What? Baseball might be but probably is unless it’s not...back? Well that means EXACTLY one thing and one thing only: fantasy baseball might be but probably is unless it’s not...back!
I’m here for the second time to be your guide to, not just, the fantasy relevant Royals players that will be in the mix during your drafts, but some guys to keep an eye on for under the radar value in 2020. Let’s start with the main players.
ZiPS Projection: .288/.336/.428; 5 HR, 24 RBI, 33 R, 9 SB, 16 BB, 43 K
We’ve gotta start where the offense starts. Whit Merrifield is expected to be the starting centerfielder. In ESPN leagues, he’ll have second base eligibility as well and that’s a very good thing for his value because the pool to draw from at second base is a bit more shallow than centerfield/outfield pools. Whit is projected by ZiPS to be one of the best players at second base at filling a lot of categories. That will be important this year especially because most leagues SHOULD be going to points or roto temporarily. So hitters that can hit for average power and steals some bases while also holding a high average are going to balance out a lot of the one tool guys you’ll be starting at some point in this COVID/injury IL periods i.e. Luis Arraez or Ryan McMahon. I think it’s important to have a guy like that to steady the raft when times are tough. Whit is that guy for both your fantasy team and the Kansas City Royals.
ZiPS Projection: .256/.351/.506; 12 HR, 30 RBI, 24 BB, 58 K
Speaking of one tool guys, Jorge Soler might be one. But my goodness is that one tool really good. Soler is the reigning AL home run champ largely due to leading the majors in barrels according to Baseball Savant. His power has never been in question though; before last season, his injury proneness wasn’t either. Then he played in every. single. game of the 2019 season racking up 679 plate appearances. Some say that availability is the best ability and in a shortened season that will be plagued with player IL time, that is certainly true more than any other season. But what if I told you that Soler could actually be a top ten player? I think that’s Jorge’s ceiling but it’s certainly possible. From July 2019 and on, his 170 wRC+ was 8th in all of baseball. Better yet, last season vs. the AL/NL Central (his 2020 opponents) Soler slashed .298/.392/.653. Now I can’t say all that without also throwing in Soler slashing .172/.250/.448 in 32 Spring Training plate appearances paired with a 43.8% K rate. Crazier things have happened in 60 game stretches and the likeliest scenario is always somewhere between two extremes. For Soler, I think that’s somewhere in the top 20 fantasy outfielders.
ZiPS Projection: .251/.290/.421; 5 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 16 SB, 9 BB, 52 K
This is the year. It is. It...has to be...right? I mean it’s 60 games. He looks locked in in the intrasquad games. He’s the Vegas favorite to lead the MLB in stolen bags (+200). Experts far and wide are letting him fly under the radar as opposed to building him up for his ceiling. And they’re doing it because he is a huge risk and the price tag for him is still very expensive because of his value on the base paths. He’s still going #30 overall according to NFBC ADP rankings in July. That is high enough to make me look for stolen base value elsewhere (ZiPS projecting Mallex Smith to lead league in SBs at pick #161 overall).
The key in Mondesi getting to that ceiling is his plate discipline. In that same time period where Soler was hitting the cover off the ball, Mondesi was striking out in 36.2% of his PAs and walking in 2.3% of them. (Big time yuck) His 4.3% BB rate on the season was third lowest among batters with at least 450 plate appearances had he had seven more PAs before his season ended. (Super ungood) And the truth is that he’s never really had plate discipline in his short career. If you do end up pulling the trigger on Mondesi at that price, I’d recommend grabbing an insurance policy later (eighth round Marcus Semien/Tim Anderson/Carlos Correa or 11th round Corey Seager) at shortstop. At the end of the day, not many players have the offensive upside that Mondesi does (Jose Ramirez), so he’ll need to take a MASSIVE step forward to get to his ceiling. But the kid is still only going to be 25 years old. Yes, we say that every year and that excuse won’t be allowed forever, but someone’s gotta be the one to will him to become the player we want him to be, and I am ready to be that person.
ZiPS Projection: 3.91 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 9.78 K/9, 3.13 BB/9
Kennedy had a helluva year last year. That is undeniable. As a reliever, he held a 3.77 xFIP and allowed just 33.1% hard hit rate all while racking up the 9th most saves in baseball with 30. That last number is even more impressive considering the Royals only won 59 games total in 2019. All that being said...
Kennedy will probably be the closer for the Royals to start the year. And he might go on and rack up a relatively good amount of saves in the first month of the season. Then the trade deadline will happen. Kennedy is entering his final season of his contract with KC and if he’s performing well, he should be shopped at all costs. And really, the Royals should be eating as much of that contract to get a decent haul for him all things considered (that’s for another article). Kennedy will likely be dealt to a contender who will likely already have an established closer, thus taking away his most fantasy relevant stat: saves. If you want to take the risk and play it like the Royals, be my guest. Every fantasy league ever created has at least one owner with absolutely no foresight. But any owner that is in contention probably isn’t that guy, and you’ll be stuck with a mid reliever for the Braves that might get two more saves for the rest of the season. That won’t be me.
