Every season, when we look at fantasy players and anticipate future stats, we also like to look at a player’s team around them. For instance, if Player A has teammates that aren’t the greatest, then opportunities for success with Player A can be limited due to pitch selection for hits and opportunities to drive in runs or score runs. It can be very restricting for players because the counting numbers may not be as high as they are for others.
However, within that realm of mediocrity comes greatness. And it is through this greatness where production will happen regardless of surrounding talent. These are players whose talents shine through, no matter how bad their team is, and are safe to draft and start with regularity. Here are five hitters that play on teams that are projected to do poorly, but can and should be drafted with confidence this year because they will produce.
1. Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
2019 stats: .277/.367/.569, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 94 R, 0 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .275/.370/.504, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 29 R, 1 SB
Josh Bell had a somewhat unexpected power surge last season, upping his home run totals from 12 in the previous year to 37 in 2019. Overall, he saw the ball much better last season, as his batting average against various pitches rose significantly. He hit the ball hard too, which resulted in a career-high exit velocity that was also much higher than the league average. He’s always been one to show great discipline at the plate, as he’s willing to wait for a pitch that’s perfect for him to hit.
He struggled mightily in June of 2019, but some attribute that to him having a post Home Run Derby fatigue. He was able to pick himself back up and finish the season well in both August and September. All in all, he was in a zone for most of 2019, and his numbers reflect that.
Josh Bell’s 472-ft. HR yesterday made him the 4th player ever to hit a ball out of PNC Park and into the Allegheny River on the fly! pic.twitter.com/ycnavRe3Uw
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) May 9, 2019
As we move into the new year, the Pirates do not look like they’re yet ready to contend. They recently lost Chris Archer for the year, and are in a division where the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds will be competing to win now. That doesn’t mean that you should shy away from drafting Bell. He solidified himself last season as a legitimate source for power at first base where elite production and reliability significantly drop off midway through the draft. He should also play close to every day, as he’s a great option for the designated hitter:
#Pirates manager Derek Shelton mentioned Josh Bell as a candidate for the DH role
— Jason Shetler (@Jason_Shetler) June 24, 2020
So, he is a) a young player who will play every day, b) on a team where quality depth behind him isn’t an issue, c) has the ability to not only hit for power but can drive in runs as well; he is a no-brainer to repeat last year’s success. He should provide owners with a steady dose of home runs, runs batted in, and batting average in 2020.
2. Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2019 stats: .314/.377/.503, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 83 R, 3 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .288/.351/.454, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 59 R, 2 SB
The second Pirate on this list is Bryan Reynolds, whose 2019 breakout is not something that came out of nowhere. As someone who batted over .300 over every year and level of Minor League baseball over his career, Reynolds knows how to put the bat to the ball and make good contact.
Those are pretty solid numbers against all types of pitches, including breaking pitches, which can be the downfall of players making the jump in terms of elite contact skills. His ability to spread the ball all over the field also shows he’s got a good, patient eye at the plate.
Anther hit…weird. Let's take a look at Bryan Reynolds All-Star credentials, shall we?
— Pirates (@Pirates) June 29, 2019
As for 2020, he is another intriguing option to draft, specifically for batting average and runs. He will most likely hit atop the Pirates lineup and should be able to not only get on base but also score runs by having the aforementioned Josh Bell (hopefully) driving him as well. His hard-hit rate of 42.6% was within the Top 50 in all of baseball and showed discipline in waiting for his pitch by swinging rarely outside of the strike zone. in 2020 He will be playing in some hitters’ ballparks (like the Reds and the Brewers) and will also be against the Tigers’ and Royals’ pitchers come interleague play.
3. Jonathan Villar, 2B/OF, Miami Marlins
2019 stats: .274/.339/.453, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 111 R, 40 SB
2020 Steamer projections: .258/.328/.408, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 54 R, 12 SB
Before anything else, let me say that Villar’s ADP is quite high. And yes, he will be facing American League East and National League East opponents all season and does move to a pitcher’s ballpark in Miami. That being said, he did his damage last season playing for the lowly Baltimore Orioles, who were arguably worse then than they are now.
Moving into Miami, there are some negatives against him going forward. First, he will be facing divisional starting pitchers, which means he will be against some of the elite in all of baseball. Secondly, Miami is primarily a pitcher’s ballpark, meaning that hitters don’t necessarily do as well there. Third, last year he set career highs in home runs, runs batted in, and was well above his career batting average.
That being said, I am throwing a lot of those negatives out the window. First of all, yes, we will be playing against tough opponents in a tough division, but he did so as well last year with minimal lineup help, and still had a career season.
Jonathan Villar's time as an Oriole: gone but never forgotten 😥😥😥 pic.twitter.com/PhNIeDAgP0
— Big LG Twins fan (@NaturallyKatz) November 27, 2019
Secondly, while Marlins Park is still a pitcher’s ballpark, it was more so under its old dimensions. It was announced this offseason that the dimensions would be changing, making some of the walls a shorter distance from home plate.
