2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Five adjustments Cavan Biggio, Eric Hosmer, more can make to become stars
These five hitters can be great if they can just make one or more key adjustments.
One thing you always have to keep in mind with Fantasy baseball is that talent is never static. You might think you have the book on a player, and then they turn around and totally stun you — sometimes in the middle of a season, sometimes from one season to the next, and sometimes after a decade in the bigs. The margins for error in baseball are so slim that minor tweaks can make all the difference.
Last week, Frank Stampfl wrote about theand what that could mean for their 2020 value, and it's always important to know who changed their game last season. But you can and should also be on the lookout for players who might be on the verge of a breakout if they just make a few changes in their approach, skill set or otherwise.
Again, the margin between a star and a scrub can be razor thin. Here are five players who could break out in 2020, and what they'll need to do to get there.
What does he need to change? He needs to be more aggressive.
Biggio is in a similar spot to where Yoan Moncada was a year ago — the skill set has obvious appeal for Fantasy, but the approach needs some tweaks. Biggio is an incredibly patient hitter, but it verges on passivity, as was the case with Moncada. That passivity leads to walks, but it also potentially leads to good pitches to hit being passed by.
To put some numbers to it, Moncada swung at just 20.3% of pitches out of the strike zone in 2018, a good mark, but also swung at just 62.3% of pitches in the zone; Biggio swung at just 13.5% of pitches out of the zone and 60.1% of pitches in the zone.
Obviously, what you do with those pitches matters as much as the pitch selection, but in both cases, those hitters were racking up too many called strikes, leading to strikeout rates worse than their contact rates would lead you to expect. I'm not saying Biggio needs to swing at everything, but like Moncada (who increased his in-zone swing rate to 66.7% in 2019), he would better served by jumping on a few more hittable pitches earlier in the count, even at the cost of some walks.
Should you expect it? It's always hard to say with stuff like this, because it's all about what the player wants to do. What I will say is, we should know pretty early on whether he has decided to take a more aggressive approach; Moncada's first 10 games featured a higher swing rate than any prior stretch.
What does he need to change? He needs to improve vs. left-handed pitching.
The expected introduction of the universal DH for 2020 gives Lux a clearer path to playing every day, but he's still going to need to prove he can at least handle himself against left-handed pitching. The track record there is pretty rough:
To be fair, he did fare better in 2019, posting a .299/.355/.485 line against them in the minors, however he still struck out 31.8% of the time and needed a BABIP over .400 to get there. Given the Dodgers' depth and their past willingness to put even top prospects like Joc Pederson into platoon roles if it improves their chances of winning.
Should you expect it? His improvements last year are a good sign, but I'm skeptical given the overall track record. Lux is a fine sleeper, but I'd be wary of reaching for him, especially if he gets announced as a starter when spring resumes.
What does he need to change? His swing, apparently; but more specifically, he needs to hit fewer pop ups.
To hit home runs, you need to hit the ball hard, and you need to hit the ball in the air, and the less often you do the former, the more you have to do the latter. Hoskins does hit the ball in the air plenty, but that's part of the problem: Too often, he hits the ball too high in the air.
The concept of launch angle is one most Fantasy players should be familiar with at this point, but it's important to note the inherent issues with an average: Two balls hit with a 20 degree launch angle will have the same average launch angle as one hit at 0 degrees and the other at 40, but the two hit at 20 degrees will have a much better chance of turning into hits. Let's illustrate that:
OK, so it's unfair to compare anyone to Mike Trout, but these two hitters were first and third in average launch angle. You can see Trout has a much tighter cluster of batted balls around 20 degrees, while Hoskins has several smaller clusters distributed throughout the spectrum; some around 15 degrees, more around 30, and even more in pop-up territory.
That's a sign of a broken swing. It's a shame we didn't get to see much of Hoskins' new-look swing in the spring, but it's a good sign that he at least recognized the problem.
Should you expect it? Well, we know Hoskins changed his swing already, which makes me at least want to take a shot on Hoskins if he falls to the right place — say, the 11th round.
What does he need to change? The same thing as always: He needs to hit the ball in the air more.
There's never been any real question of Hosmer's skills — the scouts were right about him. They've always been right about him. The issue, at least as a hitter, is his approach. He hits the ball plenty hard, ranking in the 87th percentile in hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity, but ranked well below average by barrel rate (a measure of the most productive type of batted balls) and BasballSavant.com's expected slugging stat. Hitting the ball hard into the ground might damage some worms, but it's not going to damage opposing pitchers.
Don't just take my word for it.
"I've got to get the ball in the air a little more," Hosmer told The Athletic at the start of spring training. "I've got to drive the ball a little more. I hit the ball really hard. It just goes on the ground."
Should you expect it? Hosmer had been frustratingly stubborn about the idea that he needed to change his approach -- after all, what he was doing landed him a huge contract and won him a World Series. The fact that he's talking about trying to improve his approach should make you optimistic enough to target him as a CI option just in case.
What does he need to change? Well, it's not so simple.
So, with the rest of the guys here, you really can point to just one thing they've got to fix to become Fantasy studs. There isn't just one thing with Alfaro. In fact, his issues are a combination of many of the other individual ones we see here. I want to highlight him because he's one of the biggest examples of the difference between potential and actualization. In short, Alfaro needs to make the transition from athlete to baseball player.
If you lined up every catcher in the game and tasked them with performing in a combine-type setting, Alfaro might look like the best player at the position. Behind the plate, he had the eighth-quickest average pop time out of 78 players ranked on BaseballSavant.com; he also had the third-highest throw velocity in the game at 88.2 mph.
With a 28.8 feet per second average sprint speed, he led the position and was one of just two in the top 90. Among others, Alfaro had a higher sprint speed than Tommy Pham, Christian Yelich, and Tim Anderson. He's got wheels to spare.
And he ranks third at the position in average exit velocity, second in hard-hit rate, and second in average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives.
You can make a reasonable case that Alfaro is the most talented player at the catcher position. All the tools are there for him to be an elite player. Unfortunately, he combines a Hoskins-esque inconsistency with league-worst plate discipline with Hosmer-esque ground ball issues, and these thing combine to hold him back.
Should you expect it? There is elite Fantasy potential here, but it's all in the package of a soon-to-be 27-year-old with nearly 1,000 plate appearances at the major-league level and three times that many in the minors. If it was just one thing that had to go right, maybe. However, you can do worse with your No. 2 catcher spot even if he doesn't improve, which means he's the perfect player to take that chance on.
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