11. Whit Merrifield 2B,CF,RF (KC)
He ranked first in the majors with 559 batted ball events last year, and he’s one of the premier line drive hitters in the league. Last year’s 28.5% line drive rate ranked first among all qualified hitters. And the year prior, his 29.8% rate ranked third. However, after a steals success rate of over 80% in both 2017 and 2018, Merrifield was caught 10 times on 30 attempts in 2019 (66.6% success rate). That coincides with the loss of a little speed, as he fell from the 92nd percentile to the 85th, his score dropping from 29.0 ft/s to 28.6 ft/s. He’s still fast compared to the average player, but it’s at least a slight concern given that he’ll turn 32 years old this season. Draft him for batting average help and runs scored, but don’t count on power (career 4.4% barrel rate) or speed.
Three straight years with an xBA in the .260s, a career .252 hitter, and three straight years of useful home run counts (38, 28, 35). He’s gone from the hitter’s haven of Milwaukee, but certainly landed on his feet in the Great American small park. You should know exactly what you’re getting from “Moose” by now. Put him down for a .250 average and a 30-homer pace.
You know who hates ground balls? Mike Trout. You know who else hates ground balls? Cavan Biggio. In his 100-game debut last year, Biggio posted a 25.4% ground ball rate, one that would have ranked second-lowest in the MLB had he qualified. Who had a lower rate, you wonder? If you guessed Mike Trout at 24.3%, you’d be correct. Anyway, Biggio’s 27.6% line drive rate, 47.0% fly ball rate, and above-average hard hit and barrel rates paint a pretty picture. He’s passive at the plate, as the 35.9% swing rate from 2019 was well below the MLB average of 47.0%. However, he DOES NOT chase bad pitches. His absurdly low 15.8% chase rate would have been the best mark in the MLB by far had he qualified, with Alex Bregman a distant second place at 18.8%. He may not post the best batting average, but the plate discipline guarantees a double-digit walk rate, so that 16.5% walk rate last year wasn’t a fluke. Give him a massive boost in leagues that utilize OBP, and don’t forget he’s got 80th percentile sprint speed, too. He’s an ideal No. 2 hitter for Toronto, and being surrounded by Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel is going to be a heck of a spot to hit.
He’s slated to bat third for Toronto after Bichette and Biggio, and ahead of Vladito. Talk about seeing some good pitches to hit. In last year’s 84-game sample, Gurriel Jr. popped 20 homers and stole six bags. He started the year slowly and was subsequently demoted to Triple-A, but when he returned as a left fielder (instead of a second baseman) things went well. He hits the ball hard, showing in the 82nd percentile last year in hard hit rate. His average exit velocity, barrel rate, and xSLG marks are all well above average, too. Last year’s low 5.8% walk rate is of some concern given his aggressive tendencies and 15.7% swinging strike rate…but this is a profile we’ve discussed frequently already. You either dig it or you don’t.
15. Tommy Edman 2B,3B,SS,RF (STL)
His walk rate has dropped over two levels since he posted a 10.5% walk rate at Triple-A back in 2018–but it’s tough to argue with the results. Despite rates of 6.9% (2019 Triple-A) and 4.6% (2019 MLB), Edman has posted quality OBPs of .356 and .350 over the last two levels. A well above-average 8.3% swinging strike rate, .287 xBA, and eye-popping 97th percentile sprint speed all factor in. He’s a candidate to displace an aging Matt Carpenter in one of the top two spots in the Cardinals lineup, and/or displace Kolten Wong when the Cards draw a southpaw. Question the power if you like, but Edman is a 30-steal threat with his on-base skills and speed. Add that to double-digit pop and multi-positional eligibility…Edman is a fine play in all formats in 2020.
It wasn’t long ago that Lux swiped 27 bags–2017, to be exact. And he’s been in double-digits across multiple levels in 2018 (13) and 2019 (12). He socked 26 homers last year across two minor league levels, prior to swatting two more once he arrived in the bigs. So 28 homers and 12 steals last year. The big fear in a shortened season (and with expanded rosters) is that the platoon-happy Dodgers hide Lux against left-handed pitchers. But against righties, he should rake.
