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Fantasy Baseball 2020 Cheatsheet: Pinpointing Top Sleepers and Busts

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2020

Jordan Montgomery was working his way into a rotation spot during spring training.
Jordan Montgomery was working his way into a rotation spot during spring training.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season remains on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fantasy baseball leagues yet to draft can wait until receiving more clarity on a potential new start date and season length. Others conducting an online draft may prefer to stick to the schedule.

For those still preparing for upcoming drafts, here's a look at my updated rankings (tailored to five-by-five rotisserie leagues). Let's then highlight some sleepers to targets and busts to avoid at their current average draft position (ADP).

      

2020 Top 50 Rankings

1 Mike Trout, OF, LAA

2 Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, ATL

3 Christian Yelich, OF, MIL

4. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, LAD

5. Mookie Betts, OF, LAD

6. Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE

7. Trevor Story, SS, COL

8. Gerrit Cole. SP, NYY

9. Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM

10. Trea Turner, SS, WAS

11. Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL

12. Juan Soto, OF, WAS

13. Alex Bregman, 3B/SS, HOU

14. Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL

15. J.D. Martinez, OF, BOS

16. Jose Ramirez, 3B, CLE

17. Anthony Rendon, 3B, LAA

18. Max Scherzer, SP, WAS

19. Rafael Devers, 3B, BOD

20. Walker Buehler, SP, LAD

21. Bryce Harper, OF, PHI

22. Starling Marte, OF, ARI

23. Xander Bogaerts, SS, BOS

24. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU

25. Shane Bieber, SP, CLE

26. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, SD

27. Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL

28. Stephen Strasburg, SP, WAS

29. Ozzie Albies, 2B, ATL

30. Jack Flaherty, SP, STL

31. Javier Baez, SS, CHC

32. Yordan Alvarez, OF, HOU

33. George Springer, OF, HOU

34. Gleyber Torres, 2B/SS, NYY

35. Adalberto Mondesi, 2B/SS, KC

36. Pete Alonso, 1B, NYM

37. Austin Meadows, OF, TB

38. Ketel Marte, 2B/SS/OF, ARI

39. Justin Verlander, SP, HOU

40. Blake Snell, SP, TB

41. Jonathan Villar, 2B/SS, MIA

42. Patrick Corbin, SP, WAS

43. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC

44. Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD

45. Mike Clevinger, SP, CLE

46. Nelson Cruz, DH, MIN

47. Luis Castillo, SP, CIN

48. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, SD

49. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, CHC

50. Charlie Morton, SP, TB

                


Sleepers

J.D. Davis, 3B/OF, New York Mets

C.J. Cron, 1B, Detroit Tigers

Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Domingo Santana, OF, Cleveland Indians

Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs

Mitch Keller, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Dylan Bundy, SP, Los Angeles Angels

Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox

Josh James, SP/RP, Houston Astros

Matt Barnes, RP, Boston Red Sox

            

Busts

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres

Trevor Bauer, SP, Cincinnati Reds

Joey Gallo, OF, Texas Rangers

Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees

Liam Hendriks, RP, Oakland Athletics

Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Houston Astros

Danny Santana, 1B/OF, Texas Rangers

Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sean Doolittle, RP, Washington Nationals

             

Sleeper: Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

Former No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson finally arrived. In his age-25 season, the shortstop made a feasible All-Star case by batting .270/.330/.493 with 17 home runs and seven steals before the break.

Of course, that's not the full story. Shortly after the unofficial midway mark, the Atlanta Braves placed him on the injured list due to a partially torn ligament in his left hand. Clearly not fully right, he returned to bat .194 (19-for-98) with no homers in 27 games.

This cold conclusion turned a celebratory breakout into a mild output. Those looking at Swanson's .251/.325/.422 slash line won't think much of his 263 consensus ADP, per FantasyPros.

And yet, while the hot start alone is enough to bite at such a stunted cost, the batted-ball metrics should compel drafters to reach higher. 

According to Statcast data, courtesy of Baseball Savant, Swanson set personal bests in average exit velocity (89.8 mph), barrels (37) and hard-hit rate (41.6%). This strong quality of contact led him to post a higher expected weighted on-base average (.347 xwOBA) than Fernando Tatis Jr. (.346) and Gleyber Torres (.341).

Those newfound skills support his ability to maintain last year's early power gains while improving his batting average. Throw in a handful of steals from someone who poached 10 bases in back-to-back years, and Swanson is a worthwhile middle infielder to target late.

