We all knew that there would be players opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday the first few names trickled in, so let’s take a look at who won’t be playing and the fantasy implications of those decisions:
Ian Desmond (COL, OF)
Desmond clearly is no longer the player he used to be, but it was also obvious that with the addition of the DH he was going to play a role in Colorado. Prior to the season we had him projected for 375 AB, so the fantasy implications isn’t the loss of Desmond it’s about those who are going to pick up those AB.
One of the biggest issues in Colorado over the years has been their desire to give AB to veterans as opposed to their promising prospects. In that thought, Desmond’s absence should have an impact on three specific players initially:
- Sam Hilliard (OF) – The question was if the Rockies would utilize Hilliard or Desmond in LF, but with Desmond out it would appear Hilliard is locked into a starting role. There are questions about Hilliard’s home run rate (25.5% HR/FB) and strikeout rate (15.7% SwStr% at Triple-A), but the upside is obvious if he’s going to be playing nearly every day.
- Garrett Hampson (INF/OF) – It wasn’t a lock that Hilliard would be first man up in the OF, but with Desmond out and the addition of the DH there are two openings in the lineup. Hampson proved to be a sparkplug atop Colorado’s batting order in September ’19, hitting .318 with 5 HR and 9 SB over 88 AB. Now that he seems like a near lock for the batting order, he’s a must buy.
- Ryan McMahon (2B) – There are a lot of questions facing McMahon, though playing time is no longer among them. In 2019 he showed strikeout issues (14.7% SwStr%) and a notable split (.226 with 6 HR on the road), both of which are going to impact his value and usability.
Ryan Zimmerman (WAS, 1B)
Zimmerman was likely going to platoon with Eric Thames at first base, though he also could’ve been in the lineup most days at DH. So now what?
- First Base – Thames hit .200 with 2 HR against LHP last season, so don’t expect him to suddenly become an everyday player. Instead he’ll likely platoon with Howie Kendrick, or someone else, but his value remains the same.
- Designated Hitter – On days Kendrick isn’t playing 1B, he could easily be the DH with Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Taylor also in the mix.
The biggest beneficiary could be Carter Kieboom, who was likely to lose some AB to Kendrick prior to this news. Now with Kendrick likely playing 1B/DH, Starlin Castro can shift to 2B and leave the hot corner for Kieboom to man regularly. While he struggled last season, there is no questioning Kieboom’s upside this season. As we noted prior to the season:
Kieboom was miserable during his brief time in the Majors, hitting .128 with 2 HR in 43 PA. We all know that he’s better than that, considering his 37.2% strikeout rate (despite a 9.3% SwStr%), 24.2% O-Swing% and 43.5% Hard%. With the departure of Anthony Rendon and with questions at second base there is an opportunity, and with those underlying metrics being realistic given what he did at Triple-A (9.0% SwStr%, 20.2% strikeout rate, 13.8% walk rate) it’s easy to get excited. He hit .303 with 16 HR (as well as 24 doubles and 3 triples) and 5 SB over 494 PA at Triple-A, and having experienced struggles so bad in the Majors there’s a good chance that he learns from it and is ready to thrive.
Joe Ross (WAS, RHP)
Ross wasn’t locked into the rotation, but there was a good chance that he’d fill the fifth starter spot for the reigning World Series champions. Now we are going to likely be looking at Erick Fedde (5.39 ERA over 143.2 IP in the Majors as he’s struggled to fool hitters, with a 7.5% SwStr% and 27.4% O-Swing%) or Austin Voth (4.40 ERA at Triple-A in ’19 while facing significant home run questions) initially filling that role. While either could have streaming appeal neither one offers significant upside at this point.
Instead fantasy owners should be watching if the Nationals instead turn to an intriguing prospect included in the player pool, like Jackson Rutledge (2019 first round pick) or Seth Romero. Both seem unlikely, however.
Mike Leake (ARI, LHP)
The Diamondbacks have some options to fill the void in the rotation, all of which have upside and questions:
- Merrill Kelly – He struggled in his return to the US, posting a 4.42 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 183.1 IP. It’s easy to point towards a strikeout surge in the second half (8.85 K/9), but a 10.5% SwStr% over that time calls questions to the mark. With solid control (2.80 BB/9) and limited groundballs (42.0%), the upside is nothing more than that of a streamer.
- Alex Young – Young was decent over 15 starts in the Majors last season, posting a 3.86 ERA over 77.0 IP. He posted an 8.06 K/9 and 3.16 BB/9, though he also benefited from a .254 BABIP and struggled with home runs (1.64 HR/9). A 47.1% groundball rate shouldn’t yield such bad results, but he also was hit extremely hard (44.0%). Like Kelly, he’d be nothing more than a streamer.
- Jon Duplantier – As we noted in our 2020 Draft Guide, there are significant concerns, “He needs to discover his control (6.49 BB/9 in ’19 at Triple-A), and there are reports that his velocity was down overall last season. That’s not a good combination, and while the upside is there still he needs to figure it out if he wants to have any success.”
- J.B. Bukauskas – Bukauskas isn’t on the 40-man roster, but he’s part of the 60-man player pool and you could argue that he has the highest upside of any of the options to fill the role in the rotation. Of course there are also questions, as we noted when we gave him a “C+” grade prior to the season, “Acquired as part of the Zack Greinke trade, Bukauskas saw his control disappear in ’19, with a 5.73 BB/9 over 92.2 IP at Double-A. Primarily a two-pitch pitcher, the fastball/slider combination could lead to him being a dominant force in short stints. The Diamondbacks have reason to try and develop him in the rotation, but if the control continues to struggle a move will be made.”
At the end of the day the Diamondbacks will likely use some combination of these middling options, meaning it’s a spot to avoid.
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: