My last fantasy team preview went live on May 1, 2020. What a simpler time! Back then we were debating the new cross-league divisions they were thinking of creating. I was a rather stupidly optimistic man who predicted we’d get a return to baseball on July 4th. Now with 10 baseball camps claiming they’ve had someone come down with the ‘VID we’ll be lucky if we even see the Long Island Ducks take on the Morristown Mud Rats. Now be honest — how many of you have already googled “NPB fantasy baseball leagues” and searched Amazon for “conversational Japanese for baseball fans?” I know it’s not just me. I’ve already got my first round draft pick lined up for my yakyu chimu: the league’s best ni-rui shu Tetsuto Yamada! He hits lots of hon-rui da and gets tons of tourui.
Come on Rob SaidFred — let’s get this league back up and running!
As with all of fantasy team preview articles this year I’m not talking about the guys you know to draft. A healthy Joey Gallo is a lock for 45 HRs. Elvis Andrus will still be one of the deepest 15/15 threats in the league. Shin-Soo Choo will continue to be the Korean God of walks until he’s 64. Instead, I like to look deeper at the teams to help you find value you might not have heard of yet — or someone who has been slipping in drafts.
“No prospects? You’re trash!” Nah anger management comment guy — The Itch is the resident prospect guru and here’s his top 10 Rangers prospects for 2020 fantasy baseball.
Nick Solak: Yes, technically Solak is #1 in the Itch’s prospect article, but he made his debut with the team last year so cut me some So-lack! At every minor league level Solak has been successful at putting the bat to the ball. His career minor league batting average is .294. His 33 game debut with the Rangers last season? He hit .293. “Empty batting average though?” You ask. “Nay,” says I. Last year between his 115 games in AAA and the 33 with the big club he hit 32 HRs and stole 7 bases. In 2018 with the Rays AA team he even stole 21 bases. If we actually get a shortened season I think the Rangers will take advantage of his positional flexibility. Last year across both levels he played games at 3B, 2B, LF, CF and RF. I think he’ll get most of his ABs at DH — but the stick so good he’ll force manager Chris Woodward to find a spot for him.
Ronald Guzman: Heading into last season I had this big 6’5” S.O.B. as a deep waiver wire sleeper. He hit a respectable 16 HRs for the Rangers in 2018 — albeit with a .235 AVG. (Although his .299 BABIP is telling me maybe it should’ve been a bit higher, especially when you look at his minor league — he hit .292 in 692 AAA ABs. he even hit .296 in 135 minor league ABs last season.) Call it a hunch, but I just think there is more power potential in his big frame and the average has potential to come up. What he’ll really need to do to take the next step is cut that 28+% K/rate. If he doesn’t there’s someone else I’m cyclopsing deep in the heart of Texas…
Greg Bird: “Let me get this straight — you’re a Yankee fan and you’re still holding out hope for Greg “F’n” Bird?” I wish I knew how to quit him. This is his last chance with me though! The promise of 18-22 HR power with a respectable average will only get you so far in my heart! Here’s the thing — he’s always had the potential. He was a .281 hitter across 7 minor league seasons and was on track to bring that to the Bronx in his first full season when injury after injury after injury seemed to derail his career. He’s healthy now, he only has Ronald Guzman in his way at first base for 2020, and I’m giving him one last chance.
Willie Calhoun: When Calhoun’s jaw produced a 103 mph exit velocity from a Julio Urias fastball in early March — his name turned into Thanos-dust from everyone’s sleeper lists. Here we are almost 4 months later and Calhoun is back to 100% and ready for baseball (you and me both, Willie!) Calhoun has always been a little man (5’8”) who has swung a big stick. He hit 27 HRs in 2016 in the Dodgers minor league system and followed it up with 31 in 2017. The knock on him was always that he wasn’t a good defender and he’d have to make it as a DH on an American League team. I’m not saying he’s an elite defender or anything — but in 71 games in left field for the Rangers last year he only made 1 error. He’s no Alex Gordon out there in left, but he’s done enough to delete the ‘bad fielder’ narrative that it was so easy to tag him with in the minors.
Jordan Lyles: Most of you won’t draft Jordan Lyles based on his 382 NFBC ADP. But you should add him to your watch list at the least. His 5.36 ERA with the Pirates last year doesn’t tell the whole story. Before the calendar flipped to July he actually had a 3.53 ERA with 71 K’s in 66+ innings. Over his next 4 starts he allowed 18 ERs in 16.1 IP. Then — after his trade to Milwaukee there was a return to league-average normalcy for Lyles. 11 starts, 3.09 ERA. Here’s the rub — the Rangers old stadium ‘Globe Life Park in Arlington’ was the second-best park for hitters in 2017, the best park for hitters in 2018 and again the second-best park for hitters in 2019. Slugger Joey Gallo came out and said “It’s playing big. It is definitely going to be a pitchers’ park.” Just like when I go out to a restaurant and don’t know what to order — I trust the big boys. This could help a guy like Lyles who had the 12th worst HR/9 among pitchers with at least 140 IP, and his FB% was 13th worst. Keeping a few of those long balls in the park will help you at the back end of your rotation.
Kolby Allard: Right now there isn’t a spot in the rotation for the former first-round pick Allard, but he’s someone to watch if any of the mid-30-year-old white dudes in the Rangers starting rotation get hurt. Allard is only 22, but already made his major league debut as a 20-year-old with the Braves. Allard was a top-prospect arm in the Braves system ranking as highest as 24th on Baseball Prospectus’s top-100 and it’s easy to see why. In 27 starts with the Braves AA affiliate he had a 3.18 ERA and in 19 AAA starts in 2018 he had a 2.72 ERA. Allard has never been a guy with overpowering strikeout stuff — in 2017 when he threw his highest inning total (150) his K/9 was only 7.7, but he’s good at keeping the ball on the ground (45% GB rate, 29.1% FB rate in 45.1 IP with the Rangers last year) and great at keeping the ball in the yard (0.60 HR/9.) There were some velocity concerns in his minor league career but his velocity in 2018 when he made his debut hovered in the upper 80’s, but last year he was averaging 92.5. I think that’s where he’ll stay.
Rafael Montero: Leclerc has the opportunity to collect most of the save opportunities for the Rangers, but his up and down 2019 leaves the closer gig a bit more up in the air. Enter Rafael Montero — failed SP prospect for the NY Mets. Honestly, the tag of “failed SP” means nothing if you can transform yourself a la Andrew Miller. If Montero can maintain his numbers from last year — the Rangers may have found themselves a huge bullpen bargain. Pitching mostly out of the 7th and 8th inning at the end of last season Montero put up fantastic numbers: 2.48 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9. While I’m actually pretty high on Leclerc for this year due to his 13.1 K/9, if he can’t get better control of his pitches (5.6 career BB/9) then he isn’t long for this role. Montero is the handcuff to watch if Leclerc falters, and in saves + holds leagues he could be a fantastic undrafted source of holds.