The weather is beginning to turn for the better and a renewed sense of hope is in the air. Fantasy baseball is back and those of us who love the game couldn’t be more excited about it! The game has gone through many transformations over the years. We currently find ourselves in the early stages of unlocking the secrets behind advanced analytics. There are some intelligent people out there doing incredible work in the baseball community. Their innovation and willingness to share their gifts and support each other only continue to grow the game.
A difference between now and when I played my first league is the introduction of prospects to the game. It brought an entirely new element to fantasy baseball and opened the door for some intriguing dynasty leagues. To this day, there are mixed feelings about how to best utilize prospects in fantasy leagues. Some people see them as essential for long-term success. Others see them as nothing more than trade pieces to help them win right now. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, there’s little doubt that prospects have become a big part of the fantasy experience. Becoming familiar with them can help you either way.
Like building a team through the draft, several different approaches can work with prospects. If your league values pitching, then consider bumping them up. If you value players that are closer but may not have as much upside, pay attention to ages and ETA. Prospects are mostly about projecting the future and figuring out how their skillsets could play a role in fantasy baseball down the line. It’s important to factor in your specific league categories as well. Certain prospects rise and fall depending on the categories being used. There are so many different ways to evaluate players making it such an interesting puzzle to try and put together.
I will be writing articles throughout the season discussing this list and the movement of players as more data becomes available. As a general guideline, here are some of the factors that go into this list…
1. I weigh upside over proximity to the Major Leagues. My approach is more tilted towards discovering future game-changing players. Someone who is on the verge of a promotion, or already has a job secured definitely gets a boost up the rankings. But the players with special skillsets get a lot of respect from me, even if their track record isn’t yet established.
2. While Minor League stats do have value, they are just a part of the process. There is so much development happening at this stage of their career that I don’t always find it to be an accurate way to gauge future fantasy value. Different leagues and parks also increase or suppress production, so it’s important to know the difference between legitimate improvements and being aided by offensive-heavy parks.
3. Age vs. Level is something I have used for many years to discover potential gems or avoid landmines. Simply put, a 19-year-old who is tearing through Double-A carries significantly more weight than a 23-year-old at the same level. Prospects who are much younger than their competition tend to have a lot of potential and upside, even if the statistics don’t necessarily look appealing.
4. Projecting positions for prospects can be tricky, as a lot of them end up moving to a different spot once they’ve been promoted. It is important to understand the general defensive skill set of the players. As we all know, there are certain positions that have more depth in the Majors. Prospects who can fill one of those spots have a higher floor and less pressure to reach certain statistical thresholds.
5. There is a long track record showing that hitting prospects are less risky than pitching prospects. While I’m not dismissing pitching as an important element of the game, I do take a more conservative approach with them relative to hitters. If you see pitchers ranked aggressively on this list, that should be taken as a sign I am particularly high on them.
Without further ado, I am pleased and honored to reveal the Top 300 dynasty prospects for RotoFanatic. I will be updating the list throughout the season, and we will expand it further and add more features. I appreciate your time and we hope you will bookmark this list and reference it for all of your dynasty needs.
Here is a prospect question that applies to those of us who play in redraft, keeper, and dynasty leagues: Which rookie pitcher will be the most valuable fantasy player in 2021?
I’m going to track the answer to that question throughout the season with the rookie ladder. Today we introduce the initial pitchers’ rookie ladder for the 2021 season. This is my first best guess as to where the 2021 rookie class will finish in terms of fantasy value at the end of the 2021 MLB season.
I’m sure that there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, full of pop-up surprises and high prospect pedigree disappointments. So, I will be checking in bi-weekly to update the ladder rankings and provide notes on each player as the season progresses.
What went into the initial projections?
I started with a simple concept. My initial premise is that the rookie who will have the most productive 2021 season is the player who combines skill with opportunity. So then I broke each of those concepts down into smaller component parts.
For ‘skill’, I looked at a number of publicly available projections for the 2021 season. I used strikeouts per nine (K/9), walks per nine (BB/9), and groundball rate (GB%) projections from Derek Carty’s “THE BAT”, and FanGraphs “Steamer” projections to fill out the initial pitcher skill evaluations. Then, for pitchers with MLB data, I pored over their Statcast pages to look at things like fastball velocity, active spin rates, and pitch usage.
For opportunity, I started by looking at each player’s expected role for his club on FanGraphs RosterResource. This was the basic starting point, and a player projected in a starter’s role for the 2021 season gets an initial bump in the rookie ladder.
I also considered whether each player was on his organization’s 40-man roster, as well as the number of option seasons he has remaining. The reasoning being that a player that is currently on the team’s 40-man roster and has less than his full complement of three option years is more likely to be used at the MLB level than a player who is currently not on the team’s 40-man roster.
Finally, I looked at the playing time situation ahead of each of these players on the depth chart and used my own judgment as to whether the prospect in question could replace the MLB talent currently in front of him.
Then I squinted, looked at my google sheet with mock seriousness, and shuffled some players around applying my own biases. The result? Your first rookie ladder of the 2021 season:
I shall not succumb to the temptation to fill in this blurb with Jethro Tull puns.
The Braves took a rather outlandish shot on drafting Ian Anderson 3rd overall in the 2016 MLB draft. He was a prep righthander out of cold weather Rexford, New York. But the Braves organization did its homework in scouting Anderson and developing him throughout the minors. When the club needed him in a big spot in 2020, Anderson responded with aplomb.
At first blush, Anderson’s 94 mph fastball, while above-average, doesn’t feature eye-popping velocity. And his changeup features a vertical movement profile that’s about 10% worse than the MLB average changeup. Ultimately neither of these facts really matter.
Why? Well, Anderson possesses elite extension on his fastball. You can see it when you watch him pitch. He’s able to contort his torso in such a way so as to release the ball extremely close to the plate, creating an absurd 7.3 feet of extension on the pitch. Then, he tunnels the changeup with the fastball extremely well. Finally, he repeats his delivery so uncannily well that it’s hard to tell two deliveries apart when overlaid on top of each other:
The only real warning sign with Anderson so far is spotty control. It’s probably related to his delivery, which is designed to maximize extension but can result in him missing his spots at times. But even with the control, If he puts in a full season of work, it’s hard to not envision him as the most profitable rookie pitcher in fantasy baseball this season.
Sixto Sanchez would probably be atop the leaderboard if we were looking for the most giffable rookie pitcher for 2021. He leaped into the consciousness of the average Big League fan in 2020 by flashing a diverse repertoire of filth. His ability to deal was already known to minor league observers. But, his ability to continue that mastery of his arsenal in his debut season was impressive indeed. As I remarked to a friend, he was just throwing every pitch in and around the zone and everything was moving like crazy.
Sixto will have a delayed start to his 2021 campaign, as the team has already shipped him off to minor league camp to start the season. Blame it on visa issues early in the spring and then a false-positive COVID-19 test result upon finally reporting to the team. His throwing program was behind and as a consequence, he wasn’t fully ramped up by Opening Day. He will be slotted into the Marlins rotation as soon as his arm is built up.
With a build like a string bean, “T-Mac” was at times dominant in his minor league career in the Cleveland system. However, he also dealt with numerous injuries as a professional, including back, pectoral, and rotator cuff problems. He sparkled in his MLB debut against the Tigers on August 22, punching out 10 batters over 6 innings of work. For a brief moment, the health concerns went to the back of everyone’s mind. However, as the season wore on, those concerns reared their ugly head again:
You can see the precipitous decline in McKenzie’s average fastball velocity, dropping down about 4 mph over the course of the season. A velocity surge over his two games seems encouraging, but you have to remember that those were games in which he appeared out of the bullpen.
If his health holds up, McKenzie has the stuff to hang with Anderson and Sixto any day of the week. The trick will be how Cleveland manages him during his first full season of MLB action. The club seems to see him as part of their big league rotation, so he will likely get the opportunity to show us what he can do in 2021.
This left-hander might go down as the deep find of the 2018 MLB draft. Detroit selected Tarik Skubal in the 9th round of the draft, but it’s pretty clear now that he possessed day one talent. Skubal simply shredded the competition in the minor leagues, as hitters at the lower levels simply could not keep up with his plus fastball. The fastball is a huge weapon. It sat at 94.4 mph in 2020, but Skubal can reach back and touch 98 with it when needed. The pitch eats up in the zone with a 98% active spin rate. This means that it’s thrown with near pure backspin, causing the pitch to frequently jump over hitter’s bats up near the letters.
Detroit has committed to using Skubal in the rotation to start the 2021 season. His success in a starting role might come down to the development of his changeup. He worked on a new changeup grip all offseason. It is a needed pitch for Skubal, who is generally death to left-handed hitters, but has a little more palatable look to opposite-handed batters. Right-handed hitters slugged .577 against him last season, so the changeup will need to be effective to give him options.
Like fellow Motor City rookie Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize has also made the opening day starting rotation. When researching this piece, I was a little surprised by the skepticism of Mize’s K/9 projections. Similar to fellow ladder-mate Sixto Sanchez, Mize is maybe a little more likely to pitch to contact, relying on his diverse arsenal of offerings to lure hitters into swinging at junk, making his life easier on the mound.
Lurking within Mize’s deep arsenal is a double-plus splitter that should be an out pitch for him at the MLB level. There is a very real possibility that the numbers we are relying on to evaluate Mize are tainted by the fact that he has been keeping the splitter in his back pocket during his professional career thus far. It has certainly seemed that way this spring. Watching Mize, he’s focused on using his breaking stuff, four-seam fastball, and cutter to put hitters away. He’s been effective without heavy reliance on the splitter, and his fastball velocity is up as well. Don’t be surprised to see him climb this ladder as the season wears on.
Dane Dunning was a bit of a surprising addition to the White Sox playoff push in 2020. Then, this offseason, he was shipped off to Texas for right-handed veteran Lance Lynn. The White Sox were trying to bolster their rotation for an even deeper playoff run in 2021. However, in the trade, they may have moved a pitcher who can contribute in a big-league rotation for many years.
Dunning generally made his living in the minor leagues off his sinker, a pitch with some nice boring action that he can use to generate groundball outs. However, in his MLB debut, it was his slider that stole the show:
The slider elicited an elite 43.5% whiff rate last season. It drops off the table due to a vertical movement profile that features 12 percent more drop than the MLB average. He also mixes in a slower, downer curveball that drops 16 percent more than MLB average. So Dunning has progressed from a contact-manager to a contact-manager with a side of dominance. If he can rack up the innings this season, he might also be quick to climb this ladder.
On pure stuff alone, Garrett Crochet probably sits alone atop this list. His fastball beguiled every hitter he faced in 2020. He threw the pitch 84% of the time and it just didn’t matter. Between his elite velocity and a funky arm-angle and stride combination, he managed a 40.5% whiff rate on the pitch. And he frequently throws the fastball right in the middle of the zone:
The team has stated that Crochet will work only from the bullpen in 2021. This limits his ceiling on the ladder, as it’s very difficult for a non-closing rookie reliever to be the most valuable arm for redraft leagues. However, the team still plans on trying to let Crochet work in the starting rotation in the future. If that comes to fruition, he could leap up in dynasty league value substantially.
With Nate Pearson, the talent is not really in question. His big-time stuff includes a fastball that runs up to 100 mph and a turbo slider that he throws 90+. It’s the type of dominant material you would expect from an elite closer, except that the Blue Jays are trying their hardest to see if it will work for Pearson in the starting rotation.