Villar isn’t known to be a power hitter, but seven feet is nothing to sneeze at. Finally, he’s said many times this offseason that he will in fact be running in 2020. And for a player who is successful on 79% of his career stolen base opportunities (including 88% in 2018 and 82% in 2019), chances are he will be free to run on the basepaths in Miami.
So we know that he’s an elite base runner with a need for speed. We know that he will get on base with a batting average above the league average and a walk rate of about 9%. The biggest question is whether or not, in a shortened season, is he worth the 44thth pick overall? I’m going to say yes. Sure, his current team might not be near the top of contenders, but that won’t stop Villar from producing. In a shortened season, you want to have game-changers at every offensive position, and Villar can be that for you. Over at CBS Sports, a survey was conducted that produced some interesting results. Here was one of their questions:
That’s some pretty good company there. Given that his ADP will probably have him drafted in the third or fourth round and, and will help you not only feel confident with steals but at a somewhat thin second base position, I’d be more than willing to draft Villar, solidify your speed with some other offensive category help, and fill the holes in your lineup later on in the draft. And with last year’s “Happy Ball” potentially returning, so too could some version of Villar’s power numbers.
4. C.J. Cron, 1B, Detroit Tigers
2019 stats: .253/.311/.469, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 51 R, 0 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .262/.325/.496, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 26 R, 1 SB
A pre-season darling, C.J. Cron has been gaining steam lately as a sleeper and moving up draft boards.
It’s obvious that he hit the ball hard in 2019 (as did the rest of his teammates), but the impressive part of Cron’s game was that he did this with a thumb injury that required surgery down the stretch. Now in Detroit, as a hitter who pulls the ball 37.1% of the time and goes to straightaway center field 27.7% of the time, he may actually find his new home to be a slight upgrade for what he typically does at the plate.
Being fully healthy after thumb surgery is (obviously) the key to success for Cron. After all, it’s hard to hold, much less grip and squeeze a bat, if your thumb doesn’t allow for the required pressure. He claims he is feeling great as his swing is back to normal:
“When you are carrying some stuff (playing hurt), it’s almost impossible to do things the right way,” he said. “I think that when you have injuries toward the hand and wrist area, it messes up your swing just enough to where it doesn’t feel right.
“It’s a game where we fail quite a bit, and you need to be locked in. Even when I started to feel better, my swing at that point was so messed up it was hard for me to find it again.”
His abbreviated Spring Training numbers prove him to be correct so far.
Don’t forget about Cron in your draft. Getting him now will still provide you with some under-rated power at a position that drops off significantly. He’s a guy that could help you win a league when you fill category holes earlier in a draft.
5. Ryan McMahon, 1B/2B/3B, Colorado Rockies
2019 stats: .250/.329/.450, 24 HR, 83 RBI, 70 R, 5 SB
2020 Steamer Projected stats: .268/.338/.464, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 46 R, 2 SB
Ryan McMahon was once a highly heralded prospect who had a bright future lined up for him, due to a solid bat and the opportunity to play in Colorado, where hitters thrive.
Unfortunately for him, the Rockies haven’t yet understood that consistent playing time leads to proper learning and development, and thus, he would play sporadically and get infrequent at-bats. He, alongside other prospects, has struggled throughout the years because the Rockies were in a state of flux. On the one hand, they paid veterans to help them win and the team remained somewhat competitive. On the other hand, they didn’t have enough stability at pitching which led to their downfall, as all of their money was spent on high profile offensive pieces leading to minimal opportunities for upgrades on the mound. It’s a vicious cycle, but I digress.
My rant does, however, lead me to my point of why Ryan McMahon is in a good spot for himself in 2020. He has an opportunity to play this year and should get consistent at-bats. It comes with a sad footnote, however, in that Charlie Blackmon has already suffered from COVID and Ian Desmond has opted to sit out the season due to the virus and social injustices as well. While those reasons are serious in their own right and should be respectfully remembered, from a fantasy perspective, Ryan McMahon seems poised for a mini breakout.
Ryan McMahon is someone to keep an eye on (195 ADP).
-Lots of ABs (manager confirmed 150+ games).
-90th percentile EV in 2019.
-Advanced approach: hits breakers well, goes oppo, and solid against lefties.
That's a recipe for a breakout. #RyanMcMahon
— Nick Gerli (@ReventureCo) March 2, 2020
Last season, playing all over the infield and compiling his most at-bats in a season in years, McMahon belted 24 home runs over 141 games and looked confident at the plate. He was especially good in July, where he hit safely in 16 of the 21 games in which he started and batted .313 over that month. He does come with some downfalls, as his ground ball rate is much too high at 51.1% and he strikes out 29.7% of the time. He does, however, walk a ton (10.4%) he doesn’t go after balls out of the strike zone (26.5% Chase Contact) and had a 47.7% hard-hit rate last season.
And while he struggled a bit more on the road than at home, here are some encouraging stats to ponder:
And how can a player, with all the talent in the world, get better? Playing time. McMahon should have plenty of that this year at first base and possibly second base, along with games as the DH. He’s destined for an everyday role and he seems poised and ready to roll.