The 2016 draft was an interesting one and it has a chance to be a gold mine for 2020 fantasy baseball managers.
On first blush, it appears to be a rather weak offering with Mickey Moniak leading off the draft. But there’s some real depth here in the first round with very few hard misses. Those that might eventually find their ways into the miss column include Riley Pint, Corey Ray, Delvin Perez, Will Benson, Cole Ragans, Will Craig, and Blake Rutherford. But even then, some of those players could still punch their union card and carve out part-time roles in the Major Leagues.
A number of first-round picks have already made it to the Majors, including Dakota Hudson, Eric Lauer, Nick Senzel, Cal Quantrill, Will Smith, and A.J. Puk. And look at the list of players selected in later rounds that have already played in the Majors: Zac Gallen, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Joey Lucchesi, Pete Alonso, Bryan Reynolds, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Tommy Edman.
There is a strong second wave coming. You’ve already seen some of the 2016 draftees make brief appearances in the Majors including Carter Kieboom, Nate Lowe, Jon Duplantier, Bryse Wilson, Nick Solak, Jake Fraley, and Dustin May. But let’s take a closer look at some of the other 2016 picks that could see significant playing time in 2020 that have yet to reach The Show:
Sean Murphy, Athletics, AAA: Murphy would likely be in the Majors right now if most of his season had not been wiped out by trips to the disabled list. Just back in Triple-A after a brief rehab assignment in Rookie Ball, the young catcher went deep twice in his first game back in Triple-A — giving him an eye-popping eight home runs in his last five games (19 at-bats) at that level reaching back to July.
Gavin Lux, Dodgers, AAA: Wouldn’t it be nice to be the Dodgers? The club has so much depth that the front office recently said they hadn’t been paying much attention to Lux because they’ve been focused on more important areas (ie. pitching). What does a guy have to do to get noticed? Apparently hit more than .410 and post an OPS higher than 1.263 in 42 Triple-A games.
Abraham Toro, Astros, AAA: Speaking of teams with depth… AND players that are incredibly hot in Triple-A, I present you with Toro. He’s only been doing it for 16 games but the native of Canada has really sped up his learning curve with a .424 average and OPS of 1.112, which has been aided by a BB-K of 10-5.
Sheldon Neuse, Athletics, AAA: Here we have another player blocked by depth. Matt Chapman likely isn’t going anywhere (although with the A’s you can never say never) but Neuse has done everything in his power to show he’s ready for big league action. He’s slugged 26 home runs and 30 doubles in 120 Triple-A games. He’s also added 52 walks for good measure and has an on-base average just shy of .400. Neuse doesn’t have the most athletic frame but he’s more athletic than he looks. He played 51 games at shortstop in 2017 and has seen time at second base, third base, shortstop and left field in 2019 as the A’s look for the best way to get his bat into the lineup. That added versatility could make him even more attractive in fantasy baseball.
Nolan Jones, Indians, AA: Jones may end up being more of a 2021 kind of guy, but he has the talent to close the gap and be an impact player in the second half of ’20 — especially in leagues like Ottoneu that reward walks. Jones has 87 free passes in 115 games split between High-A and Double-A. And he’s starting to tap into his raw power more consistently with a heavier fly-ball approach in Double-A.
Dylan Carlson, Cardinals, AAA: The Cardinals’ 40-man roster already has a whopping 10 outfielders, which is not an enviable ratio given every team’s need for significant pitching depth. This means Carlson faces an even stiffer challenge to reach the Majors in 2020 given that he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until the fall of 2020. But he has the skills to push past the likes of Randy Arozarena, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and Justin Williams to be an everyday guy. He was recently promoted to Triple-A and has a 1.537 OPS through seven games. That’s after posting an OPS of .882 in Double-A where he also came very close to being a 20-20 (HR-SB) player.
Alex Kirilloff, Twins, AA: Kirilloff is another player that likely would have been in the Majors this year if not for injury issues. The talented outfielder missed a good chunk of the first half of the season and then battled through some other nagging injuries that didn’t allow him to full drive the ball until August. In 18 games this month, he has hit five of his nine home runs. He also has just nine strikeouts compared to 25 in 27 July games. Yes, it’s a small sample size but this looks a lot more like the guy that hit .348 with a .970 OPS in 2018.
Ian Anderson, Braves, AAA: Anderson has his work cut out for him in 2020. Along with taming Triple-A, he’ll have to push past Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Patrick Weigel, Tucker Davidson, and Kyle Muller to earn big league innings. But likely only Wright can challenge Anderson for overall potential. The 21-year-old hurler spent most of 2019 in Double-A where he posted a K-BB of 147-47 in 111 innings.
Matt Manning, Tigers, AA: The Tigers’ starting rotation is going to get very good very fast. Manning has spent the year in Double-A where he’s missed bats and induced ground balls at a high level. He’s also shown good control for a 21-year-old pitcher as witnessed by his K-BB of 142-37 in 128 innings. The starting rotation could feature Manning along with Matthew Boyd, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Spencer Turnbull by the end of 2020. Other options near the Majors include Alex Faedo, and Joey Wentz.
Jesus Luzardo, Athletics, AAA: The A’s have really benefited from the 2016 draft. The club got Puk with the sixth overall selection and Murphy in the third round. Second-rounder Daulton Jefferies has been slowed by injuries but is a name to watch. And then the club received both Neuse (2nd) and Luzardo (3rd) in a trade with the Nationals. If his shoulder holds up, the young lefty has a chance to be a special arm.
Justin Dunn, Mariners, AA: Seattle has shielded Dunn from the Triple-A launching pad (just see what happened to Justus Sheffield) and he’s spent the entire year in Double-A where he posted a K-BB of 145-37 in 122.2 innings. With a weak MLB rotation, the Mariners have plenty of innings to offer Dunn in 2020 if he can close the gap between Double-A and the Majors.
Anthony Kay, Blue Jays, AAA: It’s been a tale of three seasons for Kay. He was dominant in Double-A with a 1.49 ERA and K-BB of 70-23 in 66.1 Double-A innings. He then got beat around at the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate with a 6.61 ERA and K-BB of 26-11 in 31.1 innings. Trade to the Blue Jays, Kay has since posted an ERA of 2.36 with a K-BB of 31-17 in 26.2 innings. Overall, that’s good for an ERA of 2.97 and a K-BB of 127-51 in 124.1 innings. The control needs work but if he can avoid some of the home run pitfalls that befell him with his second stop then he can be a solid MLB contributor.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.