And that’s also the rub with Pearson. He has just had issues staying in sync and healthy due to his XL frame (listed 6’6” 245). One issue that comes with the frame is a delivery that can be inconsistent at times, leading to control issues. The other issue is just general health, meaning that 2019 is the only season in his professional career where he’s logged full-time work. He’s expected to miss the start of the 2021 season with a groin injury, as his throwing regimen has only worked up to long tossing at this point. If he can keep himself on the mound, there’s no reason he can’t jump up this list as the season progresses.
Miami’s southpaw hurler had a rough go of it in 2020, but once you dig beneath the surface stats you can see there is a lot to like with Trevor Rogers in 2021. He’s been the subject of several deep dives this offseason, so you can find further detail on him. But the snapshot is this: he added a couple of ticks of velocity in his MLB debut, and it makes everything in his arsenal play up. Especially his changeup, which could be a borderline elite pitch.
Rogers has made the opening day rotation for the Fish. He should have the opportunity to run with a starting role all season. He also has a good history of making consistent starts in his minor league career, posting 72.2 innings over 17 starts in 2018 and 136.1 innings over 23 starts in 2019. The recipe is here for a shock takeover of the top of the rookie pitching ladder.
“Dealin’” Dean Kremer has secured a place in the Orioles OD rotation. It’s well deserved, as Kremer showed us last summer that he’s more than capable at handling MLB hitters with his arsenal. His command for a cutter, in particular, is going to make him an effective option in the starting rotation:
He’s slotted in the middle of the Orioles rotation, and really has no one pressing him for the spot at present. While he might not post eye-popping numbers, he has the upside to acquit himself just fine in the middle of a big-league rotation.
Daulton Jeffries and Adbert Alzolay have both obtained a gig in the starting rotation to kick off the season. Both pitchers should be watched closely, as if they start out well they will start climbing this ladder.
Kohei Arihara seems to have secured a rotation spot as well. My info on him is scant, so I’ll take a wait-and-see approach before bumping him up at all.
Michael Kopech and Josh Fleming will both start the season in long relief roles, but for very different reasons. Kopech is building his way back from both Tommy John surgery and a 2020 season-long opt-out, so the team is likely to be very patient with him. Fleming is going to be used as a weapon in a variety of roles for Tampa, so ‘long relief’ is really a catch-all term for him here.
Then, there’s a big pile of arms that could land starting roles but have been shuttled down to minor league camp for at least the start of the season. Of this group, Spencer Howard and Nick Lodolo have the best chance to climb the ladder if given the opportunity. Luis Patino, Deivi Garcia, Brailyn Marquez, and Adonis Medina are more likely to appear in relief than a starting role in 2021.
Big news out of San Francisco today as the Giants are promoting their highly ranked catching prospect Joey Bart to the big league club.
Just a few years ago, the Giants had one of the worst farm franchises in all of baseball, but have since rebuilt their list of prospects to become quite a promising group of talent. Now, their top prospect gets the call to join the big league club and show them that he is their future and it is bright.
Bart comes to the Giants with an average hit tool, but some nice power in his bat. He’s someone who has done well with the bat, but with the potential for even more. Last season, over two levels of A+ and AA ball, Bart posted a .278/.328/.495 line with 16 home runs, 48 runs batted in and five steals. While most of his offensive damage was done in A+, he held his own in AA, batting .316 with four home runs over 87 plate appearances.
– the above chart displays Bart’s numbers over his four levels of professional ball: Rookie, A-, A+, AA
More specifically, Bart shows decent plate discipline during his at bats with a nice strikeout rate, showing that he puts a good amount of contact to the ball. While his K% – BB% rate in AA is promising, he wasn’t there long enough to see any sort of possible regression. If there is going to be regression with respect to that, it will unfortunately have to be while with the Giants in 2020.
I do like the fact that he can spread the ball around the field, specifically with those high rates towards Center Field and Right Field. The Park Factors for Oracle Park show that it is primarily a pitcher’s ballpark, but it plays well to those that can hit the ball all over the field. Just look at what it’s doing for Mike Yastrzemski and his .351 home batting average. I’m not comparing the two by any means, but I am saying that the ability to spread the ball all over the place can be helpful at Oracle Park.
Who’s Stopping Him?
In 2020, the Giants have started the following players at catcher at some point or another over 89 combined at bats:
Chadwick Tromp – .178/.188/.333, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 K Tyler Heinemann – .195/.283/.220, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 6 K Rob Brantly – .000/.000/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0K
Needless to say, there’s not much standing in the way of Joey Bart and some consistent playing time. His bat should be much better than any other option the Giants have instead, so he should slot right in there and play. Added to that is his defense. If the above scale rating is to be believed, and I would dare say it is, he’s got the ability to be an even better catcher behind the plate than anyone else on the Giants too, meaning he should get the most amount of playing time going forward. Needless to say, he’s ready for this.
What about fantasy teams?
Bart needs to be added, especially in two catcher leagues where playing time is golden. With the catcher landscape being so wide spread speculative and volatile, picking up and starting a catcher that looks guaranteed to play with an offensive hitting tool such as his seems logical. There’s potential for greatness here, and, though it may not happen in 2020, his worst case scenario is probably better than their other options. Right now, I would put him in my Top 15 overall at the position, given the opportunity, the talent and the defense.
Words of Advice
If you own Yadier Molina, Jorge Alfaro or Francisco Mejia, and are waiting for a return, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the switch for Bart.
If you own Roberto Perez, Jason Castro or Danny Jansen, I would make the switch in an effort to rejuvenate your lineup instead of waiting for things to click for the scuffling catchers.
Go out and pick him up now. If he’s available in FAAB, I would see which other teams might need a catcher too, and would spend 25% of my remaining FAAB budget on him.
In dynasty leagues, he is a must own right now but is probably already owned.
Baseball is back and the first week barraged us with storylines, enough to make your head spin. We’ll focus on the week that was and highlight the “Debut Dandies,” rookie-eligible players that made their MLB debuts over the past week and represent the next wave in fantasy baseball. We’ll break down instant impacts in redraft leagues as well as dynasty league outlooks. Over 60 players made their debut to start the 2020 season, so let’s hone in on some key names.
The Elite Prospect Debuts
Week 1 saw a handful of consensus top prospects make their much-anticipated debuts.
After signing a MLB contract in the off-season, Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox has lived up to the hype in the early going. Robert has started every game so far, typically batting 7th and playing CF. After an injury to Tim Anderson over the weekend, Robert soared up to the leadoff spot, promptly responding with a titanic opposite-field blast (highlighted below). He’s slashed .351/.385/.595 with 13 H, 2 HR, and 1 SB. Robert has 2 BB to 11 K, one of his only blemishes during the opening week. It’s not entirely surprising given his career marks and scores on the projection systems. Robert has been served well with an aggressive approach in the early going, where six of his hits and both home runs have come on the first offering in an AB. Robert is showing his all-around skill set as a bona fide future fantasy stud. There’s a reason he’s a top 5 prospect in the game, and we’re all smiling ear-to-ear with every highlight. Outlook: Robert is elbowing his way up rankings with a strong MLB showing, putting pressure on a spot within the top 25 overall dynasty players.
On the pitching side, “Nasty” Nate Pearson of the Toronto Blue Jays lived up to his nickname in his debut start against the Nationals on Wednesday. Pearson had an important tuneup start against Boston at the end of Summer Camp, during which he made critical adjustments after initially struggling with command. Pearson showed in his official debut that he can attack the zone with all of his offerings. When the righty is getting called strikes and chases on his wicked slider, hitters are in for a long night (highlighted below). He gets excellent velocity separation between his off-speed pitches and his high heat. Pearson threw 75 pitches in his opening start and should be on a strict pitch count as he has been his entire professional career.
Widely considered among the top pitching prospects, Pearson may have ups and downs and rack up pitch counts during some of his starts in 2020. Beyond this year, he’s bound to be a PitchingNinja GIF factory and one of the scariest starters in the majors. Outlook: Pearson gets a slight ding pitching in the tough AL East, but nonetheless possesses a rare SP1-SP2 fantasy ceiling. Over the next few years, his career path projects similarly to that of Tyler Glasnow in terms of potential for conservative usage. Once he’s unleashed, he could ascend to one of the top starting pitchers in fantasy.
Week 1 also saw a group of prospects in the 50+ overall rankings make their MLB debuts.
Evan White of the Seattle Mariners, like Robert, signed an MLB contract during the off-season. White has run with the 1B job from the jump. White has been great on both sides of the ball. A rare right-handed batter and left-handed thrower, White has shown exceptional defensive instincts and smoothness with the mitt. He’s bound to stick in the lineup even through offensive dry spells due to the glove, which helps his fantasy managers lock down a shallow position. White has hit in the 2 and 5 holes in the lineup so far.
He’s at a double-digit BB rate and he is delivering 91st percentile hard contact (highlighted below). White may be a more modest 2020 performer in terms of hits and power output but long term, he can be a 20-25 HR player and prove an asset in both average and on-base formats. There aren’t too many 1B that can also chip in some SB. White is one of those rare exceptions.
In somewhat of a surprise promotion, Andrés Giménez broke camp with the New York Mets to open 2020. Giménez has netted a single start; nonetheless, he has found his way into 9 of 10 games. He’s played 2B, 3B, and SS defensively and served as a pinch runner. Giménez is a good SB threat in 2020 and beyond. Notoriously young at every level of his development, he is still just 21 years old. Giménez carried over his hot Arizona Fall League performance to the big leagues.
Ever since I first saw Giménez back in 2018, he’s had the ability to drive (not slap) the ball the other way (highlight below). While there are some infield logjams, Giménez is certainly contributing every night in some fashion. He’s a beneficiary of the universal DH in 2020, and a middle infielder I am high on in dynasty.
The Kansas City Royals are using 2020 to showcase many of their young arms, and Brady Singer was the first man up. The 6’5″ righty had two starts this week, with nearly identical results in both: 5 IP, 2 ER, and right around 80 pitches. Singer K’d seven against Cleveland and three more against Detroit.
The fastball/sinker and slider are the primary offerings, with a show-me changeup right around 6% usage (though only 2 in his opening start). He was able to turn to the late-breaking slider in tough spots and generate swings-and-misses. Singer generates significant horizontal movement on both the sinker and slider. He projects as an innings-eater who can unlock his ceiling with further utilization of his changeup (highlighted below).
Nick Madrigal also debuted for the Chicago White Sox on July 31. Madrigal boasts some of the strongest bat-to-ball skills in professional baseball. He strikes out at absurdly low rates, and the question will be how this translates into driving the ball for fantasy. There’s high potential for strong batting average and he possesses plus speed. He hit 9th in the lineup in his debut weekend, so his short term value could be capped with that lineup placement. Madrigal showcased his hit tool prowess with a 4 hit day over the weekend, all singles (highlighted below). Madrigal plays a strong defensive 2B, earning the call to become the fixture at the keystone in Chicago.
Nick Madrigal's day just kept getting better. Baseball's No. 39 overall prospect racked up his first four (!) big league hits as his #WhiteSox finished a three-game sweep in KC. pic.twitter.com/ABTx2wjVPl
In the opposite dugout to Madrigal, the Kansas City Royals Kris Bubic drew the home opener against the White Sox. The nearly 23-year-old lefty hasn’t pitched above high-A professionally, which is a testament to his polish and compelled the Royals to grant Bubic competitive innings this season. Bubic held his own during his debut, getting tough outs after yielding some traffic on the bases.
