While we all love rankings, my favorite articles to read are those where analysts tell you which players they roster the most on their own fantasy teams. This isn’t just because people are putting their money where their mouth is. But it also reveals a bit about that person’s strategy and approach to drafting.
This isn’t an article about my favorite players, sleepers, or breakouts for 2020. There are plenty of players I’d love to roster that I don’t (different article). Rather, when looking through my rosters of teams I’ve drafted for this season – including redraft, Best Ball, Draft and Hold, keeper, and more – these are the players that end up on my rosters most often.
Yu Darvish, SP – If he ended up as a top 5 fantasy starter in 2020, it would not surprise me. He probably has the skills to be the #1 overall. I’ve been a fan for years, but his second half of 2019 (118/7 K/BB over 80+ IP) was otherworldly. Betting on him putting it all together.
Sonny Gray, SP – Narrative shouldn’t drive your decisions, but ignore it at your own peril. Pitching in the South Bronx isn’t for everyone (ask Ed Whitson), but Gray told us why he had a bad stint there. We just didn’t believe him. Last year in Cincinnati, he looked like Sonny Gray again. In fact, he looked better than he ever has. If you don’t believe me, read this piece by Aaron Sauceda. Plus, I’m giving him and the rest of the Reds’ arms a little “Boddy Bump” this year.
Lance Lynn, SP – Old, chunky, and boring. That would describe many of us, including Lance Lynn. But only 10 other starters delivered 200+ IP and K with a sub-4.00 ERA last year. The guy has been a quality full-time starter for seven seasons, and no one seems to trust him because he had a terrible half-season in 2018. You can even dream a little with the likelihood of the home ballpark boost. He’s being drafted as a #3 SP. Grab him late and pair him with one of those young flashy arms you want to tell your friends you drafted.
David Price, SP – He averages over a strikeout per inning, and most indicators say he was unlucky in ERA last year. He’s moving from the American League – in a city where he never felt welcomed despite clinching the 2018 World Series – to a National League team that gets excellent results out of their pitchers.
Max Fried, SP – He emerged from the slew of promising Braves arms and was solid, if unspectacular, over a full season. 17-win pitchers are rarely deemed unlucky, but his ERA deserved better. And the juiciest part: he showed flashes of greatness down the stretch, with an increased use of his slider. Will be fun to see what he does next.
Kenta Maeda, SP – The Dodgers’ blatant manipulation of Maeda had become a joke, as they limited his innings to take advantage of an extraordinarily team-friendly contract. This also suppressed his fantasy value. Moving to the American League is usually not ideal for a pitcher, but Maeda is a boring underrated arm who should thrive in a division where only 3/5 of the teams are actively trying to put out major-league lineups. One of the reasons I end up with him on so many fantasy teams is that Lynn and Fried don’t excel in WHIP, and Maeda is a nice complement to them. Listen to Matt Modica about rotation construction.
Alex Wood, SP – Hey, you interested in a 29 year-old (yes, read that again!) starting pitcher with a career 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP who happens to be on the best team in baseball? How about with an NFBC ADP of 361? Of course you are. I mean, he gets hurt (read: he’s a pitcher), and he’s coming off a bad year. But there’s no excuse for where he’s going.
Adrian Houser, SP – Earlier this offseason, I was listening to the @TurnTwoPodcast with Matt Williams and John from The Athletic. John was raving over Adrian Houser and citing all of these reasons why he was a breakout candidate. I did some digging of my own, and Houser has ended up on a lot of my teams. This is why I listen to smart people.
Spencer Howard, SP – Howard has been on my radar for awhile now thanks to James Anderson. Reports indicate that he has the arsenal and upside of a #2 starter, and the back-end of the Phillies rotation is about as hard as a soft pretzel. This is a team that wants to contend, and needs a boost to keep up with the big boys. I think he would have been in the rotation by May 1st with the original Opening Day. The delayed start moves up his value.
Tony Gonsolin, SP – He ends up on just about every Best Ball or Draft and Hold team I have. Sadly, he cut his intimidating locks over the offseason. More importantly, he’s an intriguing pitching prospect on the Dodgers who more than held his own last year with the big club. You could argue that his value goes down in a shortened season, or you could argue that with more games in a shortened time frame, it will go up. While you’re arguing with yourself, I’ll just draft him for free.
Daniel Ponce de Leon, SP – I’m not gonna lie. The name just looks great on the back of his jersey. He doesn’t have the highest prospect pedigree, but he’s the type of really late pitching gamble I love to take. He held his own last year, and maybe he has figured something out and you get a mid-rotation arm with your last reserve pick. If not, you dump him quick and move on to your next adventure.
Ian Kennedy, RP – Ron Shandler coined the “draft skills over roles” phrase many years ago. But with closers, that applies less than at any other position. When it comes to a niche stat like saves, the role matters … a lot. Ian Kennedy has the role. He also had some nice skills in 2019. No one likes a failed starter on the Royals. But if he’s saving games with solid skills, he’ll end up on a lot of my teams.
