2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Rankings breakdown, No. 31-40
Learn why you should — and maybe why you shouldn't — draft players 31-40 in our consensus rankings.
Welcome to our 2019 Player Profiles series. We are going through the top-300 in Heath Cummings and Scott White's consensus rankings to give you the case for and the case against drafting each player. By the time you're done, you'll know everything you need to know for drafting in 2019.
31. Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals
The Case For: Honestly, at this point, Whit Merrifield might just be underrated for Fantasy. If all he does is continue providing elite production in steals, he'll be worth whatever you pay for him on Draft Day; and given that the Royals seem intent on bringing back the stolen base single handedly, there's no reason to expect him to stop running. Merrifield has a career .336 BABIP and a well-below-average strikeout rate, so it should be hard for him to keep contributing in batting average, and you should probably expect a bit more power from him than we say in 2018, given his batted-ball profile.
The Case Against: If Merrifield goes back to his 2017 steal rate, we're going to have to see a little more offense from him overall. In fact, up until the last few months, he wasn't really having a particularly special season when it came to stolen bases; 16 of his 45 steals came in September. Maybe the Royals figured something out with Merrifield (and Adalberto Mondesi), but if they don't let Merrifield run wild, his value certainly takes a hit.
32. Gerrit Cole, SP, Astros
The Case For: It might seem like the Astros are magicians with the way they maximize pitchers, but they're actually scientists. Cole benefited from their tinkering, unlocking his full potential in a breakout 2018. Cole led the league in strikeout rate at 12.4, and this was a massive improvement; he hadn't topped 8.7 since 2014. Cole ditched his sinker, leaned more heavily on his curveball and slider, and turned into one of the pre-eminent swing-and-miss artists in the game. This was what he was always supposed to be.
The Case Against: I won't pretend that I have concerns about Cole's performance, because I really don't. I suppose home runs could be a problem with his elevated flyball rate, but that's a pretty small concern given how well he avoids contact and his above-average control. The only thing I can see that might trip Cole up is injuries. After all, he was limited to just 116 innings in 2016 with elbow inflammation, and there's always a risk when you throw in the upper 90s. Which means Cole has the same risk as basically every pitcher in baseball.
33. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
The Case For: Even a weakened version of Kershaw struck out 8.6 batters per nine and sported a 2.73 ERA and 1.041 WHIP. Kershaw's diminished fastball velocity was a subject of much consternation during another difficult postseason run, but this is still a guy who has some of the best secondary offerings in baseball, and defines "good command and control." Don't put it past him to figure out some tricks that help him age gracefully. I wouldn't bet against him.
The Case Against: But I might bet against his body. Kershaw's now dealt with back issues three years in a row, and they've messed with his delivery and sapped some of that velocity. If he can get that right he's still potentially as good as anyone, but players also don't tend to get healthier in their thirties. I wouldn't bet against Kershaw's work ethic or mind set, but if the body doesn't cooperate, it won't matter. You might get 150 really good innings out Kershaw like the past three seasons, or he might go down for good in April.
34. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
The Case For: Now, Correa, there's a guy you're swinging for the fences with. We've seen brief flashes of absolute Fantasy superstardom from him, but he hasn't quite put it all together for a full season. But when you take the component parts, he's incredibly impressive: Better-than-league-average strikeout rate; a good eye at the plate; elite batted-ball data; a great park and lineup. Correa is the kind of hitter we're going to keep chasing for years no matter how often he disappoints because the upside is that high.
The Case Against: It's hard to say his career has been a disappointment to date, but he hasn't really put together that one massive season. The closest he came was in 2017, when he hit .315/.391/.550, but played in just 109 games, which limited his counting stats. Other than that, he had a decent-but-not-elite 2016, and a frankly bad 2018. Blame it on injuries, but Correa has now missed significant time in two consecutive seasons, and the back injury he tried to play through in 2018 is especially concerning. With both performance and health-related risks, Correa could wind up being a sunk cost in 2019.
35. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
The Case For: It's not all about speed, but it's mostly about speed. We've seen 40-plus steals from Marte twice before, and he was running at that kind of pace in his suspension-interrupted 2017. He still attempted 47 steals in 2018, but was caught an uncharacteristically high 14 times (70.2 percent success rate). Stolen-base percentage is a number that tends to fluctuate wildly from year to year — Marte himself was 21 of 25 in 2017 — so bet on some positive regression from Marte in 2019. Add in 15-20 homers and probably some batting average improvement (his .312 BABIP in 2018 was 34 points lower than his career norm), and Marte's a strong bet to be a five-category contributor, with plus-plus value in the scarcest category in the game.