Bubic surrendered a three-run homer – the extent of the damage in the outing. Bubic had a 1-2-3 third inning, striking out two facing the heart of the White Sox order. Bubic features a low-90s fastball, a devastating changeup (highlighted below), and deceptive delivery. He slots in right alongside other Royals starters Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer in terms of projectable rotation contributors.
Versatile catching prospect Daulton Varsho made his big league debut this week for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Varsho was detailed by RotoFanatic’s Mike Carter in this stellar deep dive article. The Diamondbacks love carrying a deep catching corps, and Varsho should be able to catch enough to maintain valuable catcher eligibility given his offensive upside.
He’s a potential 20 HR, 20 SB hitter at his peak with a strong hit tool and on-base prowess. He could also get his bat in the lineup via starts in the outfield. Varsho has been limited to pinch hitting over the weekend in getting 2 plate appearances (1 BB, 1 K), so it remains to be seen exactly how the Diamondbacks will deploy him in 2020. With a great AA track record already, Varsho may simply be getting a taste of big league action for a more expanded role heading into next year.
Other Notable Prospect Debuts
Left-handed starter David Peterson made his big league debut for the New York Mets against Boston. Peterson pitched 5.2 innings and surrendered two runs on seven hits to go along with a pair of walks and three strikeouts. Peterson dazzled in his next start against division foe Atlanta. Peterson showed good use of the slider and changeup as putaway offerings, helping particularly against righties. Peterson netted a quality start: in 6 IP, he limited the Braves to 5 hits and racked up 8 strikeouts against only 1 walk. The lefty is a groundball machine who also has a good ability to miss bats with a five-pitch arsenal. He has what it takes to stick in the Mets rotation, and is a name trending up.
Cristian Javier followed up a scoreless inning of relief on July 25 with a stellar first start in the big leagues. On July 29, he fired 5.2 IP with only 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB and 8 K on 82 pitches; thus, he became a popular FAAB target over the weekend. Historically Javier has had a high BB rate but showed how tough he can be when his command is on. Consistency will be key, but Javier should get some run in 2020 on the suddenly pitching-starved Astros.
Yoshi Tsutsugo has gotten into all but one game so far for the Tampa Bay Rays. I covered Tstutsugo in a recent episode of the “On the Bump” Podcast and think he can be a solid source of power and on-base ability, hitting from the middle of the Rays lineup. He’s also handy with dual-eligibility on multiple platforms. The 28-year-old Tsutugo hit 255 career home runs spanning 10 professional seasons in Japan.
Daniel Johnson made a cameo for Cleveland and the outfielder brings a nice blend of athleticism with power-speed potential. He’s always had a knack for getting on-base and could blossom into a viable fantasy outfielder. The outfield isn’t as wide open for playing time as it was previously in Cleveland, but Johnson should have an up-and-down taxi squad role with the big club this season.
Like Johnson, outfielder Leody Taveras had a quick up-and-down stint for the Texas Rangers. Taveras is just 21 years old, though he has seemingly been a touted prospect for many years. There’s some prospect fatigue with Taveras but the speedy outfielder projects a hit tool and stolen base potential. He is an elite defender but his ultimate power ceiling along with in-game production questions could limit his status to fourth outfielder or second division regular duties. He was recently optioned to the taxi squad in an “offensive move” to replace him with Adolis Garcia. That may be the case today, but here’s hoping Taveras can pass Garcia in the depth chart.
Edward Olivares caused some buzz as he debuted this week for the San Diego Padres. The toolsy outfielder has turned himself into a legitimate dynasty prospect after putting up consistently strong offensive performances during his professional career, dating back to his time in the Toronto organization. Offering power and speed off the bench, Olivares finds himself in a crowded outfield situation in San Diego; nonetheless, he could squeeze his way into more playing time with better production against LHP, especially if Wil Myers regresses.
Shogo Akiyama has come out of the gate in a strict platoon role for the Cincinnati Reds. The 32-year-old Akiyama has started two games while entering every other contest as a pinch-hitter. He is 0-3 against southpaws, but has a .263 AVG and .364 OBP in 22 plate appearances against RHP. Akiyama represents a particularly skilled source of on-base potential, though he will have to get more regular at bats to maintain fantasy appeal.
Two talented catchers made their debuts: Tyler Stephenson of the Cincinnati Reds and William Contreras of the Atlanta Braves. Stephenson is an imposing 6’4″ and he swatted a titanic blast in his first plate appearance. Stephenson could be a good offensive catcher for dynasty leagues; likewise, Contreras was pressed into duty due to two senior circuit catchers landing on the IL. Contreras has been a pleasant surprise since his debut, delivering four hits including a double in 10 at bats as of this writing.
Deep League Talents: Joe McCarthy (SFG), Enoli Paredes (HOU), Jose Marmolejos (SEA), Jonathan Arauz (BOS), Taylor Widener (ARI), Alex Vesia (MIA), Santiago Espinal (TOR), Taylor Jones (HOU), Jordan Holloway (MIA), Jake Cronenworth (SDP), Nick Heath (KCR).
Ben is a member of the RotoFanatic team as a Minor League Prospect Analyst and Dynasty Fantasy Baseball writer. Ben is a longtime fantasy baseball player with a focus on deep dynasty leagues. Ben broke into baseball writing in 2017 as a team writer at realmccoyminors.com. In addition, Ben currently writes for Prospects1500.com covering the Red Sox system. He has also been a team writer at Fantrax and contributor to notesfromthesally.com. Ben is also a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA). Follow Ben on Twitter @TBDubbs11 for player video and dynasty baseball content.
On Sunday, June 28th, Major League Baseball teams were required to reveal a list of sixty players to be included in their Club Player Pool (CPP) for the 2020 Summer Camp. Some teams have filled their entire CPP, while others are waiting until the last possible week to sort things out. This player pool can be up to sixty players deep, and each team will be required to submit a thirty-player active roster for the season by Opening Day. The active roster starts at thirty players, then will decrease to twenty-eight players after two weeks, and will subsequently decrease again to twenty-six players after another two weeks have passed by. There will be a maximum of three players from each MLB team’s CPP that will travel to away games with the team, as this group has been named the Taxi Squad.
The major caveat with utilizing Taxi Squads is that one of those three players is required to be a catcher, which could also work in favor for teams with exceptional catching depth within their system. Taxi Squads are certainly going to benefit certain teams more than others, as those will be the teams that have top prospects ready who potentially could step on the field and theoretically be at replacement level for their respective position. With the Universal Designated Hitter in play this season, positional Taxi Squad members could at the very least gain plate appearances in this role if injuries were to occur. Players that are able to make the Taxi Squad are going to be those who can be plugged directly into a Major League lineup and can be trusted to get the job done when they are eventually called upon.
With a sixty-game season looming on the horizon, many tough decisions lie ahead of fantasy managers regarding how to handle prospects who are far from guaranteed consistent playing time in 2020. Taxi Squads for each team are unlikely to be officially announced until closer to Opening Day, making roster moves and fantasy drafts fairly difficult to prepare for with so many unknowns still lurking. This theme strongly applies to the tier of prospects that by play for teams that have substantial depth throughout the entire organization, so even just being a part of the sixty-player CPP does not guarantee that a prospect will get quality development repetitions beyond the exhibition games in Summer Camp.
Though MLB teams have not yet announced their thirty-player Active Rosters, I present to you in this article a custom National League primer as to which players deserve to hitch a ride as part of their respective team’s Taxi Squad for the 2020 season. This article will be more geared toward describing players who could have potential fantasy value if called upon, but nevertheless each player for each team will be touched on. This is a lengthy article, so feel free to skip around to the teams you are interested in. Let’s take a tour around the league to examine which players are strategically better fit to fill a Taxi Squad role for their clubs this season.
National League East
C | William Contreras
Contreras isn’t exactly a candidate to become a viable fantasy producer within the next few seasons, but noting the impressiveness of his superior defensive abilities is always warranted. His defense certainly has the potential to get him to the MLB by the start of the 2021 season, but his bat is simply not ready to make the jump for this season. If Contreras can continue developing on the path that he’s been on then we will be looking at a left-handed hitting catcher that could post a .265 AVG/.350 OBP/.415 SLG line on top of boasting elite defensive abilities. If one of Travis d’Arnaud or Tyler Flowers were to go onto the IL for any period of time, William Contreras should be the next catcher up to fill a roster slot on the big league club.
RHP | Ian Anderson
If it wasn’t for Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson would be the pitcher taking over Cole Hamels’ spot in Atlanta’s starting rotation, but instead he will remain perfectly suited for the Taxi Squad. Despite his struggles last season in AAA of walking way too many batters (15.9 percent BB%) and consequently giving up the long-ball (17.2 percent HR/FB), Anderson has characteristically been a pitcher flashing above average command and nasty enough stuff to yield strike out rates north of 30 percent while also maintaining the ability to get ground balls with his sixty-grade changeup. Like most top pitching prospects with high strikeout potential, Anderson just needs to pitch smarter to not walk as many batters because this has only led to inflated ERA indicators that have no regard for what the underlying stats may say. If Ian Anderson gets a chance to pitch in the rotation, you must roster him because if he shows out then he might actually be there to stay. Watch below as he sits down Wander Franco.
OF | Drew Waters / Christian Pache
The Braves could insert one of Drew Waters or Christian Pache into a Taxi Squad role as they both provide different types of value for the team. If Pache were to be promoted to the Taxi Squad (note that he is considered Day-to-Day due to an in-game injury this past week), he is going to provide gold glove defense in the outfield and elite speed all over the field. His skill set unfortunately does not translate into a fantasy relevant value for 2020 due to the hit tool and game power not being fully developed. What is intriguing about Pache is that he possesses sixty-five-grade speed, stole thirty-two bags in A, but has only stolen seven and eight bases over the past two seasons across AA and AAA. If Pache can turn into an OBP machine by boosting his ability to take walks and use his elite speed on the base paths, then he will definitely deserve more of a look to fill a role on your fantasy roster.
Drew Waters on the other hand, is just about ready to make his offensive debut for the Atlanta Braves. Though he did not perform much better at the plate in AAA than Pache did, Waters has proven at each stop that he possesses the ability to potentially hit for a .300 AVG but has not yet shown the refinement to simply take more walks. The switch-hitting twenty-one year old could provide three category production once completely developed and inserted into the Braves’ lineup. There may be growing pains with a higher strikeout rate and not much power production to make up for it, but Waters is destined to be an above average fantasy producer if he performs when given the opportunity.
RHP | Sixto Sanchez
To start the 2020 season, Sixto Sanchez is currently not slated to be a part of Miami’s starting rotation. This is not to say that we will not see Sixto pitch in the MLB at some point this season, but the chances of seeing him the first half are not very great unless Jose Urena struggles. The most special aspect of Sixto’s game is his ability to limit walks (4.6 percent) and therefore the damage associated with those walks (1.03 WHIP). It is rare for a twenty-one year old display this level of command and stuff over all levels he has pitched at, making Sanchez one of the most intriguing pitching prospects to monitor throughout the 2020 season. If given the opportunity to compete in MLB games this season, Sixto would likely give you a very low WHIP but not elite strikeout rates, making him very useful as an innings eater and ration stabilizer pickup at some point in the season. There is a lot of change occurring over in Miami, this is a situation worth monitoring for the weeks to come.