Ken Giles, RP – He’s had somewhat of a star-crossed career, never quite making the leap to elite closer that we all thought he would. Except that he has. And people just haven’t recognized it yet. All the projections have baked in regression off of an incredible 2019, which leaves us with around 30 saves, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and 85 Ks over a full season. I’ll take it.
Mitch Garver, C – 31 HR in 93 games in 2019. Am I extrapolating that? No. And no one else is either. In fact, I feel like many in the industry have been so quick to point out that he’ll regress that we’re missing out on his talent. He’s the 4th catcher off the board – sometimes the 5th – and you can get him in the 7th-8th round on the regular. It’s not just the surface numbers that look good either. His Baseball Savant page looks like a bunch of thermometers about to explode.
Sean Murphy, C – He’s a highly touted hitting prospect who looks to have the starting job in a very good lineup. He gets drafted among a glob of meh catchers. Odds are, he’ll be mediocre as well in 2020. But while his floor is the same as the rest of these guys, unlike them, he has the potential to see a big jump in power and average.
José Abreu, 1B – I never really want to draft José Abreu. But he has ended up on a lot of my teams this year. Probably because no one else really wants to draft him either. It’s not fair to him, because he’s about as reliable as they come, and provides a nice power and average floor on a team that projects to score many more runs this season. I’m not paying for any of the big boppers at the top of the 1B position in drafts because I generally want steals early, so I grab Abreu a few rounds later to lock in production and avoid the dregs of the position.
Trey Mancini, 1B/OF – He’a a rock solid hitter in the middle of a lineup that is better than most people think. He qualifies at a thin position and has multi-position eligibility, which I put a premium on. I have him in a lot of keeper leagues and early drafts, but I’m not counting him out now either. Hoping he has a smooth recovery from what sounded like a serious condition.
Miguel Sanó, 3B – He hits lasers. He hits them in the middle of a fat lineup. He’s just turning 27 this year. He showed up to camp in great shape. He’ll qualify at 1B soon, which means positional flexibility, a bat at a weak position, and a decrease in the likelihood that he loses at-bats for defense. Plus, he goes late, because 3B is so deep. If he qualified at 1B going into this season, I think he’d be going a few rounds higher.
Hunter Dozier, 3B/OF – The multi-positional eligibility trend continues. Dozier probably overperformed last season, but he’s a solid contributor who should rack up productive at-bats in the middle of the lineup.
Ozzie Albies, 2B – There’s so much to like here. Batting average, emerging power, and speed at a thin position. Hitting in one of the sweetest spots in baseball. He’s very good already, and very young. Well-rounded players are rare. It seems like he has another level in him.
Kolten Wong, 2B – With stolen bases at such a premium, I was digging around earlier this offseason and stumbled upon Wong’s last four season SB totals of 7, 8, 6 and … then 24 in 2019. Whoa! With only four times caught stealing. That catches your eye, especially with a nice batting average and a little pop. I reached out to Cardinals expert Brian Walton to ask about Wong. He wrote this. I’m all in.
César Hernández, 2B – While everyone was rightfully bagging on the Indians for being cheapskates this offseason – trading Corey Kluber, floating Francisco Lindor, and not signing Yasiel Puig – they actually made a nice little move and signed Lil César to be their leadoff hitter. Speed late with a bunch of runs. Yummy.
Dansby Swanson, SS – Elite pedigree. Elite name. Elite flow. He has been somewhat of an offensive disappointment early in his career. But he was pacing towards a 25/15ish season halfway through 2019 before a disappointing second half. There has been speculation that he was playing through an injury. I’m betting on the come, and he is going insanely late in drafts with so many solid SS. I’ve actually grabbed him in a few places as my last active hitter in my U spot.
Starling Marte, OF – There simply aren’t many five-category contributors after the first round. Marte is one of them, and I like his offensive context in Arizona.
Brandon Nimmo, OF – This is more of a deep league play. But I’m a sucker for OBP and a positive attitude. Nimmo has both. He’s basically free to draft and there’s a scenario where he could end up leading off for the Mets.
Dylan Carlson, OF – All he has done is rake. I was cursing his Spring Training outburst because I’ve been in on Carlson all draft season, and he was driving up his price. If you don’t listen to the Prospect One Podcast by Chris Welsh (of In This League), you should. He’s the reason I have Carlson everywhere.
Khalil Lee, OF – He seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s only 21. Showed some serious wheels and a nice batting eye at AA last season, and the Royals don’t have much blocking him. This is a Draft and Hold or Best Ball play only for 2020 though, because he might not get the call this season.
Nelson Cruz, U – I rode with Frank Thomas and David Ortiz until the wheels came off. And I’ll do the same with Cruz. Yeah, one of these years it’ll all fall apart and you’ll be holding a broken down player. But they’ve been saying that about Nellie for years. Last year, he was worth $23 in a 12-team mixer where JD Martinez was worth $25 (thanks, Razzball!) Ageism is real. Plakata!