.
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National League Prospects To Target (Or Not) In A Shortened Season
That’s an impressive list of prospects, isn’t it? Unfortunately, none of them have a clear path to playing time outside of the quartet of arms pitching out of the bullpen. Let’s take a look at the current state of the Atlanta outfield and rotation.
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||Mike Soroka|
|Marcell Ozuna||Max Fried|
|Nick Markakis||Mike Foltynewicz|
|Ender Inciarte||Cole Hamels|
|Adam Duvall||Felix Hernandez|
Both areas are set. Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez might be in the twilight of their illustrious careers, but this is a duo that has combined for 839 starts, 332 wins, and over 5,000 innings at the Major league level. Hamels has shown recently that there’s still some gas left in the tank and I wouldn’t bet against Hernandez bouncing back to decent territory in 2020. But as much as I love King Felix, he does have an ERA over five in each of the last two seasons and hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2015. It’d be risky to bet on him making every start in 2020, even in a shortened season.
If Hernandez falters or there’s an injury to any of the current starting contingent, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright are the next two in line and are also the best two pitching prospects in this system. Longterm, I give the slight edge to Anderson, but Wright is a little further along in his development. Wright made seven appearances (four starts) with the Braves last season compared to Anderson’s five starts at the Triple-A level. Yes, Wright got roughed up a bit in his time with Atlanta last season, but this is a high-upside arm with four Major League average or better pitches with two grading as plus (Fastball/Slider) and the curveball flashing 55/60 grade as well.
Both Wright and Anderson project as #2 starters in my eyes, but each have spotty command at present that could limit their short-term value. In my opinion, the pecking order for these prospect arms this season is Wright, Anderson, and then Wilson. I included Davidson and Muller to this list as well but the stars would really have to align for those two to make a fantasy impact this season. Both Wright and Anderson would be immediate fantasy targets once they enter the rotation.
All of that was a long way of saying that I’m not going to be targeting any of these guys until a definitive spot opens up in the outfield or rotation. If that happens, I’m the highest on Waters and Anderson from these two groups. With that said, I can easily envision Pache getting the first shot due to his defensive prowess. If it is Pache, his name alone will likely cause somewhat of a frenzy on the waiver wire and in weekly FAAB bids. That frenzy will likely drive the cost to acquire him to the point where it doesn’t make sense to pursue his services. Remember, he’s still very far from a finished product offensively and on the bases.
The Miami Marlins have a beautiful combination of a lackluster Major League roster and talented prospects ready to step in this season. The #1 prospect I would target out of the group above is Monte Harrison. The best way I can describe Harrison for fantasy is a poor man’s Luis Robert. Both have a tasty power/speed blend with questions about their approach and how much average they’ll ultimately hit for. Harrison’s power/speed upside isn’t quite at robust as Robert’s is, but his above-average to plus power and plus speed could have him playing at a 20/25 pace. Just don’t expect him to hit over .240-.250 or so. After playing all but two of his injury-shortened 58-game season at Triple-A last season, Harrison isn’t far off from helping out in Miami’s outfield. Watch out Lewis Brinson.
Next up in my Marlins confidence meter is Lewin Diaz. After a horrid 2018 season, Diaz bounced back in 2019 with a .270/.321/.531 slash line and 27 homers in 121 games. I’d put his ceiling as a second-division starter, but that’s exactly what Miami is at the moment. When/if Jesus Aguilar falters, Diaz should have a chance to step in and possesses .260/25 upside at the dish.
But what about the two with the highest offensive upside? Listen, I’d love to say that Jazz Chisholm and Jesus Sanchez are going to burst onto the scene and into our fantasy lineups, but I just don’t envision that happening in 2020. While Chisholm put up a 21/16 line in just 112 games last season, that came with a .220 average and 32.1% strikeout rate. He’ll likely get a chance, but there are still a ton of holes in his swing that Major League pitchers will expose. As for Sanchez, he’s a physical specimen with an intriguing offensive skill set but there’s still a big element of rawness to him despite making it to Triple-A last season. We very well could be looking at a star outfielder down the road, but that doesn’t appear to be something that’s imminent.