1B | Lewin Diaz
Miami has yet to announce its complete Active Roster for this season up to this point, so Lewin Diaz still remains as one of the odd-prospects-out of the Opening Day roster. The majority of Miami fans want to see Diaz on the Active Roster for Opening Day, so we will see if the organization feels strongly enough about his fantastic Summer Camp performance thus far. Lewin has been barreling the ball very well the past couple of weeks, while proving to have a very loud hit tool and surprisingly low strikeout rates (16.7 percent). Diaz has done nothing but mash his way all of the way through AA, so it remains to be seen if the twenty-three year old phenom gets his well deserved shot in 2020. The fantasy implications of Lewin Diaz seeing playing time are fairly great, as his defense will keep him on the field while also being able to steadily produce in two-to-three categories. If given an opportunity, watch for the hot streak of homers!
Lewin Diaz homers off Caleb Smith in sim game today. 2 days earlier he hit this off Brad Boxberger.
There isn’t any fantasy value to be had from Chad Wallach, but he is a stout veteran catcher that could benefit the development of the Marlins’ bullpen pitchers as the 2020 season rolls on.
New York Mets
SS | Andrés Giménez
Giménez is really the only prospect in the Mets’ system that could be ready to debut at some point in 2020, but there is such a small chance of that happening with Amed Rosario beginning to break out both offensively and defensively. You never know what could happen this season, so it would be smart to carry their top prospect as an emergency replacement if something were to occur to an infielder on the road. Giménez has posted wRC+ totals greater than 100 in each of the four seasons that he has been a professional, showing a bit of offensive pedigree exists to compliment his slightly above-average defense. There likely will not be a chance for Andrés Giménez to generate any sort of fantasy value in 2020, but joining the Taxi Squad would be an incredibly rewarding experience for the young shortstop.
OF | Melky Cabrera
It goes without recapping what type of fantasy production Melky Cabrera can provide if healthy and on the field, but the power has severely diminished over the past few years to the point where he is only becoming a Batting Average stabilizer. Melky would be one of the better choices to have waiting in the shadows on the Taxi Squad in case an outfielder were to go down during this sprint season. If a situation were to develop and Melky were to see regular At Bats, he is worth watching on the waiver wire in case you are in need of some Batting Average stabilization later in the season. He isn’t going to provide much more value than that, but if provided an opportunity to play we must remember that Plate Appearances are “currency” for this shortened season. Yoenis Céspedes needs a handcuff and Melky is arguably the best candidate to take over for him if an adverse situation were to develop.
C | Patrick Mazeika
There is no fantasy value to be interested in here, but Mazeika provides the highest upside bat of the remaining catchers on New York’s CPP. He will not receive a chance before Rene Rivera and company.
RHP | Spencer Howard
Spencer Howard (26th ranked Top Prospect) lies in the same category as Nate Pearson of the Blue Jays does for this season, as the Phillies are going to promote Howard to the starting rotation as soon as it makes the most sense for everyone involved. Howard will undeniably be pitching in the rotation for Philadelphia at some point this season, it just remains to be seen if it will be after seven days go by or if the Phillies really want to wait around on Zach Eflin to try and do something cool. Give us Howard, please. He has three plus pitches that can be controlled enough to keep his walk rates below 8 percent while posting a 31.1 percent K% over 30.2 IP in AA. If a top pitching prospect can tout K-BB% rates of 23-34 percent, then that is something special and is worth uncovering as soon as possible. With an NFBC ADP of 279 over the past week, it is going to get more difficult to get your shares of this prime talent. Spencer Howard is going to provide immediate fantasy value across numerous categories while most importantly posting an elite WHIP ratio (0.95) to back his skill set.
It is Alec Bohm’s time to shine if Scott Kingery or Jean Segura are going to have a shaky presence over at the hot corner in 2020, but until then he may remain blocked from his MLB debut for longer than fantasy managers desire. Bohm has raked at just about every level he has played at for the Phillies, posting a wRC+ greater than 145 over each of his three stops in 2019 (A, A+, AA). He belted fourteen Home Runs while slashing .269 AVG/ .344 OBP/ .500 SLG/ .377 wOBA across sixty-three games in AA last season. Bohm is a fairly refined and balanced hitter, as he hits the ball to all fields with relative ease. In AA he posted a HR/FB rate of 17.3 percent, showing that he has started to optimize his hit and raw power tools for the next level of competition. If Alec Bohm receives an opportunity to receive regular playing time at third base, it is worth adding him to your fantasy teams if your counting stats need a boost throughout the season. The power and hit tool are very loud, while his sixty-grade defense will also help to keep him on the field to earn more Plate Appearances. Don’t sleep on Bohm, pick him up as soon as you hear he has earned a starting role.
C | Deivy Grullón
No fantasy value to see here, but Grullón is proving to be a catcher than can produce above-average numbers on the offensive side of the plate. There seemed to be an all-around breakout with his hit tool and power, as he has belted twenty-one home runs each of his past two seasons in AA and AAA. This is a catcher to watch over the coming years but does not possess fantasy value for this season. Grullón may be on the rise as a serviceable fantasy catcher but only time will tell.
RHP | Wil Crowe
Wil Crowe has consistently put up exceptional statistics across every Minor League level that he has pitched at with the exception of short stints in AA and AAA. Crowe only seems to get into a lot of trouble when he posts walk rates north of 10 percent and strikeout rates south of 15 percent, as his best statistical seasons have come when he has been able to limit walks and corresponding damage that comes along with them. Getting ground balls is the name of the game for Crowe, but giving up too many home runs (11.1 percent HR/FB) has inflated his ERA indicators to the point where he gets forgotten about as a prospect. Unfortunately, Crowe is most likely not going to provide elite strikeout rates if given a chance to take the mound for Washington, but he may provide a decent floor if he can control his walks. If there is an injury in Washington’s starting rotation this season, Wil Crowe could very well be the next man up and a name you will want to keep an eye out for on the Waiver Wire.
SS | Luis García
Luis García is simply one of those prospects that you need to see play in order to understand why his potential future value is through the roof. García is already a pure hitter that hasn’t even come close to reaching his full potential as a professional. Much like Alec Bohm, Luis García has the refined ability to spray his hits all over the field while boasting a very manageable strikeout rate (15.6 percent), but he is still raw in the sense that he works very few walks each season. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se, but when 50 percent or more of your Batted Ball Events (BBE) are ground balls paired with a .299 BABIP then having a 3.1 percent BB% does not look super appealing. Top pitching prospects struggle with walking too many batters, while a lot of top hitting prospects like García struggle to draw enough walks to drive up their counting stats. Until García continues to refine his approach at the plate to be pickier with the pitches that he is putting into play, he likely will not reach his projected ceiling as a fantasy player. García will most likely not see any time on a Major League diamond in 2020, but if all hell breaks loose he could be the next man up to help put out any fires that the Nationals may endure.
No fantasy value to discuss here, as Tres Barrera would simply be the next best option to fill the third catcher role on the Nationals’ Taxi Squad.
National League Central
2B/OF | Robel García
This spot on Chicago’s Taxi Squad could really go to one of either Hernán Pérez or Robel García. The Cubs definitely need to carry a position player on their Taxi Squad, and frankly, these two are their best options. Hernán Pérez is nothing flashy, but he can play solid defense and provide a ‘contact’ bat toward the bottom of the lineup if absolutely necessary (I watched him do it as a Brewer for multiple years). Pérez would provide a better ‘real-life’ value. Robel García will provide a lot more power and average upside than Pérez would, which is why he would be the desired Taxi Squad member for emergency fantasy services (…EFM…probably going to trademark that). Even so, given his 43.8 percent strikeout rate in 2019 (80 PA) there will likely not be a chance to squeeze any sort of fantasy value from García this season because of the high strikeout but low power output tendencies.
RHP | Adbert Alzolay
Adbert Alzolay is an exciting twenty-five-year-old pitching prospect who possesses two sixty-grade pitches in his fastball and curveball. If Alzolay could develop his changeup to even be just slightly above average, we are looking at a pitcher who is going to provide immense strikeout upside if the command can bloom along with it. Like most high strikeout upside pitching prospects, Alzolay has an issue walking too many hitters (15 percent BB%) which leads to a high WHIP (1.29 in AAA, 1.78 in MLB) and plenty of damage to come along with it. Even despite his control issues, making the jump from A+ to AAA in just one season and still post a league average or better ERA and FIP definitely says something. The raw talent is obviously present and just needs to be further refined with experience. It is extremely unfortunate that there will be no Minor League season played this year, as numerous budding prospects like Adbert Alzolay really need the developmental repetitions to continue progressing in a positive direction. He is the only pitcher other in Chicago’s system other than Jharel Cotton that is ready to join the Taxi Squad and compete at the highest level if called upon. Alzolay is worth keeping your eyes on and investing in Dynasty Leagues.
Will we see Adbert Alzolay back in the rotation this year?
There isn’t any fantasy value to associate with Higgins for this season unless literally all of the Cubs’ catchers were to go onto the IL (I’m a Brewers fan but no I am not hoping for that, let’s make that clear). Higgins has improved across every level and has proven to be able to hit .280 or higher with manageable strikeout (20.7 percent) and walk rates (12.1 percent). This is a fairly refined approach for a catcher, while he also provides just a little bit of power in a full season. It is very doubtful that he will see the Major League diamond this season, but he certainly deserves a chance at some point.
C | Tyler Stephenson
Tyler Stephenson is an exceptional defensive catcher, which alone is making the case for his arrival at the MLB level for the Cincinnati Reds. This is a very exciting player to watch, almost comparable to a Jonathon Lucroy in his prime but Stephenson likely will provide an even louder offensive presence than Lucroy ever did. The defense will keep Stephenson on the field, but we may not see him until halfway through the season. If the Reds are going to compete after the first week of the season, it would be smart to bring Stephenson up to the Major League club and start to regularly get him into the lineup. He could be a serviceable fantasy catcher this season if given the necessary amount of Plate Appearances to produce a viable hit sample. If you get wind of Stephenson joining the Reds’ Active Roster at some point this season, he is worth taking a waiver wire flier on to fill a void if you drafted catchers very late this season.
OF | Aristides Aquino
There were a lot of upset individuals in the fantasy baseball realm the other night when the Reds announced that Aristides Aquino would not be joining the team’s thirty-player active roster on Opening Day. This frustration is somewhat warranted, but fans have to understand that their outfield is already stacked and jammed packed full of quality MLB players standing in this power hitter’s way. Aquino still managed to post a 119 wRC+ in 2019 while launching nineteen HR and posting a .259 AVG. The production was still legit even with the large skid that Aquino experienced toward the end of the season, which still makes him an intriguing prospect to join the Taxi Squad. This would be a very smart move by the Reds, as not adding him to the Active Roster over Mark Payton may prove to become skeptical across the league as the season wears on. Put Aquino on your watch list and invest if you need the power when and if he receives another chance this season.
