With the 2019 season winding down and many of us out of the hunt already, why not begin speculating about 2020?
Pressure's off right now. Nobody's drafting a team or anything, so it's not like I'm bound to any prescribed process. At least for now, I can take off my analyst hat and shout recklessly into the ether. Things are going to get real reasonable real quick, after all, so if I don't take this opportunity to go a little nuts, well, I'm just not living.
I'm not even sure these are so reckless, honestly. They just push the limits of what's reasonable, relying on gut feel to go a little beyond what I'd be most inclined to do.
Whatever, it's fun. Some early thoughts ... have at 'em.
1) Ronald Acuna rates as the No. 1 player in Fantasy
He won't be drafted that way, nor should he be, but Acuna has put to rest any doubts about his stolen base prowess or strikeout proclivity and proven to have tip-top upside at an age (21) when it'd be unreasonable to think we've already seen him at his best. And if he's batting leadoff for a full year, which seems like a given after manager Brian Snitker called himself a "dumbass" for trying him anywhere else, he'll be running enough that a 40/40 campaign should be well within reach (like it's easy or something).
2) Free agent disappointments Bryce Harper and Manny Machado turn out to be two of the biggest Draft Day bargains
Making apologies for Harper is something we Fantasy Baseball analysts are in the habit of doing, but while there's certainly no case to be made for him as a first- or second-rounder anymore, the strikeout rate has settled down since the end of May, putting to rest concerns of an honest-to-goodness decline. A career-worst strikeout rate may also be chiefly to blame for Machado's underwhelming numbers, but none of his measurables are drastically out of sorts. It wouldn't take much of a correction for him to climb back near the top of the heap at a couple of crowded positions (third base and shortstop).
3) Edwin Diaz re-emerges as an ace closer ... for a different team
OK, so I couldn't help but prod Mets fans a little with that last part, but there was talk of them moving him at the deadline. His rebirth may well be for the Mets themselves, who like the progress he's been making to shore up his slider in side sessions. It's clear just from the number of strikeouts he's been piling up that there's still plenty to work with, and a 2.88 SIERA is further reason for optimism.
4) Will Smith is the No. 1 catcher
A team with the resources and ambitions that the Dodgers have wouldn't turn full-time catching duties over to a rookie unless it was 100 percent confident he was up to the task, and defensively, there wasn't much doubt about that. The massive power display has been just a continuation from his breakthrough season at Triple-A, giving him a puncher's chance at a combined 40 home runs, which would suggest comparable upside to the often injured and defensively suspect Gary Sanchez.
5) Mitch Garver also places in the top five
The top catcher in Head-to-Head points per game apart from Smith? It's Garver, with no one else even in the vicinity. He hasn't gotten the attention he deserves because of the at-bats he's had to share with the perfectly playable Jason Castro, but Castro is a free agent at season's end. And while some bad BABIP luck has pulled down Garver's batting average in recent months, the power has remained steady.
6) Jose Ramirez again performs like a first-rounder
In what deserves to go down as one of the most confounding slumps in major-league history, Ramirez was about a .200 hitter for nearly a full calendar year, bringing humiliation in the form of I-told-you-sos to those who invested the third overall pick in him this spring. And then just as suddenly as it went, it came back in July, resulting in a .320 batting average, 15 homers, six steals and a 1.045 OPS in 46 games before a broken hamate bone ended his season. He maintained one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball throughout it all, so a complete bottoming out never made much sense. I'll trust he's back on track now.
7) Vladimir Guerrero goes ballistic and leaves the doubters crying in their corn flakes
For as hyped as Guerrero was (and I most certainly contributed it to it), anything short of immediate stardom had to be met with disappointment, but he has hit most of the right notes as a rookie, keeping the strikeout rate down while making plenty of hard contact. He just hasn't elevated enough to translate that contact into the sort of home run total needed to stand out in this environment. But that's a smaller task, not to mention one Juan Soto has managed to accomplish here in his second season.
8) Corey Seager re-establishes himself as an elite shortstop, with Gavin Lux as his double-play partner
The plate discipline has been excellent for Seager all year, and he looked like he might be picking it up a the plate before a hamstring injury derailed his progress in mid-June. More than anything else, he just hasn't hit the ball as hard in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but that's not enough of a reason on its own, particularly given the extenuating circumstances, to bail on a 25-year-old who played like an MVP candidate straight out of the minors. And yes, I'm hopeful of a big enough contribution from Lux in October that he's right there alongside Seager next March.
9) Nate Lowe is the undrafted hitter who makes the biggest impact
I don't know what's more impressive about this guy: the bat skills or how far he's capable of hitting the ball when he gets a hold of one. He may be another Paul Goldschmidt in the making, and even if it becomes apparent he's set to claim the Rays starting first base job this spring, he's sure to go later than he should just by virtue of all the alternatives at the position.
10) Miguel Andujar doesn't make the Yankees opening day roster
The convenient excuse will be because he's feeling some lingering effects from the shoulder surgery that knocked him out all of this year, but it'll be more because the Yankees don't have a spot for him. Maybe he'll eventually find his niche as a full-time DH, but Gio Urshela has the third base job on lockdown now, proving to be just as capable of a hitter as Andujar (if not better) and a far, far superior defender.