In the rotation, Miami might not boast any ace-caliber arms, or even close to it, but their current 1-5 isn’t exactly a disaster either. Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara are intriguing names for fantasy with top-50 potential and both Jordan Yamamoto and Pablo Lopez have shown they could be serviceable starters as well. The one weak link here is Jose Urena. He’s currently slated to begin in the rotation but that leash can’t be a long one. Assuming Urena doesn’t magically transform into a better pitcher, his spot in the rotation will likely vanish once Miami deems Sixto Sanchez ready.
Sanchez has excelled at nearly every level with plus command and control of a dynamic three-pitch arsenal. However, despite all of that, he’s yet to exceed a strikeout per inning at any level, regularly sitting in the 8.0-8.7 range. Sixto’s combination of stuff, command, and polish gives him a fairly high floor to pair with an equally as high ceiling. When Sixto gets the call, don’t hesitate to push a lot of chips in to acquire him in fantasy leagues. Sanchez has the potential to be a top-40 fantasy starter once up.
New York Mets
I’ll keep this section brief. This Mets farm system is one of the bottom-10 systems in baseball and none of their top talent is close to being Major League ready. Andres Gimenez is closest for position prospects but he’s coming off a down 2019 season in the Double-A Eastern League and didn’t impress me at all in my live looks this past summer. Even if he does somehow make it to Queens in 2020, don’t expect a big fantasy impact. The same goes for David Peterson and Walter Lockett. Both are projected to log some innings for the Mets this season but neither have any fantasy value outside of streamers in deep NL-Only leagues.
The duo of Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard have been two of the biggest rising prospects over the last year. Both enjoyed strong 2019 campaigns that carried them into the upper levels of the Philadelphia system. Full season or not, Bohm and Howard are knocking on the door to Philly. So how about we let them in, feed them some cheesesteak and welcome them onto our fantasy teams with open arms.
Bohm, the #3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, is the top third base prospect in baseball (Sorry Gorman, I still love you), and a middle of the order force in the making. He might not have 40-homer upside, but Bohm is a plus hitter with plus power capable of hitting .300 annually while flirting with 30 homers. There’s no clear path to playing time at the moment, but there are several scenarios that could get Bohm into the Phillies lineup at one of the corner infield positions. And if Philly really wants to get his bat into the lineup, they could always move Rhys Hoskins back to left and slide Andrew McCutchen over to center. Long story short, Bohm is going to be in that lineup at some point and you’re going to want him on your fantasy teams when that happens.
That same sentiment rings true for Spencer Howard. The Phillies have a nice 1-2-3 in the rotation of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta, but outside of them, there are no sure bets. Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and company have all had their brief stretches where they looked like Major League rotation staples, but brief is the keyword there. This trio isn’t holding back Mr. Howard when he’s deemed ready, which shouldn’t be too far off.
Howard broke out in a big way in 2019 with a 2.03 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 11.9 K/9 across 15 starts and continued that success out in the Arizona Fall League. With three of his four pitches either grading at or flashing plus, Howard has big-time upside now that his command has improved. The upside here is a borderline ace and a top-25 fantasy starter. You don’t need me to tell you that he should be highly coveted in fantasy leagues once he’s up.
Carter Kieboom (INF) and Luis Garcia (2B/SS)
Has prospect fatigue set in for Carter Kieboom? I sure hope not after his very abbreviated stint with the Nationals last season. Sure, that stint didn’t go overly well with only five hits in 39 at-bats, but two of those five hits did leave the park. Kieboom, a .287 minor league hitter, has displayed an above-average hit tool and similar power throughout his minor league career with a knack for barreling pitches up. I’m not sure we see him reach his 25-homer potential right away due a higher groundball rate, but Kieboom should be able to produce at a 15-20 homer pace while hitting for a respectable average and even adding in a handful of steals.
That’s not a sexy fantasy option for the 2020 season, but it’s a nice upside play for your bench. All indications were that Kieboom was going to be manning the hot corner when the Nationals broke camp and that should still be the case whenever the season finally does get going.