RHP | José De León
It would be extremely satisfying to insert ‘Nick Lodolo’ into this segment of the article, but unfortunately he is just not quite ready to succeed at the Major League level. José De León was once a very highly touted pitching prospect when with the Rays, and now is gracing Cincinnati with his beautiful changeup. There could be fantasy value to be captured here if De León was given the opportunity to eat innings as a mid-reliever or short starter. Given the depth that the Reds possess in their bullpen, there is a good chance that De León will be the first man up to replace anyone in the bullpen that may go onto the IL this season. Being on the Taxi Squad is no joke because injuries happen and when they do, these players need to be ready to perform at the Major League Level. If called upon, De León could be worth the flier if you need ratio help but otherwise will probably remain irrelevant to fantasy this season.
1B/C | Jacob Nottingham
The Brewers have a better catching prospect available in Mario Feliciano, but he is still very young and not quite refined enough to compete at the Major League level this season. Jacob Nottingham does not provide very notable fantasy value as his hit tool has not quite caught up with his sixty-grade raw power. He did have a very successful first seven Plate Appearances for Milwaukee, but this cannot be trusted as the sample size is all too small. There very likely will not be any fantasy value associated with Nottingham this season.
RHP | Trey Supak
Trey Supak prides himself on his changeup and big curveball, but he hit some road bumps last season while posting a 9.30 ERA, 6.00 FIP, and .365 BABIP across thirty innings pitched in AAA. Supak boasts strikeout rates lower than 20 percent but has the command (6.3 percent BB%) to flat out get hitters out by any means necessary. He is not a predominate ground ball pitcher (39 percent GB%) but does a good job at living in at the top and bottom of the shadow zone to keep hitters off balance. There are very few scenarios that would lead to Supak receiving an opportunity to pitch in Milwaukee this season, but if there are multiple IL candidates then he is the next most experienced pitcher to add to the Active Roster in an emergency.
1B | Ronny Rodríguez
The story of Ronny Rodríguez goes along the lines of absolutely destroying Minor League pitching, but really struggling to find his stride at the plate in the Major Leagues. He has continued to strike out more each season that he has progressed through the Indians’ and Tigers’ farm systems and has which has suppressed his ability to fully break out as a power-hitting middle infielder. Much like Rougned Odor, the strikeouts can really weigh down a power hitter in a small sample size, so Rodriguez needs to work on reducing them. He has looked good this Summer Camp, showing off his power in Miller Park and seemingly striking out less. Rodriguez would be a nice addition to Milwaukee’s Taxi Squad this season in the event that he is needed if IL stints occur. We must still remain skeptical of Rodríguez as a reliable fantasy producer if given playing time because he has not proven to be just that throughout his time in the MLB.
The only pitch thrown in the "waste" zone (a Statcast zone classification) that was hit for a homer in 2019:
Ke’Bryan Hayes could be a realistic addition to the Pirate’s Active Roster at some point this season if not after seven days to avoid service time manipulation. If Colin Moran simply does not perform well enough to hold a place in the lineup, Ke’Bryan Hayes should be added to the roster right away to step in and play elite defense in the hot corner for the Pirates in 2020. Defensively he is ready, but it can be argued that his bat needs more time to develop in AAA. Since there is no Minor League season this year, Hayes still needs to receive these repetitions even if at the Major League level to continue developing his hit tool to be a viable bat in the MLB. He has proven to have the ability to hit for average but must do so at the highest levels of professional baseball to prove to the Pirates that he is ready. Keep an eye on Ke’Bryan’s status this season, as he would be worth a skeptical add later in the season.
There is not much to cover here with JT Brubaker simply because he is likely not going to provide any fantasy value this season. There is no telling how the Pirates are going to build their Taxi Squad lineup, so here is the pitcher in their system that is the most ready to potentially compete at the next level. Brubaker performed well at the AAA level while posting a 2.57 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and 18.6 percent K-BB% in 2019. Those types of numbers will get you onto a Taxi Squad and potentially a shot at a bullpen role with the big league club. If Brubaker gets a shot at some point in the season, he will be worth paying attention to if his performance translates to the MLB level.
C | Christian Kelley
There is no fantasy value here, but Christian Kelley would likely be the next best catcher to add to Pittsburgh’s Taxi Squad.
St. Louis Cardinals
3B | Nolan Gorman
The Cardinals scored big when they landed Nolan Gorman in the 2018 MLB Draft and then proceeded to trade for his High School teammate Matthew Liberatore. Nolan Gorman has massive sixty-grade power and is starting to display a hit tool that could very well let him jump another two levels in 2021 when there is a Minor League season again. Gorman is an average defender but has the projectable body to become an all-around great baseball player who could provide immense power upside in the near future. The Cardinals have very few positional prospects other than Gorman and Carlson that are ready for the MLB, so I think boosting Gorman’s confidence by adding him to the Taxi Squad would even help his development along even more. He needs the exposure to this type of environment, but will likely not get time in 2020.
OF/CIF | Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson is not part of the Cardinals’ currently known Active Roster, so he will be briefly covered within this segment of the article. By now everyone knows what Carlson is all about, being a switch-hitting outfielder who can spray the ball to all fields like Matt Carpenter but also clear the fence like Tyler O’Neill. Carlson has proven his pedigree across all levels in the Minor Leagues, especially in his last stop at AAA Memphis where he posted .361 AVG/ .418 OBP/ .681 SLG in seventy-nine plate appearances. He is going to provide immediate fantasy value once he is awarded consistent playing time with the Cardinals, although it appears that it may not be right off the bat on Opening Day this season. It is worth drafting Carlson this week in hopes that he will find the lineup at some point this season and provide immediate value. If he goes undrafted, beat everyone to him before it is too late.
C | José Godoy
There is no fantasy value to be found in José Godoy any time soon.
National League West
C/OF | Daulton Varsho
Daulton Varsho is a wonderful combination of hit and speed while being so versatile that he will likely find his way to the outfield sooner rather than later. With Carson Kelley manning the dish this season, we could very well see Varsho in Arizona’s outfield at some point toward the middle of this season. Varsho has been absolutely tearing it up in the Minor Leagues thus far, showing that he may have a little more power in the tank than originally thought. The best part of Varsho’s profile is his refined approach to having minimal strikeouts (13.9 percent) and being able to draw walks to get on base (9.3 percent). Daulton Varsho is currently ranked the #62 Top Prospect in the MLB, and that ranking is being fairly conservative in regard to the skill set that this guy brings to the table. Sixty-grade speed and potentially a fifty-five-grade hit tool down the road will make Varsho a fantasy study once given consistent playing time for the Diamondbacks.
OF | Josh Rojas
Over the past few seasons Josh Rojas has done nothing but perform across all levels of the Minor Leagues, but unfortunately resides in a very deep Minor League system that is very outfielder-heavy. With Kevin Cron likely being added to the Active Roster, Rojas will most likely just miss out on getting a spot. As you probably just read, Daulton Varsho will likely be moved to the outfield which will even further block the path to playing time for Josh Rojas. That is not to say that he will not provide value for the team this season as part of the Taxi Squad, but he likely will not get the opportunity to provide fantasy value unless injuries were to occur. Rojas has shown the ability to be a good all-around player that knows how to get on base at an elite level, so having him on the Taxi Squad to be the next man up in an emergency puts the Diamondbacks in better shape than a lot of teams as far as outfield depth goes.
RHP | JB Bukauskas
The Diamondbacks have very few arms in their system that would be able to step in and potentially fill a Taxi Squad role if needed, and JB Bukauskas is certainly the best one for the job in 2020. JB’s main issue is walking batters (14.2 percent) but like other top pitching prospects, he has shown the ability to flash elite strikeout rates upwards of 40 percent in AA. Bukauskas could fill a bullpen role if Arizona was in need of pitcher to fill in for an IL candidate, as he arguably has three plus pitches right now to let him compete in the MLB if completely necessary. Arizona gets to luck out by adding Varsho as the eligible catcher on the Taxi Squad, so why not play with some upside and add your top pitching prospect for the ride.
C | Elias Díaz
Elias Díaz has proved to be a serviceable catcher at the Major League level with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so it could be interesting to see him get a shot to play at Coors Field. The Rockies do not have a better catching option to add to the Taxi Squad, so they may as well choose a veteran that has the ability to come off the bench and hit the ball with some authority. He will not provide fantasy value this season, but he has in the past so always keep your eyes on the catching situation in Colorado.
OF | Yonathan Daza
Now that Brendan Rogers and company have made it through the pipeline to Colorado’s Active Roster, this allows an opening for twenty-six-year-old Yonathan Daza to occupy a spot on their Taxi Squad. Daza has proven that he can hit .300 or higher across all levels until he reached the big leagues last season. The pedigree appears to be there for the late bloomer, as the past few seasons his power and speed have arrived just in time for him to get a taste of the Majors. The Rockies are always doing funky things with their prospects, so it is probably to be expected that Daza will not see playing time unless there are injuries that warrant it. Daza seems to be a more complete player than Raimel Tapia, so there could be a chance that Daza takes that spot from him. Rockies are always going to Rockies.
RHP | Alexander Guillen
If only I could write ‘Ryan Rolison’ here, then that would be true happiness. Rolison will be moving through the Rockies system faster than most think, as he will likely get the chance to prove himself in Spring Training 2021. Alexander Guillen might be the most interesting pitcher in the Rockies’ system aside from Rolison, as he is an intimidating right-hander that racks up the strikeouts and limits his walks allowed. This is a guy that the Rockies should add to their Taxi Squad and inject into their bullpen whenever someone is faltering or has to hit the IL. It is not very often that a non-top pitching prospect can yield a 30.3 percent strikeout rate, 7 percent walk rate, and 0.93 WHIP across an entire season. Keep Guillen on your bullpen radar.
C | Keibert Ruiz
Switch-hitting catchers that can actually hit for average as professionals are very rare to find, especially if they are above average at defense as well. Keibert Ruiz is a very intriguing catcher that is going to satisfy a lot of fantasy team’s catching needs come 2021. Ruiz experienced a bit of an offensive lull following his promotion to AAA, but then got sent back down to AA where he continued to crush the ball as he did before being promoted. If one of the Dodger’s catchers were to go down with an injury then Ruiz would definitely be the next man up to fill a slot on the Active Roster. It is very likely that Ruiz will start the 2021 season with the Dodgers, but it will be difficult for him to see playing time in 2020. This could be detrimental to his development, but at least he would be involved with the Dodger pitchers throughout the season to familiarize himself for next season.
RHP | Tony Gonsolin
In an alternate universe, the Dodgers didn’t go out and get Alex Wood which would have made Gonsolin a de facto starter in this rotation by now. The fact that he hasn’t even been announced to the Opening Day roster is bizarre, but faith shall not be lost quite yet. We all know that Tony Gonsolin has the skill set to be a starter for the Dodgers in 2020, but a jammed pitching staff will again push him off to the side for yet another season. If Gonsolin is added to the Active Roster at any point, he is worth adding because Dodgeritis will always be a thing and he will get the opportunity he needs to perform. The only reason Gonsolin may not be drafted in all leagues is the convoluted nature of his path to playing time.
Terrance Gore can play solid defense and provide a pinch-runner off of the bench if necessary. He will not provide very much fantasy value if given an opportunity to play, but he could provide some stolen bases if he is being used that way on the roster. It is a long shot for him to make it to the diamond in 2020, but the speed could play up in a shortened season if he does somehow get some playing time.
