20 For 2020
With the 2019 MLB All-Star game in the books, the trade deadline still a few weeks away, and only one game -- Houston versus Texas -- on tap for Thursday evening, this is the perfect opportunity to flash forward and preview the potential first round candidates for fantasy drafts next spring. This isn’t a perfect list. It’s merely a snapshot in time, representing an early look at the potential 2020 landscape. Without further delay, here are the top 20 fantasy assets for the 2020 campaign.
1: Mike Trout, OF, Angels
2: Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers
3: Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Dodgers
We’ve witnessed several legitimate challenges to Trout’s consensus first overall selection status in recent years, the most notable of those include Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Bryce Harper (remember him?). Yet, he remains seated upon the iron throne. He’s the safest five-category superstar in fantasy baseball and that isn’t changing anytime soon. A staggering 3,691 home runs were hit during the first half of the 2019 campaign. Despite the league-wide uptick in over-the-fence power, as a result of changes in the baseball’s manufacturing process, Yelich and Bellinger remain a cut above everyone else. The dynamic tandem, along with Mets’ rookie sensation Pete Alonso, were the only hitters to reach the 30-homer plateau prior to the All-Star break. Yelich gets the slight edge over Bellinger moving forward thanks to his stolen base prowess. He’s at 31-homers and 19 steals already, which gives him a realistic shot at a 40-homer, 30-steal campaign, a feat which has only been accomplished twice -- Ryan Braun in 2012 and Alfonso Soriano in 2006, respectively -- at the major-league level over the last two decades.
4: Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
It may seem hyperbolic to call Scherzer a dinosaur, but the old-school, throwback workhorse is on the verge of extinction. There’s a high degree of probability that we may never see another Scherzer in terms of the combination of sheer volume, durability and dominance. It's not because there is a lack of young talent, it's that organizations no longer develop starting pitchers with the goal of reaching 200 innings per season. He’ll turn 35-years-old next season, but has shown no signs of slowing down. He’s made at least 30 starts in every season since 2009. There are a handful of veteran aces that also fit the mold in terms of reliability and performance (who will also be early-round selection next spring), but Scherzer has ascended into his own stratosphere over the last year or two, separating himself from the rest of the upper-echelon starting pitchers. There’s an argument that he should be the second overall selection, but the combination of his age and mileage juxtaposed by the ascension of Yelich and Bellinger relegate him to the fourth spot. Not a bad consolation prize for fantasy owners who miss out on the big three.
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5: Ronald Acuña, OF, Braves
He’s delivered on the considerable hype and possesses the highest potential power/speed combo ceiling outside of Trout, Yelich and Bellinger. Not only is Acuña one of the safest five-category investments in fantasy baseball, but his combination of elite upside and extremely-high floor is unparalleled. There are plenty of boom or bust propositions in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts, but rarely does a young hitter emerge that offers protection against a total collapse and arguably more upside than the consensus top three overall selections entering next spring. The 21-year-old outfielder has recorded 899 major-league plate appearances over the last two seasons and owns a sublime .293/.371/.531 with 47 home runs and 29 stolen bases. If Acuña puts it all together and summits apex mountain, which is a scary thought for senior circuit pitchers, he’s the best player in fantasy baseball. You take him in the top five overall just on that possibility alone, especially when the realistic floor is still a first-round caliber slugger.
6: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
7: Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
This is the Coors Field factor to a certain degree. Arenado has reached the point that he’s the safest four-category investment in fantasy baseball and it’s not close. He’s on pace to record a batting average north of .290 with at least 35 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI for the fifth consecutive season. Meanwhile, Story has ascended into the back-half of the first round thanks to his two-year track record of elite five-category impact production. He’ll be squarely in the prime of his career at 27-years-old next season and should be a virtual lock to slug 35 homers and swipe at least 20 bases. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, only 10 hitters have accomplished that feat since 2015. That’ll do.
8: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
Speaking of elite power and speed production, Betts remains one of the most consistent five-category studs in fantasy. Yet, he’s endured a bit of a weird outlier season, which knocks him towards the middle of the first-round in my opinion. However, even in a down year, he’s still on pace to threaten the 30-homer plateau with at least 20 stolen bases. Even a modest rebound to the form that made him last year’s American League MVP Award winner would put him in a position to challenge Trout, Yelich and Bellinger for the top spot entering 2021.
9: Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
10: Alex Bregman, SS/3B, Astros
Shortstop is arguably the deepest position in fantasy baseball and it’s easy to see why with studs like Bregman and Lindor headlining it. Lindor’s renewed commitment to stealing bases is a massive boost to his fantasy stock and likely cements his status as a first round selection next spring. There’s a case for bumping him up a few spots into the Arenado/Story range, but that’s really splitting hairs. When it comes to Bregman, he’s been a tad unlucky in terms of batting average, but he’s walked more times than he’s struck out through nearly 400 plate appearances and remains on pace to record his second consecutive 30-homer campaign.