If we see any Nationals prospect join him in Washington, it will likely be Luis Garcia. While Garcia is coming off a down 2019 season, we need to remember that he was one of the youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League which is usually a tough league to hit in. His upside isn’t overly high, but Garcia would have some intrigue in deeper leagues if he gets the call to play regularly in Washington later in the season.
While I listed three names above, the only one I envision making a fantasy impact for the Cubs this season is Nico Hoerner. When it comes to prospects, Hoerner’s skill set is far from one that we covet highly in fantasy circles. He’s more of the safer floor type than one that’s going to help you win fantasy leagues. With Hoerner, there’s minimal power upside and he doesn’t impact the ball a ton, but the contact skills and speed are both above-average. He’s also been incredibly stingy when it comes to striking out, posting a 9.6% strikeout rate in the minors and 9.5% during his collegiate career at Stanford.
The signing of Jason Kipnis clouds Hoerner’s playing time situation, but Kipnis has struggled both with production and staying on the field over the last few seasons. With Kipnis in town, I wouldn’t be looking at Hoerner initially, but keep him on your radar.
Tyler Stephenson (C)
While the Reds have made some nice additions at the Major League level like Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, their farm system has been trending down for the last few years. For 2020 purposes, the only prospect I see having any fantasy impact is backstop Tyler Stephenson. Even that is likely going to be limited to NL-Only or 2-catcher leagues and will likely take an injury or poor performance from one of Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali, or Kyle Farmer. If Stephenson does happen into regular at-bats, he has enough contact skills and power to warrant consideration in the formats I mentioned previously.
(Even Worse-Sounding Crickets)
Remember what I said about the Mets above? Take that and multiply it by the biggest number you can think of for the Brew Crew. This Milwaukee system is the worst system in baseball as far as I’m concerned. Sure, we might see Corey Ray and a handful of low-upside pitchers like Zack Brown, Trey Supak, and Devin Williams get time in Milwaukee this season, but I’m not looking at any of them in for fantasy purposes. Let’s move on.
Oh goody, I get to talk about Jared Oliva more than I already have. After a second straight season exceeding a .270 AVG, .350 OBP, and 30 steals, Oliva tore up the Arizona Fall League and finds himself on the cusp of his Major League debut. The upside with Oliva isn’t exactly off the charts due to below-average power, but the contact skills and approach are solid to pair with plus speed. Centerfield is his for the taking in 2020 and that speed should provide value in fantasy leagues. Longterm, Oliva projects as a .270/10/30 type.
When it comes to Ke’Bryan Hayes, most of you already know my thoughts on him from a fantasy perspective. His all-around skill-set should lead to a long Major League career, but a .280/15/15 profile isn’t exactly sexy for fantasy. Could he provide some value once up? Absolutely, just not the type of value you break the bank for in FAAB or use a high waiver priority on.
On the most recent episode of the Five-Tool Fantasy Baseball Podcast, my two co-hosts and myself each picked a pitcher outside our consensus top-50 dynasty rankings that we thought would break out over the next year. Mitch Keller was my selection. While I’ve been hesitant to rank Keller highly in my prospect rankings due to his fringe at best changeup, there’s still a lot to like here.
Keller boasts two distinct breaking balls that both can be plus offerings in any given start and sits in the mid-90’s with his fastball. Both his curve and slider faired well in his 11-start Major League debut last season, but the fastball got hit hard due to spotty command. But was he as bad as his 7.13 ERA would indicate? Absolutely not. Not even freaking close. Keller was arguably the unluckiest pitcher in 2019 with at least 40 innings. His .475 BABIP was highest by a mile (61 points) and he had one of the lowest strand rates in baseball. All signs are pointing to a big bounceback from Keller this season with the potential to finish as a top-40 fantasy starter.
