In the first two parts of this series, we covered the infielders that I’ll be relying on this fantasy season, starting with catchers and corner infielders in part one and looking at middle infielders in part two. While players like Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Tim Anderson provide a nice, stable foundation to build off of, you need more to field a top-notch offense in competitive formats. Safe, high floor players alone aren’t going to get the job done. It’s important to find some impact hitters that’ll make a real difference. That’s where the outfielders come into play. Not only does the outfield represent the largest player pool in fantasy baseball on the offensive side of things, but it is also the most demanding position in terms of starting lineup requirements (5 OF in both the online championship and draft champions NFBC formats). Outfielders are similar to middle infielders in that you can find anything you need here: power, speed, counting stats, and batting average. I’m looking for production in all of these categories, and since there are quite a few players to cover, let’s get started, shall we?

Please, blog, may I have some more?

In part one of this little mini series, we looked at all of the catchers and corner infielders that I’ll be relying on once the 2020 season gets underway. As much as I enjoy talking about Yadier Molina and Jose Abreu, those guys aren’t exactly dripping with excitement. They’re high floor foundation pieces who are useful fantasy assets, but aren’t the types of players who will carry a team to a fantasy championship. It’s like going to your local burger joint and ordering a plain cheeseburger – it’s not likely to disappoint, but it won’t be a particularly memorable meal either. Middle infielders and outfielders are the bacon, caramelized onions, and special sauce that can be added to that plain burger to make it exceptional. Sometimes, experimenting with exotic ingredients like spicy peppers can lead to indigestion, but it can also lead to a special, unique experience. And there’s plenty of spice to go around in these groups.

All of these ingredients are represented at second base, shortstop, and in the outfield. Power, speed, average, and counting stats – they can all be found in abundance here. The key is to determine who to target and when to target them. Today, I’ll be sharing the middle infielders that I targeted and ended up drafting across my five NFBC leagues for the 2020 season. I originally intended to cover outfielders as well, but since Magoobot’s self-editing mechanism malfunctioned years ago, there’s only room for the guys up the middle today. There’ll be a whole post dedicated to outfielders in part three.

Just like last week, I’ll be breaking things down by position, briefly discussing my pre-draft strategies followed by a quick analysis of each player that I ended up drafting. Both the 12 team NFBC Online Championship and 15 team NFBC Draft Champions formats require that you start 1 2B, 1 SS, and 1 MI at all times, so that’s something to keep in mind during this exercise. As a quick refresher, each player will be placed into one of the following four categories:

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Nostalgia can be a funny thing. In challenging times, especially, it can be nice to revisit things that you think back on fondly. It wraps you in a warm, comfy blanket of good memories and better times. Even now, as I’m writing this, I just put on a random 90s alternative rock/grunge playlist that I found on YouTube. I have some very nostalgic feelings about the music from that era. Alice in Chains? Yes please. Soundgarden? Mmm… so cozy. Better Than Ezra? Sure, why not. Underrated band. Tal Bachman? Ahhhh, that’s… wait, what? Joan Osborne? Brrr… it’s getting drafty in here. Savage Garden? Hey, where the hell did my blanket go? Time to pull a Randy Savage and drop the big elbow on this list. Magoo’s gettin’ angry!

Well, so much for my nostalgic musical trip. That brings us back to baseball. It’s really the ultimate source of nostalgia for me. Whether playing, watching, or getting hooked on the fantasy side of things, it’s been a constant in my life since I was about four years old. A nice, warm blanket that’s always at the ready. So to be sitting here in late April with no baseball in sight feels weird. Really weird. And while nobody really knows when or where or in what form our national pastime will return, I’m hopeful that it will at some point this year. But instead of focusing on what we can’t control, let’s focus on what we can control, shall we?

Which brings us to the topic at hand. We might not know when and where baseball will be played this season, but we can certainly choose who we want playing on our fantasy teams. With that in mind, I’ll be discussing all of the players who I’ve drafted in my fantasy baseball leagues in 2020. It might sound like a lot, but it’ll just be covering five leagues in total – four NFBC Online Championship leagues, and one NFBC Draft Champions league. For some perspective, the four OC leagues are 12 team mixed with weekly lineup locks, weekly pickups, and the following starting lineup requirements: 2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 1 3B, 1 MI, 1 CI, 5 OF, 1 Util, and 9 P. There is a 1000 innings pitched minimum, but no specific minimum or starting requirements for starting or relief pitchers. The Draft Champions is a 15 team mixed league format with the same starting lineup requirements as the OC format, except it’s a 50 round draft-and-hold with no in-season transactions. What you draft is what you’re stuck with until the end of the season. There is no trading and no injured list in both formats as well.

