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.
Finally, each player will be placed into one of the following four categories:
The Studs: These guys are the cream of the crop at their positions. Elite talents with proven track records who project for more of the same in the near future.
Risky Business: Don’t worry, I’m not transitioning from a 90s music rant to an 80s movie one… yet. These are the high risk, high reward options. These guys have elite upside, but there’s at least one big red flag in their profile. Could provide high-end production at a bargain rate or leave a gaping hole on your (my) roster.
The Fallback Options: These are the players who you settle for if you miss on your primary targets. Could be boring vets, low ceiling youngsters, or just players who don’t elicit strong feelings one way or another.
The Lottery Tickets: These are the $1 scratch-offs that you play hoping for that $500 million jackpot. Cheap and dripping with upside. These are typically young, unproven players, but it could also be the profile of an injury-prone vet or someone who has struggled at the major league level, but has shown something special at some point in his career.
Without further ado, let’s start off strong, shall we?
Strategy: Psyche! Let’s get this one out of the way first. Due to the physically demanding nature of the position, catchers are typically the least durable and least productive of all the position players. The strategy here is simple – invest lightly in players who have double digit power and aren’t likely to be average drains.
This is the only position in which I won’t be categorizing the players since all but one can pretty much be thrown into the fallback pile.
Garver was a bit of an impulse buy. The stars aligned perfectly to pull the trigger in one league at #115 overall. I was looking for a power bat at the time, with no clear positional needs in mind, so why not take a chance on a player at the weakest offensive position who hit 31 HR and slugged .630 in just 359 PA last season? While he’s not likely to maintain that insane HR rate, his batted ball profile supports the breakout (top 10 among qualified players in hard hit % and barrel %).
Ramos and Molina fit my pre-draft strategy perfectly. Ramos has averaged .294/16/65 over the last four seasons, while Molina has averaged .268/16/71 over the last three. Yadi is one of the few catchers who tends to run a bit too, as he’s swiped 19 bags over those three years. Ramos was the 2nd earliest catcher that I drafted in any league (#198 and #203 overall, respectively), so the investment at the position ended up being fairly low as planned.
Vazquez, d’Arnaud, and Murphy are all coming off of career years. Vazquez entered last year with a career .246/.296/.335 slash line and 10 HR in 999 PA across four MLB seasons; he smashed 23 HR and slashed .276/.320/.477 in 521 PA last season. d’Arnaud averaged .249/11/39 per season from 2014-17 (he was injured in 2018), so his .251/16/69 line from last year doesn’t seem like a crazy outlier. Murphy slashed .219/271/.439 with 10 HR across four seasons as a part timer in Colorado before busting out with a .273/.324/.535 line and 18 HR in 281 PA in Seattle last season. Go figure. The 31% K% and 18.2% HR/FB scream that regression is around the corner, but a mid-.240s avg with double digit power would still be useful from a #2 catcher.
Wieters and Casali were reserve round picks in my lone DC league. Wieters was merely a handcuff for Yadi, and Casali was a cheap depth piece with some pop. Hopefully they stay parked on the bench where they belong.
Corner Infield (1B/3B)
Strategy: Power. Much power. Target high average sluggers in the early rounds while looking for power upside in the mid-late rounds.
Bellinger might be a full-time outfielder in real life, but he’s still eligible at 1B in fantasy, and I plan on using him there. Last season, Belli was 4th in MLB in HR (47), 6th in runs (121), 10th in RBI (115), and 16th in batting average (.305). 11th highest BB% (14.4%) among qualified hitters as well. Great contact skills and plate discipline, prime age, hits in a loaded lineup. What makes him a truly elite fantasy player is that he has double digit steals in each of his first three seasons. Many more monster years to come.
Freeman, Rizzo, and Abreu are three of the most consistent four category producers in baseball. Freeman’s coming off of a career year (113/38/121/.295/6) in which he ended up as the #12 overall player on the 2019 Razzball player rater. He’s averaged a 98/31/95/.303/8 yearly line since 2016, and his propensity to square the ball up (27.5% LD% – 2nd in MLB) and chip in some steals (30 SBs since 2016) puts him at the top of this group. As consolation prizes go, Rizzo and Abreu aren’t too shabby though. Here are their average batting lines since 2014 (6 seasons):
Rizzo: 90 R, 30 HR, 99 RBI, 8 SB, .284 AVG
Abreu: 81 R, 30 HR, 102 RBI, 2 SB, .293 AVG
Rizzo has logged 89+ runs, 94+ RBI, and 5+ SB in five out of those six seasons. He hasn’t hit fewer than 25 HR or had a batting average lower than .273 in that span either. Abreu has 100 or more RBI and a .284 or better batting average in five out of the last six years. Abreu is also one of just four MLB players with at least 220 batted balls that were hit at a velocity greater than 95 mph last season. You know what you’re getting with these guys, and it’s very, very solid.
