We are now a week away from May and we would have, by now, been through about the first month of the baseball season. With no sign of baseball in the immediate future, this gives us plenty of time to look back at prior seasons and statistics. Today, I’d like to give an insight of three players who may fly under the radar, especially in fantasy drafts, but could surprise some folk and really produce if and when the 2020 season begins.
Avisail Garcia, Milwaukee Brewers ADP: Round 21-22
Garcia is making his first move to the National League after spending last year with the Rays. Before that he spent time in Detroit and in Chicago with the White Sox. Garcia is coming off of a year in which he batted .282 with a .323 OBP, 20 HR, 72 RBI, and 10 SB across 125 games played. Garcia is improving too as he has increased his home run totals over the last three seasons.
Garcia isn’t an elite hitter, but better than one might think. In 2019, his baseball savant profile ranks Garcia around the 60th percentile in hard-hit%, exit velocity, and xwOBA. He also falls around the 75th percentile for expected batting average, and expected slugging. Scoring hire than sluggers such as Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, and Fernando Tatis Jr in the expected statistics. Now obviously those three far outperformed Garcia, however, it is nice to know that Avisail Garcia performed quite similarly to three of the game’s best. Other outlying factors are what brought Garcia’s numbers down.
Garcia is very good at spreading the ball to all areas of the field which is part of the reason he ranked 20th in all of baseball with a .340 BABIP. He now finds himself in Milwaukee where he should see almost regular playing time depending on how the Brewers decide to use Ryan Braun. Hitting behind Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura should certainly serve as a benefit to Garcia. There should be plenty of RBI chances should the front of the Milwaukee lineup reach base. Garcia could be a solid depth outfielder for fantasy teams and provide a good source of power in the later rounds should his recent batting trends continue.
Gio Urshela, New York Yankees. ADP: Round 19-21
Urshela is expected to be the primary third baseman for the Bronx Bombers once the season begins. The 28-year-old slashed an impressive .314/.355/.534 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs across 132 games in 2019. This was Urshela’s first full season in the big leagues and he did not disappoint.
Urshela ranked in the top quarter of the league in average exit velocity, xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA. His xBA of .294 ranked as 20th best in baseball and was not very far off from his actual batting average, indicating that a .314 batting average had more to do with the skill of Urshela and there wasn’t much luck involved with his at-bats. His .314 batting average was good enough for the ninth highest in baseball. He also posted career highs in hard-hit percentage (40.6%) and xwOBAcon (.411).
Urshela was really dialing up the baseball in 2019 and when he connected, he hit it hard. However, Urshela never got the opportunity to get comfortable in the lineup as he batted in every spot in the order except for leadoff throughout the year. This is due to the Yankees getting hit fairly hard with the injury bug and missing key players for most of the year.
As you can see, Gio ran with the opportunities and performed very well in most spots in the batting order, posting at least a .340 OBP in all but 2 spots. I wouldn’t be surprised if Urshela starts the year with a higher spot in the batting order and is another player I would expect to have plenty of RBI chances in the Yankee lineup, especially when Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge return fully healthy.
The third base position is very deep in fantasy. Urshela currently ranks as the 23rd third baseman according to CBS Sports, which explains the late-round projection. But I think Urshela can be a steal for your fantasy team. First of all, anyone in the Yankee lineup has some value. There are a lot of great hitters in the Yankee’s lineup and with Yankee stadium being a hitter’s park, you can’t overlook those two elements when thinking about drafting Gio.
When you draft Urschela, you get a great value for a late-round pick. Someone who you can plug into one of your corner infield spots who is going to hit for average, between 20-25 home runs, and get a lot of RBI chances. He will very likely outperform his 3B #23 ranking. Don’t think you could ask for much more out of one of your final few picks.
Max Fried, Atlanta Braves. ADP: Round 12-13
In 2019, it was Mike Soroka who was getting all of the buzz coming out of the Atlanta rotation, but I think that lefty Max Fried is someone who’s ready to break out onto the scene. Max Fried took his first full season in the majors and produced a fine 17-6 record with a 4.02 ERA as the Braves third starter. Not without his flaws however as Fried’s 20.2% HR/FB rate was the 2nd highest in baseball. We are in the era of juiced baseballs, and home runs are leaving at a rate we have never seen before.
To combat this uptick in round-trippers, you’ve either got to keep the ball on the ground or produce some swing and misses. Luckily, Fried is quite good at both of those metrics. Max produced recorded a top-five groundball rate and his 11.5% Swinging Strike rate ranked 25th per FanGraphs leaderboards. It is hidden variables like these that earned Fried with an xFIP of 3.32; good enough for the 9th best mark in baseball. Ahead of arms like Walker Buehler, Luis Castillo, Jack Flaherty, and teammate Mike Soroka. xFIP of course is a measure that determines what a pitchers ERA should have been based more so on player’s skill instead of the defense behind him.
There are rumors going around that Fried is trying to develop a change-up to help keep batters honest. I think the addition of Cole Hamels, who throws a tremendous change-up, to the Braves rotation could really help with the development of this pitch.
Should Fried be able to bring down his HR/FB rate, he could really turn into a pitcher to watch in Atlanta. I like Fried to be targeted as a mid-round pick as someone who can produce like a #2 fantasy pitcher. The Braves should be good again this year and should provide him with plenty of run support. If he can continue to improve upon his high strikeout and ground ball ratios, there no reason he can’t repeat as a 15-20 win pitcher.