San Diego Padres
LHP | MacKenzie Gore
There isn’t much to add on MacKenzie Gore that hasn’t been hammered on by the fantasy baseball community this offseason, as he will likely find himself as part of the Padres’ rotation at some point in the 2020 season. They may even opt to go with a six-man rotation and use Gore as a versatile Swiss Army knife type pitcher if he proves to be effective at the MLB level right off the bat. The Padres have a strong rotation so it is not quite as easy adding Gore to the mix as they hoped, but his pure talents will force him into their Active Roster soon enough. Gore is worth drafting near the twentieth round if you are set on pitching and can go for an upside play with some risk.
OF | Taylor Trammell
If the Padres plan on contending in 2020 then they need to try and stack their bench and Taxi Squad as deeply as they can with quality defensive prospects who have recently proven to swing the bat well. Taylor Trammell is one of these players, as his superior defensive efforts could play up in an MLB game tomorrow if absolutely necessary. His hit tool has been improving over the past couple of seasons as the speed as also started to show up on the basepaths as the Padres hoped it would. Trammell could be a fantasy stud with a lethal combination of lightning speed, gold glove defense, and a well-above-average hit tool. Unfortunately, we probably will not see him on the field this season due to a strong and deep lineup ahead of him in the pecking order.
C | Luis Torrens / Luis Campusano
Neither of these two catchers will provide any sort of fantasy value in 2020, but Campusano is going to without a doubt become San Diego’s catcher by 2022. Luis Torrens is more so the catching prospect that is ready to serve a Taxi Squad role right now, while Campusano still may be a year out from joining the Padres in any capacity. Torrens has proven to be a serviceable ‘real-life’ catcher, but will not provide any fantasy value if given a chance to play. On the other hand, Campusano is going to be a pure hitting catcher with power that can also hold his own defensively behind the dish. Already through A+ as a twenty-one year old, Campusano has proven to mash all pitching thrown his way thus far.
San Francisco Giants
C | Joey Bart
There was a lot of speculation that Joey Bart may have been the starting catcher for the Giants on Opening Day given the news that Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 season. Since the Giants are really in no position to contend for a World Series this season, there is no reason in bringing up Bart at the beginning of the season. He may see some time later in the season if San Francisco wants to give him developmental at-bats, but there is no way to know how the Giants will handle him in a shortened season with no Minor League schedule. Bart is the ultimate catching prospect that can play gold glove defense behind the plate while providing sixty-grade power offensively. The hype is real with Joey Bart and for a great reason, but we will just have to wait until 2021 to see him gain consistent playing time. When the Giants have both Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey on their Active Roster someday, they might find themselves right back in the World Series with such a strong foundation of players coming up through their system.
Logan Webb didn’t exactly have a brilliant first cup of coffee with San Francisco in 2019, but he is doing good enough in Summer Camp that he may become their fifth starter by Opening Day. This is an intriguing situation as Webb is projected to not make the Active Roster but will likely be added before Opening Day and could potentially be starting games right off the bat. Webb possesses a very dangerous slider that helps him boast a 21.3 percent K%, which will not provide a ton of fantasy value but could be serviceable if he can lower his WHIP from last season. Refining the use of his fastball will lead to more successes with his slider, which will in turn increase his overall fantasy value. What Webb does have going for him is his ability to induce ground balls at an incredible rate (48.8 percent GB%), as this particular skill will save him from allowing too much damage after runners get on base. Webb might be worth picking up as a streamer if he has a good start or two to begin this season.
MIF | Yolmer Sánchez
There is not much fantasy value to be had from Yolmer Sánchez, but he is an experienced veteran that could be plugged into the lineup if any one of the Giants’ middle infielders were to hit the IL. Yes, Marco Luciano is a part of the sixty-player CPP, but he is entirely too young to fill a Taxi Squad role in such an abbreviated season. Look for Yolmer to be one of the players that San Francisco takes on road trips to help mentor the younger players on the squad. There is no desire for Sánchez in fantasy this season.
Be sure to tune in to RotoFanatic.com in the coming weeks to catch updated information about Taxi Squads as Active Rosters develop closer to Opening Day!
On Sunday, June 28th, Major League Baseball teams were required to reveal a list of sixty players to be included in their Club Player Pool (CPP) for the 2020 Summer Camp. This player pool can be up to 60 players deep, and each team will be required to submit a thirty-player active roster for the season by Opening Day. The active roster starts at thirty players, then will decrease to twenty-eight players after two weeks, and then will subsequently decrease again to twenty-six players after another two weeks have passed by. There will be a maximum of three players from each MLB team’s CPP that will travel to away games with the team, as this group has been named the Taxi Squad.
The major caveat with utilizing Taxi Squads is that one of those three players is required to be a catcher, which could also work in favor of teams with exceptional catching depth within their system. Taxi Squads are certainly going to benefit some teams more than others, as those will top prospects who potentially could step on the field and theoretically be a replacement level for their respective position. With the Universal Designated Hitter in play this season, positional Taxi Squad members could at the very least gain Plate Appearances in this role if injuries were to occur. Players that are able to make the Taxi Squad are going to be those who can be plugged directly into a Major League lineup and can be trusted to get the job done when they are eventually called upon.
With a sixty-game season looming on the horizon, many tough decisions lie ahead of fantasy managers regarding how to handle prospects who are far from guaranteed consistent playing time in 2020. Taxi Squads for each team will likely not get officially announced until closer to Opening Day, making roster moves and fantasy drafts fairly difficult to prepare for with so many unknowns still lurking. This theme strongly applies to the tier of prospects that by play for teams that have substantial depth throughout the entire organization, so even just being apart of the sixty-player CPP does not guarantee that a prospect will get quality development repetitions beyond the exhibition games in Summer Camp.
Though MLB teams have not yet announced their thirty-player Active Rosters, I present to you in this article a custom American League primer as to which players I believe deserve to hitch a ride as part of their respective team’s Taxi Squad for the 2020 season. This article will be more geared toward describing players who could have potential fantasy value if called upon, but nevertheless each player for each team will be touched on. This is a lengthy article, so feel free to skip around to the teams you are interested in. Let’s take a tour around the league to examine which players are strategically better fit to fill a Taxi Squad role for their clubs this season.
As previously stated in the introduction to this article, teams are not required to fill all three available slots on their Taxi Squads but are allowed to carry an extra catcher in that space if they desire to. There is nothing to lose by carrying a third catcher, and there is everything to be gained in regard to their professional development. In terms of fantasy production, there a very few of these catchers that will even see the field in 2020. Now to the Orioles.
Since Chance Sisco will likely be part of the Orioles’ Opening Day Active Roster as the primary backup catcher to Pedro Severino, Austin Wynns would be the next man up to make their Taxi Squad as an emergency catcher. Bryan Holaday is their only other additional catching option, which would force the Orioles to choose between adding a twenty-nine or thirty-year-old veteran to primarily serve as the bullpen catcher. Nothing to see here.
Mountcastle was finally added to the Orioles’ CPP on July 8th, easily making him the most desirable candidate to fill a primary Taxi Squad slot. Over his past two seasons in AA and AAA, Mountcastle has accumulated thirty-eight Home Runs, 142 Runs Batted In, 144 Runs, and a .304 Batting Average across 981 Plate Appearances. One intriguing facet of Mountcastle’s profile is the fact that both his Fly Ball% and Pull% have simultaneously decreased over the past three seasons while his Home Run totals have steadily increased. This can be taken as a sign that he has been consistently optimizing his swing to succeed in his current environment. These refinements are leading directly to his swing becoming perfectly optimized to succeed in Camden Yards.
This is one of the more intriguing potential Taxi Squad players within the American League, as he could immediately step in and provide viable fantasy value for those needing a power surge if he sees the field. There are still currently many unknowns with how rosters will be constructed for Opening Day, but fantasy managers definitely need to track this situation and be ready to scoop up Mountcastle if an injury or COVID-19 related incident were to occur.
Twenty-five year old Keegan Akin has flashed signs of becoming a serviceable pitcher for the back-end of the starting rotation. He has not been added to the sixty-player CPP, but there is still time, and I won’t give up that easily. Akin has proven to possess the ability to strike out hitters at a 26 percent rate in AAA while he was also able to maintain a 4.13 FIP in back-to-back seasons. The main problem with Akin’s profile is that he has issued too many walks (12.1 BB%), which has led to subsequent inflation of his ERA to a mark of 4.73. Of all the pitchers in the Orioles’ system that are MLB-ready for the 2020 season, Keegan Akin would likely provide the best pitching value for the Orioles if needed in an emergency situation.
The Red Sox can go one of two ways with their Taxi Squad catcher, as they can either choose to roster a seasoned veteran with great leadership qualities (Jonathon Lucroy) or they can roster their top catching prospect and start to develop him within a modified MLB environment (Connor Wong). Either way, neither of these two players are going to have an impact in fantasy leagues simply because they will not get the playing time to produce viable results.
If there is one prospect in the Red Sox’s system who is ready for his first cup of coffee at the Major League level, it undoubtedly is corner infielder Bobby Dalbec. In the past two seasons, Dalbec has flown through the Red Sox’s farm system by performing exceptionally well at all three levels (A+, AA, AAA) that he has played at. Historically, Dalbec has proven to possess the pedigree of an above-average power hitter that strikes out a tad too often, but who also has the unique ability to draw walks and get on base. With Mitch Moreland not getting any younger over at first base, all it would take is an IL stint for Dalbec to get some valuable at-bats for his development. He is in the same fantasy basket as Ryan Mountcastle, as the power production will surely be present, but the playing time may unfortunately not be.
Kyle Hart has yet to make his MLB debut for the Red Sox, and this may still reign true in 2020. Hart does not possess very high strikeout upside (19.4 percent), but is able to yield ground balls at a high enough rate (40.2 percent) to be considered as an above-average left-handed pitcher. There could be a very real possibility that Kyle Hart could take the mound in 2020 given the current state of Boston’s starting rotation. Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson are by no means “a lock” to stick in this rotation for the entirety of the season, even though it is substantially shortened. This bullpen and starting rotation are going to need help at some point this season, and Kyle Hart is a left-hander that deserves a chance to prove what he can do at the next level if called upon.
We got a limited look at Deivi Garcia in his Spring Training 1.0 debut, as he struck out three and walked one batter across two innings pitched against the Braves. Garcia could use another full season in AAA to further develop and refine his command, but we all know that the Minor League season will no longer be occurring. This is a prime opportunity for the Yankees to give massive strikeout pitcher like Garcia the opportunity to travel and develop with the other Major Leaguers on the team. Until he reached AAA, Deivi Garcia did not post a K% lower than 31 percent, but consistently posted BB% rates higher than 11 percent. Just given the eye test, it appears that Garcia very well could be ready to make his MLB debut regardless if fate allows for him to get that opportunity or not.
The Yankees do not really have any positional prospects ready to help the club this season, so why not carry two emerging stud pitchers to reinforce the bullpen and rotation? This is why the Yankees should add both Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt to their Taxi Squad. Schmidt has also impressed in Spring Training 1.0 and now in Summer Camp. He looks like he is MLB ready, commanding each of his pitches in any count to left and right-handed hitters each time he takes the mound. Most recently, he sat down teammate Giancarlo Stanton and company by freezing them with beautiful fastballs up in zone paired with offspeed pitches down and away. Schmidt may not possess quite as high of strikeout upside as Garcia, but he certainly will provide the higher floor for fantasy managers if given the chance to compete.