Suarez is one of three MLB players with at least 80 HR over the last two seasons, and one of twelve players with at least 200 RBI over that same span. A 40/100 player across multiple seasons meets the qualifications for “stud” status in my book. The only major concern with Suarez is a shoulder issue that he suffered earlier this offseason which might’ve caused him to miss some time at the beginning of the year under the normal timeline, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue any longer.
Machado is a strange bird. Or was, since he’s a Padre now. The only thing that’s consistent about him is his power output. He’s hit between 32 and 37 home runs in each of the last five seasons. Everything else is a bit of a mystery. He followed up a 20 steal season in ’15 with a zero steal one in ’16. It was kind of the same deal last year, as his steals dropped from 14 in ’18 to 5 in ’19. Despite the big power numbers, he’s only cracked the 100 RBI threshold once in his career. Here are his batting averages over the last four seasons: .294, .259, .297, .256. Is he a mid .250s hitter or a mid .290s one? A double digit steal guy or a low single digit one? His plate discipline and batted ball profiles are good, not great. He struggled in his new home park last season with a .219/.297/.406 slash line, but he might not be playing there at all this year. What should we expect from Manny? Hell if I know.
Donaldson is coming off of a monster season in 2019, and he has the profile to back it up. There are a few red flags, however. He’s entering his age 34 season, so his physical skills could show signs of decline at any moment. He missed most of the 2018 season due to injuries, and he hasn’t hit .260 in a season since 2017. Donaldson looks poised for another strong campaign hitting in the middle of a loaded Twins lineup, but it’s far from a slam dunk.
It’s kind of odd to consider Edwin as a fallback option, but as they say, Father Time is undefeated. That’s not to say that the parrot has taken fewer trips around the bases in recent years. Encarnacion has hit at least 32 homers in eight consecutive seasons. That’s dating all the way back to 2012, when Mike Trout was a rookie and Juan Soto was 13 years old. That’s consistency for you. But EE’s batting average has crept into the .240s and his K% has risen north of 20% over the last two seasons, as he’s adopted even more of an all-or-nothing approach than usual (22.5 degree avg launch angle in 2019 – 2nd highest in MLB). Entering his age 37 season, Encarnacion’s durability issues (avg 123 games played since 2018) and swing-for-the-fences mentality make him a solid CI option, but nothing more.
Cron is a guy who’s flying a bit under the radar. It’s not hard to see why, though. He’s averaged 60/28/76/.253/1 over the last two seasons, and hasn’t topped 30 homers in a season in his career. Respectable numbers, but nothing that’ll carry your fantasy team to a championship. If you take a look under the hood, however, things start to get more interesting. Among qualified players, he had the 7th highest Barrel% (15.0%) in MLB last season. His average exit velocity (91.0 mph) was in the top 30, and while his .253 BA and .469 SLG were fairly solid, his .277 xBA and .548 xSLG indicate that he should’ve fared far better. With an ADP well outside of the top 200, Cron looks like a solid value.
I certainly didn’t plan on drafting Gurriel this season, and I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, he turns 36 years old in June and it’s unclear how much he benefitted from the Astros shenanigans over the past few seasons. On the other hand, he was essentially a much cheaper version of Jose Abreu last year, and he fell to pick #175 overall in the league where I drafted him. A .280/25/85 full season pace seems like a reasonable expectation here, which would make him a solid buy at that price point.
Entering the 2019 season, Diaz appeared to have more promise as a bodybuilder than a professional baseball player. The Indians seemed to tire of his primary goal to hammer the ball to the center of the Earth (56.6% GB% from 2017-18), so they traded him to the Rays prior to last season. The good news is that Diaz raised his average launch angle to 5.7 degrees, which led to a career low 50.8% GB%. It might not sound like much, but that small improvement resulted in 14 HR in 347 PA, while he had just 1 HR in 299 PA prior to 2019. His 91.7 mph average exit velocity on all batted balls was the 19th highest out of 250 qualifiers, and his 97.0 mph FB/LD exit velo was tied for the 11th highest in MLB with Soto and Ohtani. Diaz has a career 10.4% BB% and 17.8% K%, both much better than league average. A 25.3% O-Swing% and a 9.3% SwStr% last season. This is the profile of an elite hitter IF, and it’s a huge IF, he continues to improve his launch angle. This is a very similar profile to that of a pre-Milwaukee Christian Yelich without the speed. Will Diaz ever reach that level? No. No he won’t. But there is quite a bit of upside here.
Shaw was laughably bad last season. Historically awful. Slashing .157/281/.270 in 270 PA? Wut? Madison Bumgarner can do that blindfolded. Shaw averaged a 79/32/94/.258/8 line from 2017-18, so what the heck happened? He blamed his poor 2019 campaign on a swing change, which resulted in significant increases in launch angle (from 16.6 to 24.4 degrees) and strikeout rate (from 18.3% to 33.0%). Reverting back to his 2017-18 swing and going outside of the top 300 on average (which was the case in each of the leagues where I drafted him), Shaw seems like a worthy dart throw entering his age 30 season.
Do you agree/disagree with these picks? Which catchers and corner infielders are you counting on once the 2020 season finally begins?