St. Louis Cardinals
Dylan Carlson (OF)
In 2019, Dylan Carlson could do no wrong. The Cardinals top prospect slashed .292/.372/.542 with 26 home runs, 62 total extra-base hits, and 20 steals in 126 games while reaching Triple-A near the end of the season. St. Louis might already have a crowded outfield, but no one in the current contingent is going to hold Carlson back from a starting gig once he’s ready. And that shouldn’t be too far into thw 2020 season either. Carlson has the tools to hit for a high average north of .275 while adding 25-30 home runs and double-digit steals annually. When you combine the upside and proximity to regular Major League at-bats, Carlson is one of the top handful of fantasy rookies for the 2020 season. The only prospects I would rank ahead of him for 2020 value are Luis Robert and Gavin Lux.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) February 19, 2020
Well, this is an interesting hodgepodge of prospects, isn’t it? We have a couple of power bats, a 20/20 caliber catcher (for now), and two pitchers trending in opposite directions. The two names here that I think will have the most value for 2020 are Kevin Cron and Kevin Ginkel. It’s a good time to be named Kevin I guess.
Cron was one of the top hitters in the minors last season annihilating the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .331/.449/.777 slash line and 38 home runs in only 82 games. Yes, it was the PCL, but damn those are impressive numbers. Despite his offensive dominance, Cron has yet to establish footing at the Major League level. At 27, there’s still some discussion if he’s a Quad-A type or a middle of the order force. Does he have the power to hit in the middle of the order? Yes. However, there are still many questions about his ability to handle Major League pitching to fully unlock that power. He wasn’t able to in 2019, but don’t let that scare you off from giving him another shot if playing time opens up. This COULD be an impact bat.
The other Kevin has immediate value in leagues that have holds as a category. Ginkel was one of the top relievers in baseball down the stretch last season following his August 5th debut. Armed with one of the most lethal sliders in the game, Ginkel should pitch near the back of the Arizona bullpen in 2020 with the chance to vulture a few saves as well.
As for Seth Beer and Daulton Varsho, each has the skills to make an impact once up, but will need a little help to make that happen. Beer is a DH disguised as a corner outfielder/first baseman hybrid while Varsho is an outfielder disguised as a catcher. The Arizona lineup has the potential to be a sneaky-good offense in 2020 and doesn’t have any noticeable holes top to bottom. If playing time does open up, each would be worth owning due to their offensive upside. Beer projects as a .275+/25 hitter and Varsho as a .280/20/20 threat that should have catcher eligibility in fantasy at least through the 2020 season.
In a perfect world, the Colorado Rockies wouldn’t despise prospects and players like Brendan Rodgers, Sam Hilliard, and my boy Garrett Hampson would have starting roles this season. But as we all know too well right now with a global pandemic and big ass murder hornets invading the United States, we’re living in a world far from perfect. Hampson is still trying to break through into a full-time gig and now Rodgers and Hilliard are trying to join this cluster of a party as well.
While Rodgers appears to be 76th on the middle infield depth chart (only slightly exaggerating), Hilliard actually has a realistic chance of starting in left field alongside Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl when the 2020 season kicks off. There are still questions surrounding his overall hit tool and his swing and miss tendencies, but Coors has a way of taking .240-.250 hitters and turning them into .270-.280 hitters. People always point to Coors Field being a big boon to a player’s power, but it’s just as much of a cheat code for a player’s batting average as well, maybe even more so. Hilliard does possess the contact skills to hit .250 or so with a tasty power-speed blend that should look mighty fine at Coors Field or wherever Colorado is playing their games this season.
Everyone talks about Luis Robert, Gavin Lux, and Jesus Luzardo as the top fantasy rookies this season, but Hilliard is a dark horse “top fantasy rookie” candidate due to that power/speed blend and can be had for cheap or even free in fantasy leagues right now. Just keep your fingers crossed that the Rockies don’t go full Rockies and leave Hilliard on the bench or in the minors.