He quietly hit 35 homers last season. I’m not sure where it came from, given that his batted ball profile and launch angle were fairly static. His barrel rate actually dropped from 8.3% in 2018 to 7.0% last year. His hard hit rate ticked up slightly to 31.5%, but that uninspiring mark still ranked below the 20th percentile. He also had a career-worst 12.0% swinging strike rate. On fly balls and line drives, Escobar’s 91.1 average exit velocity ranked 202nd of 250 qualified hitters. In general, this doesn’t read like a 30-homer bat, but more like a 20-homer guy. You can hold onto the 162 balls that Escobar hit over 95 MPH, ranking 67th in the MLB. That, and his average distance was 212 feet, ranking fourth in the big leagues. That’s a strange stat to end on, but I thought it worth noting. Just enjoy the 20 homers and five steals, okay?
We’ll find out if he’s an everyday player or a plus utility man soon enough. He slashed a ghastly .226/.267/.338 as a rookie in 2018, but still gave us eight homers and 10 steals. He rebounded solidly in Year 2, slashing a tolerable .258/.314/.474 with 19 homers and 15 steals in 126 games (500 PA). Call me crazy, but I sniff the coveted 20/20 plateau if Kingery ever gets a full season’s worth of at-bats. Anyway, last year he earned every bit of his 29.4% strikeout rate given his 15.1% swinging strike rate. However, while his swing rate remained static, he chased far less out of the zone and swung far more at pitches inside the strike zone. There wasn’t a jump in contact rate, but it’s nice to see some growth in plate discipline. Add in the 93rd percentile sprint speed, a stacked Phillies lineup, and a hitter’s home park…that’s a good recipe to hang your proverbial hat on. Just ding him a bit in OBP leagues given his below average walk rate (career 5.9%).
Ryan McMahon goes into the season with assurance from manager Bud Black that he will be a full-time player. Like many Colorado hitters, McMahon has big home and road splits, hitting .270 at home and .226 on the road last year. While he does hit the ball hard with a 95.8 MPH exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, he can help himself tremendously by reducing his 50.8% ground ball rate.
Danny Santana burst onto the scene in 2019, hitting .283 with 28 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He also had some of the worst plate discipline, striking out 29.5% of the time with only a 4.9% walk rate. Even if Santana plays full time for Texas, he’s got a profile that screams volatility. That said, a wide range of outcomes is possible, especially in a shortened season.
Wong has given use useful batting average and OBP marks in the past, as well as useful steals totals. Last year was significant in that he put it all together AND got the playing time he needed to have what constitutes a breakout (for him). He’s the starting second baseman for St. Louis and he should occupy one of the top two batting order slots in the everyday lineup. He’s a excellent glove with some speed, but I wouldn’t bank on tons of power. The 2.5% barrel rate and 83.6% average exit velocity are woeful, woeful marks–both inside the bottom 10% of the MLB.
Newman is expected to bat first or third for the Pirates in 2020. He gave us 12 homers and 16 steals in 130 games last year, slashing .308/.353/.446. The power won’t be there in a short season, as his .138 ISO in the majors last year was higher than any of his minor league marks. But the speed is a factor. Newman’s banner minor league campaign came in 2018, where he hit four homers and stole 28 bags at the Triple-A level. His success rate was right around 71% that year, and his 66.6% rate at the MLB level wasn’t great in 2019. But unless your league counts off for being caught stealing, we don’t care as much about that. He won’t hit the ball hard, last year’s 2.1% barrel rate and 84.7 MPH average exit velocity both ranked inside the bottom 5% of the MLB. But the .291 xBA (top 10%), 11.7% strikeout rate (top 3%), and 28.5 ft/s sprint speed (84th percentile) are nice…especially given his role atop the Pirates order.
A .377 BABIP and 34.6% strikeout rate does little to support the .270 batting average. But Lowe did hit the ball exceptionally hard, with a 96 MPH average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, and a 9.2% rate of barrels per plate appearance that would have ranked fourth among first basemen had he qualified.
