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Fantasy Baseball 2020: Breaking Down Kevin Newman, Top Sleeper Infielders

Martin FennContributor IIIApril 22, 2020

Pittsburgh Pirates' Kevin Newman during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays Monday, March 2, 2020, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Filling out an infield with well-rounded players is a crucial facet to any successful fantasy baseball season.

Most leagues have the four spots for the four designated infield positions, plus two more slots for a middle infielder and corner infielder. Throw in some flexibility in terms of utility players, and any given roster might be stacked with infielders.

Given outfield players tend to dominate the first few rounds of the draft as well as a relative shortage of premium infielders (especially middle infielders), it is imperative for owners to find those undervalued players who are versatile and can stuff a number of different categories.

Take Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman, for example. He is a less-heralded player on a woeful Pittsburgh team, yet there is reason to suggest he could be a fantasy star in 2020, especially given his current average draft position (ADP).

Here's more on Newman, as well as a couple other sleeper infielders who might help to make the difference in any given fantasy league.

              

Top Sleeper Infielders

Kevin Newman, Pittsburgh Pirates

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Newman was a menace in his first full season with the Pirates. Aside from his hit tool, he has immense value as an infielder who can play multiple positions, hit for some power and steal bases.

The 26-year-old slashed .308/.353/.446 with 12 homers, six triples and 16 stolen bases, and he also posted a 111 OPS+, according to Baseball Reference.

It is worth noting there are reasons to be slightly wary of Newman's success. He ranked in the bottom five percent of the league in terms of average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant. However, he does not strike out often and posted an 87 percent contact rate, according to FanGraphs.

Plus, Newman is going pretty low on draft boards. According to Fantasy Pros, his ADP is 208, which is well below the likes of Elvis Andrus, Didi Gregorius and Garrett Hampson at the shortstop spot. 

Considering Newman's bWAR was higher than each of the aforementioned players, it seems he is being undervalued. He can play both middle infield spots and the hot corner, and he could put up numbers for a Pirates team that will desperately need his contributions.

                  

Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Dansby Swanson is sort of the inverse of Newman: He doesn't have the counting stats, but the advanced analytics suggest he is on the verge of a breakout year.

While Dansby had a lower OPS than Newman this past season, he did hit more homers (17) and posted double-digit steals for the second consecutive year. More importantly, he should be the beneficiary of regression to the mean.

The 26-year-old posted the highest average exit velocity of his career in 2019, while his barrel and hard hit percentages also saw significant increases. In fact, he had the same expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) as Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, per Baseball Savant.

He is the next shortstop after Newman in terms of ADP, but he actually comes a whopping 50 spots later (258). 

Swanson has made big strides in each of his two last seasons. With a little more luck, he might even be on the cusp of superstardom. The upside is enough, at the very least, to give him a look.

                 

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Joey Votto is not the same guy who finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2017. Still, there are reasons to believe he is due for a bounce-back year in 2020.

The Reds sought to add some pop to the lineup this past winter, signing Nicholas Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama in free agency. Both guys should provide added protection for the 36-year-old, which is all the more dangerous considering he is still among the most vigilant and disciplined hitters in baseball.

Despite the relatively quiet counting stats last year, Votto actually posted his highest hard hit percentage and average exit velocity in three seasons, per Baseball Savant. He still has gap-to-gap power and is one of the toughest outs in the game, so there is no reason the advanced numbers cannot translate to more success.

Votto's current ADP is 228, and he ranks behind the likes of Ryan McMahon and Luke Voit. Considering he is an intense competitor hoping to propel the Reds into the playoffs, he might be primed for a return to form.

In that case, he might be one of the biggest steals of the year.

                

All stats obtained via Baseball Reference and all fantasy draft information via Fantasy Pros, unless otherwise noted.

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