The Case Against: Marte turned 30 at the end of the 2018 season, and players who rely on speed tend not to age well. He's a more complete hitter than someone like Dee Gordon, and we saw how Gordon fell apart in his age-30 season. When so much of your value is tied up in being an outlier in stolen bases, even a drop into the high-20s can have a significant impact on your value.
36. Noah Syndergaard, SP, Mets
The Case For: On a per-inning basis, there aren't many better pitchers than Syndergaard. Among all pitchers who have thrown at least 500 innings since 2018, Syndergaard ranks 11th in K%, ninth in K-BB%, fourth in ERA, second in FIP and fifth in SIERA. When he's on the mound, Syndergaard is an elite pitcher, and he stands to improve on his 9.04 K/9 from 2018, as his 13.6 percent swinging strike rate is in range of career norms.
The Case Against: "On a per-inning basis…" "When he's on the mound…" You get the drift? In 2016, he pitched through bone spurs in his elbow; In 2017, he missed most of the season with a torn lat muscle in his pitching arm; In 2018, he missed a month with a finger injury, and was limited to 154.1 innings. It's encouraging that Syndergaard hasn't had any more serious elbow issues, but he's still struggled to stay healthy all the same. He's one of the riskiest of the high-end pitchers, and you'll have to decide for yourself if you can take on that risk.
37. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians
The Case For: It finally happened for Bauer. Baseball's most notorious tinkerer found the right combination last offseason, refining his slider and taking a huge step forward. Bauer posted the first sub-4.00 ERA of his career, and he blew past that mark, putting up a 2.21 ERA over 175.1 innings, and likely would have been the AL Cy Young if he hadn't suffered a leg injury in the season. Bauer's traditionally pedestrian swinging strike rate spiked to 13.3 percent, and that coincided with a jump in strikeout rate from 26.2 in 2017 to 30.8 percent. We've been waiting to see this from Bauer for a long time and given his data-heavy approach off the field, he seems a good bet to sustain this improvement.
The Case Against: As with anyone, even someone as steeped in next-level thinking as Bauer, it usually pays to be wary of massive one-year jumps in production. Bauer had certainly shown flashes before, but we'd never seen a swinging strike rate from him like the one he posted in 2018, and he did that with a pitch opposing hitters had never seen before. With an offseason of scouting, will Bauer be able to keep it up? Or is it possible his breakout was at least partially a result of taking the league by surprise?
38. George Springer, OF, Astros
The Case For: It feels like we haven't seen the best of Springer yet. We've seen guys like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, or Charlie Blackmon have that one season where they just seemingly can do no wrong. We really haven't gotten that from Springer. He posted a .342 BABIP in 2015, sure, but he missed 60 games and had the fourth-lowest HR/FB ratio of his career. Injuries, both serious and nagging, have seemingly robbed us of the best of Springer. But that upside still exists, and the floor for Springer is higher enough that he's not much of a gamble at this point in the draft.
The Case Against: Well … we haven't seen the best of Springer yet, and at 29, he's running out of prime. What if this is just who he is: a decent contributor in average and power, without much speed, who plays up because of the lineup he's in. That, of course, isn't a bad thing, but given his injury history, you're counting on everyday playing time to justify making him a centerpiece of your team. That's a risk, for sure.
39. Matt Carpenter, 1B/3B, Cardinals
The Case For: You either trust the process, or you don't. If you don't, you gave up on Matt Carpenter years ago. If you do, well … you probably won your league last year. After two years of elite peripherals and underwhelming production, Carpenter stayed healthy and lived up to his potential, hitting .257 with 36 homers, 111 runs, and 81 RBI. He carried your team for months on end, and remains an advanced stats darling. Do you trust the process?
The Case Against: Carpenter's skill set hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, but it's possible his approach — heavy on fly balls and to the pull side — could lead to more year-to-year fluctuation than you otherwise might expect. And that's assuming he doesn't start seeing some deterioration in his skills. A late bloomer, Carpenter is already 33, a risky age.
40. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
The Case For: There's always some new, shiny toy that distracts us from Rendon, and every year, Rendon ranks among the best of his position. Rendon is one of just seven players in all of baseball to record at least four seasons with 20 HR, 80 RBI, and 80 runs in the last five years, and he usually does it with a healthy contribution in batting average, to boot. He doesn't hit for quite as much power or run quite enough to ever challenge for the top spot at third base, but he's the safe fallback who'll help carry your team all season.
The Case Against: At a position where 10 players hit at least 27 homers and 19 hit at least 20, do you really want to be the one who settles for Rendon? Sure, he won't blow your team up, but at some point you've gotta take a shot at real upside. If you went safe early on, Rendon probably isn't the right pick for you.
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