Hampson flopped early on in 2019 and was demoted to the minors. Honestly, he struggled all season until the month of September. Hampson slashed .318/.368/.534 over those final 23 games, swiping a whopping nine bags over that time frame. So just enough to make us not forget about him in 2020, though he’s still facing an uphill battle for playing time. Ryan McMahon is slated to start at the keystone, so Hampson is merely a backup there. And Hampson won’t garner at-bats at Trevor Story’s expense. That leaves the outfield, where you’re hoping he wrestles time away from Ian Desmond. However, Desmond can still hit southpaws, slashing .297 with 14 of his 20 homers last year in that split. There’s also the left-handed hitting Sam Hilliard around, who will push for playing time as well. It’s a really crowded Colorado situation. You’ll have to hope for a trade or an injury. And there are likely candidates in Desmond, Daniel Murphy, and David Dahl–but I hate drafting a player and hoping for ill luck like that. Anyway, enjoy the 99th percentile sprint speed. Hopefully it doesn’t get wasted on a bench player.
Happ is exactly the sort of post-hype sleeper we should be targeting in 2020. His playing time outlook is boosted by talk of a universal DH, but he probably already had the inside track for the everyday center field job, anyway. Happ burst onto the scene in 2017, socking 24 homers and stealing eight bases. He was a popular sleeper in 2018, but a hefty 36.1% strikeout rate and .233 batting average undid all the good we would have gotten from his 15 homers and eight steals. In last year’s 58-game sample, he had his best showing yet, slashing .264/.333/.564 with 11 homers and two steals. He was far more aggressive, swinging 51.9% of the time. It was a good change for him, as his contact rates improved dramatically and his swing rate at pitches inside the zone did, too. His swinging strike rate has now fallen in each of his pro seasons: 16.0%, 15.3%, 14.7%. He also has a career .340 OBP despite his up-and-down start, and he plays for a team that lacks a true leadoff man. I’m just sayin’. Stranger things have happened. I’m all over this power/speed combo in 2020 drafts.
Solak is a hitter, plain and simple. He projects as a two-hole guy for the Rangers. In last season’s cup of coffee with Texas he slashed .293/.393/.491 over 33 games, logging five homers and two steals. That performance hardly seems like a fluke when you consider his minor league track record. Solak reads like an easy .270 MLB hitter with 20-homer power, with 89th percentile speed to boot. And that’s a floor projection. The jaw injury to Willie Calhoun temporarily opened up a spot in left field, but Calhoun has been on the mend since early March and he took live batting practice a couple of weeks ago. Solak did look okay in center field this spring, so there’s another avenue to playing time. There’s also 34-year-old Todd Frazier at third base, Rougned Odor’s up-and-down bat at the keystone, and a Ronald Guzman/Greg Bird? platoon at first base…there are multiple ways Solak can sneak into the lineup in 2020. The defensive side is a question mark, but luckily we only care about the stick.
While Chavis did hit 18 home runs in 95 games, he did so with some of the worst contact rates in baseball. If Chavis gets off to a slow start in a shortened season, we could see Jose Peraza take over at second base.
Despite the Nationals adding a billion veteran infielders this offseason, the 30-year-old should be the everyday second baseman. Ding him in leagues that count walks, but he’s a career .280 hitter who gave us a useful line despite the home confines of Miami last season: .270/.300/.436 with 22 homers. Washington’s lineup and home park are both positive shifts.
29. Rougned Odor 2B (TEX)
It pains me to say that Odor’s volatile profile is one you should consider moving up in your shortened season drafts in 2020. He’s always given us homers and steals. Just check out these HR/SB marks since 2016: 33/14, 30/15, 18/12, 30/11. The problem is the batting average, which suffers wild swings (pun intended). Over that same time, Odor’s batting averages are .271, .204, .253, and .205. He has a career .240/.293/.440 slash line. He’s a plus defender with speed who knocks the snot out of the ball when he does make contact. Last year’s beefed up launch angle reads like a mistake–Odor seems like a guy who would benefit from leveling out his swing, pulling the ball less, and using his speed to get on base. But what do I know? Take a chance on him if you must. Hang your hat on the 8.0% walk rate from 2018 and last year’s 9.0% walk rate. In OBP leagues maybe he’s slightly more palatable if he can have better luck on batted balls in 2020.