11) Nick Senzel becomes a blind-faith breakout on the level of Rafael Devers or Josh Bell
Those two didn't do much to telegraph what was coming in 2019, and likewise, it's not like Senzel has contributed amazing peripherals during what's been a mostly underwhelming rookie season. But he hasn't revealed any red flags either, showing perfectly acceptable plate discipline with some all-fields tendencies and even a greater inclination to run than most probably would have anticipated. A little faith in the pedigree could go a long way on Draft Day, particularly if he's considered old hat by that point.
12) Walker Buehler wins the NL Cy Young
For as impressive as Buehler has been in his first two major-league seasons, he hasn't dominated out of the gate either time, first needing to his legs under him during his rookie 2018 season and then needing to make up for a lost spring training this year. But when he did finally get it in gear in each of those instances, he showed best-in-baseball-type ability, combining top-shelf swing-and-miss stuff with elite control. Will Year 3 be the year the Dodgers turn him loose?
13) Chris Sale wins the AL Cy Young
He's due, OK? And frankly, the only time it'd be anything in the neighborhood of bold to predict a Cy Young finish for Sale is coming off a year in which the prevailing storyline was "what's wrong with him?" Oh, I don't know ... he only leads the majors in K/9, having turned in 14 double digit-strikeout efforts while delivering the third-best xFIP in baseball. The inflated ERA is something most ace-caliber pitchers have had to battle through with this year's home run explosion, so I'm thinking his wouldn't have gotten the out-sized attention if not for a 6-11 record. As long as his elbow checks out next spring, I'm as down with him as ever.
14) Hyun-Jin Ryu becomes a year-long headache
Before we even get into the unlikelihood of a guy with less than eight strikeouts per nine innings sustaining an ERA around 2.00 in this environment, let's not lose sight of the fact Ryu is a 32-year-old who has spent as much of his major-league career on the IL as off it. Between all of that and an expected change in environment as he enters free agency, it's unreasonable to think everything will go so right for Ryu again and more likely to suspect a series of misfortunes may be forthcoming.
15) Mike Soroka figures out how to miss more bats, legitimately moving him into the ace conversation
As poised and polished as Soroka already looks, you might be surprised to learn he just turned 22, so he was one of the youngest guys at every level during his rapid climb up the minor-league ladder. He may be just scratching the surface of his potential, in other words, and learning to put hitters away would seem like a reasonable goal now that he has a chance to settle in. It'd be a similar development path to Aaron Nola, himself considered a questionable source of strikeouts at first, and I think Soroka is skilled and adaptable enough to figure it out.
16) The Braves rotation emerges as one of the deepest and most dominant in baseball
Say they re-sign Dallas Keuchel, which seems like a reasonable enough bet given the way that relationship has gone so far. Soroka appears to have ace potential, and Mike Foltynewicz seems to be back on the right track. Max Fried has actually been one of this season's biggest underachievers, according to xFIP, with some bad BABIP and home run luck serving to neutralize his average swing-and-miss and plus-plus ground-ball tendencies. Factor in the arrival of Ian Anderson, who may turn out to be the best of their highly touted pitching prospects, and they won't have to continue banking on Julio Teheran to outperform his peripherals.
17) The Rays rotation emerges as one of the deepest and most dominant in baseball
They have their ace in Charlie Morton, who's signed for at least one more year, and Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough have both made significant enough strides this year that their viability is no longer in question. Deadline acquisition Trevor Richards, with his world-beating changeup, seems like the kind of pitcher a savvy organization like this one could mold into something special, and of course they've already done that with Tyler Glasnow, who'll presumbly be back to full health. Brendan McKay will get another chance to shine, and there's still a case to be made Brent Honeywell is actually the better prospect even coming off two elbow injuries. And did I just "oh, by the way" Blake Snell?
18) Carter Kieboom becomes a mainstay second baseman
Pressed into duty because of an injury to Trea Turner earlier this season, Kieboom was a disaster both offensively and defensively for about two weeks before the Nationals pulled the plug, but the 21-year-old has only validated his top prospect standing at Triple-A, hitting for average and power with plus on-base skills. With Brian Dozier and Howie Kendrick both hitting free agency, here's betting he's more prepared to step in this time.
19) Joey Bart pushes Buster Posey aside about midseason, making for an uncomfortable but highly necessary transition
The second overall pick in last year's draft has had an uneven showing during an injury-plagued first full season, but the Giants have moved him up to Double-A regardless. The scouting reports remain sparkling with regard to both his offense and defense, and with Buster Posey devolving into Tony Wolters at the dish, you can trust he won't be able to hold off Bart for the entirety of his age-33 season.
20) Amed Rosario inspires countless think pieces hyping him as the next big thing but ultimately falls flat again
I'll say this for the 23-year-old: There are times when he hits a bunch of singles all at once, and when one of those times comes when he's batting leadoff for the Mets, as happened when Jeff McNeil was sidelined earlier this month, it can amount to some worthwhile production. But there just isn't enough power or on-base ability to move him ahead in this environment, especially if he's not going to be a big-time base-stealer. I'll grant you he's too young to write off, especially given his prospect pedigree, but with so many other young shortstops showing clearer signs of studliness, there's no need to bother outside of deeper leagues.
