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Players to Target in NL-Only Drafts (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by Daniel Comer | @DanComer404 | Featured Writer
Feb 9, 2020

Nolan Arenado has batted .300 and averaged 40 home runs, 124 RBIs and 104 runs over the past five seasons.

A bit of logic that seems obvious but bears repeating: the savviest fantasy drafters make safe, high-floor picks early and disperse risk between several high-upside fliers in later rounds. For the purpose of this NL-only deep dive, we’ll take a look at early fantasy draft picks whose track records suggest repeated strong performances are in store for the 2020 campaign, as well as high-upside players managers should target later in drafts.

Yes, there will be some “Duh!” moments with the below list of early targets, but we will avoid stating the obvious (“Draft Jacob deGrom!!!) without explaining what makes a player such a safe pick (he owns a career 2.62 ERA and averages more than 200 strikeouts per season). Identifying late-round sleepers is a more nuanced process that sometimes relies more on scouting reports than quantitative data, especially in the case of young players who haven’t accrued enough MLB experience to register substantial peripheral numbers.

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National League Players to Target Early in Standard 5×5 Rotisserie Scoring

Nolan Arenado (3B – COL)
Over the past three seasons, only Nelson Cruz has hit more home runs than Arenado, who plays in the most hitter-friendly park in baseball. While some will point to Coors Field as an indictment on his numbers, an argument which his career home/road splits and hard-hit rate support, he’s still a guy who has batted .300 and averaged 40 home runs, 124 RBIs and 104 runs over the past five seasons. Low strikeout rates indicate Arenado’s contact skills aren’t diminishing anytime soon, and with the departures of both Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson to the American League, the fantasy discrepancy between Arenado and the next-best option at third base (Kris Bryant, according to Fantasy Pros’ ECR) in the Senior Circuit is starker than it is at other positions. In summation, he’s a high-floor, high-upside contributor with little to no injury history who plays a premium position in a league that lost significant depth at his position in the offseason.

Mookie Betts (OF – LAD)
Betts is one of the most consistent offensive performers in baseball, ranking among the elite in several offensive categories over the course of his career. Since he began full-time play with the Red Sox in 2015, Betts ranks eighth in baseball in stolen bases, 13th in RBIs, first in runs and 23rd in home runs. He also ranks third to only Mike Trout and Christian Yelich in FanGraphs’ Offensive WAR over that period. Last season, Betts paced baseball in runs for the second consecutive year, and he shouldn’t see much regression in a Dodgers lineup that led the National League in scoring in 2019. He’s a high-floor, high-ceiling cross-category winner with a proven track record and strong peripherals. Don’t overthink it – draft Mookie if he’s available anywhere outside the first five picks.

Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM)
The trio of deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey was supposed to win multiple titles, with scouts and fans alike anointing Harvey as the gem of the group ahead of a 2015 World Series matchup with the Kansas City Royals (the Royals won the series in five games). Harvey hasn’t been the same pitcher since, and Syndergaard has been one of the most mercurial performers in baseball, wowing scouts with his stuff but frustrating everyone with his inconsistency. deGrom, meanwhile, has won two consecutive NL Cy Young Awards with ERA (2018) and strikeout (2019) titles to boot. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, deGrom has led major league pitchers in FIP and ranks second in ERA and fWAR. He’s also been an innings-eater, ranking fifth in baseball in innings pitched over that span while seeing his fastball velocity increase steadily since 2017. The only gripe here is a relatively low win total, which can be directly attributed to his lack of run support from a fickle Mets lineup.

Other safe targets to consider early: Christian Yelich (OF – MIL), Max Scherzer (SP – WSH), Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF – ATL)

National League Players to Target Late in Standard 5×5 Rotisserie Scoring

Christian Walker (1B – ARI)
Walker finished last season batting .259 with 29 home runs, 73 RBIs and 86 runs scored, which placed him right in line (from a fantasy perspective) with more celebrated NL first basemen Rhys Hoskins and Anthony Rizzo. He had the fourth-highest hard-hit rate among qualified NL first basemen in 2019, ranking ahead of Rizzo, Pete Alonso, Max Muncy, and Josh Bell. If he can cut down on strikeouts (career 27.8 K%), Walker could find his average sneaking closer to the .270 mark in 2020 to go along with what should be a 25-home run floor. That’s not bad for a guy who currently sits 99th in Fantasy Pros’ NL ECR rankings.

Gavin Lux (2B/SS – LAD)
Lux, MLB Pipeline’s No.2 overall prospect, profiles as a perennial 20-20 hitter with strong contact skills and good plate discipline. On the low end in 2020, he struggles to gain playing time but flashes enough potential to function as valuable early-season trade bait in fantasy baseball leagues. On the high end, he becomes a cross-category demon for a high-scoring Dodgers offense, starting every day at a position (second base) where offensive firepower across the league is sparse. If he falls below his ADP of 73 in NL-only leagues, Lux becomes a sneaky mid-to-late-round draft pick.

Yoenis Cespedes (OF – NYM)
Céspedes has been an enigma ever since a strangely produced 20-minute scouting video showcasing his workout routines and Cuban National Series highlights surfaced online in 2011. The most recent strange Céspedes news came from his ranch, where he fractured his ankle during a duel with a wild boar, which caused him to miss all of the 2019 MLB season. Céspedes sat out most of the 2018 campaign with injuries to both heels (you really can’t make this stuff up) and lost a large chunk of 2017 to a strained hamstring. Fans haven’t seen him healthy in nearly four years, which is a big reason why he’s listed within the undraftable range of many preseason fantasy baseball rankings.

In that healthy 2016 season, Céspedes batted .280/.354/.530 with 31 home runs and 86 RBIs. His truncated 2017 campaign saw him post a 42.2% hard-hit rate, which would’ve ranked as the best of his career. While there’s a lot working against the 34-year-old outfielder in 2020, the Mets appear content starting him in a lineup that has strong run-scoring potential after finishing seventh in the National League in runs in 2019. It wouldn’t be overwhelmingly surprising to see Céspedes have a Josh Donaldson-like renaissance next season, especially if he can avoid injuries that have sidetracked his MLB career to this point.

Other high-upside targets to consider late: Carter Kieboom, Garrett Hampson, Alex Reyes

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Daniel Comer is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Daniel, check out his archive and follow him @DanComer404.

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