C | Chris Iannetta
Not much to say about Chris Ianetta, other than he is the Yankees’ best option for a veteran Taxi Squad catcher. No potential fantasy value.
The #1 Top Prospect in the league will certainly find himself apart of Tampa Bay’s Taxi Squad, though it remains very cloudy whether he will receive any playing time short of being an emergency replacement. With Willy Adames breaking out as an exceptional defensive shortstop that can sustain average offensive abilities and Brandon Lowe platooning with Joey Wendle at second base, playing time will be very difficult for Wander to muster up. If either of these three middle infielders for the Rays ends up faltering one-quarter of the way through the season, it is likely that Franco will be given the chance that he deserves to try and prove himself on a Major League diamond.
Unfortunately for Wander, it will likely take one of these three to underperform in order for him to see any sort of consistent playing time. Fantasy managers will have to pay very close attention to the middle infield situation in Tampa Bay, though Franco should certainly still not go undrafted no matter what the circumstances are for playing time in 2020.
Surprisingly enough, the Rays do not have many pitching prospects that are ready to compete at the Major League level this season, but there could be one. McClanahan has proven to be nothing other than electric through AA, posting very high strikeout rates with astonishingly low walk rates. His 2019 season stats might appear to suggest negative regression lies ahead, but don’t overlook his .450 BABIP that came along with a 41.9 percent GB%. McClanahan got extremely unlucky in his first season in AA, as this can be extracted from pairing his 8.35 ERA and 4.12 FIP. At twenty-three years of age, McClanahan needs to develop at the next highest level in order to keep him on track. The best way for the Rays to do this is to give him the nod and slot him in as an emergency pitcher on the Taxi Squad.
The simple fact that Pearson has pitched for three professional seasons across five different levels (R, A-, A+, A+, AA, AAA) and has posted monster strikeout numbers while maintaining walk rates of 8.6 percent or lower. For a highly touted prospect who throws 100+ MPH with elite K-BB% rates, it is truly impressive that he doesn’t have walk rates that are through the roof like other pitching prospects that have similar profiles to Pearson’s (e.g. Darwinzon Hernandez). This is a pitcher that you need to jump on because the stuff is totally there and the command is there while getting better.
Long story short, Pearson is probably going to sit out for the first seven-game so of the season because of service time manipulation, of which five of those seven happen to be away games. If you do the math, Pearson very well could debut at home in Toronto and not lose a year of service time. Pearson is going to provide elite fantasy value right out of the gate if he can keep his walk rate somewhere below 10 percent.
Anthony Kay could certainly boost Toronto’s staff or bullpen if and when there will be individuals put onto the IL for whatever reason. Kay is an intriguingly crafty individual, having four really good pitches that he can command on most nights. Much like Pearson but without a power fastball, Kay flat out has the pedigree to post above-average strikeout rates while walking very few batters (7.9 percent) and to get hitters out at all costs. He had hiccups in his first cup of coffee with the Jays but he will certainly be diligent about fixing his mistakes if he gets a chance to take the mound in 2020.
If the Blue Jays do decide to carry a third catcher, it will likely come down to them either giving Riley Adams a shot or leaning back on thirty-four-year-old veteran Caleb Joseph. Either way, neither player is relevant to fantasy baseball this season.
Vaughn is currently the thirty-seventh ranked prospect in the MLB having just 245 Plate Appearances under his belt in 2019 across three professional levels (R, A, A+). He was fortunate enough to prove himself to potentially be considered for Chicago’s Taxi Squad, and a strong performance at Summer Camp 2020 could really improve his chances. It may be crazy to say he would be ready to join the MLB squad if necessary, but having just watched him play baseball it is apparent that he is ready to be challenged at a much higher level.
If Vaughn were to be given a chance to play on the Taxi Squad and travel with the team, you can bet that the White Sox have a darn good reason for him being there in the first place. If Abreu were to go down, there could be an opportunity there if Encarnacion doesn’t play the field. He could certainly mix in the first base and Designated Hitter rotation if injuries were to occur, but there is no telling how he would handle MLB pitching.
There is not very much more to say about Madrigal that hasn’t been thoroughly covered throughout the industry thus far. The guy can absolutely fly on the base paths, possesses an above-average glove and defensive ability at second base, and to top it all off he has proven at every level that he can get on base at an elite rate (.398 OBP). Madrigal was likely originally going to be included on Chicago’s Active Roster early on in 2020, but with the extreme rule changes, it may be best for him to be part of the Taxi Squad. Leury Garcia had a good 2019 season, but I don’t think he sustains that in 2020 which will allow Madrigal to directly take his place in the lineup. He would likely be hitting in the nine-hole, which isn’t ideal for fantasy production but it actually might be a good spot due to that lineup being so strong this season. He could provide a much-needed speed and OBP burst for all fantasy managers if he sees the field in 2020.
The White Sox could really score with their Taxi Squad this season if Zack Collins is considered to be eligible at catcher and first base. This could undoubtedly be the best Taxi Squad in the AL, filled by three prospects that Chicago expected to officially arrive at the Dark Side in 2020 even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Collins offers some power and hasn’t quite been able to prove it at the Major League level when given an opportunity to do so, but he is just twenty-five years old and things could certainly click for him. Zack Collins isn’t of excellent fantasy value because he hasn’t proven himself in the MLB, but could be useful as a third power-hitting catcher as part of the Taxi Squad.
An alternate universe choice to Bobby Bradley and Nolan Jones, Tyler Naquin would probably be the safest and most logical choice for a positional slot on the Taxi Squad. This may be a very unpopular opinion, especially among the prospecting community, but Naquin has frankly been in multiple ALCS and World Series previously in his career so that experience may be smart for the Indians to take on the road. Likely an unpopular take, but if the Indians are going to win this sprint in the Central, then they are going to need depth that has the certain ability to perform on a Major League diamond. Naquin probably wouldn’t provide much fantasy value if he were to get a chance to play, but he would be a great candidate to help the Indians get back to another World Series (asterisk).
The Indians are another team that lacks starting pitching prospect depth for the immediate future (exception of Triston McKenzie), but Logan Allen is in town and awaits his much deserved ride with the Taxi Squad. There is nobody better in the system to fill one of these slots, and a left-handed pitcher would surely be more than welcome onto the Indian’s Taxi Squad so that he can get the development and exposure that he needs to excel. Allen has one of the best changeups in the Minor Leagues and was a wizard at getting hitters to ground out last season (49.5 percent). The strikeouts haven’t been there as of late and he has been getting hit somewhat hard, but the Indians are a great developmental team that will help Allen will find his way soon enough. Potential fantasy value could lie ahead if given innings, and you never know what is going to happen with that staff and bullpen. Definitely a situation worth monitoring.
Detroit can’t really go wrong by selecting either Manning or Mize to fill a spot on their Taxi Squad, as both prospects were likely going to make their MLB debuts in a normalized 2020 season. Both prospects possess multiple plus pitches and the pedigree to become a number one or two starter for their Major League club within the next couple of seasons. Manning and Mize have massive strikeout rates, while also having the command to keep their walks under control. The best thing about both of these pitchers is the fact that they could be utilized out of the bullpen as well as in the rotation if necessary. They will be effective either way if they can limit their walks, as I could almost see Manning toward the back of the bullpen helping to anchor things down if there are any injuries. Service time is a big concern with both of these prospects, so it will be interesting to see how the Tigers choose to construct their Active Roster for Opening Day.
With very few positional prospects ready to contribute at the Major League level in 2020, Detroit could really stack their Taxi Squad with two of the Big Three arms from their farm system. Again, service time comes into play, and so does the fact that neither of them has thrown past AA. Tarik Skubal is unique in the sense that he is the only left-handed pitcher who is advanced in Detroit’s Top Prospect pool, and his skill set is always being craved by MLB teams.
Skubal is a lefty with an overpowering fastball and strikeout rates through the roof (48.2 percent), but he had too high of a walk rate in 2019 (10.6 percent) which kept his stat line from looking almost immaculate. With Skubal and any combination of Mize or Manning, Detroit’s Taxi Squad would arguably have the most feared pitching prospects in the league. If given an opportunity, Skubal is going to rack up the strikeouts at every level but has to improve on his command to become a viable starter. The Tigers may opt to add a position player to their Taxi Squad, but there may not be a reason to do so.
Jake Rogers is a twenty-five-year-old catcher who is a defensive magician. He is graded out to potentially become an eighty-grade defensive catcher with a sixty-grade arm, plus having an average power rating that just hasn’t shown up at the Major League level yet. This will get him into the lineup alone. Rogers struck out way too much in his Tigers debut in 2019 (39.8 percent K%) and had an OBP lower than .300 for the first time in his professional career since A+. Rogers could very well become a fantasy relevant catcher for the Tigers but likely not in 2020 due to lack of any assured playing time. Austin Romine and Grayson Greiner aren’t anything special, so Rogers could very well get his second nod on the big league club if the other two catchers are stale at the plate. Could be a mid-to-late season waiver wire catcher pick up if all else fails in Detroit.
There is no better fit for Kansas City’s Taxi Squad than Khalil Lee. Most are going to give me flack for not saying Bobby Witt Jr. here, but Khalil Lee is going to be needed as an outfielder in Kansas City a lot sooner than Witt Jr. will be needed at third base or shortstop. He still strikes out too much (28.2 percent) but proved to be the definition of efficient speed (53 SB) combined with the ability to flat out hit the baseball (124 Hits: 470 AB). As stated previously, this is a “needs-based” decision, as quality outfielders are going to dry up awfully quickly for the Royals when Brett Phillips has to start in left field because Alex Gordon seems to always find the IL. Lee will be waiting in the shadows, and he can provide a much-needed source of speed while also not tanking your fantasy team’s Batting Average (or OBP) or Runs totals. If Lee makes the Taxi Squad, he is worth the stash.
Another Royals prospect that is worth the stash if added to the Taxi Squad is twenty-three-year-old right-hander Brady Singer. There is a fairly common theme running in the American League right now where most of the top pitching prospects who are nearly MLB-ready have never even thrown a pitch in AAA. Brady Singer falls in this same category as Manning, Mize, Skubal, McClanahan, and others mentioned previously in the article. Besides Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic, Singer is the best pitcher in Kansas City’s farm system who could hold his own in a Major League setting. Singer has thrown 147.4 innings across A+ and AA and has posted encouraging K-BB% rates thus far (17.6 percent in 2018, 15.3 percent in 2019). He hasn’t posted strikeout rates that are through the roof (22.1 percent), but has shown the ability to act mature on the mound and attack each hitter with a specific plan. Singer could provide some back-end of the rotation type fantasy value, especially with the fairly weak rotation that KC is sporting in 2020.
Twenty-three-year-old Meibrys Viloria will likely be the third catcher added to Kansas City’s Taxi Squad once he returns from the IL. Though he strikes out way too often for a catcher that doesn’t provide much power, he has proven to have a decent hit tool until he reached the MLB in 2019. If his pedigree persists, Viloria can be a .260/.340/.340 hitter if given the Plate Appearances to further develop. This could be a nice left-handed bat in the Royals’ lineup if all else fails once Perez can’t stick behind the plate anymore. No fantasy value here, but a catcher to keep your eyes on over time.