21) Giovanny Gallegos becomes the closer the Cardinals have been looking all the wrong places for
They tried throwing big dollars at Greg Holland. They tried fleshing out Jordan Hicks' arsenal to make the most of that big fastball. They tried converting Carlos Martinez from a starting role. None of them were able to stabilize the closer role in a way that Gallegos, prize of the Luke Voit deal last year and owner of a 1.95 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 11.9 K/9 this year, potentially could. He'll need to get the chance first, but given the likelihood of Martinez shifting back to the rotation next year, it's hardly a long shot.
22) Jo Adell becomes the rookie who goes too late while everyone is hyper focused on Luis Robert
Robert has been the prospect generating all the headlines this year with the huge numbers and power-speed combo (a 30/30 guy!) that Fantasy players covet. And yeah, he'll probably get his shot early next year, but so might Adell, who most traditional prospect lists rank even higher. His numbers aren't as eye-popping (because whose are?), and he hasn't adjusted as easily to Triple-A. There aren't any weaknesses in his skill set, though, and the Angels are presumably counting on him, unless they want to pick up an expensive option year for Kole Calhoun.
23) Rhys Hoskins struggles to remain a worthwhile mixed-league starter
Hoskins has hit only about .200 since the middle of May, and while he's still managed to get on base enough to remain a relevant contributor in Fantasy, it's troubling that he continues to regress after his stellar showing as a rookie two years ago. His swing is so geared for the long ball at the expense of batting average that he needs a considerable number of home runs to stand out, especially in a homer-rich environment. Another step back next year could be catastrophic for him.
24) Miguel Sano hits 50 home runs
The hope-for-enough-power-to-make-up-for-a-league-worst-strikeout-rate is a profile I abhor, but with the successes of Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo in recent years, I'm advised to keep an open mind. So, Sano ... he's another one who hits the ball crazy hard while striking out way too much (his hard-hit rate and strikeout rate would each rank tops in the league, according to FanGraphs, if he had the at-bats to quality), and it's led to some power numbers that are difficult to dispute, really. Just double the homers, as the number of games would suggest, and you're there.
25) James Paxton finally delivers the season everyone was waiting for — and right when no one's expecting it
No matter how his September goes, Paxton's final numbers aren't going to be pretty, and seeing as he's already developed a reputation as a Fantasy tease, it's fair to assume he won't be in such high demand next year. But the actual stuff hasn't rated so poorly — he has a career-high swinging strike rate, in fact — so while injuries remain an issue, a return to a normal BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate would cure much of what ails him statistically.
26) Griffin Canning, Dinelson Lamet, Andrew Heaney ride their elite whiff rates to big breakouts
Entering Monday, the leaders in swinging strike rate among qualifiers were Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Luis Castillo, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom and Lucas Giolito, which should give you a sense of what that particular skill can do for a pitcher. If they had the innings to qualify, Canning would rank 12th (between Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg). Ditto for Lamet, and Heaney would actually rank ninth. They've had obstacles to overcome, with Griffin just breaking into the league and Lamet and Heaney both working their way back from injuries, but their upside is considerable.
27) Julio Urias enters the starting rotation but remains a disappointment
The former top prospect has put up a good ERA in long relief, but with less than a strikeout per inning. His xFIP is in the mid-fours, for crying out loud. Normally, a pitcher's stuff plays up in shorter spurts, so while I'm not normally one to bet against a 23-year-old with upside, I'm thinking the hype for one as long-awaited as Urias will be a little more than I can justify. It's not like he won't still be facing innings issues next year.
28) The right side of the Rockies' infield catches up to the left
Ryan McMahon remains a work in progress, but his power production has picked up in the second half, giving clearer reason to believe he's a fixture in this lineup moving forward. The question is whether it's at second base or first, where he figures to shift once top prospect Brendan Rodgers recovers from a torn labrum next year. By that point, I suspect the Rockies will be eager to move on from Daniel Murphy, who may be beyond saving at age 35 if Coors Field couldn't do the trick.
29) Zac Gallen establishes himself as a front-line pitcher
Though he doesn't have a sparkling pedigree, the way Gallen dominated an impossibly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to the tune of a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts showed he's something special, and his work in the major leagues so far hasn't refuted it. The stuff has played even better than expected, in fact, judging by the strikeouts and swinging strikes, but the walks have been an issue. Seeing as command was one of his greatest strengths in the minors, though, I'm banking on him overcoming those in time.
30) Clint Frazier hits 30 homers for his new team ... we'll say the Rangers
Between defensive miscues and unfortunate exchanges with the media, Frazier has seemingly worn out his welcome in New York even though his work at the dish has been pretty promising. That he hasn't gotten a second look down the stretch even with all the Yankees' injuries pretty much tells you where things stand, and you have to expect they'll pawn him off for some useful part, maybe for the bullpen, this offseason.