              

Bust: Eduardo Escobar, 2B/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Dansby Swanson was breaking out before a hand injury derailed his season.
Dansby Swanson was breaking out before a hand injury derailed his season.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Few hitters benefited from 2019's power boom more than Eduardo Escobar, who shattered 2018's modest career benchmark of 23 home runs with 35. This came despite just a 22-point uptick in slugging percentage and a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) that depreciated from 118 to 109.

Escobar didn't necessarily get better; the balls just traveled further. He also padded his numbers in 699 plate appearances, the 10th-most among all hitters.

If MLB cuts back to a smaller schedule, durable compilers become less valuable than those with standout skills. Suddenly, you're looking at a 31-year-old with one elite campaign who has yet to bat above .275 in a single season.

On the bright side, a 107 ADP does not demand anyone to truly believe in last season's breakout. It's not an egregious price to pay, preferably in deeper leagues where a stable floor rises in value. Yet drafters are still better off waiting 40 picks to snag Justin Turner, a .297/.378/.508 hitter since the start of 2015. 

              

Sleeper: Jordan Montgomery, SP, New York Yankees

Eduardo Escobar's career 2019 was driven by volume and MLB's sport-wide power burst.
Eduardo Escobar's career 2019 was driven by volume and MLB's sport-wide power burst.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Yankees needed someone to rise to the occasion and claim a spot in their ransacked rotation. Jordan Montgomery answered the call.

Although he relinquished four home runs in four spring outings, the 27-year-old also opened eyes by recording 16 strikeouts to just one walk in 11.1 innings. 

Montgomery is aiming to rebound from Tommy John surgery.
Montgomery is aiming to rebound from Tommy John surgery.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In early March, per George A. King III of the New York Post, Yankees manager Aaron Boone spoke strongly of Montgomery's chances to make the starting staff.

"This is a guy that's already had a really strong big league season under his belt," Boone said. "So I'm excited about where he is and feel like he's very much solidifying himself."

Prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, Montgomery submitted a 3.84 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 182.2 innings. A killer curveball and potent slider steered him to a career 11.9 percent swinging-strike rate, a mark topped by just 21 qualified starters last season.

Even if James Paxton is now able to return by Opening Day, Montgomery should join the fellow southpaw in the rotation alongside Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. The buzz could build during an extended waiting period, but a 299 ADP still prices him as an end-of-draft dart throw in smaller mixed leagues. 

              

Bust: Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

New York Yankees @Yankees

12 up, 12 down for Monty today 🔥🤩 https://t.co/fDRkzQFPBt

Blind player comparisons using last year's results are often a misleading exercise that fails to take certain variables into account. So let's do one of those:

Player A: 3.51 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 27.1% K, 8.1% BB, 3.36 FIP

Player B: 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 26.9% K, 9.4% BB, 4.03 FIP

Player C: 4.14 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 26.2% K, 8.4% BB, 3.99 FIP

Player A is Jake Odorizzi, who is understandably not expected to repeat a career 2019 after tailing off in the second half. His ADP resides at 178.

Player C is Kenta Maeda, who now has a permanent spot as Odorizzi's replacement in the Minnesota Twins' rotation. While home runs remain a concern, the righty no longer needs to worry about the Los Angeles Dodgers limiting his innings. His ADP is three spots above Odorizzi.

Care to take a wild guess at Player B's identity? Hint: Look at the subheader and accompanying image.

This game does not account for Aaron Nola's youth and superior track record. The 26-year-old sports a career 3.49 ERA and 3.45 FIP despite the down 2019. He also, however, never issued a walk rate above 7.1 percent prior to last year's atypical control pains.

Having exceeded 200 innings in consecutive years, Nola has durability on his side. Assuming MLB runs out of time to make up lost games, drafters won't benefit from that skill this season. That especially makes his No. 47 ADP hard to digest when Manny Machado, Anthony Rizzo and Nelson Cruz are still on the board.

Nola should actually improve on last year's ERA and WHIP, so this is a matter of price. On a per-start basis, he's not significantly better than Maeda, David Price, Jesus Luzardo or Julio Urias. All of them carry an ADP outside the top 125. 

             

Note: Advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs unless stated otherwise. All ADP, obtained from FantasyPros, updated as of Thursday, March 19. 

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