This positional role on Minnesota’s Taxi Squad could realistically be filled by Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach, or Alex Kiriloff. Whoever is chosen to fill this role will be based on what Minnesota needs depth at the most, which currently appears to be outfield. All three of Lewis, Larnach, and Kiriloff are not quite MLB ready, but if anyone, Royce Lewis is the closest. His hit tool may not be the closest, but the speed and power combination is almost ready for the MLB in its current state. If an infielder were to go down, Lewis would be the next man up. The hesitancy with choosing an outfielder for this Taxi Squad role is because Jake Cave is still lurking and waiting for his chance to keep hitting well for the Twins. If Cave wasn’t on the bench, this decision would be more inclined toward an outfielder.
Royce Lewis could provide a very unique skill set for fantasy managers but it is likely not going to appear until 2021 or 2022. He could very well nab a spot on the Taxi Squad and play if called upon, but the Twins are in “win-now mode” and could very well not distribute playing time as much as other teams. Be very cautious when drafting him in Redraft Leagues, but for Dynasty Leagues he could very well be a late 2021 arrival based upon the state of the Twins’ infield.
For the record, Jordan Balazovic would be the choice for this Taxi Squad slot if he had been announced as part of Minnesota’s sixty-player CPP, but he sadly was not (there is still time). Jhoan Duran is also a very intriguing prospect who has a profile plays well no matter who is playing defense behind him. You cannot only look at a pitching prospect’s ERA, as poor defense can often inflate this indicator. In 2018, Duran started to find a great feel for his fastball, as his FIP becoming consistently lower than his ERA tells the story of how much better he actually pitched in contrast to how it appears on the surface. Duran has the potential to have three exceptionally lethal pitches if he can continue to develop in the Twins’ system. Don’t let his elevated BABIP fool you (.327), as Jhoan Duran is an excellent ground ball pitcher (63.3 percent) who has gotten unlucky with the defenses playing behind him. There likely won’t be fantasy value here in 2020, but there will be plenty of it sometime in 2021 or 2022.
Tomas Telis has proven that he can hit at the AAA level (.330 AVG), and has even hit over .300 at the Major League level back in 2016 with the Marlins. This is a catcher that would fit wonderfully on the Twins’ Taxi Squad. As an immediate World Series contender, Minnesota should want to have a veteran leader that has performed in the past as part of their traveling Taxi Squad. No fantasy value here, but an intriguing decision as to who Minnesota will choose as their third catcher. Telis provides the most offensive upside.
Despite a lackluster 2019 season, Forrest Whitely is still one of the more electrifying right-handed pitching prospects in the MLB (#15 Top Prospect). Whitley currently has three sixty-grade pitches but none of that matters if you cannot throw them for strikes. In 2019 alone he posted an 18.4 percent walk rate in AA, and then again posted a 12.6 percent walk rate in AAA. While this is a good sign, his strikeout rate also experienced a 10.5 percent decrease down to 24 percent. Whitley still possesses the pedigree to become one of the best rookie right-handed pitchers in the league when he debuts, but it will all come down to his walk rate. Definitely hold Whitley in Dynasty leagues for now and monitor the coming weeks for any roster announcements. Forrest Whitley will likely not be fantasy relevant yet again in 2020 due to the unfortunate inner workings that a shortened season has to offer. If he is set to debut due to an injury in the rotation, he may be worth claiming in Redraft Leagues.
#Astros Forrest Whitley is an ace in the making, & his ability to rip off 3 straight nasty breakers is a big reason why. Each pitch is 81-82 mph, but notices how he changes the shape: 2nd pitch is an up-then down curve, 3rd a sharper off-the-table tilt 🔥 pic.twitter.com/V7JzrqUGLF
Since the Astros are another team that really does not have many positional prospects that are ready for the MLB, they may very well go with a double pitcher stack on the Taxi Squad to supplement any IL occurrences that may happen within the rotation or bullpen. Christian Javier would likely be the second pitcher on the Taxi Squad along with Forrest Whitley. Javier has proven to tote high strikeout rates (36.4 percent) while also being able to limit his walks to a manageable rate of 9.1 percent. Posting a K-BB% higher than 20 percent across three levels last season (A+, AA, AAA) is a testament to how good Christian Javier could really be and nobody is talking about it. All eyes have been on Whitley, but when the day of reckoning comes for the Astros to win games, Javier will be right there in the conversation. It is worth watching him on the wire.
No fantasy value here, but Jamie Ritchie has proven to hit the ball fairly well across the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. He has the potential to be a .270 hitter at the Major League level if ever given a shot to crack the big league roster. There are much worse options to have as a third-string catcher. He is an OBP machine that knows how to take walks (similar to Yasmani Grandal), so he could very useful when Houston is in search of a more offensively inclined catcher.
Jo Adell is the most widely covered prospect across the fantasy baseball industry, so there is not going to be a whole lot added about his profile here. We all know what Adell is capable of, it is really just a matter of receiving the playing time for one reason or another. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the hit tool to fully come around and send his power potential into orbit, but until he is able to hit both left and right-handed pitching equally then he, unfortunately, isn’t going to make a full breakout. What else is concerning is the decrease in walk rate and an increase in strikeout rate, but this will come with prospects that start to somewhat sell out for some power. Adell could become fantasy relevant the moment that he steps on the field, as he should contribute in two-to-three categories. Make sure you have him when it’s his turn!
Since the Angels lack depth in pitching prospects for the immediate future, why not bring Jared Walsh along to the party because you never know if Albert Pujols is going to keep declining or not. Walsh has a refined approach at the plate, showing that he can hit for power while being able to walk at a decent rate to balance out the strikeouts. Walsh hit thirty-six home runs in AAA last season, but got called up to the Angels and struggled in his first thirty-seven games. He likely will not possess much fantasy value for this season unless the first base situation does open up for him, in which you can grab him in OBP leagues and for some supplemental power toward the end of the season. The Angels don’t have many other guys that could succeed at the MLB level at this instance.
No fantasy value to be had with Kruger. The Angels could really go with anyone for their third catcher, it will have zero fantasy implications unless Castro and Stassi somehow both go down. Even then, eh.
This one is for Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams). But in all seriousness, Sheldon Neuse needs to be on Oakland’s Taxi Squad and there should be no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Yes, he struggled in his first twenty-five games at the Major League level in 2019. Yes, he is a power hitter that strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk very often, but there is something to be said for the “eye test” as well. Neuse has appeared to reach his power breakout while also just arriving at his full hit potential. Given time on the Taxi Squad to develop with the team, Neuse would be a great addition to the Athletics because Tony Kemp just might not cut it. There isn’t much fantasy value at stake here, but if we do find out that he gets added to the Taxi Squad then he may be worth the deep-league stash.
James Kaprielian would be a nice utility pitcher to have on the Taxi Squad because he could serve in a multi-inning role if a starter or reliever were to go on the IL. He has proven that he can rack up strikeouts at the Major League level, so there could be a possibility of seeing him in some sort of role by the middle of this season. If he works his way into a “holds” situation, then he is absolutely worth picking up on the speculation that the Athletics will win a decent number of games. This is a situation worth monitoring, who knows what the A’s will do.
Jonah Heim is a 6’4″ catcher that is exceptional defensively and has started to make an offensive breakthrough over the past two seasons. Drafted at nineteen years old, Heim has been in the league for six years and has finally started to hit better than he ever has now at twenty-five years old (.358 AVG). The Athletics have two good catchers in Sean Murphy and Austin Allen, so Heim may be the Taxi Squad catcher but will likely not see the field in 2020. He is certainly a player to keep your eyes on over the next two seasons.
OF | Jared Kelenic
Ahhh, did you just see that home run that Kelenic absolutely destroyed in their intrasquad game the other day? Take a look at the video in the Tweet below, and turn the sound way up because the crack of his bat tells the whole story here. Kelenic is a Top Ten prospect in the MLB and would have undoubtedly arrived in Seattle this season if it were a normal year. He is going to be a three-to-four category contributor when he steps into his prime, and can even serve as a two-category contributor in 2020 if given an opportunity to play on the Major League team. There isn’t much stopping Kelenic from reaching the Majors this season as long as Haniger is still riding pine with another injury, because I don’t see Mallex Smith‘s skill set playing up in a shortened season. This is a complete side note, but Mallex Smith needs a large sample size of games to reach his stolen base potential since his offensive skills are very underwhelming. That skill set isn’t going to cut it and Kelenic will be the first to get the call. Draft him everywhere you can as long as you aren’t paying a premium in Redraft Leagues, but he could be fruitful in Dynasty Leagues as soon as 2020.
No other pitching prospect in the Mariners’ farm system deserves to be on the Taxi Squad more than Logan Gilbert does. Gilbert could provide fantasy value in 2020 if he were to turn a few quality starts, as he has proven to have the strikeout upside while also being able to really limit his walk rate (7.7 percent). He has been very sharp at every level he has pitched at, and deserves a chance to join the Taxi Squad in case Kendall Graveman just doesn’t cut it in Seattle. Gilbert is one of those prospects that really needed a Minor League season to develop late into the 2020 season, but Seattle may as well throw him right into the fire and develop him as much as they can while being part of the Taxi Squad. It is dangerous to draft Gilbert in Redraft Leagues this season just due to lack of assured playing time but he is worth still taking in Dynasty drafts as he could provide some late season value along with Kelenic.
If anything, Cal Raleigh should be the extra catcher taken on the Taxi Squad for developmental purposes. There is no fantasy value to be salvaged here, unfortunately, but Raleigh was having a good spring for what it is worth.
This system is fairly barren these days. Yerry Rodriguez would be the ideal pick for one of these developmental spots, but he just isn’t quite ready for an MLB stage. Tyler Phillips on the other hand has thrown through AA and has proven to be an above-average pitcher thus far. Ariel Jurado might very well be the pitcher that Texas chooses for their Taxi Squad, but that will be an absolute disaster and we all know it. Phillips has proven to possess exceptional command (which is even still developing), which has resulted in walk rates 5.2 percent or lower across all levels. There is definitely something to say about a pitching prospect who has such great command to get him this far, but now has to develop the stuff to make the jump to the MLB. Bryse Wilson is a very comparable prospect in the sense that they both have some of the best command across the Minor Leagues but can barely leap the 20 percent strikeout threshold. Not really any fantasy value, but now you know who Tyler Phillips is.
Ah yes, Greg Bird. Injuries have riddled Bird’s career thus far, but when healthy he has shown flashes of possessing a great hit tool that can produce some power to the pull side. We never got to see his full potential with the Yankees simply because he was never able to stay healthy. If Greg Bird is healthy, then the skill set should still intrigue some fantasy owners to either pick him at the end of drafts or watch for him on the waiver wire. There is no telling if he will be included on the thirty-player Active Roster on Opening Day, but he certainly deserves a chance to join the Taxi Squad if healthy. Proceed with caution, but pay close attention to the first base and Designated Hitter situation over in Texas.
There isn’t any fantasy value with Swihart, but he is a versatile player that can potentially be eligible at both catcher and outfield. Multi-position eligibility is always an advantage in fantasy baseball, but the player has to actually step foot on the field for it to mean anything. Not much to take away here, whichever way Texas goes with their third Taxi Squad member.
Be sure to tune in to RotoFanatic.com next week to catch the second article of this MLB Taxi Squad series, as it will follow the same general outline but will cover all of the National League teams!