With Rodgers, we just have to play the waiting game. The high-upside middle infielder is behind Trevor Story, Ryan McMahon, and Hampson on the middle infield depth chart so he’s going to need some help before we can insert his name into the starting lineup of our fantasy squads. Some day.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Some have Gavin Lux as the top fantasy rookie for 2020. While Luis Robert is my #1 rookie, it’s understandable why some have Lux. Without question, Lux is the safer play with a higher floor due to his borderline double-plus hit tool with plus power and above-average speed. Lux will also play a more offensive needy position at the keystone. There are only a few prospects that I could see flirting with a .300 average in the Majors this season and Lux is definitely one of them. Add in a potential 20/10 power/speed pace and you have yourself a well-rounded fantasy asset with the upside for much more.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) August 3, 2019
If you believe in depth charts, then Dustin May’s fantasy outlook in 2020 is murky. The big right-hander with the fiery red hair and fire arsenal impressed down the stretch with the Dodgers last season (3.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 1.3 BB/9, 8.3 K/9) but finds himself as the odd man out of a talented rotation in Los Angeles. With that said, outside of Walker Buehler, none of the projected rotation has been a beacon of durability over the years, especially Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Julio Urias. Not to mention David Price is no lock to start every game anymore. Ross Stripling is in the picture as well, but the Dodgers seem to love him in his current swing role. If (when) a rotation spot opens up in Los Angeles, May should step in and has top-30 fantasy starter potential this season if that happens.
Two others that at least have a sliver of hope are Edwin Rios and Brusdar Graterol. However, Rios would need a miracle to receive every day playing time and Graterol will almost surely pitch out of the pen.
San Diego Padres
Before the season was delayed, there was growing optimism that MacKenzie Gore was going to join the Padres rotation early in the season with Luis Patino not too far behind him. That hasn’t necessarily changed, but a lot will depend on if San Diego is in playoff contention. They’ve shown they aren’t afraid of promoting aggressively in the right situations and both Gore and Patino could benefit from that strategy in 2020. You don’t need me to tell you that both arms are high-profile targets once they come up this season. Gore is the best pitching prospect in the game and Patino isn’t far behind.
Don’t sleep on Jake Cronenworth or Edward Olivares either. A two-way prospect, Cronenworth has shown a good feel for hitting with above-average speed and double-digit pop. There’s no opening for him right now, but if one presents itself, Cronenworth could provide some sneaky fantasy value. Olivares could provide even more value. He often gets overlooked due to all the big names in this system, but the 24-year-old outfielder projects as a 50-hit, 50-power, 60-speed player that could put up some .275/15/30 seasons down the road. Coming off a down season with many names ahead of him on the depth chart, Taylor Trammell is a prospect I don’t envision having any fantasy value until sometime in 2021.
San Francisco Giants
Had it not been for two separate HBPs/broken bones in his hand, Joey Bart would be about ready to break down the door to San Francisco with a damn battering ram. His bat can also be considered a battering ram. Even with the two hand injuries (one in the AFL), Bart still received around a month of time at the Double-A level where he hit .316 with four homers in 22 games. Buster Posey is aging quicker than milk outside in Death Valley and the current backup is NRI Rob Brantly. Once Bart is ready to step in, Posey can move over to first base and push Brandon Belt to the outfield.
While rookie catchers are usually treacherous territory, if any catching prospect can make a significant fantasy impact this season, it’s going to be Bart. Outside of Adley Rutschman, no catching prospect has a higher offensive ceiling than Bart who I project as a 50-hit, 65-power backstop capable of hitting around .270 with 30-homers annually, even playing just 120 or so games as a starting catcher. Don’t be surprised if he has a Will Smith type of impact this season.
Much less exciting, but still noteworthy is the duo of Mauricio Dubon and Jaylin Davis, both of whom made their Major League debuts in 2019. In case you hadn’t noticed, the Giants aren’t running out a star-studded lineup this season which gives both Dubon and Davis a chance to play regularly. Davis has enticing power, but isn’t a projected starter at the moment and is more of a wait and see target in deeper leagues. Dubon on the other hand, is penciled in to start at 2nd base and has enough power and speed to make an immediate impact in deeper mixed leagues. Don’t acquire him thinking he can replicate his 2019 minor league numbers (.302/20/10), but a 10-homer, 15-steal pace with a respectable batting average is certainly possible for Dubon.
Media Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire, Lance Brozdowski, Mark Saxon
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