This is the sixth edition of the Scrap Heap article for the magazine. I always consider this article the leadoff hitter for the baseball writing season. It is the first piece I do each season which focuses on what could be rather than what transpired in the previous weeks or months. I'm rather proud of this column because it has a good track record of hitting some home runs in recommending guys overlooked by many owners. Two seasons ago, this article teased breakouts by Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Piscotty and Blake Snell. Last year, it recommended Yandy Diaz, Lance Lynn, Jeff Samardzija and Jake Odorizzi as strong buy lows.
Winning a fantasy baseball league, much like hitting a baseball, is the hardest thing to do in fantasy sports. Trust me – I'm 0-for-13 in my pursuit of winning a Tout Wars title. Meanwhile, I've won a few fantasy football leagues and was the top seed in my home league for the third time in four seasons this year. True story – the RotoWire info is the only thing I use to do my fantasy football lineup and DFS prep. I can say it's all skill, but I know there is much luck involved there as well. There is luck in baseball, but luck is minimized over a 26-week season and a 162-game schedule. Those that play it are immersed in it. They are looking at the RotoWire news updates multiple times a day, tracking information as it breaks on Twitter and listening to radio shows and podcasts trying to catch tips before their competition does.
When you are that invested in the players on your teams, it is only natural to get frustrated with them when they do not perform. We get angry with players when they do not perform at the level of their preseason projections for a few weeks, or in some cases, an entire season. Too many fantasy players make the mistake of simply crossing those players off the list or burying them in their rankings before the draft even begins, wanting to just forget mistakes from the previous season.
While that approach may offer some momentary relief from the frustration of previous relationships with a player, it can inflict fantasy wounds with surgical precision. You may end up missing out on players that come back with successful seasons following disastrous ones because you assumed that the player would just continue to underperform, forgetting that all growth, and failure, is not linear. Those are the players I attempt to help you find each season.
Hindsight is 20/20, but look at the profits realized from players rostered in the 2019 endgame:
*2019 Tout Wars Mixed Auction cost
It would have cost $54 on draft day to accumulate this talent ($0 represents reserve-round picks or not drafted at all) and these 23 players amassed $394 of roto value in standard 15-team leagues. Much focus is put on the early part of the draft, but a very small percentage of players taken early in a draft return that kind of profit. The endgame, where the downtrodden, overlooked and un- certain await, is where most leagues are won or lost.
The purpose of this recurring article in this publication is to remind everyone that there is value in drafts and auctions, and some of it gets overlooked due to recency bias. That is what creates profit in your draft or auction.
There are a variety of reasons that these players are available at little-to-no cost in your auction. Some are recovering from injuries, some are coming off perceived fluke years or realistically awful years, others have landed in an unfortunate playing-time situation. In some cases, the player has no clear path to playing time during draft season due to crowded depth charts or rotations. Using those filters, let's seek out potential values for 2020 that should be cheap options to fill out your roster with the hope of earning a significant return on your investment.
REBOUND FROM INJURIES
Lorenzo Cain is getting up there in age, but 2019's decline was not all about the aging curve. He dealt with a thumb injury for a good portion of the season which required cryotheraphy to help resolve. Cain was a solid producer from 2014-2018, but he tried to play through the pain in 2019 and his numbers suffered for it.
Brandon Nimmo attempted to play through a neck injury early in the season and hit .200/.344/.323 before succumbing to what was eventually diagnosed as a bulging disk in his neck. He came back in September and raked at a .261/.430/.565 clip. The overall 2019 numbers look terrible, but combine September of 2019 with his 2017 and 2018 numbers, and you should be back on board.
Corbin Burnes was a hot commodity last offseason after he flashed his potential late in 2018. Last season, he still threw hard, struck out 70 in 49 innings, but nearly allowed as many homers (17) as he did walks (20). He was eventually shut down with a sore shoulder and didn't resurface until late September. A late-round flier that could return a healthy value if everything is right.
Ty France has hit 56 homers over the past two seasons while playing in Double-A, Triple-A and San Diego. Nearly half of those came in the El Paso Pinball Park, but France can hit with power. The problem for him is the Padres' roster is deep, and it is going to take a trade or an injury to free up time for France in the big leagues. If you draft him, you'll likely have to wait for a return on the investment.
Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw are both victims of the deep roster in Houston. Tucker put up a 30-30 season in Triple-A last season, but saw just 72 plate appearances in Houston. Straw hit .321 and stole 19 bases in 66 games in Triple-A, but only amassed 128 plate appearances in 56 games at the big-league level. Both players could be fun fantasy assets if afforded the ability to play every day, but neither is going to unseat the players in front of them. This gets back to drafting skills, not roles. If an injury happens, or the club involves them in another trade, they have the skills to make an impact even in an abbreviated season.
Sheldon Neuse is coming off a big year in Triple-A, but it's also the first year he has started to hit with the type of power projected from him. How much of that is his swing changing and how much is PCL + the new baseball remains to be seen. Oakland thinks enough of him that they dealt Jurickson Profar away, so the job is a fight between Neuse and Franklin Barreto. The latter is out of options, which gives him a leg up in the battle, but Neuse also already has nearly 1,100 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt. He's entering Desmond Jennings territory if he goes back for a third season.
OTHER NAMES TO WATCH
JaCoby Jones' average exit velocity in 2019 tied with the likes of J.D Martinez, Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. His expected stats say he left a bit on the table, but that sometimes happens with Detroit statistics due to the configuration of Comerica Park and its deeper power alleys. That said, Jones makes hard contact and Detroit will continue to allow him to play as their depth chart doesn't present many better options. This will be his third full season in the big leagues, and he showed some improvement last year in his plate discipline. A full-time job could produce a 20-20 season.
Jose Martinez is but a season removed from many speculating on his power upside. The Cardinals finally did the right thing and traded Martinez away to the American League in January; Martinez has long been a designated hitter waiting to be traded to the AL. Yes, Martinez does most of his damage against lefties (160 wRC+) and a short-side platoon role to begin the season seems likely, but he has held his own against righties over the course of his career (111 wRC+). If he gets more at-bats against righties than expected, he could end up being a fantastic bargain late in drafts.
Let everyone else look at Mitch Keller's major-league stats from 2019 and laugh when you pick him up late in 2020 drafts. Those numbers were indeed ugly, but he pitched well in Triple-A, and Statcast said Keller was in the top 20th percentile for fastball velocity, fastball spin rate, curveball spin rate and strikeout rate. Simply put, his stuff is much better than what the final results indicate. There was a 78-point differential from his actual weighted on-base average to his expected weighted on-base average last season as well.
Justus Sheffield has three pitches that grade out as better than average by scouts. He struggled to adjust to the new baseball in the Pacific Coast League, but did manage to strike out 22% of the hitters he faced in Seattle around the walks and the hits. He struggled with his command of those pitches, and batters pelted him to the tune of a .299 average, but Statcast had an expected batting average 45 points below that. He has under 100 innings of experience above Double-A ball, but lefties with three above-average pitches do not grow on trees.
Joey Lucchesi's 2019 was a disappointment because many expected him to take a step forward, but he took a step sideways statistically. His 4.18 ERA on the season was severely impacted by the times-through-the-order penalty as Lucchesi allowed eight of his 23 homers with a 7.26 ERA and 1.74 WHIP the third time through the order. Lucchesi's ERA the first two times through the order in 2019 was 3.49 with a 1.10 WHIP, so new skipper Jayce Tingler could give credence to those numbers and give the southpaw a quicker leash and thus help him improve his ratios in 2020.
This article appears in the 2020 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide. You can order a copy here.