I’ll be breaking things down by position, briefly discussing my pre-draft strategies followed by a quick analysis of each player that I ended up pulling the trigger on. Since this article is already longer than a typical baby seal comment, I’ll just be covering catchers and corner infielders today, with middle infielders, outfielders, and pitchers soon to follow.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

This week’s most added player, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (52.6% owned; +34.6% over the past week), needs no introduction to those of you familiar with the prospecting circles. Well, I guess I should clarify and say prospect circles since we can leave the prospecting to his agent(s) and entourage. The bottom line is that Buxton has been widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) young talents in baseball for the last several years. While rising up the minor league ranks, he’s shown the abilities to hit for average and power, field his position well, consistently throw runners out when they attempt to take an extra base, and run really, really fast. That’s basically just a long-winded way of saying that he’s a five tool player. Unfortunately for Buxton and his fantasy owners, these tools haven’t led to much on-field production during his time in MLB thus far. At least early on, that is. From his MLB debut on June 14th of last season through August 5th of this season, Buxton managed just a .199/.248/.319 triple slash line through his first 109 MLB games (356 PA) with 3 homers and 11 steals along the way. His 34.8% K% over that span showed that the 22-year-old wasn’t quite able to adjust to big league pitching just yet. Since being sent down to the minors last month and reemerging in the majors on September 1st, Buxton has looked like a different player. In 10 games (40 PA), he’s produced a .405/.436/.919 line with 12 runs, 5 homers, and 13 RBI over that span. He’s managed to cut his K-rate down to 27.5% as well. A large part of this newfound success (especially the power) can most likely be attributed to a leg kick that he reintroduced into his plate approach after abandoning it last season. However, despite the recent surge in production, Buxton has actually been as undisciplined at the plate as ever, in some regards. His 41.7% O-Swing% and 17.3% SwStr% over the last 10 games are up significantly from his previous 31.6% and 14.2% marks in his MLB career. He’s clearly being much more aggressive at the plate during this recent stint, which is great when the ball is consistently flying out of the park, but could spell trouble when his 45.5% HR/FB and .476 BABIP come back down to Earth. Buxton reminds me quite a bit of another young, toolsy outfielder with a similar build, skillset, and approach by the name of B.J. (though you might know him as Melvin) Upton – fantastic speed, solid pop, and a few too many Ks. I’m referring to the Rays version of Upton, of course, who topped 30 steals five times (including 40+ three times) and smashed 20+ homers on three different occasions while in Tampa. His shaky plate discipline generally kept his batting average just south of .250, but his power/speed combination was very impressive. The back of Buxton’s baseball card could look very similar to that of the Tampa version of Upton over the next few years. Dynasty leaguers – giddy up! Oh yeah, he should be a solid asset in redraft leagues over the next few weeks too as pitchers attempt to adjust to Buxton’s new approach.

Now that that run-on paragraph is finished, here are a couple of quick takes on players who have been among the most added/dropped in fantasy leagues over the past week:

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta certainly has a lot of things going for him these days. He’s the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. He’s the ace on a team that’s the favorite to win the World Series which would end the longest championship drought in professional sports and cement his place in MLB history. He’s in tremendous physical shape and he’s not afraid to show it off. He’s won 16 games already this season, and his 2.84 ERA and 1.05 WHIP are once again among the best in the game. However, despite all of these great things that Arrieta has working in his favor, he’s actually been in somewhat of a slump recently. Over his last twelve starts, Arrieta is just 5-4 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. These are certainly not terrible results, but it almost feels like blind luck when he delivers the finishing blow to his opponents these days. So what’s going on here? Is Arrieta’s slide just the result of bad luck in a relatively small sample size or something more concerning?

Let’s take a look at Arrieta’s profile to determine if his recent production is just a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come. Here are a few thoughts and observations:

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Can you believe it’s September already? With just under four weeks to go until the end of the MLB regular season, it’s time to push your chips all-in. Outside of the elite players, everyone is expendable in redraft leagues from this point on. If you want to make that final surge up the standings before it’s too late, production trumps reputation. Nursing a sore wrist? Thanks for the memories, Marcell Ozuna. Looking for more than a .220 average with mediocre counting stats out of your #5 outfielder? See you later, Josh Reddick. Need some ratio relief down the stretch? Adios, Marco Estrada. The problem is that trade deadlines have passed and the waiver wire is looking pretty thin at this point of the season. Who are you going to replace these players with? Fortunately, the recent roster expansion has allowed for a fresh influx of rookie talent at this key time in the fantasy season. The youngsters who were held down in the minors earlier this summer for some extra seasoning (or to delay their arbitration clocks) are being called up to get a taste of the big leagues. This week’s most added player, Boston Red Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada (39.6% owned; +33.3% over the past week), is a prime example of the upsidey September call-up. Moncada is about as toolsy as it gets – plus-plus speed (94 steals over the last year and a half in the minors), above average power (.254 ISO in Triple-A), and a patient approach at the plate (double digit walk rates at every level) – which has made him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His plus throwing arm has allowed the Sox to move him over to third base from his natural position of second base as well. The one caveat is that he strikes out. A lot. He’s already whiffed six times in his first fourteen MLB at-bats and his 30.9% K% in 207 Double-A plate appearances this season is a concern. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit three homers and stole half a dozen bases over the season’s final month. Moncada is definitely worth adding for his upside alone.

