2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Vladimir Guerrero's a risk, but avoid him at your own peril
Will Vladimir Guerrero better deliver on the wild hype that surrounded him in 2019? It might not be smart to vote against him.
Vladimir Guerrero had a pretty good rookie season, all things considered. He hit .272 with 15 homers, 69 RBI and 52 runs in 123 games, and was a solidly above-average hitter as a 20-year-old. In fact, over the last decade, only five 20-year-olds have had at least 500 plate appearances with a better OPS+ than Guerrero's 106 mark.
However, Guerrero was, unquestionably, a disappointment for Fantasy. We haven't seen a rookie debut with more hype than Guerrero had in a long time after we watched him hit .381/.437/.636 in 95 games the year before in the minors. Guerrero was about as close to a sure thing as a 20-year-old hitter can be, so the fact that he was just above average certainly counts as a disappointment.
The most likely outcome for 2020 is that Guerrero disappoints Fantasy players who invest in him again. Projection systems aren't perfect, obviously, but they can give us a pretty good example of what the most-likely outcome for a player is, and they paint a pretty uniform picture of Guerrero in 2020: He'll be pretty good, but not enough to justify his cost.
For example, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system projections Guerrero to be a $13.31 player in 2020, with a 50th percentile projection of .274-76-25-85-4; that would be good for the 102nd-best player in Fantasy, just ahead of Teoscar Hernandez and behind Mark Canha.
Ariel Cohen's ATC projections (available on SportsLine.com here) project something similar for Guerrero: a .276-78-25-90-1 line and a finish as the No. 67 hitter. Steamer takes a rosier view, projecting him to be the No. 49 hitter; THE BAT has Guerrero as the No. 71 hitter. There are different spreads for the projections, but they all agree on one thing: Guerrero isn't worth a fifth-round pick for 2020.
With Guerrero, then, it's not about what the most-likely outcome is; it's about the upside. The problem is, we saw shockingly few glimpses of that upside in Guerrero's rookie season; Guerrero had a 1.133 OPS over a 25-game stretch from July 23 to Aug. 22, but then followed that up with a .571 OPS over the final 27 games of his season.
A big part of the issue was consistency. Guerrero showed his mammoth raw power in the Home Run Derby, and led all hitters in batted balls with an exit velocity over 115 mph with eight — Aaron Judge was the only player who had more than five. However, he ranked in just the 58th percentile overall in average exit velocity (89.4 mph), and in just the 46th percentile in hard-hit rate (38.4%).
The upside is clear. Guerrero could be the rare hitter who emerges as a first-round Fantasy hitter without stealing bases — a Nolan Arenado who competes for a batting title every year. That's the upside. The tools are there. The question is, what are the chances he figures it all out?
The good news is, Guerrero has identified the primary place he needs to improve: Hitting the ball in the air more. Guerrero ranked 372nd out of 406 hitters with at least 100 balls in play with a 6.7 degree average launch angle as a rookie, and Blue Jays hitting coach Guillermo Martinez told MLB.com a lot of that was in part due to Guerrero's conditioning.
"When he was fatigued, it caused him to search for more power, which caused him to jump at the baseball," Martinez said. "When you jump at the baseball, you don't create time and you have to speed up everything. That caused him to pull balls into the ground."
Now, Guerrero is never going to be a Joey Gallo-esque fly-ball machine — he consistently ran ground-ball rates around 50% in the minors — but it's clear he needs to hit the ball in the air more. You can get hits on the ground, but the real production lies in those line drives and fly balls, and Guerrero has put in time this offseason to improve his conditioning as well as to increase his launch angle.
Whether that will all come together remains to be seen, obviously. By investing a fifth-round pick in Guerrero, you're asking him to do something he's never done before, which always invites risk. The most likely outcome is, Guerrero is a good-but-not-great hitter — think something like Nick Castellanos the past few seasons. Add in that he doesn't run in an era when stolen bases are one of the most valuable Fantasy stats a player can provide, and it can be hard to justify an investment in him at this price. There's a reason Guerrero is listed among the riskiest picks in both .
However, you can't win a Fantasy league by drafting solely based on the most-likely outcome, either. You have to invite risk onto your team. Whether that's in the form of buying pitchers early on Draft Day or planting a flag on a few breakouts you'll reach for, you're going to need multiple players to dramatically outperform their cost on Draft Day.
And Guerrero is a prime example of a player who can do just that. If his projections suggest he should be more like the 100th pick and his upside resides somewhere outside of the top-five picks, you're splitting the difference nicely at his current cost. I won't make drafting Guerrero a priority in every single league — there are too many other good hitters with upside in his range of the draft and at third base. But it would be foolish to fade him entirely.
So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.
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