ZiPS Projection: .251/.321/.466; 9 HR, 28 RBI, 26 R, 1 SB, 19 BB, 57 K
God he’s handsome. Like how the hell are some people born with everything. I mean if I had the athletic ability and the looks that Hunter Dozier has, who the hell knows WHERE I’d be. I’d probably be driving in my mausera...oh wrong fantasy article. Hunter Dozier is good at baseballing. (end of write up)
K fine I’ll do more. Right now the Bull-Dozier is going #186 overall and Karabell’s roto rankings have him at #189. If he finds his way on your roster, you’re going to get a decent bench bat. Let’s do one of those fun Player A-Player B comparisons:
(Both players are 28 years old)
Player A 2019 Season: 27 HR, 100 R, 73 RBI, 6.2% BB Rate, 21.5% K Rate, .863 OPS, 89 MPH Ave. Exit Velocity, 11.2 Barrel %.
Player B 2019 Season: 26 HR, 75 R, 84 RBI, 9.4% BB Rate, 25.3% K Rate, .870 OPS, 91.1 MPH Ave. Exit Velocity, 10.0 Barrel %
Player B is Hunter Dozier. Player A is Nick Castellanos who is going #94 overall and is #79 in Karabell’s Top 300. I’m aware that last year was Dozier’s career year and Castellanos has been doing it for a while. I would argue that Dozier’s career has most definitely been hampered by injury and one could argue that a 60 game schedule dilutes that injury risk. At his floor, Dozier is an average hitter who can fill third base and the outfield. But his upside is Nick Castellanos value in the 15th round and that’s something to keep an eye on.
ZiPS Projection: .247/.283/.453; 8 HR, 23 RBI, 16 R, 5 BB, 33 K
Salvy will always be #1 in our hearts. And I think he’ll be safe to target in the 2020 fantasy season simply because he provides power from a position that struggles to provide consistent fantasy value. Between the ‘15-’18, he was in the top five of HR for catchers with at least 350 PA. So the power has been and will probably still be there in 2020. His projected .247 average won’t put you at a huge disadvantage either because there’s only a handful of guys that can both hit for power AND average. And guys that are only providing one or the other probably are provided as consistent of appearances as Salvy. Since 2015, the only catchers with more plate appearances than Salvy were J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina. Yes, part of that is due to Ned Yost, but the new manager was responsible for popping Yadi in the lineup so many times as well, so I don’t really see that changing. Salvy provides consistency so you can do much worse at the catcher position especially at his current value in the 14th round.
Lightning Round: Longshots to keep an eye on
The dude can fly and ZiPS is projecting him for 13 stolen bases in 2020 (eighth most in the majors). The Royals outfield is definitely crowded in KC especially after the trade for Franchy Cordero, but with every game counting more than usual, I could definitely see Heath making his major league debut this season in a 2014/2015 Jarrod Dyson role. He’s not draftable, but he is a guy to flag if you’re needing some stolen bases at some point.
See literally everything I said about Nick Heath but throw in the fact that Lee was having a great Spring prior to the shutdown. I really don’t think we’ll see him this season, but I have high hopes for his career and in the year 2020, weird things are happening all over the damn place.
He worked with Mike Tosar in the offseason and Tosar did wonders for Jorge Soler in the last two seasons. Maybe Tosar can do the same for Franco. The power tool and motivation is there for the 27 year old Franco and he’s just entering his theoretical prime. Let’s see if he can follow in the foot steps of Whit, Soler, and Dozier and have a break out year.
He can throw heat and has closer experience. There’s a real chance that he becomes the Royals closer after the trade deadline, if not sooner. He flashed in Spring Training and has looked solid in the intrasquad games. If this is real and he’s regained his form as a high leverage pitcher, he could be a big time waiver addition that brings in some second half saves. That is, unless our next guy has something to say about it...
He can also throw heat but pairs it with a gol darn HAMMER curve. He also had a great Spring and is also looking solid in intrasquad games. Matheny has been very open about using his bullpen in different ways this season, so it might be hard to find a definitive closer in 2020, but Staumont’s repertoire already has him in the mix for that spot.
I hope this helps every single reader bring home a title in the short 2020 season. It’s unlike other seasons for a lot of reasons, but to me the primary difference is the haste. It’s gonna be a sprint instead of a marathon like usual, so the leagues will be competitive for much longer. Owners won’t be drifting off like other years. Stay frosty and locked in until the end.