Here are a couple of other interesting adds/drops in fantasy baseball over the past week:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

2015 was a golden year for rookies. Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Noah Syndergaard, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Lance McCullers, Roberto Osuna, and many other youngsters made a huge impact for their respective teams during their first run through the big leagues. This season’s rookie crop hasn’t been quite as impressive as that historically productive group, but it’s been a pretty strong one as well. Corey Seager (technically in his rookie season), Trevor Story, Trea Turner, David Dahl, Jon Gray, and Michael Fulmer are some of the players who have been outstanding in their first full MLB seasons. Perhaps the brightest prospect of them all, however, especially on the pitching side, is 20-year-old Dodgers phenom Julio Urias. He’s considered by many to be the best pitching prospect in baseball over the past several years, and it’s not difficult to see why. With plus velocity (his fourseam fastball can reach 96 mph at times) and a varied arsenal (fastball/slider/curve/change) that can generate swings and misses with regularity, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of if Urias will be successful, but when. Considering he was still a teenager for the bulk of his rookie season, it’s reasonable to question whether or not Urias is ready to contribute down the stretch for fantasy owners this season. What can be expected from him over the next month or so?

Let’s take a look at his profile to determine how the rookie has been performing during his first run in MLB. Here are a few thoughts and observations:

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Over the past week, the most added player in ESPN fantasy baseball leagues was… Gary Sanchez. Seriously? Is it that difficult to part with Matt Wieters at this point? Sanchez should be universally owned (and practically is by now) and I’ve discussed him ad nauseam in this space over the past few weeks, so we’ll move on to the next name on the most added list. Let’s see… Ivan Nova (30.2% owned; +20.5% over the past week)? Step on up! The new Pittsburgh Pirate acquisition has left the unfriendly pitching environment of Yankee Stadium behind and seems to be enjoying a career renaissance under the tutelage of renowned pitcher whisperer Ray Searage. The main differences in Nova under Searage’s watchful eyes are that he’s throwing more strikes and keeping the ball in the park more effectively. In 97.1 innings with the Yankees this season, Nova allowed 19 home runs (1.76 HR/9) and had a first-pitch strike percentage of 58.4%, leading to a 2.31 BB/9. In five starts (31.1 innings pitched) with the Pirates, he’s allowed just 3 home runs (0.86 HR/9) and improved his F-Strike% by 11% (to 69.4%) in the process, walking just one hitter (0.29 BB/9) along the way. Consequently, Nova’s 4.90 ERA and 1.36 WHIP as a Yankee have improved to 2.87 and 0.99 as a Pirate. Nova appears to be well on his way to joining the ranks of pitchers such as Edinson Volquez, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ whose careers were revitalized after suppling the teat of their new pitching daddy. If you need starting pitching help down the stretch, Nova is definitely worth a look.

Here are a couple of other interesting adds/drops in fantasy baseball over the past week:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Prior to the 2016 season, Brad Miller had been viewed as something of a tweener – an average defensive shortstop at best whose offensive potential never quite translated into consistent production at the MLB level. The Seattle Mariners finally grew tired of Miller’s inconsistency and lack of improvement and traded him away in a six player deal to the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. For the first few months of the season, Miller looked like the same player that he was during the majority of his stint in Seattle, producing a .241/.288/.459 batting line with 35 runs, 14 homers, 32 RBI, and 4 steals in the first half (312 plate appearances). Since the All-Star Break, Miller has looked like a completely different player, producing a .305/.385/.656 line with 24 runs, 11 homers, 30 RBI, and 2 steals in just 148 plate appearances. So what in the world is going on here? Has Miller finally reached his offensive potential or has it merely been a strong month and a half for him?

Let’s take a look at Miller’s profile to determine if his recent surge is just a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come. Here are a few thoughts and observations:

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Happy Tuesday, Razzballero! If you’re still checking in on the baseball side of things, it probably means that you’re still in contention in at least one of your fantasy leagues, so kudos to you for that. If you were able to win the race to the waiver wire and acquire this week’s most added player in ESPN leagues, New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (58.4% owned; +46.8% over the past week), you’re probably sitting pretty right now. Not too much has changed since I highlighted him in this very column last week, except that he’s gained catcher eligibility in more formats and he’s even more white hot now than he was just a short week ago. Since last Tuesday, Sanchez has 12 hits in 25 plate appearances including 6 homers and 9 RBI over that span. His weekly triple slash line is merely a ho-hum .545/.600/1.455 while his .909 ISO looks like something you’d find on an OPS leaderboard. He’s even tossed in a steal for good measure. His .385 batting average is currently being boosted by a .405 BABIP and his 50% HR/FB is likely to be cut in half (if not more) over the long-term, but Sanchez looks like a legit .280-.285 hitter with 25-30 homer power. Think Buster Posey with a slightly lower average but more power. If you managed to grab him, enjoy the ride (and hold on for dear life dynasty leaguers!).

Here are a couple of other interesting adds/drops in fantasy baseball over the past week:

Please, blog, may I have some more?