Today marks the beginning of a new series, 2020 Prospect Opportunities. One of the most important skills in a mono league is identifying current prospects who could benefit if the incumbent Major League starter falters. If you’ve played in a mono league before, or even in a non-shallow mixed league, you’ve experienced the bidding frenzy (in FAAB leagues) when a top prospect is recalled. Why bid half your budget and cross your fingers you’re the high man to win a prospect when he’s recalled, when you could instead preemptively pick up that same player several weeks earlier, or even draft him, for essentially free? The only way to accomplish this is to be familiar with the organization’s prospects and which current starters are most likely to fail in order to open up an opportunity for that prospect to be promoted.
So let’s go team-by-team and identify the weaker starters, both position players and starting pitchers, and then name potential prospect replacements, beginning with the Blue Jays. Note that I’m going to have a somewhat loose definition of “prospect”, as that label is going to be applied to any young player either in the minors or in the Majors, but expected to open in a reserve role. And of course, let’s assume the season gets underway at some point this year and ignore any potential rule changes and the possibility there’s no minor league season.
After a miserable 2019 season that included a demotion to Triple-A, the Jays decided to take a shot on a Travis Shaw rebound. What if it doesn’t work out? Outside of sticking a utility player at first (like Brandon Drury) in the short-term, the most obvious replacement is Rowdy Tellez. Tellez made his professional debut all the way back in 2013 at the tender age of 18, and although he has been quite solid offensively at times, he hasn’t generally shown close to the type of power expected of him, especially for someone of his size.
However, Tellez broke out over a small sample in Triple-A last year, driven by a long-awaited power surge, and that power spike was partially maintained in the Majors. He has now posted a HR/FB rate over 20% in his last three professional stops, which includes two MLB stints, while his ISO has stood above .220. Was this just a fluke or did something finally click? Well, his xHR/FB rate certainly supports the 20%+ HR/FB rate, thanks to a strong barrel rate and average fly ball distance.
With a complete lack of interest in taking a walk, resulting in sub-.300 OBPs, and up and down fielding seasons, Randal Grichuk is the type of player who seems like a total gamble each year. He might stick in the lineup because of his contract, but his performance is prone to swings given his skill set. Despite all the strikeouts, Teoscar Hernandez has been fine offensively thanks to excellent power, but he’s typically a butcher in the field, though his UZR in left field last year was actually positive. The Jays have a bunch of reasonable replacement options, which doesn’t even include guys like Anthony Alford and Jonathan Davis, who I would expect to fail if given the opportunity.
Derek Fisher was formerly a top Astros prospect, but has struck out far too much, with not enough power, in his various cups of coffee in the Majors. That said, he takes a walk, owns massive power, and even possesses excellent speed. There are clearly some adjustments that need to be made, but this is precisely the type of speculation to make in the end game.
Billy McKinney impressed during his 2018 debut, with some power and reasonable plate discipline. Unfortunately, his skills dipped slightly in 2019, while his BABIP fell precipitously, which ultimately cost him a starting job and got him demoted back to the minors. Still, this is a guy that owns some power and has shown solid plate discipline. While he doesn’t seem to be a difference maker type like Fisher has the potential to be, there’s value here.
Patrick Kivlehan is the sleeper of the bunch, after spending time with three organizations in 2016, two in 2018 and two in 2019. Either no one wants him or every team wants him! Now 30 years old, he’s clearly not an age anyone would consider him a “prospect”, but with excellent power, including a 31.6% HR/FB rate at Triple-A last year, he’s a true darkhorse.
At Risk: A Plethora of Options
Replacement: Same as 1B & OF
With no clear DH, the Blue Jays figured to decide their starter during spring training. An opening here gives the 1B and OF replacements another opportunity to win a starting job or at least rack up more playing time. The Jays don’t have many prospects in the high minors who have much of a shot at earning playing time and helping fantasy players, which means there are fewer players you could track.
Matt Shoemaker isn’t listed here due to performance, but rather, health. He has thrown just 137.1 innings over the past three seasons thanks to injury. Trent Thornton, on the other hand, is included here due to performance, as the 2019 rookie posted a 4.84 ERA/4.80 SIERA during his debut, and his minor league numbers don’t suggest anything better to come.
Nate Pearson is the obvious replacement and depending on what happens with the 2020 season, he could find himself in the opening day rotation. Thomas Hatch is the surprise name. The team’s ninth best prospect, Hatch posted a sizzling 34:2 K:BB ratio over 35.1 innings after coming to the Blue Jays from the Cubs last year. His SwStk% also jumped to 15.2% to support the strikeout rate spike, which was needed given previous marks typically sitting in the low 20% range. Hatch also became a ground ball pitcher, which will come in handy in a home run friendly park in the American League.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.