Who Might Outperform Mike Trout? by Brad Johnson January 8, 2020 On Monday, I laid out my thought process for selecting Mike Trout first overall in 2020. To summarize, we have several legitimate choices. Absent secret information, they’re all a shrug away from the same, albeit in slightly different shapes. Trout stands out because he’s been so consistently good for so long. The alternatives all have shorter track records or a chance to fall out of the top 30 players – even without an injury. By comparison, we know a healthy Trout is a monster fish. Today we’ll take a peek at all the players you could reasonably select over Trout on draft day. Let’s toss them into a few buckets. ADPs are from NFBC. *h/t to cartercrew for providing the name of this article. The Consensus Favorites Christian Yelich Ronald Acuna Cody Bellinger There are three players who are consistent candidates to be selected ahead of Trout. In fact, Acuna has emerged as the consensus first selection (1.42 ADP) while Trout and Yelich are in a virtual tie at 2.39 and 2.42 ADP respectively. Bellinger actually checks in fifth overall. Opinions seem to vary with a pick range from second to 10th overall (5.46 ADP). Let’s address Bellinger first. He’ll probably post something like 45 home runs, 230 runs+RBI, 15 stolen bases, and a .300/.400/.600 slash line. That’s basically a ho-hum year from Trout. Meanwhile, Bellinger had a seriously disappointing (but still good) performance in 2018. He looked lost in the 2017 playoffs. If I had to pick the early first rounder with the most risk to fall outside of the top 30, it would Bellinger. I also consider him among the likeliest to outperform Trout. When everything is clicking, his hitting skills are closest to those of Trout and Yelich. Speaking of Yelich, I personally prefer him to Acuna even though the sharps at NFBC disagree. There is ostensibly some concern about his broken knee cap affecting his stolen base totals. It’s also worth noting he set a career high with 30 swipes last year. However, his previous career high came in 2018 (22). The Brewers like him running. Yelich has posted some unreal numbers since the second half of 2018, but we’re still talking about a pretty small sample of data. It’s not a stretch to wonder if the knee, regression to his HR/FB rate, and/or a sharp increase to his swinging strike rate will catch up to him. If he steals another 30 bags, he has every chance to easily outperform Trout. If not, he’ll probably wind up performing similarly, albeit with slightly greater risk of non-injury decline. In order to barely outperform Yelich last season (per the Auction Calc), Acuna needed 135 more plate appearances. I’m projecting them for roughly 660 plate appearances apiece in 2020. The case for Acuna comes down to his 40/40 potential. Nagging leg injuries capped him at 37 steals last year. Notably, Acuna’s speed is better described as above average than elite. He’s no Adalberto Mondesi. His batting average is also considerably weaker than Trout, Yelich, and Bellinger. For him to repeat as the top roto hitter, he’ll need all the steals he can nab. Or a repeat of 2019 when his top competitors suffered extended injuries. The Pitcher Gerrit Cole There are several very good pitchers in the 2020 draft pool, but there’s only one consensus top choice among them. So with apologies to Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander, let’s focus on the newest Yankee ace. Cole projects for only a 3.25 ERA, but he’ll also supply around 300 strikeouts in a healthy campaign. With a low walk rate and hefty supporting cast, he has the makings of a four category stud. Projections are inherently pessimistic about elite players – that’s a feature, not a bug. It’s easier to fall towards the pack than maintain the absurd performance growth Cole has demonstrated over the past two seasons. However, it’s hard to shake the sense that Cole can absolutely maintain this quality of production. If he does, he’ll likely finish the year as the top roto asset. Of course, there are added risks when selecting a pitcher. Injury occurrence and related decline is higher than for hitters, and it only takes one nightmare performance to botch an ERA or WHIP. He’s also moving to a new team which carries some added uncertainty. The Yankees have messed up a couple pitchers (most notably Sonny Gray) in recent years. Cole reportedly benefited from the Astros analytical tools. Perhaps the Yankees won’t offer him the same support? With Cole, I’m reminded of the age old argument of Clayton Kershaw or Trout. That was once a legitimate either/or scenario. I always took Trout. The Zig Trea Turner After missing a goodly chunk of the early season, Turner contributed 19 home runs and 35 stolen bases despite playing through two broken fingers. Make no mistake, he’s a special talent. Unless the Nationals radically overhaul the lineup, Turner will once again miss out on RBI opportunities (just 57 RBI in 569 plate appearances). That’s not a category you want to punt with your first hitter off the board. On the upshot, a full season could include upwards of 25 home runs with 50 steals, 120 runs, and a .290 average. He’s less attractive in OBP formats. In my opinion (and presumably many others), selecting Turner over Trout is a gross overreaction to the scarcity of stolen bases. Then again, it could be a winning play if you were to catch discount rebounds from Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, and Khris Davis (among others). Bold strategy or just plain dumb? Multi-Threats Mookie Betts Trevor Story Francisco Lindor At a 5.08 ADP, Betts is the fourth player off the board. He’s also never been picked higher than fourth overall. It seems there’s a consensus understanding that Betts ranks after Acuna, Trout, and Yelich. Perhaps fantasy managers are concerned about an impending trade. Betts has twice served as the alternative pick to Trout, although he’s failed to pay off both years. His best seasons have correlated with when the fantasy crowd is a little down on him. One interesting bit about Betts is his low-for-this-era HR/FB ratio. He’s buffed his fly ball rate to sell out for more power, but he might be better served by slightly lowering his launch angle. A 30/30 campaign with something like a .310/.400/.575 batting line is only around his 70th percentile outcome. That’s roughly how he performed in 2018 when he tied Yelich as the top bat. Story doesn’t get much credit in this conversation – possibly because there’s a small but tangible risk of a sub-.250 batting average. He’s also not a factor for the first pick in OBP formats. Even so, Coors Field is a helluva drug. He’s consistently improved his launch angle, making his high BABIP entirely believable. His 70th percentile outcome looks like a 40/20 campaign with 210 R+RBI and a .290 batting average. It’s not quite Trout-ian. Lindor was the third or fourth player off the board last year before a calf injury waylaid him. Despite missing time, he returned to record 654 plate appearances with 32 home runs and 22 stolen bases. The optimistic roto-stats projection looks awfully similar to Story except it’s built into a package with obvious room for growth and a high floor. It’s possible for him to tighten his launch angle to improve his oddly low BABIP. Getting A Bit Too Cute Alex Bregman Nolan Arenado Juan Soto Suspect stolen base totals limit the value of this trio. They all receive a substantial boost in OBP formats. Arenado did narrowly outperform Trout as part of his banner 2019 campaign, but he needed Trout’s injury to get there. I’m not sure it’s fair to expect Arenado to improve a second straight season. There’s also the small matter of a possible trade (I consider it witheringly unlikely). Arenado has ranged from 4th to 19th pick (12.05 ADP). You’ve probably seen Bregman discussed as a home run regression candidate. His 41 home runs were not supported by Statcast data. His home park is ludicrously power friendly to right-handed hitters. Still, expect a return to around 30 home runs with otherwise elite output. It appears he’s done taking risks on the basepaths. Bregman has gone between pick 4 to 13 (8.27 ADP). Soto ran a bit and was shockingly successful (12-for-13) given his merely average speed. More excitingly, the youthful slugger traded a bunch of grounder for fly balls and line drives while retaining his elite plate discipline. Nearly all players his age are toiling away in the low-minors. Skills growth is quite possible. He’s ranged from pick 7 to 20 (12.12 ADP).