11: Chris Sale, SP, Red Sox
12: Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
13: Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
14: Gerrit Cole, SP, Astros
Despite some of the early-season narratives, investing in workhorse aces isn’t a bad way to construct a fantasy roster. There’s plenty of retrospective valuation data out there which suggests that early-round starting pitchers are more likely to justify their acquisition cost than vastly inferior mid-round arms, who are also exponentially more likely to bust completely. Based on second-half performance, there’s a chance that a few of these names bump up into the top 10 overall picks by next spring.
15: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
Not only is Freeman a virtual lock to hit .300 but he’s also rediscovered the pre-wrist injury power that made him a potential fantasy superstar back in 2017. If he eclipses the 40-homer mark (he’s already at 23 dingers through 90 games) he’ll be a first-round pick in all fantasy formats next spring.
16: J.D. Martinez, OF, Red Sox
17: Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
Martinez is no longer in his prime, but he remains one of the premier power plus counting stats sluggers in the game moving forward. There’s also a chance he could opt out of his contract and head for a greener pasture, which would also increase his fantasy stock this offseason. We know what Judge is capable of if he stays healthy, but he’s been plagued by injuries in back-to-back seasons now. Still, the massive upside is worth the risk in the early second round. His second-half performance will determine whether he goes 10 spots earlier (or later) next spring.
18: Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals
19: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
This is where it gets a bit controversial. I’m a firm believer in the stolen base upside (and double-digit homer pop) of Mondesi insulating the risk of total collapse his lackluster plate skills would suggest is a realistic possibility. If the 24-year-old switch-hitting shortstop steals 60-plus bases, which is a completely realistic projection, he’ll return first-round value in standard formats. Meanwhile, Tatis Jr. has taken the big leagues by storm, hitting . We’ve run out of superlatives to lavish on the 20-year-old phenom, but his electrifying blend of over-the-fence power and fearlessness on the basepaths portends fantasy stardom.
20: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
According to Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average (DRA) leaderboards, Strasburg boasts the largest differential (minimum 50 innings) between his DRA (1.88) and his actual ERA (3.64) this season. Even if the surface stats don’t reflect it in terms of run prevention, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. His checkered injury history is a reason for concern, but he’s already thrown nearly as many innings in 2019 (116 1/3) as he did all of last season (130).
On The Bubble: Walker Buehler, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Charlie Blackmon, Joey Gallo, Javier Baez, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, George Springer, Josh Bell, Rafael Devers, Pete Alonso, Blake Snell, Ketel Marte and Whit Merrifield.
The vast majority of the hitters and pitchers above, especially Buehler, Rendon and Turner, have credible first-round cases and could easily make the leap into the top round with a stellar second-half performance. As of right now, each bubble candidate is more likely to wind up as a second or third-round selection next spring.
If any of these hitters goes on an extended hot streak over the second half, they will enter the conversation as potential second or third round selections in fantasy drafts next spring. The hitters with the best case for a first-round bid are the potential five-category impact outfielders with 30-plus stolen base upside in Laureano, Meadows and Robles. If Ohtani returns as an upper-echelon starting pitcher and provides five-category impact production at the plate, he could easily return first-round value in 2020. Finally, that brings us to Guerrero Jr. He’s the most intriguing name to monitor of this group over the remainder of the season.
The Syndergaard Situation
Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported on Wednesday that the Padres recently inquired with the Mets about the availability of starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who remains under team control through the 2021 campaign. Morosi also reported Tuesday night that the Brewers and Astros have also expressed interest in the 26-year-old right-hander. San Diego possesses arguably the deepest farm system in the major leagues and would be willing to dip into their treasure trove of assets to add a front-line starter to their rotation for a potential playoff push, but the Mets’ asking price figures to be exorbitant. Simply put, they would have to get blown away by a prospect package to seriously contemplate moving Syndergaard.
AL Quick Hits: Brandon Lowe (shin) is aiming to return to the Rays' active roster on Saturday. … Lucas Giolito's first start of the second half will come Monday in Kansas City. … Framber Valdez is expected to return to the Astros' starting rotation Thursday versus the Rangers. … Brad Peacock (shoulder) struck out four batters over two scoreless innings in a minor-league rehab start Wednesday with Double-A Corpus Christi. … Red Sox released Tyler Thornburg.
NL Quick Hits: Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that the Dodgers "have varying levels of interest in multiple Giants relievers," including closer Will Smith. … Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told 94 WIP in Philadelphia on Wednesday that Jake Arrieta (elbow) is still scheduled to start this weekend against the Nationals. … Dodgers activated Corey Seager from the 10-day injured list. … Nick Groke of The Athletic expects Kyle Freeland to return to the Rockies' rotation sometime this month.