Depth Chart Battles: NL (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Earlier this week, I dove deep on AL positional battles and quickly realized that the NL has a lot more competition. This is not surprising, given that the AL has one extra position to go around. The best advice I can give you is to monitor these battles throughout spring training so you can be the first one to act first in drafts when breaking news hits!
There are more moving parts in these outfields than a pinball machine. Let’s review using a pro’s and con’s list. You can even write this out on a yellow legal pad (forgive my How I Met Your Mother reference)!
St. Louis Cardinals: Outfield
|Tommy Edman||Harrison Bader||Tyler O’Neill||Dexter Fowler||Lane Thomas||Dylan Carlson|
|Pro||123 wRC+ in 2nd half||Elite defender||Prodigious power||?||4-category contributor||Top prospect|
|Con||Statcast metrics show negative regression||Career 92 wRC+ in 925 PA’s||35%+ K-rate||Downside of aging curve||Recovering from broken wrist; high K-rate||Likely won’t have an Opening Day gig|
Prediction: Carlson comes up in early May, and the at-bats between him, Bader, O’Neill, and Fowler are split throughout the rest of the season. I’m betting on Edman moving all over the diamond and eventually supplanting Matt Carpenter at third base in the second half. Among the rest, I’m targeting Carlson and O’Neill in the later rounds of 15-team leagues.
Cincinnati Reds: Left and Center Field
There is a bit more quality than quantity than the Cardinals’ outfield, but this is still a mess.
|Aristides Aquino||Jesse Winker||Phillip Ervin||Nick Senzel||Shogo Akiyama|
|Pro||4-category contributor||Career 122 wRC+||Power/speed combo||Elite skills||Great bat-to-ball skills|
|Con||Fell off in September, not guaranteed roster spot||Multiple season-ending injuries||Last in pecking order||Rehabbing injured shoulder||Uncertainty as to how he adjusts to MLB|
Prediction: The Reds ramp Senzel up slowly, leaving the Opening Day center field job to Akiyama. Winker gets the first shot at left, but injuries across the outfield get every player a similar amount of at-bats, with Akiyama getting the most due to hitting leadoff. I have Akiyama and Aquino in my top-300 overall rankings, with Senzel and Winker near the top 350 due to their injury history.
San Diego Padres: Center and Right Field
|Wil Myers||Trent Grisham||Franchy Cordero|
|Pro||20/20 potential||Lower K rate than Myers||Career 23% HR/FB rate, 70/80 raw power|
|Con||6% increase in K rate last year||Lower steals than Myers||Career 31% K rate|
Prediction: The Padres open camp with Grisham as the starting center fielder and Cordero as the starting right fielder, with both of them getting 525 PAs. Injuries to Tommy Pham and/or Fernando Tatis Jr., plus the ineffectiveness of Eric Hosmer, lead to Myers getting 500 PAs. Myers and Grisham are both top-135 hitters, with Cordero’s average dropping him 15 spots lower.
Chicago Cubs, Second Base: Nico Hoerner vs. Jason Kipnis
There has been chatter that Kipnis is going to have every chance to be the Opening Day second baseman, according to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. The Cubs want to give Hoerner some seasoning at Triple-A, a level that he skipped last year. The Cubs must not have reviewed Kipnis’s wRC+ over the last three years: 80, 89, and 82.
Prediction: Hoerner gets everyday at-bats down at Triple-A for a month, but takes over the keystone in May and doesn’t look back. His current consensus ADP according to FantasyPros is 355, 57 spots above his ECR. I currently have Hoerner just inside the top 500, but he would jump 200+ spots if he won the job outright.
Atlanta Braves, Third Base: Austin Riley vs. Johan Camargo
Riley had an incredible start to his big league career, but he fell off a cliff in July (.156/.214/.266) and suffered a season-ending injury in early August. While Camargo had a breakout season in 2018 (124 wRC+ in 524 PAs), he got only 248 PAs in 2019 and was one-third worse than league average.
Prediction: Camargo is the early favorite in camp, but I think Riley’s pedigree wins out and he receives the majority of third base at-bats from May onward. Camargo will serve as a utility infielder and get about 400 plate appearances, but likely won’t be worth rostering in most formats.
Milwaukee Brewers, First Base/Right Field: Ryan Braun vs. Justin Smoak/Avisail Garcia
Christian Yelich is moving over to left field, so the competition for first base and right field is between these three guys. Garcia has a batting title to his name and has hit 58 homers over the past three seasons. Braun continues to produce in all five categories when he plays. Smoak had an awful year, but his Statcast metrics (top 25% in xSLG) make him due for positive regression.
Prediction: Smoak gets regular playing time at first base and bounces back, hitting 25+ homers with a combined 160 runs and RBIs. The Brewers aren’t paying Garcia $10 million a year to sit, so I expect Garcia and Braun to split time all over the outfield if and when Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and even Braun get nicked up. Braun and Garcia find themselves as top-120 hitters in my rankings due to contributing in more categories than Smoak.
New York Mets, Left Field: J.D. Davis vs. Dominic Smith vs. Yoenis Cespedes
Davis is a Statcast darling who received mostly positive news on the MRI he had on his shoulder. His 136 wRC+ over 453 PAs last year should give him the inside track to the job. However, Smith also impressed in limited at-bats last year and is the more highly touted prospect. The wild card in this race is Cespedes, who is rehabbing well and thinks he can return for Opening Day.
Prediction: Davis continues his momentum from last year, and he retains his skills en route to 20-25 homers, 140+ runs and RBIs, and a .275 average. That’s a top-115 hitter. I do not root for injuries, but Cespedes hasn’t seen significant playing time in two years and is 34 years old. I don’t see him getting more than 300 PAs with a couple of stints on the IL. Smith ends up as nothing more than a bat off the bench.
Washington Nationals, Second Base/Third Base: Carter Kieboom vs. Starlin Castro vs. Asdrubal Cabrera
Kieboom struggled in his big league cup of coffee last year, but it was just that — a cup of coffee. Castro forced himself back into the fantasy discussion with a mostly deserved .302 average and 14-homer second half. Cabrera shockingly had 18 homers and 91 RBIs over 514 PAs last year, and the Nationals resigned him to provide a veteran presence.
Prediction: Kieboom wins the third base job early in the season and hits 15-20 homers, combines for 120 runs and RBIs. Castro continues his momentum from last year’s second half to win the second base job and earning top-160 hitter value. Cabrera, entering his age-34 season, faces a rapid decline and is cut from the Nationals by July.