As a rule, we’re not Science Guys, but we’re suckers for the kind of real-life story wherein a crew of geeks takes a submersible to the Abyssopelagic zone and discovers a giant squid big enough to swallow Yankee Stadium whole or a new species of sea slug shaped like a double helix. And that’s how we think of ourselves—geeks in the Fantasy Baseball abyss. Except what we’re looking for is exotic deep-draft specimens—at the very least, guys whose NFBC Average Draft is above 330, thus making them no more expensive than $1 players. Better still, we want players who figure to go in the 40th round or later. And best of all, we want the equivalent of new species—players we actually do like, but who have been taken by nobody else.
So we hope you’ll join us today as we descend into the Mariana Trench to go team by team, at least one player per team, through two divisions of the American League, with split AL/NL next and then the remaining NL. We’ll do one of these a week, though we’re hoping we can ignore our other responsibilities so completely that we can be with you more often. So check the pins of the penetrator, whatever they are and it is, and let’s head for the sea floor, making certain to avoid the hydrothermal vents. And sure enough, we’ve discovered a new species right off the bat:
–Toronto. Breyvic Valera (taken by no one in NFBC Draft Champions Leagues). Sure, we’re big fans of the Blue Jays’ kiddie corps. But stuff happens, just as it did last season to the Yankees’ Miguel Andujar. So here’s the Gio Urshela of 2020. He plays multiple positions, has a plus glove pretty much everywhere, makes contact, and showed surprising power (13 home runs in 305 at bats) in AAA last year, though we grant you that it was on the Little League field that they use for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
–Baltimore. A month ago, we’d have touted Richie Martin more. He was penciled in as the Orioles’ shortstop, had a lowish BABIP last season, and was actually pretty good in the second half, as you’d hope of a Rule 5 pick thrown into the deep end. Most importantly in this stolen-base-deprived era, he has lots of speed: 10 for 10 in SBs, and 25 steals in the minors in 2018. But now the Orioles have signed Jose Iglesias, Martin has no place to play and may not even make the team, and our ardor has cooled. Still, at ADP 708 that speed may make him worth a shot.
–Tampa Bay. We love this team, but it’s so deep and so cannily assembled that it’s hard to find room for an unknown (as opposed to a solid-platinum prospect like Wander Franco) to break in. The best we can do is Vidal Brujan (ADP 640), whom people who care about such things already know about. He’s a switch-hitting second baseman with strong on-base skills and absolutely blazing speed (fifth overall in the minors in SBs last year). He’s not getting drafted because there are about seventeen guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
–Boston. One of the mysteries of the draft season so far is why Jose Peraza (ADP 371) isn’t getting more attention. He’s only 25, he may well be the starting second baseman, he qualifies at three positions, and is one year removed from a season of .288/.326/.416 with 23 SBs. His 2019 was awful, but it looks to us like that was the result of a low BABIP, which should reverse itself, and a misguided attempt to power the ball, which we hope he won’t try again.
–New York. We love Mike Ford (ADP 541), but telling you about him is like reporting on an anglerfish—everyone who cares already knows he’s down there. So if you want a new species, how about Zack Granite (taken by no one)? He had a shot with the Twins in 2017, blew it, was terrible in Triple A in 2018, got waived, was better in Triple A last season, got waived again, and signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. He’s got a pretty good glove in center field, and he gets on base, but his calling card is speed. He once stole 56 bases in a minor league season. We’re obliged to point out that his stolen base percentage has been nothing special since then. But with Aaron Hicks out, the Yankees aren’t deep in true center fielders, and we can imagine Granite, like Cameron Maybin before him, getting the call and doing himself credit if, God forbid, anything happens to Brett Gardner.
–Cleveland. Although people seem hesitant to give Brad Hand his props, there’s likely nothing to worry about. His 2019 was essentially identical to his 2018, after which he was deemed a hot item by the cognoscenti. Wise guys seem to think that either James Karinchak (ADP 408) or Emmanuel Clase (ADP 432) will take over should ill befall Hand. We concede that they get strikeouts in wholesale lots. But we like Nick Wittgren (ADP 636), who’s coming off two outstanding seasons and can get some strikeouts himself, as Hand’s stand-in.
–Kansas City. Surprisingly, Ryan O’Hearn is still the projected starter at first base. We figured that a .195/.281/.369 season with poor defense would kill that dream. As his replacement, we like Ryan McBroom (ADP 721). His MLB audition last season had its strong points: he hit .293 with a .361 OBP in 83 plate appearances. True, he hit no home runs, but the major league equivalent of his minor league output is 22 HR, so we figure his power will reappear. No platoon here, please: McBroom bats right-handed but can hit pitchers of either persuasion.
–Detroit. The Tigers have a bunch of good starting pitchers in the high minors, and one of them could break out, but good luck figuring out which one. So let’s go after a hitter. Like Brujan, Isaac Paredes (ADP 709) is a recognized prospect who has a better shot at a Fantasy-productive season than the market seems to realize. He’s a 21-year-old third baseman whose stats in AA suggest at least 10 home runs and a .280-plus average. The only other serious claimant to the position is Jeimer Candelario, and after two pretty dismal seasons we, and perhaps the Tigers, have seen enough, however good his glove is.
–Twins. We’d be thrilled to have Taylor Rogers on our roster. He was an elite closer last season, and may well be one again. But we’d be almost as thrilled to have Trevor May (ADP 505). He was essentially unhittable during the last two months of the season, and got about 12 strikeouts per 9 while he was. If anything happens to Rogers, May certainly gets the job. And we can imagine a situation where, even as a non-closer, he’d be a decent plug-in in lieu of a shaky starter.
–White Sox. The White Sox’s first-team infield of Abreu-Madrigal-Anderson-Moncada looks pretty formidable if Madrigal does in the majors in 2020 what he did in the minors in 2019. But as an all-purpose backup/fill-in, we also like Danny Mendick (ADP 724). He won’t hit for average, but he plays all over and if, as we think, he winds up with 200 plate appearances he could reach double figures in home runs and/or stolen bases.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.